British director Natascha Metherell returns to Cincinnati Opera as our stage director for La Bohème, having been the Assistant Director under Sir Johnathan Miller in our 2010 production of this same opera. Her diverse career has taken here across the world, hitting landmarks like The Royal Opera House, English National Opera, the Glyndebourne Festival, the Opera di Roma, Staatsoper Berlin, and more. Read on to go backstage, hear about the art of directing, and get a sneak peek at Natascha's vision for this production!
Tell me about working with Cincinnati Opera as assistant director on La Bohème in 2010.
It was early on in my opera career, and I had come to Cincinnati as the Assistant Director under Johnathan Miller. I'd prepared for him to take the lead and for me to follow. But he wanted me to lead the revival productions across the globe. I hadn't prepared myself for that, but it was a huge learning experience to direct in so many places. It was then that I discovered the piece. It all made for a fantastic transition from assistant to director.
What is the biggest difference between Jonathan Miller's Bohème and your own?
This must be seventh time I have done this production. After two or three times, Jonathan said to me, “It's interesting to watch this piece now, because it is my show, but it is told from the female perspective.” He said he could see it is a female voice guiding it rather than male voice. The “perspective” is simply because I am a woman. I want what the women characters want, and that makes its way into the direction and performance.
Why does this co-production with English National Opera move the era of the opera's setting the from the 1840s to the 1930s?
The whole thing is based on photographs of Cartier-Bresson, Brassaï, and other photojournalists of the time. So when you look at the chorus in Act 2, they are based on real people. That is why Jonathan updated it to the 1930s. In the 1830s, everything is someone's impression of someone—a poem or a painting. In the 1930s, photography had given us the snapshot. You saw reality. Some of those night photos of Paris—they show real characters; you can almost smell the environment from these pictures. So everyone in the chorus (there are 36 people in it), everyone has a role. It is not just a mass of people. There's a bourgeois husband and his wife treating themselves to dinner on Christmas Eve. There's a sailor in town who ends up at Cafe Momus. There's an academic woman meeting another academic who would never be seen in a cafe like Cafe Momus, but it is where he suggested. There's an old woman who drinks Pernod through the entire Act 2. These character are all based on photographs.
What's been your experience with Cincinnati Opera?
Everyone is young and alive and spirited here. Cincinnati Opera has a fantastic policy of having lots of young interns. In rehearsal right now, I have a bunch of trainees playing the cafe dwellers because I don't have the chorus yet. The joy of a festival company is that they have time and space to nurture younger people. It is not done enough in Europe, dare I say it. It introduces young people to opera, which in turn makes it attractive to young audiences.
In your spare time, what will you do in Cincinnati?
I'm quite looking forward to seeing a baseball game. Part of my family is Canadian, so my uncle emailed me last night to tell me the Blue Jays had won. He told me I probably shouldn't say that loudly on the street here! I want to go on a tour of Music Hall and see what's happening with the restoration. And Findlay Market sounds good!