Saturday, July 22, 2006


Reflections on the Rehearsal Process

David Schweitzer: Director

The addition of the orchestra added a huge amount of information for me. The first Sitzprobe was the first time that anybody had heard this piece. Stephen (composer) had heard it in his head, and Stewart (conductor) could understand how it sounded from looking at the score, but for everyone else it was brand new. The way Stephen uses the orchestra is so meticulous and so refined. Every phrase is rife with meaning. With a new piece there is always that inevitable frustration that you only have a handful of rehearsals with the orchestra.

I have snuck into every orchestra rehearsal to get as much knowledge about this piece as possible. It allowed me to know when I could take even further advantage of the sounds in the music. I would go back to the rehearsal hall and put new ideas into the staging. While writing the piece, Stephen would tell me what was going on in the orchestra, but that is completely different from actually hearing the music. Being informed by the orchestral sounds over the last week and a half has certainly given me the challenge of utilizing everything that is there. In the end it should look as if we were as comfortable with this piece as we would have been if we did an older one with recordings.

Stephen has done some really audacious things in this piece. There is sparseness to the orchestra that is very striking. The music rises up and creates excitement from time to time, but for so much of the piece he only uses what he needs. The instrumentation is so beautifully exposed in this piece. It is risky at times. The singing is very exposed as well. There is a very subtle, translucent quality to a lot of what he’s done in this piece. It really places the onus on the singers. They have to have a real stage presence. They can’t just stand there and sing in a sort of generic way. I’m so pleased with these performers. Everyone has been so responsive in rehearsals. It has been a wonderful process.

One thing that I tried to do in rehearsals was create a very positive and supportive environment. When working with a brand new piece, it is important to eliminate any feelings of nervousness or tension. It was my job to create a playing field in which the singers could experiment safely. This allowed them to make their own discoveries within the range of what I was interested in doing with the piece. Then at a certain point in the process I became a little more specific with my intentions. This way of working gives you much more interesting textures out of people. Giving them that space is very important. In a situation like this, where everyone is dealing with something new and unknown, I could have been very specific. I could have dictated every action to the singers. This may have created a level of comfort. What I’ve tried to do, instead, is blend that kind of clarity with a good amount of room for experimentation. I staged the whole opera in a few days, which is something I’m known for doing. However, that is like a first draft. After creating that framework people can free themselves up a bit and really explore their characters. By having everything staged so quickly, the singers are given the illusion that we have more time than we really do. This is, perhaps, slightly manipulative, but the role of a director is manipulative to a certain extent. There isn’t enough time to be completely honest. If I shared everything I thought with them we would need many more weeks of rehearsal. I have to constantly search for strategies to create the illusion that we’ve endless amounts of time with the piece. The final product needs to feel as if the singers’ actions are natural and personal. If it feels as if I’ve placed the actions onto them, it can be spotted immediately. It has to be genuine.

photos (from left to right):
1. Caroline Worra (Boule de Suif), Andrew Wentzel (Le Comte de Breville), and Elaine Alvarez (La Comtesse de Breville) in the final dress rehearsal for The Greater Good.
2. David Schweitzer (director) showing Mark Wendland’s (set designer) set renderings during the company intro the day before staging rehearsals began.

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