Graham Vick, fascinating history of musical theater | Culture

Graham Vick, in Madrid, in 2014.
Graham Vick, in Madrid, in 2014.Carlos Rosillo

“The relationship between performance and audience is art … A work of art has no meaning until it is perceived and responded to, and its quality and value reside solely in that response.”

In these few but effective words, Graham Vick (who died on Saturday, July 17 in London at the age of 67) knew how to collect the essential features of his more than forty years of experience, which saw him as the absolute protagonist in the most important theaters. important directors in the world with the most qualified conductors: from Seiji Ozawa to James Levine, from Lorin Maazel to Zubin Mehta, from Gennady Rozhdéstvensky to Riccardo Muti, from Daniele Gatti to Antonio Pappano, from Bernard Haitink to Valery Guérgiev, and with the greatest composers contemporaries, from Luciano Berio to Giorgio Battistelli, from Georg Friedrich Haas to Jonathan Dove.

But the stage direction of an opera, which at the end of the 1920s laid the theoretical foundations for its development precisely in German-speaking countries, is not and cannot be considered a work, however elegant and refined it may be. , of simple scenographic invention, or creativity in the costumes.

On the contrary, directing is something else. And if prose theater has developed a series of theoretical reflections and concrete experiences on the protocols of its modus operandi (from Stanislavski or from Antoine to the more recent current), this has not always happened to the opera which, still today in most cases, seems to live as in the rehearsals of the dplayful ramma of Donizetti, The theatrical conveniences and inconveniences, although updated.

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If we think of Walter Felsenstein’s method of work in his Weird opera about some more or less famous texts, with certainly not famous singers (Carmen, 1949; Magic Flute, 1954; Traviata, 1955; The cunning little fox, 1956; The tales of Hoffmann, 1958; Othello, 1959), we are faced with a real stage directing task. Work that undoubtedly began with a long period of rehearsals and where certainly its singers were not the record stars who fly from one theater to another in a too carefree way. Only when stage directors ask theater directors for long rehearsal periods with singers, only in this case do I think we can speak of true Regietheater.

Only serious rehearsal times guarantee the possibility of freeing the show from those stereotypes of lyrical performance which, as Heinrich Ströbel pointed out in the late 1920s, meant that the term Operatic (operatic), was synonymous with dusty, rough, repetitive, old. Exactly the opposite of that great emotional force that Monteverdi attributed to representative style.

I am deeply convinced that Graham Vick (born 1953 in Birkenhead, UK), along with some great colleagues, has been instrumental in defining clear protocols on the meaning and importance of stage directing work in the field. of opera for the past fifty years.

Deep knowledge of the musical score and deep knowledge of singing, critical awareness of the problems of our contemporaneity and awareness of the historical distance that separates us from the operatic texts of the past, capacity for dialogue between modernity and the system of genre conventions, sensitive perception of the internal dramaturgy of music, teamwork with musical directors, set designers, costume designers, lighting designers, choreographers, adequate rehearsal times and sharing the choice of singers / performers are just some of the aspects of the work Seriously, they have always accompanied Vick in the preparation of his shows. Be it the inauguration of the renovated Royal Opera House or the season opening of the Alla Scala theater in Milan, or a simple replacement at the Opera Palace in A Coruña.

Graham Vick was, in his reconnection with the great tradition of the Regientheater, one of the most interesting figures on the contemporary theater scene, a director who with his readings knew how to make us reflect, move, move us, as Claudio Monteverdi wrote, and knew how to do it precisely in his ability to combine a sensitive wisdom of music with a deep knowledge of job of the theater in the fullest sense of the word, even happily daring to betray to the presumed originality of the work, choosing to be brilliantly unfaithful to the operatic text, in the awareness that such fidelity does not exist, it is just a meaningless word that hides only disinterest, if not more hostility, towards music.

The rediscovery of a fundamental text

When I invited him to the Zarzuela in Madrid, to conduct the complete version of a Ruperto Chapí score, Curro Vargas, Graham carefully studied this magnificent 1898 score (the important literary text of Joaquín Dicenta and Manuel Paso), recovered and saw the silent film by José Buchs of 1923 and only after a few weeks of work did he accept the commission he made in the 2014. It was a very important moment, because thanks to Graham, we rediscovered the value of the fundamental theatrical text by Chapí y Dicenta, a central work in the history not only of Spanish theater, but also of Europe. Ruperto Chapí, who after Madrid had also studied in Milan and Paris, undoubtedly had to know the song and piano edition of Boris Godunov of Mussorgsky of which there is a clear echo in the extraordinary choral pages of Curro Vargas, that Vick, along with Ron Howell, choreographer, collaborator and life partner, achieved it in an absolutely extraordinary theatrical way.

Without Graham, we all run the risk of aging a little, even a little more, because without him, without his brilliant theatrical proposals, without his civic commitment, we lack that inexhaustible and curious passion for musical theater and for the life that has not. never abandoned in the course of his entire career.

Paolo Pinamonti, former director of the Teatro de la Zarzuela, Madrid – Università di Ca ‘Foscari Venice.

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