Michael Kahn, artistic director of Washington, D.C.’s Shakespeare Theatre Company, is back in Dallas to direct some opera. The opera in question is based on a play with which he has great familiarly―Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, in a highly romantic version by French composer Charles Gounod. I caught up with him by phone to ask some questions.
TheaterJones: This play is a specialty of yours, correct?
Michael Kahn: Well, it is certainly one I have directed many times before. It was my first assignment when I took over in Washington.
TJ: How is Gounod’s opera different to direct than the play?
MK: Opera is just plain different no matter how faithful it is to the original text. In this case, I tried to bring back into the opera some elements of the play that Gounod and his librettists omitted.
TJ: Such as?
MK: I added back in Lady Capulet, Juliet’s mother, in a non-singing role. I also expanded the stage presence of Juliet’s nurse. There are some other details here and there.
TJ: One problem that opera always brings is casting. It’s hard to find singers that look like teen-aged lovers.
MK: While it is true, when directing an opera, that you never know about the cast until you actually arrive. Dallas Opera always does a good job in this regard. The cast is just excellent and they all look appropriate for the roles. In fact, I would use then in a production of the play; and I certainly would want the same energy that they are bringing to the production. Lyubov Petrova is just lovely as Juliet and Charles Castronovo is just as wonderful as her Romeo. You’ll believe them.
TJ: This is such a well-known play, how is the opera different?
MK: Gounod combines some scenes and shortens others. But he brings all of the passion that Shakespeare gave his characters to the music.
TJ: Are there places where the music gets in the way of the action?
MK: Almost none. In opera, there are always a couple of places where the composer has furnished more music than you might wish. The challenge, in that case, is to fill it so that it sounds absolutely necessary. Besides, Maestro [Marco] Zambelli made all of the standard cuts and that tightens up the score.
TJ: What about the final duet? Isn’t it part of the tragedy that the two just miss each other and are denied a final goodbye?
MK: It’s true that Gounod allows them a final moment and Shakespeare doesn’t. But this is an opera, alter all. No one dies in an opera without a final duet (laughs). The audience demands it (laughs again). But seriously, it is really a small concession to the art form and the music is gorgeous.
TJ: Any other changes?
MK: I stage the prologue as a flashback and I think that it works quite nicely to set everything up.
TJ: How about our new opera house?
MKJ: Absolutely ravishing. I love working here. Dallas has a real jewel.
TJ: Hopefully, it will draw you back here for another opera sometime soon.
MK: I am really enjoying this production. After all, what could be more romantic for Valentine’s Day then this play about true love?