Report by Edward Dick, 6 June 2015

A stimulating discussion - mostly amongst opera directors - about the rehearsal process.

Ed Dick explained that he wanted to talk about some of the challenges directors faced in making work that was spontaneous and alive, something he felt required a different set of techniques and skills in opera than in theatre.

Jim Manganello described his experience as a physical theatre student in Holland, where he and his classmates collaborated with a director and designer to create a staging through improvisation, which was then transplanted on to an opera chorus.

The results were apparently very impressive, and the students enjoyed the experience.

Yulia Shtern talked about the need for designers to be involved as early as possible in the process, something she noted was particularly a problem in independent work. 

The idea of workshop time with a director, designer and performers in advance of rehearsal was discussed, so that the design could be influenced by the singers' work.

Tim Hopkins noted that singers were generally more progressive than ever before in their attitude towards process, as well as in their desire to participate in the creation of something ‘alive’.

Irina Brown commented that the degree to which a singer prepared for a role was not always matched by the preparation a director made for a production.

Martin Constantine said that in a sense singers have been preparing for their entire career for the role that they're singing, certainly for long before they meet the director or the conductor, and that this work had to be built on. There was a discussion about singers' preparation, both for specific productions and in their training. A question was asked about how possible it was to use the basis of the physical expressiveness a singer brought to a role as the basis for the creation of the world of that production.

Irina Brown talked about the dangers of closing down the creativity of singers before it had had a chance to open up. There was a tendency for directors to assume that singers weren't able to do things, which they usually could. Irina said that it was worth remembering what was possible physically from the best performers… although ‘alive’ certainly doesn't have to mean running around. Martin Constantine referred to a sense of judgment that singers experienced, often related to their training, which meant it was sometimes harder for them to be as open to an improvisation led process as it was for actors. Piers Haggard talked about the control that actors - as opposed to singers - had over tempi.

Discussion about improvisation, particularly in the context of choruses. Point was made that it was hard for singers - especially those in the chorus - to unlearn something that they'd learned. Irina outlined the importance of not treating choruses as a bloc, but rather as a collection of individuals, and the dividends - in terms of engagement in the drama of the production, especially over the long term - that could be gained from challenging them to come up with storytelling solutions through improvisation. Discussion about the difficulties of working with resistant choruses -

Irina had a difficult experience with a Bulgarian chorus in Monte Carlo, and Ed recently with one who was very set in its ways in Germany, where everything he said seemed to make it worse. Martin talked about Richard Jones's skills with choruses, both in terms of giving them very specific choreographic instructions that made sense with the music, as well as in treating them as human beings and individuals. Discussion about the politics of the chorus. Tim described the surrendeur to autonomy that came with being in a chorus, and the fact that they are sometimes treated badly by directors, which could result in a cycle of abuse, and, given the speed at which the negotiation with the chorus has to take place, the benefits that came with a shorthand gained working with the same chorus on different productions (particularly if previous ones had been successful.) Tim compared a finished opera production to a painting, and described the art of the director as knowing which colours to throw in when to get to the final product.


Piers Haggard, Yulia Shtern, Martin Constantine, Ed Dick, Jim Manganello, Tim Hopkins, Irina Brown, James Lapham