Lucia di Lammermoor, Victorian Opera’s third main production of 2016, has been playing for the last week at Her Majesty’s Theatre. Closing tonight, the production boasts a star soprano in Jessica Pratt, a woman who has played the leading role of Lucia 20 times around the world and now returns home to present the character to a home audience, and Cameron Menzies, a director staging the production for a second time in as many years.
I was recently offered the opportunity to speak to Menzies about the opera, and his reasons for returning to the story of the mad bride so quickly after first directing a touring production of the show for U.K. company DivaOpera in 2015.
“I think that each time you get the chance to revisit a work that you have previously directed it is a luxury. I have had the chance to […] tailor differently the themes and the characters to the cast that I am working with on this production, as I did with my previous cast in the U.K. […] As an artist I always try to find what is new in a piece that I may not have previously seen, and being able to direct two productions of Lucia within a year with two both exceptional but different casts has definitely allowed me to find two very different productions of Lucia di Lammermoor.”
“Lucia is such a deeply layered work with such beautifully flawed rich characters that are a complete gift to direct. I am drawn back every time to the strength of the title role. In this version of the production both Jessica Pratt and I see her as a very wilful, imaginative, vibrant young woman whose own sense of self-worth and commitment see her own undoing and she eventually loses her grasp on reality. This strong narrative along with some of the finest music ever composed makes Lucia, in my opinion, one of the finest works in the bel canto repertoire.”
Speaking to him about the vision of the director and how this changes when contracted by a different company and working with a new creative team and cast, Menzies tells me that varying the formula of a production even slightly finishes for him in a completely different end result.
“The different casts that I have directed bring different talents and different ideas to the roles and I find that the final product the audience sees is always a mixture of my idea and the artist’s idea, and in turn it becomes stronger. So each production is always rooted in my own private vision but is fleshed out with choices from both myself and the artists I am collaborating with at the time.”
“Each artist brings themselves into [the role they play], and this unique combination of individual artists in a cast allows me to mould the characters using both threads of what I find in the music and the libretto with what the artist offers on the rehearsal room floor. This allows me to find very individual ways for the actors to bring to life the characters within a piece.”
“The two productions [I have directed] are completely different, as they were intended for very different purposes for both companies. Britain’s foremost touring company, DivaOpera, tour around the United Kingdom and throughout Europe for the best part of a year, and they predominantly perform in the round. […] I also set my Lucia for DivaOpera in the late Victorian period. My current Lucia for Victorian Opera is designed and directed for a traditional proscenium arch theatre, specifically for Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne. While the Lammermoor Castle is from much earlier times as it has been in the family clan for many years, the costumes for this period are set around modern interpretation of the mid-1600s.”
Although Menzies acknowledges the influence of other people on his directorial style, he also mentions that his work on Lucia has so far been grounded in the psychology of the characters and their relationships with one another.
“The directorial aesthetic I generally like to work with (irrelevant of stage design) is one with clarity of meaning and clearly defined moments and situations where relationships are established and explored. I guess a personal directorial aesthetic of mine is that I must have characters impinging on each other to provoke real change as performers, and [this] in turn has a direct effect on the audience. As a production, I have endeavoured to create complexity in each moment while working with enough ambiguity as not to spoon feed the audience, but to maintain a mystery and clarity.”
“The similarities around both productions [I have directed] are I guess more to do with how I see the piece no matter where it is set. I see all the characters as having a very strong psychology written through them with elements that we can instantly relate to and like, and then elements that we may find much less attractive… They are all very complex characters and the music and the libretto lead me to wanting to craft highly three dimensional renderings for the audience to witness.”
In the midst of the closure of his second production of Lucia di Lammermoor, Menzies already has plans to return to the material for a third time. Remaining tight-lipped about the details of these plans, it may be a good idea for audiences to rush to the final Victorian performance this evening rather than rely on the plans of a director who is already fully engaged in mounting both national and international productions for the remainder of 2016.
“There are actually talks in place for me to direct another version of Lucia on my horizons already in the coming few years. So fingers crossed and all going well, Lucia and I may cross paths again sooner that I had imagined. It really is a gift of an opera to direct so I am more than happy to direct this masterpiece again and again.”
Tickets for Victorian Opera’s production of Lucia di Lammermoor can be purchased at this link.