Der Schauspieldirektor (Sep. 2017)
Adapter / Director / Performer
Der Schauspieldirektor: Important People
Produced by: Student Opera Society at Florida State
Music director: Anna McRay
The Director: Matt Cooksey
Mme. Herz: Stephanie Holladay
Mme. Silberklang: Emilie O'Conner
Mr. Vogelsang: Samuel Mathis
I always wanted to direct a Mozart opera, and Der Schauspieldirektor seemed like one of the easiest projects to get my start. From a bird's eye view, it looks like a very achievable opera to produce, with four singers, a fair number of actors, and four sung numbers.
However, when I started translating the piece before the adaptation process, I learned that the show is fairly complicated if presented in its original form. One of the chief issues in the libretto is Gottlieb Stephanie's period references, which requires an esoteric familiarity with 18th-century Bavarian/Austrian theatre. I originally considered trying to find modern equivalencies, but decided against it so I could have a smaller cast of singing actors only.
My adaptation was completed during the summer of 2017. In general, I tried to remain as faithful to the musical text as possible, and stray as far as I liked during the spoken dialogue. For example, the conflict between Mme. Herz and Silberklang in the original text is primarily about titles and money. I wanted to make those issues symptomatic of a larger problem, and created a backstory for the two characters to make their dilemma more than just payment. Additionally, I elided the roles of Frank and Buff into one character, which I played. Buff, functionally, tells the audience what he thinks won't work, and Frank hurriedly has to figure out a way to respond and put a show together. To me, the two mindsets aren't truly different, but rather a process of troubleshooting, which is how the Director character functioned.
Speaking of troubleshooting, the thing this production will be most remembered for was the late addition of Stephanie Holladay to the cast following the illness of the original Mme. Herz. Holladay was good friends with the music director Anna McRay and luckily had performed the trio before. She learned the aria in two days - amazingly - but I couldn't expect her to perform the part off book. Because of that, I had to rewrite her character to be even more stuck up than she originally was, and perform her music on book in the audition scene. The structure of the piece became snake eats tail as the Director tries to make a show about the process of putting on a show, which allowed Herz to continue using her book during the longer staging scene and arguments.
A recording was intended for this performance, however storage issues resulted in its loss. Still, despite the fun results for the performers and the audience, this process illustrated to me that there was no such thing as an easy show. As I suspected, though, there's always an audience for backstage dramas, and even those pieces have their own entertaining bumps in the dark.