• Angela Brown, Leann Sandel-Pantaleo, and stage director David Paul



    [Opera Lively interviews # 90, 91, and 92] In this year of 2013 that marks Giuseppe Verdi's bicentennial of birth, it is fitting that NC Opera has presented one of the composer's most beloved masterpieces: Aida, a sensational tale of war, romance, and intrigue that spans the gates of Thebes and the banks of the Nile. In the Old Kingdom of Egypt, a military commander—the unrequited love of the Pharaoh’s daughter—falls for an Ethiopian slave, forging a deadly love triangle. Aida bursts with all of the passion and conflict that make the operas of Verdi such enduring crowd-pleasers.

    Opera Lively as usual has provided extensive coverage of the event, with this announcement, interviews with the singers and the stage director which you can find by scrolling down to the bottom of this article, and a review. [To read the review, click (here)].

    Supporting your local opera company is very important. In today's world, there is plenty of opera on YouTube, on DVDs and blu-ray discs, and in cinemas. However, nothing even comes close to the experience of listening live to the unamplified operatic voice, at the theater.

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    Questions by Opera Lively journalist Luiz Gazzola.

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    Credit Roni Ely

    Dramatic Soprano Ms. Brown was the winner of the 1997 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. She debuted professionally at the Met in 2004, causing the New York Times reviewer to sigh: "At last an Aida!" Ever since, she has not only performed several times at the Met, Carnegie Hall, and most major American companies, but also in prestigious venues abroad such as L'Opéra National de Paris, La Fenice in Venice, Vienna State Opera, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Hamburg State Opera, and all over the world as far as Latvia, New Zealand, South Africa, Russia, and China.

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    The Exclusive Opera Lively Interview with Angela Brown
    (Aida)

    OL - Aida as an opera has been accused of regressing to the extravagance of Grand Opéra and relying too much on pomp and circumstance. If, instead, you feel very positive about this opera as I imagine you do, would you provide a sort of defense for it? Why is this opera so great?

    AB - Aida envelopes everything that opera is - great theatre, great plot, larger than life characters, incredible music, ballet, costumes, scenery. Along with all the grandeur from the War Council Scene, Consecration Scene, and Triumphal Scene, by the third and fourth act you have come all the way down to a chamber opera that is pure emotion for the main characters. Aida is one of the most fabulous operas ever penned. It is a full plate. You get everything.

    OL - Aida does have intimate moments, with solo numbers and duets, and Verdi was arguably concerned with individual emotions. So, in a sense, a semi-staged production may actually be helpful in highlighting these aspects rather than all the fanfare. What comments would you make about the difference in performing Aida fully staged, or semi-staged like in this production?

    AB - Fully-staged or semi-staged, the character of Aida is the same. You don't have to have horses, elephants, lions, tigers and bears, oh my. It is a love triangle between Aida, Radames and Amneris. The background of the story is the war between Ethiopia and Egypt. As long as you have those nuggets, you don't need the teeming hoards.

    OL - What would you say of the character Aida’s psychological traits? How do you relate to her, as a woman?

    AB - Once upon a time, I would have told you that I would never have escaped, scot-free, and come back and crawled into a tomb for anybody. But, now, I am in love! And, I think I would crawl back into a dusty hole for my man.

    OL - Please tell us about the time when you won the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in 1997 – any interesting memories from that event?

    AB - That was a magical time in my life when anything could go. I finally made it to the finals in New York and I knew this was my time to shine. I remember walking out on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera for the first time. They allowed all the contestants to walk out on the stage. I touched the floorboards and the curtain and I whispered into my spirit: "I'll be back. I'll be back."

    OL - Please tell us what you want to accomplish with your program “Opera… from a Sistah’s point of view.” It seems fascinating.

    AB - "Opera...from a Sistah's Point of View" is a show that demystifies opera for people who normally wouldn't go. As I traveled the world singing, I would look out into the audiences and wouldn't see many people who looked like me, staring back at me. And, I wondered if it was just "a black thang." But I soon found out that it was "a people thang." If you don't know and haven't been exposed, you won't go. My mission is to love people to opera, to "edutain" people to opera. It ain't that deep. It's just entertainment.

    OL - How was for you the experiencing of creating a new role – that of Cilla for the new opera Margaret Garner? Can you describe the opera for us, and the experience of singing contemporary music?

