Thursday, 31 December 2015

Top Theatre in 2015

I didn't get the chance to see as many musicals and plays in London this year. However, having viewed thirty-four shows, there was still a lot of theatre craft and creativity to praise. Here are my favourite shows from Theatreland; from the West End and Fringe world.

Other links: 

Opera at a Glance in 2015. My review from major opera houses in London (Click here)

Fringe Opera Favourites for 2015: (Click here)

Top Fringe Operas in 2015

I saw sixty-four operas this year. A third of them were small-scale productions. Yet no matter how tiny the venue were or how small the budget seemed, there were an array of memorable and fascinating productions that made an impression on me. Here are my favourite operas from the London fringe scene in 2015. Enjoy!

Other links: 

Opera at a Glance in 2015. My review from major opera houses in London (Click here)

Review of Eugene Onegin at the Royal Opera House (Click here) Ends in the 7th January.

Dress rehearsal of Cavalleria Rusticana / Pagliacci (Click here) Last showing is on Jan 1st.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Opera at a Glance in 2015

Here it is.

I saw sixty-four operas this year and reviewed fifty of them. My opera reach was limited to London this year, however, as you can see there was a ton of tremendous performances. I've selected a handful of operas that really made it my year.  

Fringe Opera Favourites for 2015: (Click here)  

My favourite Theatre shows for 2015: (Click here)

Sunday, 20 December 2015

ROH: Eugene Onegin ★★★★

Nicole Car (Tatyana) and Dmitri Hvorostovsky (Eugene Onegin) by Alastair Muir
Last week director of Opera, Kasper Holten announced his departure from his position at Covent Garden and return to Copenhagen in March 2017.  The news caused mixed reaction. Some relieved while others, like myself, upset yet, still, praising him for the impact he has made on the opera landscape since his appointment.

The Royal Opera house’s final opera for 2015 ends with Holten’s production of Eugene Onegin, which premiered in 2013 that was apparently unimpressive, founded on excessive symbolic and theatrical devices far removed from the original ‘seven lyric scenes’ written by Tchaikovsky.

Although I didn’t see the 2013 production, I was thoroughly satisfied by the opening performance last night. I found myself fully engrossed in the nostalgic and sentimental scenery and crafty directorship - undoubtedly Holten’s ideas. Perhaps some technical changes have been made since the first outing but the application of memory and knowledge through experience was effectively poignant, more so for the tragic tale from the verse novel of 19th century Russian author, Alexander Pushkin. 

Semyon Bychkov conducts the piece and he is no stranger to Eugene Onegin; it was the first opera he ever conducted in Leningrad when he was only 20 years old. The opera has sentimental value to him, deeming it as one of 'operatic loves', alongside Carmen and La Traviata. 

Familiar with the music he paces his baton with subtlety and fine, light tempo. Last night he refrained from conducting loudly too soon and only unleashed this when necessary, such as the death of Lensky, the letter scene and the doomed ending for Onegin.

Hvorosktrovsky (Onegin) and Michael Fabiano as his best friend, Lensky by Bill Cooper
The ROH orchestra perform the famous Polonaise fruitfully, and I found that the brass didn’t fall short on causing chills in the auditorium in the opening bars of Lensky's aria in the duel scene. Bychkov allows for a long pause between the last two scenes to differentiate the music and change in tone from the rest of the opera.

The opening scene is an echo of how the story will end. Anyone familiar with the ending of Eugene Onegin may see this is a mental test - to see whether the production delivers on building up to such a climactic and bitter conclusion. 

Set in late 19th century Russian high society, Mia Stensgaard colours the set with autumn hues. Katrina Lindsay dress the lead cast and ROH chorus, who sing gloriously, in handsome period costumes. 

The staging is set in a country estate seen from the inside. Large doors open and close to reveal various backdrops from autumn meadows and stormy winters just before the tense duel scene between two best friends. Faint visual images of written words are projected onto the stage for the letter scene where Tantyana shares her feelings to the oafish Onegin. 

