Tapestry Opera continues their 40th anniversary season with Jacqueline, a commission for Canadian librettist Royce Vavrek and American composer Luna Pearl Woolf; the end result, directed by Tapestry Artistic Director Michael Mori, is something of a living retrospective of the life and times—and plight—of seminal cellist Jacqueline du Pré. A living retrospective because one-half of the two-person show is cellist Matt Haimovitz, who in his teens enjoyed a relationship with an ailing du Pré, at the invitation of her husband and music partner Daniel Barenboim. His presence on stage and behind his instrument added a silent narrative to the work, adding equal parts gravitas and relatability. There’s an ambiguous line of separation between his performance from the fact of the personal memories he was sharing through music.
Jacqueline du Pré, legendary golden-haired young cellist, unrivalled heir apparent to Casals and Rostropovich, inhabited a life transformed by multiple narrators after her death in 1987 into an almost mythical saga. A relentless surge of rumours and anecdotes still swirls around her memory. Stories of locked practice rooms from childhood. Of utter nervelessness as a fearless teenage prodigy on show at the Royal Festival Hall. Of her alleged feverish affair with sister Hilary’s husband. Of her willing surrender to her own husband, conductor Daniel Barenboim’s taxing, single-minded plans for her spectacular latter day career.
Almost five decades after forced to abandon the world of performance, a cruel, agonizing decision imposed by the relentless progress of Multiple Sclerosis shockingly diagnosed at the age of twenty-eight, fascination with Du Pré’s legacy has continued to peak with each passing decade. Two books, one by Hilary and brother Piers later adapted to film, the still controversial biopic, Hilary and Jackie; a West End play, Duet for One; plus a new upcoming ballet, The Cellist, currently in development by London’s Royal Ballet, have, if not spawned, then certainly solidified Jacqueline du Pré’s status as an enduring 20th century classical icon. Her music and spirit live on both in recordings and streaming video, her playing a passionate denial of all that is mortal and evanescent, her presence dazzlingly resurrected on the World Wide Web.
Would the much too short and music-filled life of the late cellist Jacqueline Du Pré make for a good opera? Yes, it turns out: this Wednesday, Feb 19th, Tapestry presented Jacqueline, a chamber biopic opera composed by Luna Pearl Woolf and written by Royce Vavrek in which two performers play the title character. Soprano Marnie Breckenridge and cellist Matt Haimovitz covered, respectively, the verbal, physical side of the musician and her cello and cello-playing. This doubling worked extremely well. Haimovitz, silent and serious but always alert to Jacqueline’s demands and confessions, remained stationary on the soloist podium, while Jackie moved free-range till the very last act. Occasionally I found myself wondering if perhaps a dark mezzo would have been a better voice to have for du Pré to match the cello timbre, but the contrast too makes sense. She is light if chromatic, with musical lines spiky and not exactly beautiful; very playful, spirited, often silly. The musical line on Haimovitz’s cello on the other hand has gravitas; it seems to come out in one smooth, seemingly endless line, and has a dark beauty and no sense of humour.
Libretto by Royce Vavrek, music by Luna Pearl Woolf, dramaturgy and direction by Michael Hidetoshi Mori, Betty Oliphant Theatre, Feb. 19 to 23, 2020.
By anyone’s standards, the world premiere of the new opera Jacqueline is a triumph. The work explores the life and career of British cellist Jacqueline du Pré (1945-1987) in a daring and innovative manner, and is a feather in the cap of Tapestry Opera, the company that took a chance on presenting the piece.
The sad facts about du Pré’s life are well known. At the height of her career, she was considered among the greatest cellists of all time, but as a sign that the gods can be cruel in the extreme, du Pré was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and had to end her public performances when she was just 28. In all, her career lasted just a brief twelve years, but her recording of Elgar’s Cello Concerto is considered so perfect, that other cellists at the time took the work out of their repertoires. The recording has never been out of print.
The opera, by composer Luna Pearl Woolf (American-born, but who lives in Montreal) and libretto by Canadian Royce Vavrek, is in four movements, which are titled Star Birth, Super Nova, Meteorite, and Impact, and so mirror the structure of the Elgar concerto. At key moments, Woolf has even embedded into the score, quotes from the concerto, which is particularly affecting. Impressionistic in style, Vavrek’s scenario skips back and forth through time periods, touching on du Pré’s youth, virtuosity, fame, conversion to Judaism, marriage to pianist/conductor Daniel Barenboim, the loss of her career, and her struggle with MS. And here’s the adventurous part – Jacqueline is a two-hander. American soprano Marnie Breckenridge sings the role of du Pré, while American cellist Matt Haimovitz performs the role of her cello.
