A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


Saturday, March 01, 2008

A few months ago Abraham Rogatnick and I went to a preview performance of sections of the new opera Dream Healer based on Timothy Findley's 1999 novel Pilgrim. We were both pleased and looked forward to the premiere. That premiere is upon us as we will be attending that premiere on Sunday at the Chan at UBC.

Rogatnick introduced me to the composer Lloyd Burritt (below, right) an affable man with a catchy smile. I asked him if he thought his opera (The original adaptation and libretto were by Christopher Allan. The revised libretto and additional material are by Don Mowat) would have legs. With that smile of his he responded, "It is the only opera that I know in which one of the characters is a practising psychiatrist, and he is no other than Carl Jung."

In Findley's novel Pilgrim Jung is fascinated by a man called Pilgrim who is obsessed with the idea that he cannot die and has many failed suicide attempts. He recounts in details meetings with da Vinci, Teresa de Ávila and Oscar Wilde.

With singers Judith Forst, Mezzo-soprano as Lady Sybil, John Avey, Baritone as Carl Jung and, Roelof Oostwoud, Tenor as Pilgrim this promises to be the opera premiere of the season.

But there is more!

In 1988 writer Peter Buitenhuis interviewed Timothy Findley and I photographed him in a suite at the Hotel Vancouver for Books In Canada. Both Findley and his friend, William Whitehead, while not being able to penetrate the serious and studious professorial demeanor of Buitenhuis, charmed me. It was easy to photograph Findley. Whitehead became my de facto art director.

Buitenhuis made up for his seriousness with his research of the man. He asked Findley some interesting questions. These questions surely were in the Burritt's mind when he composed this opera.

Buitenhuis: I want to turn from questions of influence to subject. Your first novel, The Last of the Crazy People , might in fact be said to be the first of the crazy people you've dealt with in almost all your fiction. You certainly have a concern for the mentally obsessed and the unbalanced. Is this largely for dramatic effect, or is it because you yourself have a fascination with the world of the mentally excessive and unbalanced?

Findley: I think the latter. It's a conception of what other people call crazy. It is the ultimate simplicity. It may be focused on one gesture or one passion, but the way in which it is focused, with the mentally troubled, tells me so much about the human spirit and mind and the obsession with perfection.

Buitenhuis: Is there any other comment you'd like to make abou this collection (Stones) of stories?

Findley: No, except that I enjoyed writing it. It was a deliberate attempt to put a book of stories together rather than to collect stories that I had been writing randomly over time. I am not a short story writer, in the sense that Alice Munro is -a writer, by the way that I admire immensly. It was a new kind of writing, a new way of organizing a book. I set them all in Toronto, deliberately, and kept discovering that they were about brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, and parents and children, deeply committed relationships and the crises they provoke - the whole book had that. The copy editor giggled at the end of her work and said to me: "I don't think you realize this, but are you aware that the Queen Street Mental Health Centre is a character in every single one of these stories?" And by God it is!
Buitinhuis": And a very powerful character too.

Findley: And I literally didn't know that.

Buitinhuis: Back to the Crazy People!

Findley: Yes, back to the Crazy People.


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