José Darío Innella, director of 'La traviata', is looking for an opera for our era.
The stage director of La traviata, in Melico Salazar Theatre, talks about the possitibities of opera.
It takes a few minutes, but one soon becomes accustomed to the new world inhabited by the National Lyric Company's La Traviata: its world is ours, the one of 2017.
For José Darío Innella, to bring to the present the opera of Giuseppe Verdi, first seen in 1853, is not a mere whim, but a way of expressing his thoughts, as an artist, around one of the most popular operas in the world. At the Melico Salazar Popular Theater, Violetta Valéry is one of today’s celebrities, her Paris is the hyperconnected Paris of the present. Innella seeks to bring to the forefront what the work can still tell us: it is ours too, not mere immutable relics. It’s very much alive.
The young Argentinean stage director has traveled from south to north with great success. At the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, he was assistant director of recent great productions such as Der Rosenkavalier and The Rake's Progress; with such a prestigious company he directed The Truth About Love - A Little Less Than Fate, with his own dramaturgy, based on Britten, Schumann and Ebel songs cycles. In Europe and America he has done fifty productions as director or assistant director. His objective: to inspire energy to the opera, to give new airs even to classics.
"If I have nothing to say about the play, I cannot direct it," he said the day before the premiere of the opera in San Jose. "There are works that do not interest me because I do not find in the subject something that moves me or excites me, so I do my best to get away from them."
"There are other works, on the contrary, with which I cannot stop saying things; La Traviata is one of them, in which the subject touches me up close, I recognize myself in the characters, in the stories, in the music, I vibrate in the same frequency and I have things to say, "Innella details.
In his La Traviata, which respects the original dramaturgy and score, it emphasizes the possibility of re-reading a history already known. The nineteenth-century courtesan could be any of our famous-for-being -famous celebrities; there is within her character (in a fierce interpretation of Elizabeth Caballero) a woman harassed by fame, prey to paparazzi, probably crammed with hearts on Instagram. Innella looks for ways to communicate an acute criticism to the contemporary society through her.
"To me, the stage director is an artist, not just a technician. His purpose is to communicate; You will not change what you say because of the audience, but the idea is for the audience to understand you", he says. "In opera there is a lot of this museum thing, of repetition, repetition, repetition ... ultimately empty. That bores me. "
"Regardless of the audience, it is more interesting for the director to actually say something than to move people up and down and make pretty pictures. People, as they see it, accept that it does not take anything away from them, it is a resource, it adds instead of removing. It is healthy to have a balance: not all productions can be contemporary, not all can be modern, not all can be expressionist. "
-How do you approach a play (in which you will work)?
- In general, because I do like opera, it is rare for me to get a play I have not heard before. There are, of course: there are 2,500 operas that have been done in the last 400 years, but those that are usually done, the 300 or 400 that are part of the repertoire, for better or for worse, more or less, you’ve heard them, then you have an idea of what is going on. My first approach is the music, to sit and listen to it, and then grab the libretto, separate the two things. What happens a lot is that the music takes you and you forgot about the libretto, and that's when the stage director is in trouble because it's a play and what they say has to make sense beyond the music. From there on, one must try to find out what the work is saying, what the author means, what I think about what the author means, if I am interested, if I can use it, if I can say it, if I can contradict in an effective way.
"In Carmen, Don José is seen almost as a victim, but today you read it and the guy is an aggressor and a murderer, he is indefensible. Times have changed, one cannot continue to read the works as one did 150 years ago because the mentality of our society has changed. "
- Why being something so obvious, something so natural in other arts, that one cannot approach a work as you would have done it in 1850, in opera is such a heated debate?
"Well, the opera is quite particular in that sense because its music does not change, it stays the same, and the biggest trunk of the repertoire that is interpreted is romanticism. It catches a certain audience that comes for the romanticism of the play and turns a deaf ear or is not interested, many times, in the rest of what the opera is. The opera is not just bel canto, Verdi and Puccini; It is also Baroque, contemporary opera, Russian, Czech, Hungarian nationalists... When people say 'I do not like opera', I say: ‘Wait: Which one?'
"’Opera’ encompasses so much more. There are many people who try to make opera what they think it is and nothing else. They won’t accept anything else. It is a discussion that in theater, even in cinema, was given 100 years ago but in opera started 20 or 30 years ago. The ‘opera-lover’ likes to know what is going to happen, especially since the recordings of the 40 and 50 onwards, which is when the repertoire froze. The ‘opera-lover’ likes to know the soprano sings this, he says that, she takes three steps to the right, stretches out her hand, grabs the flower and gives it to him ... "
- Something hypercoded ...
"Almost like a ballet!" The ‘opera-lover’ likes that and this wave of "renewal" of the repertoire is breaking his schematics, that security, that feeling of comfort that you get from seeing Gone with the Wind, but it is like watching it and making deaf ears of the racism of the movie. The average ‘opera-lover’ (and I do not want to be unfair, I am an ‘opera-lover’ myself) does not like being pulled out of his comfort zone; He comes to be entertained. "To me there is a huge difference between entertainment and art. When you are doing commercial theater, your goal is to entertain because there are people who put money and need the money back, you need to get the wildest possible audience to be commercial success. That's entertainment. What we do, when the State puts money, is because it understands that there’s not enough people that likes it but is important to do it. The state puts money so you can make art, so you do not have to depend on whether the public comes or not, whether they like it or not. It is the kind of shows that push the arts forward because otherwise, we would still be making baroque, because no one would ever have made it a step further.
