Stu&Jess Productions, on L'heure espagnoleInterview
1. What about L’heure Espagnole makes it an appealing choice for Stu&Jess Productions?
Right now, when choosing which operas to produce, we are focusing on one-act operas that are highly entertaining with an interesting story to tell. Stu and I were initially drawn to L’Heure because of the score, Ravel’s lush and varied orchestration. Stu in particular was hooked after hearing the opening few measures of just metronomes ticking away representing the clocks in the shop.
Next came the story and the comedy. The plot is a hilarious comedy of errors: Torquemada is the clock maker of Toledo, Spain. On Thursdays, he goes out to wind and fix all the city clocks, and that is the day that his wife Concepcion has her lover Gonzalve over. On this particular Thursday however, Concepcion gets a few more visitors than she would like, and a lot less action.
Each of the five characters is incredibly quirky and the music in turn reflects their quirks perfectly. For example, Ramiro is the simple muleteer and his music can be very clunky. Don Inigo Gomez, the older banker, is often represented by a waltz. Each of the men in Concepcion’s life, on this particular Thursday, represents a different type of man and love. Each has their own charms, and combined, would probably make the perfect man. However, on their own, each is a fantastic caricature of love.
2. Can you tell us about your choice of venue?
We used this same venue for our last production of Bizet’s Le Docteur Miracle, and when we decided on L’Heure, we knew that this warehouse would be the perfect fit for our setting of it. The idea for Torquemada’s clock shop is to make it look like a crazy inventor’s shop- messy, gadgets and trinkets everywhere, dead plants, and of course, as many clocks as possible, none of them telling the same time. Think Maurice’s basement workshop from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.
This warehouse also comes with a beautiful catwalk of wooden alleys and huge metal staircase. That staircase became the focal point of the design and it is used to carry Concepcion’s lovers to and from her bedroom while encased in grandfather clocks. The space is also large enough to house our 28 piece orchestra as well as a good sized audience.
3. How does Stu&Jess Productions fit in with Montréal’s opera scene?
We originally chose to work in Montréal because of the singers that we knew here. The Medium was cast entirely of McGill students or graduates and all of our orchestra members were students as well. L’Heure will be our third production in Montreal. We have found a nice niche of students, singers, musicians, and artists here who are all interested in opera and curious about what we do.
The established companies here such as Opera da Camera and La Compagnie Baroque Mont-Royal are all very supportive of one another and it has been nice getting to know them and sharing in their experiences. There is already a thriving arts scene here with regards to visual art, the jazz festival, and the indie music scene, and there are many classical music lovers.
There is definitely room for us to explore and grow here, plus the city itself is just fantastic! We are hoping to branch out to Vancouver (Stu’s home) and Toronto (where Jess is from) as well in the future.
4. What kind of feedback have you gotten in previous seasons?
People that come to see our shows are usually quite surprised at our venue choices. Often anticipating a more traditional setting, they arrive and have to walk up three flights of stairs, down a long and dark hallway to the warehouse, it’s an exciting adventure. Then they walk into this huge space, see the orchestra set up, a neat set, and we hope that their curiosity is piqued.
The idea of doing opera in found spaces is not often done in Montréal, that we know of. The other opera companies here generally use theatrical spaces, which is great! However, we have managed to find some awesome hidden gems in which to house our productions, and the feedback has been so positive that it has inspired us to keep searching for new and special locations. For our inaugural production of Menotti’s The Medium, we found an old church that a local artist had turned into his home. There, we housed an audience of 40 people as well as our 17 piece orchestra. It was crammed and intimate. However, it gave the feeling that the audience was part of Baba’s séances along with our singers, and they really got experience her descent into madness WITH her.
The paper factory warehouse, while much larger than the church, is still incredibly atmospheric, and it allows both our orchestra and audience to grow in size. Acoustically, the warehouse is amazing because the floors are wood, the walls are brick, and the ceilings are 60 feet high. It’s a magical chamber of sound.
5. If you’ve never seen an opera before, what makes L’heure Espagnole a good introduction?
Plain and simply, L’Heure is a great starter opera because it’s short (it runs around 45 minutes), it’s hilarious, and the music is beautiful. It is an entertaining romp through this clock shop with some gorgeous reflective moments and a lot of sexual tension.
We are so excited to present this show: we have a great group of young and talented singers who have really brought this show to life and a huge, luscious orchestra. In addition to placing the audience in between the orchestra and the singers, we also make full use of the cat-walks up above so it is an all-emcompassing, surround sound experience.
Lastly, you can have a drink with you while you enjoy the show, which is always a bonus. Our hope is that the audience leaves having enjoyed their time with us and inspired to see more opera!