Operagasm Exclusive: Interview with Stage Director Eric Einhorn (Part One)
Chatting with stage director Eric Einhorn about his current production of Le nozze di Figaro at Fort Worth Opera and getting to hear some of his fresh thoughts on the role of the Countess was a joyful way to spend an afternoon. I sat in the deserted Peabody cafeteria soaking in the free AC and typing furiously while Mr. Einhorn shared some nourishing opera brain food. Next week, look for the second part of the interview (cuz we talked a lot) where you can read more about his mastermind project, OnSite Opera, a new company “built around the idea that exciting opera can happen outside the walls of a traditional theater.” We also talked about sex because I heard there was a little controversy in his last production and I couldn’t resist getting the deets!
Countess for now, though. I confessed right off the bat to Mr. Einhorn that I’ve never really paid much attention to the Countess until this month… Partly because I don’t know that I’ll ever sing it (I know that’s foolish of me so I promise I won’t do that anymore) but mostly because she bored me with all of her crying. Yes, I politely escorted her to the “supporting role” file in my brain because I thought the person I was supposed to pay attention to was the lady who sang the most and the guy the opera was named after. Thankfully, there are directors out there like Mr. Einhorn who don’t seem to be afraid of showing us what these people are really like. Because those wigs and hoop-skirts all come flying off at the end of the day…especially if it’s a crazy ass day like “Le nozze day.”
MW: This month, we’ve been flat out worshipping the Countess on Operagasm. What has she taught you about Mozart?
EE: The female characters in Mozart have always been the more interesting ones to me. Not that his male characters aren’t complicated and three-dimensional… It’s the female characters, especially looking at it in a historical context, that are so well-developed. To give the female characters so much strength and depth at that point in history, is really astounding! And I think that’s certainly part of the reason why these characters have endured, but I think also because he had an amazing gift for crafting the human experience through a female lens.
MW: Why female? Why do you think he chose to communicate so much through, or connected so much with these female characters in particular?
EE: I tend to think that like many men, myself included, there’s a certain type of personality that always gets along better with women. You know, there are those men you meet that have an easier time talking to women, both in a romantic and platonic sense, and I think these women that he created allowed him an easier in-road to the emotional experience.
You have a character like Figaro who is very much a creature of his day. There are certain expectations, certain behaviors, certain social protocols… I mean, the whole class structure is seen far more clearly through the eyes of Figaro and the Count than they are through the Countess and Susanna. I also think these women were a break for Mozart to really explore the depths of human emotion and the human experience. To an audience of the day you could sort of say, “Well, she’s a woman so she’s getting more emotional and she’s having these deep feelings because she’s a woman,”… So he could somewhat excuse the indulgence in these emotions through the form. I think that gave him full license to really dig in and carve out some incredible people.
MW: So he’s got to be at least 10% Countess, right?
EE: You know, you read things about Mozart that say he acted like a dirty, raunchy child, but at the same time someone who was capable of writing what he wrote…you have to imagine that there was an amazing amount of sensitivity to him that he tapped into and let loose through these characters.
MW: What qualities do you long to see in a Countess? Tell us about your Countess.
EE: What I’ve been put off by from other productions I’ve seen and experiences I’ve had with Figaro is that the Countess is always this kind of removed..detached………statue of a woman. A lot of that, in period productions especially, is dictated by these dresses and these wigs and these poor women who get stuck inside these items. I think singers have a difficult time finding the reality of the woman in that character with all of that around them. So, I was cautious when I approached the period piece in Fort Worth, because part of the exciting nature of the cast was that everybody was young, pretty much at the beginning of their careers…this sort of young, hip, sexy cast. And not to mention talented on top of that.
One thing that I focused on with Jan Cornelius who sang the Countess beautifully in her role debut, was the concept that this woman — this girl — is no older than Jan, is somebody who finds herself in this situation that she never expected, and she has a husband who promised to be faithful to her. You look at the end of Barber of Seville thinking, “This is how happy endings should be.” (Therein lies the amazing part of the Beaumarchais trilogy! It really is like a life cycle of adolescence into adulthood and to the end of life.) What happens between Barber of Seville and Marriage of Figaro is so wonderfully painted through Mozart and Da Ponte. Here is a woman who finds herself in so many situations that are not grandiose situations of an untouchable Countess, but of everyone. She’s in her late 20s or early 30s dealing with a husband who wants nothing to do with her; it speaks to everybody. Everybody has been in a relationship where the euphoria wears off and the work of the relationship kicks in…she finds herself in the midst of that. I didn’t want her to be some sort of dying swan stuck alone in her bedroom.
For me, what is interesting about the Countess is that she is committed to working this out. She’s not going to be that woman who wallows in self-pity for the rest of her life and let her husband just go do what he wants. She’s going to fight and work really hard for it, but will run the gamut of emotions in the process. When you give her a youthfulness, not in the naiive way, but in a way that you present her as a young woman who has had a wake-up call, it’s so interesting. This happens to SO many people. Rosina, the Countess, wakes up one day and says, “How did my life get this way? The last time I looked I was in Seville and extremely happy. And now I’m here. How do I fix this?” She’s always working…trying to figure out how to make it right…and what’s really special about her is that she is willing to forgive time and time again.
