Wednesday, 24 April 2013

The opera SALOME opens in Toronto

VIDEO: Stephen Weir interview Atom Egoyan. A short film by George Socka
Headless in Judeau – Atom Egoyan Dials Back the Kink
By Stephen Weir
Curtain Call - Dress Rehearsal For Salome - Canadian Opera Company - Toronto Photo by George Socka
Article appeared  first in Huffington Post:

Atom Egoyan believes it wasn’t adolescent angst that made a young princess demand the head of a  prophet as payment for dirty dancing in front of her stepfather.  No, says the Canadian filmmaker (Exotica, The Sweet Hereafter, Chloe) who is back directing the revival of the opera Salome, it is all about voyeurism, frustrated desire, paranoia and the decay of the human soul.

The Canadian Opera Company’s 8-performance run of Oscar Wilde and Richard Strauss’s Salome, at the Four Seasons Centre For The Performing Arts in Toronto, marks the return of the celebrated Canadian director.  This is the third time that he has directed on the Toronto stage, the often-shocking opera about 13-year old Salome (danced by Linnea Swan / sung and performed by soprano Erika Sunnegårdh), her Dance of the Seven Veils and the beheading of John the Baptist -- the prophet who foretold the coming of Christ.

“In terms of the Biblical references, in terms of Oscar Wilde’s rendering of her, she was an adolescent, I don’t disagree with that,” explains the director.  “But I don’t think that is the point. I am not of the opinion in this production that her behaviour is the action of a petulant teenager who wants her way; it is something much deeper than that -- we are using this depth as a launching pad.”

Oscar Wilde wrote the play in 1891 at a time when it was illegal to depict Biblical characters on the English stage. To avoid this Blue Law, he penned the work in French, a language he had never before written in.
The work was completed in one sitting. And the result? Oo la la! Shocking. Outrageous. Beyond the pale. The controversial play wasn’t produced on the Paris stage until 1896 at which time Wilde was in prison, ostensibly for the crime of being gay.  Strauss, the German composer, saw the production and built a German opera around it.
Atom Agoyan in the Four Seasons Theatre  - Stephen Weir

This is Opera’s take on the New Testament’s most vile female villain, Salome. It is Salome, the Princess of Judeau, who demands the head of Jochanaan (John the Baptist) in return for performing the Dance of the Seven Veils in front of her stepfather Herod and his court.  The year? About 35AD and Salome lives in Jordan, with her morally bankrupt mother Herodias and her perverse stepfather, Herod (who in real life not only permitted the beheading of John the Baptist but gave Pontius Pilot permission to crucify Christ).

Salome’s desire for the imprisoned Jochanaan – who spends his days screaming out Herodias’ sexual irregularities from a cell underneath the minimalist sloping stage, is mirrored by a soldier’s tortured infatuation for her, and Herod’s own lust for his stepdaughter.  Consumed by suicide, rape, murder and passion, the Royal family is inevitably torn apart by these destructive obsessions. 

Celebrated Canadian tenor Richard Margison, dominates the stage as King Herod.  According to the COC, Margison is “hailed for his ringing top notes and spine-tingling power. Margison is one of the most critically acclaimed singers on the international stage.”

Hanna Schwarz, a noted German soprano makes 69 the new 40 in her portrayal of Herodias.   A few months short of her 70th birthday, Schwarz owns the stage and sings, unmiked, in a strong voice that seemingly has lost none of its range.

At the opera’s original premiere, the audience and critics were shocked by its subject matter and erotic themes; Salome’s world of voyeurism and sexual abuse still elicits an equally visceral response today, although this time around, Egoyan has dialed back on the often-explicit interpretation of Salome.
Soprano Erika Sunnegårdh - George Socka

“I can’t help but look at Oscar Wilde’s play and see that he is dealing with something that he might not be completely aware of himself, of something being held back, “ continued Egoyan. “This was written late in his career when there were all sorts of pressures building against him, which lead ultimately to his tragic death.  I think he was very aware of this idea of how a voice can be stifled, suppressing all the forces that go into repression and the effects that it has on the human soul, the human condition. I think he put a lot into this play that he might not have been aware of on a conscious level.”

