Director Dominic Missimi
A Conversation with Bruce Duffie
Dominic Missimi directed several operas for the Chicago Opera Theater,
and in May of 1989 we sat down to chat about the one which was soon to be
presented . . . . .
Bruce Duffie: You are currently directing Romeo
and Juliet by Gounod, in an English-language production with the
Chicago Opera Theater. Tell me about the joys and sorrows of doing
this French opera.
Dominic Missimi: [Laughs] Fortunately,
the opera Romeo and Juliet is not new to me. I’ve had a
chance to work on it twice before. Once was at the Augusta Opera,
where Maestro Mark Flint was the conductor, and then Mark brought me back
again this past winter to do a production at the University of Illinois
with a student cast.
BD: Were both of those productions sung in
Missimi: No, the first one was in English, and
the second one was in French with surtitles. It was one of the
many ventures we’ve done out there with surtitles. This one here
in Chicago will be in English, and I say that a little joyfully, because
when something is in English at the Athenaeum Theater, it tends to really
be in English. The audience is close enough, and the acoustics are
good enough that you really will hear the English, as opposed to doing
English in a much larger hall where we might as well be using surtitles.
BD: When you’re directing and you know that
it’s in English, do you change your placement a little bit to make sure
all the words come out clearly?
Missimi: I really do. This is perhaps
an awful thing to say, but sometimes when it’s in an original language,
I take some short-cuts. By that I mean I may not scream at the actor
or the singer as much to use more gesture. I tend to think that
the music will carry it along. We’ll listen to it, so we won’t worry
so much about what the actor’s doing. I know that’s not right, but
it just happens. Because I do not speak that language fluently, I
let some things get by. I think that we’ll listen to the music, and
we might look at a few text lines up above in the surtitles. But when
I’m doing it in English, I really do treat it like a piece of music theater.
I want them to see, and feel, and gesture, and really help me illustrate
even more. I want it to be a wonderful reason why we’re doing it
in English, because it’s going to be wonderfully acted.
BD: Are these people on the stage your singers,
or are they your actors?
Missimi: [Smiles] That’s the wonderful
difference I love to have happen. This particular cast, and one
of the other productions, had relatively extraordinary performers, in
that they like acting. They like getting into it. I don’t have
to coax any passion out of this current Romeo and Juliet. I can ask
them to do just about anything in bed, and they would give it a good try.
That’s very, very exciting. As a director, I like to push them as
far as I can in the acting department, until I really know I might be jeopardizing
their singing. I’m pretty understanding about that. One interesting
thing was that I had such clear visions of ‘The Poison Aria’ which we’re
doing, but which is normally not performed. It’s wonderfully exciting,
and dramatically it’s good even though it may
be a bit of schticky music. Our soprano is doing it beautifully,
and I preconceived that she was going to do pretty much all of it in the
bed. I envisioned all the different things she would do while lying
in the bed and clutching the covers. Suddenly, she said she would
like it so much better if she didn’t have to be in such a contorted position.
“I have a couple of notes I really need to hit well
here. Do you mind if I can stand?”
At first, I was in love with what I saw dancing and singing in my head,
but once we begin to rework it, it made perfect sense, and we got just
as much dramatic bang for the buck out of it. She goes to the bed,
and then moves out of it. She has lots of stuff before she begins
to see Tybalt’s ghost, and it pushes her back to bed. She ends on
the bed to drink the potion, so it all worked out fine. But I try
to talk to them like actors. I’ve seen so many performers in the world
of opera where they come downstage and do a very good job. They
equip themselves very well, but suddenly they go upstage and there’s a
kind of hubba-hubba-hubba while they crack a few jokes with the chorus.
I said to them just the other day that when they’re on stage, I expect
them to be playing their roles a hundred per cent of the time. I really
don’t want them to think they’re ever to just fool around. For example,
I want Tybalt to whisper what he should be whispering into Capulet’s ear,
and he has done so. They like that, because they know they’re being
treated like actors, and not just singers. They are two different
kinds of artists, and sometimes those demands are quite different.
BD: Do you want these people to portray the
characters, or do you really want them to become the characters on stage?