Emily Ranford as the young Tatyana and the glorious ROH Chorus by Bill Cooper
The Russian tale behind Onegin is interesting. Lensky arrives with his friend Onegin, who inherits a neighbouring estate from his uncle, yet he has very little interest in running it. Onegin finds amusement flirting with Tatyana, and this is all it takes to rouse Tatyana’s imagination of a sweet romance between them.

Tatyana spends the entire night writing a love letter to Onegin and once delivered to him, her crush becomes gossip amongst society. He lectures and rejects her. To evoke Tatyana’s anxiety and misery, Tchaikovsky writes her music in a peculiar and complex fashion, different from Onegin’s dressed-down composition. 

Bright and excited young tenor Michael Fabiano portrays the charming poet, Lensky. Making his debut at the ROH, Fabiano wins the audience with his convincing performance as an honest romantic that turns into a hothead when he sees his lover, Olga flirting with Onegin. By the end of scene 4, audience are blown away by Fabiano as he leaves the stage in a rage, singing of his betrayal from his lover and best friend. (Someone behind me was so touched by his performance that she burst into tears.)

Russian's much-loved baritone, Dmitri Hvorostovsky returns to the Covent Garden after being diagnosed with a brain tumour and poor health this year, which led to cancellations of all pre-planned events through to August. Thankfully he responded positively to his treatment and returned back to the stage in September at the Met in their production of Il Trovatore. Similarly, he received much praise at the curtain call last night.

In good health he sung potently and dark-voiced as ever to project the Byronic Onegin. We got to see the best of Hvorostovsky in the final scenes where he begs for Tatyana to forgive him and love him again. Tchaikovsky cleverly changes up the music and gives Onegin more emotional intelligence in this tableaux in a passionate and alluring duet with Tatyana. Hvorostovsky lets loose and unleashes heavy passions as he kneels to Tatyana's feet, embracing her, unwilling to let her go.

Australian soprano, Nicole Car had sung the role of Tatyana at Opera Australia last year. She makes her debut at the Covent Garden where she also shines, showcasing her understanding of Tatyana's innocent tenderness and delicate predicament.  

During the opening scene, a younger version of Tatyana tip toes around with her head in books. Yet by the end of the opera, Car's soaring lyricism shimmers and reveals the inner feelings that had been tapped by Onegin. In the Letter Scene she gives the audience a moving performance with hushed expressions. However, in the closing scenes she presents a bolder and grown-up version of Tatyana with full-throated bursts, telling Onegin to leave her alone for ever. Here you can see one of the most momentous parts of the production - seeing Car and Hvorostovsky singing the words, ‘Happiness was within our grasp. So close. So close.’

Nicole Car (Tatyana) and Dmitri Hvorosktrovsky (Eugene Onegin) in the final scene by Bill Cooper

Italian bass, Ferruccio Furlanetto sings brilliantly as Tatyana's husband. His performance is exceptionally precious in Prince Gremin’s aria.

There's smart ideas at work in Holten’s production, even though I felt the first scene was quite slow and visually uninspiring. The use of doubling characters with younger versions of Tatyana and  Onegin cunningly highlight the nostalgia of youth and its simplicity. While the remainder of Tatyana’s teared books, a tree branch from the death scene of Lensky and the corpse of his body, where Fabiano lies on stage for the remaining scene, are reminders of the scar of past experience, lessons learnt and the sacrifices made in this heart-breaking opera. 

Sung in Russian, the opera meant a lot to Tchaikovsky's personal life. The Royal Opera House is simultanously performing a sold out production of Tchaikovsky's family festive ballet, Nutcracker. Yet life was not as rosy for Tchaikovsky, and this work definitely demonstrates that. To truly understand the composer, one must see Onegin. 

Currently showing until the 7th of January - Click here to check dates and purchase tickets. (Alternatively, you can queue up for day tickets. Doors open at 10am.)

