Ahead of next week’s opening of the English Touring Opera, we posed hot-shot director Blanche McIntyre some quick questions about her unique interpretation of Mozart’s work. Having formed an impressive early career in Theatre to critical acclaim, McIntyre directed Puccini’s Tosca in 2017 for the English Touring Opera and returns this year with The Marriage of Figaro.
What would you say to someone who feels a bit nervous about coming along to see The Marriage of Figaro?
I would say that it’s delightful, funny, full of absurd moments, with a properly serious subject underneath. It’s the perfect introduction to opera. It’s also full of wonderful music and famous arias, and even if you’ve never listened to classical music before it’s incredibly easy to listen to. Plus you don’t really have to know anything – there are loads of myths about opera that you have to turn up with lots of obscure knowledge. You don’t! Everything you need should be there for you on the stage.
With opera, the language barrier can be seen as off-putting. Is that a problem with this production?
Not at all. We are using a fantastic, witty translation into English by Jeremy Sams. We’ve also got surtitles in place so nobody will miss a thing.
The Count is the only white actor in your version of this opera – why did you take this interesting creative approach with the casting?
This is a long answer! Figaro is a farce, but the problem for everyone in the opera is that the Count, who is at the top of the social heap, can get away with anything, no matter what he does. So everyone then has to come up with tricks to get round him. I thought that it is useful to look at how these inequalities play out in modern life – that everyone who isn’t a rich white man has to work ten times as hard – and I thought this was the base of the opera and I should bring it out.
(And though diversity is a key faultline, I think it’s important too to consider gender and class. If Susanna wasn’t a working-class woman she would never have to deal with the Count’s advances in the way she does.)
And then I learned that Mozart’s few possessions at his death included a play by an abolitionist female playwright, and that the 1780s was, because of the American revolution, a decade in which people were debating hard what human rights were and who was entitled to them. So these were the kinds of conversations that surrounded the writing of the opera, and this made it seem extra appropriate that our wonderful cast is also very diverse.
When the opera was first written, it was seen as anti-Monarchy and knocked the Establishment. Has this played a part in your creative approach as well?
Of course! I don’t think it was actually banned – but an aria of Figaro’s denouncing inherited wealth and privilege had to be cut. But it absolutely feeds in to what I was saying above – if inequality between different social levels is the main driver of the opera then it makes sense that the characters at the sharp end of it get angry.
Stephen Fry is a favourite Norfolk actor & writer and you brought his wonderful words to life with the film adaptation of The Hippopotamus. Did you get the chance to work with Stephen?
I never actually got to work with Stephen! I met him at a Q&A after the film was launched and got a bit star struck. He’s just lovely. But I did have the lucky job of working on the adaptation at the very beginning (it went through a few drafts after me) so it was my job to take his words and work out how they would sit best on film. So I did the bit that was closest to his actual writing! And that was a joy. The best bits for me were the speeches we lifted from the novel almost without touching them. His words are just a pleasure to hear out loud.
Blanche McIntyre’s The Marriage of Figaro arrives as part of the English Touring Opera Spring 2018 Programme on Thurs 3 & Fri 4 May.