8 November 2016 at 11.10am | 1 Comment
‘I want people to think I’ve come out of the shell fully-formed – like a velociraptor in Jurassic Park. I want to come out biting’, says the director Gerard Jones of his new production of Oreste, a new staging starring Jones’s fellow Jette Parker Young Artists at Wilton’s Music Hall in East London. It’s safe to say that Jones is not your average opera director.
Aged 32, the director already has a long association with The Royal Opera, assisting the directors of Orphée et Eurydice, Eugene Onegin, Boris Godunov and 4.48 Psychosis to name a few. But his love for the art form hails back to when he first saw an opera aged five years old:
‘My mum is a big David Bowie fan, so my brother and I became obsessed with the circus. We loved the big lights and colourful costumes, so we’d go to a lot of shows. Then she thought, what’s next? What’s bigger than the circus? The opera!’
Jones became obsessed. He buried his head in the music, delighting in discovering everything from Wagner to ‘reams of obscure Mozart operas’ in his teens:
‘It’s quite fun when you’re young because there’s so much you don’t know about opera – it’s the wildest colouring-in book for a kid’, he beams. ‘Opera is Game of Thrones from 200 years ago.’
The moment that changed him, however, was a chance meeting with the highly respected director Richard Jones, when the young opera fan was working as an usher at Covent Garden during his time at university.
‘I was in my uniform backstage one day and he pointed at my name badge and said, “Hey, we have the same name!”’
Jones, whose given name is Richard Gerard Jones but goes professionally by Gerard Jones, wrote to his namesake for some career advice. In reply, the aspiring director was invited to observe production rehearsals in 2006 and by 2008 was assisting Richard Jones and other creatives on productions including Anna Nicole. The younger Jones credits his namesake for honing his technical tool kit, teaching him how to run a rehearsal room and how to to give the best notes possible his cast.
Fast forward to 2016 and Gerard Jones’s second year as the Stage Director in the Jette Parker Young Artists Programme, and the director feels well placed to bring Handel’s masterful Oreste to the stage. His darkly comic production draws on the work’s inherent violence and humour:
‘It’s a fine line to articulate’, says the director. ‘But when it’s done well, it’s thrilling.’
‘I wanted to create immediate references, so you know where you are’, he says. ‘The baddie is a young Robert Mugabe, a nutcase dictator. Then there’s a young couple who feel very much like Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain. It’s very grunge.’
Jones’s production sees the director set the opera against the backdrop of the current refugee crisis. From the off, he had a clear vision of what he wanted Oreste to look like and didn’t want an ornate or complex design:
‘Scenery is the enemy for directors. I think that what you see on the stage is sometimes part of the reason why theatre is so intimidating for some.’
Jones suggests that the reason young people often don’t engage in theatre is because there’s a disconnect with how and where works are staged, with directors on occasion attempting to force relevance on a piece:
‘The thing itself is good enough’, he says of the great works. ‘You just have to shine it up. You have to make it fantastic – you have to make the text of Richard II so clear that it makes the audience think “Wow, this can’t be 400 years old. It’s amazing!”’
It’s a confidence that stands him in good stead as The Royal Opera stages its first Handel opera in six years:
‘I think it’s good to have someone give me this big difficult show like Oreste. I’ll make it looks fresh and tonally different’, he insists. ‘But it’s not going to intimidate you.’
Oreste runs 8–19 November at Wilton's Music Hall. Tickets have now sold out but returns may become available.