When you come to an opera performance by Welsh National Opera, you will see and hear incredible singers, the world-renowned WNO Chorus and powerful WNO Orchestra led by the Conductor, but who brings everyone together to create the overall performance? We spoke to director Caroline Clegg, who returns to WNO for our Spring 2023 Season to direct Blaze of Glory.
‘The director’s responsibility is to set the creative vision for the opera, and help the performers tell the story. I prepare as much as possible before rehearsals. If it’s a familiar piece, I spend time listening to the music to get a sense of the story and how the composer has shaped the musical arc. Delving deeper into research, I read as much as I can about how, why and when it was written. From reading the original story, what isn’t in the opera? What are the nuanced changes for today? I am mindful of other productions, good and bad, and look for something new that is relevant to a 21st century audience.
Working collaboratively on a new show is rewarding and directing is the best job in the world. A new commission exploring artistic hunches and sharing imaginative ideas is a high – it’s like great surfing. You catch a wave and you’re off and then, the orchestra kicks in. It is difficult to describe satisfaction because directors often think we could or should have done something differently.
I especially enjoy lighting sessions. The theatre is quiet and it’s you, the lighting designer and technicians finding the magical elements of light that responds to and draws set, costume, and music together to finalise the story telling matrix. There is great satisfaction is seeing the conductor and cast enjoying themselves on stage as a tight knit team using all their individual talents to the max. As a choreographer and director, I especially enjoy working on sections that needs dance – it’s fun to find the tempo for the singers.
I enjoy sitting in music rehearsals to hear how the singers interpret the roles and how the conductor works with them. Before we look at how the staging we discuss the scene musically, then sometimes act it with no music. With a new piece, we may also have the composer in rehearsals which means we can make adaptations and the composer, librettist, director, choreographer and conductor all help to develop the piece. Once we have blocked, we then have a Sitzprobe where the singers sing with the orchestra for the first time before going on stage.
The director leaves after opening night and it is in the hands of the conductor and the cast.
Watching the audience go home happy is the ultimate pleasure!
I’ve had many interesting moments working in opera, but I thrive on a challenge. Directing Aida in a 45,000-seat arena and the producer insisting we use a hawk in Act 3 to fly from Ramfis to Radames on 4 distinct bars was interesting. I had to carefully change the blocking to keep producer, bird and singers happy. A challenge is just an opportunity to do something different.’