Monday, January 5, 2009

Better Living Through Opera

I felt so bad about not posting for two weeks (the holidays really play havoc with your schedule!) that I'm posting a special Monday Edition of the blog!

Meet Andrew. Andrew grew up going to the theater, ballet and opera in Australia. He sang in his school's choir and a passion for opera emerged – he even saved his money to buy scores (and learned the soprano parts). After realizing that his stage fright would prevent him from making it as an actor, this young man found his way to becoming Andrew Sinclair, the acclaimed stage director and creator of our new production of The Pearl Fishers.

Andrew and I got to chat a bit about the production. Being somewhat clueless about the process, I asked him how he actually stages an opera. Unsurprisingly, it starts with the music. His first step is to sit down and listen to a recording - preferably one with Maria Callas (that late, great diva extraordinaire). Then he begins to plot how he wants to play the opera and how he sees the characters. As audience members, we see an opera on stage and think the composer wrote where they should stand, how they should interact – but that's just not the case. The stage director has to coordinate with the set designer and choreographer to figure out the best way to tell the story.

Andrew told me that his favorite scene is at the start of Act III where Leila begs Zurga for the life of Nadir. In this scene, Zurga is alternately in love and furious with Leila. He feels betrayed but is still very much attracted to the priestess. Part of the staging is deciding whether Leila should fall to her knees at a dramatic moment – or maybe she should run to Zurga and clutch at his clothes. Even with subtitles, action is so important to moving the story along.

Sinclair says the conflict between the players is fascinating. The characters and relationships must hold our attention – why see an opera where everyone gets along? The challenge is to highlight the conflict and bring out the different aspects of each character. Sinclair told me that he's worked with seven different Leilas, five Nadirs, and eight Zurgas. With each staging, the artists bring different aspects to their roles and he's looking forward to watching the story unfold with our cast. Having talked with our cast, I know they've given a lot of thought to the dimensions of each role and how best to portray them. I'll be attending a staging rehearsal in a few weeks and I'm excited to see what it's like (don't worry, I'll take plenty of notes!).

Stay tuned for Friday's entry!

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