More opera reviews:

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Piaf at the Charing Cross Theatre ★★★★

Cameron Leigh as Piaf ©Gabriel Szalontai 
This year marks the century of the iconic French chanteuse Edith Piaf. To celebrate, Charing Cross theatre unleashes Pam Gem's play, Piaf, directed by Jari Laakso, which was first staged in 1978. The play is quite an eye opener. It pulls away the glamour of Piaf's singing career for the part of Piaf’s life that we are not so familiar with.

As much as she was the Carnegie Hall super star, the play describes Piaf's earlier poverty-stricken life, as potty-mouthed Édith Giovanna Gassion, brought up by prostitutes, and addicted to alcohol and drugs. 

Piaf (Leigh) with husband, Marcel (Zac Hamilton) ©Gabriel Szalontai 
The script is clear-cut. The scenes move from episode to episode of her traumatic life. They are neatly interlinked with her record-breaking songs including Padam, Padam and La Vie en Rose. It’s what keep the play musically alive alongside Cameron Leigh’s perfect performance of the international cabaret star.

The talented performer-musicians are also strong forces on stage, playing several roles in Piaf’s tragic journey. Stephanie Prior is impressive as Marlene Dietrich as well as Piaf's nurse. Samatha Spurgin is brilliant as Piaf's old time friend from the brothel, Toine. 

Leigh with Brian Gilligan, Mal Hall, Zac Hamilton, Philip Murray Warson and Kit Smith ©Gabriel Szalontai 
Brian Gilligan, Mal Hall, Zac Hamilton, Philip Murray Warson and Kit Smith add dashes of humour and electricity to the production, performing a variety of male roles that ruled Piaf's life including German soldiers in WWII, doctors, Louis Leplée (the club owner who discovered Piaf), Theo (her last husband) and police detectives who suspected her of murder. 

Leigh is the tour de force of the show. She nails the title role vocally, characteristically and physically. If you ever wanted to know what Piaf was like in real life, Leigh is your best bet. She can re-enact her every emotion effortless. Seeing her perform Non, je ne regrette rien is a gut-wrenching experience. Many members of the audience had tears in their eyes. However, one wonders if she really was as coarse as Gem depicts her - with an East London cockney accent but, just, the French version.

Scenes where Piaf discovers her husband, Marcel Cerdan had died in a plane crash or suffers from a car crash in 1951, with broken arm and ribs, are convincingly performed by Leigh. The audience pity Piaf's hard life.

If you’re a fan of Piaf, get a ticket now. Cameron Leigh's performance is simply mind-blowing.

Piaf (Leigh) with Toine (Samantha Spurgin)

Currently showing at the until January 2nd. Click on the link to purchase tickets. 

Director: Jari Laakso; Musical Arrangement and Supervision: Isaac McCullough; Movement Director: Katya Bourvis; Designer: Philippa Batt; Lighting Designer: Chris Randall.
 is produced by Gillian Tan, Blackwinged Creatives, Steven M. Levy and Sean Sweeney.

For more theatre reviews on Trend Fem,
click here. 
Dress rehearsal of Cavalleria Rusticana / Pagliacci at the Royal Opera House (Dec 2015)

Tom Stoppard, Hampstead Theatre (Dec 2015)

Henry V, The Royal Shakespeare Company, the Barbican (Nov 2015)

Harold Pinter's The Homecoming, Trafalgar Studio (November 2015)

Thursday, 10 December 2015

⭐⭐⭐ National Theatre Live: Eyre at the Gate Picture House (Notting Hill)

Charlotte Bronte's eponymous novel of the life of Jane Eyre is considered avant-garde, ahead of its time, dabbling with gender roles, sexuality and religion during the 19th century. Yet through Bronte, Eyre was given an individual voice that went against social whims, and was arguably one of the first examples of proto-feminism, of the century.

