The Tsar Wants His Photograph Taken
Performances: Bloomsbury Studio, London (2016)
I really like working on academic outreach projects. This was a weird one - an obscure Kurt Weill opera that Michael Berkowitz had found in the archive as an exemplar of how, in the 1920s, photographers were assumed to be Jewish (which helped lead to the piece's suppression by the Nazis).
In it, a group of anarchists took over a photography studio to assassinate the Tsar as he sat for a portrait. He instantly falls for one of the anarchists, and the farce continues.
So, after creating a period-piece-on-a-budget, partly influenced by Brechtian aesthetics (but not much, because this was pre-Brecht Weill, and the singers were mostly devoted Stanislavskians), we had a bit of an issue. Either, the music (conducted by the superb Johann Stuckenbruck) and the staging could both be wrong, or the music could be right and we could do the whole thing in concert. We chose option 2.
And so we came to the production concept that, with hindsight, I wish I’d had all along. We photographed the entire staging, meaning that as the opera went on, period-style photographs showed what would have happened onstage. Plus extras, where the ‘staging’ showed what characters really thought, or allowed them to move to exotic Parisian locations.
If we’d had more time, we could have used this to annotate the show, and smash the fourth wall with more force. Alas, we didn’t.
But next time someone asks me to direct The Tsar, I know what I want to do.
“One of the most creative and effective opera productions [I’ve] ever seen”
- Audience Feedback