Arctic Explorations

Commissioned in 2020 by Nancy Manocherian’s The Cell Theater and The New Amsterdam Singers

Anticipated premiere: Fall, 2022

 

Arctic Explorations is the story of 19thcentury explorer, Elisha Kent Kane, and his curious romance with Maggie Fox, the noted spiritualist and medium. Complete opposites in almost every respect – he, a navy surgeon and scientist from a prominent family; she, an uneducated farm-girl who many considered a huckster – they were each American celebrities who entertained crowds with tales of mysterious places and phenomena: glaciers, polar bears and the Inuit communities, or the world of the hereafter, and how to communicate with the dead.  

 Arctic Explorations, then, is about our never-ending desire to discover what lies beyond, to know where we came from and where we are going. Explorers, all of us, our success often comes at a cost, and nowhere can this cost be measured more than in the Arctic: over 300 billion tons of ice from the Humboldt glacier melted on a single day this past June. 

The Inuit, who have lived there for centuries, are seeing their land disappear. But it was their ancestors who came to Kane’s aid when his ship was trapped in the ice for two years; he and his crew survived, not because they brought with them the technology of the modern world, although they had done that, but because of the ingeniousness and generosity of the Inuit, whose own beliefs and practices were shaped by one of the most hostile — and beautiful — places on earth.   

Based on Kane’s 1856 huge bestseller, Arctic Explorations, as well as period documents and private letters, this is a folk-opera in one act, for four soloists and chorus, and instrumental sextet of clarinet, guitar, banjo, accordion, violin and double bass.   

Texts are sung in English and Greenlandic (Kalaallisut).  With thanks to the organization Arctic Sounds and to Inuit drum-dancer Nuka Alice, who has generously agreed to answer questions about Inuit culture and who has patiently helped me  with Greenlandic pronunciation and translation.