By Christopher Sun
She started off performing on the stage at Ladysmith Secondary School. Now, she lives in Toronto and plays the lead in a new Canadian opera, which premiered at Victoria’s McPherson Playhouse Nov. 10.
Betty Waynne Allison is starring in Mary’s Wedding, an opera based on a Canadian play that takes place just before and right after the First World War.
The opera begins in 1920 on the eve of Mary’s wedding as she dreams about her first love, a young farm boy named Charlie. She recalls the horrors of the trenches, experienced through Charlie’s letters and the action moves back and forth from the Canadian Prairies to the battlefields of France.
Playing the role of Mary had personal meaning for Allison and her family.
“It meant a lot to my dad,” Allison said about the period piece. “My grandpa was in World War I and it is on his farm where we live.”
This is the second lead role Allison has taken on in a major production and it is the first one she has been able to perform so close to her hometown.
She describes Mary’s Wedding as unlike any opera she’s ever known.
“It’s different, it’s avant-garde, it’s not too simple, it can really speak to you, which is special,” she said.
Interestingly, the 29-year-old wasn’t thinking she wanted to be a performer while she was acting in musicals like Annie at LSS.
“I was always interested in music education, not singing, it just kind of happened this way,” Allison explained. “I wanted to teach musical theatre and arts in school.”
Allison was born in Whitehorse and lived in Ladysmith since the age of five. She studied music education at the University of Victoria and then taught in Duncan.
She decided to pursue a masters degree at UBC and while auditioning there, she was encouraged to also audition for the Canadian Opera Company. She then decided to enroll with the opera company, which turned out to be an apprenticeship program to become a singer.
Allison goes back to Toronto when Mary’s Wedding wraps up and will be attending auditions there and in New York, but she already has a new gig for next year. She will play the lead in Susannah in March, although rehearsals for the show have not begun yet.
Mary’s Wedding continues playing this week in Victoria until November 20.