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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


August 25, 2001 - Issue 43


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Kalispels to Put on Opera


 by Rob McDonald Staff Writer Spokesman Review-August 10, 2001


Kalispel elder Francis Cullooyah, upper left, sings with members of the Frog Island Singers and others at the Cusick Mini Powwow last year. Cullooyah will narrate ``The Magic Flute'' in an upcoming performance on the Kalispel reservation.
Torsten Kjellstrand - The Spokesman-Review

Cusick, WA - Except for a buffalo milling around inside, the Kalispel tribe's powwow arena looked perfect to Libby Kopczynski Moore, a mezzo soprano opera singer from Manhattan.

There was space for 1,000 people to come and sit on blankets and lawn chairs and watch a European art form as old as some tribal songs.

Moore had already ventured into the realm of rural opera, last year in Newport. Now she believes the world's ready for opera on the reservation.

So, for the first time anyone can remember, a regional tribe is hosting and helping produce an opera.

The week after the Kalispel tribe's annual celebration near Usk, their powwow grounds will be turned into a open-air opera house Aug. 29.

The Kalispels and a collection of opera professionals from New York, Spokane and Seattle are joining forces to stage Mozart's "The Magic Flute." Rehearsals begin next week.

"It's kind of a turn of events for me," said tribal elder Francis Cullooyah, who will perform the spoken narration parts in both Salish and English. "I'm a powwow-goer, usually."

Moore, a Spokane native who moved to New York City 15 years ago, thought producing an opera in Newport last year would be fun while visiting friends and family here.

She recruited volunteer lead performers from New York who shared the stage with a chorus of local performers.

"So many things in the world of music are crossing boundaries," she said. "Newport was big enough for rodeo and opera."

Moore got the idea of working with the Kalispels last year while preparing the Newport opera, "Of Faith and Belief: The Dialogues of the Carmelites." The story is based on true accounts of Carmelite nuns who marched to the guillotine in revolutionary France rather than disband as ordered.

Moore saw parallels between the Kalispel Tribe and the nuns: Both were ordered to disband, both disobeyed and both still exist today, Moore said.

"They're a tiny reservation, and their lands were all robbed," Moore said.

Not knowing any American Indians, Moore sought advice from Peter Campbell, a Colville tribal member who kept close ties with area tribes. Campbell was the newly appointed director of the Center for Plateau Cultural Studies at the Cheney Cowles Museum (now the Northwest Museum of Art and Culture), but he died of a heart attack last fall.

"I had the good fortune to meet him two days before he died," Moore said.

Campbell loved the idea of opera at the Kalispel reservation and gave Moore the phone number of his longtime friend, Cullooyah.

The idea took Cullooyah by surprise at first, but he saw how the children and community could benefit from the exposure.

"Why can't we do something like this, especially when we're going to have our children involved? Not that we want to turn them into opera stars, but give them a chance to be in something like that," Cullooyah said. "I'm kind of excited about it."

Moore got into these hinterland productions because it frees her to do the operas she wants, the way she wants.

"It doesn't have to be performed the traditional way it's done in the opera house," she said.

The Frog Island Singers drumming group will appear on stage in full regalia and sing in the chorus. Tribal members will do the makeup and provide their interpretation of some main characters.

Moore has recruited touring veterans who could perform without a rehearsal like Scott Rednour, who studied piano at Whitworth under the renowned Margaret Ott. Rednour grew up in Usk and now lives in New York. Also on board is Douglas Wunsch, a tenor and another Whitworth alum living in New York. The professionals are volunteering their time.

"The Magic Flute" is a fairy tale that follows a Japanese prince in Egypt who must rescue a princess with a magic flute and a goofy sidekick known as the birdcatcher.

The real hook is the music, Moore said.

"You can do this anywhere, and people will be touched by the music," Moore said.

The one-night show is scheduled Aug. 29. People can bring blankets, lawn chairs and picnics. Admission is free, but a $5 donation is requested.

If all goes well, the show's cast of Kalispels will be taken to New York next year, Moore and Cullooyah hope.

Cullooyah visited New York once in 1964 when he left the service after being stationed in Germany. He stayed at the Manhattan YMCA, which is a block from Moore's current home.

It seemed as if some odd destiny was bringing them together.

"I always say I'm going back to New York, but I never have," Cullooyah said.

He thinks maybe his old friend, Campbell, who liked bringing interesting combinations of people together, may be trying to get the Kalispel man back to the Big Apple.

"I was telling Libby," Cullooyah said, "here we are, doing something no one really ordinarily does. You could just see Peter up there, laughing."


   Maps by Travel

Kalispel Tribe
The Kalispel Tribe of Indians, one of the oldest Native cultures of the Pend Oreille River, possesses a bright vision for the future. Through perseverance, we have overcome numerous cultural, economic and social hardships facing our sovereign nation.

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