I play multiple moments of forgiveness beforethe end of Act IV. There’s reconciliation, there’s moments where you think the opera could end early… All because she’s looking for that closure with the Count. She wants to believe he can change. She knows the kind of man he is and can be. She is so deeply committed to it and that is what makes the deception even harder to bear for her. She believes in him so much but at every turn she has to hear about what he’s done or is trying to do.
MW: How much does Cherubino complicate things and/or potentially reduce the Countess to the level of the Count?
You can run a million ways with it. In the third Beaumarchais play we learn that the Countess and Cherubino have had a child together and life becomes unraveled in the palace. In The Marriage of Figaro, however, I think Cherubino simply offers the Countess the devotion and love and attention that she craves, and once had, with her husband..that she is actively trying to regain with him. Seeing Cherubino, seeing the sort of undying affection he has for her, those moments of any romantic or sexual tension between them are certainly real, but at this point in the story, for the Countess, are partially misplaced or misdirected. Sure, there is some real attraction there I believe — in order to eventually consummate the relationship there definitely has to be something besides misplaced feelings — but as far as The Marriage of Figaro is concerned, in this the Countess is not a predator, nor is Cherubino a predator. It’s all about figuring out what to do with this misdirected romantic and/or sexual energy that they both have for very different reasons.
The way I close off Cherubino’s story has him very much “invested” (I imagine him doing those quotation marks with his hands now that I know what invested means in this context) in the Barbarina relationship. This was cause for some mild controversy in Fort Worth…
(More on that sexy business next week!!!! Make sure you check back in for Part Dos.)
MW: Name a favorite Figaro production or recording, particularly one in which you loved the Countess.
EE: I have always loved the Solti recording with Te Kanawa, Popp, von Stade, Ramey, Allen, Moll, and Langridge. It’s some of the greatest interpreters of their roles in a compelling recording.
MW: Who sings the Countess in your head?
EE: It’s always Te Kanawa…I’ve become biased from so many years of listening to that recording.
MW: What is the cocktail of choice for Countess Almaviva?
EE: Vodka on the rocks.
If you’re in or around Forth Worth, you still have one more chance to see Eric Einhorn’s take on Le nozze di Figaro tomorrow, June 1st. Click here for more information!
Award-winning director Eric Einhorn, has been praised by The Austin Chronicle as “a rising star in the opera world” and by Opera News for his “keen eye for detail and character insight” for which “the result was a seamless, gripping flow.” During the 2011-12 season, Mr. Einhorn makes debuts with Utah Opera for Fidelio, Florentine Opera for Turandot, and Fort Worth Opera for Le nozze di Figaro. A Metropolitan Opera staff stage director since 2005, this season he returns to direct the revival of Hänsel und Gretel. Future engagements include his debut with the Lyric Opera of Chicago for Hänsel und Gretel and the Pacific Symphony for Tosca. Mr. Einhorn is also the founding Artistic Director of On Site Opera, a new opera company devoted to site-specific productions.
Last season, Mr. Einhorn directed a successful remount of Dialogues des Carmélites for Pittsburgh Opera, which The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette named as one of the top ten classical music performances of 2011. Mr. Einhorn originally created the production for Austin Lyric Opera in 2009 and was awarded “Best Opera” at the Austin Critics’ Table Awards in addition to garnering him a nomination for “Best Director.”
Eric Einhorn’s notable recent engagements include a new production of Carmen for the Buck Hill-Skytop Music Festival; Carmen, Don Pasquale and Xerxes for Pittsburgh Opera; Alcina and Così fan tutte for Wolf Trap Opera; Orpheus in the Underworld for Glimmerglass Opera; Janáček’s The Diary of One Who Vanished for Gotham Chamber Opera; Hans Krása’s Brundibár for Michigan Opera Theatre; staged concerts of Hindemith’s Sancta Susanna and Weill’s Royal Palace for the Bard Music Festival; Cosi fan tutte for Florida Grand Opera outreach; Douglas Moore’s Gallantry for New York University; as well as Oedipus the King for Klasikos Theater in Pittsburgh.
Mr. Einhorn recently joined the adjunct music faculty of Ramapo College of New Jersey where he teaches musical theater workshop, as well as created an opera workshop for the Music Department. In addition to his commitment to education at home, he frequently teaches master classes at Universities when traveling. This season he will be a guest at the University of Utah, University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee and Texas Christian University. He is the former resident stage director for Great Music for a Great City at the City University of New York Graduate Center. In addition, he has served as resident stage director for the Music at Hillwood concert series at the Tilles Center of Long Island University.
Mr. Einhorn is past winner of the National Opera Association’s scholarly paper competition and is a frequent contributor of book reviews to the NOA’s Opera Journal. He holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Opera Directing & Voice Performance from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music.