    OL - Being able to put your fingerprint on a new role is one of the greatest honors that any musician can have because you go down in the annals of history. Margaret Garner is the story of a young slave woman who escaped from Kentucky to Ohio over the frozen Ohio river replete with her family, only to be re-captured. She decides to kill her children rather than see them go back into the cruel institution of slavery. So the opera begs the question: do we charge her for murder or destruction of property? The role of Cilla is the matriarch of the family. She is the mother in law to Margaret who is married to Cilla's son. She is the "glue" to the whole opera. All of her arias are actual prayers and she is the last one standing at the end of the opera as the whole community prays Margaret's soul to heaven.

    After working with Richard Danielpour we developed a friendship and rapport with one another. I suggested that he write a song cycle for me. He agreed and suggested that we approach Maya Angelou for poetry. She agreed! The outcome was the seven-song, song cycle, "A Woman's Life" that chronicles a woman's life from childhood to womanhood and all the pitfalls she may encounter.

    It was my privilege to premiere the work with Pittsburgh Symphony and Philadelphia Orchestra, the co-commissioners of the work. And this past fall, I recorded the work for Naxos with the Nashville Symphony. It has been a joy to add contemporary music to my repertoire.

    OL - You’ve been described as possessing a charming, larger than life personality. How are you, as a person? What are some of your favorite activities, interests, and causes you care for, outside of opera?

    AB - My activities outside of opera are very eclectic and artistic. I am a very crafty person. I love crocheting and creating. I like to look at something and try to re-create it in my way. I like to express myself off the cuff, if you will, with my crochet products. I also love doing hair. I have become a trainee of the hair technique and art called "sister locks" for tightly textured hair. So, when I'm not singing, I still keep my creative juices flowing.

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    Credit included in picture

    Mezzo-soprano Ms. Sandel-Pantaleo has been featured at the Met in numerous productions, including Die Walküre, La Traviata, Die Ägyptische Helena, Luisa Miller, Manon, and Parsifal, as well as other American national companies such as San Francisco Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, and Houston Grand Opera. She was also seen at La Scala in Milan, Berlin Staatsoper, and Carnegie Hall.

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    The Exclusive Opera Lively Interview with Leann Sandel-Pantaleo (Amneris)

    OL - Your character Amneris is arguable the most psychologically complex in the opera. Would you please elaborate on how you see Amneris’ psychological traits?

    LSP - She is a fabulous character to portray. We are all complex characters; on and off the stage.

    Amneris, as I see her, does not have filters nor does she operate by a set of society rules as we would know them. Her definition of acceptable behavior is completely undefinable for the average person. She is royalty and has been taught that whatever you want, you get; and whatever you feel is right, is indeed right.

    She is impulsive, completely self centered, and obsessed. Everything has been handed to her on a silver platter and therefore she has had no opportunity to develop compassion and selflessness. She also seems to be an unbalanced personality with huge swings - hot and cold - perhaps even bipolar.

    I do not believe that she is evil, nor do I believe that she is an inherently bad person. She is limited by her genetic emotional imbalance and the emotional corruption that comes with complete power.

    OL - Act II, Scene I, when Amneris tricks Aida into thinking that Radames is dead, is said to be one of the greatest scenes for soprano and mezzo in Italian opera. What comments would you make about this scene?

    LSP - I am completely smitten by the art form which is opera. I am fascinated by the opportunity to play out some of our basest emotions and have them heightened by music, costumes, staging etc. The more conflict we have, the stronger our need to get something, the more interesting the art form becomes. This scene provides such fodder for conflict, desire, manipulation and power! Her choice to find out if Aida is the "other woman" is very effective and efficient. She has her answer immediately. She is calculating and her attempts are in no way veiled or obscured with "nice" behavior.

    Verdi is a genius in his writing... everything is laid out in the music and lyrics. My tendency as an artist is to over dramaticize; a big mistake with this character. She can become a caricature of herself if I let myself go too far or play her too one sided.

    OL - In Act IV, Amneris has a scene in which she displays fury at Radames’ accusers (right after he is silent and doesn’t defend himself – “Chi ti salva” all the way to “Empia razza! Anatema su voi”). This scene has been compared for a mezzo to the power needed to sing Ortrud in Lohengrin. Is it particularly difficult?