Tonight a rapturous audience welcomed the world premiere of Jacqueline, a new opera from Tapestry Opera at the Betty Oliphant Theatre.
It’s a deceptively simple piece exploring the relationship of cellist Jacqueline du Pré and her instrument.
She was a prodigious talent who had to abandon her performing career at the age of 27 when she developed Multiple Sclerosis, and died at the age of 42. What if that story were told by a singer & a cellist, where the cello were represented as if it were an actual character, given that the instrument was one of the great passions of her life?
Only after finally seeing the world premiere of Tapestry Opera’s latest brand-new opera, Jacqueline, is it crystal clear: Jacqueline du Pré is a perfect opera heroine. Even if her life is presented in the series of glimpses we get in this biographical work by Luna Pearl Woolf and Royce Vavrek, there’s still an opera-sized thrill in the story of an ambitious and unique woman whose career – whose true love, really – is stamped out before the age of 30 with a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis.
It’s great tragedy, this opera. Du Pré becomes a character distilled into snapshots: the young girl boasting to her mummy that her cello isn’t too big, the 20-year-old woman caressing the vinyl on her first recording of Elgar’s Cello Concerto, the delighted lover in the lusty beginning of her marriage to Daniel Barenboim, the professional cellist in love with her life. And inevitably, the strange acceptance of her illness, which came only after the acute fear and confusion of a woman in her 20s losing dexterity, eyesight and memory. The heights from which Jacqueline du Pré fell – or from which she was pushed – are operatic in scale.
For devotees of the cello, few artists past or present capture the imagination quite like Jacqueline du Pré (1945-1987). In a performing career that lasted barely a decade before she was struck down by multiple sclerosis at the age of 28, du Pré left an indelible imprint on the musical world with her dazzling artistry and incandescent personality.
Arguably the work most associated with her was the Elgar Cello Concerto in E minor, Op. 85. I didn’t have the good fortune of hearing her live, but her recorded performances and interpretations of this work, both in the studio and in live performances, remain the gold standard. In the various video clips, one is struck by the radiant expression on her face, one that exudes the purest joy of music-making. The musical world is fortunate to have her art preserved for posterity.
‘Jacqueline’, with music by Luna Pearl Woolf, features the playing of Matt Haimovitz alongside soprano Marnie Breckenridge in the title role.
The world premiere of a new opera based on the life of British cellist Jacqueline du Pré opens on 19 February at the Betty Oliphant Theatre in Toronto, Canada. Featuring soprano Marnie Breckenridge in the title role, the opera also includes music played by cellist Matt Haimovitz – who spent a week with du Pré in London when he was 14.
Composer Luna Pearl Woolf was inspired to write the opera from hearing Haimovitz’s account of his relationship with du Pré. The opera is structured in four movements, in reference to Elgar’s Cello Concerto, the work most closely associated with du Pré. The soprano and cellist interact with each other throughout the performance, bringing together ’her voice, her truest sense of self, and her constant companion’, according to the composer. ’It is beautiful in a way,’ says director Michael Hidetoshi Mori. ’Marnie without Matt could not play Jacqueline, Matt without Marnie could not play Jacqueline, yet together they combine to realise something of her essence, life and struggle and in separating, her tragedy.’
The opera runs for five performances until 23 February. More information can be found here.
Tapestry Opera is set to present the world premiere of “Jacqueline: A Portrait of Virtuosity” starting on Feb. 19, 2020 at the Betty Oliphant Theatre in Toronto, Canada.
The opera, which is written by Royce Vavrek with music by Luna Pearl, tells the story of iconic cellist Jacqueline Du Pré and her battle with the multiple sclerosis that ultimately took her life. The piece is written for soprano and cello with Marnie Breckenridge performing alongside cellist Matt Haimovitz, who will play Du Pré’s own instrument.
The piece’s structure is deeply indebted to Elgar’s famous cello concerto, a piece for which Du Pré was most famous, her interpretation heavily imitated for decades since she first played the work. The opera also includes Haimovitz’s popular recollections of the cellist.
There will be a total of five performances of the work running through the 23rd.