Director  Frank  Galati

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie, about
Benjamin Britten
s opera Albert Herring


LGBT Hall of Fame

INDIVIDUAL | Inducted 2004

As a professional actor, director, screenwriter, and playwright, Frank Galati has earned international praise for adapting and directing “The Grapes of Wrath”, which won him two Tony Awards in 1989. The play also won him an Outer Critics Circle Award and a Drama Desk Award. In 1997, he was nominated for a Tony Award for directing the musical “Ragtime”.

In 1989, he was nominated in the category of best-adapted screenplay for “The Accidental Tourist” by both the British Academy of Film and Television Arts and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has also won nine Joseph Jefferson Awards for outstanding achievements in Chicago theater, as well as two directing awards from the Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation, a League of Chicago Theatres Artistic Leadership Award, and an NAACP Theatre Award.

Born in Highland Park on November 29, 1943, Galati was a professor of performance studies at Northwestern University (retired in 2006), an ensemble member of the Steppenwolf Theatre Company (since 1985), and associate director of the Goodman Theatre (since 1986). He has directed 10 productions for Steppenwolf since joining its ensemble. His teaching and creative interests are in the area of presentational aesthetics, with special interests in modern literature. In 2001 he was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

One aspect of Galati’s achievements that particularly resonates with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities is his exploration of the works of Gertrude Stein. His stagings and adaptations of her writing have led to a new view of the very beginnings of the modern gay community as we know it—Stein having been not only one of the first well-known openly lesbian women but also one of the first persons to use the word “gay” publicly as a synonym for “homosexual.”

Galati’s interest in Stein’s texts began in the 1970s when he put together an Evanston campus program for the Speech Communication Association to feature what the university’s department of performance studies is devoted to: the study of literature through performance. Since then he has returned to Stein’s work repeatedly and has staged other off-campus productions based on her texts. In 2003, to great acclaim, Galati staged the world premiere of A Long Gay Book, a chamber musical based on Stein’s writings. It was also adapted for the stage by Galati, with music by Tony Award winner Stephen Flaherty. Galati described the musical as “a play within a lecture” that Stein herself delivered in 1934 at age 60 at the University of Chicago. It gives audiences a glimpse of Stein’s life and that of American gay and lesbian expatriates in Paris, including Stein’s love for Alice B. Toklas.

Chicago is now an important center for LGBT scholarship, with highly respected researchers based at the University of Chicago, University of Illinois at Chicago, and Northwestern University. Galati’s pioneering and innovative work on Stein has played a role in this. But more than that, Galati’s work has elevated Chicago theater to new heights of excellence and renown. (Please note: this information has not been updated since the time of the member’s induction).

In April of 1979, Frank Galati was directing Albert Herring with the Chicago Opera Theater, and he came to the studios of WNIB, Classical 97 to do an interview.  A portion of this conversation was aired at that time to promote the performances, and now I am pleased to present the entire chat.  Even then, early in his career, he was very articulate about his thoughts and ideas, and expanded my own knowledge of the English language with a couple of unfamiliar words!

Note that there are differences when referring to a character and an opera.  For example, Albert Herring (the work) is different from Albert Herring (the personage).  Names which are links refer to my interviews elsewhere on my website.

Bruce Duffie:   [After briefly detailing the dates and times of performances for the radio listeners]  This is the fourth opera that you have staged for the Chicago Opera Theater?  [He would later do Good Soldier Schweik (Robert Kurka), Postcard from Morocco (Dominick Argento), and Four Saints in Three Acts (Virgil Thomson).  He would also direct several productions at Lyric Opera of Chicago, as shown in the box below.]

Frank Galati:   Yes.  I began four years ago with Virgil Thomson’s The Mother of Us All, and then Summer and Smoke of Lee Hoiby, which is a treatment of the Tennessee Williams play.  Last year we did The Merry Wives of Windsor of Otto Nicolai.

BD:   You were also in the cast of the Nicolai opera?

Galati:   Yes.  It was somewhat against my will, but I was a narrator that tied the scenes together.

BD:   Now you’re working on Albert Herring by Benjamin Britten.  Tell us a little bit about the opera.

