Canadian War Museum

Canadian War Museum

October 12, 2006 12:24 ET

Vancouver Opera Presents at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa its Acclaimed Opera for Young Audiences and Their Families

Naomi's Road, A touching drama of family, home, and cross-cultural understanding

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA--(CCNMatthews - Oct. 12, 2006) - After inspiring nearly 50,000 children in schools and community venues throughout British Columbia, in southern Alberta, and in Washington State, Vancouver Opera's acclaimed opera for young audiences, Naomi's Road, continues to resonate in profound ways. From November 1 through 12, 2006, Vancouver Opera, in partnership with the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, will present twenty performances of this very moving opera at the museum.

About the Opera

Commissioned by Vancouver Opera, Naomi's Road was composed by Ramona Luengen to a libretto by Ann Hodges and is based on the 1986 novel for young readers by award-winning Japanese Canadian writer Joy Kogawa. Set during the Second World War, the opera depicts the dramatic journey of nine-year-old Naomi, her older brother Stephen, and their "Obasan" (aunt) from their comfortable and happy home in Vancouver to a Japanese internment camp in the interior of B.C. Sister and brother endure the harshness of war, racism, bullying, and loss of family to discover the gifts that sustain them: music, words and love. Their resilience of spirit and the kindness of certain strangers they meet offer hope for the future and will lead Canadian War Museum audiences to discover the power of understanding and the beauty of compassion.

Performance Details / Tickets

November 1 to 3: School performances (not open to the public)
November 4 and 5: public performances 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. each day
November 7 to 10: school performances (not open to the public)
November 11 and 12: public performance each day at 2 p.m.

Tickets to the public performances are now available from the Canadian War Museum's call centre at 1 800 555-5621 or 819 776-7014. There is a service charge for individual ticket purchases, but not for group bookings. Tickets may also be purchased in-person at the Canadian War Museum Box Office, 1 Vimy Street, Ottawa, Ontario.

Tickets are $10 for students, and $20 for adults. Schools can purchase group tickets by calling 1 800 555-5621 or 819 776-7014.

James W. Wright, Vancouver Opera's General Director, said, "This meaningful work deeply touched many people, children and adults alike, during its tour of B.C. and in locations in Alberta and Washington State that hold their own unique memories of the Japanese internment. We are delighted by the opportunity to share this opera with young audiences in Ottawa, within the resonant surroundings of the Canadian War Museum," he said. "I believe that this presentation of Naomi's Road comes at a time in history when it is important to reflect on the ways in which war and its by-products can not only affect the future of nations but also forever alter the lives of children and the security of their families. Vancouver Opera is privileged to stage a production that has the unique ability to act as a catalyst for audiences of all ages to enter into important dialogue on these issues," added Wright.

J. (Joe) Geurts, Director and CEO of the Canadian War Museum, stated, "As Canada's National museum of military history, we are committed to presenting personal stories and experiences of war and conflict. This production sheds light on one Canadian community's unique experience during the Second World War, in which productive members of society were perceived with fear and distrust and suffered as a result."

About the Canadian War Museum

The Canadian War Museum is the national museum of military history, and attempts to help all Canadians better understand their country's military history in its personal, national and international dimensions. It emphasizes the human experience of war to explain the impact of organized human conflict on Canada and Canadians, and how, through war, conflict, and peace support operations, Canadians have affected, and have been affected by, the world around them. Special exhibitions and programs also explore non-Canadian and general themes related to the human experience of war and the subject of armed conflict, past and present.

About Joy Kogawa

Joy Kogawa's novel Naomi's Road is based on her 1981 award-winning adult book Obasan, the first novel to deal with the internment of Japanese Canadians during and after the Second World War. Widely admired and read, Obasan was chosen for the Vancouver Public Library's 2005 city-wide annual book club program, One Book One Vancouver. Joy Kogawa was born in Vancouver in 1935. Like Naomi's family in the novel, Joy's family was interned in Slocan and later sent to Coaldale, Alberta after the Second World War, where she taught. Kogawa, who now lives in Toronto and Vancouver, is a recipient of numerous honorary doctorates as well as national and international awards for her writing. In 1986, she was named a Member of the Order of Canada. "When I first heard that Naomi's Road was being made into an opera for children, I had a sense of unreality," she said. "I couldn't quite fathom it. And even today, knowing that somehow, through some mysterious process, the story has been magically transformed into a wholly different and wonderful medium, I still find it hard to believe and am left somewhat stunned. It's more than a dream come true," she added. "The existence of this opera tells me once again that the unexpected is what happens - and that there are more blessings in the air than we can ask for or imagine. May we each walk on our own special roads - like Naomi and (her new kindred spirit) Mitzi - with Friendship, discovering as we go that our world is full of a loveliness that is greater than all the grief in our lives."

The Creation Process

Vancouver Opera awarded the commission for Naomi's Road in the fall of 2003 and the process of writing and composing began. Ann Hodges penned the libretto in the winter of 2003-2004. Composer Ramona Luengen wrote the last notes of her score in September, 2004. That same month, the libretto was read at a special event at the Gulf of Georgia Cannery National Historical Site, in Steveston, B.C., (located at the site of the seizure, in 1942, of hundreds of fishing boats owned by Japanese Canadians).

Two week-long workshops were conducted, one in the fall of 2004 and the other in the spring of 2005, during which the work was developed and refined. In May, 2005, portions of the opera were sung for an international audience at the annual OPERA America conference, in Detroit. And in early June 2005, selections from the opera were performed at the 2005 UBC-Laurier Institution Multiculturalism Lecture, at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts, in Vancouver. The performance and the lecture, by poet and writer Roy Miki, were later broadcast on the CBC Radio program IDEAS.

During 2005-2006, Vancouver Opera's touring production of Naomi's Road visited more than 140 schools and community venues throughout B.C. The experience of seeing and hearing Naomi's Road was enhanced with study materials that were created and provided by Vancouver Opera to each school in advance of the performance. The production also travelled to Lethbridge, Alberta and to Seattle and Bainbridge Island, Washington. It was enthusiastically received wherever it was performed.

Production Details

The production features original sets and costumes, designed by Christine Reimer, which beautifully evoke the 1940s period of the opera's story and have been cleverly engineered to fold up for touring purposes. Stage direction is by Ann Hodges.

The musical score, for piano accompaniment and four singers, is richly melodic and dramatic. Easily enjoyed by young audiences, the music is also deft and sophisticated enough to be appreciated by adult audiences. It incorporates traditional Japanese melody and its beautiful voicings and harmonies are influenced by Ramona Luengen's experience as a composer of choral music. The Musical Director is Leslie Uyeda.


This production reunites the four young singers and the nimble-fingered pianist from the Spring 2006 segment of the 2005-2006 tour. Soprano Jessica Cheung is Naomi; soprano Gina Oh is Mother, Obasan and Mitzi (a non-Japanese girl whom Naomi befriends); tenor Sam Chung is Stephen; and baritone Gene Wu is Father, the Trainmaster, a bully, and Rough Lock Bill (an eccentric but kindly man who lives in the mountains above the internment camp). The pianist is Angus Kellett. The stage manager is David Curtis.


Naomi's Road was commissioned and produced by Vancouver Opera with the support of Canada Council for the Arts, British Columbia Arts Council,, Vancouver Foundation, RBC Foundation, Vancouver Arts Awards, The Hamber Foundation, The Leon and Thea Koerner Foundation, and the Spirit of BC Arts Fund.

This presentation at the Canadian war Museum is made possible with the generous support of Ms. Yoshiko Karasawa.

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