"That's what you can do when you have an support of people who can take a gamble with you, who can take the chances saying maybe people like it, maybe doesn't. That is the role of the state within the opera and that is the kind of art that is going to make the opera move forward. And the ‘opera-lover’ will scream, what to say! The ‘opera-lovers’ shrieked when they stopped making Grand Opéra, with Gluck when they stopped making baroque and he did Orpheus and Eurydice. In other Art forms, the 20th century was the one that broke with formality; In the opera that kept going. The opera stuck almost to a cinematographic in a point: it was a live movie. Also, the theatrical technique was developed that allowed to do that; then it was wonderful, but it is exhausted. Once the appearance of video, you're done! I saw it once, and how many times can I see it? "
- It is an impressive aesthetic work but is already concluded.
"Sure, that's it. The Record Industry complicated the fate of the opera, in the sense that made it predictable, people go to listen to that and that’s it; in a way, it cut off the appearance of new works. But video came to a point where it exhausted naturalism, and if you want to get people out of their house to go see a show, it cannot be the same show you can see on video sung by Pavarotti or Domingo. It forced the opera to return to being theatrical, to get rid of the cinematographic code and to begin to be theatrical again; it began to look for it in codes from the beginning of the XX century, in German expressionism, with that kind of resources. Now we are looking for how to reread the repertory, how to hold the twenty-ninth Traviata of the year around the world, which is broadcasted in HD in cinemas, which you can watch on DVD ... How do you bring people to the theater? You cannot give them jack, horse and king again. And on the other hand, what do you have to say about the play?
- "Why are you interested in La Traviata?"
"To me, La traviata speaks about the double standard of society. It is Society that leaves only one direction to Violetta, that of the "prostitute" (although our Violetta is not a prostitute, is simply a 'mediawhore': she is Kim Kardashian, Anna Nicole Smith, she is a scandal, the kind of people famous just for being famous) and then accuses her, condemns her for being that, they push her aside from society because they "discover" what she is. Alfredo’s love and the rest is incidental; to me, what the play speaks about is Society. That's why we emphasize each of the characters in the choir, each one is different.
-Everyone could be read from that vision, everyone could have their own opera.
-Totally. And in the second act, when everything is turned around for Violetta, everyone behaves like mass. All go to their cells and they are all tweeting and retweeting the scandal of Violetta; to me, that's La Traviata. All the romance too, but that is an anecdote, is not what goes through the whole work.
"She is a victim even though she does not feel that way; she is the last adjustment screw of a perverse mechanism. To me, to be able to tell that is more interesting than putting her with a crinoline. I have done it in the 1850s and the reading is the same, but in that case, instead of mobile phones they put on a mask. The resources with which I can express it will vary, some in more contemporary scenarios.
"To me it is easier to do it in 2017 because people understand the code more than if you do it in the 1850s, because when done in the 1850s, and they put on their masks you might say: 'Oh, look, such cute disguises'.
-"You're not understanding what's really going on.
-The reality is that when you open the curtain and people see something unexpected, you take them out of their comfort zone and make them think, to try to understand what you did and why you did, even in an unconscious way, even when the person is upset about what you did. You do it the other way and the audience stays like in front of a television, in an "alpha" state.
-There is no dialogue, an interaction with the work, with the psychology of the characters ...
-Exactly. There is no effort, it is a passive spectator. The music is pretty, I know; that's why we do it. The story is beautiful, yes, that's why we do it. What else? Why come to the theater to see the same, why not just put the DVD while you are ironing at home? If you have the recording with Gruberova, she is going to always be a safe singer doing every day the same. "If you come here, you take the risk. We are fortunate to have a wonderful cast, you come here today and you have Elizabeth Caballero, who is a wonderful scenic beast, but you might have been not so lucky, it could have been a horror. You take the risk because what you see on stage is not the DVD at your house, is a different show that has the same roots, the same text, the same music, but that says something different that can make you think about something different, I hope . All I'm saying are good intentions: sometimes it comes out ok, sometimes it does not. "
- "You have worked in very different places, some with very anchored opera traditions, public used to occurrences and triumphs, places that are not ... and you are very young. How is it for you to enter such a changing, agitated world?
-I directed my first opera at age 23, L’italiana in Algeri at Teatro Margarita Xirgu in Buenos Aires. Nobody got paid and I actually paid for doing it; the production was of a group of friends, with the everlasting support of my parents. At that age, you take decisions because you want and you do not understand the risks. At age 23 they say that you are the 'bad boy in opera' and, well, you are and that's it; then you have the 'bad boy' seal on the back of the neck and it opens some doors and closes others and you never expected it to work like that.
"To me, it was always that natural. Later, over the years came the reflection of principles, philosophical, about why you do things like that and what is your mission as an artist to say something. But initially it was something instinctive and life was taking me to theaters where that is more common, where it is more standardized than what is done is the vision of the director.
"I just came from Brussels working as Associated Director on Aida for the director of the National Theater of Athens, Stathis Livathinos. He came with all the legacy of Greek theater and laid out a very, very special Aida, there were virtually no Egyptian elements: a pair of jackal and bird masks and that was it; everything else was basically a surreal nightmare, a rock on stage and that was all the set. It was still Aida, because it was the same and it was completely clear.
"Working with a person like that opened my head a lot, it made me grow a lot; there were three months of intense work in Brussels that I wound not exchange for anything. There is no school that teaches you what you learn with people like that at that level. Then one is the lion’s tail and the mouse’s head, jumping from one side to the another, and when it’s my turn to direct where they let me direct, you try to bring what you soak up and try to discover your own voice further and further."