Opera director Christine Crouse

Opera director Christine Crouse

Cape Town Opera’s Artistic Director, Christine Crouse spoke to ClassicSA about some of the company’s successes and her involvement in the Hans Gabor Belvedere Singing Competition.

It’s been a while since you spoke to ClassicSA and many exciting things have been happening for Cape Town Opera (CTO). First of all, CTO made an indelible impression with your production of Porgy and Bess on their UK tour last year.  How did you experience this?

CC: It was an UNBELIEVABLE experience…it was one of the highlights of my career and I will probably never ever forget it. It was fantastic to experience the ebullience of our cast, the response of the audience and the wonderful camaderie amongst cast crew and tech staff in all the houses that we visited…they were all a bit wary at first but ended up singing and dancing backstage at the end of each run. It was magic. I was so grateful that my husband Réne and my children, Rénier and Irena, could travel to London to experience our debut at the London Coliseum in the famous West End.
I could also meet up with some very dear expats, who worked with me when I was still a stage manager at CAPAB, who now reside in London…it was very special!!

You were chosen as a jury member for the Hans Gabor Belvedere Singing Competition which took place in Amsterdam this year. Please tell us more about this.

CC: I had worked for some years as a South African Jury Member in Cape Town and then received the invitation to become an International Jury Member. It was unexpected and a wonderful surprise and I felt deeply honoured.

At Cape Town Opera we worked very hard with our fundraising team to raise funds to get the three South African finalists who had qualified for the competition from Cape Town to Holland. There were six South Africans in Amsterdam who took part in the competition, of whom three were in the finals.

The South African singers caused a stir in Amsterdam and I was very proud of our singers. I met wonderful colleagues and was inspired by the experience. We worked very hard listening to about 150 singers, but did have some time to visit the magnificent Rijksmuseum. I have been invited to be a Jury member again next year in Düsseldorf.

South African singers have fared very well at this particular competition over the past few years, claiming some of the top prizes. Which qualities do you think our singers have, that singers of other nationalities do not posses?

CC: Without a doubt there is first off a unique sound which has warmth, colour and emotion. Our singers are also perceived to be interesting and find it easy to express themselves, which often breaks the stereotype of the typical opera-singer.

You will be revisiting your acclaimed production of Madama Butterfly, first staged in 2009, in September. How do you tackle a restaging?

CC: I always do all my reading all over again….I always need to remind myself of what the important things are. I always search to improve the production, but have often learnt the hard way that you don’t tamper with a winning recipe. We nowadays have very good records of productions and have DVD footage and SM scores to remind us of what we did. I also had the pleasure of working with Jacki Job, our movement director, who lived in Japan for nine years and has added a lovely new dimension to the production

Tell us more about the cast for this production.

CC: I am very excited. In the title role we have a Russian singer from Moscow, Tatiana Monogavora. She is probably one of the most consummate artists that I have worked with. She trained to be a ballet dancer so she is as light as a feather on her feet and does the most exquisite heart-wrenching portrayal of this tragic heroine. The rest of the cast are all local, with Tshepo Moagi singing Pinkerton and Mandisinde Mbuyazwe singing Sharpless. Both singers are making their role debuts. And then off course our marvellous company soloist Violina Anguelov will be heard in the role of Suzuki.

In an era of gimmick-driven staging, this production was hailed for its simplicity and beauty. As a director have you been feeling any pressure to incorporate more technology into your staging?

CC: For this production no, but there has been a tendency to incorporate technology into opera productions and I believe that there is a place for that when needed. I however don’t have a penchant to do that.

South African opera singers often get the opportunity to sing “mature” roles at a very early stage in their careers.  What is your take on this?

CC: Hmm… there is a negative and a positive side to it. Our young singers get amazing opportunities in this country and I think we are fairly wise when we cast them in big roles. We will never cast somebody who we believe can’t step up to the plate.

Cape Town Opera does a tremendous amount of outreach work, educational projects and invest in local young talent (singers/composers/designers/directors), providing subtitles at performances, etc. Have you noticed that the face of the audiences have changed due to this?

CC: Yes, but very slowly. We still struggle because of the long distances some of our audience members have to travel to get to the theatre.

Recently the BBC journalist Sarah Montague labelled opera on television as “elitist” and for “rich people” in an interview with Thomas Hampson. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A8Nyc833IqA) Why do you think that people still perceive opera this way, despite the fact that opera companies all over the world are reaching out to audiences in so many ways, e.g. with live screenings, Youtube screenings, etc.?

There are two sides to that coin. At Covent Garden for instance there is a huge amount of their operagoers who are under 44, so the younger audiences are definitely growing all over the world. I believe it is non-exposure to the art form that gives it the “perception” that it is elitist. This is why we do such a lot of outreach work here at Cape Town Opera.

Nowadays everyone is glued to their electronic devices for entertainment. It has become much harder to fill theatres and concert halls. Can opera survive the 21st century?

CC: Yes I believe we can, not without struggle though. Opera all over the world has become a platform where many practitioners themselves are harming the industry due to the immense egos often floating around. As long as there are enough people who are involved and looking to serve the industry in the correct way, and believe me there are, I am positive it will survive.

Cape Town Opera’s production of Madama Butterfly, directed by Christine Crouse, will run at Artscape from 19-27 September 2013.

Interview by Christien Coetzee Klingler
Published 16.09.2013


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