November 16th, 2017
Review by Shayli Robinson, Showbill.ca Staff Writer
Co-commissioned by Pacific Opera Victoria and City Opera Vancouver, Missing is an opera that brings the reality of too many families to light in a new way by nationally renowned Métis playwright Marie Clements (Librettist) and Juno-winning composer Brian Current.
For years, indigenous women have been taken from their families while hitchhiking (due to a lack of transportation services) from their remote communities along Highway 16, widely known as the Highway of Tears, and while living and working in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Clements brings this issue to the opera world by telling the story of a Native Girl (Melody Courage, Coloratura Soprano) who dies along the Highway of Tears but lives in the memory of Ava (Caitlin Wood, Soprano), a young white woman who survives a crash not far from her. Throughout law classes taught by Dr. Wilson (Marion Newman, Mezzo-Soprano), an expiring relationship with her long-time friend Jess (Heather Molloy, Mezzo-Soprano), marriage to Devon (Kaden Forsberg, Tenor), and her pregnancy, Ava is haunted by the Native Girl. We also see the Native Girl’s Native Mother (Rose-Ellen Nichols, Mezzo-Soprano) and brother, Angus Wilde (Clarence Logan, Bass Baritone), mourning their untimely loss and imagining the future she wanted for herself, which is paralleled in Ava’s life. Through this and Ava seeing the nameless Native Girl in herself and all around her, the two ultimately achieve reconciliation. Perhaps most importantly about the show is that half of it is sung in Gitxsanimaax, the language of the Gitxsan people on whose territory much of the Highway of Tears rests; employs a cast and crew that is mostly indigenous; and is the first large-scale Canadian opera to ever do so.
The show opens with Yuxwelupton, Bradley Dick, from the Songhees First Nation welcoming those in the room to his family’s territory. Pacific Opera Victoria took great care to follow the local nations’ healing protocols and had healers from WSÁNEĆ to Snuneymuxw territories cleansing those who wanted it before and after the show as well as counsellors on-site afterwards; free services which long lines of show-goers waited patiently for.
Taking place on a stunning set of thousands of autumn leaves and what appears to be cedar, the cast flows across the stage seamlessly in stunning costumes designed by Carmen Thompson with intention in every move. The heart-wrenching pieces are often backlit with projections of the moon, snow, and Gitxsanimaax words while the live orchestra (conducted by Timothy Long) plays perfectly in time. At two points throughout the performance, a female native performer asks “what am I to you? A human being?” as the word MISSING is projected across the stage behind them.
Missing is a piece that at once fills your heart and tugs it down through your gut. It brings a traditionally European art form to a major issue facing indigenous communities by drawing upon the lived experiences of communities and the knowledge of indigenous language holders and storytellers of all mediums.