Director, Renaud Doucet is a French stage director and choreographer and is one half of the creative team Barbe & Doucet. He makes a welcome return to Wexford to direct his fourth production, Il bravo by Saverio Mercadante, set in 16th century Venice, where he and André now make their home. Renaud took time out of his hectic rehearsal schedule to talk to us about Il bravo and why he is so passionate about his profession.
How did you come to discover Il bravo?
David Alger called us, and we spoke a lot about different scores and in particular scores about Venice, because this city inspired some very important composers. There is a big tradition of Mercadante in Wexford. Il bravo was one of the most famous score of Mercadante’s at the time. So, put one and one together......
For people that don’t know, what exactly do you do as a director?
First André and I start by analysing the score from a dramatic and also from a musical point of view, to try to understand what the intentions of the composer were. Then, we look at how the story is still relevant to a contemporary audience and how can we transpose the facts to an audience in a theatrical way.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
What I enjoy the most about the work is the boiling moments of the creative process, the research, the analysis, the preparation; even before that, searching for new scores and studying them. Then on a different level, I enjoy the collaboration with the conductor and all the artists, on and off stage, who will bring the piece to life. Making theatre is about collaboration.
Who or what inspires you in your work?
LIFE. People. People are my biggest inspiration. People in the street; people in situations; people in interaction....just looking at life. That is my biggest inspiration. Because opera is about people; about situations. Opera is about real life. Those situations are sometimes brought to the stage in a very large way and on a big scale. But it’s just about people. Every person attending an opera performance is part of the characters on stage. We are all the lover, the betrayed, the murderer – or sometimes we wish – the passionate or desperate or the person experiencing death. We are all those people. This is where life is always relevant.
What was it about Il bravo that made you want to direct it? What fascinated you about it?
The city. Definitely. When you walk through the streets of Venice the past is part of your present and it is fascinating to feel the energy of all the people who lived there. At the same time we need to protect, sometime from itself, this city which is unlike any other. We need to make sure that the experience can be passed on. Since the way that audience members experience music and theatre evolved over the centuries the difficulty, when you produce operas today, is to stay within the theatrical frame in which they were written while figuring out how to make them relevant to an audience today so it doesn’t become an old fashioned museum piece. That is not to say that the music is old fashioned, far from it. In fact museums experience the same problematic. You would not present paintings the way they were hanged some centuries ago. For example a couple of years ago the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam went through a fantastic renovation. The paintings are the same but the surrounding, the rooms, the way they are presented on the walls speak to us today. The lighting is different; the contrasts between the artwork and its environment make those ‘masterpieces’ speak to the audience today and keep them alive. This is the difficulty with bringing an opera back to life. We need to take the opera for what it is, but we need to be able to give an angle to the piece that is relevant to people today.
Do you feel you have a bigger connection with the Il bravo since you live in Venice now?
We live overlooking the coupolas of San Marco’s basilica on top of the entire city. We could not be better located to work on this opera. The Ponte della Guerrais is less than one minute by foot from home. In Venice, you also hear classical music everywhere - baroque music playing live on the Campos, singing in the canals...it’s there all the time. So, in this way yes, I have a connection. But opera is an international form of art. I don’t think that Italy ‘owns’ opera or does it better than England, France, Germany or other countries, but what is fantastic about Italy is the fact that opera is still part of the popular culture. It is on TV almost every day. What is very stimulating to see is that some countries where eastern European opera was not known, like Oman and Dubai, have embraced this form of art and that some counties are beginning to create and develop new operas - like in China.
Describe Il bravo in a couple of words.
In a couple of words?... that’s a challenge. Sometimes we do things which we are forced to do. We can despise ourselves for it, but we do it because it is for the best within the situation. The question is how do we deal with it? In short: Never judge a book by its cover, because what we can think a person is, is not always who the person is.
What would you like audiences to take from the performance of Il bravo?
It’s a good question, bravo. What I would like is for them to feel that we have a responsibility to the future. That we should remember our past before we make short term decisions on our present, because those will have consequences on the future. That it is also wise to take time before making a drastic decision.
How does Wexford compare to some of the other opera companies you have worked with in the past?
You know, Wexford was my first professional contract offer as a director! In 2000 the then Artistic Director Luigi Ferrari offered me my first professional contract, though it was not my first professional show, because when I returned to work in Montreal with my contract for Wexford, my boss offered me a show that would open in April of 2000 - before Wexford! But then in October it was Si, j’étais roi, with also a very young tenor who was mostly unknown, called Joseph Calleja. So I have to say, Wexford has been extremely auspicious and not only this, it was the first ever show that I did with André Barbe (designer). It was the start of our collaboration. Wexford Festival Opera started this duo that we are known for, ‘Barbe & Doucet’. David Agler was the conductor of this opera. 18 years ago already… Wexford has always been a place where it has been very stimulating to create and every opera that we produced here is very dear to us.
Do you feel like you get to express your creativity through directing an opera?
I hope I do. It saves me money in psychoanalysis, *laughs*It’s true, because we not only express our creativity, but we express our sensitivity and our feelings in life. You can be all those characters. In the theatre, you have the right to be who you would not necessarily be in real life. This is why it is very important to keep the theatre alive. Because we can show those emotions, then people in the audiences can associate with them; it’s not only entertainment.
Your dog Ulisse goes everywhere with you, so what does Ulisse think of opera?
Since he has been a puppy, he has been raised with opera around him. When I am preparing the scores and we have the music and singers in our home, Ulisse is on my lap listening to it. He just loves it. But what he loves the most is when he sees his opera family again in different places around the world, like my assistants, André’s assistant and the singers. Each time he is super happy because everybody is together again.
How do you feel when an opera is completed? Are you happy or is there a sense of relief or achievement or are you ever not fully satisfied the final work?
For me, it’s like raising a baby and then giving it up for adoption. This child that you’ve created, carried and nurtured, who has been part of your life for some years, who came into life in the best conditions possible has to be given up for adoption. You want to make sure that everything is right for this child and that you give it to the best family possible, but at some point, you have to let go. It is at the same time extremely stimulating to see a kid take off and then develop successfully, but at the same time, it is heart-breaking to leave the kid knowing that there is nothing you can do; that you are not part of its life anymore.
Are you nervous about the upcoming weeks?
The more I do this job, the more I learn. What is important - is to arrive every day to the studio thoroughly prepared, but without any certainty and to work to deliver the highest quality possible.
Il bravo (The Assassin) by Saverio Mercadante 21, 24, 27, 30 October and 2 November 2018. National Opera House, Wexford.
The 67th Wexford Festival Opera runs 19 October - 4 November 2018. For programme information, audio samples and booking information, visit www.wexfordopera.com