The Dream Healer is a story about disintegration of the psyche, a subject that preoccupied Dr. Carl Jung, self-professed scientist of the unconscious, as it continues to fascinate the psychiatric community. How medical teams reintegrate the personality is what distinguishes them one from another.
The setting is the prestigious though highly controversial Burgholzli Clinic near Zurich in the early 20th century. The characters, and many events, are drawn from the novel Pilgrim by Timothy Findley, which is in turn based on actual incidents related in books by and about Carl Jung.
In the opera, no-one is offstage: the patients, the staff and Carl and Emma Jung are always present, and each carries on his or her regular routines as others move the story ahead in solos or ensemble pieces. Life in the clinic-asylum proceeds, not stopping for a moment.
The theme of disintegration weaves through many layers of the story. Carl Jung dreams of a character, Pilgrim, who has lived many lives through the centuries and wants to bring his existence to an end. Jung’s preoccupation with this character overrides his relationship to his wife and family, to his patients, and to his colleagues. Pilgrim in fact becomes so real, the other characters regard him as one of themselves, as does Jung.
Strange and wonderful characters inhabit the Clinic: a man who thinks he is a dog; a beautiful Russian Countess, once a famous ballerina, who thinks she comes from the moon; an inventor-emperor; people with strange visions and phobias; a couple who are gender-confused; and all overseen by a staff of doctors and therapists, some of whom were themselves once patients. The world here is topsy-turvy.
Early in the opera, Pilgrim’s companion, Lady Sibyl Quartermain, asks Jung about disintegration as a symptom of schizophrenia and whether reintegration of the fragments is possible. Replies Jung, “Sometimes we have to accept that things break into pieces.” “And then…?” Sibyl asks. “‘And then…’ is what I do for a living,” Jung answers.
Jung’s marital disintegration through the disruption of his dream world and intimate relationships with his patients-turned-colleagues is, in the end, re-collected, re-integrated, so that what were fragments are also reconnected, but in new ways.
“And then…” becomes a journey to integrate the real with the unreal, the supposed with the unimaginable, so that new understandings of the human condition are possible. It is this inner journey of discovery that the life work of Carl Jung, the novel of Timothy Findley and this opera hold in common.
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Approximate Runtime (hh:mm)
Contemporary lyricism, tonal/polytonal
Vocal & Musical Forces
Coloratura Soprano, Lyric Soprano, Mezzo Soprano, Lyric Tenor, Lyric Baritone, Chorus (min.16), Chamber Orch. double winds, 2 hns., 3 tpts, 2 tmbs, 1 bass tmb., 2 perc., 1 timp, strings: 10/8/6/4/2
Pilgrim, lyric tenor (Roelof Ostwoud); Lady Sybile Quartermaine, mezzo-soprano (Judith Forst); Dr. Carl Gustav Jung, lyric baritone (John Avey); Emma Jung, lyric soprano; Countess Blavinskaya, coloratura soprano; Kessler, baritone; Dora, mezzo-soprano; comprimario roles and chorus