Don Mowatt writes:

The writing of the libretto for Lloyd Burritt's opera The Dream Healer presented me with both a challenge and an opportunity. This is my third libretto, but by far the most exciting, in that the main protagonist is an historical character of great complexity and universal significance. To make the opera entertaining, singable and at the same time profound, in keeping with the life and work of Dr. Carl Jung, was a most difficult task. Opera libretti are often criticized for their banal or ludicrous plot lines and characters, so I particularly wanted to do justice to the person of the great psychiatrist and to the wide ranging effects of his work on the way we see our own world, nearly one hundred years after this story takes place.

Jung, in this opera, is at the crossroads of traditional medicine and the emerging sense of self as a key to complete healing. Focus on theories, particularly scientific theories, in the dramatic arts is at best highly problematic, but failure to involve issues as Jung saw them would also be a disservice to the subject and to an increasingly sophisticated audience.

The text is based on the novel PILGRIM by Canadian Timothy Findley. It is a sprawling work that follows the most recent incarnation of an English art historian who has had many colourful past lives. Pilgrim is despondent, attempts suicide on many occasions and is finally brought to the Burgholzli Clinic in Zurich where Dr. Jung is a psychiatrist. I have chosen to telescope the novel, reducing the author's portrayal of these past lives of Pilgrim throughout the centuries to a persistent dream of such a man by Jung. The whole story of the opera now takes place within one year, in one place, the clinic, and the focus is on one most extraordinary man in that context.

Carl Jung was interested in everything about an individual in order to get at the root of the illness, and that included the patient's ancestral background, beliefs, interests and fantasies. In this respect, his own studies and passions delved as much into history, anthropology, art, religion and literature as they did into medicine. As such, Jung becomes a wonderful embodiment of the operatic form, itself a hybrid of drama, music, art and psychology.

I tried to bring Jung's own personal tensions, interests, domestic situation and background into the fragmented world of his patients, including the dream patient Pilgrim. This way fantasy and reality are continually overlapping, offering surprises, dramatic variations, humour and serious social statement.

Mental illness is still a very much misunderstood affliction. Two of my own children are so affected. Combining entertainment, social involvement and the arts of healing in one work has so far proven to be a most therapeutic as well as an artistically rewarding enterprise for me as librettist, and I hope it will be so for those who come to see and hear the opera on stage.

Furthermore, by focusing on the colourful world of a major historical person, rather than on a fictional unknown character, we have the opportunity to export this opera abroad, something that has never happened before with Canadian operatic material.

It is truly an inspiration for me to work with a brilliant Canadian composer, using a major Canadian novelist's work as the core, and writing lines for a giant of twentieth Century thinking who transcends national boundaries, taking the opera into the domain of the international and universal.

Don Mowatt, May 3, 2007.
Vancouver