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  • Writer's pictureleodoulton

Bin Your Darlings, Burn Your Ancestors

Updated: Jul 31, 2023

So, The Tsar is now in rehearsals (and on sale). Having spent most of last week in music calls, we're taking a two-week break to give our amazing cast time to work with the music before we all come together for staging rehearsals. It's going to be a fantastic show.

Johann Stuckenbruck, Michelle Santiago, and myself, having fun at music calls.

During the course of last week, however, I had to bin a lot of my plans. With the cast we had, their skills and personal flavours, and a few other changes of circumstance, the original plan was better-off in the bin. Much though I loved the idea of staging accompanied by 1910s-style video and photos, reflecting the gulf between characters' perception of events and reality, it was unrealistic, and the amount of resources it needed wasn't matched by the benefit to the show. So there's a new, better plan.

Amusingly, the last time Johann and I did the Tsar, we had a similar course-change, for similar reasons. It resulted in some rather delightful pictures (and there's definitely a blog post in 'how does doing the same opera twice show how I've changed in the past three years?').

Picture: a conical hat with pictures of balloons with 'Birthday Tsar!' written upon it, on top of a glum-looking human in glasses.

Since I want to use this blog to make me occasionally reflect, what have I learnt?

  1. I am capable of a degree of pragmatism that was difficult a few years ago. Once again, I was offered the choice between 'rush all staging, music, and photography calls' and 'bin production concept and replace it with one that requires less time'. This time, choosing the latter was much easier. Possibly because I've done it before.

  2. That when I plan, I need to pay more attention to the possibility of crisis in rehearsals (like someone stepping out) and have more contingency time.

  3. No plan survives contact with the rehearsal room. Ever.

  4. That a lot of the production processes I've seen and been trained in rest on the assumption that there is the luxury of time and money, or are scaled-down versions of approaches that require those luxuries. Opera has a lot of conversations about diversity in relation to the content of its shows, and who creates and watches them. I increasingly think about the need to have a conversation about opera's structures - they're rooted in a model that assumes an aristocratic patron or (more recently) a wealthy industrialist/financier. Nowadays, that patron is also likely to be the state or a charity, but the structure is the same. So, another future blog is 'what can I do to change those structures (and what are other people already doing)?'

  5. There are fast, quick-and-dirty ways of creating an opera, stealing from fringe theatres and interactive shows I like (as well as a few things of my own devising). When working with limited time, sometimes the energy of a quick-and-dirty process is a valuable asset to the staging. However, they don't always look like opera 'should'. I am torn within myself as to whether that's because: a. I am an irredeemable snob, reflecting cultural values drilled into me throughout my life. b. There are innate qualities to opera (especially the relationship between music and movement) that lead to certain styles of staging being a better 'fit', and those versions require preparation time. c. That the relationship between music and movement is real, but it is perfectly possible to create something beautiful using quick-and-dirty techniques. However, the dominance of so-called naturalism in our culture means that vast expanses of possible expression are unheard of, or considered 'impossible' (and worse, 'silly'). Which is a shame, because opera is inherently non-naturalistic, and such movement can be beautiful when used with craft and skill. But people's (including me) unfamiliarity and mental blocks about it mean that its use takes longer than perhaps it should. Another future blog.

  6. None of which is to detract from the impressive ability of singers and other opera-folk to, when push comes to shove, show an impressive ability to come together and make things work in adverse circumstances. Some of the opera bubble incline towards diva-ish behaviour, or at least a taste for melodrama, but I'd like to thank the team for their support and getting-on-with-the-job-ness last week.

There's a certain amount of waffle in this post, and many of the thoughts are vague ramblings. But it's interesting seeing how opera's legacy haunts us even [especially?] in moments of urgency.

For now, it's back to score-preparation, getting things ready for Man and God, and thinking about a few more blog-posts to reflect on the process (especially someone's reaction to our job advert).

And if you haven't already, get your tickets now, because it's a cracking cast, and looking to be a great show!


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