One of the creators of a new opera premiering in Vancouver next week hopes it will make the stories of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls more real for its audience.

Missing is a chamber opera that tells the story, in Gitxsanimaax and English, of a non-Indigenous woman and a First Nations woman who cross paths in northern B.C.

Librettist Marie Clements describes it as a chance encounter that changes both women's lives forever.

Clements, a Vancouver-based Métis/Dene playwright and filmmaker, says she was hesitant at first when she was approached by City Opera Vancouver to write the libretto.

"I think the topic of this opera has a lot of responsibility to it and gravity," she said. "But I was very intrigued about telling this story in a genre that usually doesn't tell stories like this and to reach audiences that don't usually hear stories like this."

Clements said she hopes by sharing the story of missing and murdered women and girls through a chamber opera — with what she imagines will be a largely non-Indigenous audience — that more people will be able to connect with the stories they see and hear in the news with compassion.  

Melody Courage Missing MMIWG opera

Métis coloratura soprano Melody Courage performs as the unnamed First Nations woman in Missing. (Emily Cooper)

"I think as an artist, that's part of our job — to do what we can to make this story real and create hopefully some kind of empathy, so that people can look at it or actually feel it," she said.

"I felt that it's important for us to not only look at missing and murdered as a Native issue or a Native story, but to look at it as a Canadian story, unfortunately, and one that we're all responsible to."

Audiences will be taken to two parts of the province — northern B.C, along what's known as the Highway of Tears, and Vancouver's Downtown Eastside — two areas of B.C. where many families have lost someone to violence, or seen family members go missing.

The opera is a co-production between City Opera Vancouver and Pacific Opera Victoria, and is composed by award-winning composer Brian Current. Peter Hinton, who recently helmed the Canadian Opera Company's Louis Riel, directs.

An 'overwhelming' ongoing tragedy

Clements said when she thinks about how many Indigenous women and girls have gone missing or been killed across the country, she wonders how it can still be happening.

"It seems to me overwhelming that it's kind of had this longevity of occurrence in our country. And I don't think there's a week or month goes by where we're not seeing posts of missing or murdered Aboriginal women," she said.

In developing Missing, Clements said she was grateful the opera companies moved early on to consult with those closest with the tragedy and to follow appropriate protocol.

Families of missing and murdered Indigeneous women and girls will be the first to see the opera, in a private performance on Nov. 1. After that, Missing will premiere at the Cultch's York Theatre in Vancouver on Nov. 3, where performances will continue until Nov. 11.

It will then move on the Baumann Centre in Victoria from Nov. 17-26.