Why opera needs intimacy directorsComment Of The Day
Comment of the Day from the tenor Nathan Granner:
Intimacy Direction is an amazing turn in our industry, actually. There are love scenes in SO MANY operas. This new wrinkle isn’t about making porn. It is about stage partners coming together never having met each other and having scenes that involve, guess what, intimacy.
People are now allowed to have boundaries. We explore those boundaries for each person involved with the scene, including other cast and crew, who may or may not be integral to the focus of the scene.
Some folks are modest and others are more open about their bodies and interpretations of their characters.
It IS like fight choreography in a lot of aspects…
“Romeo, quas tus donc?” Is a perfect example. One can create a feeling of comfort on the stage that immediately translates to the audience. Your singers are happy and not scared that their partner is going to ram their tongue down their throat (unexpectedly). There is a predictability there.
It helps us as actors feel more empowered. There are times where, say a director will throw in an avant-garde orgy scene. They’ll more often than not just leave it to his cast to figure out the details. Horrible.
With an Intimacy director, we take the time to first, see where everyone is at. There are traumas in some our lives which make it impossible to give or receive even basic touch.
Regardless of the insensitive comments about “working it out in therapy” (I mean seriously, that’s a whole other topic), we would rather our colleagues and friends not feel subjugated.
So we will take the time to make the scenes real enough going from cheek peck to hot and steamy, but not at the cost of our own ideals and levels of sensitivity.
It’s not just about the actor and the production on stage, it’s about YOU too.
If you read in the program credits that an intimacy director is among the team, you will know that at least what is happening on stage is at least consensual, if not people at last having fun playing their characters, rather than thinking oh my goodness how terrible what they’re doing.
My suggestion for you folks who think opera should only be done in a very particular manner should contribute more, so that more new operas are commissioned. We can let the Bohemes be Bohemes in a functional museum style production, if we have more tales to tell that reflect our society today.
Otherwise directors will continue to transpose todays culture into yesteryear’s modern expression.
Isn’t it weird though that operas that were once controversial and even dangerous are now considered standard fodder.
Ironically, I find wading into this morass of commentary quite uncomfortable. There are lots of strong opinions here that do not jive with my mindset.
But with all the thoughts I really only saw one or two that had an accurate take on this.
I maintain this is a good thing for singers, for production and more, for you our patrons.
picture: Villazon, Netrebko/Salzburg Festival 2005
Keep pornography and vulgarity out of the opera scene!
Now this is one job I could get my mind around.
Where do I apply and do I need references?
Thank you for reposting this comment so it can get some attention.
There is little to add, except this:
Some operas are explicitly ABOUT sexuality and sexual abuse. An intamacy director makes it more realistic for a company to produce Britten’s “The Rape of Lucretia”, for example, by creating a safer work environment. But even more standard fare like “Don Giovanni” or “Tosca” would be well-served having an intamacy director for their depictions of sexual violence.
Even something as benign as having choristers kissing in the background can create a hostile work environment for those performers who see each other every day all year round. Can you imagine being forced to kiss a coworker, let alone one who you don’t particularly like?
There’s a whole legal discussion that could be had as well.
All put together: intimacy directors are a common sense solution to a lot of problems.
Thank you for reposting your comment so I can repost my reply.
The short of it:
There’s no depiction of sexual violence in Don Giovanni or Tosca. Absolutely zero.
The rape is indeed specified in Lucretia, but this is very rarely staged opera. Britten’s operas are comparatively seldom programmed, and The Rape of Lucretia almost never. Definitively not a mainstream opera, and not an argument in favor of opera needs intimacy directors because opera plots are overflowing with sexual violence. This is absolutely incorrect. I am not going to repost the long version of my comment. Who is interested can read it here https://slippedisc.com/2022/03/classical-agency-takes-on-two-intimacy-directors/
“Can you imagine being forced to kiss a coworker, let alone one who you don’t particularly like?”
The question is, in case of disagreement between stage director and singers, on whose side is the intimacy director? The stage director pushes his staging. A singer balks at an uncomfortable act (for him/her) – let’s say, doesn’t want to kiss someone they don’t like. What now? One of three things happens:
1. If the intimacy director can persuade the stage director to drop that act, why can’t the singer do the same? Why can’t the singer/isn’t allowed to go to the stage director and say I’m uncomfortable with this, I’m not doing it? Why does it have to be the intimacy director? Just to have yet another consultant on the payroll?
2. The intimacy director can’t persuade the stage director to drop the act. What’s the benefit to the singer? Nil.
3. The intimacy director tries to persuade the singer instead, with good olde group pressure tactics. “It isn’t so bad, everybody does it.” What’s the benefit to the singer? Nil.