“It is one of his most challenging pieces of text, it is very difficult to mount as a traditional play because his language is so over wrought, so purple, but, it works wonderfully as a libretto.”

"In a traditional presentation of Salome the set is referred to as a Biblical court where there are these courtiers, guards and various hangers-on” explained Egoyan during a break in Salome’s final rehearsal.
The current "set is stripped away and we are in the antechamber of some strange sanatorium. Everything is being videotaped, there is surveillance everywhere and this supports the idea of King Herod’s paranoia.”

“Everything that happens outside his immediate view is being recorded. So this is a heavy sort of sub theme in the Opera because we are dealing with voyeurism.”

When it comes to costumes, Egoyan gets tied up in the Space Time Continuum in settling who wears what.  The Royal family is in togas, the hired help carry Glocks and are dressed in cheap 1950s style suits and the Jews and the Nazarenes are in white face, bald wigs and all white suits reminiscent of the costumes worn by the aliens in the movie Dark City.

The camera toting characters skulk.  The men in white are wide eyed while the principal characters can’t seem to make eye contact with each other.

“Salome is looking at Jochanaan, who won't return her gaze and you have another character, a female page, who is in love with the head of the Guard and he won't return her gaze either (although he does let her perform Toronto’s first operatic fellatio interruptive on stage – he shoots himself in the head during their sex act)” said Egoyan.
Show Puppets and dancer Linnea Swan perform Salome's Dance of the Seven Veils - Stephen Weir
In death, Jochanaan’s head still can’t return Salome’s gaze. She sings to the head as if it was alive and asks it why it still refuses to look at her!

“This idea of frustrated desire and voyeurism -- people looking at something they can’t have is woven into the piece,” explains Atom Egoyan. “I think the music by Strauss supports the idea of this turbulence and paranoia and these very extreme emotions.”

The Canadian filmmaking director has dialed back some of the erotic shock value he employed in his first go at Salome.  Salome’s dance and subsequent gang rape in front of Herod is done in this production in a multi-media fashion. Salome dances on stage behind a scrim along with shadow puppetry, for 7-minutes, heightening the tension on stage and leading to the bloody climax of the is 90-minute long operatic Bible story.

Salome runs for eight performances at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts on April 21, 27, May 1, 4, 7, 10, 16 and 22, 2013.
YOU TUBE  - Stephen Weir interviews Atom Egoyan. A short film by George Socka

Monday, 22 April 2013

Salome - Pictures For a Huffington Post Article By Stephen Weir

Curtain Call for the cast of Salome
Photograph - George Socka
Photographs from the Salome Dress Rehearsal 
Canadian Opera Company
Directed by Atom Egoyan
Atom Egoyan - Four Seasons Centre For the Performing Arts.
Photograph by Stephen Weir

Salome's Dance of the Seven Veils. Salome danced by  Linnea Swan   

Space Time Continuum impacts the costumes.
 photograph by Stephen Weir

Atom Egoyan - Four Seasons Centre For the Performing Arts.
Photograph by Stephen Weir
Salome Dress Rehearsal
Jochanaan ( Martin Gantner) emerges from his cell
Photograph Stephen Weir
Erika Sunnegardh - Salome with the head of John the Baptist
Photograph George Socka

Erika Sunnegardh - Salome
Photograph George Socka

Friday, 19 April 2013


Cue the actor. Eric Peterson to receive Order of Canada - Socka

You Knew He Was Important Because Of The Size Of The Camera Crew

I knew that the film crew of six had to be from the National Film Board. It was 8am on Saturday at the St Lawrence Market, and the crew members were flush with the knowledge of earning time and half pay. 

They were all men. Of course. They were all in the 30s. They all looked like they had worked for the Peace Corp - a few steak dinners ago.
Old jeans, but pressed. And of course, the pre-planned 5 o'clock shadow that requires you to shave at 9 oclock the evening before to look like a real player!