Galati:   In some ways it
s the most interesting of the four that I’ve worked on, and perhaps the most rewarding.  It’s not very well-known, at least it hasn’t been produced in Chicago, although it was seen on television not long ago in the St. Louis production.

BD:   It’s not as popular as Peter Grimes or Billy Budd, but it probably will be more known now that you’ve done a production of it.

Galati:   Well, I hope so.  I really think it’s an extraordinary work.  It’s musically extremely interesting.  It
s very, very beautiful, very melodic, and yet challenging.  It’s witty and warm.

BD:   It is a comedy?

Galati:   Yes, it is.  It’s a comedy of manners, and the focus is really on the dimension of the characters, and their relationships with one another.  The characters are well-drawn.  The libretto is quite extraordinary, and very interesting verse forms with complicated, but charming and ingenuous verbal patterns.  Sometimes there is a very intricate rhyme, sometimes a slant-rhyme, or a half-rhyme, but there is always a beautiful management of the language.  The characters emerge very clearly in brief verbal strokes, and the music enhances and fills it all out, and develops the text.

BD:   In this instance you really feel that the music is serving the text?

Galati:   Oh, absolutely.  I think it’s an extraordinary work in that respect.  It’s a small orchestra, sort of a chamber orchestra, with very interesting orchestrations.  It has a delicacy and sweetness that makes it a very, very appealing work.  I love working on it.

Director Frank Galati at Lyric Opera of Chicago

June 6, 1986 - The Guilt of Lillian Sloan [William Neil, composer-in-residence] (Galati was librettist and director)
                        Sung by members of the Lyric Opera Center for American Artists, conducted by Lee Schaenen (Cahn Auditorium, Evanston, IL)

1990/91 - Voyage of Edgar Allan Poe [Argento] with Kaasch, Stilwell, Swensen, Futural; Keene, Conklin, Schuler, Tallchief

1992-93 - Pelléas et Mélisande with Stratas/Esham, Hadley, Braun, Kavrakos, Minton; Conlon, Istral

1993-94 - Traviata [Opening Night] with Anderson, Sabbatini/Neil/ Hvorostovsky/Agache; Bartoletti, Heeley, Tallchief
                 Tosca with Byrne/Guleghina, Jóhannsson/Leech, Morris/Fox, Skinner/Woodley, Philip Kraus; Bartoletti, Walton

1999/2000 - View from the Bridge [Bolcom] with Malfitano, Josephsen, Nolen, Rambaldi/Bayrakdarian; Davies, Loquatso

BD:   You say it’s the most interesting so far of the four that you have done with the COT?

Galati:   In some ways it is.  I truly enjoyed The Mother of Us All because it was to my taste.  I like Gertrude Stein very much.

BD:   Is Albert Herring as complex as the others?

Galati:   It’s more complex.  From the point of view of the director, its demands help create an ensemble of players without the sense that one is more important than another.  This is a small provincial English town
not unlike the background setting in Peter Grimesalthough this is a comic treatment of a similar sort of provincialism.  They are members of a small community.  They know one another very well, and they play official roles as well as casual, less-official roles.  They are related to one anotheraunts and uncles and they’re friendsboyfriends and girlfriends.  They’re politicians, businessmen and women, mothers and fathers, children, shop keepers, and aristocrats who are sort of puffed up.  Lady Billows, who is the central female figure in the play, is a big fish in a little pond.

BD:   What about Albert Herring himself?  Is there any direct comparison between him and Peter Grimes?

Galati:   There is something of a direct comparison.  Both characters seem to me to be opposite sides of the same coin.  Albert is, of course, a young fellow.  The story
which is based upon a short story by Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893) [Le Rosier de Madame Husson] is really a rite of passage, a coming of age.  It’s about a young fellow who’s been kept tied to his mother’s apron strings.  He has never kissed a girl, never had a drink, never caroused around.

BD:   Poor fellow!

Galati:   Poor fellow, yes!  He’s quite deprived.  I suppose he’s probably in his early- or middle-twenties.  He’s been kept under a bushel for quite some time, and the story centers around his becoming accidentally crowned
or crowned by defaultKing of the May in this community.  This is bolstered by the virtuous Lady Billows, who scours the townthrough her scoutsto find a May Queen, but none of the girls in this burg are virtuous enough to fit the bill.  So, Superintendent Budd, who is a rough but warm-hearted, generous hearted fellow, comes up with the notion that perhaps they could crown a May King.  First this seems ridiculous, but then they decide there’s no alternative, and they settle upon Albert Herring.  To some members of the community, Albert seems a rather slow fellow, maybe a little dim-witted, but is indeed virtuous, simple, good, good-hearted.