    LSP - My tendency as an actress is to go over the top - (how strange that a performer would be dramatic and excessive!?!) My greatest challenge in the final act is pacing and monitoring my passion so that it does not push my physicality so far that it affects my vocal production. I am closer to a method actor in this way. I truly feel what my character is feeling and her fury and desperation are counterproductive to good vocal production.

    Her schizophrenic changes between sobbing and begging for mercy and regal fury are incredibly difficult to manage. Verdi has provided great vocal lines and the tessitura is an appropriate match for the situation. My challenge again is in my quest for ever and always larger than life. Bigger/louder is not always the answer.

    OL - Are there acting challenges in depicting this ambivalent and in many ways, evil character? How do you relate to her, as a woman?

    LSP - I could fill up pages and pages with the answer to this question! As I stated before, I don't believe that she is evil. Parts of her are written as villainous; manipulative, self-obsessed, power driven, impulsive and void of real empathy. To believe that she is inherently one-sided, or evil, is to make her much less interesting and less than human. I also think that most of Amneris' interaction on stage in the opera is a performance. We don't really have the chance to see her, the private side of Amneris, except for a few moments before the judgment trial where she is riddled with guilt. And then, it is only for a minute.

    This occupation provides fantastic opportunities to explore all sides of my humanness... the so called "good" and "bad." I put those in quotes because I don't believe that any emotion or feeling or tendency is, in of itself, bad or good. What we do, how we express these feelings; it is our actions that count. I can relate to her jealousy; her self-obsession (what performer in their right mind could deny that?!); and her explosive, impetuous anger. I also enjoy experimenting with her complete sense of entitlement. She provides a wonderful playground for all kinds of taboo behavior.

    OL - This is at least your third Amneris, since you sang this role in El Paso and Portland. Would you contrast and compare these productions for us?

    LSP - Yes, this is my third production of Aida. El Paso was my first and was a lovely regional opera experience and very typically staged. My second Amneris was in Portland, Oregon where I entered the production two days before opening night. That was a whirlwind in itself and was challenging as the set was a revolving circle (somewhat like a birthday cake) with a huge eagle and tons and tons of stairs! This is my first experience with a partially staged performance and where the orchestra and conductor are on stage behind us. The staging is actually quite complete... the set is just minimal. However, the acting, movement and character interaction is full on! Having the orchestra onstage, behind the action, will be a new experience for me.

    OL - You’ve been here before, notably in Carmen. Please comment on how you see this company, NC Opera, and whether there are differences or evolution in the company, from that production to this one.

    LSP - I had a wonderful experience here in Carmen last season. I am a bit biased, but I believe that the casting choices are wonderful and that the musical and staging direction are fantastic. This production of Aida brings together an even more outstanding cast and I am impressed with this company's ability to engage such quality performers and treat us all with such respect and care. This business is a difficult one, with all the travel and all the time we spend in continually different places. Our lives as performers may seem glamorous (and no doubt about it, there are some fabulous things!)... but there are stresses associated with the loss of normalcy and imbalance that such travel involves. This company does all that it can to provide its artists with the comforts of home.

    I am pleased and impressed with the level of professionalism provided by this company. As with any organization, there are growing pains and learning curves, but it is my experience that the company management is taking its challenges, meeting the demands and moving forward in a positive direction. The focus is on quality work and the highest of standards.

    OL - Please describe to us your experiences singing opera at La Scala, such a sacred ground.

    LSP - La Scala was an amazing experience. My debut there was the first production of the 2010-2011 season. La Scala's season opening production is more than an event.... it is big like the Super Bowl in America. Lots of press, lots of attention, tons of security and celebration. I was blown away to be singing, as you say, on such sacred ground. Just to know that I was in the theater for which operas such as Otello were written/commissioned, was an amazing feeling! And, opera singers are more like rock stars over there!

    OL - You've performed several times in Germany. How do you compare the experience of working in Germany versus in the United States?

    LSP - I was impacted by the sheer volume of opera companies and performances going on in one country. Being an opera singer is much more of a vocation there; that is, it is seen as more of a "regular" job. Kids in Germany could honestly reply that when they grow up, they might want to be a fireman, a policeman or an opera singer. It is also fantastic to work in different languages... singing a foreign language and speaking a foreign language are two very different things. I am fluent in Italian, but had not had a full immersion in the German language. I have so enjoyed learning my third and fourth languages (I have also been speaking French with my French colleagues); it has provided a whole new outlook on my German repertoire. Being ensconced in a language, at least on the level of rudimentary communication, has added a great deal to my interpretation. I also love German pretzels, beer and peanut M&Ms!