Who else but the National Film Board could afford to go this big, this early? Who else could afford a camera man, a sound man, a director, a man with a monitor around his neck (and a cool hood to let him watch the action in the dark), a model release guy and some other man that looked for suckers to fluff up and interview?

Sigh. I want in on that gig.

Eric Peterson at the market - George Socka

Anyway, it was all in a good cause. They were shadowing Eric Peterson, an actor I have been following for 40 years (actually interviewed him in 1970 at CJOM radio in the early days). Last week it was announced that Eric has earned an Order of Canada.  This is a well deserved decision by the Gov General. 

The National Film Board is doing a short man-on-the-street film on the public's reaction to Eric winning the Award. Of course, only in Canada, you have to hire a man to walk around and explain to the man-in-the-street, er, market, who Eric Peterson is and what the Order of Canada is all about ( and maybe how the National Film Board has enough funding to actually pay 6 people to work the St Lawrence Market).

George Socka who often shoots videos for me took this picture as I talked to Eric for the NFB camera. 

We were standing in between the meat counter and an ATM machine. We talked about a play he was in at Theatre Passe Muraille (TPM) a few years ago with Linda Griffith - The Blues - which I thought he was brilliant in. He played a has-been writer hanging out at Aldo's Bar. The actual bar from that play's set has been moved upstairs at TPM. My wife and I toasted Eric later that day -- we had a birthday beer waiting for  the curtain to rise at Theatre Passe Muraille's current play Legoland

Told him I had serious NFB crew envy. He winked and went onto his next interview ... George -- slim pickings that early at the Market.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

George Hunter. Photographer. The Last Post.


George Hunter,  a  Canadian photography pioneer, has passed away in Mississauga at the age of 91.  Hunter, a long-time National Film Board photographer captured the disappearing nomadic Inuit way of life in Canada's Arctic. 

 His career spanned 70 years and took pictures all over Canada, the United States and the world.  he considered himself as a visual historian and  "Canada's Location Photographer". Two of his pictures have been used on Canadian paper bills - salmon ($5 bill) and a petro-chemical plant ($10 bill).

Hunter took pictures for many news sources and high profile clients including the Winnipeg Tribune, Expo 67, and the Royal Family.  In the fifties after leaving the National Film Board, Hunter learned how to fly, purchased a Piper Cub and soon became an expert at low-level photography.  In the 60s he built a photography bus (complete with a 7 metre ladder on the roof for high-angle shots) and spent ten years traveling across Canada taking photographs.  In the last few years of his life, George Hunter has been donating his photographs to museums and art galleries in Canada.  He has made arrangements to turn his Mississauga home into a photography museum and retreat.

George Hunter and his  companion 102 year old Patricia Stevenson
In 2009, Linda Crane and myself assisted George Hunter and the Kipling Gallery in Woodbridge, with the first commercial gallery exhibition and sale of his photographs.  The exhibition, Canadian Inuit 194, featured print images taken from his original negatives which captured a now disappeared way of life in the Far North.   In 2012 we assisted Mr Hunter in the donation of some of his works to the McMichael Canadian Art Collection.

Two of the Hunter photographers shown in 2009 are posted. As well two photographs I took of Hunter at the Kipling Gallery media launch are also shown. 

There will be a memorial reception, 11 am, Saturday April 20, 2013 at the Scott Funeral Home (420 Dundas St. East) in Mississauga. 

The Toronto Star has published George Hunter's obituary at:

Pork, Hattie and grandson Ikkat, Baker Lake. George Hunter
Tapiti with his snow trowel 1946 - George Hunter

Sunday, 7 April 2013

This Month's Diver Magazine Looks At Canada's best sites from sea to shining sea

Best Dive Sites In CanadaThis month's Diver Magazine is completely dedicated to showing divers were the BEST spots to dive in Canada.  I contributed with the best sites in Ontario.  Due to space reason, not all the sites made it into print.  What follows are  all my 5 favourite spots to dive in Ontario - two that you would not have seen if you  read the Diver Magazine article. 