Missimi: That’s an often-interesting fine
line. They must take what they have in themselves to become Romeo
and Juliet, but they know that their emotions can’t get so involved that
it will affect their singing. They will invest every bit of their
psyche, emotionalism, and their own experiences to technically sing it,
and still emotionally act it to a point. When Juliet begins to see
too much of Tybalt, she begins to become too involved in the drama that it’s
going to constrict the voice, or make her emotions go awry. I once
had a Violetta who could act up a storm, but all of a sudden the music began
to suffer, because she began to make the music be second-place to what she
was doing dramatically. It can be an awful thing. They must
remember that when they think they’re there, they have to stop and pull
back or they’re never going to get through their aria.
BD: That’s their professionalism?
Missimi: That’s their absolute professionalism.
There are many fine opera singers who can do that, and it’s nice
to know that we’re now at an age where I can meet the cast for the first
time, and notice a good-looking Romeo [Gregory Kunde], and a Juliet who
weighs two pounds, with black raven hair [Jung Ae Kim]. She’s oriental
but she’s a magnificently good-looking little Juliet, and a sexy little
number who isn’t afraid to embrace, or to kiss. I don’t have to
go through that whole bit not kissing on the face, but on the lips!
These artists are going at it, and that’s exciting. However, I don’t
want it to go too far and have it become a freak show. A couple of
times they’ve gotten so hot and heavy that I had to remind them this is
the lyrical beautiful Romeo and Juliet. It’s the way we want
to imagine the perfect kind of love affair. We don’t want to think
it’s too animalistic.
BD: Eventually, it all works out to your satisfaction?
Missimi: I think so. It’s a little difficult,
as I’ve often said, but I’ve grown to love the score more and more as
I work on it. It’s wonderfully lyrical. It is light, beautiful,
and shimmery at times... [wistfully] I just wish Puccini had written it.
[Both laugh] I’m trying to add the Puccini-passion in the acting,
the verismo style on top of what is rather shiny, shimmering music.
When we arrive at the Renaissance Capulet home, the first thing we hear is
a kind of a poco-waltz, which says we’re a little transferred from fifteenth
century Italian Renaissance.
BD: Of what is eventually seen and heard, how
much is the English of Shakespeare, and how much is the French style
Missimi: I would say ninety-five per cent of
it is Gounod. He has condensed the play very nicely, but in a
few passages we hear ‘parting is such sweet sorrow’, or ‘what light through
yonder window breaks?’ The translators, and even Gounod himself,
picked the really choice phrases to maintain. But otherwise it’s
his re-telling of the story, and he does a rather wonderful kaleidoscopic
job of getting it all together and adding a few things, especially considering
we’re singing it.
BD: When you rendered it into the English translation,
did you use some of the Shakespearean lines?
Missimi: A few lines absolutely come out.
You will hear Juliet sing, ‘Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou?’,
and ‘What light through yonder window breaks?’, and ‘Parting is such sweet
sorrow.’ But there are only those few choices. Otherwise,
we have Gounod and the original librettists Carré and Barbier,
who gave us some new words for Shakespeare! There are some interesting
things that are not quite developed, that being a lover of the play, you
try to do. Gounod was not very just to Gertrude, the Nurse. He’s
made her literally a vehicle to be a companion. She has almost nothing
to do in the opera, and I’ve tried to get some of the jovial, good-natured
motherly quality back into it. I’ve also added a minor character,
Lady Capulet. She is not in the opera, but I thought it was important
to have someone who can show her hatred for Romeo, and great affection
for Tybalt in the scene when he is murdered. So, I’ve added her,
and that helps out a lot.
* * *
BD: Let me turn the whole thing around.
If you eventually direct the play, will you bring anything of what you’ve
learned in these three productions of the Gounod opera back into the
Shakespeare Romeo and Juliet?
Missimi: Interestingly, I think I would. Having
touched the opera and been to close to it, I feel the romance of the
play would demand a somewhat musical-lyrical treatment. I would
probably underscore the play with an enormous amount of music, because
when someone is so in love, one sings it. That’s why we have Canzones
or Canzonettas, and why there were Troubadours. When we’re so in
love with something, we want to turn it into music, and the play Romeo
and Juliet needs to sing at times. I would try to find ways in
which that could happen, so music would have a very, very important part
BD: You wouldn’t turn it into a musical, would
Missimi: Oh, gosh! I just did that one
this year! I just directed West Side Story, and it’s
no wonder it deserved to be musicalized, even in a sort of rough and
tumble Bernstein treatment.
