Theatrenow snatched a few minutes from his busy schedule with Martin Duncan, the new Director of Chichester and something of a workaholic.
You're directing Cav and Pag [as this double bill is known affectionately in the opera world] at the Royal Albert Hall. What do you think about this trend for using non-theatrical spaces for theatre events? "Theatre can be staged almost anywhere, of course, and it's interesting that opera, in particular, is now regularly staged at the Royal Albert Hall, and we've recently seen Follies at the Royal Festival Hall, too. I find the Albert Hall a fascinating place to work in."
Presumably it's very different to the places you've directed opera in the past. What's the particular challenge involved here? "Staging an opera in the round is a very liberating thing. Usually opera — even more than straight theatre — is performed behind a proscenium arch, where the voice — and the acting — is directed straight out, through the arch, to the audience.
"In the round you have to mike the singers, however strong their voices, because by the nature of the performance area, there will be lots of times when the singer isn't facing them directly and without mikes you'd obviously lose some of the sound. "The great advantage, for a director, is you make the acting side of it more realistic — with mikes the singers can actually face each other during a love duet rather than standing side by side and belting out the arias to the audience!"
Does this have disadvantages attached? "I'm not sure I'd say there are disadvantages as such, but there are challenges! On the one hand, at a venue like the Albert Hall, you get a real sense of the epic sweep of the stage, and though at times the performers may seem far away, at other times you're almost touching them.
"This makes for a lot of fun experimentation at rehearsals, and we rehearsed in a vast space — it was a bit like trying to block the performers' moves on a football pitch!"
The public often think of opera and theatre as hugely different art forms, but, especially with directors, there seems to be a lot of crossover between the two. "There is. For example, I was getting into opera more or less at the same time as Nicholas Hytner was moving from opera to theatre. I began my opera directing with Opera North in 1990 when the original director of a piece dropped out and I was asked if I wanted to have a go.
"But I always combined opera and theatre — I was artistic director of Nottingham Playhouse from 1994 to 1999, and I'm now in the same role at Chichester, which is a very exciting job to have, even though — or perhaps especially because — we have quite a few challenges to meet there at the moment. But I'll carry on with directing operas. I've been asked to do The Abduction from the Seraglio at Munich as well as theatre work."
Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci, directed by Martin Duncan, will be staged at the Royal Albert Hall beginning Sept. 26.
—By Paul Webb Theatrenow