Thursday, May 2, 2013

Merridawn Duckler Interviews Bernard Uzan

Guest Blogger Merridawn Duckler, a Portland-based opera fan and writer, became a fan of Bernard Uzan when she attended the Carmen he directed for Seattle Opera in 2011. She has an interview with the director which will be published in this summer's issue of Cerise Press. She checked in with him recently about his work on our current double-bill, La Voix Humaine and Suor Angelica.

Q: We cherish opera for its complex human relationships, expressed in interwoven voices, but La Voix Humaine features a single performer. What directorial challenges did this present, if any?
A: La Voix Humaine presents many challenges—you need an exceptional singing actress to deal with the false simplicity of the piece; you need to establish what is not heard by the audience (what the man on the phone is telling the woman to provoke these reactions and these emotions); and staging-wise you have to be very inventive in order to find reasons and ways to move in this small room and not become too static.

Bernard Uzan working with Nuccia Focile at a rehearsal of La Voix Humaine
Alan Alabastro, photo

Q: You are French-Tunisian; La Voix Humaine is the work of two Parisian artists, Poulenc and Cocteau. Do you have anything in common with them?
A.: We actually have many things in common: love of theater, love of French literature and music. Even if they belong to a generation just before mine, I have been strongly influenced by Cocteau and the idea and style he brought in his writings, movies, etc... How can we not be influenced as artists by a movie like Beauty and the Beast?

Q: Are you often influenced by film?
A: Yes, I was and I am a film fan. Sometimes when I direct opera, I use lighting like a close up in a movie, and images of films are always present when I work. Too often audiences believe that an opera director just directs traffic on stage, but our work is certainly more than that and very often it is like directing a movie in intimate scenes.

Q: Yes, I consider you a particularly psychologically astute director. But I am also wondering about Suor Angelica. It was written as part of a triptych. What is gained or lost by performing only one part of the three operas?
A: Nothing really is gained or lost. Each opera of the Trittico is totally independent, and dramatically and musically stands on its own—three masterpieces for their own reasons.

Maria Gavrilova (Suor Angelica) works with Bernard Uzan while the offstage chorus prepares for a musical entrance at rehearsal
Alan Alabastro, photo

Q: La Voix Humaine and Suor Angelica are at either ends when it comes to cast size—does this cause a little craziness, going from one to the other?
A: Every opera has some moments with 50 people and some with one or two singers, so no, the rehearsal days are the same.

Q: Are women harder to direct than men?
A: I love this question! Absolutely not. I will say that you can have difficult and delightful people in both men or women singers.

At a rehearsal, Bernard Uzan discusses the double-bill with Speight Jenkins; Lighting Designer Connie Yun looks on
Alan Alabastro, photo

Q: Do you enjoy bringing lesser known works to audiences—what it the best and worst of that?
A: I like the idea to have an audience exposed to an unknown (to them) work because it creates in them a revelation, an understanding, or a new emotional moment. After all, that is why we do this m├ętier.

Merridawn Duckler is a senior fellow at the Attic Institute, a prominent teacher of fiction and nonfiction, and a leading member of our Individual Consult Group. She has published in Carolina Quarterly, Georgia State Review, and Main Street Rag among others with current work in Isotope, Green Mountains Review, Narrative and Night Train.


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