Pauline / 2014

A New Opera by Margaret Atwood and Tobin Stokes
NEWS:  On Friday 16 October 2015, at the invitation of the international festival Québec en toutes lettres, we gave the first performance of PAULINE outside Vancouver. Photos and stories are posted on our FaceBook page. The event itself led to a long standing ovation, and many bows. It was sung, by the original cast, in English, with French super-titles projected overhead.


In 2014 City Opera Vancouver premiered Pauline, a chamber opera based on the life and final days of Canadian writer, poet, and actress Pauline Johnson. The music for Pauline was written by Tobin Stokes, and the libretto by Margaret Atwood, on commission by City Opera.

Pauline Johnson (1861-1913) traveled across Canada, the United States and Great Britain giving readings of her own work when such independence was rare and remarkable. She was the child of a Mohawk chief and a Quaker Englishwoman, and torn by loyalty and ambition. Pauline lived her last years in Vancouver and died a terrible death of breast cancer, treated by crude surgery and morphine.

Pauline is set at Vancouver in March 1913. Haunted by failure, torn by her dual identity as both Mohawk and white, Pauline Johnson fights to confront her past before the end, as her doctor tries to control the pain and her sister tries to control the story that will be told.

The world premiere of Pauline was given at the York Theatre in Vancouver, at 8pm on Friday 23 May 2014. Later performances took place on 25, 27, 29 and 31 May. Tickets went on sale 17 February 2014. All five performances sold out.

The first film of an excerpt from Pauline may be viewed here:

Sung by Adam Fisher, played by David Boothroyd, and filmed by Sharon Kravitz, this aria appears in Act Two. More excerpts will be filmed and put online.


Margaret Atwood is one of the world's leading authors. Pauline was conceived by Ms. Atwood, and is her first opera.

Tobin Stokes is one of Canada's most distinguished composers. His work is widely published, recorded and performed, and has earned numerous prizes. Pauline is his fifth opera.

Pauline is the second commission made by City Opera Vancouver. It was directed by Norman Armour.

Creating the central role of Pauline Johnson was dramatic mezzo Rose-Ellen Nichols. Her sister Eva was sung by soprano Sarah Vardy. The tenor roles of Drayton, manager, and doctor were taken by Adam Fisher. Other members of the cast included bass John Minágro as Grandfather Smoke, mezzo Cathleen Gingrich as the mother and nurse, baritone Edward Moran as the father, minister, and Mr Smiley, and sopranos Diane Speirs and Eleonora Higginson as the Two Ladies. Tenor Ken Lavigne and bass Nickolas Meyer participated in early workshops.

City Opera appointed Cameron Mackenzie, assistant stage director; Jayson Mclean, production manager; Ingrid Turk, stage manager; Marianne Nicolson, set and visual design; Mara Gottler, costume design;  John Webber, lighting design; Tim Matheson, projections; Lorna Brown, research consultant; Lindsay Katsitsakaste Delaronde, advisor; Hilde Binford, titleist; David Boothroyd, coach and pianist; Jim Littleford, orchestra contractor;  and, Charles Barber, music director and conductor.

We gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Tom Lee Music, Steinway & Sons, the late Prof Abraham Rogatnick, Accent Inns, Georgina M Brunette, Carolyn McAskie, Margaret E Prang, Alexandra Volkoff, the Audain Foundation, Heffel Fine Art Galleries, the estate of Kitty Heller, the McLean Foundation of Toronto, the Leon and Thea Koerner Foundation, accessibility sponsor Vancity Credit Union, the Hamber Foundation, the Vancouver Foundation, the Edith Lando Charitable Foundation, Vancity Community Foundation, British Columbia Gaming Grants, Stern Partners Inc, the Vancouver Parks Board and Stanley Park125, the SFU Vancity Office of Community Engagement, the Greater Vancouver Community Assistance Foundation, the Department of Cultural Services at the City of Vancouver, the BC Arts Council, and the Canada Council / Conseil des arts du Canada.