After my battle with flu, I spent much of January and February in Deborah Warner's ENO production of Britten's last opera, Death in Venice, bringing it to La Monnaie in Brussels and the Grand Théâtre in Luxembourg. Reviving an opera's production, in which one has been deeply involved, 18 months after its first outing, raises many issues, theatrical and otherwise.
As far as the design and technical crews are concerned, the change of venue is endlessly infuriating, as they try (and in the end, after long days and nights of tech-ing, succeed) to recapture the atmosphere conjured up by lines of sight, lighting cues, video installations and so on, in spaces which, on this occasion, were utterly different from the originating house. The London Coliseum is a big Edwardian variety theatre with a panoramic stage. La Monnaie is a classic late 19th-century opera house, smaller and rounder. The Grand Théâtre is a 1960s confection: multipurpose, small and without boxes.
In Luxembourg, the structure of the theatre was such that I - playing the long, complex and interior role of the frustrated literary lion, Gustav von Aschenbach - could see the faces of the audience (not so in Brussels or London) and hear every whisper in the wings, requiring a different sort of concentration and a different engagement with the public. Aschenbach's monologues, revealing the tortuous thought processes which he hides from the world around him, are very different in character when you see the audience, for obvious reasons. I am reminded of Fintan O'Toole's brilliant dissection of Shakespearian soliloquy, his realisation that the notion of talking to yourself is not part of Elizabethan theatrical practice, that when Hamlet says "To be or not to be" he is self-consciously, naturally, engaging the audience, like a stand-up comic, a world away from the misty pieces to camera in Laurence Olivier's film version.