The Llandovery Castle bears the name of the hospital ship torpedoed in the North Atlantic. It focuses on the 14 nurses from eight Canadian provinces who served in harrowing circumstances throughout the war, their care and compassion contrasting with the chaos and violence surrounding them.
With music by Stephanie Martin and libretto by Paul Ciufo, the opera spotlights in particular the lives of Minnie "Kate" Gallaher and Rena "Bird" McLean, the latter traumatized by earlier battlefield-area nursing, and her quest on the hospital ship to prove herself ready to return to the Front. Bird seeks to prove to her superior, Matron Margaret "Pearl" Fraser, that she is strong enough to serve close to the action once more, little imagining the fatal turn their assignment would take.
The opera also features roles for 3 men: Sergeant Arthur "Art" Knight and Major Tom Lyon, two of the 24 men who survived the sinking, and German U-boat commander Helmut Patzig.
The music of Llandovery Castle skirts boundaries of genre and style. Scored for a sonorous classical chamber orchestra and nine singers, it has been described as "a modern flirtation between baroque, classical, traditional and popular genres." Martin describes this operatic style as "21st-century bel canto", focused on the narrative and expressive power of the human voice.
Composer Stephanie Martin's interest in the Llandovery Castle story began in 2015 at a rehearsal for another project. Although she had worked as organist at Toronto's Calvin Presbyterian Church for over a decade, she had never noticed a plaque on the church wall and its dedication to one of the Llandovery Castle nurses, Mary Agnes McKenzie. The June performances of the opera will take place in this same church, just meters from the plaque.