Idle hands may be the devil’s workshop, but busy hands can be hell too.
“It’s insane,” says Atom Egoyan, on the phone talking about the balls he currently has in the air. “It’s been a crazy, intense period.”
Sure, crazy. Also, for Egoyan, just another Tuesday.
The celebrated Canadian director, screenwriter, stage director and opera librettist is currently shooting the feature film Seven Veils in Toronto. Meanwhile, the one-act chamber opera Show Room, which he created with composer Rodney Sharman, gets its concert-format premiere with Toronto’s Continuum Contemporary Music on March 18.
And, later this month, Egoyan’s new concert-film hybrid version of Steve Reich’s self-explanatory song Clapping Music from 1972 awaits applause at a salute to Reich presented by Soundstreams in Toronto.
For the indie filmmaker, tight deadlines and tighter budgets are meant to be raced against and railed against, respectively. Seven Veils presents typical challenges in that regard, but excellent opportunities as well.
The drama stars Amanda Seyfried, who plays an earnest theatre director given the tough task of remounting her former mentor’s most famous work, the 1905 biblical opera Salome by Richard Strauss that was based on Oscar Wilde’s scandalous 19th-century play of the same name.
Not coincidentally, a remount of Egoyan’s 1996 production of Salome for the Canadian Opera Company just completed a well-received run in Toronto. Seven Veils is named after Salome’s famous Dance of the Seven Veils, which, according to Egoyan, is the “most famous striptease in history.” Though parts of the last month’s COC remount will be included in Seven Veils, it is not a film about the opera.
“I want to be clear about that,” Egoyan says. “It’s not based on Salome.”
The opera is just the backdrop. Still, the singers (including tenor Michael Schade and sopranos Ambur Braid and Karita Mattila) will appear on screen. At one point, Egoyan and his team were rehearsing the opera and working on the film simultaneously.
“It was essential to shoot while the singers were still in town. It was unwieldy, to say the least.” And to say the most? “Insane.”
Financing the film was an issue. In came producers Rhombus Media, which is headed by Niv Fichman, who was on the COC board in 1996 when Salome was first mounted. Getting Seyfried (who starred in Egoyan’s 2009 erotic thriller Chloe) was also a big help in securing funding. “Because she’s a movie star,” the director explains.
The 62-year-old art house auteur says Seven Veils is something he’s “dreamed of doing for a long time.” There’s a line about that in Wilde’s play: “It is only sick people who dream.”
If Egoyan is a dreamer, he is a doer too. He is thrilled with his Reich collaboration, which involved filming the great American minimalist composer performing one half of his Clapping Music piece. On stage at George Weston Recital Hall on March 25, the audience will watch a film projection of Reich’s hands performing the repeated phrase with Toronto percussionist Russell Hartenberger handling the response part live in person.
“The idea was to create a permanent record of Steve Reich’s clapping,” Egoyan says. “In the future, anyone could perform the song with the composer. You will literally be linked to the origin of the piece.”
The interactive version of Clapping Music is part of Soundstreams’ Steve Reich: Now & Then, a celebration of the composer’s 86th birthday that includes the appearance of legendary Canadian percussion ensemble Nexus (which counts Hartenberger as one of its founding members).
Egoyan, who says he has loved Reich’s music “forever,” collaborated with Nexus and Reich’s own ensemble 27 years ago for a staging of Reich’s Sextet that was accompanied by images captured on Egoyan’s hand-cranked 16-milimetre Bolex camera.
That was 1996 – the same year Egoyan was working on his Oscar-nominated breakthrough classic The Sweet Hereafter, and the same year his Salome (a co-production with the Houston Grand Opera) was born. While Egoyan was in Houston, he was being sent VHS tapes of The Sweet Hereafter from his editors in Toronto.
“That was a crazy time as well, but, you know, I was younger then.”
Show Room premieres March 18, at The Music Gallery; info at continuummusic.ca.
Soundstream’s presents Steve Reich: Now & Then on March 25, at George Weston Recital Hall; info at soundtreams.ca.