SesayArts in Conversation with Leslie Dala: Julie is “a stunning 21st century setting of a landmark 19th century play”

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Sesaya specializes in music and arts education.

Conductor Leslie Dala

Conductor Leslie Dala

If you want something done, give it to a busy person, right?

Well, this is certainly true of sought-after conductor Leslie Dala, in Toronto for Julie, a one-act chamber opera by Philippe Boesmans, currently playing at Canadian Stage. This engagement is momentous for several reasons:

  • Julie is a contemporary work, written in 2005 and produced only twice before, both times in Europe.
  • It’s not only receiving its North American premiere at Canadian Stage; it’s being sung in English (not the original German) by an all-Canadian cast.
  • This is also the first opera that Canadian Stage, in collaboration with Soundstream, has ever produced.

So who better to ask about the significance of this work than Dala, who – much in demand and busy, busy, busy – is serving as the production’s music director AND also conducting the orchestra? We caught up with him for a quick Q&A.

  1. How would you introduce Philippe Boesmans’ Julie to someone unfamiliar with opera and him?

I would say that it is a stunning 21st century setting of a landmark 19th century play by a composer who should be much better known than he is.

  1. My research reveals that even though you are classically trained, you are a huge proponent of contemporary works…Why is it important for works like Julie (which is only 10 years old) to be performed and seen?
Lucia Cervoni (Julie) & Clarence Frazer (Jean) in Julie; Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

Lucia Cervoni (Julie) & Clarence Frazer (Jean) in Julie; Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

New works are important because there are wonderful composers and librettists in our midst, and art can only thrive when it is alive, and new work is being created. It is great to perform the classics, but we are richer for embracing new and lesser known pieces.

  1. August Strindberg’s Miss Julie, the 1888 play on which Julie is based, is a tragedy. Why did Boesmans choose it to re-imagine operatically? How does it tell the story musically?

You would have to ask the composer why he chose to set it, but I would guess that it is because he saw the play as a vehicle for an operatic setting. In my opinion, opera is a way of heightening a story, and by writing music for voices and instruments, the composer creates a musical landscape to support and intensify a story.

  1. The “musicalization” of a play is intriguing. How do the plot and themes of Miss Julie become transformed as a result of its being re-imagined in operatic form? How will this interpretation from play to opera impact the viewing and listening experience?
Sharleen Joynt (Christine) & Clarence Frazer (Jean) in Julie; Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

Sharleen Joynt (Christine) & Clarence Frazer (Jean); photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

The treatment you speak of has been happening since the beginning of the art form of opera. There have been so many treatments of legends about Orpheus, Faust, etc. . . .The impact of a work is something that is extremely subjective, but I can tell you that in the case of Julie, Boesmans has stripped away anything that is not essential to his telling of the story and has crystallized the work into a compact and taut drama with remarkable music.

  1. Julie has been performed only 3 times before, and never in North America. What do you hope people will be talking about when the curtain falls?

I hope they will wonder why they had never seen of work of Boesmans before.

  1. Is there a moment in Julie that especially affects you?

There is an extended passage for bass flute in the orchestra while Jean and Julie are discussing their dreams. I find the music hypnotic and magical.

  1. Some of my younger readers are curious about the art of conducting. Some assume that a conductor has to be able to play every single instrument of the orchestra, and sing, too. Is this true?

I myself play four instruments and studied singing, composition and orchestration. I don’t know that any of my colleagues play every instrument in an orchestra, but it is important to know as much as possible about how the instruments work and how they produce sound.

  1. We know about your work with this opera and your conducting career. What else should we know about you outside the music? Anything that might surprise us?

I have a wonderful family. My wife, Rosalind, who is also a singer, is extremely supportive and takes on the role of single parent to our two boys when I have to be away for projects. I owe a whole lot to her!

Sharleen Joynt (Christine, L) Lucia Cervoni (Julie, R); photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

Sharleen Joynt (Christine, L) Lucia Cervoni (Julie, R) in Julie; photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

News you Can Use

 What: Julie, composed by Philippe Boesmans, libretto by Luc Bondy and Marie-Louise Bischofberger

  • Directed by Matthew Jocelyn
  • Music Direction by Leslie Dala
  • Performed by Lucia Cervoni (Julie), Clarence Frazer (Jean) and Sharleen Joynt (Christine)

Who: Audiences 13 and up

When: Running until Sunday, November 29, 2015

  • Post-show talk-backs on November 25, 1:00 pm and Thursday, November 26, 8:00 pm

Where: Bluma Appel Theatre,  St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, 27 Front St. East, Toronto ON M5E 1B4

For Information and tickets: CanadianStage.com and 416.368.3110

FYI: LeslieDala.com

© 2015 Arpita Ghosal, Sesaya

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