Monday, July 30, 2012

Meet Our Artists: RENAUD DOUCET, Stage Director and Choreographer

Time now to hear from Renaud Doucet (right), the brilliant young director and choreographer who is making his Seattle Opera debut with this Turandot, jointly envisioned and created by Doucet and his partner André Barbe (left), our Set and Costume Designer. The world first saw this extraordinary co-production last year, in Pittsburgh; jointly owned by opera companies in Pittsburgh, Seattle, Minneapolis, Cincinnati, and Utah (Salt Lake City), the production will eventually entertain and delight opera-goers all over America. We’ll check in with André soon; first, let’s find out a little about Renaud’s approach to theater as discovery, how he avoids having to make artistic compromises, and his unique entry into the world of Wagner.

Renaud, you’re making your debut here as a director, but this isn’t the first time you’ve worked with Seattle Opera! Can you remind us of your previous association with our company?
Yes, I had the pleasure to come to Seattle to assist Bernard Uzan, and to choreograph, the production of Rusalka in 2001.

Renaud Doucet in rehearsal
(Alan Alabastro, photo)

Since then, you’ve done your own Rusalka.
Yes, I love that opera. We did a new production for the Volksoper in Vienna 2010. It played last spring and it’s going to play again in the fall. It’s a great show; we developed a new technology for playing video on fabric with a German firm. It’s very interesting.

Barbe & Doucet's Volksoper Rusalka
(Stefan Liewehr/Art for Art photo)

You say “we,” and I know you’re referring to yourself and André Barbe, because the two of you work together exclusively as a director/designer team, offering opera companies complete packages with every detail worked out carefully in advance. Tell us a little about how your unique partnership—which is both personal and professional—got started.
It began at Opéra de Montréal, with Bernard Uzan, who was the head of the company at that time. He introduced us to each other. In fact André was asked to do a production of Kat’a Kabanova with Bernard, and I had seen the drawings and thought they were fabulous. And André said, “The story of Kat’a reminds me of Pélleas et Mélisande.” And Bernard said, “ you like Pélleas?” And André said, “I love it!” So he took him to my office—I was Assistant Stage Director at the time—and he told me “Renaud, here is your designer for Pélleas et Mélisande.” But at the time, Bernard hadn’t yet told me I was directing Pélleas!

So Pélleas was the first opera you collaborated on?
No, actually. That was the first offer, but we ended up doing another opera first, in Wexford, in Ireland, Si j’étais roi by Adolphe Adam. That was our first official production, in 2000. It’s an absolutely fantastic opera, very beautiful, and we did it with Joseph Calleja and a wonderful cast.

And then Pélleas for Montréal.
Yes. I think we’re now at show number 30, or something. I don’t remember exactly how many productions we’ve done together.

How long does it take you jointly to envision a production?
It depends on the show, and on what else we are doing at the time. We never work on only one show at a time. At the moment, we have six operas in mind that we are designing. Sometimes we talk about an opera for a year and a half before André even raises his pencil. Since we’ve been in Seattle we created—in 24 hours—a new production of Massenet’s Thérèse, for Wexford. We’re very lucky to be in the luxurious position, with Wexford Festival Opera, of the General Director trusting us enough to say, “Which opera would you like to do?” Wexford is specializing in rare repertoire and next season we're doing Massenet’s Thérèse and La Navarraise for the festival, where we also created a new production of Pénélope by Fauré there, a gorgeous opera.

Plus the Adam Si j’étais roi, your debut. Lots of offbeat titles!
Yes. Really, we have not been offered much of the standard repertoire. We’ve done one Traviata, one Barber, one Carmen, as against seven productions of Thaïs and four Rape of Lucretias. I’d love to do some more standard rep: an Aida, a Butterfly. I’ve been offered Così , but I turned it down because I did not think that the solution that I had at the time, the dramaturgie, was interesting enough. Now I know how to do it.

Renaud Doucet stages a scene from Turandot with Peter Rose as Timur, Lina Tetriani as Liù, and Antonello Palombi as Calaf
(Alan Alabastro, photo)

Going back to your partnership, when did that become exclusive?
Right away. Our goal is to be able to travel together, to create together, and to go further as a team with each new production. The goal is not to need to speak, because we are in each other’s brain. Also, we don’t make compromises. We don’t accept anything that’s mediocre. So we have to be better each time. It’s more and more difficult. If you have a success, then the next time you have to have an even bigger success. The mountain you’re climbing gets higher each time.

But it’s must be easier in that you’ve worked out a shorthand, learning how each other thinks.
Yes, but then we also know what each other is capable of doing. Which means that there is zero compromise on quality. Neither of us allows compromise from the other. To arrive at the right idea...either you get it right on the first drawing, as with Pénélope, or you do eight models and throw them all in the garbage and start again because it’s not satisfactory.

Barbe & Doucet's Pénélope at Wexford
(Clive Bardas, photo)

So the point is the commitment. If you’re committed to it...
Committed, yes. We both need to value what the other contributes; it’s important that we appreciate it, and that it’s good.

Do you find yourselves swapping roles? You’re the director and he’s the designer, but do you ever make design suggestions? Or does he come up with suggestions for staging and movement?
Of course. The design is the result of a dramatic idea, and the staging is a result of the design. I am as much the designer as André is the director.

