I've just got back from working at The Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. I was there to revive the production of Alcina that I made with Katie Mitchell in Aix en Provence in 2015.
It was an extraordinary experience; the Bolshoi is mainly set up as a repertory house, meaning that it rotates its shows on a night by night basis - in opera this is often possible because the staging does not require anything too complex, particularly from the soloists - in the case of Alcina though, this is not the case - it's a very complex production that demands an extraordinary amount from everyone involved, from the singers to the actors to the back stage crew, to the orchestra and the conductor. We also had to work with an almost entirely new cast, with the only original cast member being the wonderful Katarina Bradić as Bradamante. Everyone else was different, including our cast of 7 actors. In fact we had two separate casts of actors, 4 of whom are actresses working in several Moscow theatres, and 10 of whom are from the Bolshoi acting ensemble. Our Alcina is the remarkable Heather Engebretson who quite literally stepped in at the last moment as our original Alcina (for the Moscow performances) pulled out 2 days before rehearsals began. Heather arrived and totally nailed it - if you get a chance to see her, take it! Working with me to get the show on its feet were the brilliant Gilles Rico and Robin Tebutt.
The cast and the team were remarkable - once we had made it clear what would need to be done in order to achieve what we needed, everyone stepped up and worked extremely hard to make it happen. It was not without difficulties, mainly due to the fact that the Bolshoi is an enormous and old institution that is used to doing things in particular ways - but we were also surrounded by people who took enormous pride in what they do, which meant that we got there in the end.
We had the enormous good fortune of working with Alisa Spirina as our interpreter, whose energy and generosity of spirit was absolutely remarkable, Daria Sorokina, who was our producer and always fought our corner and Elizaveta Moroz, who is a staff director at the Bolshoi. But really it is the whole team that made it possible and their commitment and dedication was inspirational.
I should also give a special mention to the amazing Jane Thorne - Jane was the original actress who played older Morgana when we did the production in Aix en Provence. 2 weeks or so before we were due to open in Moscow, we were informed that neither of the actresses who had been cast in this role in Russia were available for the second performance (despite this being precisely the reason that we had cast two people in the role) - after many unrealistic suggestions, it was proposed that we contact Jane to see if she would come out and do it. After a lot of changing of plans, problems with visas etc. Jane was finally flown over for one performance - with virtually no rehearsals she brilliantly made her Bolshoi debut on October 20th. Here she is:
And here is a little extract from Russian TV: