Behind the curtain… with Caroline Chaney

3 February 2020

The opening of WNO’s Spring 2020 Season, with David Pountney’s last instalment in our Verdi Trilogy, Les vêpres siciliennes, is only a few days away.. It requires a lot of different people and skills to bring our productions to the stage – one of those working hard behind the scenes is Associate Director Caroline Chaney. Two weeks ago we caught up with her for five minutes during studio rehearsals to find out a bit more. 

How long have you worked at WNO and what is your role in this production?

I have been a Staff Director at WNO since 1991. As Associate Director for Les vêpres siciliennes, my main role has been to support David Pountney, schedule rehearsals, liaise with other departments and rehearse the role covers. One of my most important jobs has been to make detailed notes about the production in my score, which then becomes the ‘production book’. It contains all the characters’ moves, where everyone in the Chorus stands, what props or set are on stage, how long each section of music lasts and also includes any word changes.

What have you enjoyed most about working on this opera?

The cast is superb and they’re incredible to listen to, especially when they give it their all. It’s always special to hear great singing up close in the studio, but this cast takes that feeling to a new high. The quartet, particularly in Act 3, is something to look out for. I think at this moment in the rehearsal stage (two weeks in), the tricky scenes are yet to come. We won’t meet and work with the dancers properly until we’re on stage, so I imagine our biggest challenges will come when we try to integrate the action between the singers and the dancers. However, I think the WNO Chorus deserve a special mention for their sterling work moving three giant frames about the stage. In Theatr Bonn, where this production premiered, they had a team just to do that, but we are asking the Chorus to move the scenery and still sing beautifully.

What inspired you to get into directing?

It happened completely without planning.  After three years in stage management at WNO, I left to pursue a freelance career. Aidan Lang, our General Director, was a Staff Director at the time and when he left, he suggested to Anthony Freud, that I might be a good replacement. So I think my inspiration has come from being fortunate enough to work alongside a lot of great directors.

You recently worked as the Revival Director on Rigoletto. Do you feel there is more pressure when directing someone else’s original work?

It’s never difficult when I have felt a rapport with the director, but if it’s a production that I personally didn’t understand or like, then it can be harder.  A revival is rarely identical to the original production because you have to mould it in order to fit the new cast. Sometimes we also have to make technical tweaks in order for the production to tour more successfully than the first time around.  Early in my career I tried to be as faithful to the original as possible, but nowadays if I think I can make something better, I’ll do it.