Interview with Artistic Director, Adam Spreadbury-Maher
on the background to his production of Tosca
Adam, King’s Head Theatre has become synonymous with Opera. Large swathes of the work shown has that extravagance, power, and intensity, that we see in Opera. I was wondering where does your love of the art form come from?
My love of opera comes from seeing opera as a child in Australia, being in choirs at school and then choosing to study at a conservatoire in Cambria as an operatic tenor. That’s what my undergraduate degree is in and I went on to work professionally as an opera singer. After I’d decided to move into directing, had come to London and established the Cock Tavern Theatre, I decided to produce my first opera, La Boheme by Puccini. I’ve always found Puccini’s music so beautiful; he was very much the Andrew Lloyd Webber of his day. He knew how to speak to an audience, he knew how to tell a story and he unifies drama and music in a way that I just find so exciting and attractive. The domestic nature of it enthralls me; he writes gritty, in-yer-face, kitchen sink style operas.
Once again, we hear that phrase ‘radical reimagining’, this time describing your brand-new version of Tosca. Why is this so important to you?
It’s really important to me that I’m able to find a way in for the audience when they see an opera. When looking at Tosca, I realized that the political tensions of the original fit really well with what was going on during World War Two. It’s an era we all know about; we all learn about at school, are exposed to through films and books and many of our parents and grandparents lived through. We therefore still have a rather immediate connection with it. Whilst Tosca has been set in World War Two before, it’s never been set in Paris, which such an inherently classy city with such potential from a design perspective. The costumes and set have been hugely influenced by specific photos and locations from the period. There are also some fantastic historical figures referenced in our new version; archetypes which show just how enduring opera is and how enduring stories of corruption and power are.
Your trailer shows a very sophisticated and elegant Tosca, painting a stocking seam on her leg. How does this represent the stylistic choices for the opera?
Well, I think the drawing of the stocking line is an iconic idea; it conveys a lot about that particular period of history as well as about Tosca and our production. She’s an opera diva who would have had a very different life before the war and is finding ways to carry on being an artist and creating art that is of benefit to society. She has to maintain the image, if you like, of being an opera diva but in very, very difficult circumstances, where the resources are not available.
The libretto has been adapted to English by Becca Marriott and yourself. What’s your answer to those stick in the muds who think that’s sacrilege?
What’s interesting is that composers like Puccini and Verdi and Bizet insisted on their material being translated into local languages wherever they were performed. They often oversaw these translations themselves because it was important to them that there weren’t any barriers between their work and their audiences. We’re simply staying true to the spirit of that so that these wonderful stories can be enjoyed by everyone.
You’re one of the pioneers of bringing Opera to intimate spaces and getting audiences involved. How are you turning that to your advantage in this production?
It’s very flattering to be thought of as a pioneer. We use intimacy to our advantage in lots of ways; this piece is staged in thrust which means we have audiences on three sides of performance space so that no one is more than three metres away from singers at any time. We also don’t ask people to leave during the interval so that they can stay and watch how the theatre works and how the piece is put together. This time around, we’re working with a movement director to make the piece as naturalistic and as precise as possible. What’s more, we’ve cast a number of early-career, younger singers that match the ages of the characters as they are portrayed in Puccini’s original. The audience is so close to the action so we take care with every detail to help them utterly commit to the world; I think this is what makes the piece so accessible.
Michael Church of The Independent cheekily described King’s Head style as ‘quixotic’ in reference to your last opera, La Boheme. Is that a compliment?
Yes, I think it is a compliment. If we’re not being capricious and unpredictable then I’d feel like we were failing on some level. We’re doing exactly what we’re meant to be doing with the form and the genre; the way we’re making it and who we’re making it for means it has to be surprising and relevant and fresh and engaging. Opera in larger spaces can often be criticized for being the antonym of those words, and it is this myth that I think it’s important to dispel.
Finally, you have two lovely casts, some of whom you’ve worked with before. What are the advantages?
For Tosca we work with two casts because of the number of shows we do per week – opera singers are physically not able to sing every day. I also always like working with a mix of old and new, both in terms of performers and the creative team; it’s an opportunity to form new collaborations and challenge my artistic practice and that of those I work with. This time around, it’s wonderful to be working with a brand new Lighting Designer and Movement Director whilst building on existing relationships with my Musical Director and Set Designer.
TOSCA composed by Giacomo Puccini
Libretto by Becca Marriott & Adam Spreadbury-Maher
King’s Head Theatre 27 September - 28 October 2017
Paris. August, 1944. As the Second World War rages on, lovers Tosca and Cavaradossi give refuge to a political prisoner and find themselves ensnared in the machinations of the tyrannical head of the Paris Gestapo, Scarpia. As Charles De Gaulle’s liberation movement advances and US troops tighten their net around the Nazi occupiers, everything Tosca holds dear is about to be torn apart.
A searing thriller of power and passion, this modern retelling takes the timeless tale and reimagines it at the heart of the twentieth century’s defining conflict. With stirring melodies and a brand-new libretto in English by Becca Marriott and Adam Spreadbury-Maher, performed in the intimate surroundings of the King’s Head Theatre, this is Tosca as you’ve never seen it before.
The King’s Head Theatre have firmly established themselves as one of the foremost producers of accessible, small scale opera, and this new version of Tosca marks the third opera production at the venue this year following original retellings of Madam Butterfly and The Magic Flute. Several members of the creative team from 2016’s critically acclaimed La bohème are returning to work on Tosca, including Adam Spreadbury-Maher as Director, Panaretos Kyriatzidis as Musical Director and Becky-Dee Trevenen as Designer.