E. Loren Meeker’s Directorial Debut in Singapore
By Samantha Pereira
Heralded as one of the greatest love stories of all time, Manon Lescaut has taken on new directorial blood for Singapore’s premiere by bringing onboard, E. Loren Meeker, a critically-acclaimed director and the recipient of the 2006 John Moriarty Award. In this interview, she shares her hopes and aspirations for the play as well as her views about the different routes Manon Lescaut has treaded on.
You’ve directed Massenet’s version of Manon Lescaut, how is it different from Puccini’s version?
While the source material for both operas is the same (Abbé Prévost’s novel), the two composers come from wildly different musical spheres. Each composer interprets the novel in his own way, they both create characters that suit their version of the story, and the settings are different in each opera. And then there’s the music. I think the following quote by Puccini clearly states his approach versus Massenet’s: “Massenet feels the story as a Frenchman, with the powder and the minuets. I shall feel it as an Italian, with desperate passion.”
Did you try to remake Puccini’s interpretation or have you infused your own ‘eyes’ into this opera?
Studying the score allows me to find the road map that Puccini created though his music and text, but it’s impossible not to colour the information with my own choices. Opera, music, and text are living, breathing arts that are meant to be interpreted by the artists working on a production. It is impossible for me to separate my own life experience from my interpretation of the characters, so I guess the answer to this question is yes. I try to discover what Puccini was passionate about and I infuse my own perspective as an artist in the production.
Everyone who sees this opera will interpret it differently, what do you think is the message this tragic opera is trying to convey?
Besides being one of the greatest love stories of all time, I think this tragic tale begs the audience to define what makes you happy and asks you to be careful with the choices you make in order to achieve happiness. Manon is a femme fatale who is desperate for passionate love and for monetary wealth and who leaps quickly from one man to the next in order to sustain her desires. I know I face similar questions in my own life – Do I choose love, or a career, or family, or money? Do I need to make sacrifices in order to be happy? Manon’s story is a cautionary tale about the dangers of trying to obtain too much at the expense of the people around you.
This is your first Singapore directorial debut, how has it been working with the Singapore Lyric Opera?
Singapore Lyric Opera is a wonderfully friendly company full of people who are committed to doing the best work possible. It is such a pleasure to walk into rehearsal knowing that the group you are working with is all dedicated to making the show come to life.
From a directorial point of view, what would you say are some challenges in directing Manon Lescaut? How did you overcome it?
Manon Lescaut is a beautiful, but flawed opera. Puccini worked with five different librettists and was also trying to put his own stamp on the story in order to separate his opera from the wild success of Massenet’s Manon. Finding a through line with some of the characters, and understanding their motivations, can be a bit tricky since lots of action happens offstage or in between scenes. But, I find this challenge to be exciting. It allows the cast and myself to have some wonderful conversations about who these people are and how we can best portray them on the stage.
What kind of response are you expecting from the audience?
As with every good theatre piece, I hope that the experience encourages them to think about life from a new perspective. I hope it sparks an internal dialogue. I hope they come to the opera ready to see the story from a fresh, new perspective.
Once this opera is over, what is the next production you will be working on?
I will be directing a new work for Houston Grand Opera (HGO) called From My Mother’s Mother. It has been commissioned by the HGO company for part of their East + West series and is designed to share a story that is relevant to the Korean American community in Houston, Texas.
If you were given a free chance card, which opera would you really love to direct?
There are many operas that are fighting to be at the top of my list right now, but currently in the lead are: Don Giovanni, The Rape of Lucretia, and Rake’s Progress.
To catch this tragically beautiful love story about the age-old conundrum of love vs. money, get your tickets from SISTIC and head down to the Esplanade Theatre, from 31 August 2012 – 4 September 2012.