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The Revival Director

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The revival director is one of the unsung heroes in the world of opera, but what exactly do they do and how do they re-create the work of another director? We asked Justin Way, who is responsible for reviving The Royal Opera’s staging of Il barbiere di Siviglia this month, to explain the process of bringing to life on stage somebody else’s ideas…

1: What is the revival director's starting point when it comes to working with the cast on a revival?

The revival director’s starting point are the ideas of the creative team behind the original production. Normally, the psychological interpretation of the piece has been scored in the same way that the sets, lighting and costumes have been decided upon – hopefully into a very tightly-knit, cohesive whole. The starting point will be to communicate that interpretation to the new cast and conductor, and to begin measuring it against the beliefs and experiences of those who will be taking over performances of the production.

2: What freedom do you have to develop your own ideas?

The revival director is responsible for finding the meeting point between the new cast / conductor’s ideas, and those of the original team. In the difference between these two creative inputs lies the freedom to find solutions that bind them together.

3: How do you get a new cast to 'fit' a production originally created with a different set of principals?

This largely depends on the aesthetics of the original production, because some pieces allow for massive freedom of interpretation and others, often being more conceptually-driven, might require a stricter adherence to the original blueprint. Arguing the case for things that are crucial to the over-arching themes of the interpretation and its overall purpose is important, but so is being prepared to adapt to the individual expressiveness of the new cast members, and playing to their strengths.

4: How does being a revival director develop your own skills as a director of singers?

The challenge I love is that a director revives a production by entering into the values of the original creative team, inevitably broadening his or her own knowledge, experience and point of view. This inadvertently compels a revival director to use approaches that he/she might not draw on if they were working on an original production, and working from their own palette. You broaden your skills by having to approach pieces in different ways.

5: What have you learnt most from being a revival director?

I have learnt that there are many so many different ways to interpret the same material, and many different ways to communicate the same thing: the languages of opera are not just the ones in which the libretti are written. Being a revival director facilitates experimenting with these different ways and learning them first hand.

6: Which directors have influenced you the most when it comes to creating your own new productions?

Working regularly or repeatedly with a director will inevitable inform your process, but those that I’ve worked with the most, and whose work I greatly admire - Christof Loy, David McVicar, Moshe Leiser & Patrice Caurier – are so different that it proves that there is no all-powerful blueprint for directing. As an assistant the danger is that an identikit starts to form in your mind as to what characteristics would make up the ideal director. When it comes to creating your own productions, however, it is only ever your own instinct and process that you have to uncover and trust. However, having tried out a variety of approaches already can only help in the communicating of your ideas…

7: Which opera(s) would you most like to stage and why?

As a director I’ve gained quite a bit of experience staging works from the baroque repertoire which I LOVE: Cavalli, Handel, Purcell, Rameau. I have to admit that the dramatic and musical language of these composers is addictive. Their musical and dramatic values are so different from the core repertoire that doing them becomes an adventure in form as well as content … I’d love to try some Monteverdi, Charpentier, Gluck, Lully. Having said that, I’d also give my eye teeth to create a production of Don Carlo or Pelléas and Mélisande.

The Royal Opera’s staging of Il barbiere di Siviglia runs until 8 Feb 2011. www.roh.org.uk


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