Tonia Cianciulli: The Heart’s Obsession

By: Nick Travis

Drawing parallels from her own life, Tonia Cianciulli honours trailblazing opera singer Georgina Stirling


In the late 19th century a young woman stared out her window in Twillingate with dreams of being much bigger than her small town roots. That woman was the famed Nightingale of the North, Newfoundlander opera singer Georgina Stirling. At that time, she went on to make a name for herself in a way few women from Newfoundland could, travelling all around the world with her beautiful soprano voice.

Inspired by Georgina

Almost a century later, St. John’s born soprano Tonia Cianciulli started drawing surprising similarities between herself and the once-famed songstress of yesteryear.

“I had pulled out the original book of Nightingale of the North by Amy Louise Peyton off my bookshelf that my grandparents had given me ages ago,” said Cianciulli. “I must have read it within one or two days. I realized that a lot of the repertoire that she was very well known for were identical to pieces that I had grown top singing through my career.”

Inspired by Georgina Stirling’s life, Cianciulli began performing concerts based on Stirling’s performances, often weaving in dialogue to give audiences a sense of who she was. Over time, people began to come to her with stories and records pertaining to Georgina Stirling that had not been included in her earlier biography.

After pouring over the information with her grandfather, Newfoundland author Calvin D. Evans, they agreed a new biography needed to be written.

Over time, more and more people came forward with information related to The Nightingale of the North, and a story began to take place.

Cianciulli’s grandfather, who co-wrote the book, focused entirely on the historical aspect of Stirling’s life – making sure all the information was factual and made sense historically. Cianciulli’s role was to write from the perspective of an opera singer, giving a lot of insight on her repertoire, her style and what life is like for an opera behind the scenes.

Struggles & demons

Over time, The Heart’s Obsession came to fruition, a book which Cianciulli saw as a story that needed to be told about an inspiring Newfoundland figure.

“She was really a trailblazer of her time,” said Cianciulli. “She had that passion and nothing was going to stop her. She obviously had her own struggles and inner demons, but I personally feel that she triumphed.

“I really believe that she was a jewel of Newfoundland and I really feel that what she accomplished needs to be applauded and celebrated and not judged, because I know that some people were judgmental of some of choices that she made in her life. Everyone else were raising children and cleaning fish and keeping a household and she’s like, ‘I want to be an opera singer,’ and she performed on the opera stages of the world. I just find that is so bold and so brave. She really did follow her heart’s obsession.”

Cianciulli hopes that besides telling the story of Georgina Stirling, she can also inspire readers to never give up on their own hearts obsession.

“I’m using her almost as a vehicle to kind of share with people, like, don’t give up on your dream,” said Cianciulli.

“It really doesn’t matter how big you make it, because you know, she would come back to Newfoundland in these small towns and have such a profound impact on individual people and touch individual people. Find your passion no matter what they be. Whatever your talent and passion is, no matter how big or small, just follow your dreams. There are 100 per cent going to be peaks and valleys along the way, but you just stick to your own Heart’s Obsession.”

The Heart’s Obsession can be found anywhere books are sold. Alongside this novel, Cianciulli has also released The Heart’s Obsession album, which is dedicated to the work of Georgina Stirling. It can be found on all streaming services.