Pauline: About The Opera

Pauline is a chamber opera set in Vancouver in March 1913, during the last week in the life of Canadian actress, poet and writer Pauline Johnson (1861-1913). In the last two decades, there has been a significant re-appraisal of Johnson's life, art and achievement.

Led by Margaret Atwood, this second look has demonstrated Johnson's unusually bold and prescient views, writing, and life as an independent woman. Her childhood home is now a national historic site, and her public burial at Stanley Park remains unique in Vancouver history.

Shifting between a shattered present and a vivid past, Pauline examines the question of her identities as poet and popular entertainer, white and Mohawk, independent woman and desperate lover, imagined failure and creative immortal. Figures from her life, particularly her sister and her manager, move in and out of her consciousness and, through the hopes and conflicts they evoke, portray Pauline Johnson as a great and tragic Canadian artist.

Pauline deals with questions of dualism. Pauline Johnson was a woman ahead of her time, traveling across Canada, the United States and Great Britain giving readings of her own work in an era when such female independence was rare and remarkable. She was the child of a Mohawk chief and a Quaker Englishwoman, always torn by loyalty and ambition. She was a popular stage figure who was in private deeply insecure. She lived her last years in Vancouver, and died a terrible death of breast cancer, treated by crude surgery and morphine.

Upon that death, Pauline's sister destroyed a number of letters that might have illuminated real personality and historic encounter. Pauline imagines what those letters might have said, and revealed, and intended.

Read the profile of Pauline Johnson in the July/August 2012 issue of The Walrus.

City Opera will produce Pauline in 2014, opening on May 23 and running on the 25th, 27th, 29th, and 31st at the 371-seat York Theatre in Vancouver.