Is There a Definition for Opera — Opera Director Bernard Uzan

Faust by Gounod

Faust by Gounod
PHOTO COURTESY OF THE DIRECTOR

Manon Lescaut

Manon Lescaut by Puccini
PHOTO COURTESY OF THE DIRECTOR

The Shattered Sky

The Shattered Sky
BY Bernard Uzan
TRANSLATED FROM THE FRENCH
BY Robert L. Miller
(Enigma Books, 2008)

Tell us what led you to a career in directing opera.

In 1963, while still a student in Paris at the University of Nanterre (I was nineteen), I was involved with the theater (actually we started theater during my first year) and performed as an actor for the next two years… Then I became a member of the professional acting studio of Tania Balachova in Paris. There, I also started to direct with other students and colleagues.

I said Yes… I had never been to an opera in my life and did not read music… but I fell in love with it…

For the next few years I performed many roles in plays by Chekhov, Molière, Musset, Pirandello, Beckett, Ionesco, Sartre, Camus, Pinter and Brecht in different theaters in Paris as well as on tour all over France and even abroad. At the same time, I directed several plays for various theaters. I was also dubbing foreign movies. This went on until 1972 when I was invited by Middlebury Summer Graduate School in Vermont to teach and direct three French plays for their summer program.

In 1973, the French Consul visited Middlebury and convinced me to try creating a French theater company in America. The following fall, I arrived in Boston and founded what became the French Theater in America two years later. We were giving around two hundred performances a year and I was the director, the leading actor, the administrator, the driver of the van, the lighting designer, the guy who picked up the programs during the intermission to reuse them and save money, etc…. That folie went on until 1981.

In the fall of 1981, Sarah Caldwell, who was then the director of Opera Boston, was producing Faust by Gounod with original dialogues in French. She invited me to direct the dialogue scenes, and after a few days, she asked me if I could help stage the entire production. I said yes. I had never been to an opera in my life and did not read music… but I fell in love with it…

After that experience I was asked to direct Pagliacci for the Lake George Festival. In the summer of 1982, I learned how to read a vocal score! A few months later, I directed for Detroit, Philadelphia etc. So it turned out that in the 1982/83 season, I directed five productions. Soon, I became totally involved in opera, and stopped working on the French Theater in America.

You are also a novelist. What similarities (if any) do you find in both theater and writing?

The similarities for me are numerous. When I write I have images, and when I direct I bring my knowledge of literature back to the discipline. I am a very visual person and if I write or direct, or prepare a new opera, I have the sense of images invading me. Also, my emotions are always involved in both — the feelings I have for my characters in my writing or in my directing are dictating what I do: to direct is to write a story, and to write is to direct the evolution of the characters.


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