Ulla's Odyssey - DirectorUpClose
Ulla’s Odyssey is coming to the Belgrade 28 – 30 March and we are so excited to get on board this enchanting, mythical journey. In this blog post, Director Valentina Ceschi – OperaUpClose directing credits: Ulla’s Odyssey (Kings Place), Dido & Aeneas (King’s Head Theatre), Elixir of Love (King’s Head Theatre), Manifest Destiny (King’s Head Theatre), Associate Director La Bohème (Cock Tavern Theatre, Soho Theatre, King’s Head Theatre) – shares her thoughts, experiences and insights.
How did you get into opera?
I stumbled into it a bit. After graduating from the Jaques Lecoq School, in Paris, I set up a company with Thomas Eccleshare with whom I co-wrote directed and performed all the shows. As our work developed we became more and more inspired by European auteur- directors and performance artists. We were at a festival in Italy at the same time as Emma Dante. I was a huge fan of her work and found out that she was directing Carmen at la Scala and did everything in my power to get in and work as her rehearsal assistant there. Growing up I was taken to many (and I mean very many!) musicals and being half Italian opera has always been in my blood. But it was only when I was in Milan, spending my days listening and watching the singers, studying their faces and bodies, their emotions, their processes in the rehearsal room where you are really close, that I truly fell in love.
The production was considered controversial and caused a bit of a stir on opening night. It was exciting to be a part of this, and I realised how opera – especially at an institution such as la Scala – could be shaken up a bit, and that stories needed to be told by fresher, younger voices.
What is your favourite part of the job?
The moment when something shifts and suddenly you see something in the story or the piece that excites you that you’d not noticed before, and together with your MD or the cast you all get goose bumps, it’s like having a vision and you think “ah, yes, that’s why we have to tell this story now! And it all makes sense! “
I also love working with young people, they don’t have any baggage from training, they inspire me and they make me laugh. I would love to work more with young people.
What’s your least favourite part of the job?
I don’t know. Often once the show is up and running you feel left out. The cast, MD, musicians and stage manager still get to hang out every night and do the show, but you’re no longer essential, no longer in the gang. It feels quite lonely then.
What’s the best thing you’ve seen on stage (theatre or opera) in 2015 and why?
I just saw some Kabuki whilst on holiday in Japan and puppet artist Basil Twists’s Dogugaeishi at the Mime Festival in London, both Japanese art forms, both breath-taking. I also love the new programme at the Almeida.
What are your dreams for the future/ what’s next?
Making design-led opera. I don’t know how yet, but I’m working on it.
Tell us a bit about Ulla’s Odyssey?
It is a charming action packed adventure for anyone of any age who has ever felt determined to prove themselves against the odds and who will brave huge waves, winds and sea monsters in order to achieve their dream.
Your strangest / funniest experience whilst working on a production?
Once I was touring a show with my company Dancing Brick and we were on stage up in Stockton, halfway through our show when we suddenly realised we had skipped ahead 3 or four scenes without even noticing! The scenes all took place in real time, so it was easy to feel our way back and we were so tuned to each other we recovered without the audience noticing! The show however was packed full of subtle but complex sound design and lighting cues so when I happened to glance up at the tech box I could see our stage manager pulling her hair out and mouthing all sorts of obscenities! The fact that the audience were none the wiser makes me worry about the structural integrity of the piece.
What do you think is an essential quality in the work you direct?
I’m a stickler for visual clarity and I strive for efficient storytelling. If what I’m seeing – whether it’s slapstick or a romantic scene – doesn’t tell as much if not more of a story than what I’m hearing then it’s not working for me.