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 English?

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 of Gounod?

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 in it.

BD:   You wouldn’t turn it into a musical, would you???

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 its 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 best performances.

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 opening night?

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 opera.

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 form?

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 be great.

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 things.

*     *     *     *     *

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 are.

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 college.

BD:   Are you optimistic about the future of musical theater?

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.
athenaeum theater
BD:   Will you be back with the Chicago Opera Theater again?

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, North Carolina.

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 ideas.

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 idea.

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.

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© 1989 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in Chicago on May 3, 1989.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB the following week.  Permission was granted to Carl Ratner to use portions of the interview in his dissertation Chicago Opera Theater: Standard Bearer for American Opera 1976-2001.  This transcription was made in 2023, and posted on this website at that time.  My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and 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.

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Award - winning 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.

You 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 his grandfather, 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.