Now, still, showing at the National Theatre is Sally Cookson's ensemble adaptation, which was first shown last year at the Bristol Old Vic, as part of a hugely successful two-part show. Presented as a single show, this 210-minute drama begins with Jane (Madeleine Worrall) crying like a first born child, with atmospheric music performed by a impassioned band who prepares the audience for the psychological ordeals that this would-be child later endures. With Cookson, however, it's abundantly clear that she studies Eyre's cruel and desperate upbringing, rather than hone in, so much, at the troublesome and confusing relationship she develops with Rochester. 

Stage designer, Michael Vale offers a rustic, wooden maze of ladders and platforms for the complex characters to dance, run and hide away.  The jazz ensemble (piano, drums and brass) is stationed centre stage throughout; either they are singing and banging to the beat of Eyre's feet, or buzzing to a stagecoach charade, running on the spot to signify Eyre's journey to a new country estate or the draconian Thornfield Hall School.

Cookson's play instills the neglect and abandonment of various family members in Eyre's life, from her parents, her kindly uncle and best friend, Helen Burns (Laura Elphinstone), who were lost to the widespread diseases of the time. This follows her hardship under the verbally abusive Aunt Reed (Maggie Tagney) and over-zealous Mr Brocklehurst (Craig Edwards). Aideen Malone's exquisite display of light and Benji Bower's howling score represent the fragility of Thornfield Hall and the chilling depression of Lowood.

Worrall's sensitive and tender portrayal of Eyre has crafty nuances of childishness, which appeals to Felix Hayes's aggressive and Byronic Rochester. Hayes retains an assured and bold Rochester whose overt superiority exudes rough-around-the-edges masculinity. Craig Edwards
animatedly performs as his giddy and curious dog, Pilot and Melanie Marshall gives a gracious and heart-felt performance singing as Rochester's insane wife, Bertha.

This original production puts a musical twang to Bronte’s 19th century tale and brings to life the internal voices that haunted Eyre. The performance is visceral and the music is, almost, unforgettable. 

For more information on Jane Eyre, please click here.

Click here for NT Live's performance of A View from the Bridge with Mark Strong. 

NT Live Review of Everyman, click here.

Click here for NT Live Review of Tom Stoppard's The Hard Problem.

Friday, 4 December 2015

#ROHcavpag - Cavalleria Rusticana / Pagliacci at the Royal Opera House - Dress Rehearsal

Aleksandrs Antonenko, Dimitri Platanias, Carmen Giannattasio with the ROH Chorus.
I was delighted to see the general dress rehearsal of Ruggero Leoncavallo's triumphant twin operas of love, jealously and passion. On Monday (30th November 2015) the Royal Opera House had its general dress rehearsal of the double bill staged, provincial Italian styled production, by director Damiano Michieletto (who caused a controversial storm over what critics called 'a gratuitous rape scene' in this year's production of Guillaume Tell), with designer Paolo Fantin. 
Preparing for the Live Relay

Eva-Maria Westbroek sings the role of Santuzza in the first 'melodramma' in one act, which she had done at the Met Opera this year. I had seen her perform as Maddalena (Andrea Chénier) and Anna (Anna Nicole) at Covent Garden yet seeing her as Santuzza was completely spell-bounding. It is the best I have ever seen her. 

There are no words to describe the performance of Aleksandrs Antonenko as Canio in Pagliacci. I recently saw him as Otello at the Live in HD broadcast from the Met, however, seeing him on stage was far more potent. The tenor roles of Otello and Canio have something in common - jealously, and watching him point at the mirror as he sung the glorious vesti la giubba made hairs stand on end. It was truly amazing. An audience member behind me said, "oh, the suspense!"

Pappano, Martina Belli, Elena Zilio, Eva-Maria Westbroek,  Carmen Giannattasio, Dimitri Platanias and Benjamin Hulett.
The production showed the various dimensions of Dimitri Platanias singing three roles of Alfio (Cavalleria Rusticana), prologue (Pagliacci) and Tonio (Pagliacci). The only time I had a drop of sympathy for him was seeing him as a representative of the stage singing the words, ' we are men of flesh and blood, we breathe the air, just like you!'

