Red Deer Opera “It’s COCO!” shows how triumph can come from a difficult youth

Opera music

“Live theater is alive and well and we have a fabulous group of performers right here in central Alberta,” said Cheryl Cooney, musical creator of the opera.

The show began with the death of Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel’s mother, her father lifting her and her sisters out of poverty to live in a convent orphanage. Although abandoned, it was there that she learned the basics of the art of her future life: sewing. The surrounding actors filled the room with an anthem, captivating the crowd as they sang and played out the repetitive, monotonous steps of Chanel’s seven years at the orphanage, leading her to master her craft.

“Sew, sew, sew

Throw the bobbin first, thread the machine

Work with the needle, then stitch the seam

Back, forward, straight ahead,

Endless work”

Leaving the convent as a seamstress and strong woman, as she describes herself, Chanel earned her pseudonym “Coco” through various theories, stemming from her ways of flirting with men, her time singing cabaret and the French word ” cocotte” for mistress. Perhaps the name was fitting because it was with the financial help of one of her male admirers that Chanel started her own fashion business in hats.

But no tragedy features the beautiful young Coco. A resilient opportunist, she capitalized on World War I by redefining women’s fashion, introducing the public to frequent costume changes of more “boyish” and comfortable garments like slacks, simple colors, and shorter skirts with fabrics mostly used for men’s clothing such as underwear.

She later created her infamous perfume, Chanel No. 5, and during the ensuing economic depression revitalized the struggling diamond industry.

After her English love affair dies in a car accident, she changes the color of mourning from black to a color of class. From the death of her mother to the nuns of the convent, she creates with inspiration the essential of the little black dress by singing: “Everyone must have you, little black dress. You make me confident.

Several lovers later, even a so-called German Nazi officer sparking a plot that she became a spy for the party during World War II, she died unmarried “fashionably married,” she says, in a elegant black dress.

“I think the community, including ourselves, is very excited to see theater and live music reoccurring in our lives,” said Darold Roles, Opera Director and Choreographer and former Dean of arts at Red Deer College, now a polytechnic. With tickets selling out before the show starts, Roles says it’s “a testament to the Red Deer audience and their thirst for art.”

A roaring crowd on Thursday left those in attendance standing at the end. John McDowell, an audience member who has known Cooney for a few years, says he particularly enjoyed the musical incorporation.

“I really enjoyed how she used different musical styles to showcase the different periods and different aspects of Coco Chanel’s life,” he said.

“It’s truly amazing what this woman has done in her life and we’re able to show a very honest side to this great woman,” Kaufmann said.

After production costs, the rest of the proceeds will be distributed to RDPL and CACAC.