BD:   Is this all because he’s been so sheltered?

Galati:   Yes, I think so.  He certainly blossoms during the course of the play, and the comparison of Albert with a wreath of flowers is one that’s rather deliberately made in some of the stage business.  He’s crowned with a wreath of orange blossoms, and in a wonderful gesture at the end, the wreath is pitched into the audience.  There’s a celebration of Albert’s victory, not only in coming of age and passing through into manhood from adolescence, but, in a way, this is what connects it with Peter Grimes.  He’s victorious over the grave.  His lemonade at the crowning celebration is laced with rum, and gets a little tipsy.  He decides to spend some of the twenty-five quid that he’s been awarded on a night on the town, and that results in his so-called coming of age.  But while he’s gone, his mother and his friend, Sid, and his girlfriend
or would-be girlfriend, Nancyand other members of the community, presume that Albert is dead.  So, in the third act, there is a passionate and very, very moving threnody, in which the theme of death and its inexorable embrace is treated in a very majestic musical setting.  But Albert is victorious over this rhapsody to death, and he returns as if from the grave.

BD:   But he
s no longer the same boy he was when he left?

Galati:   No, he’s no longer the same boy.  He stands up to Lady Billows, and he stands up to the kids who have made fun of him at the beginning of the opera, and he stands up to his mother.  But, like most comic heroes in works of this type, he is re-incorporated back into the society of the play.  Peter Grimes, of course, is tragically destroyed, and is separated from life and from the members of community in the village that he lives.  But Albert is returned, and while he’s older and wiser and stronger, he remains a member of the community.  There is another thing that connects Albert with Peter.  One is a young ingenuous lad, simple and natural, and the other is a sea-weary, rather profound if simple character.  But they share some spiritual contact with the natural order of things that separates them tragically for Peter Grimes, but comically for Albert Herring.  It separates them from the society that they live in.  Albert is more natural, sweeter, more open-hearted and generous of spirit.  He is also more direct, and blunt.

BD:   Is he less worldly?

Galati:   Less worldly, less contrived, less socially mannered and artificial.  He doesn’t lie, and the other characters do.  They disguise their real feelings with their virtuous pomp and circumstance.  They’re really rather mean-minded and gossipy.  They’re withered little characters.  They’re comically drawn, and so they’re attractive, particularly musically.  Take the opening scene.  Lady Billows interviews the Mayor, the Superintendent, the Vicar and the School Mistress, asking them to submit nominees for Queen of the May.  I would imagine that this scene in a conventional dramatic production would be not only boring, but off-putting.  However, in the opera, these characters sing beautifully together, and make such delicate and comic harmonies.  I’m not a musician, but I am aware that there are lots of quotes in the opera, and parodies of other musical forms.  In the second act, there’s some Tristan und Isolde...

BD:   … with the love potion, and the drink that Albert takes.  Is Albert Herring a Morality Play in any sense of the word?

Galati:   It’s a Morality Play in the sense that Albert is moral in the way that nature is moral.  The other characters, who are high-minded and pious, and who preach virtue, are pulled out of shape by their virtuous mask, so they’re not natural.  Even Mum, Albert’s mother
who is a widow, and who’s been struggling for years keeping the greengrocer shop that Albert helps her runhas some very touching moments in the opera.  After Albert is gone, she remembers a photograph of him that’s left on a tulip wood table.  She sings about the occasion when it was taken.  Albert’s father was alive, and they had gone to a carnival, and had his portrait made.  She had it enlarged, and put in a nice frame.  Mum is a sympathetic character, but even she is pulled out of shape, and made perhaps a little bit grotesque or unnatural, because her main interest in Albert’s crowning is the twenty-five quid that he’s going to get.

galati BD:   She thinks that will help the business?

Galati:   Oh, yes!  When it’s first offered, she claims that it’s going to be all for Albert, but you can see the wheels turning around, and she really has in mind using the money herself.

