Ephemerality seeks eternity

It’s early morning:

  • after having seen a workshop of The Harvester last night
  • before seeing Joel Ivany’s take on the Mozart Requiem with the Toronto Symphony tonight

I just re-read what I wrote about the workshop last April to which Joel invited me, played by Jenna Douglas (I’m thinking of her too, as she goes away for awhile, but perhaps will still be virtually present).  Last April we saw a workshop + talkback, that has serendipitous echoes in what I saw last night. How lucky am I, that I just happened to see a workshop of a new work last night, to take me back to the first fruits of Joel’s creative adventure coming to fruition with the TSO under the baton of Bernard Labadie this week?

I may have been a bit irritating in the talk back last night, as I sat there like a self-appointed dramaturg. The others said their appreciations and thank you’s, but i wanted to probe the new work and ask “what does it do?” That’s very much what i wanted to report in what i wrote last night afterwards, to bear witness after a fashion, and to be as helpful as i could be to the creative team. The music-drama process can be so deep and profound, one doesn’t always recognize just how powerful the forces and parts are, that are in play. I think it’s because I was already remembering what I saw last April (coincidentally during Holy Week), in the Mozart Requiem workshop. I had wanted to understand what was happening in April 2015 as I wanted to understand the new opera in 2016. And thinking about both with the passage of time (morning after the new opera, or more than half a year after the Mozart experiment), I feel different again, and have to let those feelings go because there’s almost too much to explore. In fact what I distinctly recall about Joel’s creation –that time with a piano, four soloists and four more soloists in effect performing the chorus—was that there was so much going on, it was almost too much to take in, a very rich and challenging mix of movements and the very new experience of hearing the Requiem sung this way: which would already have been brand-new had we been watching, say Chris Enns and Ambur Braid simply stand and deliver with the four chorus soloists with piano , not also bend / contort / emote and also deliver. It was one of the most impressive things I’ve seen by the way, a curious creative cul-de-sac never to be visited again, because it’s just a trial version of something else, like an experimental hybrid in a scientist’s garden.

Those flowers live on in our memories.

I was updating my CV the past few days, looking at who I am while fumbling over memories of what I’ve done and not finished, including original works, adaptations and other roles I’d undertaken. I keep coming back to something about live theatre and music, a fact that is ever slipping through my fingers, about the ephemerality of it all. Life slips away from us, and what was here and immediate becomes older like the paper from programmes piled on a shelf, among other memories of other projects.

Music and theatre both could be characterized as a kind of proposition. I use that word enjoying the connotations of a relationship. Do we want something immediately sensual or something permanent and comfortable? Or both? In some ways the same questions that come up in our mating apply to our experience of art.

Mozart’s own work on his Requiem is a testimony both to eternity –in the resonance we feel in his use of the latin texts of the requiem mass—and temporality, in the fragmentary nature of what he actually finished. It addresses the whole world at times, while at other times is like his own interior monologue, his own suffering. I see this most clearly in the adaptation of the music in the closing portions of the film Amadeus, where “confutatis maledictis” (confound the accursed) is powerfully intoned, and juxtaposed immediately with “voca me” (literally “call me”), as though a desperate sad prayer sung by Mozart (Tom Hulce) in the vulnerable and pathetic voice of a fragile mortal man, dying before our eyes while pleading for salvation (“call me” again reminding me of that popular song, someone wanting a relationship: this time with God).

What survives? A little bit of the creator lives on even as we confront mortality. We remember the ones who sang, the ones who staged & brought a little of themselves before us. Then we walk out of the theatre, perhaps remembering some of what we felt.  

When I said “ephemerality seeks eternity” in the headline, I was phrasing it a bit like a proposition you’d see in a singles ad, like “SWM seeks SWF”, or “aging composer seeks immortality”. I have no idea whether these early morning thoughts will have any echoes in what the TSO will do tonight. I was just thinking that it’s new (premiered Thursday), and already it’s over. Saturday night is the closing night. All that work that the various singers did, memorizing their parts: and tomorrow it becomes a memory. And while I am grateful for recordings- like the paper in a marriage contract to help to seal the deal- what’s on paper is not to be mistaken for life, the honesty and vulnerability of live performance.

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