I use surnames in this blog. Everyone calls him “Topher”, but when I wrote about him it was “Mokrzewski”. Some aspects of the naming convention are absurdly obvious. We call RW and RS “Wagner” and “Strauss not “Richard” and “Richard”, although RS can easily be mixed up with other Strausses, so one has to be careful.
This once I’ll make an exception because I’m speaking of someone who will always be “Linda” to me rather than “Hutcheon”, although of course –as with RS–we must distinguish one Hutcheon from another given that it’s Linda & Michael Hutcheon.
They’re an example of what citizenship entails, fabulous role models in everything they do. They both taught at the University of Toronto. They married and appear together in public in what seems to be the happiest and healthiest marriage I know of. While their disciplines diverge –he’s in Family & Community Medicine, while she’s a literary theorist in English & Comparative Literature—they found common ground at night seeing opera. No wonder they’ve written books together, the most tangible labours of love one could imagine. Opera: Desire, Disease, Death for example, is a fascinating book right at the intersection of their disciplines. And citizenship entails service. They are right in the thick of it with Queen of Puddings, a company who have produced several interesting modern works, most recently Ana Sokolovic’s Svadba.
I met Linda in a course she co-taught with Caryl Clark, a graduate seminar with a title something like (as I struggle to recall it) “Opera: multi-disciplinary studies of a multi-disciplinary art-form.” That intersection of disciplines, so germane to her collaborations with Michael, is central to her work as a literary theorist. Two big words I associate with Linda (other than “opera” or “nice”) are “irony” and “adaptation”, as her books on those two words (Irony’s Edge and later A Theory of Adaptation: among many other books I am not mentioning) underpin everything I think as if she were Martin Luther and I’d just become a Protestant.
Saturday morning, the Canadian Opera Company & the University of Toronto co-presented the latest instalment of “The Opera Exchange”, a colloquium Linda co-founded roughly a decade ago, very much like the experience of Linda’s courses and books. Again we’re speaking of a kind of service, a brilliant outreach to the community to help educate & prepare audiences for the operas programmed by the COC. Today’s presentation, occasioned by the COC production of Tristan und Isolde and Wagner’s bicentennial this year, approached its target from several directions:
- A paper by Clemens Risi concerning Regietheatre as exemplified in three recent productions, included a lovely nod near the end from Risi concerning Linda’s ideas of adaptation. Risi offered a wonderfully simply theoretical construct, looking at the tension between theatre as museum, or as laboratory for experimentation, a tension that can be pleasureable even when there’s controversy
- After a brief but eloquent talk about transcriptions, Topher Mokrzewski gave a masterful performance of Liszt’s transcription of the Liebestod, transcription being just another kind of adaptation. His intro included two wonderful observations: that Liszt’s motivation may have partially been motivated by a kind of envy, in effect appropriating the compositional brilliance of others into his fingers, and that transcription is a kind of wish-fulfillment, allowing one to hear and play what’s otherwise unavailable. Those two observations resonate beyond the pianistic world, in the larger sphere of adaptation.
- Linda then moderated a conversation among two singers (Margaret Jane Wray & Michael Baba) & an academic (Bettina Brindl-Risi), asking a wonderfully pointed question –attributed to someone else—in a most disarmingly warm fashion. How does it feel, I wonder, as a singer in this Tristan to be the soundtrack of a video? It was asked whimsically and with no disrespect, eliciting marvellous answers from the singers; they’re too busy trying to survive the ordeal of their roles to even notice.
Now in retirement Linda is on to her next subject with Michael, namely older artists and late style. Notice that the subject is again multi-disciplinary, straddling the boundaries of the Hutcheons’s respective disciplines.
And as usual it’s a fascinating topic. (further reading…)