Thursday, February 16, 2012

Artists Corner - Stage Director Brian Robertson

Brian Robertson, Stage Director for the upcoming production of Donizetti's Italian masterpiece 'Lucia di Lammermoor', opening this Saturday, February 18th, offers some thoughts on the process he goes through in approaching the complex and exciting challenge of directing an opera like this.

I often start with a question. A “what if” question. What if Lucia achieved what she wants? What if Enrico, Edgardo, and others achieved what they want? In opera, I usually find my way in by identifying as concisely as possible what a character wants and then define the landscape of their expression to achieve it. The music, libretto, sets, props, costumes, all become tools of that expression and the obstacles against it. Of course, in this story the dramatic conflict is terse, vibrant, no one gets what he or she wanted at the beginning. In fact, their wants shift, adjust, to reflect the changing reality around them. This dynamic volatility gives the story of LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR its raw timeless drama and passionate expression of desperate desire.

Donizetti and Cammarano have woven a wonderful sense of immediacy in their blend of music and libretto. They allow the characters and us to live fully in the moment. I enjoy the challenge of discovering how to convey the story with the feel that the outcome as we know it could be different. I am very intrigued by the dramatic construction of Act II, scene 1. Here Enrico confronts Lucia with his demand that she submit to the arranged marriage to Arturo. By the end of the scene, Lucia is broken, cursed by an out of control Enrico for her obstinacy to his desire. I find in breaking the scene down that Enrico pursues a series of tactics to achieve his ultimate goal. Underlying his pursuit of his major want, convince Lucia to participate willingly in the upcoming wedding, I see threads of another need of Enrico. His desire to have his sister, Lucia, join him in his view and share his need. This tender recognizable bond as family can help underscore the immediacy of Enrico’s behavior. His tactics seen through this perspective now evolve as the means to keep trying to bond with Lucia in a shared understanding, not as attempts to break her at all costs. I find that Enrico’s awareness that he, like Lucia, is losing control of the circumstances unfolding before him, gives him an immediate sensitivity to all that is happening in the room. I find by the end of the scene we are left with the feeling that both characters understand that nothing has been accomplished and that fate will unravel in spite of their needs.

In rehearsal, the cast, Maestro Barrese and I work to find the specifics of expression surrounding the unfolding turns of the scene. Donizetti and Cammarano have presented us with a wonderfully revealing arc to the action. Enrico gently invites Lucia into his chamber. He wishes she were happier in anticipation of the arriving wedding day. She rebukes him by not answering or entering the room. He asks, does she have nothing to say? She attacks him saying he is the one responsible for her misery. He flares back saying she has forced him to behave this way, then attempting to mollify himself and Lucia, not wanting to lose control of the situation, he appeals to Lucia as her brother and offers a deal. He will calm his angry countenance if she will cool her ardor for Edgardo. The music here sweeps with the energy Enrico puts into convincing Lucia of this deal as if he hopes to end the scene here. Lucia rebukes him again and to underscore her point that he is not listening to her, she shows him Edgardo’s ring on her finger confirming that she is already married to Edgardo. Enrico is taken aback by this unexpected event and in an emotional response presents Lucia with the forged letter. She is devastated and Enrico moves to comfort her and attempts to build on her feeling of betrayal by manipulating her back to his point of view. Music is heard signifying the arrival of Arturo and Enrico attempts to make a positive point on this impending future. Lucia surprises him again by talking of her future as death, withdrawing from Enrico. Now desperate, Enrico pleads with Lucia to go forward into the marriage for him, to save his life. She gives her last defiant plea of the opera telling him “but” and he cuts her off with his rage. He curses her as she prays for death. The scene ends.

I use this illustration to share an example of the delightful challenge of finding the specifics of character behavior moment to moment and work to earn the great musical arc composed by Donizetti. The music is an accurate guide to the back and forth volatility of this scene. Each scene of this opera has an outcome not readily apparent at the beginning. Finding the arc and identifying how characters change their wants, their behavior, and finally their action in the face of their changing realities is an exciting adventure that thrills me as much as witnessing the entirety of the opera in full expression.

Brian Robertson
Stage Director


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