What: Pacific Opera Victoria: Macbeth
When: Today, Saturday, Oct. 10 and 12 at 8 p.m., and Oct. 14 at 2: 30 p.m.
Where: Royal Theatre
Tickets: $37.50 to $130 at rmst.bc.ca and 250-386-6121. $15 for student rush tickets 45 minutes prior to each performance, subject to availability.
Morris Panych thinks opera is boring.
It might not be alarming if he weren't directing Pacific Opera Victoria's production of Macbeth. But the prolific playwright and director, most comfortable crafting contemporary stories laced with dark comedy and drama, is challenging himself with a dip in the world of Verdi.
"I mean it's really boring, there's nothing more sleep-inducing," he said in an interview. "It gets durgy and repetitive and you don't know what's going on. And it's in Czech or something and you just want to kill yourself, because not only are you bored, but you don't know why you're bored. You don't know how bad the acting is, because it's being badly acted in a different language."
(Amen! I mean, what?)
But beyond the candour - part of the comfort with honesty that makes his original writing so successful - there's a method in this. The first step is identifying the problem. And Panych doesn't discriminate against opera, it's an ailment that afflicts a plurality of stages. As a theatre person, he's entirely familiar with the nightmare for some audiences of being stuck in a dark room after a couple of glasses of wine.
"One of my big challenges as a director and a writer is to do not-boring theatre. Because theatre can be intensely boring, like no other thing on earth," he said. "So when I took on the challenge of doing an opera, I also took on the challenge of: Can I make this interesting enough to keep people awake?"
He pauses, "I might as well work in a nursing home."
If there's one thing that Panych is not, it's dull. He's the kind of person who won't hesitate to tell you anecdotes about his encounters with psychiatrists, or that the secret to a good relationship and a good collaboration lies in being able to speak your mind with rigour (which means he and his partner of 32 years, Ken MacDonald, Macbeth's set designer, have no problem bickering).
Panych is no stranger to Victoria audiences, even if it's been a while. The Belfry Theatre, in particular, has been a proponent of his work - from the 1995 premiere of Vigil, which won a Jessie Richardson Award, to the staging of The Trespassers, under the direction of Ron Jenkins, two years ago.
Though Macbeth isn't Panych's first opera, it will be among his most classical. It also fits in with an eclectic rÃ©sumÃ© of productions from musicals to television pieces, including The Overcoat, a collaboration with choreographer Wendy Dorling that is currently touring worldwide.
Back in 1993, the Vancouver-based creative told the Canadian Theatre Review that his entire theory of theatre relies on continual change, rediscovery, questioning accepted ideas and reversing those ideas. Nearly 20 years later, he's still doing it.
"I like challenges," he said. "Otherwise things can get pretty - I wouldn't say tedious - but you can lose your edge and you can lose your interest."
Giuseppe Verdi's Macbeth, a crossover in its own right, seems only appropriate. Based on Shakespeare's shortest tragedy, it simplifies the story of the ambitious Macbeth and his even more ambitious wife for the operatic audience in the 1840s. It wasn't the only piece of Shakespeare's writing that Verdi borrowed - he took inspiration from The Merry Wives of Windsor for Falstaff and from Othello for Otello, too.
Pacific Opera Victoria mounts it for the first time in 17 years with baritone Gregory Dahl in the title role and soprano Lyne Fortin making her company debut as Lady Macbeth. It will be performed in Italian, with English surtitles - just one of the challenges imposed on Panych as a director.
"It would be like me going to Italy to direct a play," he said. "It's that crazy."
Those already familiar with the language and the form - especially artistic director Timothy Vernon, Dahl and Fortin - are guiding him through it. And in exchange, he offers them a wealth of knowledge about how to build dramatic chops
- Panych has more than 25 writing credits, 80 directing credits under his belt as well as two Governor General's Literary Awards for drama, five Dora Mavor Moore Awards and 14 Jessie Richardson Awards.
But directing an opera provides other significant challenges. Panych is no longer the only voice in the room; he must share the air with others like Vernon.
And singing is supreme, which means restrictions on his abilities to direct performers - they can't face upstage, kneel or sit in certain positions, lest it affect their projection, for example. It's the kind of thing that might make some directors bristle, but Panych says he thrives under restrictions.
"I think that's how any creative person thrives - by creating restrictions for themselves," he said. Even Shakespeare benefited from rules and structure like five-act forms and iambic pentameter, not to take away from his genius.
Panych is the kind of director whose reputation precedes him. He's been called mad, provocative and eccentric on more than one occasion. While some aspire to such titles, Panych says he just tries to be himself. He agrees with the eccentric tag, though disagrees with mad - his psychiatrists would have told him so.
But he also says that a life in theatre - a life at a loud, screaming pitch - requires a certain mind.
"I think to be a creative person, you have to see the world in a way that other people don't see it. Because that's what you offer the world - you offer people a perspective on their own life that they don't necessarily have, or care to have, because sometimes it can be very disturbing."
He's certainly never been called boring.
© Copyright 2013