BD: You’ve directed straight plays, and you’ve
directed musical comedies, and you’ve directed operas. Is there
a real difference in your approach to these, or is it all just theater?
Missimi: It is definite for me that my choice
of things to direct are always those things which are theatrical.
I don’t think you’ll ever find Dominic’s name on a play that is by David
Mamet, or Sam Shepard. That’s not to say that I don’t like or
respect those works. I do immensely. They’re just simply
not my cup of tea, and I don’t think I would do them very well.
BD: Are they too talky?
Missimi: The playwright has done everything for
me. Things are already filled in. It would be like directing
a work by Bernard Shaw. I can no more do a Shaw play because, even
though I would have to become a great interpreter, I don’t really like
directors as interpreters. I don’t like directing as an interpreter,
which means I’ve got to re-work what they have already said. I like
things that have no stage directions. I like Molière.
I like Sheridan. I like things that are just the word on the page
— or, if it’s
an opera, the notes on the page. Then
I can invent my own pantomime. I can invent my way of doing it. The
pieces immediately say we’re at a theater performance. This is theatrical!
BD: When you’re inventing things, do they come
from the word, or do they come from the music, or do they come from the
overall conception of the idea?
Missimi: I would have to say a bit of each.
In the Romeo and Juliet right now, there are a number of musical
passages which don’t tell you what is going on in the music. So,
I love the sense of working with the singers. I ask her what she
would suppose Juliet does during these sixteen measures when we don’t know
what to do. This becomes the creative theatrical business which we
formulate from the music. I’ve chosen this particular Romeo and
Juliet because it is, by its very nature, a nineteenth century romance.
So I do not tend to mess around with it a bunch. I don’t think
this music lends itself to a Michael Maggio treatment, as he did at the
Goodman with a lower east side Romeo and Juliet.
It's not until next week that [Chicago]'s
Lyric Opera will unveil Peter Sellars's ''Tannhäuser,'' in which
Wagner will at last meet up with the world of television evangelism. But
in the flourishing industry of rejiggering the classics, the Goodman
Theater has upstaged Mr. Sellars with its new ''Romeo and Juliet'' set
in Chicago's Little Italy, circa World War I. As conceived by the director
Michael Maggio, Verona's prince is now a pin-striped don, while Romeo
and Juliet meet at a Fourth of July block party. Need I add that the Nurse
whips up a mean pot of pasta?
For audiences who are tiring of Shakespearean
transpositions, there's good news: it's only a matter of time before every
alternative period will have been plundered, forcing directors to return
to Shakespeare's own settings if only for the sake of novelty. At the
moment, there's even better news for theatergoers who aren't doctrinaire
about directorial license. In Mr. Maggio, the Goodman has a sensitive artist
whose ideas serve a text rather than stamp his ego over every line.
Mr. Maggio's ''Romeo and Juliet'' eventually
does wilt, but not until it has delivered 90 minutes of pure delight and
not for reasons pertaining to the production's conceit. When the director,
a third-generation Italian-American Chicagoan, writes in a program note
that he is not out to ''modernize'' the work but to give his own ''personal
response to the material,'' he tells the truth. This isn't a sociological
update of the play, a Middle ''West Side Story.'' The tone is often light
and nostalgic, and the Capulets and Montagues belong to the same ethnic
enclave. Theirs is a family feud that gets out of hand.
== Part of a
review in The New York Times
by Frank Rich, October 7, 1988
The play itself has greater elasticity. You can stretch it in
more directions. I think Gounod’s music says it must have a period
quality about it, and so I’ve kept it that way. But I love classical
plays. I love Molière. I’m not saying that I’m one
of those directors who wants to put his touch on it. If I were to
say what I like the best, it’s things like Zeffirelli does, because I like
that style. I like things that are period, that have lots of details
in which the performers movements and gestures, and the dances of the period
bespeak a real honesty to the period that we’re in. No matter what
I’m doing, when it comes to the actors, honesty is the thing I stress
the most. Whether you’re singing the opera Romeo and Juliet,
or acting the play Romeo and Juliet, you have to believe in what
it is that you’re doing. You have to commit to the character. When
I was directing Hair, a Rock opera about the 1960s, I had to convince
my nineteen-year-olds what the era of the ’60s
was about. That way they would believe in that period, just as much
as I and an oriental Juliet would about what it was to be a fifteen or
sixteen-year-old in Renaissance Verona. It’s all about studying the
script and the art form to really believe in it.
