Naomi's Road is an opera fit for kids

Sam Chung, Sung Taek Chung and Jessica Cheung in the 2005-
Sam Chung, Sung Taek Chung and Jessica Cheung in the 2005-'06 version of Naomi's Road.
— image credit: TIM MATHESON

The time crunch was the biggest challenge.

Back in 2003, when the Vancouver Opera held a contest for composers to set Joy Kogawa’s book Naomi’s Road to music, Ramona Luengen and librettist Ann Hodges won the chance to tell the popular tale — but in no more than 45 minutes.

The shortened version was because the new, commissioned production was to be performed for children as part of the company’s Vancouver Opera in Schools 2005-’06 season.

“The kids are sitting on gym floors so 45 minutes is all the attention span that they have,”  Luengen said.

Luengen and Hodges also had to make the plot action-driven and relatable to keep the interest of the younger ones.

They achieved that by having the four singers double as other characters — thereby heightening the fast pace — and by adding different layers for the audience.

For example, the older students could understand the coming-of-age narrative of a girl and her brother being whisked away from their Vancouver home to a Japanese-Canadian internment camp during the Second World War; the elementary student crowd, on the other hand, could follow the journey of a physical item such as the loss of Naomi’s doll.

Luengen said the production has been well received since it premiered eight years ago, having been shown more than 170 times.

And this and next month, Naomi’s Road is being remounted in West Vancouver, Vancouver, Hope and Coquitlam — the latter happening at the Evergreen Cultural Centre (1205 Pinetree Way) on May 5 at 2 p.m.

Luengen said she wished she had been taught such heavy, emotional subjects when she was in school. Besides war, Naomi’s Road touches on bullying, racism and loss of family.

“I feel really blessed that the Opera decided this needed to be sung because I never learned any of this in school,” she said. “We never talked about it. It was totally a non-topic. It was Jim Wright, general director of the Vancouver Opera, who read the book and thought it was relevant for the school system and I totally agree.”

• Tickets for Naomi’s Road on Sunday, May 5 are $18/$14 and available through by calling 604-927-6555.




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