Performing with pearls

Brandon Anstey
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Gander performer gets home town surprise

A hometown gig can be a special moment for any performer, but opera singer Susan Watkins got a little more than she bargained for when she returned home for a charity concert.

Now living in Manitoba, the Gander native has been an opera performer since she was a teenager, and she was at St. Martin’s Anglican Cathedral on Feb. 21 to put off a benefit show for the Kiwanis Club of Gander. That’s when she was presented with a pleasant surprise­ – a group of pearls once owned by another opera singer from this province.

An anonymous donor had their mind in the right place when they gave Ms. Watkins a set of pearls that once belonged to Twillingate’s Georgina Stirling. Ms. Stirling grew up in Twillingate as the daughter of a local physician. She was sent to Europe to study music and became an opera powerhouse in the late 1800s and early 1900s, performing concerts across Europe and the United States. Ms. Stirling returned home after travelling the world, and was also known for her heavy involvement in benefit shows and local charities right up until her death in 1935.

Having family connections to Twillingate, Ms. Watkins is a little more in tune with Ms. Stirling than she thought. Like Ms. Stirling, the Gander native has roots in Twillingate, is an opera performer, and helps to host benefit concerts for local efforts.

To be presented with pearls once belonging to Ms. Stirling on the night of the hometown show was an unexpected delight for the Gander opera singer.

“It was a really big surprise,” said Ms. Watkins. “I didn’t know anything about them until about ten minutes before I went on stage. It just, kind of, came out of nowhere.”

The presentation came at a convenient time.

“The donor told me their mother was given the pearls by Georgina, and that they had them lying around their house for years and they wanted to do something with it,” said Ms. Watkins. “So, they took them to a man in Twillingate to get them made up and just brought them into me at my show. It was great.”

Jim Troke, of Twillingate, fashioned the pearls into a bracelet. The fashion statement was a big part of Ms. Stirling’s look, said the Gander opera singer.

“From what I understand, it was a few sets of pearls and they had it made into a bracelet. And it’s neat because every time you see her in pictures she’s always sporting pearls. She must have loved them.”

The gift was beyond a thoughtful gesture, and it took a while for it to sink in, said Ms. Watkins.

“It was very kind of them,” she said. “You know, it didn’t hit me right away. I thought, ‘what an amazing thing,’ but then after I was thinking ‘I have an opera singer’s pearls around my wrist.”

The benefit concert wasn’t the first place that Ms. Watkins had heard the name Georgina Stirling. The Gander opera singer has close ties to Twillingate, and it was those ties that first brought Ms. Stirling to her attention.

“My father was born there and all of my family still lives there,” said Ms. Watkins. “My father gave me the Nightingale of the North, and it’s a book about her life. My dad told me about her growing up, and she has recordings in the museum out there.”

The connection to Ms. Stirling is a little different, she said.

“It’s pretty rare to have opera singers coming from outport Newfoundland. I just hope my career can even have a hint of what her’s did.”


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