Sunday, August 25, 2013

So You're an Opera Director?

Recently I was asked to talk a bit about what it means to be an opera director, my process, etc. This was what I came up with:

So You're an Opera Director?

Getting the call to direct an opera, especially with a “new-to-me” company, evokes an immediate Sally Field response: “You like me! You really like me!” This wave of excitement and happiness is followed by a sense of creeping desperation: “But how will I DO it?” The next year or so is spent riding the highs and lows of this emotional roller coaster, with no real sense of resolution until the final curtain on opening night. Such is the life of a young opera director.

A friend of mine describes our role as “co-pilot” (along with the conductor), steering the dramatic and visual landscape of the entire production. I think of myself as the ultimate negotiator. Long before the singers gather to begin rehearsals, I’ve worked out schedules and casting issues with the company administration; looks, colors and intent with the costume designer; use of space and the physical world with set designers and the technical department; and most importantly, an understanding of the world we are creating in a constant negotiation with the sometimes unruly elements of music, historical practice, modern sensibility, and my own creative ideas.

But how is this done?
It is like eating an elephant: one bite at a time. 

I love a good system, and I am constantly refining my process for putting a show together. This is generally how it goes: Get an offer, enjoy moment of jubilation. Obtain music score and a few recordings, listen. Wallow in personal angst, listen more. Write in translation, and if possible, watch a video recording or see a live show (I like to see as many productions as I can to get a sense of both the traditions and also wacky modern takes on the piece). Procrastinate (actually a key element...I think of it as putting all the ideas in a pot and letting it stew). Keep listening, begin to think I will never have a good idea again. Then one day, when I least expect it: BAM! THE GERM OF AN IDEA. For me this is often a color palette, or maybe a specific image, but whatever form it takes, I get excited about the show again. Negotiations ensue (see above). As we get closer I actually sit down with a calendar and plan very specific study...“I will work out scene 5 on Tuesday.” And then, before you know it, we are in the rehearsal room and off we go!

Top 5 Things You Might Not Know About This Director:

  1. I get my best ideas for shows while driving long distances. Saving those ideas usually involves listening to the music at really high volume and recording a voice memo into my iPhone.
  2. In the next 9 months, I will sleep in my own bed for about 6 weeks total. The rest of the time, I will be on jobs out of town.
  3. My background (and degrees!) are in Voice. I like to think my singing background gives me a bit of compassion in the rehearsal hall.   
  4. When I was starting out in this business, I sold most of my things and moved into a vintage Airstream trailer for 3 years (hence the blog name!).  I was able to take almost any job that came my way, including stage managing Shakespeare shows, and gathering props for a modern ballet company.
  5. I love potatoes.

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