    OL - How did opera come to your life? Were you from a musical family?

    LSP - Opera was unheard of in my family. Music was mostly confined to pop songs on the radio and country & western music around the farm. I was forced to attend summer camp once I was in high school and by chance, I chose music camp. I was lucky to attend a camp sponsored by the University of Michigan (I grew up in Michigan) located at Interlochen Music Camp. I won a scholarship to attend a full summer the following year.... Interlochen is a year-round arts academy which also has a tremendous summer camp for the arts. I was completely engaged, stimulated, encouraged, and introduced to all sorts of new things musical. I attended this camp the following two summers and was hooked. It was my intention to study medicine; however, music, and singing/performing in particular, grabbed my soul. I saw my first opera at age 17 at Indiana University where I was enrolled in the music program and in spite of the pressures of that school, I fell head over heels in love with this art form.

    OL - How are you as a person? What are your likes and interests outside of opera?

    LSP - I am an eclectic mix of farm girl, demanding Urbanite, recycler, Costco fan, wife and mother of two boys. I love camping, cooking, yoga, hanging with my kids/husband and laughing! I am an energetic personality, robust, passionate and full of life.... I am game to try almost anything once and do not usually take a neutral stance on many things! I hope it can be said of me that I do live and let live and don't try to force my choices on anyone else... except maybe my kids!

    For the most part, I am happy to be on this planet and pleased to experiment and experience all that life can offer.... in that sense, I find tremendous satisfaction in my career choice and consider myself truly fortunate to be able to do what I do for a living. I thank you all for your support of North Carolina Opera and this great art form and look forward to sharing my zest and passion on the stage!

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    The Exclusive Opera Lively Interview with David Paul
    (Stage Director)


    Photo Credit Ambarish Manepalli

    Stage director David Paul is known to the Triangle opera-loving community for two previous works for North Carolina Opera - he directed Il Trovatore and was the Associate Director for Les Enfants Terribles, two excellent shows presented by the company last season.

    Born in Hamburg, Germany, with one American and one German parent, David is a native speaker of both English and German. In spite of being still young, Mr. Paul has a very impressive resumé.

    He has worked as a stage director on operatic and theatrical stages throughout the United States and abroad. The New York Times hailed his recent production of Rossini's one-act operas "La cambiale di matrimonio" and "La scala di seta" at the Juilliard School, praising its "irresistible energy and charm." Equally at home in opera and theater, Paul's productions have been praised by critics and audiences for their ingenuity, attention detail, and the powerful, nuanced performances he draws from his performers.

    Other than his return to North Carolina, in the 2012-2013 season he created a new production of Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffmann for Westminster Choir College, where he also gave a master class, and directed Sarah Ruhl's Eurydice for the Barnard College / Columbia University Department of Theatre. Continuing his affiliation with the Metropolitan Opera's Lindemann Young Artist Development Program where he is a member of the faculty, he directed several operatic scenes for the program's annual performance in March, and coached members of the program in preparation for recitals. He also made his debut with the CoOperative Program in Princeton, NJ, directing semi-staged performances of Puccini's La Bohème and Mozart's Don Giovanni. His season concludes with a return to the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, where he mounts a new production of Mozart's "Die Zauberflöte".

    Highlights of the 2011-2012 season than the two NC Opera above-mentioned shows, included a highly successful new production of Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress for his debut at Music Academy of the West. Opera News praised the "energetic cast" and "skillfully executed production," while the Santa Barbara Independent described the performances as "crisply paced and emotionally intense." He returned to the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, where he directed the company's production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. He made a debut with Ash Lawn Opera in Virginia, directing Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia. Continuing his association with the Juilliard School, he directed a double-bill of Rossini operas in the school's Willson Theater, to great acclaim. In addition to his directing work, he served as Assistant Director for the Tony-nominated Broadway production of Terrence McNally's "Master Class," featuring Tyne Daly.