So cui bono? The intimacy director’s bank account.
The fact that the stage director and the singers allegedly need an intermediary on full pay ought to alert us to the real problem – the unreasonable demands put on opera singers. The intimacy director is a patchwork solution. There was no need for intimacy directors before, shouldn’t be now. What’s needed in most cases are stagings not contradicting the libretto. Lucretia is the exception.
This is an excellent comment bringing the subject to the real point. And even in Lucretia there is no need, I’m sure, to depict sexual violence graphically. Britten was far too shy to have wished for it.
Okay, but why are all the intimacy directors women?
Not all intimacy directors are women.
absolutely non- sense – it is the job of the director with the cast! and compared to fight choreography ? what is next? comparing it to stunts? people now have boundaries ? more than in the past? oh please – just a way to get more people on the team, more costs and more complicated, less intimate …for sure – as now you have more people involved in the same thing – trust your directors and cast do make adult choices with out getting in the way
I guess the days are gone when Franco Corelli held a high C longer than Birgit Nilsson, so when time came for Turandot to kiss Calaf, she bit him instead. Corelli insisted to Rudolf Bing he could not sing the next performance: “I have rabies”!
Nonsense. Query to the writer: what did opera do before the advent of ‘intimacy directors’?
There were a number of male singers who took advantage of the situation, as Norman illustrates. Things progress, like the Covid-19 vaccine.
Don’t opera houses have a HR dept? If male singers take advantage of the situation, female singers can report them to the HR dept, as in any other organization. Bringing in a consultant calling himself intimacy director, to do the job of HR, is nonsense. There no need for the female singer to complain to the intimacy director, when she can complain to HR directly.
If we discard complains, please don’t tell me the intimacy director is supposed to watch the singers like a hawk all the time, and prevent certain situation from arising. If a male singer wants to take advantage of a female singer he can do so during live performance, and then what? Is the intimacy director supposed to watch all performances as well, not just rehearsals, and jump in and stop the performance if he believes something untoward occurs? This is ridiculous.
Kaufmann is on record complaining about a soprano coming on to him, in a manner he didn’t like. So not one direction.
The comment (of the day, not fflambeau’s) is well argued and makes sense. Times change you know
Long post from Nathan Granner, three comments from me.
“Regardless of the insensitive comments about “working it out in therapy” (I mean seriously, that’s a whole other topic), we would rather our colleagues and friends not feel subjugated.”
Only two people did mention therapy in NL’s first post. I am one of them, and my original comment was aimed at RT directors. Are you a RT director? I think not. If you believe my _comment_ was insensitive, I recommend you watch a few RT _productions_ first. You may start with Bieito’s staging of The Abduction from the Seraglio, if it is still performed today. You yourself aren’t exactly promoting RT productions by calling your fellow singers “subjugated”.
“Some folks are modest and others are more open about their bodies and interpretations of their characters.”
“So we will take the time to make the scenes real enough going from cheek peck to hot and steamy, but not at the cost of our own ideals and levels of sensitivity.”
What happens if the more modest variety of singer says no to hot and steamy? Will they still be invited next time, or branded as “difficult” and blacklisted?
You should have pointed out that it’s “jibe,” not “jive.”
Please feel free to apply for a copy editor job with him, but I am afraid he won’t pay you more than he pays his auto-correct. The “jive” may be his auto-correct knowing better. His “French”, on the other hand, is his own.
“Romeo, quas tus donc?” [What language is this?] Is a perfect example. One can create a feeling of comfort on the stage that immediately translates to the audience.”
If this is the scene I believe it is (it begins with “Roméo! qu’as-tu donc?”), what could prevent the feeling of comfort from arising naturally? Original libretto stage directions: “Les premières lueurs du jour éclairent les vitraux de la fenêtre – On entend chanter l’alouette.” There isn’t anything embarrassing in these stage directions. Quite poetic actually. Also, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to the singers that the stage director may demand a kiss and an embrace in this scene. They don’t need to be forewarned by the intimacy director, not when they have to sing “Un baiser et je pars!” and “Reste encor en mes bras enlacés!”, unless they don’t understand what they are singing, in which case the opera manager should fire himself. But it may come as a surprise to the singers if the stage director asks them to ram their tongues down each others’ throats instead of the simple baiser in the text, particularly when they also have to sing the lines, and it also may come as a surprise to them if the director translates “bras enlacés” into hot & steamy. The duet before “Roméo!” contains the line “Sous tes baisers de flamme.” A case could be made for a more ardent kiss, provided the singers manage to sing and kiss at the same time, which never goes well. So what should the audience get? The hot kiss or the cracked note? Considering the line preceding the hot kiss reads “Ta voix ravit mes sens !” I vote for good singing.
