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New Opera gives more complete Canadian history




Telling the marginalized history and implications of the atomic age are exactly what Edmonton Opera hopes to do with the world premiere of the new work, Shelter. The opera that opens next week was crafted by composer Juliet Kiri Palmer and librettist Julie Salverson over nearly a decade.

In order to tell the story, they had to go back to the documentary film Village of Widows by Peter Blow. It is a recounting of the story of the Dene people of Northwest Territories from a settlement on the shores of Great Bear Lake. Located more than 400 kilometres north of Yellowknife, it is near the Arctic Circle and where the world's first uranium mine was established in the early 1930s. 


Members of this community worked for the mine carrying sacks of ore; unknowingly being exposed to the hazardous effects of uranium. As the movie explores, in the years that followed the community not only faced high cancer rates but they had to contend with the reality that they're connected to the bombs that dropped in Japan during WWII. From an excerpt of the film, a member of the Dene community explains. "To us, the land and the resources and everything is very sacred because of the fact that we rely on it to continue to live and that very source is what exactly caused damage to other people. It's very hard to comprend.


As this movie spurred Julie to write the new work, Edmonton Opera is presenting a free public screening of Village of Widows. It's being shown at 7pm on Tuesday in Zeidler Hall at the Citadel Theatre. With the help of Edmonton Opera, delegates from the Dene community will be in Alberta's capital city to be at the film screening.


But this film didn't just influence Julie, it also motivated one of her colleagues, Peter van Wyck, to write a book about it. He says that both the opera and book "really describes a much broader and complicated swath of twentith century history, a kind of history that Canadians had not really come to terms with. This marginal history that people don't really want to know about, is almost a parable."

The pair researched the history for their respective projects. It wasn't easy as all of the company's papers was secret. For every piece of information that Peter wanted, he has to submit an application. In response, he found another way to tell the story.

Peter's final product was the book The Highway of the Atom. Which he won the 2011 Gertrude J. Robinson Book Award. He'll be in Edmonton to speak about researching Canada's nuclear story at an event Edmonton Opera is also hosting. The panel discussion The Highway of the Atom - From the Great Bear Lake to Japan is being presented on next Wednesday at La Cité Francophone.


Librettist Julie Salverson will be on the panel too. Edmonton Opera's CEO Sandra Gajic says it's part of how the opera as well as the panel discussion and film screening are connected. "We are bringing it because we feel it is part of the story that needs to be told." She says it falls in line with what the art of opera is all about. "Opera was created as a reaction to all kinds of social issues and political issues throughout history."

The company is presenting Shelter in a much smaller venue, then where their regular season is performed at the Northern Jubilee Auditorium. The show is taking to the stage at La Cite Francophone as the company is launching a new set of shows called the ATB Canadian Series. The co-production by the Edmonton Opera and Toronto's Tapestry New Opera's Shelter is the first-ever production in this new series.

With the opening of this new work, it isn't the end of the atomic age history. The world premiere of Shelter and the related contextual events in Alberta can be added to a more complete and ever expanding nuclear narrative.

Film Screening with Q & A: Village of Widows: a documentary by Peter Blow
WHEN: November 13 at 7pm
WHERE: Zeidler Hall at the Citadel Theatre (9828-101A Ave) in Edmonton

Panel Discussion: The Highway of the Atom - From the Great Bear Lake to Japan
WHEN: November 14 at 6pm
WHERE: La Cité Francophone (8627 Marie-Anne Gaboury St) in Edmonton

World Premiere of Shelter
WHEN: November 15-18 at 8pm (Saturday matinee at 2pm)
WHERE: La Cité Francophone (8627 Marie-Anne Gaboury St) in Edmonton


by Sarah Hoyles
featured on November 8, 2012


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