Chris Alden returns to Toronto

alden headshotNotes from the interview I recorded yesterday. The final piece containing a slew of other topics comes out in full in the next issue of Xtra! and will be online sooner. Christopher Alden is in town to direct the new La Clemenza at the COC.

On how much ‘out’ different types of opera artists can afford to be:
“There is nothing gayer than being an opera director, let’s face it. Maybe hair dressing comes close… Probably singers do have to be a little bit careful, still. Conductors definitely… conducting is such a patriarchal thing. It’s ridiculous how few women conductors there still are! There almost has to be a man standing before the orchestra. The conductors probably have to play that game and not be too out, or they lose their patriarchal credibility. […] Same thing with black male opera singers. There are not very many black tenors around. Could it be because the tenor is the romantic lead who gets the girl? It’s weird. And not that different from a gay guy trying to make a career as a tenor.”

The most important relationship in this opera is…
“Sesto and Tito – for me it all has to do with the whole older man–younger man liaisons which in the ancient world were very much sanctioned – the relationship between the Ephebe and the Teacher, with a sexual element involved. When the younger man reaches a certain age, that was over and it was time to move on and have relationships with women. The real predicament of Sesto is that he is now coming of age and it’s time for him to move beyond that; not just be the favourite of the emperor – the emperor’s boytoy. Have you seen The Master? There is an older man – younger man relationship in that film that’s very much alike Tito and Sesto.”

On making Tito more plausible…
“Michael Schade plays him as a kind of bi-polar, broken, freaked out kind of a guy; overly attached to Sesto; paranoid,  never sure if people love him for himself or for his power. This Tito is much more than just the benevolent cardboard figure from the libretto.”

An aside in the longer conversation on what a consciously gay or queer stage directing aesthetics can look like…
“I feel like the segment of the opera-going people, gay guys, maybe some of them aren’t that interested in my productions because they’re too “stripped down” or “serious” or “politicised” and that isn’t what maybe some people who go to the opera are looking for in opera.”

Why not just add more queer eroticism on stage…
“Opera digs down into what is desire — that is such a bottom line aspect of so much opera. But it’s tricky portraying sexuality on stage. The danger is of it looking fake, because ultimately the performers are faking it: they’re not really turned on by each other. It’s tricky to find the right balance and keep it believable by not pushing it too far. Sometimes less is more. Subtlety goes a long way. And besides, there’s probably nothing more erotic than the musical intertwining of two voices (eg. Adalgisa and Norma).”

On the importance of a committed relationship…
“It’s a tough thing, travelling all the time… It can be horribly hard to get on that airplane. It doesn’t get any easier as the time goes by. My partner has a full-time job as a staff director at the Met, so he always stays home in NYC, working. He’s the one who gets to stay home and be in our home. It’s a tough thing. At the same time, having a steady relationship for this long, almost 25 years now, it’s great. It gives you such a solid sense of yourself; it’s a really an empowering thing, you take that with you when you go off.”


11 thoughts on “Chris Alden returns to Toronto

  1. Question:

    Why is it that Regietheater’s most vocal and passionate supporters are largely comprised of gays, lesbians and radical feminists?

            1. The general view here is that Julie Taymor’s approach is ideal, because evidently one can say a great deal about preconditioned (read bourgeois) responses to art via liberal use of feathers and things on strings.

  2. Christopher Alden has always kept his own unique style. That is one of reasons I admire his work. He has brought modern vision and contemporary art to opera and I am glad to learn that he returned to Toronto!

    1. Alden’s absolutely right in thinking that Sesto and Tito might have had some kind of sexual relationship. Such relationships were common (more in Greece than Rome perhaps) and certainly don’t preclude the younger man from going on to a sexual relationship and marriage with a woman.

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