BD:   Are there any real anti-heroes in this play?

Galati:   In a sense, the community is an anti-hero.

BD:   Just as it is in Peter Grimes?

Galati:   Yes, exactly.  They do play an antagonistic role, and in that sense their behavior shows that they don’t approve of Albert’s open, honest, direct, and natural way of being in the world.  That’s the reason why Albert grows up, and why he triumphs at the end.  Often, when the work is viewed, it’s seen as being a little bit slight.  It’s just a story about a young kid who grows up, and in the end he comes back home.  When you adumbrate [foreshadow or suggest] the plot that way, it seems rather thin, but it's really the telling of the story that’s so delightful, and the form is familiar enough.  It’s a comedy which has a rather typical comic conclusion, and it follows a rather standard pattern.

BD:   Do we all have a little bit of Albert in ourselves, or might we know someone who is just like Albert?

Galati:   Yes, indeed.  He’s a very real, engaging character.

BD:   What about the ending?  Is Albert really emancipated at the end?

Galati:   He’s not emancipated from the constraints of the little provincial town that he lives in, but he’s emancipated in his capacity to see and deal with those constraints.  The opera doesn’t ask the audience to look too much into the future, or to assume this or that is going to happen to Albert when the opera concludes.  In fact, I think it makes a deliberate attempt to return the audience to an awareness of the fact that this is just the theater, and this is just a play.  When Albert pitches the wreath out into the audience, and they all wave good-bye to the spectators, you get the sense that the play is over, and the consequences of it are not terribly significant.

BD:   Just something to think about?

Galati:   Yes!  It’s something to think about, but this has just been a story.  It’s just been a diversion, and a delight.

BD:   It’s an entertainment?

Galati:   Yes, indeed.  It’s extremely entertaining, I think.

BD:   Are there any homosexual overtones as far as Albert is concerned?

Galati:   There are, but they’re very, very oblique.  There are some cute jokes.

BD:   But it’s not like Aschenbach and Tadzio [in Death in Venice, Britten
s final opera].

Galati:   Absolutely not, no, no.  Of course, Albert doesn’t get a girl.  He doesn’t have one, and he doesn’t get one... not that that’s a particularly homosexual overtone, but when Sid and Nancy go off together, singing,
“Between eight and eleven at night, which is when they are going to take their pleasure, Albert runs into the shop.  He’s been overhearing their conversation, and he rants and raves, and tells them to go ahead and take their pleasure, because he’s had terrors that they could never understand.

BD:   Do we know what these are?

Galati:   No, no, no!  Not a great deal is made of it, but he certainly is the kind of character who is just this side of being an artist, a poet, a homosexual, somehow alienated even further from the world.  He is someone who is deeply in touch with those kinds of mysterious and poetic, perhaps perverse or unspeakable feelings that Britten explores in Billy Budd, and Peter Grimes, and certainly in Death in Venice.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Tell me about some of the special things that you are bringing to this particular production.  When we were setting up to record this conversation, you mentioned that you were staging the musical interludes.

Galati:   Yes, there are a couple of rather long orchestral passages, a device which is familiar to audiences who know Peter Grimes.  This is apparently something that Britten was interested in, and fond of.

BD:   It’s more than just music to cover a scene-change?

Galati:   Yes, it is indeed more than music to cover a scene-change.  It’s music which is designed as a real segue from one scene into another, which will allow the audience to speculate upon what has come before, and anticipate what is coming next.

BD:   Like a long film-dissolve?

Galati:   Yes, yes.  The effect of these orchestral passages for me is to snag the audience, and sometimes harmfully.  The curtain comes down and the audience relaxes, and it’s difficult for them to change gears and withdraw from participating in a spectacle
a dramatic eventand put on the hat of the concert-goer, and sit and listen to the images, both visual and dramatic, that are created in the orchestra.  What we have tried to dovery carefully, and hopefully with some discretionis illuminate the orchestral passages with some small dramatic moves that coincide with the way in which the story is continued in the orchestral interludes.  When a particular theme appears, which is associated, let’s say, with the Mayor, the Vicar, Miss Wordsworth (the School Teacher) and the Superintendent of Police, these actors make an appearance marching across the stage.  In the first act, going from Scene 1 to Scene 2, the longest orchestral interlude exists in the opera, and they’re really traveling from Lady Billows’ house to Albert Herring’s greengrocer’s shop.  That second scene in the greengrocer’s shop begins before they arrive, but we see them traveling with the music, which supports a dramatic journey from one place to the next.

