This week Opera McGill began staging rehearsals for our March production of Monteverdi's "L'incoronazione di Poppea", which represents the 20th opera produced during my five years here at McGill as well as the fifth collaboration with Schulich's Early Music Program and its director, Hank Knox.
As I've been reflecting on my years here at McGill, I've realized how much I've come to look forward to the baroque opera productions. The first was a magical re-creation of Handel's "Alcina" which was set in mythic China with added Tai Chi half-man/half-tree characters that gave the show an extra emotional punch (I remounted the production this past summer at Janiec Opera Company and loved revisiting it!) We followed the next year with Lully's "Thésée", creating a high French baroque opera set in the Sun King's garden at Versailles - a production that I am am the most proud of simply because we figured a way to present a very long Lully opera that kept the audience's imagination and interest throughout the almost four hours of music. The other two Handel operas we've presented here have been "Agrippina" (a sort of prequel to the story of Poppea), complete with a Poppea inspired by Lady Gaga and a cast doing the Conga to Handel's rhthyms, and the mostly unknown "Imeneo", a production that changed the way I directed operatic text.
Although the wonderful student casts, orchestra, and harpsichordists have changed and graduated, one thing has remained the same: Hank Knox. For those of you who may not know Hank, he is an unassuming man with brilliant harpsichord skills and a knowledge of all things Early Music. He directs the Early Music program at Schulich, one of the best in the world, teaches privately, conducts the Baroque Orchestra, and once a year conducts the operatic collaboration between his area and Opera McGill (along with keeping up his own demanding concert schedule.)
For this production, I was inspired (yet again) by the HBO series "Rome". The designers and I are presenting a full-blown Roman show, complete with togas, Roman soldiers in regalia, and Emperors reclining while eating grapes. Traditionalists should love this production, particularly if they'd like to hear the Venice version in its UNCUT form. That's right, we are not taking any cuts! We did the same for last month's "Don Giovanni". It's one of the things that sets Opera McGill apart from almost every other academic institution and most professional opera companies in North America.
You see, Opera McGill almost always presents the operas in an uncut state; that way, the audience can hear the original intent of the composer and librettist AND our students get to fully study, learn, and perform their roles. Most opera companies have to cut their operas, sometimes severely, in order to get the curtain down in under three hours. In most union houses, going over three hours causes very large overtime expenses for both the orchestra and the stage hands.
So for the Monteverdi, we are all joking that the opera will be a good five hours long. That's simply not the case! I am taking the three acts and combining them into two acts, taking one intermission to help cut down the total time. I'm not sure how long the show will be (I've never seen an uncut Poppea), and much of that depends on choices made by Hank Knox and the students singing the roles.
I promise that there will be MUCH to look at while Monteverdi's masterpiece unfolds. Watch for a very AlcinaTree-like usage of the gods and goddesses, as well as a layered approach to telling the major characters' stories. I'd recommend reading a quick plot summary as well. You'll need to know who's who (Littore, Lucano, or Liberto; Damigella vs Drusilla; Arnalta or Nutrice; not to mention the half dozen gods and the actual major characters, most of whom are historic).
Don't miss it: Pollack Hall, March 15, 16, 17, and 18 (matinee), 2012