A film director turns to opera

The acclaimed film director Zaida Bergroth tells of her debut as a stage director:

In May 2014 I got an unexpected phone call from Lilli Paasikivi, Artistic Director of the Finnish National Opera, asking me how my diary looked for early 2015 and whether I would be interested in stage-directing Toshio Hosokawa’s opera The Raven at Musica nova Helsinki. After some initial hesitation, I agreed to do it. I’ve directed short and feature films, but never opera, or even anything for the theatre stage. Nor do I know how to read a score. So this project thrust me straight out of my comfort zone, and it felt good.

I watched and listened to a recording of Toshio Hosokawa’s The Raven that had been staged in Luxembourg, read Edgar Allan Poe’s poem and tried to immerse myself in its world. The Luxembourg production was fine, and Hosokawa’s music emotional, wild and stirring, but for my own direction, I knew I would have to find a new approach to the text, a perspective of my own. I read various interpretations of the poem, but something in them didn’t click, didn’t inspire me.

Then at the end of August I got it. The key to everything was, for me, the narrator in the poem, the reason why he wants to tell this story. Could it be that the “I”, the teller of the story, almost masochistically wants to go through a story that resulted in the old “me” losing hope, his naive belief that grief can be overcome, pain endured. If this is so, the poem is a fantastic description of a figure embracing his grief and looking on the dark side of life who wants to punish his old optimistic self again and again. The music and interpretation of Hosokawa seemed to meet at last.

With this as our guideline we set to work – Ville Seppänen, our fine costume designer Deepa Panchamia and myself. In December I’m at last going to meet mezzo-soprano Virpi Räisänen, on whose magnificent shoulders my planned direction mainly rests, and in January the rehearsals will begin with the conductor, Diego Masson. So everything is at an interesting stage, but just how my angle on The Raven lends itself to and comes across in the opera is still a thrilling mystery. Exciting to say the least!

The Raven is performed on 10. & 13.2.