Sunday, 25 November 2012

The Director Speaks

Before last night's BBC Radio 3 broadcast of English National Opera's new production of Ralph Vaughan Williams's Pilgrims Progress, there was the usual introduction with an interview with Roland Wood (who sang Pilgrim and Bunyan) and with the director, Yoshi Oida. It was illuminating and fascinating as Oida had a quite distinctive take on Bunyan's story (he'd not read the book until asked to direct the opera). When we saw the opera live,  I had gathered a lot of what Oida seemed to be saying by the end of the opera. But I could not help feeling that to have heard (or read) Oida's short talk before seeing the production at the London Coliseum would have been helpful.


How much should a new production be journey for the audience, and how much of a guide should we get in advance? Some directors do not like having to explain their productions and often explanation is not necessary. Also, if an opera is well known then the director might reasonably assume that any commentary they might apply would not need elucidation; though this certainly is not always the case.

But RVW's opera is rarely performed and Oida's take on Bunyan, though intelligent and illuminating, was not straightforward. A couple of pages in the programme would have been helpful and enable us to comprehend Oida's take on part with greater clarity. And, after all, you can always choose not to read the programme!

But how far should you go?

Would it have been helpful for opera goers at the Covent Garden Ring cycles (particularly those new to the work), to have had the production's iconography elucidated.  Warner's production was at times so detailed, that it was difficult to take everything in. Speaking to a Ring virgin, who had seen the operas for the first time in the recent Covent Garden cycles, she was struck by how vastly busy the stage was all the time.

Does this matter?

Is it better to have mugged up in detail, to know that such and such is a reference to the world ash? Or is it better to make our own journey. In Oida's Pilgrim's Progress, I know the score very well so was able to follow the production intently, gradually discovering what Oida was showing to us. A sort of continual revelation which matched Pilgrim's journey.

But I do know that I would love to have read Rufus Norris's thoughts on Don Giovanni before seeing his profoundly dystopic but very theatrical production of the work.


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