Leading up to our April performance of Handel’s Radamisto, we talked to stage director Christophe Gayral about the production:
Tell us about your start in directing Opera?
I was an actor for 20 years, with a long career on stage. Music always part of my life—I played classical guitar and piano when I was young, and sang in choirs for 10 years. About 15 years ago, I was invited to do my first opera staging in Belgium, and continued to receive many proposals to work with opera singers after that. Eventually, I reached a crossroads where I had to choose performing or directing (it is quite difficult to do both), and I chose to be a stage director. Coming from the theater, what’s important to me in opera directing is dramaturgy, as opera is really “sung theater.” My job as director is to take a story I am given and find a way to make it meaningful and relevant to the audience.
Have you worked with any of the artists in the Radamisto cast before?
Around 15 years ago, I worked with Iestyn Davies and Peter van Praet on a production of Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea in Glyndebourne. Most of the cast is completely new to me—this is also the first time I am working with Richard and several others on the production team.
Have you ever staged an opera in a concert hall?
Never in a proper concert hall. It is quite challenging, but the idea really excited me when first proposed by PBO—especially taking advantage of the technical aspects of Bing Concert Hall in the staging of Radamisto. The big challenge here is to present a show covering the full 360 degrees, rather than a traditional frontal view opera. I’ve developed the staging with the entire audience in mind. I’ve imagined it on paper; now that we are in the concert hall, we are able to adjust
How did you decide on the style/aesthetic of this staging?
The opera will be very minimalist to match the space, which itself is very modern and minimalist. This makes the space, which is complicated in nature, more coherent. When creating a set, you always have to think about the theater itself. In Bing, I am particularly taking advantage of the adjustable risers built into the stage.
I generally prefer minimalism, but it depends on the project. I love using graphic designs on stage, but I don’t like a stage that is cluttered. My goal is to draw the essentials from the story and text, retaining the meaning of each scene (or any meaning you are adding). I’m not keen on using decorations just to mask emptiness. The job of a director is not to fill emptiness, but to make sure every part of the space has meaning.
What is your favorite Handel opera?
Alcina is an excellent opera that I’ve worked on. It has fantasy, spectacle, and drama. Some Handel operas are particularly difficult, such as Giulio Cesare: it is a drama, but also a comedy, and it is hard to not plunge into ridiculous illustrations of historical figures.
The Radamisto libretto is fairly simple–kings, jealousy, power–nothing new. Fortunately, I just did Vivaldi’s Farnace last year, which has a very similar story. When approaching a project like this, you have to deal with any weakness of the story–you have to create a proper story that is credible, convincing, and meaningful. The audience must be able to see themselves in the characters.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about this experience?
I am French, so I am quite far from American culture. It’s not my first time in America (NYC and Chicago twice), but to do this sort of show in a challenging way is very exciting. The process has been quite complicated during this time of COVID-19, and we are so lucky to be ready to present a live orchestra and singers on stage; it is wonderful—a big relief!
I have to say a word about the cast–while we have faced several challenges such as cast changes, the result is wonderful. Everyone synergizes well, and the cast is totally engaged with one another on stage. I am very pleased with all of these fantastic artists, and I think the production will really show off the beautiful concert hall. It is quite unique, and I hope my concept can be used in more concert hall style spaces.