Join us for Canadian Stage's stunning inaugural opera.
In 1888, Swedish playwright August Strindberg debuted Miss Julie, a hallmark of naturalistic theatre that has since been performed around the world in a variety of adaptations and formats. A tale of the narrowing realities of life and the human aspiration to break free of those constraints, two servants and their countess grapple with the complexities of desire, ambition and inevitable loss. Artistic & General Director and award-winning opera creator Matthew Jocelyn directs this contemporary chamber adaptation by Belgian composer Philippe Boesmans, recognized internationally as one of the greatest opera composers of our times. A landmark North American premiere.
"Bewitching and exotic... If operas were always the quality of this Julie, our musical life would be considerably richer"
– LE MONDE (Paris)
"Matthew Jocelyn uses the possibilities of opera and its vast emotional arsenal to its fullest"
- LA NACION (Argentina)
MUSIC DIRECTION BY
Julie | Lucia CervoniCanadian mezzo soprano Lucia Cervoni studied at the Manhattan School of Music‚ and won the Washington International Singing Competition in 2007. Recent engagements include Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier (Welsh National Opera, and Magdeburg, Germany)‚ Charlotte Werther‚ Carmen‚ Hansel in Hansel und Gretel‚ Eboli in Don Carlos‚ Suzuki‚ Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream‚ Maddalena in Rigoletto‚ Diana Orpheus in the Underworld‚ Tisbe in La Cenerentola, Dorabella in Cosi fan tutte‚ Cherubino in Le Nozze di Figaro and Ulrica Un Ballo in Maschera‚ (all Theater Magdeburg). Engagements in the USA include Third Lady in Die Zauberflöte and Tessa in John Kennedy’s The Trinity (Santa Fe Opera)‚ Cornelia in Giulio Cesare (Glimmerglass Opera) and Suky Tawdry in The Beggar’s Opera (Castleton Festival‚ under Lorin Maazel)
Jean | Clarence FrazerHailed as a "singer to watch" (Musical Toronto) Canadian baritone Clarence Frazer is praised for having a “silvery baritone that retains its silky texture through his entire range" (London Free Press) who “possesses a powerful, robust voice" (Paula Citron). Mr. Frazer was a member of the Canadian Opera Company's Ensemble Studio from 2012-2015. He recently appeared with the COC, making his main stage debut, as Figaro in The Barber of Seville. Other COC credits include: Prince Yamadori (Madama Butterfly); Guglielmo (Cosi fan tutte); Schaunard (La Boheme). Future credits include: Figaro (The Barber of Seville – Pacific Opera Victoria); Dancaire/Morales (Carmen – Edmonton Opera); Figaro (The Barber of Seville – Saskatoon Opera).In addition to his opera and concert work Mr. Frazer won the inaugural Lois Marshall Voice Competition and was a finalist in Palm Beach Opera’s International Voice Competition and the International Vocal Competition held in Hertogenbosch, Netherlands.
Christine | Sharleen JoyntA native of Ottawa, silvery-voiced coloratura soprano Sharleen Joynt debuts for Canadian Stage and Soundstreams as Christine in Julie. She was recently heard as Despina in Against the Grain’s modern adaption of Don Giovanni in Ottawa and Toronto and appeared in China as Zerbinetta in Opera Leipzig’s production of Ariadne auf Naxos. A former member of the Calgary Emerging Artist ensemble, she has appeared in Heidelberg, Karlsruhe, Augsburg, St. Gallen and Dessau in such roles as Adele in Die Fledermaus, Blonde in Entführung aus dem Serail and Oscar in Un ballo in maschera. Recipient of a masters degree in Vocal Performance from New York’s Mannes College of Music, Sharleen is a respected pop culture and fashion blogger and frequent guest columnist with Flare Magazine.
Director Matthew Jocelyn on Julie
+ a synopsis
On the longest day of the year…
… the night is the shortest.
St. Johan’s night is perhaps the ultimate pagan celebration - the day in which the sun never sets - especially in Scandinavian countries where winter appears eternal, the nights without end. It is the night when the inevitable transgressions, paradoxically, are committed in the light of day.
In Philippe Boesmans’ opera Julie, Swedish playwright August Strindberg’s eponymous play Miss Julie has been dissected by scalpel, leaving a lean, incisive drama, a spare skeleton for which Boesmans’ sumptuous score for chamber orchestra and three voices serves as both flesh and heart.
Julie, the only child of her father the (ever-nameless) Count, dances by the fire in the company of her servants, trying to forget her recent break-up with her fiancé. The cook Christine, herself fiancéed to the Count’s groom, Jean, is preparing a meal for her lover, himself now the object of a full-on romantic assault by none other than Julie. After all, says Julie, he “dances better than anyone else”, and has a certain je-ne-sais-quoi which distinguishes him from the rabble.