    Directing credits from recent seasons include a critically-acclaimed staging of Le nozze di Figaro for Washington National Opera, Walton's The Bear at the Tel Aviv Summer Opera Festival, Così fan tutte for Westminster Choir College, and Die Zauberflöte for the Intermezzo Festival in Belgium. In 2008, he was invited to serve on the artistic staff of the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, the 2012 recipient of the Tony Award for Regional Theater. Under the leadership of Michael Kahn, he adapted and directed Shakespeare's Hamlet and assistant directed productions of King Lear, Julius Caesar, Romeo and Juliet, and Euripides' Ion.

    David Paul previously served on the artistic staff of Perseverance Theater, Alaska's flagship theater. While in Alaska, he adapted and directed Lorca's Blood Wedding, devised and directed an original piece with the theater's Young Company, and served as music director on productions of The People's Temple (world premiere of new version), Twelfth Night, King Island Christmas, and Hair. Additional credits as director or assistant director include productions at Atlanta Opera, California Shakespeare Theater, Chautauqua Theater Company, the Juilliard School's Drama Division, and the 110th Annual Varsity Show at Columbia University, among others.

    David Paul graduated summa cum laude from Columbia University with a degree in theater arts and a specialization in directing. Upcoming engagements include operatic debuts in St. Louis and Edmonton.

    For more details and production pictures, visit the director's website at www.davidpauldirector.com

    Opera Lively - A piece like Aida with its grand gestures of pomp and circumstance seems to be a difficult choice for a semi-staged production. How do you make it work? What should our public expect from this show?

    David Paul - One of the most interesting peculiarities about Verdi's Aida is that it is both a very big and a very small opera. While most of us think of grand processions, big choruses, and huge Egyptian-themed scenery when we think of this piece, the bulk of the opera is closer to a chamber opera. Verdi wanted to focus his audience's attention squarely on the love triangle and the psychological drama that unfolds between the three protagonists. In that sense, doing a pared-down production of Aida is a great opportunity to focus in on this human drama. The music, of course, is at full scale, and even though we call the production "semi-staged", it really is fully staged and costumed, with reduced production elements. In that way, we are telling the story of Aida completely, and leaving some of the visual pomp in select moments to our audience's imagination.

    OL - You’ve been praised for attention to musical details while directing opera. Do you have a musical background yourself? Do you think that it is important for operatic stage directors to be able to read a score?

    DP - I am lucky to have grown up in a house full of music, and have worked as a pianist and music director in the theater. Having this background is crucial to the way I work, since the great operatic composers were not just setting text to music, but rather, interpreting the texts and telling their version of the story through their musical choices. Without my musical training and exposure, it would be immensely difficult to 'read' these choices and to do justice to these great works. I don't think a director needs to be an accomplished musician, but I do believe that it is immediately evident when an opera director does not have the musical sensibility required for the job.

    OL - What are some of the acting challenges in Aida, that you pay especially attention to, in terms of providing guidance to your singing actors?

    DP - The greatest challenge for all three protagonists -- Aida, Amneris, and Radames -- is the fact that we never see them under 'normal' circumstances. From the first time we meet the three of them, we are keenly aware that they are all in various states of emotional distress. While we want Radames to appear heroic and Amneris to appear royal, the scenes Verdi puts them in are really more about showing their emotional fault-lines and vulnerabilities. For the performers, this is a very difficult line to walk, and we have explored this in great detail.

    OL - You come from a dual nationality family, German and American. Operatic direction in these two countries can be strikingly different, with many German opera houses affording lots of directorial liberty to their stage directors, in the movement known as Regietheater. American audiences are generally less receptive of these concept-driven productions. While all your training was in the United States, are you influenced by the operatic movements of your “other” home country? How do you feel about Regietheater?

    DP - I have seen a great many productions in both Europe and the United States, and I continue to believe that the most important factor for success, on either continent, is providing the audience with a compelling experience that provokes an emotional and an intellectual reaction. That said, as a director, we are always walking a tricky line between being an interpreter of the piece we are directing -- translating it from the page to the stage, so to speak -- and being a creative artist in our own right. Too little or too much of the latter can lead a production astray, whether it be too 'boring' or 'conservative', or too 'out there'. The position of the stage director in contemporary German theater and opera is much more akin to a creative artist than an interpreter, and while this has led to many very exciting and innovative productions, it also has generated a great many productions that have little to do with the piece at hand, and little to no positive impact on the audience. I firmly believe in striving for the ideal balance between the two sides -- something that happens occasionally in the US, and occasionally in Germany.

