24 May Shelter
chamber opera — 5 singers (sop, 2 mez, ten, bar) + ensemble (cl/bcl, egtr, perc, pf, vn, db) [80’] 2012.
Commissioner: Tapestry New Opera
Funders: The Ontario Arts Council, The Canada Council for the Arts and Tapestry New Opera
Premiere: Edmonton Opera, November 16-20, 2012
Librettist: Julie Salverson
Production: direction Keith Turnbull, design Sue Page, movement Jo Leslie, video & lighting Beth Kates and Ben Chaisson
Program note: Shelter: a nuclear family adrift in the atomic age. Since Prometheus stole fire from the gods, we have flirted with the dangerous beauty of science. In the invisible shadow of Fukushima, how will we survive when knowledge so outstrips understanding? In this fable a father protects his family at any cost, a mother chases storms and a nuclear physicist is midwife to a child who glows in the dark. When the dashing Pilot enters, our world is forever altered.
Composer’s note: The Cold War hovered over my childhood, threatening imminent catastrophe and planetary doom. Growing up in New Zealand was no guarantee of safety — the governments of France, the U.K. and the U.S.A. all conducted nuclear tests in the Pacific Ocean. This was brought home in 1985 when I heard the explosive boom as the French government bombed the Greenpeace vessel The Rainbow Warrior in Auckland harbour. Skip ahead fifteen years and I became a citizen of Canada, a country with a strikingly different atomic history. The lights in my house are powered by nuclear power and my neighbourhood in Toronto hosts a uranium fuel pellet processing plant. At night I lie in bed listening to the haunting sound of train whistles and wonder if another shipment of uranium has arrived from the west. In some sense we all live along the Highway of the Atom and everywhere is downwind. Tripping over tailings and bogged down in radioactive mud, perhaps laughter and beauty will cause us to linger a moment and consider which path leads us out of this mess.