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First Stage: How to become an opera director

The Royal Opera's Directing Observership gives those at the start of their careers all-important hands-on experience.

By Chris Shipman (Head of Brand Engagement and Social Media)

7 July 2016 at 1.26pm | Comment on this article

With its fusion of live music and dramatic theatre, opera is often hailed as the most emotionally powerful of all art forms. Key in staging such potent art is the role of the director — the lynchpin that drives the action, and presents his or her interpretation of a composer's work.

But how do directors become directors? The Royal Opera House currently offers an Opera Directing Observership - a way into the industry for budding Richard Joneses, Katie Mitchells or David McVicars.

'Before taking on this placement, I had plenty of experience of working in theatre - as both Assistant Director and Director - but none in opera', says Ellie Taylor who has recently completed an observership.

'I was lucky enough to be offered a placement with The Royal Opera's Staff Directing department, and worked on the recent revival of Nabucco starring Plácido Domingo. As well as working on a production featuring one of the world's greatest singers, I had the opportunity to shadow the Revival Director and work closely with other members of staff including the Movement Director. After an initial period of getting used to the opera world's way of working, I had the opportunity to become more actively involved, which was fantastic'.

Although she was an opera newcomer on taking up her placement, Ellie's lack of experience in the art form didn't hold her back:

'I wasn't sure what to expect to be honest, and my excitement was met with an equal amount of nerves that I'd mess up, or wouldn't understand the art form and wind up completely lost. However, this wasn't the case at all — everyone was so helpful and supportive and there was no need to be concerned about not knowing something, because that's the whole point!'

Ellie's experience revealed to her, that rather than being an entirely separate discipline, opera directing draws upon many of her existing skills:

'There's a myth that you can only be a theatre or opera director, and that at some point you have to choose between the two. Obviously different art forms have different inherent conventions, but fundamentally you're still telling a story, with the aim to create the best possible world for the tale to emerge from. As long as you embrace the rehearsal room, and are willing to be challenged, you'll find your way from page to stage'.

As for next steps, Ellie has already lined up her first solo opera directorship:

'I'm directing my first opera in August for Northern Opera Group. I'm really excited to begin applying the skills I gained from my observership in my home region of Yorkshire. After that, I'm returning to London to assistant direct a production of All My Sons at the Rose Theatre in Kingston'.

So what would her advice be to those considering moving into opera directing?

'See as much as you can, talk to those who can tell you about their experiences and ask plenty of questions', she says. 'I didn't actually realize until I came to the Royal Opera House just how many directors, designers and musicians that I already knew had been involved in opera at some point. If you're a newcomer, it's useful to get a sense of the kind of opera you might like and if you go to a performance, it's always useful to speak to audience members about what they liked and didn't about a production. Ultimately, just go for it!'

Applications are now open for our August 2016 Opera Directorship.

By Chris Shipman (Head of Brand Engagement and Social Media)

7 July 2016 at 1.26pm

This article has been categorised Opera and tagged Backstage, careers, directing, job, observership, training

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