Psycho meets Sartre at the Nigredo Hotel
City Opera Vancouver's newest production of Nigredo Hotel is one part Carl Jung, one part 50s thriller movie, and a profound trip into the darkest parts of the human mind.
Opening the show is baritone Tyler Duncan as Raymond. Raymond finds himself stranded in an unusual and shabby hotel after being in a car accident. In this production, the hotel room set is surrounded by empty picture frames in the shape of a face, that is looking down on the room and its occupants.
Soprano Sarah Vardy plays the creepy hotel owner, Sophie, whose increasingly bizarre rules leave Raymond frustrated and nervous, as he tries to figure out what happened with the car accident. Did he run someone over? Was it an animal, a child? Are the police going to come and take him away?
The score felt like it walked out of Bernard Herrmann's Hitchcock soundtracks, with bizarre musical effects to underscore the other-worldly nature of the hotel and its occupants. The chamber orchestra led by Charles Barber brought huge technical skill to a difficult piece, and never allowed the tension to release until the very end.
Director Alan Corbishley describes Nigredo (blackening) as a process that ancient alchemists believed was necessary to create the Philosopher's Stone, and thus find immortality. In psychology, this process is a metaphor for the "dark night of the soul" that is necessary for a person to confront in order to reach acceptance of oneself.
During Nigredo Hotel, we watch as Raymond gets progressively more trapped in a No Exit-style hotel room that keeps getting more dangerous, and the hotel keeper who keeps finding ways to make sure he doesn't leave. As he becomes more and more trapped, you start finding out pieces of Raymond's past, and Sophie starts revealing far more than she should be able to know about Raymond and why he's really there, before everything finally comes to a head.
Duncan's portrayal of Raymond was fast-paced and intense, getting more unsettled into the final climax, and his vocal performance was stunning. The part of Raymond has a huge range, both vocally and emotionally, and Duncan met it with consummate skill. In a small theatre with an onstage orchestra, it can be difficult to be heard throughout, but every note and word was clear and precise, and the character was compelling and sympathetic.
Vardy's Sophie is an unusual character, at times contemptible, slovenly, threatening or soothing. She starts off with one-liners that sets the character up as the unkempt, apathetic hotel-keeper, and her menace, and eventually her true nature come out. While it takes some time for Vardy to sing more than the occasional interjections or acerbic remarks, when she finally does, it's beautiful, and brings out so much more about Sophie's character as she devolves into becoming far more than she appears.
The duet between the two at the climax of the show was complex and jarring, but showed the real "dark night of the soul" that the two had crossed before they could come out the other side.
The lighting and set design of John Webber was phenomenal, with so many quick transitions, lighting changes and cues that immediately changed a mood, drew attention, and brought the show to life. The set was visually stunning, and used to excellent effect throughout.
Without giving away the ending, the one piece of advice I'd give is to read the Director's notes about Jungian philosophy before you see the show, as it gives a huge amount of context to the struggles onstage.
City Opera Vancouver's production of Nigredo Hotel runs through September 22. For details and tickets, click here.