Wexford Festival Opera's Tracy Ryan chats with Greek director Rodula Gaitanou (director of this year's Vanessa) about China, growing up in Greece and biking around Wexford.
Previous Wexford Festival Opera engagements for Rodula include Associate Director (A Village Romeo and Juliet, Delius, 2012)
Your job takes you all around the globe directing for opera companies. You recently directed a new production of Tosca at the Xi'an Concert Hall in China. Can you describe your experience as a director in China?
I staged Tosca in Xi’an which is the old capital of China. Xi’an is a 1000 year old city with a very rich cultural past but nevertheless Tosca was the first staged opera performance the city ever had. It did make me feel like a pioneer bringing the art form to an audience that was completely virgin. Despite the fact there is an audience for opera in Xi’an it is not a very big one and it is still being developed. It was the first time they had a full staged spectacle.
It was very interesting working with Chinese artists, however my three leads were not Chinese; there was an Australian Soprano, a British Baritone and a Mexican Tenor. I worked with a Chinese Chorus and all the smaller parts were Chinese singers. It is very exciting to teach the staging, build up the character and enlighten them about the whole background particularly with Tosca which is linked to a particular historic time.
The challenges that one faces are completely different; I remember that it was quite hard to find period European looking props and furniture, it is not obvious and it took quite a lot of time to research.
Do you have any plans to go back to Xi’an?
The production was revived but I wasn’t free to go back. There are discussions for quite a lot of different projects.
What type of audience numbers was there?
About twelve hundred people a night.
Is Western opera very popular in China?
Yes, but still quite a new thing. They mainly rent productions from Europe. What was special about Tosca was the fact it was made there, we didn’t bring a ready made show and put it on in a different stage.
This is your second time directing at the Wexford Festival Opera, if you were to give advice to the first time cast and creative teams arriving to Wexford for the Festival, what would it be?
I always travel with my bike and I would recommend hiring a bike as there are some fantastic rides around Wexford, one in particular is Curracloe Beach. Irish motorists are good with cyclists, they allow you to go at your pace and they are polite and respectful.
I would also advise people to go and have a pint in Simons. The other day I discovered another pub which is called The Sky and the Ground, they do live music. I think Cistin Eile is a lovely restaurant to go to for lunch and dinner. All my days here do revolve around the theatre one way or another. I very much enjoy having lunch by the waterfront, it is very refreshing.
A former Royal Opera House Jette Parker Young Artist, classical training as a violinist at the Mousikoi Orizontes Conservatory in Athens and studying Musicology at the Sorbonne University in Paris; music is certainly in your blood. What were your influences growing up musically that led you to dedicate your life to music?
I grew up in a musical family, my parents and siblings are all musicians and I was a violinist until my late teens. When I was a kid I had a very significant experience which only lately occurred to me that it had such an impact on my musical life; my dad ran the Greek National Opera for some years so growing up I used to be in the theatre every night. Children having to go to bed early at night wasn’t my case at all! The theatre was what I was familiar with.
Growing up I always had a dilemma - theatre or music - opera combines both and given the very early affiliation with the art form it seemed a natural pathway to pursue.
Vanessa runs at the National Opera House 27, 30 October and 2, 5 November. Book tickets here by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 1850 4 OPERA/+353 53 912 2144.