BWW Interview: Opera Is About People: Andrew Sinclair Interview Part 'Deux'
In part one of my recent interview with Director Andrew Sinclair, he shared his insights and experiences directing San Diego Opera, from Aida to the 2014 opening of the powerful verismo opera Pagliacci. In part two, Sinclair delves further into the subject of character in opera.
EM: In Pagliacci you gave a whole new spin to the ending when, instead of Canio, Tonio declares, "La Commedia è finita."
AS: Opera is about people. It's not about how it looks. These days, not all, but for a lot of contemporary directors, it's a very visual concept. Once in Europe, at the end of Tosca Act 2, I didn't do crucifix and candles. Which I think probably caused a scandal with the public. I know Toscas who did not want to do crucifix and candles because they just don't feel it. So I said to the soprano, "Are you absolutely wedded to the idea of doing crucifix and candles? Maybe there's something else that works." And she said, "Andrew, when I sing Turandot in Germany, I make my entrance as Turandot from the stomach of a giant teddy bear. There's a huge mobile phone next to me on which Calàf answers the riddles. Why would I worry about crucifix and candles?" (Laughs.)
EM: I feel the same way. As you said, it's about the characters, and it sounds like your approach was the best for the situation.
AS: I also like to think what happens when the opera's over. What happens to Butterfly's child, for instance. I think he has a terrible existence. Because Kate doesn't really want him. There are a whole lot of ways you can do the end of Butterfly, too. There's no doubt she kills herself, but there's a production somewhere else where I think she kills Suzuki, kills the child... I don't know, talk about Euro trash. And in certain operas like Butterfly, I prefer to run acts two and three together.
EM: We did that at the Met, too.
AS: A lot of sopranos say it's hard. Butterfly's a mighty "sing" for any soprano, but to have a break and then try and crank up the tension again in what is really a very short act - it's much better to play it straight through.
EM: The music between the end of act two and the beginning of act three is seamless anyway. I think that kind of inexorable march to the end works for Butterfly.
AS: Exactly. It's like you spend the night watching with Butterfly, Suzuki and the child. And it's the same with Salome. It takes place in real time. You live through this bizarre evening and you really feel you've been through the wringer.
EM: As far as doing Pagliacci on its own, I think it works well, but I can't imagine doing Cavalleria Rusticana on its own.
AS: Nor can I. Of course they're paired with other pieces. Pagliacci is sometimes paired with Tabarro and Schicchi, but if you're going to do two there's no doubt Pagliacci and Cavalleria are going to stand very well together. But Pagliacci is the stronger piece.
EM: I do have a soft spot for Cavalleria.
AS: So do I. When I first started loving opera I preferred Cavalleria. But I think I didn't understand the problem with it. The first time I did both "Cav and Pag" was in Singapore. I already I knew I was going to do a new production of them for Australian Opera. The difference between what I did in Singapore and what I did in Sydney was phenomenal because I started looking at the drama differently. The first was conducted by Karen Kamensek, who's doing Ballo here (http://www.sdopera.com/Operas/MaskedBall), and we had a fantastic time.
EM: Speaking of Singapore, I know you've also worked in Hong Kong. Do you find differences working in Asia as opposed to in Europe, and if so, what would they be?
AS: In Asia they don't plan ahead so much. It's all done in a short period of time. As a director you have problems because singers don't want to display affection on the stage. They don't want to kiss on stage.