BWW Interview and review: Katie Mitchell behind ARIADNE AUF NAXOS at Finnish National Opera
"A rich man hires an opera group and a troupe of actors to entertain his guests. At the last minute he notices there's not enough time for both performances. They must take place simultaneously, melding together theatre and opera. The merriment of traditional commedia dell'arte characters invades the story of Ariadne, who's awaiting death." - Finnish National Opera and Ballet's webpage
I had the honor to see Ariadne Auf Naxo's on its Finnish premiere 24.1.2020 and to also contact the director Katie Michell via mail to ask some details about the piece and its making.
What do you think was the most important topic/s in Ariadne auf Naxos?
The most important issues for me were to address the gender politics in the original libretto. In the libretto (which reflects the gender reality of the period in which it was written) Zerbinetta is presented as a male fantasy or a woman with internalised sexism and Ariadne herself is presented as someone fulfilling a male fantasy: the woman who waits and doesn't do anything. Then another bloke turns up and she immediately falls into his arms - I mean, what woman today would behave like that? So the production tried to get under the skin of these two female characters and build a relationship between the two of them that ended up on a very positive note - the two women finally agree on the ending with the baby. We also wanted to connect the first half with the second half and keep in ocus the fact that the event was happening in a rich man's house and so we introduced the character of the rich man and rich woman throughout the evening.
Have you seen directions of it yourself?
Sadly I've never seen the opera myself.
How did you work with the colours considering set and costume design?
We wanted to create a very quiet and tasteful world of the rich man's house and then contrast that with the brighter colours of Zerbinetta and her more pop-influenced world.
You have directed both drama and Opera, what are the main differences in them, in acting?
Opera singers are as good at acting as actors in the theatre; the difference is that the singers have less space available in their heads to absorb psychological notes because they have to dedicate much of their head space to singing and the complexity of that task.
Cool! How did you work with the choreographer? Who decided of the movements on stage (stage directions) and who took care of the tinier details?
Joseph Alford was the movement director and he and I worked hand in glove on the physical world of the opera; for the bigger sequences - like Zerbinetta and her boys sequences - I would a broad sketch of the staging and then Joseph would work on filling in the details and really drilling the performer
What is your directing style? Do you co-direct while watching a scene or do you give directions in between seeing a scene rehearsed?
I take notes whilst the scene is running and afterwards give the notes to the performers.
The visual look of the piece intrigued me already in August in the promotion photos and I booked the tickets immediately. Also that it compacted drama and opera together.
The color design was extremely fine. Especially in the moment when Ariadne took a seat on the right side of the stage and the image was set so that all the colorful folk were on the left side and the colors as if dried out as we moved our eyes on the right. It told well about the polarisation of the character's worlds and ambitions too. Also the set design itself was overall good and believable. Movement was designed well in the beginning especially when people hustled around and cleaned up the space. Also when Primadonna (Miina-Liisa värelä) first stepped in in her red dress in between the men who carried boxes - and how everything that happened guided our eyes in the right directions, in a flow. I also noticed that the stage was framed as if we were looking at a film.
I liked the performers' style as well. The movements and expressions were directed to be sharp and expressive enough. Well done!
There were some musical details too. Like when somebody laughed, a laughing-like sound was heard from an instrument in between the laughs.
"My piece will reveal the very secret of existence". To me Ariadne Auf Naxos told about performing arts in general. Is a deep Opera more important and meaningful than a light comedy? Der Komponist (Jenny Carlstedt) was so devastated on the idea that her piece would be ruined by some light comedy. There was passion in her but it was very short-limited. She reminded me of a person who thinks she holds the full understanding of life and refuses to look into something else. Zerbinetta (Danae Kontora) as Katie stated symbolized the pop-culture. The lights in her and her mens' outfits reminded of the flickering lights on Broadway and other advertisements and music-concerts.
I enjoyed when Der Haushofmeister (Karl Menrad) gave information about the coming happenings and the music stopped playing. And it only played when other performers spoke to him, but he was the neutral information carrier so thus there wasn't music to be played either. Very nice!
I know good timing, visual elements and plot when I see one, but I must admit I have little knowledge on opera itself. I only know that in this piece the finishing sentence delivered by the Rich Man (Jorma Uotinen) gave us a katharsis of the things we felt of the long opera piece at the end. It brought a meta-stage to the piece we had seen and at least made me smile. We were supposed to feel the same things as they did, co-live with the Rich man and his Wife who sat on the stage.
Article: Rosanna Liuski
Photos: Stefan Bremer