BD:   [Gently protesting]  Are you, perhaps, taking on a little bit more than what Britten envisioned?  It would seem that he wanted the audience to think about these thoughts with the music, and you are actually directing the audience’s attention.

Galati:   Yes, we are directing the audience’s thoughts.  We’re directing their attention visually when certain musical passages connect with the telling of the story.  We’ve tried to do it without an elaborate choreographic reiteration of what’s happening in the score.

BD:   Do you think it works?

Galati:   Well, it does for me, and I hope it will work for the audience when all of the technical effects come together with the staging.  It’s dependent upon creating an ambiance which is not too vivid, and not too distracting.  It has to be simple and sweet, and if it is that, then it will work.

BD:   Good.  I’m always glad to see these innovative touches, and most of them have worked.  I’ve seen your previous COT productions, and have been very impressed with everything that has gone on.

martin Galati:   Well, thank you!

BD:   Now we’re taping this in an evening after a rehearsal.  How are the rehearsals going?

Galati:   They’re going very well.   It’s a very, very difficult work.

BD:   Is the cast that you have assembled up to the task?

Galati:   Absolutely.  They’re just splendid.  Albert Herring is Bill Martin, who has worked with me on a couple of previous operas.  He was Fenton in The Merry Wives of Windsor, and he was also Joe the Loiterer in The Mother of Us All.  He really is a wonderful singing-actor.  He’s very charismatic, and has a fine sense of Albert’s mysterious innocence.  He has an ingenuous quality which emerges beautifully in his simple articulation of the character, and his beautiful rendering of the music.  Lady Billows is Judith Erikson, who is an extraordinary artist.

BD:   Have we seen her before at the Chicago Opera Theater?

Galati:   Yes, indeed!  She played Susan B. Anthony in The Mother of Us All four years ago, and she was quite extraordinary indeed.  Her Lady Billows is a strong and complex woman.  She avoids making her a cartoon, or a harridan [strict, bossy, belligerent old woman], or a shrill suffragette.  She really has dimension.

BD:   She’s the motivation though for the whole contest, looking for a Queen of the May.

Galati:   Yes, indeed.  She’s the mover, and the hub of the wheel.  In many ways, she plays as central a role in the opera as Albert Herring.  If anyone represents the antagonistic forces in the community, it’s Lady Billows who is at the helm.

BD:   She’s trying to do right, but it winds up going awry?

Galati:   Yes, indeed!

BD:   Do you feel that any of your people are making caricatures out of these parts, or are they getting into the parts but not making too much or too little of them?

Galati:   This is a very difficult question.  From my point of view, they’re doing an extraordinary job of avoiding caricature.  The way one perceives character is very, very complicated, and my sense of a textured character may not be yours, or someone else’s.  But I feel that we’ve been careful to avoid too broad a stroke for the characters.

BD:   You want them all to be believable?

Galati:   They must be believable in order for it to be funny.  If they’re playing at being funny, or trying to be funny, it won
t work well.  This isn’t a slapstick farce.  It isn’t a broad comedy.  It’s a comedy of character and of manners.  So, if its going to work, it really demands convincing and fully-felt renderings of the characters.  If they are believed by the singers, then what’s funny about them will emerge naturally, and the audience will laugh because they recognize something that’s true, not because they’ve been told that something is funny.

BD:   If you’re dealing with a strong enough work, if it is done well by itself, everything will come across?

Galati:   Yes, I firmly believe that.  I’ve had the experience of working, not only in opera but in theater, with works that are less substantial, and, invariably, they’re the ones that require the most elaborate disguising in order to make them workable.  But this is a work that I wish we had many more performances to offer, and lots more time to be with it, because it continues to grow and reveal itself, and be interesting.

BD:   Do you think the audience that comes to see it will simply enjoy it?

Galati:   I hope so very much, I really do.

BD:   Is it easy to come and understand in the first hearing, or should it be something that you hear more than once?

Galati:   It’s something that I love hearing over, and over, and over again, but it’s a work that can be easily appreciated and enjoyed at the first viewing or sitting.