Best/Easiest Shore Dive in Ontario

What:         The wreck of the twin side-wheeler Rothesay

Where:         Shipwreck near the shore. North side of the St Lawrence River. Prescott, Ontario.  Town of Prescott has made it easy for divers to visit the wreck. There is free parking, a port-a-potty and a privacy wall for changing. This park for divers is at the intersection of Highway 2 and Merwyn Lane, west of Prescott. Divers can see the markers for the wreck from the riverside park.

Why:                  The 61 metre long Rothesay is a very popular checkout site for divers from Quebec, Ottawa, Kingston and upper New York State. Free. Ample parking.  There is a strong iron staircase leading right to the water’s edge and directly facing the wreck. The site is well marked. It is a 10-metre dive and the visibility is very good. The Rothesay is an interesting 19th century wooden shipwreck with parts of its hull still intact.

This is a dive site that is busy year round. Night dives. Winter dives. Checkouts and photo shoots, keep the parking lot full every weekend. This is the site preferred by picture taking divers in the know. 

The Rothesay was launched in 1867 and sank in 1889 after colliding with a tugboat.  In the early part of the 20th century cadets, from the nearby Royal Military College in Kingston, blasted away part of her deck.  Now much of the ship’s upper decking lies scattered on the rocky bottom around her hull.  The wreck attracts large schools of fish. The Rothesay is considered a very safe dive site.

She is a scant 50 metres from shore. There are floating markers on the bow and stern and a line run from the midsection to land. She is easy to find and is usually void of current. In the summer and fall the water is warm and the Viz usually good. In winter, with ice floes drifting by, dry suits are preferred.

How:          Change in the riverside park maintained by the town. Take the strongly enforced steps down to the River and walk in.  There is a rope that leads right to the wreck.  The site is well out of the shipping lanes – you might hear the big grain boats chugging up and down the Seaway but rest assured they are a long way away.

More Information:


The Wreck of the Arabia

What:          One of the most picturesque deep water wrecks in the Fathom Five Park in Tobermory.  The Arabia is a classic 19th century wooden barque.  She is found in deep and cold water, and as a result the shipwreck is in very good condition. The bow section and bowsprit are intact. The windlass and anchors make for perfect pictures. The masts lie on the deck and the rock bottom nearby.

The Arabia was built in 1853. She was an ocean going 3 masted barque some 40 metres long.  She regularly sailed between Ontario and Europe. She sank due north of the town of Tobermory (which is situated at the tip of the Bruce Peninsula) and now lies on the bottom of Georgian Bay in an upright position. 

She is the poster child for Fathom Five diving – Fathom Five being the name of the shipwreck underwater park maintained by the Federal Government in the waters of Lake Huron and Georgian Bay near Tobermory.

This is considered the best wreck dive in the province. However, prior to advent of drysuits and robust all-temperature regulators for sport divers, there were a large number of dive deaths on the Arabia and she was labeled a death ship. The cause of the accidents was in part because of the depth 37+ metres, the numbing cold (temperature at bottom can approach zero), currents and a lack of light. As a result Parks Canada, which administers the Park, lists the Arabia as only recommended for advanced diving groups under the direction of a dive master.

Where:         Most Ontario divers consider Tobermory the end of the earth.  The village is at the tip of The Bruce Peninsula. There is a highway running from Tobermory to Owen Sound and eventually, 4 hours later, Toronto.  Tobermory is also the terminus for a ferry service that links the mainland with the huge Manitoulin Island, and on up to the city of Sudbury

The Arabia itself is near Echo Island. Because the Arabia lies in the Fathom Five Park all divers wanting to visit the Arabia must register with the park and purchase passes.  There are hotels, restaurants, campsites, public launch ramps, dive charter boats, a dive boat and a hyperbaric chamber in the village of Tobermory.