Everything takes place in the kitchen. The kidney stew slowly simmers.
As Christine dozes off, Julie pushes Jean to drink, and as the alcohol takes effect, they begin to confide in one another, approaching the precipice of desire with less and less self-restraint, more and more abandon. And then they step over the edge.
In the score, the act of love lasts 2’34’’, the time it takes for a passing storm to blow open the windows and create havoc. Love is short for such great upset, with such immeasurable consequences.
Back in the kitchen - the forbidden act takes place elsewhere - Jean proposes they run off together. They will go to Switzerland, buy a hotel, and Julie will run the till. The only snag: Julie has no money of her own, and in any case, the last thing she wants to do is sit at the cash register in some hotel in Switzerland. A new combat begins, but this time not an erotic one, a fight for survival, a savage, humiliating fight. “Knecht ist Knecht” (A servant is a servant) says Julie, only to hear Jean respond: “A whore is a whore”.
Dismissed by Jean - a woman of no means is of no interest to him - Julie returns with a bag full of money stolen from her father’s safe, resigned to the idea of the escape to Switzerland. But the descent into hell has but begun, as Christine arrives and discovers the night’s events, issuing an order that, now that day has come, no-one dares transgress: Jean and Julie are not to leave the room until the Count returns.
For Julie, there is but one solution remaining: the act will be done in the barn, with the help of Jean’s razor.
Theatre is always present in Phiippe Boesmans’ opera writing. Whether it be Reigen (based on the play by Arthur Schnitzler), Wintermärchen (based on Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale) or his most recent successes with playwright Joël Pommerat, Boesmans is fundamentally a man of the theatre. Intuitively he knows how to expose the most subtle human material hidden within the drama, the duel between spoken and unspoken intentions serving as a veritable playground for this composer of the human soul. When words no longer suffice, when things appear beyond expression, his music emerges, the iridescent reflection of our innermost quiverings.
Julie is written for chamber orchestra, an ensemble of 19 soloists who both accompany and provoke the drama. Boesmans navigates the uncertain waters of this domestic tragedy with true virtuosity: 70 uninterrupted minutes of a meticulously orchestrated three-person waltz, and its inevitable dead end. Without ever quoting its influences, the music evokes the colours of Alban Berg, but also those of the Vienna of Richard Strauss. Above all, Boesmans creates a musical idiom like no other, one in which together, the voices and orchestra plunge the depths of a human tragedy that should never have happened.
Julie is my third production with Philippe Boesmans. Philippe composed the music for 5 singers and a French horn for my production of Paul Claudel’s L’annonce faite à Marie in Paris a number of years ago (awarded Best Production and Best Music in Paris that year). He then enabled a chamber adaptation of perhaps his most famous opera, Reigen (based on La Ronde by Arthur Schnitzler), for the opera studio I directed in Colmar, France, coproduced by the Théâtre de l’Athénée-Louis Jouvet in Paris and the Lausanne Opera. And our first production of Julie was performed in more than a dozen theatres across France, Belgium and Switzerland. Philippe’s music and his profound sense of theatre, have thus been a dotted line across much of my own career.
It is with an ever-whetted appetite that I look forward to sharing this most recent feast with our audiences in Toronto.
Music director Leslie Dala on the virtuosic music of Philippe Boesmans
It has been a great pleasure diving into the music of Phillipe Boesmans, a composer who is virtually unknown and underperformed in North America. His opera Julie (his fourth work in this genre) is a kind of conversation piece where the music provides a continuous narrative and is highly concentrated and sophisticated in its sound world.
Short musical motives (for example the two note bass drum figure which is the first thing we hear) permeate the texture of the score and are repeated, developed and used contrapuntally throughout the piece. Christine’s opening vocalise becomes more agitated and extreme in its register as the work progresses mirroring the ever building dramatic tension.
The vocal writing is incredibly economical without any artificial trappings or vocal effects for the sake of effects. The singers are treated like instrumentalists (akin to the music of the Baroque) and the rhythms are often declamatory and speech-like to add to the realism of the work.
Boesmans orchestration is masterful and he creates a remarkable amount of contrast with only 18 instruments. This ranges from the almost inaudible haunting sound of strings playing harmonics to the thunderous virtuosic passage work which is spread throughout the brass, woodwinds, percussion and strings to create a feeling of restlessness and violence. The work embraces both tonal and non tonal elements to create a musical language that is reminiscent of the first two decades of the 20th century (one can hear strands of Mahler, Stravinsky, Berg and Scriabin) where we often feel that we are in a brave new world where traditional melodies, harmonies and phrase structures no longer exist. In that sense, Boesmans perfectly translates Strindberg’s play into the realm of music theatre.