R. Murray Schafer’s Apocalypsis is a theatrical musical pageant in two parts — Part 1: John's Vision is adapted from the book of Revelation, about the end times, while Part 2: Credo is a serene and ecstatic meditation on the majesty of God. A massive and complex production that requires at least 500 performers, Apocalypsis was commissioned by the CBC in 1976 and premiered at Centennial Hall in London, Ontario, on 28 November 1980, as part of the city’s 125th anniversary. William Littler called it “one of the most spectacular events in the history of Canadian music.” In 2015, Toronto’s Luminato Festival closed with an acclaimed, $1.5 million production featuring a cast of nearly 1,000 musicians, singers, conductors, dancers and actors. The score to Part 1 and Part 2 are published separately and available through Schafer’s Arcana Editions (Part 1, 1981; Part 2, 1986).
Part 1: John's Vision
Approximately 65 minutes in duration, Part 1: John's Vision employs Psalm 148 and text from the book of Revelation adapted by Schafer, bpNichol, Paul Dutton, Steve McCaffery and Leo Del Pasqua. Loud, brash and frenzied, John's Vision dramatically portrays the end of the world, rendering the cataclysmic events described in the last book of the Bible. The cast includes six choruses (men’s, women’s, children’s, speech and two mixed choruses), four instrumental groups, organ, tape and soloists (five singers, three “sound poets,” dancers and mime artists).
Because of the spatial separation of the various vocal and instrumental choirs throughout the auditorium, Part 1 requires six conductors who are themselves under the direction of a centrally located principal conductor. Banners, slide projections and short film clips are also utilized. Schafer parallels the numerology employed in Revelation with use of the number seven for structural features of Part 1 and the number 12 for Part 2.
Part 2: Credo
Approximately 45 minutes in duration, Part 2: Credo is a serene and ecstatic meditation on the majesty of God for 12 mixed choirs and tape or synthesizer (with optional strings and/or synthesizer). The 12 choirs are to be positioned in a circle around the audience. The text to Part 2 is Schafer’s adaptation of one of the Dialogues of the medieval philosopher, cosmologist and convicted heretic Giordano Bruno. The Globe and Mail described Part 2 as a “coda of infinite peace and slow-moving choral lines… in its quiet unfolding sounding like a movement of a Mahler symphony taken to the next level of intensity.”
Commissioned by the CBC in 1976 and co-produced with the London Symphony Orchestra (now Musicians of Orchestra London) and the University of Western Ontario (now Western University), Apocalypsis was premiered at Centennial Hall in London, Ontario, on 28 November 1980, as part of the city’s 125th anniversary. A second performance given the following day was recorded for broadcast on the CBC program Arts National on 1 December 1980. The work was performed by London Symphony Orchestra’s Sinfonia, numerous choral and instrumental groups from the university, the London Pro Musica Choir, the Fanshawe Concert Singers, as well as members of Toronto’s Hart House Chorus and the Royal Conservatory’s Chamber Singers.
The production was directed by Schafer with choreography by Sallie Lyons, and costume and set design by Margaret Stephenson Coole and Marian Spanjerdt. Simon Streatfeild was the principal conductor for Part 1 and Deral Johnson conducted Part 2. Soloists included: the sound poets bp Nichol (as John of Patmos), Paul Dutton (as the Archangel Michael) and Steve McCaffery (as the Antichrist); as well as mezzo-soprano Jean Stilwell as the Old Woman and dancer Judy Jarvis as the Whore of Babylon. William Littler called London’s gala presentation of Apocalypsis “one of the most spectacular events in the history of Canadian music.”
Billed as the largest musical production in Toronto’s history, the Luminato Festival’s multidisciplinary production of Apocalypsis at Toronto’s Sony Centre for the Performing Arts on 26–28 June 2015 cost $1.5 million and took three years to produce. Featuring 1,000 musicians, singers, conductors, dancers and actors, the production was led by principal conductor and music director David Fallis, with the Tafelmusik Orchestra. Stage direction and design were provided by Lemi Ponifasio, with lighting by Helen Todd. The cast included Denise Fujiwara and American performance artist Laurie Anderson as John of Patmos, Canadian transsexual artist Nina Arsenault as the Whore of Babylon, Tony Award-winning actor Brent Carver as the Antichrist and Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq as the Old Woman.
Part 1 featured 12 choral groups, including the Toronto Chamber Choir, the Bell’Arte Singers, Choir 21 and the Hamilton Children’s Choir, while Part 2 featured 11 choirs, among them the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, Orpheus Choir of Toronto, Ottawa Bach Choir and the Guelph Chamber Choir. Part 1’s instrumentals were provided by the Hannaford Youth Program, Musica Reflecta, and Sarah Svendsen on organ, while instrumentation for Part 2 was provided by 12 quartets or ensembles, including the Vaughan String Quartet, the Strataphoria String Quartet, the Adficio Quartet and Quatuor Despax. During Part 2, the members of the various choirs occupied the balcony of the Sony Centre.
The Globe and Mail’s Robert Harris praised the production’s “high-profile, big-time gamble” as “often stunning” and “a complicated triumph.” He reserved his highest praise for Tagaq, saying that her “thrilling, unsettling, otherworldly combination of throat singing, vocalization and movement, galvanized the production into another level of meaning instantly.”