And Guy Simard?
Our lighting designer, yes, he is an exclusive part of our team. Sometimes, for example, at a summer festival the company may need to use the same lighting designer for all the productions. But for us, Guy Simard is absolutely part of the team. He was working with us in Montréal, and we’ve done all our productions abroad with him. The lighting is an essential aspect of a good stage presentation.

Renaud Doucet in rehearsal, with Seattle Opera's Assistant Director Fenlon Lamb
(Alan Alabastro, photo)

Now, you first designed Turandot for the Volksoper in Vienna, with a production that looks amazing (I’ve only seen pictures) set in the world of insects. How did you manage to find a completely different approach for this American Turandot?
With André we have four other Turandot productions ready to go.

Barbe & Doucet's Volksoper Turandot
(Dimo Dimov, photo)

In your brain.
And on paper! There is not one way of doing things, there are a million ways. The thing is to choose an angle, to follow it and be consistent from beginning to end. But why not another angle? That’s why I like doing multiple productions of the same opera: you discover new sides to the work.

Are there operas where you feel you nailed it the first time, so much that you aren’t interested in doing it again?
No, I don’t think like that. I don’t ‘nail’ a production. For us it’s a discovery each time, really. Perhaps there are operas I do not need to do. Lucia, for example, I’ve done Lucia...but it’s not the type of repertoire I appreciate, particularly. I like the music. But for me, to direct a traditional Lucia, it’s pointless. To do a wild Lucia that will REALLY go into the dark side and total madness of the opera would be fascinating.

In rehearsal, Renaud Doucet demonstrates a gesture for "In questa reggia" to Lori Phillips (Turandot)
(Alan Alabastro, photo)

Although there are some audiences that, maybe a traditional Lucia is all they could deal with.
Maybe, but then I think I am not the right director for that. We cannot do everything well. I need to know where I have something to contribute, and where I am in fact getting in the way.

What interests you the most about Turandot?
With all the characters, it’s about their personal growth, developing them from point A to point B. No one finishes this opera the way they began; and they all need each other to discover themselves. Each of them has an impact on the others. They each need all the others to grow. That’s the point of life, and of fairy-tales, each character planting seeds for the other characters. In the audience, we are part of that. That’s what’s fascinating.

Renaud Doucet shows ministers Ping (Patrick Carfizzi) and Pong (Joseph Hu) a move
(Alan Alabastro, photo)

You worked out the staging of this production long ago, even before Minnesota Opera built the sets and costumes to André’s designs, before you first gave it to singers in Pittsburgh. Has the staging continued to evolve, with our two casts?
Yes, because if you have two casts, you’ll have two totally different performances. The same story, the same action, but different people. Even from one night to the next you have a different show; each performance is unique. In terms of the different singers, their personalities are different, so they have different ways of filtering the information. Our two Turandots, for example, Lori and Marcy, are extremely different. It’s a role debut for Marcy, but Lori has sung the opera before. So they were starting from different places, even before we began rehearsing.

One last question: we’re all nuts for Wagner, here at Seattle Opera, and we hear that you’ve got an exciting new Wagner opportunity coming up! What’s all this about Die Feen in Leipzig and Bayreuth next year?
Yes, André and I are creating a new production of Wagner’s first opera, Die Feen, for the 200th anniversary celebrations, next February in Leipzig, where Wagner was born, and then in Bayreuth, at the summer festival he created. They are building the production right now. It’s interesting, they’re putting on the three operas of Wagner’s youth, Die Feen, Das Liebesverbot, and Rienzi. We’re very excited to be working with Christiane Libor, our Ada, who will come here to Seattle next to sing Fidelio for you.

Costume sketch by André Barbe for Ada, the heroine of Die Feen, which the team will create for Leipzig and Bayreuth next season

Die Feen (The Fairies) is based on another of Carlo Gozzi’s plays, La donna serpente (The Snake Woman). Does it have anything in common with Turandot?
It’s a fairy-tale, an encounter between the world of mortals and the world of fairies, and how do they cope with each other.

Renaud Doucet in rehearsal
(Alan Alabastro, photo)

Well, I know you’ll make something fantastical and wondrous out of it. Although Wagner can be a tall order: are you ready for it?
We’re starting Wagner at the beginning! As a matter of fact we’ve been offered the Ring twice, but both times we said no, because we don’t consider ourselves Wagner specialists. So it was interesting to be asked to do these: how can you refuse to do your first Wagner opera in a Bayreuth & Leipzig co-production? There are some things you just can’t say no!

Renaud Doucet and André Barbe recently took us for a look behind the scenes of our Turandot production:


  1. LongTimeSeasonSubscriberAugust 7, 2012 at 8:01 PM

    In a word, WOW! Kudos to all for the wonderful Turandot experience on Sunday, August 5th! Incredible cast and orchestra, amazing set design, and fabulous directing led to one of the best Seattle Opera productions I've seen in almost 25 years as a subscriber. Only downside was that we didn't get Jonathan Dean's English Captions.
    To Mr. Jenkins and MM. Doucet and Barbe -- THANK YOU! I loved the change in the approach to Turandot's surrender to love in this performance - so much more believable than in other productions I've seen!
    And Luis Chapa and Marcy Stonikas were wonderful. I really look forward to hearing them again!

  2. That Volksoper Turandot looks amazing! It needs to be revived and soon!

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