Internationally renowned baritone Joshua Hopkins is the brother of Nathalie Warmerdam. She was one of the three women murdered by Basil Borutski in what is regarded as one of Canada’s worst episodes of domestic violence. In the five years since the death of his sister, Hopkins has pursued his wish to honour her with a musical tribute while at the same time to promote awareness of violence against women and gender based violence. In 2017 he approached literary icon, Margaret Atwood, and asked her if she would write the lyrics for some of the songs for a song cycle. Atwood eventually agreed and sent some suggested poems to Hopkins and Jake Heggie, who had agreed to compose the music for it.
This resulted in the composition “Songs for Murdered Sisters” which was commissioned jointly by the Houston Grand Opera Company and Canada’s National Arts Centre Orchestra. The pandemic has prevented any live performances but a digital album was released last Friday with an accompanying film. The photo above was taken during the recording sessions and shows Nathalie watching over her brother and Heggie on a screen. photo Zoe Tarshis for The Guardian.
In an interview with The Guardian, Hopkins recalled how he learned of his sister’s death while rehearsing in Ottawa. “It was horrifying. I was sent reeling, it was an emotionally very turbulent time and I felt helpless, powerless to do anything to help my sister. But I knew that as an opera singer I had a voice and I could use that voice to tell my sister’s story and also to bring awareness to the global epidemic that is violence against women and gender based violence.”
The album has been released by Chandos Records and in the album notes, Hopkins says, “I often found myself feeling numb about Nathalie’s death – something too horrifying to comprehend. Since receiving Margaret’s haunting words and then Jake’s gorgeous music I have shed countless tears…. Songs for Murdered Sisters is a tribute to Nathalie, Anastasia and Carol and the countless sisters we have lost over the years.“
Click BELOW for a short YouTube video which contains part of the first song “My sister is now an empty chair.”