Crystal Manich is our acclaimed director for Armida. She’s new to Pinchgut and very much looking forward to directing our next production.
Read on to discover more about what makes Crystal tick, how she discovered Pinchgut Opera and her approach to the work.
TELL ME A LITTLE ABOUT ARMIDA, WHAT ARE THE THEMES OF THE OPERA? WHAT IDEAS DOES IT TOUCH UPON AND WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO DIRECTING IT?
I have a special connection with the character of Armida, who comes from the epic poem “The Liberation of Jerusalem” by Torquato Tasso. I have directed Handel’s Rinaldo and also Lully’s Armide, both of which stem from that source. Armida is such a fascinating character and it is easy to see why there were so many operas written about her. She’s a strong woman, a sorceress, and ultimately demonstrates human fallibility when it comes to love. I have never directed a Haydn opera and when I listened to it I was immediately drawn into the music. I wrongly assumed that it would be similar to Handel, but to my surprise I found that the structures of the arias and ensembles are not like Handel at all. They are less predictable and therefore very exciting from a dramatic standpoint. I have also been enjoying leading a process outside the usual conventions of designing for a traditional theatre space. The City Recital Hall, from what I understand, is a fantastic hall and having the ability to make it into our own world is a great challenge.
I HAD HEARD IT WOULD BE SET IN THE 1930'S USING ART DECO REFERENCES IS THIS CORRECT? WHAT IS IT ABOUT THAT PERIOD THAT WORKS FOR THIS OPERA?
On the page, Tasso’s poem (published in 1581) is seemingly about the Crusades. It was not to be taken literally, however, because Tasso includes mythical characters like Armida. The poem was written as a reaction to the Turkish invasions of Northern Italy and was Tasso’s way of pleading with the Duke of Ferrara to take action. Knowing this information, I have always been careful to shape my productions based on this story to not be literal. We are using the 1930’s merely as a reference for costume silhouette and structure combined with inspiration from the Byzantine period (a nod to the Crusade era). That allows us to create our own timeless world with its own rules. I argue that human behavior is no different from one era to another, therefore creating our own allows a lot more freedom for making strong dramatic choices especially since there is a theme of magical powers in the opera.
WHAT ARE YOU HOPING THE PINCHGUT AUDIENCE WILL TAKE AWAY AND EXPERIENCE WITH THIS PRODUCTION?
I think that Haydn’s operatic works are under appreciated and that Armida will be an exciting experience. My goal with any production is to create a world in which the character relationships ring true. Sometimes it seems that in opera it’s easy to forget about the importance of the text and my job is to bring it forward in a way that is convincing and steeped in natural human behavior. Truth. Despite Armida being a sorceress, she is drawn in by love and pays a price for it.
YOU'VE WORKED WITH ANTONY WALKER BEFORE, WHERE WAS THIS?
Maestro Walker and I met in 2006 when we both started working at Pittsburgh Opera in the United States. We worked on six shows together when I was an assistant director there, and have subsequently worked on another three shows that I directed. We haven’t had a collaboration in a few years and I’m very much looking forward to working on this piece with him, being that we are both passionate about 18th century repertoire.
TELL ME A LITTLE ABOUT WHAT YOU KNOW OF PINCHGUT OPERA AND HAVE YOU EVER BEEN TO AUSTRALIA BEFORE?
I was in Australia for a short week of work in 2007 and spent most of my time in Brisbane with a one-day trip to Sydney. As we were making our descent in the plane, I had to pinch myself because I never thought that I would ever see your country with all of its iconic landmarks in person...and suddenly there I was. I am really looking forward to spending a month in Sydney and going to as many cultural events as I can! Pinchgut is known for its interesting production approaches coupled with great music-making, which is one of the reasons why I want to work there. It’s rare to find an opera company that is dedicated to rare works and encouraging an outside-the-box approach to production.