How:                  The Fathom Five dive registration area is open 7-days a week. Annual tags may be purchased for $20. Two day and one day passes are also available. Divers can use their own boat but must have passes prior to getting in the water. The sites are well policed by Parks Canada. As well there are charter boats servicing the wreck. It is strongly recommended that divers reserve their spot on the boats.  Weather can be bad (hence all the shipwrecks) and as a result, the Arabia is not always open for diving.  However there are other wrecks in the park and there is good shore diving too!  Diving is all-year round. Dry suits are recommended.

Dive Site: The Caves

What:         There is virtually no sport cave diving in Ontario. What few caves and sumps that can be dived are considered dangerous, cold and difficult to locate, with little to see or to enjoy.  In Fathom Five Park there is a site called the Caves that is dove either from shore or by boat.  The Caves are in reality a large Grotto with some areas open to the skies above.  The Grotto was created over time by waves crashing into the limestone wall that lines the shore.
Dive boat moored near the entrance to the "Caves"

The entrance to the Caves is through a passage 6 metres underwater. It leads to an open area inside the cliff and there are short hidden passageways leading off from the Grotto.  The visibility is always good. Recommended for all levels of diving experience, and snorkelers too. 

It is a safe, picturesque dive, except on a hot summer’s day when people like to climb down to the edge of the caves and cannonball into the water!

WHERE:         This a favourite second dive for visitors to the Fathom Five Park.  The caves are east of Tobermory along the limestone cliffs that line the south shore of Georgian Bay.  Divers and snorkelers can take a half hour hike from the Cyprus Lake campgrounds along a well-marked trail to the cavern, but most prefer visiting the site by boat.
Most Overlooked Diving Region in the Province

WHERE:         Prince Edward County, Lake Ontario.  PEC is a large peninsula jutting out into Lake Ontario.  In the 1ate 1800s, a canal was dug separating the land mass from the mainland,  making the area technically an island complete with 500kms of shoreline.  The Canadian Forces Trenton Air Base, Trenton and Picton are on the island.  The cities  of Toronto, Belleville, Kingston and Ottawa are relatively close.

Ignored for most of the 20th century, Prince Edward County (PEC) has quietly become an artists’ retreat, a new wine region, a boater’s paradise and a centre for deepwater sport and technical wreck diving.  In the waters off Prince Edward County shipwrecks continue to be discovered, and, more and more divers are coming to see and photograph a number of well marked sites.

WHAT:   According to the Prince Edward County tourist board over two-thirds of the shipping accidents that took place during the early steam era took place east of the island.

Due to this large number of sinkings, the area has been dubbed the Graveyard of Lake Ontario.  PEC’s imaginative tourist board refer to it as the Marysburgh Vortex because of the number of unexplained marine disasters recorded (and also because of many reported UFO sightings too!)

There are over two dozen identified shipwrecks that divers have noted.  As well, there are new wreck discoveries that are being studied and photographed in hopes of identifying the remains.  There is one dive lodge – Ducks Dive – operating in Prince Edward County at the southeastern tip of the island. There are public launches throughout the PEC. Dive shops from Kingston, weather permitting, will head down the St Lawrence and into the Lake to visit these wrecks.

Best known for their intactness, beauty and visibility are: Annie Falconer – a 2 masted 37 metre long schooner that sank  in 1904 close to False Duck Island. This upright wreck sits in the mud rock bottom at a depth of 27 metres. She is in good condition complete with deadeyes, anchors and the ship’s wheel.
City of Sheboygan - photo Warren Lo
The City of Sheboygan was a 45 metre long 3 masted schooner  built 141 years ago.  She sank in 1915, with considerable loss of life.  At 32-meters, this is a deep wreck, located near Amherst Island (between PEC and Kingston). Because of the cold and the depth, she is in amazing condition with parts of her masts, riggings and railings all still on board.  There is a thick layer of zebra mussels covering her deck winch. The wreck attracts dive boats from both Kingston and Prince Edward County, dependent on the weather.
The Kate Eccles is a new wreck as far as Lake Ontario sailing vessel sinkings go.  She went down in 1922, and at the time was one of the last sailing schooners working the waters around Prince Edward County and Kingston.  She sits upright, in 33 metres of  dark cold water near the southeastern end of PEC (Point Traverse).

