The Dream Healer by Lloyd Burritt Libretto by Christopher Allan Based on the Pilgrim by Timothy Findley World première
Dates and Venue 2 March 2008 @ 3pm and 4, 6, 8 March 2008 @8pm Chan Centre for the Performing Arts
Lady Sybil Judith Forst Carl Jung John Avey Pilgrim Roelof Oostwoud Emma Jung Simone Osborne Countess Blavinskaya Suzanne Rigden
Reviewer J H Stape
Lloyd Burritt's opera, given a lovingly detailed production by a simply superb cast of professional singers and voice students at the top of their game, is nothing if not relentlessly ambitious.
Like its characters who search for the moon or find death in mountain glory, it aspires upward and ever upward, but it is, like its quintessential bourgeoise, Frau Emma Jung, too often earthbound. The tensions between great aspiration and the soaring creative imagination and the small necessities of day-to-day reality are, alas, not fleshed out in this competent but rarely thrilling score.
Indeed, the music, which so often lacks bite and just burbles away, seems at times to contradict the meaning: for instance, that eminently orderly form, the dance, is evoked more than once, and we get the truly loonie waltzing in time and doing the steps of the tango. Music may well soothe the savage breast, but there's a disjunction here between the libretto's large themes (of which there's a veritable plethora) and their overly tame musical expression.
And libretto itself often flails about, needing both compression and greater point, and for that matter more Jungian content. (The erotic and the death wish are associated with Freud, and where we got that the archetypes went wanting.)
Drawn from Canadian novelist Timothy Findley's Pilgrim, the drama, despite all the wonderful and essential fluidity achieved by its attempts at the dreamlike, misses out mightily on those twin necessities of effective theatre: contrast and tension.
That said, the world première of this very flawed work (which could also do with a good half hour's cutting) was nonetheless an engaging experience because of the sheer energy and intelligence of Nancy Hermiston's near-flawless direction, the superb professional and young voices on display, the across-the-board fine acting, and not least the eye-candy sets and purposeful lighting and backdrop projections.
The Chan's stage will ever be an obstacle to mounting opera, and the Robert Gardiner's sets were a triumph in overcoming built-in difficulties. The Director was almost forced into foregrounding the Burgholzli Clinic's patients and doctors -- winningly interpreted by the large UBC Opera Ensemble Chorus, decked out in Alison Green's effective costumes -- with the result that the prinicipals were often far back and even remote.
Thus the most intimate scenes -- and no more intimate experience is there than the conflict of the soul with itself -- turned out always to be public ones, with the chorus of patients ever-hovering.
This lack of contrast, reflected in the score, did not help vivify the libretto, which seemed to want to be about the various pulls on Jung -- towards the unconscious world (represented by the moon, The Pilgrim, The Countess, and the Mad generally) -- and the everyday one of the sun: tomato soup and hot chocolate, babies and a jealous hausfrau of a wife.
In this bout of Imagination and Genius meets the Diapers and the Apron, the contest was never as strongly or as starkly presented as it ought to have been, either in the music or the action.
There were certainly no weak links in the singing, either of the veterans graciously assembled for the occasion or the student cast. John Avey's Carl Jung was authoritative, reaching real white heat at the ending (which saw some of the best writing of the opera); Judith Forst lent her customary vocal and dramatic command to the role of The Countess; and Rudolf Oostwould was an able Pilgrim, a projection of Jung's dream life and a symbolic figure wishing to die after, like Tiresias, endless lifetimes as both a man and a woman.
Fresh from her Metropolitan Opera National Grand Finals win, Simone Osborne shone as Emma Jung, her bright, lovely voice and assured stage presence a testimony to her own burgeoning talent -- and this 21-year-old has star written all over her -- but also bore ample witness to the professional growth, fine training, and sheer dynamism of UBC's Opera School.
No less a testimony to these elements was the elegant performance of Suzanne Rigden as Countess Blavinskaya, the former Imperial ballerina in love with the moon, her coloratura vibrant and powerful.
In the large cast -- there are no fewer than seventeen named roles -- Brent Calis as Dr Furtwängler, Dana Sharp as Dog Man, and Rose-Ellen Nichols as Jung's mistress, Tony Woolf, stood out, although all the performers came to the stage as to the manner born and gave thoroughly committed and carefully prepared performances.
The orchestra got a thorough work out under the deftly wielded baton of Maestro David Agler, dealing with a score that presented numerous challenges to every section.
© 2008 J H Stape