Recently I asked the librettist and the composer to tell me why they think their subject matter is important and how they approached their roles to create the libretto and then compose the score. Here’s what they shared with me:
Stephanie Martin: “Water is everywhere, around us and in us, yet we rarely stop to consider how much we rely on this essential element. We assume it will always be there when we need it, but we don’t appreciate how fragile and threatened this resource is. It’s helpful to disrupt our stagnant modes of thinking and consider this Anishinaabe teaching: it is a sacred duty to protect Water. Our existence depends on it.
“Our oratorio presents two worlds: a fantastical world where Water is a person, surrounded by water spirits, and an everyday-world scenario played out in a Northern Ontario community where environmental protection confronts economic progress.
“A piece of music cannot change the world, but it can bring us together to engage in conversation, challenge us to think and feel in new directions, and open our ears to other ways of knowing.
“The music that brings this story to life may surprise you, since it finds expression through many different genres: opera, folk, jazz, classic choral music, and above all through the very special gift of The Water Song by Dorene Day which reminds us to give thanks for Water every day.
“I give my thanks to the team that built this piece – Deb and Dan, Mark, Paul, the Grand Phil, and particularly Vicki Monague whose courage as a water activist and teacher of the Ojibway language has given us inspiration we could not have imagined.”
Paul Ciufo: “This oratorio tells the fictional tale of a community torn between the economic opportunities and the environmental risks of a major new development. Actual events helped to inspire the fictional story but I chose the setting for the libretto for very personal reasons.
“The story is set in a fictional community in the Parry Sound area. Helen, a mayor, must decide whether to support a development that will provide a much-needed boost to the prosperity of her community, or to heed the warnings of her son Michael who joins a protest group. The protestors fear the “forever chemicals” that will be used in the new factory could threaten the pristine drinking water upon which the community depends. Indigenous and non-indigenous protestors like Michael work together to oppose the development. Water, herself, is a character in the oratorio.
“Throughout my life I have been fortunate to spend some time each summer in the Parry Sound area. In my mind and in my journals I have collected images of beauty: a still, misty morning lake reflecting every tree encircling it; lichen-webbed rocks; a crystal waterfall; infinite stars in the night sky. I wove these images into the libretto which became, in part, a love letter to that beauteous landscape.
“Tenacious protestors in several Ontario communities over the years have championed water and halted developments that would have imperiled this precious resource. Community leaders have had changes of heart and opposed the developments due the intervention of their children and grandchildren. The human capacity for change, and the ability of young people to influence change, gives me hope.”