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.
When Matt Haimovitz performs at the world premiere of Tapestry Opera’sJacqueline: a portrait of virtuosity, the audience can anticipate music that resonates with the poignant timbre of the famed cellist’s intimate association with Jacqueline du Pré as her young protégé.
Rising from a young prodigy herself, to peak fame as one of the world’s greatest virtuosi and ultimately succumbing to a tragic finale, English cellist du Pré was recognized in her prime as an exquisitely talented female soloist.
At the heart of du Pré’s life, strings a loving relationship with celebrated pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim that blossomed in Israel. The story goes that in 1967 – while the couple were performing concerts before, during and after the Six-Day War – du Pré felt such an overwhelming connection to Judaism as a musician that she converted to Judaism to marry Barenboim. Tragedy struck in 1971 when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She died at 42 in October 1987 and was buried in the Jewish cemetery in Golders Green in London.
The pieces dives into the real-life struggle between celebrity virtuosic cellist Jacqueline du Pré and the multiple sclerosis that ravaged her body, mind, and talent, robbing her of her identity, her musical gift, and her life.
This intimate piece for soprano and cello brings two contemporary virtuosi to the stage: celebrated American soprano Marnie Breckenridge as Jacqueline, and renowned cellist (and former du Pré protégé) Matt Haimovitz playing du Pré’s only constant companion, her cello.
Jacqueline is inspired by the structure and emotional landscape of Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto. The form of the work echoes du Pré’s iconic interpretation of the Elgar, using the concerto’s four-movement structure to navigate an all too short life in music.
Cellist Matt Haimovitz and Luna Pearl Woolf who is responsible for this productions’ music joined Mark Wigmore on The Oasis.
Written by Jennifer Parr Category: Music Theatre Published: 30 January 2020
Toward the end of January I was invited to sit in on an early staging rehearsal of the new opera, Jacqueline, gaining a rare glimpse into the creation of this experimental world premiere that explores the life and legacy of celebrity virtuoso cellist Jacqueline du Pré, who, at 23, began experiencing numbness in her fingers, at 28 was diagnosed with MS and stopped playing the cello, and in 1987 passed away at age 42.
“A wonderful cross-section of Woolf’s vocal writing that bodes well for the new opera.”
This month Tapestry presents the world premiere of American composer Luna Pearl Woolf’s latest opera, Jacqueline. Coinciding with this is the Pentatone release of Woolf’s Fire and Flood on the Oxingale label (PTC5186803 naxosdirect.com). This striking vocal disc features mostly recent works for a cappella choir (the Choir of Trinity Wall Street under the direction of Julian Wachner) with soloists in several instances and, in the most memorable selection, Après moi, le déluge, obbligato cello (Matt Haimovitz). After a virtuosic cello cadenza, this work develops into a bluesy and occasionally meditative telling of the story of Noah and the Flood which culminates in the gospel-tinged Lord, I’m goin’ down in Louisiana before gently subsiding. After a rousing arrangement of Leonard Cohen’s Everybody Knows for vocal trio and cello, comes a modern-sounding but fairly tonal Missa in Fines Orbis Terrae with the choir accompanied by Messiaen-like organ (Avi Stein). The vocal trio (sopranos Devon Guthrie and Nancy Anderson with mezzo Elise Quagliata) return for One to One to One, in this instance accompanied by the low strings (three cellos and three basses) of NOVUS NY. Having begun with the close harmonies, murmurs, shouts and extended vocal techniques of the a cappella To the Fire with full choir, the disc ends with the vocal trio once again joined by Haimovitz for a raucous setting of Cohen’s Who by Fire to close out an exceptional disc. A wonderful cross-section of Woolf’s vocal writing that bodes well for the new opera.