Royal Opera House Chorus singers
There were outstanding performances from Carmen Giannattasio and Martina Belli as the seductive and promiscuous wives,  Nedda (Pagliacci) and Lola (Cavalleria Rusticana). The most touching duet was between Dionysios Sourbis and Giannattasio singing as Silvio (Pagliacci) and Nedda. 

I enjoyed the fine singing of Benjamin Hulett as stage creature, Arlecchino. Just wished there was more words for him to sing! And Elena Zilio moved me from the moment the curtains were lifted as she looked over her murdered son, Turiddu (Antonenko). Seeing her embrace a weeping and regretful Santuzza (Westbroek) was also an emotional scene. 

Antonio Pappano was spirited throughout his conducted of Leoncavallo's gorgeous music with its wave-after-wave of soul-stirring tension. And there wasn't an ounce of stage misconduct from Michieletto. Possibly the best production I've seen so far this year at the Royal Opera House. Will Eugene Onegin top this? We shall just have to see.
Pappano, Martina Belli, Elena Zilio, Eva-Maria Westbroek,  Carmen Giannattasio, Dimitri Platanias and Benjamin Hulett.

Performances are showing until the 1st of January 2016.  Click here to buy tickets.
It is also available to see in cinemas across the globe on December 10th. Go to your nearest cinemas. (Click here for more information on ROH Screenings.) Alternatively queue up early for day tickets, which are available every day from 10am. 

More Links:
 Andre Chenier review with Jonas Kaufmann and Eva-Maria Westbroek (Click here).

Otello - Live in HD from MetOpera with Aleksandrs Antonenko review (Click here).

Anna Nicole with Eva-Maria Westbroek (Click here).

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Live in HD: Met Opera - Berg's Lulu ★★★★★

“Were it not for those childlike eyes of yours, I should take you for the most cunning whore that ever led a man to ruin.” These are the words Alwa says at the end of Act 2 of Alban Berg's Lulu just as he seduces his father's wife and murderer. Lulu replies, “Would to God that I were.” This is the most clearest way of understanding Marlis Petersen's leading role at the MetOpera's new productin, under the direction by South African visionaire, William Kentridge.

Berg captured the concept of the highly dramatic tale of Lulu - the femme fatale and object of desire - originally written by playwright Frank Wedekind. From child beggar, who is rescued by a doctor, she becomes a model, a stage performer and dies a prostitute. She is also taken prisoner, escapes but is ultimately killed after enrapturing the hearts of many lovers, some who died because of her.

Petersen's Lulu, however, has something indisputably loveable about her. Her innocence (not as innocent as Manon Lescaut though), pity and warmth draw audience’s eyes to her every move. In the outset, her first husband faints in front of her as she models for a painter, yet her childlike reaction and fickle flirtations set the wheels for what can only become a tragic ending. The shock of her true love, Dr. Schön, shoving a gun into her hand whilst frantically forcing her to kill herself and desperate pleas to Jack the Ripper to stay the night, as if she is terrified of being alone, point at the desperation, naivety and vulnerability of a woman that everyone wants. 

Kentridge doesn't commit any stage scandals. Petersen's characterisation leaves out nudity and the power of sex, which is channelled through stark, animated and dynamic video projections instead. This gives audiences more chance to understand Lulu through Petersen's clarity of voice and fearless acting. Pieces of paper with drawn-on images of breasts are glued onto Petersen's costume, offering a subtle suggestion of nakedness where, in the past, productions tended to dress singers performing Lulu in the nude. Even in Act II, as Alwa sings about her flawless body, Alwa hardly lays a finger on her.
Sabine Theunissen's sharp, poised and highly charged projections of cut out dictionary pages with splashes of thick black ink and full body nudes bring the opera to life, providing symbolism and context to this highly perplexing drama. This is Kentridge's second production at the Met, following Shostakovich's The Nose, where his collages create movement and expressions of Lulu's various lovers; there's also omnipresent portraits of the composer as well.

