For the first time in 40 years decorated film director Atom Egoyan is directing a show in Victoria.
Last time it was The End of Solomon Grundy, when the former Saanich teenager and Mount Douglas secondary grad ran the showcase performance of the 1977 Victoria school drama festival.
This time the 57-year-old is directing Jenufa, set in a small, turn-of-the-century town in Eastern Europe. It’s a character study staged by Pacific Opera Victoria that deals with darker elements but has music – by Czech composer Leoš Janácek (1881-1928) – that’s gripped Egoyan since he first heard it many years ago.
The show runs at the Royal Theatre until Oct. 22.
Spoiler alert, the storyline hinges on a case of infanticide, a topic widely avoided in modern cinema and stage.
”[Jenufa] story is dark but the music is incredible,” said Egoyan, a one-time Cadboro Bay resident. “It’s an amazing character study, [on opening night] people were completely riveted by it.
It’s Egoyan after all, whose 1993 thinker Exotica and 2009 film Chloe are among his more notable works. He’s often defined as a feature film writer and director known for shrouding a small, uplifting element within a darker, or at least dimmer, context.
Not surprisingly, Jenufa falls into that category.
“You try to bring these stories to light, by watching this, something has to be uplifting about it, there’s no point with all the darkness in the world around us in something that isn’t uplifting,” he said. “There’s something seductive and beautiful in Jenufa, there has to be, and I think there is in this music and the images on stage, which are compelling.”
Egoyan and his family do return frequently to Saanich (mom and dad remain in Cadboro Bay), it’s what he considers a second home. But he’s unsure if, and when, he may direct another show here.
“One of the things that’s been exciting to be back is seeing people from long ago who I don’t always [run into].”
Even with a passion for short films in high school and throughout his bachelor in international relations at the University of Toronto, Egoyan held the idea of working in foreign service as a career. But while making short films in Toronto he became part of a crew known as the Toronto New Wave, a creative incubator that helped him find his footing.
“When I left Victoria for [U of T] I didn’t think I would make a living as an artist, filmmaker, or playwright, but the opportunities came up.”
Maestro Timothy Vernon conducts the Victoria Symphony for Jenufa, a co-production with Opéra de Montréal. Giuseppe Pietraroia directs the POV Chorus with soprano Lara Ciekiewicz as the title-character, mezzo-soprano Emilia Boteva, tenors John Lindsey and Colin Judson in their Canadian debuts.
Jenufa runs at the Royal Theatre (805 Broughton St.) Oct. 18, at 7 p.m. Oct. 20 at 8 p.m. and Oct. 22, at 2:30 p.m. Pre-performance lectures take place in the theatre lobby one hour prior to each show. The opera is performed in Czech, with English surtitles.
Tickets are available by calling 250-386-6121 or online at www.rmts.bc.ca.