Irish National Opera presents: Gaetano Donizetti – Maria Stuarda
Dublin (Gaiety Theatre) – (Sunday 5, Tuesday 7, Thursday 9, Saturday 11 June)
Cork (Cork Opera House) – (Wednesday 15, Thursday 16 June)
Wexford (National Opera House) – (Sunday 19 June)
Limerick (University Concert Hall) – (Wednesday 22 June, concert performance)
Two Queens. One Catholic and Scottish, one Protestant and English. One in prison at the other’s behest.
What are the challenges that face a director of an opera which is to be performed in four diverse venues i.e. Gaiety Theatre Dublin, the National Opera House, Wexford, the Cork Opera House and University Concert Hall Limerick?
The staged production will be performed in Dublin, Wexford and Cork – it’s a concert performance in Limerick without the set and costumes. The three theatres are all proscenium arch stages with similar-sized stages, so the show has been designed to work in all three. We will make small adjustments in each theatre but it won’t involve big changes for the singers and production crew to take on. Working with the designer Katie Davenport, we bore in mind that the show had to work equally well in each theatre, so while there are some big set pieces, there’s a bit of flexibility in how everything fits together on stage.
Maria Stuarda died over 500 years ago. Gaetano Donizetti wrote the opera in 1835, based on a play written by Friedrich Schiller in 1800. The play was based on the last days of her life, but he is known to have taken some liberties with the facts. Given this pedigree, what challenges and opportunities does it give you as a director to devise a performance of the opera almost another 200 years later?
The opera was not performed for many years after the first performances, and even now it’s somewhat of a rarity. As a result, you have a responsibility to tell the story clearly so that an audience who has never seen it before can follow and appreciate all the nuances of the drama. But at the same time, you have a responsibility to make it feel fresh and urgent, rather than a museum piece.
Central to the opera is the clash between the cousins Elizabeth, Queen of England a Protestant and Mary, Queen of Scotland a Roman Catholic. The relationship between England and Scotland is once more a topic of intense political debate. In devising your production how have you been influenced by the current debate?
The events of the opera take place a short period before the union of England and Scotland under Mary’s son, King James I of England and VI of Scotland. As that union comes under increased pressure, precipitated by Brexit and the Scottish Independence movement, it’s hard to overlook the contemporary parallels. While not explicitly about these issues, our production will be performed in contemporary clothing and include images that allow audiences to draw those parallels for themselves.
With the current Queen of the United Kingdom celebrating her platinum Jubilee, how has her role as monarch over many years and the everyday events of her family influenced you in creating your production?
Like the current Queen Elizabeth, her predecessor of the same name also ascended to the throne at a young age and had to live her family life under scrutiny from the media and the world. This gives us a lot to draw on in imagining what it might have been like for Elizabeth I. One of the things we’ve looked at in creating this production is how royalty have to use the media to communicate their side of any story, such as the royal interviews which are a regular fixture of our television schedules.
You have the opportunity of creating this opera for an Irish Opera Company with several Irish born and trained performers. Something that was not feasible in Ireland not so many years ago. What do you think your emotions and thoughts will be when the orchestra strikes up in the Gaiety?
I find opening nights very nerve-racking, but also very pleasurable, I’m mostly looking forward to being in a room full of strangers, sharing the same experience and breathing the same air, while also having completely individual experiences depending on how the opera resonates with them personally on that particular night.
What do you think is the state of opera as an art form in Ireland today and what are your hopes and fears for it?
Opera in Ireland is in the most exciting state it’s ever been. We have extraordinary singers who are performing regularly around the world but also eager to come home to share their art form with enthusiastic audiences. There is more opera to be seen in Ireland than I’ve ever experienced in my lifetime, and I’m particularly excited by the number of new operas that are being produced and the opportunities for directors and designers from the theatre to bring their unique visions to the world of opera. Of course, it’s expensive to produce, but also creates employment for hundreds of people every year, and so it’s vital that state agencies, especially the Arts Council, as well as the many generous friends and supporters of opera in Ireland, continue to provide the resources to make the magic happen.
Tom Creed directs Irish National Opera’s Maria Stuarda (Donizetti) which premieres at the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin (June 5 -11), touring to Cork, Wexford, Dublin until June 22 – https://www.irishnationalopera.ie/whats-on/current-upcoming-productions/maria-stuarda