A silent actress is positioned on the edge of the stage. She observes Lulu's actions and glares back and forth at the audience as if she were as much as part of the viewing process as they are. She is a representation of Lulu's inner self; the sensual and playfulness attributed to Lulu through strange postures, such as sticking her legs out of a piano and opening her legs wide, where Petersen doesn't have to.

Watching it at the Curzon cinema, however, there's a sense that cinema audiences where let off, not having to deal with so much happening on the vivacious stage. While the video director, Michael Diamond, offers brevity and focused footage to keep up with real-time action, Met audiences are exposed to a barrage of conceptual visuals that could throw them off; the opera may seem more demanding on the eyes for them. Yet, despite these misgivings, in my years of watching Live in HD screenings of the Met, this is one of the best stage designs I have seen out of New York.
Also the cinema acoustics didn't hinder the splendour and skill of its shinny cast. Johan Reuter exudes the appeal of an intelligent and rich Dr. Schön with the psychotic depth and darkness of Jack the Ripper through his rich bass-baritone voice. As Countess Geschwitz, Susan Graham does an impeccable job singing as the most honest, mislead and misguided lesbian lover of Lulu. Martin Winkler is tough and sturdy as the acrobat and animal tamer while Daniel Brenna sings brilliantly as the subdued and bright-eyed Alwa.

For those listening to Berg for the first time, one has to be prepared of the harshness and roughness of his music, yet the appeal of Lulu is in the lyricism of its libretto which is equally enhanced by superb and distinguished singing.

With the final act completed by Friedrich Cerha, where Berg died before he completed it, it is a challenging opera for directors to stage and musicians to truly understand. This is stressed more with the historical context it was written in and the pulsating intensity of its lead characters.

The Met orchestra are tenacious. Lotha Koenigs conducts the production with skill and wonderment (which James Levine opted out of due to health reasons), as if he knew the score through and through. In those heart-stopping scenes, Lulu's love scene with Dr. Schön and the countess's cry when Lulu is murdered, we hear the slick and versatile stripes of Berg's creative music writing.

It is no surprise that here at the Curzon Cinema, in Chelsea, viewers were cheering on for Petersen at the curtain call. Even though she may not have heard their reaction, it is a clear sign that she deserves the roar of applause after mastering a role, vocally and theatrically, for more than 20 years. She has announced that this was her final show as Lulu, and to that we can only salute her.   

Lulu runs through December 3 at the Metropolitan Opera. Derrick Inouye conducts on November 24, November 28, and December 3.


Lulu runs through December 3 at the Metropolitan Opera. Derrick Inouye conducts on November 24, November 28, and December 3. - See more at:
Lulu runs through December 3 at the Metropolitan Opera. Derrick Inouye conducts on November 24, November 28, and December 3. - See more at:

Friday, 20 November 2015

Interview with Stage Director Nina Brazier

Nina Brazier, director of Clapham Opera Festival's La bohème, has vast experience directing opera at Buxton Festival, Tête-à Tête, Grimeborn and Stockholm Interplay Festivals. She has been called 'One of Britain's leading young directors of opera' by the Observer. Just before La bohème's opening night, I caught up with her to talk about the art of directing. 

Is it your first time directing la bohème?
Yes. I worked on the opera as an assistant director at Welsh National Opera quite a few years ago. I assisted the main director and supported the in-house side of the team and found it a very different approach when bringing it to life.

I can imagine it's very exciting right now?
Yes, it is. We have young emerging singers who are establishing themselves so we’re very lucky on that front. 

Alongside La bohème, what other Puccini operas are you dying to direct?
The epic opera Tosca. That's an incredible one I'd like to get my teeth into. It's such a great dark tale. There are other beautiful ones like Rondine and the lesser known ones I haven't worked on that would be interesting too.