* * *
BD: You mentioned honesty, and you mentioned Zeffirelli.
Do you, as a stage director working in live theater, ever feel that
you’re competing against television, or film, where they can do things
that can’t possibly be accomplished on the live stage, night after night?
Missimi: Yes. It’s frustrating in that I
can never ever duplicate the detail. I can’t make the audience
zoom in to Juliet’s face, and see the tears forming in her eyes.
The film can do that, and the TV can do that. Even in live broadcasts,
we can get in nice and close. That’s a little bit frustrating,
but I still feel that when we pay our money and go to the theater, there
will never be a substitute for being in the hall live, hearing it right
now, knowing that this performance is different than any other performance
that will ever exist. A film maybe captures great art and great beauty,
but it is the same every time we come back to it. We go to the theater
because there’s a chance element. We may be in for something great,
or magnificent, never to be repeated again, and as you sit in the theater,
you wonder if this will ever be as good as it is right at this moment.
Then sometimes you wonder if it will ever be as bad as it is right at this
moment... [Both laugh]
BD: This production will run for seven performances.
Is there any way that you, as the stage director, can guarantee
that that sixth and seventh performances are as vital and as alive as
the first two or three?
Missimi: I haven’t done a Chicago Opera
Theater production for several years. [One of his previous productions
was Abduction from the Seraglio of Mozart (progam shown at right).
As noted, there was a bit of newly-discovered music which aided the
stage director. Also, see my interviews with William Eichorn, Sheryl Woods, Joseph de Rugeriis,
and Alan Stone.]
When we did four performances, they were on their own! By
the fourth one, it’ll probably be what we wanted when we opened, because
everyone will have settled into it. Now that we have seven, I hope
to come back and offer some notes. It will simply build in its security
and it’s clarity. By number six or seven, they’ll be giving their
BD: Can you build in any way for it to automatically
grow, and the interpretation will broaden each evening?
Missimi: No, but in seven performances it will
deepen. Nothing will change whatsoever in the production.
It will simply be that as the actors ease into it. Their relationships,
what they’re saying, their eye contact, their ability to touch and communicate
to the audience will become heightened, but there’s nothing that I would
do. That just takes its normal course in the performances. When
I go back to see any production, I tell the actors to begin to try looking
for different things to do to keep it fresh and to keep it exciting.
With seven performances, it will remain constantly alive and fresh.
There’s not enough time to get bored with it.
BD: Do you make sure everything is right for
the dress rehearsal, or do you make sure everything is right for the
Missimi: I normally try to have us in complete control
– well, as much as you would expect – by that last dress rehearsal because
I like them to leave the theater knowing there’s a lot of notes.
Dominic was pleased. Things went well. Even if I feel things don’t
go well, I sometimes hide it from the actors because nerves will take
care of themselves. I don’t need to do a lot of other things to
scare them. There are a number of directors who love scare-tactics.
They will say, “This was a disaster! This
was the worst dress rehearsal I’ve ever had. How ever will we get
through it???” [Both laugh] No actor
likes to come to the theater literally with their stomach in a knot.
I like to say, “You’re wonderful. Now you’re
ready to give birth to the play.”
BD: It’s positive reinforcement?
Missimi: It’s an absolute positive reinforcement.
The artist has to go into the performance saying, “I
have made something good in this rehearsal period. Now, tonight,
with an audience it opens, and I can actually become an artist.”
Up until then, they’re crafts people who are just working among themselves
making their craft. Now, suddenly you add a thousand people into
a room, and I step away. I always say, “I
could be run over by a car, and the show will go on wonderfully because
now is when you make the play. Now you have the intercourse, in a
good sense, and it’s sometimes in the sexual sense. You are making
love to an audience, treating it as a person that we can’t exist without.
