Alain Gauthier, Staging Barber of Sevilleby Wah Keung Chan
/ February 12, 2008
Alain Gauthier has a long history
with líOpťra de Montrťal, first entering the Atelier lyrique in
1993 as a stage-directing stagiŤre, then later becoming a stage manager
and assistant director. In 2005, he remounted Chabrierís Lí…toile
with the company, later directing the same production with the Cincinnati
Opera, who reinvited him for its summer festival staging of Cosi
fan tutte. Fresh off his production of Carmen with the Edmonton
Opera this past autumn, he now undertakes Barber of Seville as
a director for the first time, with six upcoming performances from February
What are your initial thoughts on
staging the Barber of Seville?
We are working with a set production
that was created over 30 years ago. Itís more traditional, set in
the beginning of the 19th century, when the opera was premiered. I will
be trying to give a bit of freshness and lightness to the comedy mechanism.
The sets had an aesthetic from the 1970s, with brownish colours, so
we redid them with lighter colours, like those found in Spain, with
a lot of oranges and yellows to give it a sunnier side. We did the same
with the costumes to make it look more like a comedy, like a childrenís
play or TV show, very colourful.
So, you changed the costumes?
We used the original concept, but we
had to redo the costumes (either they were not fresh enough or the sizes
didnít work), so I asked Louise Gauthier to go with lively, brighter
colours. The original dress made Rosina look like an old lady. Itís
the same with most of the props, which are in an orange palette; itís
almost a clichť from Spain, but when I was thinking of Seville, I thought
of the famous oranges that come from there. We destroyed everything
and rebuilt it, so it feels like a new production.
How do you work with the text?
I try to stick to the plot and the text,
which is very difficult in a comedy like The Barber of Seville,
but still leave my mark somewhat. I canít reveal everything, but for
instance, thereís a Spanish prop, an orange fan, that will be in the
opera throughout. It allows the characters to hide their private conversations
and to fan themselves (because itís warm in Seville!). The fan gives
me many possibilities through the opera. It becomes almost abstract.
The props are very crucial in Barber, and nothing will be there
just to look pretty; there is nothing on stage that wonít be used.
What can you say about characterization,
when it comes to the singers?
It was quite easy on this show because
the casting was great: I almost didnít have to do anything. Julie
Boulianne is a young girl, full of energy, so sheís perfect for Rosina.
Frederic Antoun (Count Almaviva) is handsome and full of energy. Aaron
St. Clair Nicholson (Figaro) is personally funny himself and Donato
di Stefano genuinely looks like a Bartolo. Most of my work involved
making sure the audience knows whatís going on onstageóit has to
be very precise.
The finale of Act I is always problematic.
How do you approach it?
Everything is a mess, and often you canít
understand any of the words. For instance, in one segment, the soldiers
almost seem to be robots, no longer humanóitís very abstract. For
a time, youíre in the charactersí minds and the action is a sort
of poetic illustration of whatís going on in their heads. I rely heavily
on the choreography to make things clearer (through lighting and, of
course, the fans!).
What is the moral of the story?
Itís classic Commedia dellíArte,
so itís a very simple message: love always triumphs. You have a young
man in love with a woman, and they do everything they possibly can to
be together. Ultimately, itís that you should be with the person you
love, not the person whose money you want.
How do you compare Rossiniís Barber with Mozartís related opera, Le Nozze di Figaro?
The two operas are very different. In
Mozart, you have a more psychological approach to the characters. Rossini
makes them more playful and more absurd. Mozartís opera is a comedy,
too, but the Count and the Countess can be quite dark. For Rosina, there
may be one line where she sounds hurt, when she thinks the Count betrayed
her (thereís just a hint of tragedy), but other than that, itís
fun all the time, through Rossiniís use of the music and the words.
How do you interpret the music and
use it to your advantage in the production?
Itís a delight for me to work with
Rossinióitís fabulous. Everything is illustrated through the written
music. You just have to move to the music, and everything appears much
clearer than it would be with just the text. There is nothing in the
music that has no meaning. For the comic element in Rossini, it illustrates
a reaction. If itís not written, you have to find out why. For instance,
why does Rossini repeat the same phrase? Itís either that something
is happening or thereís two ways to say it. We try to find different
meaning to the words. The music gives you even more things to use as
a stage director. Iím very lucky to have experienced singers in this
production. For instance, Aaron St. Clair Nicholson and Donato di Stefano
have performed the opera very often and they helped me with particular
meaning in the text that I may not have thought of.
How much of your concept do you prepare
in advance, and then how much do you adjust during rehearsals, if necessary?
I prepare a lot in advance, since there
are only 2 weeks of rehearsal. In fact, we have to get the whole show
done in a week, since weíre now starting to do run-throughs. I always
have a plan, but my plan changes all the time. I donít always have
time to write absolutely everything down, so I have a great assistant
who writes down the necessary changes for staging and new ideas. Iím
very lucky because the singers are always very creative and innovative.
They feel that they can suggest things to me; there is always a discussion.
Sometimes you canít do this, but Iím a very open-minded director
this way. I hate working with people who just want my instructions and
nothing else. n