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10 Questions for...
Francesca Gilpin

September 06, 2011

Francesca Gilpin. Photo: LAO

When Los Angeles Opera opens its 26th season next week, it will mark the second assignment this year for British director Francesca Gilpin. She worked magic with a revival of Jonathan Kent’s Glyndebourne staging of Britten’s The Turn of the Screw last spring. This time she’ll be breathing new life into Steven Pimlott’s Royal Opera House version of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin with a predominantly Russian cast under the musical direction of James Conlon. Gilpin has a long and varied career as a director in film, video, and the stage. She’s been increasingly making waves in the UK with major assignments at ROH and Glyndebourne as well as several other regional companies. It’s great to have her back in Los Angeles, and we were lucky enough to get some of her time in the lead up to this season’s gala opening on September 17. But before that, it’s time for 10 questions—on everything from gardening to Freddy Mercury.

  1. What opera would you most like to direct, but haven’t yet?

    Well it’s not an opera, but I’d love to stage Handel’s La Resurezzione… sublime music and the potential for a great visual drama.

  2. What opera would you never want to direct, even if you had the opportunity to?

    Never say never….but I’m not a great fan of comedies.

  3. What’s the best thing about working with singing-actors as opposed to the non-operatic variety?

    Singers come to the first rehearsal knowing the libretto and the music—where actors learn the text during the rehearsal process—so they are much more familiar with the text at an earlier stage. Because the music carries so much of the emotion, singers “get” the context much more quickly, and are used to a shorter rehearsal period so a director can build the detail in performance earlier in the process. Singers also learn the staging very quickly.

  4. Your upcoming assignment at L.A. Opera will be Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin in a production originally conceived by the great and much missed Steven Pimlott for the Royal Opera House. What unique challenges are there in remounting a production without the ability to seek input from its creator?

    You have to rely on the production speaking for itself and, during the preparation period, look closely at the decisions made by the original creator to interpret what the intentions are. Having said that, one is hoping to recreate the essence of the original but tailor it to the cast you are working with at the time rather than impose a rigid staging with no room for interpretation by singers who are often very different to those in the original cast. For Eugene Onegin, I spent some time working with Antony McDonald, the set and costume designer, and was able to talk through the concept with him in some detail, which was invaluable. I’m also looking forward to working with the original lighting designer, Peter Mumford.

  5. While Tchaikovsky’s opera bears Onegin’s name, he’s not the most likable of characters. What exactly is his problem?

    Well, the opera is closely based on Pushkin’s novel, and the clues to Onegin’s character can be found there. He’s had a misspent youth and inherited substantial wealth from his uncle. He’s had it all—too much too soon—and is bored…by life, by wealth, by everything. His heart is closed to the possibility of love and he feels superior to those around him. It is not until he has killed his best friend, returned from a self imposed exile and been introduced to a changed Tatiana that he realizes what he has lost…by which time it is too late. He allows himself to feel real emotion for the first time, only to have his hopes and dreams dashed at the last minute.

  6. Which music made you want to direct opera?

    I’m not sure it was specifically music that made me want to direct opera, although I listened to a huge amount of Tchaikovsky as a child. The first opera that I saw was La Bohème and I was blown away by the story, the romance, the tragedy and of course, the music. What really excites me about opera is the idea of Gesamtkunstwerk, the combination of all the arts in one piece of theatre.

  7. This is your second assignment in Los Angeles this year after the great run of Britten’s The Turn of the Screw last spring. What’s your favorite thing about Southern California?

    Oh, the weather and the beach of course! And the people are so welcoming and open.

  8. Your iPod is destroyed by a temperamental tenor. Which lost tracks would you miss most?

    “Dido’s Lament,” Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now,” “Dust Bowl Dance” by Mumford & Sons and Bobby Darin’s version of “Mack the Knife”….oh, and Mozart’s Requiem!

  9. What's your current obsession?

    Definitely my vegetable garden!

  10. With which opera character do you have the most in common?

    I’m not sure I have much in common with any of them!


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