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Friday, March 23, 2012

Monteverdi + Verdi = A creative process

It's almost over. The 2011-2012 Opera McGill season that is.

Less than a week ago I was sitting watching our performances of Monteverdi's "L'incoronazione di Poppea" and now I'm headed into this Saturday's final Opera McGill performance: "Verdi's Last Acts" in Redpath Hall on the McGill campus in Montreal. We are performing the last act of "La Traviata", the "Rigoletto" quartet, the last act of "Otello", and the final fugue from "Falstaff". It's going to be a tremendously exciting evening!

"Poppea" ended up being quite successful with the critics and with our audiences -- which was terrific after the cast's hard work learning a 3+ hour opera from 1642 Venice. Our HBO "Rome" inspired production was beautiful to look at thanks to the brilliance of Ginette Grenier's costumes, Vincent Lefevre's set design, and Serge Filiatrault's lights. My private homage to the 1968 Star Trek "Wink of an Eye" episode went over especially well with the audience, even though most never knew from whence the inspiration for the slo-mo movement came. I enjoyed our week of twenty-four hours of "Poppea" immensely. It was nice to see the students so proud of accomplishing such a challenging piece.

This year has been challenging -- starting with last fall's strike at McGill and now ending with this spring's student protests in downtown. With all of the unrest and craziness, Opera McGill has managed to put on extremely high quality productions of notoriously difficult repertoire: Britten's "The Turn of the Screw", Mozart's "Don Giovanni", and this past weekend's "Poppea". The Giovanni played to four nearly sold-out performances and was also critically acclaimed. We've experienced guests artists like Tom Diamond, Andrew Bisantz, David Lefkowich, and Beth Burrier all working one-on-one with the students in everything from musical theatre repertoire to stage combat to the artistic challenges of a Britten chamber opera.

Finally, there's been an interesting report circulating on many of my friends Twitter and FB updates regarding Creativity. I read it with great interest:

Personally, I've never figured out where my ideas come from, but it was interesting to read about the "flash" of insight as well as how hot showers or alcohol help the "creative" process by shutting down a part of the brain that deals with focusing attention. I've known for years that I have a VERY focused way about working on a piece that comes from my ability to totally disassociate myself from ANY focused thought.

Almost all of my "concepts" for my operatic directorial projects happen in a short burst which is followed by a longer process of what I call "puzzling it out". These bursts, or flashes, almost always happen while not thinking about the particular opera at all, but while reading a book, watching a film or tv show, discussing art with friends or colleagues, or when I am listening to Chopin, Lady Gaga, Sting, or the Gypsy Kings while on a bus/metro or walking home late at night. Sometimes it'll happen at dinner when I've had a beer, or on a lazy weekend with a glass of wine. An example of one of my "bursts" would be: Goddesses are aliens in the human world and should act like those aliens in "Wink of an Eye" (Star Trek, originally broadcast in 1968) or seeing "Hero" and wondering about Truth, Hidden Truth, and Reality and how that connected to the story of Handel's "Imeneo" or frankly just seeing a big ball of light in an IKEA store and imagining a soprano walking around it (that's where "Alcina" came from.)

I must confess that my "puzzling it out" happens almost exclusively during long hot showers. My skin dries out severely, but it's worth the price because as great as a cool idea might be, you have to figure out how to apply it throughout very long and involved operatic libretti and scores. I've seen too many shows that start out great, with a great idea in place, and then falter in the 2nd act because the director and their team didn't think it through. That takes work, sweat, revisions and alterations of the original idea/concept, and a lot of detailed analysis of text to make sure that where you're headed makes sense.

It helps to have a sense of play as well. It especially helps to not take the process too seriously. Once I start worrying about "what to do" with any given opera, I falter. In order to move forward, I have to walk away and think about some other piece or problem I'm having. Showering attention on another puzzle allows the other part of my brain to work it out - sometimes mysteriously so.  I can understand why the ancients thought there were Muses! My muse sits somewhere in my brain and is totally ADHD, that's for sure!

My muse in life, though, is and will always be my wife, Elizabeth. She's been the one to suffer the cold showers after I've used up all the hot water!

Happy Spring everyone!!