“Your singers are happy and not scared that their partner is going to ram their tongue down their throat (unexpectedly). There is a predictability there.”
They are _happy_ because there’s predictability?! Are fear and happiness the only possible emotions, and do singers transition from one extreme emotion to the other extreme emotion just because they’re told? Other than in film, it is not uncommon in opera to have different singing partners for different performances. Are you telling us a singer is _happy_ to perform intimate acts with one singer tonight, with another two days later, and with a third next week? If so he or she is in the wrong business.
not been funni lyke, but i cant get my head arrarnd wot the singer’s got to sing. wish i geuss in english is the first lover’s of the day eat eclare’s quickly out of the window as the others’ atend singing the lost onion. is this rite? an is this fare? i think we shuld be told
I think the degradation of opera has reached the lowest point and, hopefully, the RT will devour itself.
I am calling on opera lovers who were going to the opera in the 70s and 80s. Did you ever miss tenor’s face NOT being between soprano’s legs during the love duet? Did it ever occur to you to think as you were enraptured by the wall of sound coming out of the great singer’s throat or washed away by the sound of the orchestra , that the singers should really be naked, on the floor, simulating sexual intercourse?
Did you ever miss pornography on stage while watching a Ponnelle or a Zeffirelli production, did you ever think that passion was missing because singers kept their clothes on?
The passion and the emotion were conveyed through singing and words and music. Domingo or Corelli never stripped on stage, they could, but did not have to. Ramey had a great body and showed it off as Assur and Mefistofele, but he kept his pants on. Few singers have Olympic and model-like bodies. The costumes in most modern productions look like they were collected from Salvation Army rejected donations or can only be worn by an untreated anorexic. The big, beautiful Jessye Norman, Montserrat Caballe, Joan Sutherland would not have a career on stage today, simply because they would not fit into skimpy underwear that passes for costumes.
And now, the ultimate irony. Singers need to be counselled, protected and made to feel safe because of inane, perverse, offensive stage directors.
Return some dignity to the art form and the safety is sure to follow.
Interesting you mention Zeffirelli. His film of Romeo and Juliet famously had the young lovers in bed, with I believe a bit of nudity shown, for the first time in a film of that play (or any Shakespeare on film). It was much remarked at the time.
But his opera stagings are different. In the Romeo and Juliet movie the young actors have just the filming crew to witness their nudity, singers on stage have 1.000-3.500 people in the audience, every night a different crowd. I am also sure the actors knew about the nudity bit because actors read the script before signing any contracts. In the case of Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet the actors were teenagers at the time – likely more care was taken to explain them, and their guardians, what the film involved. There’s no nudity in Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette _libretto_ . Singers in demand may sign contracts years in advance. What should a singer do, who, at the time he or she signed a contract for 2022 performances, the opera house had a decent enough staging of opera X, but changed it for a racy staging in 2021? Now there are naked people on stage simulating having sex, and, guess what, you are one of them. And if you don’t like it, you get an intimacy director to scold you into happiness.
It was beautifully, sensitively filmed with not a hint of anything obscene or inappropriate. He never put nudity on the operatic stage, it was not then and is not necessary now
The most important line in this comment:
“The passion and the emotion were conveyed through singing and words and music.”
How do you sing with somebody’s tongue rammed down your throat?
You don’t. The role of the intimacy director is to make the audience believe that deep tongue-kissing (for instance) is taking place onstage without the singers being asked to do anything drastically unvocal or at least uncomfortable. If anything, it’s a check on bad onstage behavior, not jst a means to improve the illusion.
The audience won’t know the difference between just a peck on the lips and a tongue-kiss because they are seated too far away from the stage. There’s no need for the stage director to demand a tongue-kiss, and there’s no need for an intimacy director to show the singers how to “fake” one, because the audience is seated to far from the singers anyway. The audience believes what the audience wants to believe, and if they come to opera for the illusion of tongue-kisses, not for the music, they are better served elsewhere where they can get the real deal, not the illusion.
Most repertoire operas do not belong to musical realism and should not be staged in a naturalistic way. Opera was a make-believe art form right from the start, allusions work better with creating illusions. Who isn’t equipped with what it takes to understand metaphor, should better stay away from opera, directors and audiences alike. RT “directors”, I’m looking at you. You are so devoid of artistic ideas, not even the porn industry wants you.
“Other than in film, it is not uncommon in opera to have different singing partners for different performances. Are you telling us a singer is _happy_ to perform intimate acts with one singer tonight, with another two days later, and with a third next week?”