We need them there. We love them there. We want them to share
these wonderful private moments that we’re going to sing in this beautiful
BD: Is there any way that you build in the
idea that the cast can relate to an audience whether it’s cold or warm?
Missimi: I seldom do that in the world of opera.
I like to let them know that what’s going on between the people on stage
will radiate by its very size, and by the fact of how big the voice is.
It carries. It covers. It gets to the last row. In
musical theater, we’re very aware of our audience, and will play the hell
out of that. We don’t ever milk anything, but certainly if you see
that the audience is very cold, we’ll do a little bit more fast acting.
We’ll get through it. We’re not going to luxuriate as we
might have another night. If the audience is sleepy because they
all just ate a lot, we’ll maybe give it to them a little faster and more
furious. But in opera, just their presence assures the artists that
they’re making an art form that night. They don’t need to be told
to play to the audience.
BD: Do you think opera is still a viable art
Missimi: Yes, I do. I haven’t directed a lot
of opera lately. There was a time when I was doing about four
or five a year for regional companies. It’s a viable art form,
but it hasn’t arrived the way I thought it was going to.
BD: Where did you think it was going, and where
is it headed now?
Missimi: As we know, everything comes in phases.
Ten years ago, there was a period when I was very into dance.
I ran a dance company in Detroit. I was bringing a lot of choreographers
in, and you just couldn’t get enough dance. There was Rudolf Nureyev
running around, and Mikhail Baryshnikov, and Margot Fonteyn, and all the
great dancers. Every occasion to see a dance concert was packed.
It was at a height, and it has really gone away. We’ve lost an enormous
amount of regional ballet companies, and I feel like opera had some of
that same thing happen to it. It also has leveled off, but to what
results, I don’t know. I can’t point at a whole new generation of
people writing for the operatic stage who are wonderful, and who we are
waiting with baited breath to write their next piece. That has not
happened. I do not see an all-new wonderful young audience that
has been developed. I do think that we have gotten into the realm of
musical theater, which is good, and a lot of very fine musical theater pieces
have come into the opera houses, mainly to find new audiences. That
is where we’re going to go in the area of performance arts, with the works
of Robert Wilson, and
a lot of other people. It is an interesting step, but, as in dance,
we’re still in a transitional stage. It may be another forty or fifty
years before we find out where we’re going to end up. Certainly,
in my last ten or twenty years, I’ve seen an opera theater audience
grow. I’ve also seen it level off. I’ve seen some new and
interesting things begin to happen, but I don’t think we’ve arrived at
any period of fruition in which we would say the harvest is full, and we
are now going to reap the rewards.
BD: Was there ever a time when the living theater
was not in transition?
Missimi: I don’t know. Maybe that’s the
real answer. Maybe our children will look back and say, “Those
guys lived during the best period of operatic history, and they didn’t
even know it!” I don’t know if anyone
knows when they’re in the period of Great Art, but I don’t think it’s
now. Certainly, the great era of the musical theater is definitely
not now. We’re in deep trouble in the theater.
BD: As far as new works?
Missimi: As far as new works, provocative ideas,
and anything happening. We’ve banked on people like Jerzy Grotowski,
Peter Brook, and the whole ’60s movement, and
we don’t have a lot to show for it. I also don’t think opera has
a lot to show for it at the moment. We’re not talking about the singers,
or even the conductors, but we’re talking about Zeffirelli and Peter Sellars...
BD: ...Peter Hall, perhaps?
Missimi: Yes, and Ponnelle. We’re arriving
at a kind of Directors’ Theater, which is not necessarily
so much the director, as we may be at a verge of the Theater of Imagination,
which is the work of the performance artists like Robert Wilson, and the
music of Steve Reich,
and all of that whole period. We may be going to the theater to
see wonderfully provocative art images on stage in which we utilize singers,
but it may be a new art form, and that’s welcomed by me. That’ll
BD: Are we coming to a point where the performances
are the beginning rather than the end?
Missimi: I think so. That’s going to
be it, and it’s going to be a bridge to something.
BD: [With a wink, not really referring to the
book or the movie] A bridge too far?
