Nancy double bill

Well, it's been a while since I last sat down to update this blog! The double bill I directed at the Opera National de Lorraine in Nancy has opened and closed and I'm now back home in London.

This project was very special and co-produced between the Opera and Nancy Opera Passion, an association that promotes young opera singers for 9 years now. L'heure espagnole and Gianni Schicchi, two fantastic comedies, with a group of young singers! In all, about 270 applied from conservatoires, schools and opera studios all over the world. I took part in all the auditions in Nancy, and we selected the team out of brilliant singers none over the age of 32. Some had never sung professionally on an opera stage before, others with limited stage craft or experience. But all very exciting and promising!

In June the singers meant in Nancy for a masterclass with Ludovic Tézier. I then started rehearsals proper on 23 August, to open the 27 September - a proper rehearsal period and the chance to do detail work and stage craft. I had the chance to work with a great conductor, Michael Balke, whose approach combines music and theatricality. I have the chance to be fluent in both French and Italian and this helped a huge amount in such comedies.

Finally I have to mention the rest of the creative team. Annemarie Woods designed the set and costume. It's my first collaboration with Annemarie and I know it won't be the last. She's super talented and the solutions she came up with very creative, exciting and fun. We were delighted when the opera agreed to the design and costumes as she'd designed them and we could really deliver on the vision. The character work on the costumes was fun and paid off. Finally the other first collaboration was with our lighting designer D.M. Wood. I was thrilled when she accepted to join the team and we got on like a house on fire. 

I'm going to upload pics in the relevant section of the site. Let me know if you have any thoughts or questions! I was keen from the start to unite the two pieces with a strong visual element. There are clear contrasts - a French vaudeville set in Spain, and an Italian black comedy set in Florence. We felt time was an interesting element - the hour in l'heure espagnole, vs the stopped time for Buoso, and the time pressure for the rest of his family. Rather than a shop with hundreds of clocks, we opted for a singular clock, strong visual statement but also box of tricks. I was also keen on showing what actually takes place in the bedroom, if only with a "Tom & Jerry" view of it - up to knee. Imagination is much more fun and exciting. In Schicchi, the clock moved to stage right, stopped at 6.30. Yet whilst the audience thought that was it, it became a source of destruction when the family looked for the will. And in the end, it represented eternity for the two lovers, embraced in a view of Florence.

Macbeth a step closer

Just back from the stunning Iford Manor cloister, having presented the final model for the coming production of Macbeth. It's wonderful seeing the cloister without the protective roof, and on a stunning day. The structure and history of the building were that much more visible - this being partly the starting point for the production, I was all the more happy to be able to take it all in again.

The design developed with Alyson Cummins is both exciting and challenging. With a piece such as Macbeth where so much 'magic' is inherent in the piece, and expected by the audience, the constraints imposed by the cloister are that much more in focus: clever solutions are required. But there are some benefits too to working in a brick building - naked flames are allowed! I want to use that possibility to the full and create a candle lit production. Lighting and light are such an essential element to the piece, when most scenes happen at night or inside, or when light is referred to. After she fails to control her conscience, Lady Macbeth needs to have a light continually by her side, in total fear of darkness. The sleep walking scene is lit by the candle she holds. The murder of Banquo takes place at night lit by the torch held by his son Fleance. I'm working with Alyson and our lighting designer Christopher Nairne to try and develop the space in the cloister to accommodate this and take the idea as far as we can, making the lighting an integral part of the way a scene is conceived and played.

Rehearsals are starting on 9 May - not long now. And I am currently in the middle of Cav and Pag rehearsals for Hampstead Garden Opera. I'll divulge more in due time on that project, together with the thoughts on the pieces that led me to the production's concept. That opens on 13 May and should be quite something. By the time Macbeth opens, I'll have lost count of the characters' murders I'll have had to stage…

Intermezzo, as seen from Spain

A friend just forwarded me a review of the Garsington Intermezzo that appeared in Spain on Mundoclasico. I'm attaching a link to the review below and will translate it fully in the CREDITS section of this site.

"This year, the new production of Intermezzo received a unanimously eulogistic response from the press. All the critics were in agreement, from traditionalists to iconoclasts, pedants, conformists, exigent ones, precious, destructive ones, etc. etc.

The reason for this very rare consensus is simple. The director Bruno Ravella represented the anxieties of a housewife in the Alps faced with the constant travels of her composer husband as a theatrical action of rigorous naturalness. There wasn't one single moment in this Straussian neorealism when the singers gave the audience an erratic or stereotypical gesture; they were so imbued with their domestic mishaps that watching them gave the impression of being spies in their private lives."

Full review in the CREDITS page.

Read the review in Spanish here

White card model - Heure espagnole and Schicchi

I'm currently finalising touches to the white card model for a presentation to the Opéra National de Lorraine on Wednesday - very happy with what Annemarie Woods, my designer, and myself have come up with. Not your usual solution, and a potential for extra gags provided I can make it all work.

Rehearsals start on 22 August so I have some time still to refine thoughts and ideas. I know both pieces well from having seen productions of them, but never worked on either. L'Heure was daunting as it is at its simplest a very long joke. But having spent time with the score now, it's simply delicious and there are great opportunities for character development and a lot of humour. Schicchi is just fantastic. I've always wanted to direct some Puccini and what a joy to start with this one. I can't help but think of some reunions when I was a child visiting my father's side of the family, the Italian one... It'll all go in! Excited and looking forward to getting started in the studio!

"I wish I'd seen it twice"

As part of WhatsOnStage's 'The best (and worst) of opera of 2015', a bouquet for Intermezzo!

"Garsington again, for Bruno Ravella's pitch-perfect production of Strauss's semi-autobiographical opera Intermezzo. Giles Cadle's set was simultaneously ambitious and economical; Jac van Steen conducted it with an impressive Straussian sweep. An evening that's stayed strongly in my memory for the past seven months. I wish I'd seen it twice."

Read the whole article here

I'll take this opportunity to wish a merry Christmas to all of you who celebrate it!

Photo ©Mike Hoban

Guardian Top 10 of 2015

Tim Ashley has selected Intermezzo as one of his top 10 classical concerts and operas of 2015! Delighted and immensely proud of the team. Congratulations to Mary Dunleavy and Mark Stone, and the whole of the amazing cast, as well as the baton of Jac van Steen and the designs of Giles Cadle.

"Perfect performances from Mark Stone and Mary Dunleavy graced Bruno Ravella's haunting, deeply humane production of Strauss's controversial autobiographical opera, chronicling a period of strain in his own marriage."

read article here 

Watch this space

New exciting project confirmed for September 2016 - more to follow as soon as I can.

Faust recap

Long time in coming, but a tiny recap on my extended experience with Faust in Australia this year. The production has taken me to Sydney, Adelaide and Perth: a fantastic opportunity to discover more of the country, go to places I probably wouldn't have gone to, meet more people and make some friends. I have been fortunate to work with fantastic casts, teams and choruses throughout - the kind that one wants to work with again!

I have also been able to explore a little of the country in my spare time, wine regions of South Australia and Western Australia, Uluru, North Queensland. A highlight of these trips is a guided tour in Uluru, which opened my eyes to the indigenous culture, stories and way of life. How ignorant I was (and still am). 

I'm attaching below some short and very entertaining clips produced by Fiona Campbell, our fantastic Siebel in Perth. These illustrate the process involved in putting on a show like Faust - who said opera was high brow! Enjoy.