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The Dream Healer.

The University of British Columbia Opera Ensemble celebrated the university's 100th birthday with the world premiere of The Dream Healer by Vancouver composer Lloyd Burritt to a libretto, based on Timothy Findlay's novel Pilgrim, by Christopher Allan and Don Mowatt. It was presented in conjunction with the UBC Department of Psychiatry and the UBC Institute of Mental Health in the first week of March.


Mowatt encapsulates the storyline "as a journey to integrate the real with the unreal, the supposed with the unimaginable, so that new understandings of the human condition are possible ... the life work of Carl Jung." Burritt took this complicated concept to create music that defines and enhances the expression of the characters' mental problems. The Act I opening sees everyone on stage except two of the principals--Pilgrim (tenor Roelof Oostwoud)and Lady Sybil (mezzo Judith Forst)--with Ensemble students in character as mental patients at the Burgholzli Clinic in Zurich with their attendant staff and doctors. A moving opening chorus sets the stage for a riveting two hours of gripping psychological drama.

Robert Gardiner of UBC's Theatre Department created a magnificent, multi-level set that focused the carefully lit action on areas of the clinic, Jung's home and the garden for the patents. A central winding staircase acted as the conduit through the various areas. Designer Alison Green brought a concern for accuracy to the early 20th-century costuming, while the difficult, but effective, lighting was by Jeremy Baxter.

Baritone John Avey created the role of Carl Jung, dominating the stage and the action as he wrestles with his own mental processes in the interplay between Pilgrim, who has become part of his own imagination, and himself. The two women in his life--his wife Emma, ravishingly sung by soprano Simone Osborne, and his mistress Antonia Wolff, sensitively portrayed by mezzo Rose-Ellen Nichols--are counterfoils to Jung's commitment to his work and his need for both sacred and profane love.

Jung is also in conflict with his superior, Dr. Furtwangler (bass-baritone Brent Calis), head of the clinic, who disagrees with his methods to reintegrate the kind of psychic split succinctly described in Pilgrim's main aria, "I have lived many lives," explaining his desire to die. Countess Blavinskeya, rapturously sung and danced by coloratura Suzanne Rigden, on the other hand achieves her desire of" returning to her home on the moon," and commits suicide. Other effective portrayals included lyric baritone Seth Drabinsky as Kessler and contralto Valery Saul as Dora.

David Agler conducted the student orchestra sensitively, achieving a professional level of performance from the 50 well-disciplined UBC instrumentalists. Opera Ensemble director Nancy Hermiston's nuanced direction bound the production's complex elements into a cohesive whole, the stage movement balletic but understated and focusing on the singers. The three world-class professionals in the cast--Forst, Avey and Oostwoud--anchored the opera with their beauty of tone, clarity of line and sensitivity of action. Working with them was a gift to the students.
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Author:Clark, Hilary
Publication:Opera Canada
Date:Jun 1, 2008
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