Friday, April 27, 2007

The Dream Healer -- An Opera in Two Acts

What, you haven't heard of this opera? The one which tells the story of Carl Jung's disintegrating marriage and his interaction with Pilgrim, a patient in his clinic in Zurich? What rock have you been hiding under, my friend?

Well you haven't heard of it because its first public performance will be at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts at UBC, seen above, in March 2008. It's part of the celebration of the University of British Columbia's centenary and the 10th Anniversary of the Chan.

Yesterday afternoon, at Cecil Green Park, I had the pleasure of attending a preview performance, consisting of excerpts and readings. The singers were four young students from the Opera program at UBC and present were fifty or so members of the Faculty Women's Club.

I want to tell you the delightful story of how this opera came about. Canadian composer, Lloyd Burritt, who was present and related the story himself, retired in 1999 from his "day job", teaching high school music and theatre. All his friends asked the hyperactive Burritt what he was going to do and he answered, "I'm going to write an opera." He went into a book store and asked the store owner, which, of all the books in the store, would she choose, if she were going to write an opera. He said, without hesitation she picked up the book, Pilgrim, by celebrated Canadian author, Timothy Findley. She also told him that he would never get it right.

Of course, he accepted the challenge. After careful study of the book, he wrote two arias, using Findley's own words and sent them to him and next thing he had obtained the rights to the book. And so the opera was born. He recognized that he needed a librettist and two different ones have been involved, with the last, Don Mowatt, also present yesterday.

Findley's book tells the story of Pilgrim, a person who has lived many lives, both as a woman and as a man. He decides to try to end this cycle once and for all, but after a suicide attempt he is taken to the clinic near Zurich where Carl Jung works. The book tells the stories of many of Pilgrim's past lives, which Jung discovers through his journals. It also tells of Jung's interaction with Pilgrim and other patients, as well as the disintegration of Jung's marriage to his wife Emma, because of his love affair with a former patient, now therapist at the clinic.

The story has been much changed for the opera, since a two hour time frame demands a very different treatment. It concentrates more on Jung, with his disintegrating marriage, and the interaction of Jung and Pilgrim who appears at first as a dream figure to Jung. But later he becomes alive and interacts with the other patients and doctors at the clinic. There is a struggle between Jung and Pilgrim as Jung tries to help him but finally Pilgrim escapes and dies and Jung is left to begin again the work of healing his patients.

Well that all sounds very interesting. But let me tell you about the performance yesterday. Basically they are trying to raise money for this staging of the opera. $300,000, in fact. So they have put together a series of dialogues from the opera, which were acted by Don Mowatt, the librettist and actor, along with Carolyn Finlay, another actor. These were interspersed with the arias, sung yesterday by the four young singers. Now the two young women and two young men may still be students, although one is a master's student, but they have incredible voices and sang very professionally. The performance took place in the two storeyed living room of Cecil Green Park, on campus, and they were singing full power, with the audience no more than 6 to 10 feet away. I can tell you that it sent shivers down my spine to hear them. Accompanied only by a pianist, these young people gave a stunning performance and when they sang a quartet together, it brought tears to my eyes.

The singers, along with the composer, the librettist and the accompanist joined us for afternoon tea in the dining room afterwards and we had the opportunity to speak with them, which was a delight for us. Their enthusiasm about the project is very infectious. There is a collaboration with the Department of Psychiatry and the Institute of Mental Health who together have organized a three-part lecture series, featuring leading Jungian analyst Marion Woodman and other renowned speakers, which will take place next year during the performance week. The hope is to stimulate discussions about psychiatry and mental health and raise awareness of these issues in society.

Three internationally known Canadian opera singers, Judith Forst, John Avey and Roelof Oostwoud, have been engaged to sing the leading rolls, with UBC Opera ensemble filling out the other rolls. I think that I will definitely be attending one of these performances and I was persuaded yesterday, by the wonderful experience, to become a "Friend of The Dream Healer", by making a donation to help stage this very interesting venture.


Lee said...

This sounds so very, very interesting, jmb. I have to admit I'm a bit of a Jung fan...and have been for years. I have books of his here in my bookcases...not gathering dust, I have read them.

I can understand your feelings watching and listening to the performances of those young folk. I get tingles down my spine, too...and tears...and I'm so glad I am able to experience 'beauty' that way. Thanks for this post. It is very interesting. :)

jmb said...

Hi Lee,
You might like the Pilgrim book then. I would lend it to you if you lived nearby since I have it. It's a very interesting book.

Heart of Rachel said...

Hi! I came by to check your photo hunt and saw this interesting post. Thanks for sharing about this remarkable opera. Must have been fascinating to watch.

james higham said...

You think they'll raise the money, JMB? Or perhaps they already have it.

jmb said...

Hi Rachel, I couldn't think of a thing in my files for today's hunt. I'll be back next week.
Glad you enjoyed the post

jmb said...

Hi James, if they don't raise it which I'm sure they will, UBC will make it happen else they'll look foolish.

Janice Thomson said...

Being a fan of the opera I found this an interesting and enjoyable post. I too know that feeling of chills up and down the spine and many tears when I attended Les Miserables. There's something about an opera that stimulates the senses like nothing else can.

jmb said...

Hi Janice,

This performance was so up close and personal. These young singers have sung for our group once before. We hired them for a special occasion and paid them. I don't know what the arrangement was the other day.

ipanema said...

I think this is wonderful. It will be a sucess by the sound of it. Hopefully, they'll raise the money.

jmb said...

I hope so too ipanema. I did my little bit. But I think it's going to happen anyway and they'll find the money somehow.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Brilliant post, jmb. What a fantastic looking arts centre that is. The story of how the opera came to be written is captivating and I'd love to read the book. I do envy you for having been able to see a preview and the commitment and enthusiasm of all involved in the project comes over in the post. And you will probably get to see one of the scheduled performances too! - What an interesting cultural life you lead, jmb.

jmb said...

Hi Welshcakes,
I thought it was a lovely experience and hoped my readers would enjoy it.
My cultural life is not so great, however, you must remember I live on the west coast where we are a bit lacking. However, I make whatever I can of the opportunities that do present.