The Kingston based Preserve Our Wrecks  has been maintaining a buoy on the 2-masted schooner, and as a result it is a popular wreck for dive groups from  both  Prince Edward County and Kingston.  This is only for divers equipped to dive deep in extreme cold water conditions.
The ship itself sits on a stone and mud bottom, more out of the mud than in it.  The deck, covered in zebra mussels in mostly intact. The bowsprit is still attached and points menancingly to approaching divers. Divers have recovered artifacts from inside the ship and from a debris field beside the ship. Pots, china and tools have been left on the deck for divers to see!

How:         There are dive charter services in Kingston and Prince Edward County that offer trips to the wrecks from late Spring to the Fall. There are hotels, campgrounds and cottages for rent throughout the region. There are launch ramps on PEC and up and down the St. Lawrence River.


Where:         There is no good reason that the huge island of Isle Royale is part of the United States.  The 60km long island, located at the west end of Lake Superior is just off shore of what is clearly Ontario.  The City of Thunder Bay is nearby. And, while we are complaining about our land-grabbing neighbours, let us say that the island is about 16 kms from Minnesota yet is part of Michigan, 80 kms away!
5 Finger Tug. Photo - National Parks Service, Isle Royale
If it wasn’t for the map challenged British back in 1783, and overly generous Ojibwa tribal elders (1842 Treaty of La Pointe), divers wouldn’t have to pack a passport to visit this cold water wreck Mecca.

Isle Royale is a huge island, third largest in the US, and second only in size in the Great Lakes to Mantioulin.  The land was rich in copper and as a result there was considerable marine traffic to the island in the 19th century. And, because of treacherous close-to-the-surface rocks and unpredictable weather (remember “the gales Of November” often come early) a lot of ships have sunk close to shore.
Henry Chisholm wreck. Diver examines the  engine.  
180ft down. Photo NPS, Isle Royale

WHAT: The US government has created a National Park and protects the wrecks found underwater nearby.  There are nine notable shipwrecks that are buoyed and dove by charter boats and individual divers.  The diving is always cold, the water is clear and the experience is memorable.

The wrecks of Isle Royale include bulk freighters, passenger steamers. These large ships – the largest is 175 metres long - went down between 1885 and 1948. All are close to shore and most have either the bow or stern close to the surface of the water. You can start 6 metres and work your way down to depths approaching 55-metres. Seasoned dry suit divers in-the-know ask for the wreck of Henry Chisholm, because it is deep and much of her oversized power plant is still intact.

The Chisholm was built in 1980 and sunk in 1897 near the Rock of Ages Lighthouse.  She was carrying a load of barley and was towing a smaller boat.  The boat broke away during a storm – the Henry Chisholm sank while looking for her.

 She is 88 metres in length and built out of wood. According to the US Park services a dive on the Chisholm starts at 42-metres and goes to 50-metres and beyond.  The steam engine, drive shaft and prop are intact and are the high point of the dive.
The Deck of Chisholm. 130 ft. Photo NPS Isle Royale

The Chisholm is a two-fer!  The remains of the wooden hull are scattered amongst the remains of another diveable shipwreck – the Passenger Steamer Cumberland.  She sank in 1877 and her boiler and side-wheel rest in much shallower water nearby. Both the Chisholm and the Cumberland have the same

How:         There is ferry service to the island from both Michigan and Minnesota.  There is camping on the island and a number of lodges.  Divers must bring their own gear - including a portable generator to refill tanks.

The Park registers all divers wanting to visit the wrecks.  They warn divers that Lake Superior never gets warm and that temperatures below 20 metres are close to freezing.  Ontario divers can visit the island provided they clear customs before entering the water.
There are three dive boats that offer trips – including live aboard service  – to Isle Royale.  Some of the charters accommodate tech divers.  Charters tend to sell out quickly.
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