La Finta Giardiniera - A COVID rules opera

I’ve just finished working on quite a remarkable project in Copenhagen - I was asked to make a production of La Finta Giardiniera for the Opera Academy of the Royal Danish Opera; amazingly it was one of the few projects not to get cancelled as the fury of the COVID pandemic hit. A few days before going out, I was informed of the rules that we would have to stick to if we were to be allowed to make the show. I had to very quickly let go of the concept I’d been working on for months and come up with something new. It was a lovely and exciting challenge. This is a project that carries with it no creative team, no budget to speak of and limited time. What it also has is a small group of incredibly dedicated people who work like mad within tight constraints to make something happen. On top of this, an ensemble of singers who threw caution to the wind and jumped straight in at the deep end. The essence of theatre making.

We wanted to make something that worked on a theatrical level, but also on a filmed/streaming level - not just filming a theatre show. We didn’t know if we’d be allowed any audience in the theatre, but if they were there, it would have to be an engaging experience - if they were watching on a screen it would also have to be an engaging experience. It’s very rough and raw, and it will need some time to make a good edit of the material, but it was a joy to make and was, I think, the first opera to be produced under COVID rules (we just didn’t have a marketing team to shout about it!). Here are some photos to give you an idea. I’ll let you know when there’s more to see. I would also like to thank the incredible group of people who I’ve been working with these past weeks - you are amazing.

Cosi in Copenhagen!

I have just come back from a wonderful trip to Copenhagen, where I was directing a production of Mozarts 'Cosi Fan Tutte' for the Academy of Royal Danish Opera. Working with singers who were nearly all finishing their 3 years of study, we made a wild and passionate version of the story, low on budget and high on imagination!

They were a truly magnificent team of people, who threw themselves into the concept and produced a fun, exciting and moving show. I am very proud of them! It's really not an easy piece - a truly ridiculous libretto, matched with some sublime music.  It's all too easy to let the music make up for the absurd and misogynistic story, but we were determined not to do that.  I hope, I think, we were able to do that!  When looked at in the right way, it is in fact a story very much of our times.  

The task was really to make this with a tiny budget, pulling together things we could find in the opera stores in order to tell the story - no set, costume, or lighting designer, just resourcefulness and a committed few people who went the extra mile to help make it happen. I felt extremely lucky to be surrounded by such wonderful people. Here are some hastily taken images from our dress rehearsal;

The Sheriff of Shoreditch

We have just completed our research and development time on Sheriff at Shoreditch Town Hall.

It was wonderful.

Of course full of challenges, but ones that were a pleasure to take on and try to overcome. The project marks a very important moment for us as artists and makers, a moment in which we are really able to define a language and an approach that is truly ours. It has taken us a while to get here, and who knows how it will develop or where it will go, but it is a milestone. It is our most precarious and most confident moment in a long time, even if those two things don't logically fit together. 

This is a project that has grown out of a number of workshops, all very different in their focus, but all involving wonderful and generous collaborators who have helped lay down many many levels of sub-strata that underpin the material that we are working with now.  We could not have done this without them, they are brilliant and they know who they are.  

We were also blessed to be able to work with a brilliant team for the past two weeks.  First of all the wonderful people of Shoreditch Town Hall, who were unquestioning in their generosity.  Our own team with Emma Mckie as our stage manager, Gareth Fry helping us start to develop our sound ideas and the amazing Flick Ferdinando and Vinicius Salles helping us mould and shape our on-stage material - their daring and generosity was irreplaceable. 

Carolina's writing brilliantly held its own and it will be a joy to take it to the next level, as we decide how to move the project forward. 

It was also invaluable to have people come and watch us present some of the material we'd been working on - their feedback will be hugely important to the choices we make. So thank you all of you who came along. 

For now we need a little bit of time to reflect, but we can't wait to get on with the next stage.

In the meantime, here are some images from the 2 weeks.

Spread the word.

Murder and Mystery

From where I sit I can see the spire of Salisbury Cathedral - I'm in this spired city to work with the excellent director Melly Still, on her production of Agatha Christie's 'The Mirror Crack'd'.

