Imagine: it is the 1700s, quaint, provincial, perhaps refined, and it is the night of a concert, to be given at the French court of Louis XV, a.k.a. the “Well Beloved,” the last monarch who ruled prior to the storming of Bastille. And who emerges but a bona fide rock star, a violinist, dressed all in black, with flaming red hair, and an absolute virtuoso, a triumphantly matured child prodigy. He is known as The Red Priest, or in the annals of history, as the Baroque Italian composer, Antonio Vivaldi.
“Very theatrically, he would come out and dramatically play the violin,” Canadian playwright Mieko Ouchi says about Vivaldi, an inspiration for her first full-length, and immensely well-received play, The Red Priest (Eight Ways to Say Goodbye). “His family was poor, and priesthood was a way to become a musician. In those days you could only become a musician if you were in aristocracy or if you were a priest.”
Originally from Calgary, Ouchi cheerily welcomes new audiences to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the production, beginning with Ouchi herself as one of the original actors, and now numbering at over 160 performances. “I grew up playing his music as a child, taking violin lessons. He wrote a lot of music for young people. I had this sort of childhood connection to his music,” explains Ouchi, whose recent accomplishments include The Red Priest becoming a finalist for the Governor General’s Award for Drama, and winning the Canadian Authors Association’s Carol Bolt Prize. “It’s so amazing that it’s back at ATP. Vanessa [Porteous, the director] has done a really lovely job directing it. I’m thrilled to see their take on it, always neat to see someone else’s interpretation.”
The Red Priest (Eight Ways to Say Goodbye) is showing at the Martha Cohen Theatre (Calgary) April 29 – May 17.
By Matt Hanson
Photo: Trudie Lee