Let's talk about your directing style. Some people like to work alone, utilise the internet or collaborate with others. How do prefer to work?
I work very collaboratively. Normally in a project you would work hand in hand with the designer and together you will brain storm and come up with ideas and visuals. I find this more interesting than looking online. I would also rather go out to an exhibition or go to the zoo where you can really share ideas and come up with a common vision. Having ideas from people and throwing them back and forth at each other is part of the collaborative process with the designer. It’s to ensure you have an idea of the elements in place and what's out there to play with such as entrances, exits and that sort of thing. It's also a step-by-step process. 

Speaking about art exhibitions have you seen anything recently that really caught your eye?

The Ai Weiwei exhibition is on at the moment at the Royal Academy and he has got an incredible exhibition. It's quite hard to describe. It's about human rights in China essentially. There were enormous earthquakes over there and he was putting together the names of the children who had been killed because the local services wouldn't release them. The whole thing was extraordinarily tragic. The schools that had been built collapsed in the earthquake killing thousands and thousands of innocent children and nobody was putting the pieces together because it would have become a big scandal. It was him and his team who were digging through the debris to work out what had gone wrong and they found corruption in many of the buildings of these properties that he is now creating artwork of. They reflect all of that corruption. I found that incredibly powerful.

Right now, I'm working on a piece on human rights and it’s interesting to see ideas that go back to the origins of human rights. There are so many corrupt societies today. I find it powerful given what is going on at the moment.

The other recent exhibition I’ve seen recently is Frank Auerbach at the Tate Britain. That was absolutely fascinating. The paintings are built up slightly in 3D and have a fascinating theatrical effect. 

Do you go to art exhibitions regularly?
I really like sculptures. Seeing them in 3D sets off your imagination in terms of structures you might use for building a set. You can imagine things working as entrances and exits. I like things that have sculptural properties. I have to remember to take photos and have them ready in my mind as it could be useful later down the line.
Of course, you can absorb information from wonderful artists. We are not trying to steal things from other people but it's just the gem of an idea. By Victoria Park, in Hackney, there are some extraordinary straw sculptures that rise up out of the big ponds and I'm always thinking about how I can use them in some way on a set. 

Do you have specific artists you turn to for your work or is it constantly changing?
I did a production last year, one that springs to mind is the Coronation of Poppea and we had the three gods at the beginning. Their designs were based on wonderful Klimt portraits. That was certainly inspirational. It was god-like and it was a starting point as we were working on a small budget but it was something about the colour and the intensity of those characters. How they were framed and haloed. We tried to capture the use of gold leaf and bringing that to life.
So I would say it always changes from piece to piece and very much depends on how much budget you’ve got, and whether you have the ability to bring something like that to life. With saying that, I'm hugely inspired by Alberto Giacometti's sculpture. These human forms are stripped back to nothing and they are so skinny with long limbs. There is something that he said one time that really stayed with me. It was that he didn't mean for them to come out that way but it took away everything that wasn't meant to be there. He took everything away that didn't need to be there. Keep it to the necessities of the personalities and the characters. I really like that and find his work dynamic. 

I understand you are directing A Song of Good and Evil at the Nuremberg Palace of Justice. Can you talk a little bit about that? 

It's this weekend which is the 70th anniversary of the Nuremberg trials and it's a narrated piece written by human rights lawyer, Philippe Sands. He has already written a couple of books and this is one of his latest pieces. It's all about the origins of human rights and tying together song, storytelling, narration and images. It is all around the three men originally involved in the trials. There's music that tie these men together and it becomes an exploration of modern justice. It's difficult to explain because it's not a play or an opera. Philippe, the writer, is one of the narrators. Vanessa Redgrave is the second narrator and we have a second performance where Vanessa has to come back to London. So, on the opening night of La bohème at Clapham Opera Festival, I'm jumping on a plane in the early morning as we open on Saturday night at Nuremberg. I can't wait until Monday when I can breathe.
What inspires you? Gets you out of bed every day?
It's different everyday. If you're in rehearsal mode you have to be up, out and have the energy to lead the room and coordinate with the music director. You have to have the energy to inspire others. It's your responsibility and I often find that your energy is mirrored in the people you are working with. On other days I'm at home in preparation mode. I have to be disciplined and be in control of my time and be ahead of different projects. It's about finding that balance between being excellent but also learning new things at the same time; looking for improvements and saying, 'I could have done that better' and not getting distracted by other things. Looking ahead into the future is also important. 