It's a brand new version for the stage penned by Rachel Wagstaff, and has a wonderful ensemble of performers who bring it to life in unexpected and unorthodox ways. We spent 4 weeks rehearsing at the Menier Chocolate Factory in London Bridge (there's no chocolate), but have now decamped to the Salisbury Playhouse, where we open on the 16th of February. The dates are:

15 February – 9 March 2019
Salisbury Playhouse
Box Office: 01722 320 333
[Book Tickets] https://www.wiltshirecreative.co.uk/whats-on/main-house/mirror/

12 March – 16 March 2019
Gaiety Theatre, Dublin
Box Office: 0818 719388
[Book Tickets] https://www.gaietytheatre.ie/events/the-mirror-crackd/

19– 23 March 2019
Cambridge Arts Theatre
Box Office: 01223 503333
[Book Tickets] https://www.cambridgeartstheatre.com/whats-on/mirror-crackd

26 March – 6 April 2019
New Theatre, Cardiff
Box Office: 029 2087 8889
[Book Tickets]
http://www.newtheatrecardiff.co.uk/what's-on/the-mirror-crack'd/

Last week also saw the opening of 'Tonight the World', a film I made with the artist Daria Martin last year.

It's being exhibited at the Barbican in the Curve Gallery and is the third film that we've made together. Daria was also the winner of the Jarman Film Award for 2018, which featured another film, 'The Hunger Artist', which Carolina and I helped develop and that I directed with Daria (and which featured both our children!).

Best till Last!

The very exciting news is that Carolina received an award from the Arts Council to develop her creative practice. This is an amazing opportunity for her to develop her skills as a writer; in particular the excellent work she has been doing for Sheriff. In March we hope to present some of this in performance, with the idea of bringing on board co-producers and theatres to make this exciting project a reality! Watch this space...

RW. Pause. FF.

Well hello… I can’t believe it’s almost the end of the year, but I can believe that it’s been a while since our last update - on the upside it means that your inboxes aren’t filled with the unnecessary any more than they need to be :)

The last time we were in touch was, I think, just before the Summer. It’s been fairly busy since then and now we’re in a short period of reflection before a new cycle begins. Very exciting.

In brief; after the Royal Opera House, Carolina and I had a few days working through some ideas for Sheriff and also for 'Tonight the World' with Daria Martin (more about that later) - we worked with the amazing performer, Hayley Carmichael and the brilliant dancer Vinicius Salles. As I'll mention later, this was the final step of a workshop which allowed Carolina then to start writing; a new departure for us and one that we're very excited about.

Once we'd done this, I went off to work on a production of Ariadne auf Naxos by Strauss, at the Aix Festival - it was performed in the very beautiful Archevêché theatre, an outdoor space and a truly magical environment. We had an absolutely outstanding ensemble cast who were a joy to work with.

Back stage for Ariadne in Aix
Back stage for Ariadne in Aix

After Aix, Carolina and I went to the lovely Snape Maltings to work on developing a new opera with composer Sivan Eldar and Librettist/Playwright, Cordelia Lynn. Snape Maltings is where Benjamin Britten wrote a lot of his work and is now a centre for opera creation and composition. This was the first of 2 short workshops we did to explore how visual and physical languages can be incorporated from the start of a process of creating an opera - essentially another strand of writing that can be woven together with the music and text from the earliest stages, rather than being imposed once the piece is written. We did another short workshop in October and the plan is to now look for a commission. The piece is called ‘Like Flesh’ and more information on its genesis can be found here. We worked with truly amazing singers Juliet Fraser  Elaine Mitchener and Jimmy Holliday, cellist Séverine Ballon and again with Vinicius Salles - Carolina also performed and I directed. We’ll keep you posted on how it develops!

Following that I briefly went to the Czech Republic to continue my collaboration with artist and filmmaker, Daria Martin. This time we were filming a piece called ‘Tonight the World’. It’s a fascinating film which we developed from the dream diaries left behind by Daria's Grandmother, Susi Stiassni. Susi had to flee Czechoslovakia and the Nazis at the start of the Second World War. We filmed at the home that her father built, the Stiassni Villa, in Brno. The film will be screened at the Curve Gallery in the Barbican from the end of January 2019. 

