Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Tito Capobianco talks about stage directing

Portland State University’s music department has been very fortunate to secure the services of Tito Capobianco for several opera productions, including it current production of Falstaff, because Capobianco is one of the most acclaimed stage directors to have ever worked in opera. From the late 1950s until the end of the 1990s, he staged over 250 productions in Europe, Australia, and America I all of the major opera houses, including 24 productions at Lincoln Center in New York City. He has collaborated with such stars as Pavarotti, Domingo, Nilsson, Sutherland, Sills, Caballe, Milnes, Verret, Horne, Van Dam, Gedda, and Tucker to create some of the finest productions on record.

I recently caught up with Capobianco for a cup of coffee and peppered him with a few questions.

How many Falstaffs have you directed? And when was your first one?

Capobianco: This will be the seventh production. The first one was in 1968 with Ramón Vinay, Regina Resnik, Vinay was a favorite of Toscanini. He was famous for his Falstaff and in the Flying Dutchman.

Did you ever study voice?

Capobianco:Yes, I did. But at the early stage I studied ballet, too. I was very lucky. I was guided in the right direction by some great teachers.

How do you work with professionals like Richard Zeller and students to create a production?

Capobianco: When I came to Juilliard to teach back in the late 60s and early 70s, I mixed professionals with students. Sometimes the conductors were Bernstein, Leinsdorf, Schippers. We brought the master to the students. That was also the way I worked in Bloomington, Indiana where resident artists performed with the students.

This is Richard Zeller’s first Falstaff. He can be totally relaxed and free to learn his role. It’s not like having to do it for the first time at the Met where he works a lot. And for the students, the receive a great benefit to work with him. You have no idea. You will see how they are happy to work with him. He inspires them to come up to his level.

What makes a great stage director?

Capobianco: The greatest thing in my profession is the imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Imagination leads you to everything. I try to find in the student whether or not they have intuition. Many times it’s not there, and sometimes it’s never there. Some singers have the voice, but they don’t have intuition. But Aristotle was the first one to tell us that we can find the truth from within us. You have to press, press, press to find it. If you cannot discover that, then after that I can help you. But I have to see the parameters of your talent first. You have to give me the chance to know you in that process. I used to teach psychology for actors. Opera is a fascinating profession.

When I teach a class for people who want to become stage directors, you have to be able to close your eyes and have a movie of what the singers will do on stage. Same thing for conductors; you can tell who is a real conductor because he can open a score and hear the music without the orchestra. Some conductors have the technique, but not the gift.

Acting in opera is different than for theater because of the projection, the space that is created, and time in the music is different. Even music without text brings a different dimension. Hearing Shakespeare in text only as the theater piece is different than in Verdi’s Falstaff. With Boito’s text and the music, Verdi’s Falstaff becomes more of a farce. Shakespeare’s text is comedy, but the opera moves it towards a farce.

Some people have problems in directing opera, because they let the image overtake the art form, which combines music and the visual. You have to find a balance. The human voice has to be there or else everything is lost.

Teaching is fun because you are making the future. It’s a wonderful thing. I’ve retired from the professional stage.

Where do you teach besides here at Portland State?

Capobianco: I teach at master classes at Indiana University, Northwestern University, Tampa Florida, University of Puerto Rico, Mexico, and sometimes Spain and Italy. I’m a freelancer, and I get to work according to how I feel.

Thanks for putting Portland State on your schedule.

Capobianco: It’s always a pleasure to come here.

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