What would you say is the most challenging part of directing?
There are a variety of challenges including technical challenges. Last year there were moving elements of the set that were getting more and more complicated and weren't working properly. With that production it were the technical things which meant choreographing a lot of scene changes as there were around 17 scenes. These sets were starting to disintegrate and going wrong and I had to totally rethink that. Meanwhile the cast were a dream. They were getting on with it doing a wonderful job.
There might be another scenario where you might find it difficult to get on with the singers. Or other people who find it difficult to get into the production. Occasionally it might be the people. You find with any given show there seems to be something else that becomes a challenge. There may be one day where I might be able to get through more challenges (I'm not sure). Another challenge is keeping everything fresh and not falling back on old directing habits. You have to think about how the production is going to be different and how is it going to be new. That's a creative challenge in trying to keep your production fresh and interesting whilst not allowing your directing style to become stale and tired. 

How did you feel when you told by the Observer that you were  ‘One of Britain’s leading young directors of opera’?
I thought they were very kind. The press is such a random thing and people get picked for this and that and I feel very lucky to have such a lovely quote. I have been around for a while but it is nice to be considered as a leading person. You take it with a smile and with this difficult industry you have to be grateful for positive things. So, take it and enjoy it! If it's useful, it's wonderful. It doesn't make me feel smug. [Laughs]

Do you like reading reviews of your work? 
Generally, if you get positive ones it is wonderful. The thing for me, and I say this on behalf of emerging artists, is that when you leave a show all you can take with you are production photos as a record of what you have done and anything you get from the reviews. If you take it away it becomes difficult for that production, the show and that emerging artist. Yet it can be disheartening if you get a bad review especially if you feel like your work has been misunderstood. But for the most part it feels like validation of your work because it is out there for the world and it’s from someone who is coming in as a critical observer. And for many artists it is incredibly important that those reviews happen even if it is a negative review. The fact is, someone has come to see it. In terms of documenting your work for a portfolio it's what us artists need to build up.  It's also fascinating getting someone's objective opinion as well. 

What's next on your directing agenda for 2016? 
After this weekend in Nuremberg we are moving A Song of Good and Evil to the South of France and we are doing it in French because most of the people involved are French. Philippe, the writer, is half French including some actresses. We recently had our rehearsals in Paris and it was my first time directing in French and that was a massive challenge because the whole team from singers and pianist are French. It's definitely a second language for me.
In January I'm taking some time off but taking up intense German lessons. That's the next language on the agenda. Then I'm directing a few opera scenes for the Royal College of Music. I was there earlier this year and they've invited me back. After that I’m moving ahead with showing A Song of Good and Evil in Istanbul in April and then performing it in London in May. Everything's ticking along.  

What are the kinds of things that you want the audience to feel, see or even take home when they've seen a show you've directed?
For me it’s the clarity of the storytelling, and the interaction between the characters and making that as vivid and real as possible. Coming from a theatre background, the characters, their journey and the music, which make up the essence of story has to become real. It's those moments, the sparing of the characters, moments of chemistry, moments of contact, when they are together, and not together, that is alive and immediate. I might think differently in ten years time when I'm playing with enormous sets but for the moment, as I'm working at this scale, it's about keeping those moments true.

LA BOHÈME at the Clapham Opera Festival– FRI 20TH NOV 7.30PM & SUN 22ND NOV 4.30PM (click here to purchase tickets)

For more information about Nina Brazier and A Song of Good and Evil, click here for her website. Due to be shown in London next year in May.