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'Missing' opera aims to raise awareness of plight of Indigenous women

It’s a national crisis in Canada, and one that has gone largely ignored by institutions and media: Indigenous women are murdered and go missing at a staggeringly higher rate than their non-Indigenous counterparts.
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'Missing' stars Rose-Ellen Nichols and Melody Courage.

It’s a national crisis in Canada, and one that has gone largely ignored by institutions and media: Indigenous women are murdered and go missing at a staggeringly higher rate than their non-Indigenous counterparts.

The reality of this heartbreaking tragedy (and the focus of a highly troubled royal commission) is the subject of Missing, a chamber opera co-presented by City Opera Vancouver and Pacific Opera Victoria that has its world premiere on Nov. 3.

Written by Canadian Métis playwright Marie Clements, with a gripping score by Juno Award-winning composer Brian Current, Missing explores “a human issue, and one that we should all be responsible to, and taken to task,” says Clements in a recent interview. “For this to be seen as simply an Indigenous problem or issue, it’s ridiculous.”

Missing is set between Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and B.C.’s Highway 16, a.k.a. the Highway of Tears, where at least 18 women have vanished or been found murdered since 1969. Told through both English and the First Nations language of Gitxsan (widely spoken in First Nations communities along Highway 16), Missing follows the fate of two women – one Indigenous, one not – whose lives become tragically intertwined.

“Something I find immensely hard to grapple with still is that we, in this country, have all of these missing and murdered young women and there doesn’t seem to be enough done to make this go away so nobody has to suffer,” says Clements, who also directed this year’s critically acclaimed documentary feature The Road Forward, which used new music and reenactments to illustrate the struggle for Aboriginal rights in B.C.

One of Clements’ goals with the text was to “make this a personal experience for the audience, because I do think it’s immensely human and it’s one of those things that I think if we understood what it feels like, we might do more to affect change,” she says, adding that opera is an ideal venue for these ideas and emotions.

“You layer words and music and action, and that composition builds a whole universe,” says Clements. “When those things merge correctly, you have a real opportunity to tell a story that can engage people’s imaginations and open their hearts.”

Missing features performances by Métis Canadian coloratura soprano Melody Courage; Alberta-born soprano Caitlin Wood; Marion Newman of Kwagiulth and Stó:lō First Nations, and of English, Irish and Scottish ancestry; Rose-Ellen Nichols, a mezzo-soprano of Coast Salish heritage; bass-baritone and a member of Saskatchewan’s Moosomin First Nation Clarence Logan; Vancouver-based mezzo-soprano Heather Molloy; and Victoria tenor Kaden Fosberg.

“I think we’re at a place where a lot of us desire a real, honest engagement, and looking at some of these harder things that have happened allows us to go deeper,” says Clements.

“I feel there’s a hope in that, and a change that is real.” 
 

Missing runs Nov. 3, 5, 7, 9, and 11 at the York Theatre.