An interview with Thomas Guthrie, director of Adriano in Siria

We talked to Adriano in Siria director Thomas Guthrie about the production, the music, and his love of Monty Python:

What’s the music like?
It’s beautiful. And challenging – dramatic and interesting, unexpected.

What sort of production can we expect?
Productions are collaborations, and there is a huge amount of love, time, creativity, personality, and yes, collaboration in them. Like baking a cake with a big team of people – and however truly wonderful the recipe is, it can still come out overbaked, dry, flat. A certain amount of luck, as well as skill and dedication, is involved. The recipe for this production is first rate. It is unusual, daring, and potentially delicious. You can expect an honest bake. One that has been worked through deeply and conscientiously to understand and love the music and the characters. One that seeks to present the piece in its best light – that doesn’t dodge the questions, that has logic and humanity. One that seeks to charm with its wit and beauty, that respects discipline and craft, as well, I hope, as encouraging spontaneity. Let’s see how she bakes!

What’s the cast like?
This is a young cast every one of whom can have a big career. They are learning together and not ducking a single challenge. And they all have beautiful voices.

What’s your approach to the piece?
Our approach is to start, as the composer did, with the text. Then to understand what J C B has done with it, then to ask with the conductor, the designer, the whole team, how we can best present it, practically, within all the constraints we have – I don’t just mean budget and cast, though those come into it, or even it should be said, one’s own limitations, but also the expectations of a modern audience, of our particular audience, in as far as we know it, of (and I make no apology for the grandiosity of the idea) the state of the world. We want – with all humility, and with every show – to achieve something that is truly operatic. In other words, that is truly human, that reflects the real power of this most human of art forms. So we shouldn’t apologise for needing to think pretty big.

What aims, values, etc. are most important to you in presenting and staging opera?
Craft, beauty, humanity, wit, charm, challenge, a searing quality of raw and terrifying emotion. Courageous humanity. And beauty.

How would you define the role of the director?
I love the director’s job because it is so wide reaching and can change from moment to moment. But that means defining it is hard. Of course you should be creative, visionary even, in terms of imagining, visualising, composing moving images, together with your artists – that tell a story clearly and imaginatively, and inspires an imaginative connection in others. But you are also just part of a big team, one that needs leadership but also independence, and that requires flexibility and lack of ego in all its members. The needs of the show and the company – eventually the audience – come first. And they can change from moment to moment. You should be an enabler – that might be the best way to put it – and a team player.

What’s it like working with Classical Opera?
It’s refreshing and reinforcing at the same time. It is a company that has real values, values that I share very deeply and that I try to fulfil, more or less successfully. So I know they are real supporters and enablers, and I respect that with every fibre of my being! Which is lucky, and a privilege.

How’s the rehearsal process been so far?
There’s not a day goes by that I haven’t felt we’ve all learnt a huge amount – and that’s all you want, or possibly, can have, I suppose. It’s exciting to be a part of.

How did you meet our Artistic Director Ian Page?
Ian and I met at ROH, when he came to conduct Thomas Arne’s Artaxerxes in a wonderful production in the Linbury. I was assisting on the production and Ian and I immediately hit it off, having long conversations about everything from theatre and music to sport and cinema. And a lot of Monty Python.

Why revive Adriano?
Because like any good opera it has something to say to us as humans. Who doesn’t want to know what a fabulous bottle of wine discovered at the bottom of the sea tastes like? Actually, maybe that doesn’t work as an analogy, but hopefully you understand!â

What do you most enjoy about your job?
Being creative, working with people and with music and with theatre. The challenges, overcoming them, and the laughs on the way. It’s a great job.

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