ANTOINE, the director: I’m not crazy about this couch.
This couch is useless. But here it is.
It was expensive. It’s here because it was expensive. It cost the same as two rehearsals with you. If I sell it, I can hire you another day. It’s you or the couch.
It’s a funny story, actually, this couch… Here you spend your time answering questions for which you know there is no possible answer. You have to choose between A and B when you know that A and B are exactly the same thing. But the minute you choose A–just to put the question to rest–someone immediately asks why you didn’t choose B.
“Do you want red or blue upholstery?”
“Why don’t you like the blue?”
The set designer asked me, “For Act III, do you want a bed or a couch?” I answered, “A bed.” He said, “Why don’t you want a couch?” I said, “I didn’t say I don’t want a couch. You asked me to choose, and I chose. If I have to choose between a bed and a couch, I will choose the one that’s more powerful symbolically.”
But the problem is that he had already built the couch. The budget that could have been spent on a bed went into the couch. The construction of the couch was budgeted behind my back! It was greenlighted without my even knowing about it because everyone was so sure that I would choose the couch...! Because, one day, I must have said something like “I’m tired of seeing Violetta die on a bed!” So, the set designer must have said, “I have an idea! Let’s build him a couch!”
But when I said I was tired of seeing Violetta die on a bed, I meant anything resembling a bed, couches included.
They built the couch, took a picture of it, showed it to me and I almost cried. Not to ruffle any feathers, I said I would try it because, anyway, it was already too late to build a bed for which there was no money left because it had all gone into the couch.
The day I brought the couch on stage all the singers came over and sat down on it. A couch reassures people. But the audience will say, “How strange to have a couch instead of a bed!”
It’s always the same thing: I say to myself, “If only we had more time.” Time! If I had you for three months, I could do without costumes! You wouldn’t have costumes, but we would have spent time together.
But people who come to see La Traviata aren’t interested in knowing that we spent time. They want costumes and couches. They want to see where it went. (He rubs his index finger and thumb together.) Just imagine what we could do together if I had you for three months. As it is, we hardly know each other. We’re happy to be here working, and we don’t even have the time to say it.
Is what I’m asking of you difficult? I know that when you’re out there (points to the empty house) it all seems easy. I would feel the same way if I were in your shoes, sometimes, with no idea of what’s going on.
So, when you go to sing, don’t pretend that you’re a fictional character. Believe that you are talking to the people out there: people talking to other people.
It is difficult to understand why it’s necessary to do strange things, to understand why it’s important for us to do strange things. There’s nothing useful after all about doing Verdi’s La Traviata! It is strange.
But after putting effort into it–effort that becomes meaningful to us and that just might become more meaningful than even the opera itself–it becomes necessary. It will become necessary for us to do this.
It’s not easy to care about all this. The operas are there, sitting silently on the shelf, just waiting for us to put them on; La Péricole next to Wozzeck, chatting to pass the time:
“So, are you performed often?”
“Yes, every Christmas and you?”
“Audiences are scared of me!”
In the corner you have the Charpentier operas: “When will we be performed? Why is it always the other guys?” And there in front sits La Traviata: “I don’t give a damn. I’m performed ten times a year all around the world!”
I would love for us to do this right! It might be possible without the music. Music covers everything in goo, in emotion. Everyone is moved. Everyone sticks to everyone. People stop thinking. Does emotion prevent us from thinking? If you think about what you’re seeing does that prevent you from feeling something about it? Ma’am? Yes, but it’s different for you! I’ve seen your wigs. You’ll look great! Even though I’m not crazy about the wigs, and I’m not crazy about that couch!
from Rehearsing Traviata by Jean-François Sivadier, translated by Kate Combault ©2020