What goes into choosing the opera each season at LAMF, and what made Midsummer rise to the top?
There are many practical and artistic considerations that go into any discussion of possible repertoire. To list a few practical questions asked of any opera in consideration: How large is an opera’s personnel — its cast/chorus/orchestra? What are an opera’s technical/physical challenges? Will a particular opera be effective in LAMF production style (with the orchestra on stage)? Then, there are other artistic considerations — largely administrative — that include: How does a possible opera fit into the overall season? How does a possible opera fit into the line-up of previous years’ operatic offerings? The ultimate choice of the opera is in the hands of the administration; however, in initial discussions, Midsummer – a favorite work of both mine and Maestro Andrew Altenbach – met all initial practical requirements.
What makes directing at LAMF different than at your other engagements throughout the year?
LAMF is a bit different from most of my other directing engagements in one significant way: the opera orchestra and conductor are on stage. The orchestra is, therefore, a significant part of the performance’s visual. This production style requires special attention be paid to integrating the orchestra into the overall design. Having the orchestra on stage is a delight – both aurally and visually! It’s wonderful to see the orchestral music being made; the instrumentalists’ movements lend a compelling texture to the visual. Having the orchestra onstage (behind the singers) also necessitates that we move the action to the front portion of the stage, which creates a theatrical intimacy between performers and audience even with large shows.
What can audience members look forward to in this year’s opera?
This year’s opera is a big and wonderful show! Midsummer has fifteen adult principal characters, and a large youth chorus of fairies. Britten’s adaptation of Midsummer is faithful to Shakespeare’s comedy. Audience members familiar with Shakespeare’s play will find in Britten’s opera all their favorite characters, as well as their favorite scenes of heartbreak, passion, mischievousness, and hilarity. There are two new things, in particular, that the audience can look forward to this year. First, projection-designer Brittany Merenda has created original projections that will suggest the magic and mystery of an enchanted forest. Audiences will be treated to vivid and fluidly transitioning visuals. Second, this opera features a rare voice-type. Britten composed the role of Oberon (King of the Fairies) for a counter-tenor – a male singer who specializes in his uppermost vocal register. The high, ethereal sound of a counter-tenor effectively portrays the other-worldliness of the fairy kingdom’s leader.
What draws you to directing opera, specifically?
Simply stated: opera-theater is the genre of theater that I know best, and the one whose method of story-telling I find fascinating. I work exclusively in opera-theater – or in “lyric theater,” more broadly, since I do occasionally direct works of classic musical theater for opera companies. I embrace opera’s many musico-dramatic conventions, and its unique style of story-telling through complex interactions of text, music, and action. Also, I greatly enjoy the collaborative nature of opera! There are few things better than a day spent in rehearsal with incredible colleagues (conductor, actors, designers, and production staff), all striving to present a drama with utmost clarity.