Marketing Manager Tracy Ryan had a chat with the director of Guglielmo Ratcliff Fabio Ceresa in the green room of the National Opera House before he flew back to Milan Saturday 25 October.
How has your home country Italy influenced your work?
I spent something like 9 years in Teatro La Scala as a stage manager. This is the temple of Italian opera, so everything I do is influenced by the Italian style. I was also particularly lucky to be involved in reviving Italian classical productions where the way of thinking, the design and interpretation of the operas, kept as much of the magic and wonder as they could.
Today the contemporary way to stage an opera is to try to find the ‘truth’ inside the plot and the opera but I think we are losing the magic side of opera, the imagination. I think the influence of Italian opera for me is keeping this magic and wonder alive.
What was it about Guglielmo Ratcliff that made you want to direct it?
It is quite funny as Franceso Cilluffo, the conductor, knew the opera perfectly and he even played this on the piano when he was 13! I didn’t know this opera at all and I have to say I am in love with 18th century music - Handel, Hasse and Vivaldi operas, so late 19th century for me was like ‘oh my god let’s try to listen to this very commercial music’. Then I started to study Ratcliff and I fell in love like a teenager, and I cannot understand why this opera is so forgotten and theatres are not staging it as it is so full of Italian passion, beautiful music and great characters, like Margherita. The presence of a ghost is always a challenge for every director, so I found the story exciting and I became a fan of this opera and since it doesn’t have a past, I really do hope it has the chance to have at least a future.
Just in relation to the costumes, is it true that the costumes were a ‘homage’ to Alexander McQueen?
You know it is possible! Giuseppe Palella is a ‘bloody genius’. We met a few years ago at La Scala. He was an assistant for the costume of Elektra, and I was the stage direction assistant so we met as assistants and we shared impressions and we became friends. I immediately understood his potential, so I am so happy I am the one who revealed this genius to the world! He is such a hard worker, he spends the whole day in the costume department, then he brings home his work, colouring furniture in the sink of the kitchen, brushing the floor of the costume department, he is such a professional. Of course it maybe a homage to Alexander McQueen but not consciously, maybe just assimilated from his culture!
Can you tell me about the ‘mirroring effect’ in the production? Where did the idea come from?
In the second act following the libretto, Guglielmo was trying to embrace Maria then suddenly he saw his reflection in the mirror. Then during the duet of the fourth act Gugliemo asks Maria to look at themselves in the mirror. The music is underscoring in such a beautiful way that the moment they look at each other in the mirror, I thought it has to be something theatrical.
In Margherita’s long aria the mirror becomes like a screen because Margherita is projecting to Maria the story of the parents. Then the screen goes back to a mirror but there is a distortion; you don’t see the reflection of the real world anymore but you see ‘the deer’ (the spirit of the parents) in another world. Here Maria realises she is her mother and Guglielmo is his father, so the game of doubles and reflection was too interesting not to have it as a huge part of the concept. I really have to thank Tiziano Santi the set designer for helping me so much on this idea.
Can you describe the reaction you have had from audiences?
I spent the premiere in the wings off stage with the singers looking at everything on the screens. For the dress rehearsals I was sitting in the lighting box so I was not able to see or understand anything from there, but I was working so it was ok!
It is very difficult to make people laugh or cry, and during the rehearsal in the Jerome Hynes Theatre we were rehearsing without any costumes or props and we were performing the dream of Gugliemo, and at the end of this scene I could see that one of the extras was crying really badly and it touched me. I thought if it is working now without any costumes or props, then what is going to happen on stage!
We thought Angelo Villari did an amazing job for what is known as one of the toughest tenor roles in the opera world.
I already knew Angelo, we had worked together on Butterfly this year and he is a very particular kind of tenor, very focused and a great actor. He arrived, not only with the role ready but with the character ready, which is very different. He didn’t just know the score by heart he knew the story, the sensation, the emotional side by heart and it is such an honour when you have a chance to work with such great singers and I must say that this is extended to the whole cast. It doesn’t happen so often that the cast is perfect, the conductor is perfect, the design is perfect and when everything goes so well, this is opera!
A sold out Guglielmo Ratcliff runs throughout the Wexford Festival Opera until 31 October.