Yesterday afternoon, I presented the first version of my new show, Ophelia Gets Mad. It is part of the Ophelia Project, which is a concert of great bassoon music interspersed with a reworking of the story of the youngest character in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
While not a scholar, I have always enjoyed reading plays. But not Hamlet. Four hours of generally tedious mellifluous self-centred tirades from many characters but mostly Hamlet. Though the language is spectacular, and I learn a new word every time that I plow into it, I find it to be an utterly tedious and depressing play and I would never have read it unless I wanted to understand the context of Ophelia’s short life.
The triggers for action in the play seem to stem from such sordid and improbable causes, and the only wholesome characters in the play appear to be Ophelia and Hamlet’s beloved friend, Horatio. Maybe I need to work Horatio into a future version of the story, but for the moment, I am not worried about him as he is one of the rare survivors in this medieval snuff play.
Anyway, I conceived this notion of doing an Ophelia-centred concert years ago, and in the meantime, many other people have done exactly the same thing better in movies, books and probably more. So while my idea is hardly original, this presentation is unique.
Despite my antipathy towards Hamlet, I think the play is a necessary evil because, despite the outlandish series of events, there is so much metaphorical truth in the exposé of human selfishness.
In this show, we review the general trajectory of Ophelia’s story, and at pivotal junctures, have her turn away from the abuse, confusion and violence. Instead of sinking into despair as Hamlet rants and insults her, she shakes it off and walks away. Goes out for a coffee or a flagon of mead or a jog around the park. Instead of drowning in a pond of sorrow, pushed by some unseen hand, she is either pulled from the water by the only other truly good person in the play, or she snaps awake when she hits the cold waves and struggles her way to a long and full life.
While both Hamlet and Ophelia end up as orphans who die too young, somehow it is Ophelia who ignites my empathy. I really want to see what she could have done with her life.
I have a great group of string players, building up from incredible bassist and guitarist, Joe Phillips, to Symphony Nova Scotia’s principal cellist, Rachel Desoer, to magical violist Charlotte Paradis and two wildly talented violinists, Rebekah Wolkstein and Drew Jurecka.
I gave the group my final script the day before the show, and they launched right in. While we all have to get used to delivering a story while playing a concert, we got through it and the audience understood our message. Instead of being a generic #metoo bleat, I want it to be a message to encourage all of us to allow people, particularly idealistic young women, a chance to live a full life and fulfill their promise. And it is amazing how deftly the music illustrated the ideas.
And I definitely wanted to challenge the concept of Ophelia’s madness. SO much more satisfying to imagine her GETTING mad instead of going mad. I don’t put too many words in her mouth… I want to show that people can muster the necessary rage to change even while being very very quiet.
Come to our show in Halifax. It is so very rare to hear me perform, and this is because of the expense. Until I can fundraise for bigger tours, I have to wait until popular demand encourages more big presenters to hire me. I am super grateful to my Toronto fan base for buying tickets to yesterday’s concert. The show cost me over $4000 so that was your Christmas present, like, forever.
For those who didn’t make it, we are presenting a slightly evolved version called Ophelia Rises in the beautiful Lilian Piercey Hall in Halifax on March 8 at 2 pm for Cecilia Concerts. See you there.
Ophelia Gets Mad
Vivaldi G Minor RV 495 – Presto
Vivaldi G Minor RV 495 – Allegro
Vivaldi F Major RV 491 – Allegro Molto
Vivaldi F Major RV 491 – Allegro
Vivaldi C Minor RV 480 – Andante
Jurecka On The Roof (vln & bn)
Scarlatti/Sweeney C Major K501 exposition (bn alone)
R-Korsakov Flight of the Bumble Bee
Lussier Song of Love & Sorrow
Vivaldi G MinorRV 495 – Largo Spirituoso
Lussier Le Dernier Chant d’Ophélie
Marc Mellits Dark Matter (bn with electronics)
Vivaldi C MinorRV 480 – Allegro
Brahms Five Ophelia Songs – bn & quartet
Joni Mitchell/arr. Fraser Jackson Both Sides Now
Zamba para Olividar – Daniel Toro (voice, guitar, vln)
Vivaldi E flat Major – Presto
Rebekah Wolkstein – violin
Drew Jurecka – violin
Charlotte Paradis – viola
Rachel Desoer – cello
Joe Phillips – bass and guitar
Nadina Mackie Jackson – bassoon