Monday, February 28, 2011


Anthony Roth Costanzo takes readers into the world of rehearsing an opera, BLO's upcoming Agrippina.

This is the first in a series of posts entitled "Three Questions" where I ask collaborators from the Agrippina team about art, life, and everything in between. My first victim is our production's assistant director Crystal Manich. Crystal, an accomplished director in her own right, just finished helming Handel's Rinaldo for Pittsburgh Opera. She has directed nationally and internationally and received praise from The New York Times and The Wall Street Jouranal, among many other publications, for her extraordinary work. In addition to her engagements as a director and assistant director, she is the co-founder and co-artistic director of Opera Omnia, a company which produces baroque opera. I asked Crystal to elucidate the process of bringing an opera to life:

You've just come from directing a Handel opera and will be working on another this summer; while this composer's unique dramatic format is not new to you, does Agrippina represent any firsts, big or small?
What makes Agrippina unique is the way that Handel writes comedy. The thought that Handel put into deciding whether a text is serious or not is all based on how he sets that text to music.  Musical setting also effects whether a character is telling the truth, lying, flirting, or becoming murderous... the range of possibilities is endless.  Also, as with all Handelian operas, the singer has so much control with regard to the delivery of a line during the recitatives.  One small adjustment, emphasizing a word in one way rather than another, makes all the difference in the world.  Then, of course, one has to consider the physicalization of this text: it's a lot of work!

In your experience what role does the atmosphere of rehearsals play in the final product? Can you give us an example?
Atmosphere in the rehearsal process is essential for the success of a show.  No question.  There is an amazing connection that people build naturally.  Usually it takes less than three days of rehearsal before you feel as if you have known everyone for a long time.  The work is very intimate.  If for some reason there were to be a bad relationship between one person and another, no matter on what side of the stage they work, the performance would be greatly affected.  A positive and nurturing atmosphere guarantees a team effort onstage as well as cohesive storytelling.

As a director, do you feel you have a role in changing the face of opera or do you feel there is no change necessary? In creating productions, how can we keep opera alive and relevant?
I think that opera is just like any kind of live performance: it is always morphing.  That's what good art should do.  When it stops being spontaneous, then it isn't art anymore.  Why would we want to repeat the same staging techniques over and over again?  Puccini (as just one example) wasn't afraid to change the form, so why should we be?  With regard to creating productions, I don't believe in "relevance."  These works survive because there is something universal and true in their stories that is not specific to any time or place.  These are stories about people just like us.  I truly believe that if you present real human relationships onstage--all of the time--then it will always be relevant despite the "style" or time period in which it is set.  It's only when there is dishonesty that it becomes a mere museum piece.  An emperor is a human.  A man who has had his heart broken is no stranger to us.  The greed that is so prominent in Agrippina is recognizable in many aspects of society today.

To read more about Crystal, visit her website:  

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