There is much to admire in Louis Dufort’s opera Julie Sits Waiting. It’s conservative to suggest an opera “belongs” in any sense to the composer, particularly a work that’s clearly a collaborative work across several disciplines. Call me old-fashioned.
But I am persuaded by the authoritative voice of Dufort, whose score won me over almost from the first moment.
I’ll try to explain myself without giving too much away, as the work deserves your attention, and calls me back for at least a second hearing.
JSW is a little over an hour long, featuring two characters, namely Julie and Mick, portrayed respectively by Fides Krucker and Richard Armstrong, as middle-aged lovers. When we’re not listening to the pair either together or in a solo by one or the other, we’re listening to some sort of musical interlude between these segments (perhaps they’re scenes?). I suppose these passages are reminiscent of what Debussy or Berg did in their operas, giving us a non-verbal/non-vocal contrast to what had just gone before, and amplified by Jeremy Mimnagh’s projections. Those reflective interludes alone –Dufort’s music withMimnagh’s visuals –are wonderful oases from the volcanic passions stirred between the singers.
The work seems genuinely operatic. I say that because a number of opera companies have been offering works that aren’t actually opera, whether it’s Queen of Puddings’ Svadba (which was more of a song cycle), Against the Grain’s The 7 Deadly Sins (and Holier Fare), the recent A Synonym for Love, or the Canadian Opera Company’s mixed program of The Nightingale and Other Tales (combining opera with songs & instrumental music). Clearly the city has such an appetite for opera, that producers look everywhere.
And so, while Dufort’s score is at times very unconventional –mixing sounds that are recognizably musical with others that are closer to what we’d call noise—there’s no denying that JSW is opera. And perhaps more importantly, it’s a work that needs to be operatic. Sometimes one encounters texts that don’t really need to be sung, or music that doesn’t connect to its story. But JSW is a synthesis of its media, requiring the words, the music, the singing & the theatrical presentation to work its magic.
It’s true that I found myself fighting Tom Walmsley’s libretto at times early on, yanked out of the story by poetic turns of phrase that killed the illusion, by reminding me of a poet trying to be a poet. And yet it made sense when I discovered that Mick is an Anglican priest, and therefore likely to make ostentatious and occasionally pompous turns of phrase. Perhaps on second or third hearing I’d be less likely to fight with the text; but it felt as though everyone else in the team –particularly Krucker, Armstrong, Mimnagh & Dufort—selflessly worked to create a seamless whole, without calling undue attention to themselves. Maybe this is a reflection of the fact that Walmsley’s text was the departure point for everyone else… (and therefore not his fault)?
Considering how short the work is, they grab us quite quickly, and for that Walmsley deserves credit, an economical exposition. It’s a truism that opera can’t move as fast because words that are sung simply take longer than those that are spoken. I would have wished that Walmsley and Dufort had slowed down, in fact, repeating more phrases (and not trying to make the singing quite so naturalistic). There were many moments that I wanted to last much longer. The work felt quite short to me, but oh so economical, getting down to business without any hesitation. The opera is sixty-seven minutes long, which is likely a brilliant choice when reconciling expenses & the desire to be a commercial success: but I would be very happy if the same opera were simply expanded by another 20-30 minutes. I didn’t want it to be over.
Directed by Heidi Strauss and Alex Fallis, there are many moments of great beauty, striking compositions of the two bodies on the stage. Speaking as a middle-aged man, I was delighted with the frank eroticism of the work, the genuine physicality Krucker & Armstrong display. Yet what will stay with you longest is sound. I am still hearing the echoes of their voices, used in so many ways. The title –so suggestive of passionate contemplation—is in no way misleading, even if the work is far from static.
Julie Sits Waiting continues at Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace until Sept 23rd.