Missimi: That’s right, but I don’t really know.
I feel like I’m talking above my head, but it’s something you feel.
I went to see a dance concert last night at the Hubbard Street Dance Theater,
and it was a wonderful evening. They did a couple of works that
were really provocative, and new, and interesting in the way the actors
were moving. It was the choreographer, and he was making a social
statement not only about who we are and what we do, but the very vocabulary
that the dancers were using was unusual. It was new, and I thought
it was great! It’s ground-breaking! It’s
probably like going to see that Tannhäuser with the evangelist
up there screaming. It certainly is a new way of looking at old
* * *
BD: How long have you been teaching at Northwestern?
Missimi: I’m in my eighth or ninth year, but I have
been teaching since 1966. The year I graduated I started my first
year teaching in a private girls’ high school, and then the following year
I joined the faculty at the University of Detroit. I felt very lucky
that I had graduated from there, and my work was good enough that they
asked me to come back and join the University faculty.
BD: How are those early students different
the current ones?
Missimi: It’s interesting, because I have to first
look at where I was demographically. That makes a difference.
I was at a Catholic Jesuit middle class school, where most of the kids
came from working parents. They wanted things more, and to make
it in the world more. They wanted to prove something to their parents.
They had a little bit more desire to succeed. The kids I’m with
now at Northwestern are wonderfully talented students who have been given
a little more. They have been exposed to finer things, including
the theater and other arts. They have wonderful talent. I’ve
always been lucky to work with talented students who are imaginative, but
the kids at Northwestern are a little more square. They’re not the
standard theater department student. They’re not into black turtle
necks. Some of them belong to fraternities and sororities, and yet
they’re theater majors. When I went to school, you’d rather die than
talk to anyone who belonged to fraternities or sororities.
BD: Are they perhaps a little less willing
to try their own ideas that might be outlandish?
Missimi: I’m not sure about that. They simply
come from more conservative backgrounds, and that has affected who they
BD: I assume they’re still able to take your
direction and ideas.
Missimi: Absolutely, very much so, but they’re not
feisty. Sometimes I wish I could shake them up and make them be
a little bit more feisty. I tell them it is OK to disagree!
They’re not very rebellious. I directed Hair first here at
Northwestern, and when I talked to some of those kids, only a very few of
them would say their mom and dad were hippies. It was only one in
about fifty that could say that their family had come from the front lines
of the hippie movement. I’m not knocking them for that. They
have other things to offer, but I would say that the student population hasn’t
changed that much. They’re facing the same kinds of problems that the
kids faced when I grew up. They’re just different problems.
When I grew up in a theater school, the guys were beating their heads against
the walls if they thought they were gay. The gay movement was just
coming out of the closet twenty-some years ago. Now it’s other problems.
Whether it’s the role of a woman, feminism, gender casting, or racism in
casting, or AIDS, there are other things to contend with. But they’re
going through just as many problems as we did back in 1962 when I was in
BD: Are you optimistic about the future of musical
Missimi: [Thinks a moment] I’m a great
and avid Stephen Sondheim fan. He holds a lot of keys to where
we will be in the musical theater. I’m still shocked that the musical
theater in New York continues to be a spectacle with tunesmiths who have
to write hummable music. I like Sondheim for the opposite reason.
I find some of his music very haunting, but it’s a very intellectual
theater, and I adore that. I love the fact that the lyricist now
has just as much say as the composer. But at the moment we’re in
a real bind. A lot of the stuff that’s happened from England is exciting
and interesting theatrically. I would never knock the spectacle
of The Phantom of the Opera or Les Misérables, but
I think that it will wear out soon, and I don’t know where the next direction
is going to be. At the moment, the musical theater seems to be on
hold and treading water until we really see what’s going to happen.
