In much of his written work, whether for theatre, novels or the screen, Clem Martini, head of the University of Calgary Drama Department, has sought to tell the stories of the overlooked and forgotten.
“Normally, the stories we hear are those of established, often privileged people,” says Martini. “But the people absent from our history, our social record, our view, I find it most interesting to shine a light on their stories.”
That’s why Martini jumped at the chance to work with Calgary Opera, who commissioned him to write the libretto for What Brought Us Here: A New Community Opera, to be staged at the Arrata Opera Centre, Sept. 27 to 29.
Martini was tasked with finding and interviewing individuals from several immigrant populations in Calgary and uncovering their stories, with a focus on the harrowing experiences which brought them to Calgary.
After interviewing about 30 people – men and women, young and old, from countries spanning the world – Martini chose to focus on three stories from Sudan, Iran and Bosnia, respectively.
Martini is excited by the opportunity to take opera out of its traditional realms, with his immigrant tales and the music of composer Arthur Bachmann, inspired by the traditional folk music of the three countries represented.
“Much opera is traditionally based – Verdi, Puccini – and it’s often Eurocentric,” Martini says. “It doesn’t reflect the diverse community we live in today.” Many in the community, Martini adds, never see themselves reflected on the stage.
“There are many people from different countries who are not acknowledged, who aren’t given the same degree of visibility,” Martini says. “This is a terrific opportunity to address that.” He adds: “These stories are genuinely dramatic, compelling and filled with emotion.”
Always prolific, Martini – a past nominee for the Governor General’s Award for Drama and three-time winner of the Alberta Writer’s Guild Drama Prize – also has a new book available. Martini With A Twist, published by Edmonton’s NeWest Press, is a collection of five one act plays (four of which were previously unpublished) spanning 20 years of the writer and professor’s career.