“You talking to me?”
Those were the *actual words* *actually spoken* by David McVicar in response to a dim-witted but harmless question from an audience member at the Royal Opera House last night.
The occasion was an ‘Insight Evening’ for his forthcoming Aida: a couple of hours of lectures, music and cast and crew interviews in front of a small paying audience.
McVicar had just spent half an hour explaining (with, it's only fair to say, therapied serenity) exactly how and why his vision of the Egyptian epic did not embrace kitsch orientalism of the Taylor/Burton variety. But without mentioning a word about his chosen alternative. I’m sure many, me included, wondered what the show would look like, so it wasn't surprising that one brave lady dared to ask when the floor was opened to the audience.
“What period is it set in?” was the unwittingly provocative way she put it. Was he baited by the words themselves, or her vaguely posh accent? It can't have been her polite, bordering on timid, manner.
“You’re asking if it’s set in Egypt???!!!” McVicar snapped. He repeated the line a couple of times without drawing breath. “You talking to me?” “You want to know if it’s set in Egypt?” “Um, I just wondered....”. “The Pharaonic dynasties lasted three and a half thousand years! You want to know ‘what period’ ???!!!???!!!???!!!” And so on, until he was dragged off by some diversionary chat about cosmetics.
The upshot is we still don’t know what it looks like. But we did find out that the makeup Marianne Cornetti (Amneris) wears takes two and a half hours to apply. Prosthetics or body paint? No idea, but it is apparently 'spectacular' (it would have to be to compete with her remarkable ginger-badger helmet 'do).
Of course McVicar doesn’t want to reveal everything (or, perhaps, anything) before the show opens on 27 April. But before his fuse was torched, he did say that budgetary constraints and the need to fit the set into the co-producers' new Oslo Opera House had resulting in scrapping a lot of his initial ideas. The whole three year production process, he said, had been all about cuts - and so set designer Jean-Marc Puissant was still beavering away throughout rehearsals.
One thing McVicar made very clear was that the main focus - indeed the starting point - of his production lay in the performances, not the setting.
Marianne Cornetti and Micaela Carosi (Aida) echoed this.
And neither could say enough nice things about the combustible director sitting just inches away from them.