Night and Dreams

The death of Sigmund Freud

Press reviews

After the success of Casanova Confined, a one man show for Lyndon Terracini, composer Andrew Ford looked to Gerald English for inspiration. Noting that the veteran tenor (turning 75 this November) wanted only for a beard to become an uncanny look-alike to Sigmund Freud, Ford and his musically attuned librettist Margaret Morgan worked up Night and Dreams: the Death of Sigmund Freud, a thriller built around the last days of the famed psychoanalyst. We, the audience, were cast in the role of doctor to an old, frail wreck of a once brilliant man dying of jaw cancer, confessing some of his most awful transgressions. Morgan's text (worth reading in its own right for its poetry and refined rhythm) illuminates his professional and personal traumas in both prose and verse, and Ford's music, with pre-recorded accompaniment of piano, harp, electroacoustic harp and sound track of evocative backgrounds including jackboots and other belligerencies, supports and intensifies the atmosphere and emotions. Freud's Vienna is artfully created through real and pastiche Schubert, and Ford's own distinctive voice stitches past and present together into a score that both provokes and satisfies. Gerald English gave a virtuoso performance, full of voice in both speech and song, so secure that he could let some cracks show, thereby adding both force and credibility to his character.

Elizabeth Silsbury, Opera

A perfect little gem of chamber opera.... This work is stunningly intelligent, intensely moving, and a tribute to one of the most influential thinkers of modern times. It is a perfect vehicle for the talents of Gerald English, now in his 75th year, but still singing with a characteristic intensity of feeling and subtly nuanced interpretation of both the music and the dramatic material.
The many-layered work begins, with particular aptness, with Freud listening to a Schubert lied. From his study he addresses us, presenting himself as the patient we are to psychoanalyse, using his own methods. There is no "cure" for this patient, but this final case study is, in fact, to vindicate to Freud not only his own life's work, but to help him to face what inevitably lies ahead.
This was an extraordinary performance. There can hardly be a more appropriate or better performer anywhere in the world than Gerald English, here giving tribute to a man who showed us how art expresses truths not otherwise accessible.

Helen Thomson, The Age

Night and Dreams is true music theatre - sung and spoken texts are essentially of equal importance, and combined with evocative and often confronting recorded sounds they created a powerful and eerie atmosphere...

Tristram Cary, The Australian

Interrupted periodically by the noises of frightening political events, Freud recalls some of the traumas of his life and career. Ford as composer gives him five "dreamsongs" in which the modern father of dream interpretation is haunted by a mysterious mute female figure; not until the end does he recognise her as Eros's sister, the goddess of death. These dreamsongs parody existing music. The one prompted by filial-paternal thoughts about Michelangelo's statue of Moses, for instance, alludes freely to Schubert's Erl King; and Freud's tin ear helps make dramatic sense of the parodies, as if the inventor of psychoanalysis is doing his best with a very imperfect musical memory.
The instrumental parts for the piece were recorded by Ian Munro (piano), Marshall McGuire (harp) and Alice Giles (electroacoustic harp), and are fed into the performance alternately from two CDs. English speaks and sings in real time (except where his voice is joined to the instrumentalists for the crackle of 1939-type 78rpm recordings) and acts out Freud's reveries with a keen sense of timing and humour. The feeling of physical presence in the last hours of the great theorist is vivid....

Roger Covell, Sydney Morning Herald

In this electrifying vehicle for 77-year-old tenor Gerald English, composer Andrew Ford and librettist Margaret Morgan turn the tables on Freud so that we, the audience, become his psychoanalyst during his last hours. Riddled with cancer of the jaw and palate almost certainly brought on by his fondness for cigars, Freud is walled up in his London apartment of exile during 1939 waiting to die. His physician Dr Schurr has promised to help him on his way, but meantime he is haunted by a recurring dream of a mute girl who is also a man. At the end the image is unravelled the girl is not Eros, the life principle, but rather Thanatos: Death....
Though references to the holocaust abound, the central concerns are elsewhere. George Whaley's directing allows the relationship between veteran performer and his audience to have full play. English's acting has never been on this level. In the background is Eamon D'Arcy's set of screens filled with images of dreams. Night and Dreams should be whisked away to Europe instantly where I have no doubt it would be become a festival hit overnight, and it's just the right size to travel.

Helen Musa, The Canberra Times

I never thought I'd like Sigmund Freud. Even now, I'm not sure that's what Margaret Morgan and Andrew Ford intended.... But, spending an hour with their Freud - him on the couch, the audience in the analyst's chair - I couldn't help but chuckle conspiratorially with this perverse, self-deluding, Viennese dinosaur, marooned in his study in London in 1939, his personality literally on the verge of extinction. Clutching a statuette reproduction of Michelangelo's Moses, he says: "Moses created Judaism; I created psychoanalysis." ...
Night and Dreams belongs to the "one-man" show genre. Gerald English, a veteran musical artist totally at home with monologue, is now senior enough to slip into the role of Freud without unduly stretching our (or his) imagination. He looks the part, and acts it, too....
Ten years ago, I suspect that Ford would have composed the score far more densely. Now the instrumental component is not so in-your-face, but issues, via loudspeaker, from Freud's own dreamworld.

Graeme Skinner, Sydney Morning Herald