BD: Will you be back with the Chicago Opera
Missimi: Yes, in fact I’m quite excited because I’m
going to be staging Carousel for Alan Stone next summer. It
will be their first venture into musical theater. I had a wonderful
experience directing it at the Marriott Lincolnshire Theater about four
or five years ago. Richard White was Billy Bigelow, and he has now
gone on to be the leading baritone swashbuckler in all the operettas
at the New York City Opera. I just saw him recently in a televised
New Moon, and he was quite wonderful. But that was a lovely
joyous experience in that production for the Marriott, which is in the round,
and I’m looking forward to doing it in a proscenium where I don’t have
to worry about how fast we can dismantle the carousel, because you can’t
live with that carousel on stage for the whole show! [Both laugh]
But that will be exciting. Stone has already hired some wonderful
artists to sing, and I look forward to it. The Chicago Opera Theater
has grown so much these last few years. We may still be in the same
location [the Athenaeum Theater shown at right], but just in terms
of the expertise of the staff, and the fact that we have so many people
working on the productions, it really has matured since I last worked for
them five years ago. It’s organized within an inch of its life.
It’s a good system, and it runs very smoothly with great authority. When
I come to rehearsal, or when I go to meetings, I don’t have a lot to worry
about so many details, because so many other people are running around worrying
about them. So that’s great.
BD: You can just get on with your artistry!
Missimi: Sure. I’m most excited in looking
to the future, along with Carousel. That’s going to happen
a year from now, and in the coming year for me I have another Romeo
and Juliet, believe it or not, at the Piedmont Opera in Winston-Salem,
BD: Will you bring a lot of the same ideas there, or
will you rethink it completely?
Missimi: The set that I’m using here will be
the same, but it’s a whole new cast. Every time I do it, I keep
what I like and throw out the rest, and then re-stage it in a different
way. Because I’ll be using the same costumes and sets, it’ll remain
pretty much the production that I’m doing here, with just new staging
BD: If there were a new set, and new costumes,
would you re-think it completely?
Missimi: I would throw it completely out the
window. I am anxious because now that I’ve done this Romeo and
Juliet, I have already have thought about how I should have done
it. You always do that as a director. The minute you get
something up, you wish you could do it again in order to do this or that
BD: And now you’re getting a chance.
Missimi: I’m going to get a chance, yes! But
I’m mostly looking forward to taking a leave of absence from Northwestern
starting this summer. I’m waiting to hear about whether we’re going
to be taking my production of Hair to Russia, which may happen in
August. That would be pretty exciting. But more than anything,
I’m really looking forward to the time to get regenerated. I’m
planning to go to Italy for eight weeks or so, and take an incredible
crash course in Italian, and learn to speak the language of my family,
which I’ve somehow ignored for forty-four years. I’m looking forward
to just reading, listening to operas, listening to a lot of the old
chestnuts that I’ve haven’t really had a chance to examine, and looking
for new projects.
BD: Are you glad that you direct not only opera,
but also musicals and straight plays?
Missimi: Oh, I really am. I have that variety
of people that I work with, which are different, and it really does keep
me fresh. I like it when my students come and go. To them,
it seems so different when you’re dealing with opera from theater, and
it’s really not. It’s a few basic things you have to have the common-sense
to do, but I don’t feel huge adjustments. I just feel like they’re
all my different kinds of families. My students in Molière plays,
my professional actors that are singers at Marriott musicals, or the
opera people at the regional theaters feel like they’re my different
relatives. I know how to talk to them when I see them, so I don’t
feel that there are big adjustments to be made.
BD: Thank you very much for this chat.
Missimi: It’s been fun talking to you.
-------- -------- --------
© 1989 Bruce Duffie
This conversation was recorded in Chicago on May 3, 1989. Portions
were broadcast on WNIB the following week. Permission
to Carl Ratner to use portions
of the interview in his dissertation
Chicago Opera Theater:
for American Opera 1976-2001.
This transcription was made in 2023,
and posted on this website at that time.
My thanks to British soprano
for her help in preparing this website presentation.
To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed
posted on this website, click here. To
read my thoughts on editing these interviews for print,
as well as a few other interesting observations, click here.
* * * *
broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical
97 in Chicago from
1975 until its final moment as a classical
station in February of 2001. His
interviews have also appeared in various magazines
and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast
series on WNUR-FM,
as well as on Contemporary
Classical Internet Radio.
are invited to visit his website for more information
about his work, including selected
transcripts of other interviews, plus
a full list
of his guests. He would also like to call your
attention to the photos and information about
who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.
You may also send him E-Mail with comments,
questions and suggestions.