November 28, 2003  
Volume 97, Issue 51  

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MacDonald meets Britten for The Prodigal Son

By Christopher Hodge
Gazette Staff

Although his body may be dropping subtle hints that it's time to slow down, 75-year-old, world-renowned director/choreographer Brian MacDonald shows no signs of paying much attention. Even a recent hip operation has not hampered MacDonald, who says the theatre is not merely a profession, it's a passion.

"There are mornings where you think, 'Yes, it would be nice to be in the Caribbean,'" MacDonald says with a keen smile. "But I don't think of it as work. It's a passion, it's about digging inside yourself to discover both what you know and what your instincts tell you will make sense of a scene and make it more alive."

MacDonald's most recent production is a unique performance of Benjamin Britten's The Prodigal Son, which commemorates the composer's 90th birthday. The performance reunites MacDonald with former soloists Gary Rideout, Benoit Boutet and Bruce Kelly, whom MacDonald had the opportunity to direct in the same production at the National Arts Centre's 1997 Festival Canada. The Opera also features Baritone Theodore Baerg, director of Western's opera program.

As one of Canada's most prestigious director/choreographers, MacDonald's career has spanned 55 years and seven continents. He's worked the world over and has been an integral part of both the national and international opera/ballet scene. Considering the scope of his career and the magnitude of his past accomplishments, it's surprising he could be found working on such an intimate scale in a small city like London.

MacDonald admits one of the reasons he was drawn back to the production was the availability of three of the key participants of the original production and his own personal admiration of the piece.

"It's a lovely piece to do and I've always been attracted to it," MacDonald says. "There is a modest quality to the piece."

For this production MacDonald also had an opportunity to work with aspiring theatre students from the UWOpera workshop. He says the experience has been an enjoyable one, although he admits there is certainly room for improvement.

"They have excellent voices," Macdonald praises. "They brought a lot of enthusiasm and patience to the product, although I don't know how much stage experience their program provides them with."

Undeterred, Macdonald continues to work, driven by his passion for the arts. When asked what enduring quality he thinks has mesmerized him and generations of theatre-goers, Macdonald pauses to reflect upon a lifetime dedicated to the stage and says in a soft spoken voice: "People are drawn towards the experience. After you first go, you often go back. It isn't television; it's not edited, it's not on tape. There's a beginning and an end to it and a certain sense of humanity to it. These are people with skills and they are performing just for you!"

Prodigal Son will be performed tonight at 8 p.m., at Dundas Street Centre United Church, 482 Dundas St. Tickets are available at the Orchestra London box office: 519-679-8778.



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