The first thing to jump to mind upon laying eyes on seasonal Metchosin couple Gavin Bryars and Anna Tchernakova likely isn’t Marilyn Monroe, Russian feature films, opera and international acclaim.
The two spend their summers on their typically idyllic rural Metchosin property: heritage house, sunburnt lawn, lush garden, a ginger cat named Bluey wandering lazily in the heat.
But they lead double lives, spending their working lives in Europe, Bryars composing music to great recognition and Tchernakova directing films, primarily in her homeland of Russia.
“We spend certainly every summer here,” Bryars said, adding the two have owned their home in Metchosin for about 11 years now.
“We try to spend as much time in Canada as possible,” Tchernakova said. “We know the community, we really like the community. We like the spirit of the neighbourhood.”
Their two worlds do have overlap, and perhaps this year more than usual. The world premier of a new chamber opera on the last days of Marilyn Monroe, with music from Bryars, is taking place in Victoria, at the McPherson Playhouse Theatre on Sept. 13 and 14.
Bryars is a composer with a storied background. Born in Yorkshire, England, with a first career as a bass player, later moving on to study and teach music composition. Working with John Cage, the experimental composer, and Tom Waits, among many others. He has had three operas open in three major opera houses in Europe and has produced well regarded compositions in the avant-garde music world.
This latest work, titled Marilyn Forever, is written by another Metchosin artist, writer Marilyn Bowering, and features the performances of Eivør Pálsdóttir, a vocalist from Faroe Island, and Thomas Sandberg, from Denmark.
Although the idea for the work comes from Bowering, Bryars said he has always found Monroe to be a fascinating figure, someone who he always suspected must have been quite interesting and complex behind her sex kitten public image.
“I always felt there was something behind those eyes. There is a sense of melancholy, someone seeking something,” Bryars said. “I remember being very saddened by her death, which seemed to me to be very pointless and unnecessary.”
Tragedy lends itself well to opera, and the tragedy of Monroe’s death drew Bryars.
“One would have that in a Shakesperian play. There’s a sense it’s inevitably going to end badly,” Bryars said. “The way she was a driven person, she was fragile, sometimes pushed beyond her limits by people around her and maybe not respected.”
The opera has been in the works for six or more years, and was workshopped in Banff about three years ago, a small test run which went well, Bryars said.
Bryars intentionally made the choice to do a proper, full fledged premier in Victoria, rather than a larger cultural capital, because of his connection to the city and because of its particular cultural environment.
“Given that this is a smaller scale piece it seemed nice to do it here,” Bryars said. “There’s a degree of pretense about the sophistication you find in big cities. One can find a certain blaze quality there, a ‘seen it all’ kind of approach. … I find I value a lot the way people respond here.”
Tchernakova will give a talk at the Metchosin Community House (4430 Happy Valley Rd.) Saturday (Aug. 24) from 7 to 10 p.m. The event is by suggested donation of $15 per person, which will go towards the Metchosin Community Association.
“I’m going to talk about creation, how you go from the inception to something tangible,” Tchernakoiva said.
Tchernakova has a number of feature films to her name, mostly Russian, but also including the Victoria-shot CBC movie Last Summer which starred and was based on a story by P.K. Page.
This year Tchernakova will speak primarily about her latest film project, a Russian feature film titled Dog’s Paradise. The film tells the tale of two children growing up in Russia in 1953, a tumultuous year in Russian history. The film is freshly completed and has yet to be screened publicly.
“It’s very interesting to see what a child perceives from what he sees in the grown ups’ lives and how a child can interpret it,” Tchernakova said.
The film will be released in Russia in autumn and the intent is to bring it to the festival circuit next year. The talk will include a question and answer period.
Tickets for Marilyn Forever are $42.50/$39 and are available at the MacPherson Box Office (250-386-6121 or rmts.bc.ca).