BD:   But then there’s more each time you get into it?

Galati:   I think so.  The music unfolds and reveals itself the more one is familiar with it.  After knowing it for a while, one becomes aware of the patterns of melody that repeat, and of the themes and motifs that thread their way throughout the work.  It’s very accessible.

BD:   What about some of the other characters?

Galati:   Philip Kraus is the Vicar, and he’s a very fine artist who has, in some ways, a rather puffy and more blatantly comic character than some of the others.  But he’s very delicate in his treatment.

BD:   It’s not a ‘buffo’ character, is it?

Galati:   No, no, but he emerges as a little more officious.  He has a little bit more to do than the Mayor and the Superintendent, but they balance one another because they’re so different. 

BD:   How is Phil reacting to your direction?  He’s done some directing himself...

Galati:   I know, and he’s wonderful to work with.  He’s very, very bright, and keen.  I knew that he had done some directing, so I thought he’ll probably have quite a few ideas of his own.  But he’s just wonderful.  He takes direction very well.  He’s very economic.  
Charlotte Gardener plays Mum, Albert’s mother, and she’s worked with the Chicago Opera Theater several times in the past.  She was also in The Merry Wives of Windsor, and The Mother of Us All.  It’s a very, very fine cast, I think.

BD:   The conductor will be Robert Frisbie?

Galati:   Yes, indeed.  He has conducted all of the performances of the Chicago Opera Theater since its inception several years ago.

BD:   What about the physical production, the sets and costumes?

Galati:   David Emmons, who has done a great deal of work in the Chicago area, and has been nominated for Joseph Jefferson awards for his scene design at places like the St. Nicholas Theater, has done a wonderful set.  He’s designed for the Summer Comedy Theater that also plays at the Athenaeum, so he’s very familiar with the problems inherent in the space.  When I say
problems, I don’t mean to stress that, but every theater has its own limitations and virtues.


A memorial service is being planned for David Emmons, award-winning scenic and theater designer who died Saturday in Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

Mr. Emmons, 34, a graduate of the Goodman School of Drama, began his work in the theater in Chicago in the mid-1970s and immediately established himself as an imaginative young designer.

In addition to his designing of scenery at such Chicago area theaters as the Ivanhoe (''The Great Sebastians'') and Northlight (''Seascape''), Mr. Emmons planned the original performance spaces for Wisdom Bridge and St. Nicholas Theatres in Chicago.

Many of Mr. Emmons` designs, including the sets for ''Yentl'' and ''A Streetcar Named Desire,'' had been seen at Wisdom Bridge.

Returning to Chicago after a few years in New York, Mr. Emmons worked as a scenic artist at WMAQ-TV (Channel 5), designing the play ''The 51st Ward'' there. His most recent stage design in Chicago had been in 1985 for the cabaret revue ''Forbidden Broadway.''

Mr. Emmons is survived by his parents, Richard and Helen; his twin brother Richard; and a sister, Anne. Burial will be in his native Ann Arbor, Mich.

BD:   More like idiosyncrasies?

Galati:   Yes, indeed.  His set captures the airiness of the music, and the beauty and the openness of the themes in the play, as well as the contrast between, most obviously light and dark that is analogous to the sense that you feel.  This is something I was thinking of earlier, but didn’t mention... death, which is the omnipresent, or at least is in the background of the work all the time, is hurrying the characters on to enjoy themselves.  There’s a very, very beautiful duet in the second act between Sid and Nancy, when they sing,
Time is a glutton; time is a thief.  We must take our pleasure now, because we have little time to do so.  Time, both literally and figuratively, is a pressure throughout the opera.  A clock chimes in Lady Billows’ Morning Room in the very first scene.  “Punctual as usual, Lady Billows says.  It’s just past ten, Florence says, when Lady Billows is getting ready to entertain her delegates.

BD:   So, there’s a consciousness of time all the way through?

Galati:   All the way through!  Albert makes references to the clock in the greengrocer’s shop. 
He better do it now; he better hurry up; time is wasting us all.  In the threnody, which is this passion expression of mournful loss when Albert has disappeared, the chorus sings, “Death awaits us one and all.

BD:   It brings it all home when they realize he has gone?