    OL - You were the Associate Director for NC Opera’s Les Enfants Terribles by Philip Glass, a show I personally found terrific. Would you share with us some memories of that outstanding production, and your role in it?

    DP - Working on Les Enfants was a very exciting experience for me. The piece is called a "dance/opera", and each component is equally important. Working with Ricky Weiss, the director/choreographer, I was able to contribute some of the 'connective tissue' between the dance and the operatic components, and keep the process moving forward for Ricky with music that was very challenging. I'm thrilled it was such a success with audiences in North Carolina, and I'm certain the piece will continue to gain greater exposure throughout the country.

    OL - You have also assist-directed Master Class by Terrence McNally, a phenomenal American play depicting Maria Callas – any comments?

    DP - As current voice faculty members at Juilliard, both director Stephen Wadsworth and I came at the project with some trepidation: after all, we've both witnessed students of ours being thrown into master classes where the personality of the 'teacher' was on greater display than the lessons being taught -- something very much at the heart of McNally's play. That said, it was a dream come true to work on both the Washington and the Broadway productions of the play; Terrance is truly one of the great American playwrights, and having him in the room for the bulk of rehearsal was an unforgettable experience. And Tyne Daly, who played Maria Callas, is one of the most inspiring actors I've ever been around. She was at rehearsal two hours before everyone else, running her lines, studying the music featured in the play, and was as gracious a colleague and a professional as I have ever experienced.

    OL - You have directorial experience in both opera and theater. Do you have a strong preference for one of these art forms? Tell us about the differences in directing opera and directing a stage play.

    DP - It's my love for both of these art forms, and the varying challenges, that has led me to work in both opera and theater. As a former actor, I very much cherish the work with performers, and being able to help them achieve the most three-dimensional and complex performances possible is the greatest reward. The way in which this work takes place varies greatly between opera singers and stage actors; stage actors are trained to approach the text very critically and thoughtfully, while opera singers have traditionally been taught to come into a rehearsal process expecting the director and the conductor to tell them exactly what to do (and be willing to accept that!). In this way, my work with singers is all about stimulating their imagination and their own impulses, since this approach tends to yield the most natural and interesting results. Actors, on the other hand, are often looking primarily for guidance and collaboration, which is also a part I very much enjoy playing.

    OL - You’ve directed Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Would it be a dream of yours to director Handel’s opera Giulio Cesare?

    DP - I am a huge admirer of Handel, not just for his musical genius but also for his incredibly keen and vibrant dramatic sensibility. The psychological drama in many of his operas and his other vocal works (written at a time when opera was sometimes frowned upon) is bursting off the page, and I enjoy working on this material immensely. Giulio Cesare is in many ways the perfect culmination of Handel's genius -- featuring some of his most sublime music, and some of his most complex, heart-breaking characters. I am very much looking forward to my first encounter with this piece.

    OL - The same can be said of other great Shakespeare plays set to music, such as Otello, Macbeth, and you’ve directed Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet which also have deserved operatic treatment. Is being a Shakespearian director very instrumental in informing your operatic direction?

    DP - My extensive experience with Shakespeare has taught me a lot about dramatic progression and working with non-natural text. Both of these elements are omnipresent in opera: scenes are very long and require the performers and the director to maintain progression and tension for hours on end, all while singing in often very stylized, poetic language. Most audiences would agree that watching a Shakespeare play can range from being a long, confusing, boring experience to a riveting, thrilling, and immediate one, depending on the performers and the production. I believe the same challenges are inherent in opera, and I enjoy applying the knowledge I gained from great Shakespearean directors to the operas on which I work.

    OL - You’re about to direct for the second time Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte. This is an opera that has deserved some really imaginative stagings of late (like the Met’s, like Kaneko’s) – how do you plan to make it fresh and compelling? Do you typically watch other stagings before you do your own, or do you prefer to start fresh?

