The World Premiere of the Theatrical Song Cycle “Unruly Sun”, Shone in Montreal!

British activist and filmmaker Derek Jarman in his garden


In 1986, not long after Derek Jarman, was diagnosed with HIVAIDS, the artist, filmmaker and gay activist purchased a small fisherman’s shack house ” Prospect Cottage” in Dungeness, a headland in southern England.

During this period, at the height of the panic over the virus and with Margaret Thatcher ‘s opposition to use warnings about “risky sex” in her government’s Aids awareness campaign, Jarman spoke publicly about his diagnosis and became a leading voice of AIDS activism.

During his time at Dungeness, he maintained a memoir of his experiences that described his time creating a garden in a harsh environment, surviving and coping with his illness as well as looking back on his past and current relationships, art and his activism.

The memoir was published a few years later under the title : “Modern Nature”.


UNRULY SUN is a music-theatrical 19-song cycle presented by l’Orchestre classique de Montréal (OCM) that was inspired by Jarman’s memoir.

The piece was created by Canadian composer Matthew Ricketts (a graduate of McGill’s Schulich School of Music), and famous American librettist, Marc Campbell whose operas have received both a Pulitzer Prize in Music and a GRAMMY Award.

Canadian composer Matthew Ricketts (left) and librettist Mark Campbell (right) © Courtesy of Orchestre classique de Montréal

It is important to note that this song cycle is impressionistic rather than biographical says librettist Marc Campbell.

Through his wonderful memoir “Modern Nature”, the protagonist, (performed by the silky vocals of Lebanese- American, solo tenor Karim Sulayman ), learns about Jarman’s activism, art, and life at Prospect Cottage before becoming engulfed by it, at which point his point of view changes from third to first person.

In this sense, continues Campbell “I believe this art song piece will help build a connection between the homosexual men who are alive today and the ones whose lives AIDS have already claimed.”

Karim Sulayman and the OCM quintet at Cirque Eloize

The world premiere took place in Montreal at the headquarters of Cirque Éloize on December 1st, 2022, for just one night, in honor of World AIDS Day.

Unruly Sun, in the words of composer Matthew Ricketts, ” was a dream project.

“Mark’s libretto offers a wide range of options for magical and surprising musical passages that range from comical, poetic, stoic, lyrical, political, and extravagant”.

In one cycle, Sulayman calls out in a thunderous voice “THIEF!” at a criminal crow. In another, he makes us laugh at his reaction to a “not quite arousing” adult film…hilarity ensues.

Formally and stylistically, Unruly Sun combines several facets of music, drawing on the dramatic language of opera, musical theater and song storytelling.

A round table discussion was held after the premiere with Ken Monteith , Executive Director of the Coalition of Quebec Community Organizations for the Fight Against AIDS


Unruly Sun is a composition that was jointly commissioned by the Orchestre Classical de Montréal (OCM) the Brott Opera (Hamilton), and the 21C Music Festival (Toronto).

Pride Montréal was also a main collaborator of this unique project.

The performance will also be held in Toronto on January 29th, 2023, as part of the 21C Music Festival at Koerner Hall, and Hamilton on January 26th, 2023, as a part of the Brott Opera season.

Karim Sulayman, tenor

Michel‑Maxime Legault, director

Anne‑Catherine Simard‑Desrape, lighting

Matthew Ricketts, music

Mark Campbell, text

OCM string quintet and piano

Sung In English, with French and English surtitles 

For more information on Unruly Sun and up-coming OCM concerts please visit :