Dragon Dance Princess Zebra

The Mummers' Masque (2009)

Pageant Opera in 1 Act
2 men (T, Bs-Bar.) 2 women (S, Ms) children's chorus, dancers, Chamber Ensemble

Commissioned and premiered by Toronto Masque Theatre, Dec. 3, 2009

The Mummers' Masque represented the ultimate marriage of Burry's musical world:  contemporary opera and Newfoundland traditional music.

   The practice of mummering came to Newfoundland with Sir Humphrey Gilbert in 1583 and has persisted on the island even while the tradition waned in England.  Through the following years, mummering in Newfoundland evolved into two main forms.  Firstly, since the settlement of the colony, there have been countless references to performances of stock, well-documented folk plays, presented around New Year’s and Old Christmas Day.  While varied in detail, the plot lines were usually consistent:  A hero and villain battle, and the villain is mortally wounded.  The hero, feeling grief at the loss of a kindred warrior, summons a quack doctor who revives the villain through a series of outrageous cures and the enemies finally embrace in harmony.  It is a simple story, which outlines the cycle of death and re-birth, particularly apt at the turn of a new year.

   The second type of mummering found in Newfoundland is much less formal and involves groups of friends disguising themselves in ridiculous costumes (created entirely from “found” items; stuffed long underwear worn on the outside, painted pillowcase over the face to mask identities, men dressed as women and so on) and traveling door-to-door to entertain their neighbours.  It has traditionally been a wonderful diversion from the dark winter nights when the demands of the fishing season were months away.  In modern times, it serves as an entertainment, an expression of cultural pride, and a way of strengthening a sense of community.

  The Mummer’s Masque is a contemporary interpretation of these various traditions incorporating dance, music, drama, stage combat and puppetry.  With a new libretto fashioned from various historic sources, the music is a blend of contemporary opera and traditional folk styles.  The musical ensemble (violin/fiddle, flute/pennywhistle/uilleann pipes, bouzouki, double bass, percussion) reflects this diversity.  It is also the only known example of a classical solo for the Newfoundland Ugly Stick.  The production is designed to play in non-traditional venues and capitalize on the informal nature of the original material.  

  The commissioning of The Mummers' Masque was generously supported by the Ontario Arts Council.