    DP - Growing up in Germany, The Magic Flute is the opera I've seen and heard more often than any other. I've seen many productions, and I remember a great many details from all of them. It is especially challenging to come up with your 'own' interpretation in this kind of situation. That said, I went back and reread some of the fairy tales that Mozart used as inspiration for the opera (none of which are in print or would even be known today if it wasn't for his opera), and it struck me just how truly 'magical' the world of this opera really is. While much has been written and said about the masonic elements and the proto-religious morality inherent in the opera, my design team and I are focusing on the fairy tale nature of the opera, and how compelling such a tale can be. We want it to be beautiful, scary, and thrilling, much as the original audience would have found it at the time. Hopefully we will be successful!

    OL - This is a rather vague and general question, but I believe it can be made into an interesting answer: what is needed to be a good operatic director?

    DP - I could go on and on with this answer, and I probably still wouldn't really nail it on the head. I think the most important thing in being a director for opera or theater is having a desire to communicate to the world at large -- in other words, making it about the audience. There are many practical skills and qualities that are advantageous to have as a director, including (like any manager) the ability to empower your collaborators to do the best work they are capable of, and remaining tenacious and determined throughout any creative process. But the moment you forget that any production is greater than you, and that without an audience, theater and opera cannot exist, you're in big trouble.

    OL - Please tell us about the use of new technology in operatic stagings – what are the advantages, and what are the pitfalls?

    DP - Showing an audience something it has never seen before is always an exciting event, and technology has allowed us to keep exciting our audiences and bringing them back to the theater. It has also allowed us to mount productions more cheaply and more quickly than in the past, which in turn creates more performances and more work, all of which is immensely positive. At the same time, I think the opera world has learned that technology supports, but doesn't replace, good story-telling and good performances. People don't come to the theater to see technology; they come for the story and the people.

    OL - Would you please share with our readers some aspects of your life outside the realm of opera and theater? What are some of your other interests? How are you as a person?

    DP - I believe very strongly that anyone working in the theater or in opera needs to remain firmly rooted in the world outside of the arts, since that is the world we are depicting on stage. To that end, I try very hard to maintain as diverse and 'normal' a life as possible when I'm not at work. I love playing and watching sports, reading fiction and non-fiction, and spending time with friends. One of the joys of this work is that it takes me to many different places and allows me to nourish my travel bug. I'm also the proud uncle of three nephews and a niece, all of whom live in Germany, and one of whom just made his debut as Little Tarzan in the Disney musical Tarzan -- which means that he has worked on a far more spectacular production at age 8 than I possibly ever will!

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    If you came to this page through a link from another site, please consider exploring our other exclusive interviews (Anna Netrebko's, Joyce DiDonato's, Anna Caterina Antonacci's, Luca Pisaroni's, Thomas Hampson's, Piotr Beczala's, scholar Dr. Philip Gossett's, veteran singer Sylvia Sass', tenor Jay Hunter Morris, and stage director Thaddeus Strassberger's are especially good, among about 80 artists), news, and articles by clicking on the Articles tab above and using our new clickable content index [here], or the Section Widget on the top left of the page; our very active discussion Forum (of course, by clicking on the Forum tab - and please notice that over there we also have an area with content in Spanish, German, French, Italian, and Portuguese).

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    You might also consider the purchase of our book "Opera Lively - The Interviews" - full announcement and links to sales points [here]. Also don't miss the very funny book by famed Met tenor Jay Hunter Morris, "Diary of a Redneck Opera Zinger" recently published by Opera Lively Press, click [here].

    Bookmark our site and come back for more - several new and exciting interviews are always coming to Opera Lively - recent ones have included composer Kevin Puts, tenor Giuseppe Filianoti, mezzo Magdalena Kozená, tenor Lawrence Brownlee, and
    the great veteran singer Frederica von Stade (all five already published); already recorded but pending transcription, ; emerging sopranos Jessica Pratt and Lisette Oropesa, Wagnerian bass-baritone Greer Grimsley, international stars Diana Damrau and Eva-Maria Westbroek, Maestro Marco Armiliato, Maestro Yannick Nézét-Séguin, and about to happen, Eric Owens.
    Comments 3 Comments
    1. Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
      Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) -
      Now, included in the article above, a short exclusive interview with soprano Angela Brown. Other interviews will be added to this space as they happen.
    1. Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
      Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) -
      Now, included in the article above, an exclusive interview with mezzo-soprano Leann Sandel-Pantaleo, with some nice insights about her role as Amneris.
    1. Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
      Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) -
      This article now features a very interesting interview with stage director David Paul, with some very interesting takes on the art of directing opera.


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