Act One The opera opens in the interior of BC. It’s 1980 and Irene is packing up her beloved cabin grudgingly to move to the city for better care. As she bids goodbye to her familiar surroundings, her son Jimmy discovers an old-fashioned spinning top — a top that puts into motion the story of a woman Irene once knew: the story of Lillian Alling, a young woman from Russia who sets off to find her husband, Jozèf, who had emigrated to America ahead of her.
Suddenly we are swept into the New York of the 1920s.
Lillian arrives in Brooklyn, as did so many immigrants, only to discover that Jozèf has left for better prospects in the farmland of North Dakota. Having no money, she finds a map at the New York Public Library and decides she will walk to meet him. But as she pursues Jozèf, he is always one step ahead of her: across the vast prairies to the west coast and, ultimately, northward along BC’s Telegraph Trail. The men she encounters along the way document her path: the golden-haired Norwegian farmer’s son Kristian; gnarly Constable Wyman who throws her in the Oakalla Prison Farm; spirited telegraphers Bill and Charlie, Sam and the determined Scotty Macdonald, who reports Lillian to Constable Wyman.
Scotty Macdonald…but that’s Jimmy’s father! As present day collides with the past, the spinning top throws Jimmy’s own history into question.
Act Two opens in spring of 1928. Lillian has been released from custody and, intent on resuming her journey, has taken a job in a downtown Vancouver café. When Scotty Macdonald walks in one day, Lillian is shocked, and wants nothing to do with him, but Scotty is persistent. He explains that he betrayed her in order to save her from death in the wilds. Their friendship grows, and Lillian finally reveals why she is searching for Jozéf. It is not what Scotty imagined. The opera ends with a surprising revelation from Irene and a final cathartic confrontation on the banks of the Skeena River.
“I open my eyes. I pick up my pack. I pick out a path.
I never look back. I take the first step. The answers I lack
lie further ahead. I never look back.” – Lillian Alling