Galati:   Yes, indeed.  So time, and its pressure, and the inexorable force of death in our lives are very dark and very serious themes, but they do underlie the light, airy, openness that is represented musically on the surface.  David’s set very beautifully reflects this claustrophobic, provincial environment, which is dark, and musty, and full of objects.  Lady Billows’ side is books, cards, and filing cabinets where information on everyone is kept in the town.  It’s Virtue Central.  [Both laugh]  Then there is the greengrocer’s shop.  It’s no accident that Albert works in a grocery store with natural things
fruit and vegetables, and flowers all aroundbut it is still a clutter.  The physical production is a particularly difficult scenic problem to solve because Lady Billows’ house is an elaborate set, and it’s only on for the very first scene of the opera.  Then we never see it again.  The greengrocer’s shop figures prominently in Act 1 and in Act 3.  It takes all of Act 3.  In Act 2, we’re in the Vicar’s garden, and exteriors are always difficult.  But David has managed a really graceful and stylish evocation of the environment of the work.  Geoffrey Bushor is doing the lighting, and he’s done lots of work with the Chicago Opera Theater, been nominated for Joseph Jefferson awards for his work with the Organic Theatre, and he’s worked at St. Nicholas, and various theaters.  I should also mention that Kate Bergh has designed the costumes, and they’re wonderfully detailed expressions of the characters in the work.
BD:   How is it going to play in the Athenaeum Theater?  It’s such a charming and intimate theater.

Galati:   I’m hoping that it will play very well.  It’s a small opera.  It has large ideas and feelings in it, and it has delicacy and fragrance.  I’m not sure you can apply an olfactory image to music, but has delicacy and lightness, and it’s intimate.  It’s a small orchestra, and a small cast.  There are thirteen in the cast, and it’s a small orchestra, and the Athenaeum, while it has a good capacity, is an intimate house.

BD:   So, it all goes to enhance what is being seen and heard?

Galati:   Yes, I hope so.  I’m very enthusiastic.

BD:   I’m glad you come here right after rehearsal, because you’re geared up for it.

Galati:   Oh, yes!  That’s for sure, and it really is surprising to me how I think the work is a masterpiece.  I really believe that it’s an extraordinary work of art.  Eric Crozier is the librettist, and really the text is just nearly flawless.  I can’t find a thing that’s forced.  It’s the most sophisticated English text.  I’m naïve about these things, but of the works that I know, it’s perfectly singable, it’s wonderful poetry, and it’s extraordinarily witty.  It’s just very, very quick and keen.

BD:   Are there going to be any big belly laughs from the audience?

Galati:   No, there aren’t.  It’s not that kind of a comedy.

BD:   But the audience will be smiling a lot?

Galati:   I hope so.  The St. Louis production was a very good one.  [It had recently been shown on TV.]

BD:   How did they handle the interludes?

Galati:   They did a sort of shadow play, which I don’t believe they did on stage, but for the television they did a kind of silhouette.  It was sort of an abstracted portrait of various characters in the work doing things.  But that was my first exposure to it.  I hadn’t even heard the opera when I saw that, and I thought it was stuffy.  It was stiff, and a little more sober than I felt the work really was.

BD:   You’re trying to make it a little bit more

Galati:   Yes, I’m trying, but it’s hard without making it too broad, because some of them have an impulse to overdo it.

BD:   Everything will get across without the
grand gesture?

Galati:   Yes, yes, yes.

BD:   Are the words going to come across?

Galati:   Oh, I hope so.  Some friends of mine, who didn’t know the work, came to a rehearsal two nights ago, and diction was my main concern.  I didn’t tell them this, but I wanted to know how much they could understand.  They said they could understand just about everything.  However, there are moments in the opera when there’s a deliberate confusion.

BD:   You’re not working with the orchestra yet?

Galati:   No, we’re not, but the orchestra is small, and has wonderful solo work.

BD:   [After listing once again the dates and times of the performances for the radio listeners]  Thank you very much for speaking with me today.  I hope the public is looking forward to this, just as I am.

Galati:   Thank you very much.  It was fun to talk about it.

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© 1979 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in the studios of WNIB, Classical 97, on April 2, 1979.  A portion was broadcast on WNIB four days later.  This transcription was made in 2021, 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.