This is getting away from the purported subject–but since when is it desirable in opera to have three different performers in a role in the space of two weeks, when such abrupt changes would not be tolerated in the spoken theater? I doubt that very many opera singers would be happy with that, dramatically or musically, intimate acts or no intimate acts.
“This is getting away from the purported subject–since when is it desirable in opera to have three different performers in a role in the space of two weeks”
This is not getting away from the subject, the poster claimed that the intimacy director can persuade singers to _happily_ perform intimate acts onstage with strangers. I just wondered how it is possible for someone to be _happy_ in such circumstances.
Since when is it desirable to have different casts, mixing partners? It is desirable since forever. It is good business practice for opera house managers to offer the public many choices. Opera goers can be more pigheaded that any other fan species, die-hard fans attend only performances of “their” singer. Offer the public many choices and you can sell the house many times over. In the past this was no hardship for the singers, as they weren’t asked to perform intimate acts with each other. They were asked just to sing and act, go figure. They balked sometimes at lack of rehearsal time, but not at having many singing partners.
Now it isn’t just good business practice. Now it’s called “diversity”.
I’d like to see a viola player with an intimacy coach….
“My suggestion for you folks who think opera should only be done in a very particular manner should contribute more, so that more new operas are commissioned. We can let the Bohemes be Bohemes in a functional museum style production, if we have more tales to tell that reflect our society today.”
Not in a “very particular manner”, just in a manner not _obviously_ contradicting the libretto.
Are you suggesting people should pay big for productions they _don’t want_ to see, so repertoire operas could be staged according to libretto, _eventually_? I have a different proposition. How about staging opera according to libretto, and folk who don’t like it, can leave opera in pursuit of more gruesome or steamier pastures? After all, if this is what they want, there are cheaper options that an opera ticket. Plenty of entertainment forms where one can experience a reflection of our society today, just in case one hasn’t had enough of this society in real life. Bieito’s in his Abduction from the Seraglio (it isn’t Mozart’s light comedy anymore) seems to believe that urination, masturbation, forced oral sex, slicing off a prostitute’s nipples, and beating the soprano, are a reflection of our society today. If this our society today, no thanks to new operas, and I take the “functional museum style production” of Mozart’s Abduction any day of the week over Bieito’s.
It goes hand in hand with the loss in the art of singing. If you listen to Ah leve-toi soleil as sung by Villazon on his best recital CD, when I still believed he could become a singer (he didn’t) — the two stanzas are like photocopied, with exactly the same accents put in the same places because this is our job. Compare to Bjoerling — through all the elegant delivery he sounds every bit like a young lad in love who just doesn’t know what hit him. No need to undress anyone in the happy times when opera was staged on the voice.
I know of major conservatories who still don’t allow/ know how to teach stage kisses. Even YAPs and some student companies hire Intimacy CoOrdinators now. It’s called “progress”.
Soon they’ll need someone to teach them how to hold hands. Pity there’s no one to teach them how to sing. This isn’t called progress, it’s called regress.
If the operas are staged closer to the way the creators intended instead of being outlets for expressing RT director’s perversions, and if something is left to the public’s imagination instead of being gross, explicit and in your face, the lofty position of the intimacy director in opera may become completely unnecessary. Just a thought…
“Libiamo, ne’ lieti calici / che la bellezza infiora…”
Sorry — I thought the picture might have been from Traviata.
What’s next? Mandatory nudity for the audience?
What next? Violence co-ordinator? This makes far more sense and might have helped that lovely young woman who was the cinematographer for Alec Baldwin. She would still be alive if there was a ‘violence co-ordinator’ – somebody responsible for ensuring the safety of cast and crew on a film, in line with occupational health and safety requirements.
You clearly know nothing about “fight directors”. Granted, Jordan Peterson says nothing about them, therefore they don’t exist.
Obviously not on the Alec Baldwin film, so they obviously didn’t exist there. Jordan was right after all.
Easy solution: keep your clothes on, and concentrate on the singing.
This is an absurd explanation, based on equally absurd premises. Such a ‘job’ should not be necessary at all if an opera is staged normally.
And the term is wrong as well, it is an euphemism, it should be called ‘indecency director’.
We just need to make it against the law to touch other people. Anywhere. Anyplace . Anytime.
No, Karl. You just need to make clear that opera is primarily about singing, not about porn. Don’t get worked up. Nice alliteration, but there’s no need for Authoritarian regimes, just a call for common sense. See, I too know words beginning with the letter ‘A.’
Surely the picture is from Traviata 2005, not 2015, Norman?