March 06, 2019

Creating the Journey

Think of three totally contrasting operas from Lyric’s last decade – what about Handel’s Giulio Cesare, Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, and Strauss's Elektra?  Three works from three different centuries, wildly different in style, but they had one important common asset at Lyric: director David McVicar, whose productions illuminated these operas for audiences and critics alike. His work has been hailed at every other opera company worldwide, from the Met, La Scala, Covent Garden, and Glyndebourne to the major houses of Vienna, Paris, Madrid, Vienna, and Sydney.

After recent successes with Rusalka and La clemenza di Tito, McVicar is back this season to direct his ninth opera at Lyric. He calls the new production of Wozzeck — a work he intensely admires — “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and a huge undertaking.”  It’s his first outing with Alban Berg’s hair-raising masterpiece, an opera to which the Scottish director can bring all of the probing intelligence and passionate dedication that have made him one of the most sought-after figures on the international operatic scene. 

Of all American companies, it’s Lyric that has the closest association with Sir David (he was knighted in 2012).  In each of his previous productions here, he’s demonstrated his total command of the material. Above all, he’s shown himself to be an intensely musical director, one who arrives at the first rehearsal with the entire score totally absorbed in his own mind, heart, and soul.  He creates a production from the ground up, always connecting in a profound way with his artists, always responding to everything they have to offer.  Within any artistic team for a McVicar production are relationships that are longstanding, Wozzeck being a notable example with Vicki Mortimer (set and costume designer), Paule Constable (lighting designer), and Andrew George (choreographer). 

Artists everywhere adore being directed by McVicar. Christine Goerke, remembering their work on Lyric’s Elektra, recalled “he just let me go and stopped and reined me in when it wasn’t working. To have a director who trusts you, who treats you as a colleague instead of as a piece of the puzzle — what a joy!”  

McVicar calls Wozzeck “a very involving piece. Unusually, it deals with people at the bottom of any society. More than any other opera I can think of, Wozzeck is about the common man, the man in the street, the man at the bottom of the food chain. It is a universal story — the story of the eternal underdog. This opera screams for compassion — not simply an emotional compassion, but a civic compassion.” McVicar would say to any audience member new to the piece, “Let it wash over you, involve you, and take you on an incredible journey.”

New Lyric Opera production generously made possible by The Monument Trust (UK) and Stefan Edlis and Gael Neeson, with additional support from Robert L. Turner.

Sir David McVicar headshot: KK Dundas & Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
Wozzeck image Soldier Photo: Public Domain Photo by James Francis Hurley
Grave Photo: Photo by Margaret Hall Collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society