Then… the wonderful summer holidays and finally some proper time with the kids… we had a spectacular trip across the north of Spain with the northern cousins, then down to the Costa Brava for time with Carolina’s immediate family. 

After Spain, to Amsterdam to work on a production of the very beautiful Jenufa by Janáček - this is an opera that comes directly from a play, and as such has a drama and a narrative that is much more coherent than a lot of operas! Again, the cast was delightful; the amazing Annette Dasch as Jenufa and Pavel Černoch (another Brno connection) as Laca.

Now we are preparing for the wonderfully important next stage of Sheriff. Carolina has been doing some very exciting writing and we hope to bring this to the world next year. As always we are faced with the vertiginous struggle of fundraising, but right now we are focused on the creative preparation for what is going to be a thrilling project, marking the next phase of us as artists and theatre makers. No less! :)

05/2018 Dreamworlds and Tough Lessons

Hello again! I'm quickly bashing this one out as I know that later I'll also be working out how to get a form out to you so that we comply with the new GDPR rules...

I just wanted to update you with what we've been up to since October last year and throw a couple of pictures into the mix as well. It feels like it's been non-stop, which is wonderful, but also creates its own set of problems - but at the same time it really makes you appreciate the moments of relative tranquility!

After Moscow I went to Warsaw to direct, with Gilles Rico, the revival of Debussy's 'Pelleas et Melisande' at the Wielki theatre. The Wielki is one of the worlds biggest opera stages - it is truly enormous - when they were rebuilding Warsaw after the war, they took advantage of the destruction to vastly expand the footprint of the opera house.

Pelleas et Melisande

It was lovely to revisit the opera; we had a new cast, which made the whole process and the piece itself feel new again. It was also lovely for me to revisit the city that my parents had lived in for 4 years in the 1980s. I hadn't been back since then. It was completely transformed - almost unrecognisable - when I left in 1989, it was still under the yoke of communism and now it is a capitalist paradise... It's also being led by a government that is increasingly autocratic which, in its own way, is just as extreme as the government was in the 80s. BUT - it was lovely to be there and to rediscover the city, to see old friends and make new ones. It was also very cold! But it wouldn't have been true to my memories of the city, such as they were, if the place hadn't at some point been covered with snow!

Warsaw under the snow

It was also lovely that my parents were able to come out for the opening of the opera - the last time we'd been there all together I was 16 years old, and now they were able to see work that I'd helped make on the biggest opera stage in Europe. My father had been Director of the British Council when he lived in Warsaw, and he knew the current Director of the Wielki, Waldemar Dąbrowski, very well - it was lovely to have them there and to take them backstage in this crazy building.

Richard Alford backstage at the Wielki

I also saw some of the most inspiring theatre that I've seen in a long time at the excellent Powszechny theatre - really vital, engaging and important - if you're passing by, do try and see something there.

Carolina and the kids were also able to come out and spend Christmas there with me, which was the icing on the cake!

After Warsaw there were various trips to give workshops in Paris and in Aix en Provence whilst Carolina worked on a brand new immersive virtual reality project called 'Somnai' - it's always challenging to work with new technology and I'll let her describe her experience elsewhere - I haven't had a go at it yet, but here's some info on what is a very intriguing project...

Somnai

Whilst Carolina was working in a virtual world, I had the joy of being the UK for a little while - I was helping out on Dennis Kelly's new play 'Girls and Boys' at the Royal Court with Carey Mulligan. Lindsey Turner was directing this devastating piece that is now off to Broadway for a limited run in July - very exciting!

Girls and Boys

After that I worked on George Benjamin's new opera at the Royal Opera House, 'Lessons in Love and Violence' - it was great to work on a brand new opera; a very different experience to working on one of the 'classics'. A wonderful cast, amazing music and a brilliant team made it a very pleasurable process.  The press has been great and after London the piece has a long life at various other opera houses around the world. 

Lessons in Love and Violence

Next week I'm off to Aix en Provence to work on yet another opera - this time Strauss' 'Ariadne auf Naxos'.  It's always very lovely to work on a project in the south of France :)

We hope that, when you get the email asking you stay with us, that you do...

Spread the word.