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Watch: Katie Mitchell on Lucia di Lammermoor 'My focus is 100% on the female characters'

The director on her feminist take on Donizetti, and an innovative split-stage design.

By Ottilie Thornhill (Winner of the Kings Cultural Challenge)

11 March 2016 at 4.00pm | 40 Comments

Director Katie Mitchell recently discussed her new production of Lucia di Lammermoor as part of a live-streamed ROH Insight event.

The event — which was streamed via the Royal Opera House YouTube channel — saw Katie and designer Vicki Mortimer explain the challenges of creating a powerful retelling of a classic opera.

'We've repositioned [the opera] to between 1830 and 1840 - a very important period for feminism with the Brontës and all those amazing women like Mary Anning who were early feminists, fossil-hunters and scientists.'

‘We became very excited by the idea that there are some big scenes missing for Lucia', said the director. 'I have a very strong feminist agenda. My focus for this opera is 100% on the female characters - Alisa and Lucia. I wanted to find a way of explaining why Lucia does a lot of the things that she does and particularly why she goes so-called ‘insane’. We discussed the idea that we might stage the [usually off-stage] murder of Arturo. Once we’d let that idea out it was like Pandora’s box - all these other things fluttered up and we realized that we could provide a lot of additional data about what Lucia does while the male characters are singing about her.’

To enable this augmented storytelling, Katie and Vicki have opted for a split-stage design, where the action unfurls in two separate, but linked rooms for each scene.

'In terms of tone, we're trying to work with the musical score to support the intensity', said Vicki. We wanted to create dual environments that gave a real weight to the characters involved and a substantial sense of who these people are - they're not only a gothic set of characters but that they're really inhabited with a sense of existential romanticism.'

For Katie, this approach allows the audience to see ‘the bits of Lucia that I would really love to see as well as doing what normally happens.'

The Insight also included talks from Dr. Flora Wilson of King’s College London, American tenor  Charles Castronovo and French baritone Ludovic Tezier and a performance by Korean tenor and Jette Parker Young Artist David Kim Junghoon, The event was presented by the Royal Opera's Head Staff Director Amy Lane.

Watch the full Insight event on-demand:

Watch more films like this on the Royal Opera House YouTube channel:

 Written on Skin runs 13 – 30 January 2017. Tickets are still available.


This article has 40 comments

  1. Nicholas Scott responded on 14 March 2016 at 6:22pm Reply

    Oh dear

    • Emmanuelle responded on 15 April 2016 at 2:14pm

      I really don't understand what the fuss about this production is. All in all, it is very conservative and traditional. The couple in the first act are having sex but in such a mild manner that it is nothing to "worry" about and there is a lot of blood later on - but the traditional "lots of blood on white clothes" seen in so many other opera productions before - quite a cliche in fact. There are a few good ideas: the bailiffs taking away all Lucia's possessions from her room to illustrate the family's dire straits - pretty visual, the sense of being trapped the women experience in an age when men decide everything about their life. Now, why did the audience laugh at the murder scene? Surely this is not funny and killing a man cannot be an easy thing to do - for anyone but even more so for women - so the repetitive situation is perfectly understandable.
      In this age of love for "shock" value, I am left pondering if all the fuss has been purposely created by the ROH to attract audience and sell tickets?
      On the musical side, the performance was fine, nothing staggering but alright. My criticism would go to Donizetti who in my view was inspired in some passages (precursor of Verdi that is for sure) and very boring in others. But we cannot do anything about the music so for those of you who hesitate to go because of all the bad comments, just try it for yourself, I had much worst evening at ROH before!

  2. Kur tRyz responded on 14 March 2016 at 9:04pm Reply

    This is a perverse version of the opera twisted to serve the directors message . The drama is in the music not the action - which is the directors focus subjecting the audience and singers to sadistic images .This is concrete thinking in action and an attack on the authors' talents. [ see ''Cleansed'' as another example of how this director ''thinks'' ]

    • Caroline Healy responded on 7 April 2016 at 11:59pm

      We saw the opera tonight. It was completely ruined for me by the production. It was self serving and distracted from the very essence of the operatic drama. Katie Mitchell should use her 'talents' on musicals and leave opera well alone.

  3. Patience Humphries responded on 15 March 2016 at 11:30am Reply

    We'll just have to wait and see what the production Is like! It can't be worse than the last production of Nabucco at the ROH, with the traín convoy to Auschwitz.

  4. Christine Rawlins responded on 15 March 2016 at 2:55pm Reply

    The director should serve the music, not his/her ego. Can't WE decide for ourselves what WE think why Lucia "does the things she does"?
    Too many egos at large at the Garden at the moment........

    • Gary Swindle responded on 1 April 2016 at 11:38pm

      I agree entirely with Christine and Kurt Ryz (above). I was at this insights event and the director seemed to forget that she is simply directing other people's creations not hers.

  5. Martha Brooke responded on 16 March 2016 at 11:58am Reply

    I wish these modern directors would stop messing about with composers - and stick to theatre productions. Sex and violence were usually performed away from the stage and commented upon by the chorus or one of the characters. No need to have them on the stage as it happened with your version of William Tell - In future I will try to attend concert performances of the operas I so much love - or be very careful with my ROH bookings. Unfortunately I have booked to treat two of my Spanish friends in May! I really feel sorry for what they are going to experience as well as for povero Donizetti

  6. James responded on 16 March 2016 at 4:01pm Reply

    Sounds like bloody Marxist nonsense. Only bought a ticket to see Diana Damrau. Hope it is bearable, I thought Eurotrash was so 1990s.

  7. Tomasz responded on 16 March 2016 at 10:42pm Reply

    This sounds awfully unpromising. I'm expecting another production that positions director's ego above everything else. Why do I have to pay hundreds of pounds to see someone with no understanding of the music and libretto trashing another score!? Why can't they be faithful to what the composer intended? Lucia a feminist opera!? What a lot of rubbish. It's not about modern versus traditional either! It's about great theatre so instead of sending me a letter warning about sexually explicit scenes start producing intelligent, distinguished and well executed productions. La Donna del Lago - dreadful, Willhelm Tell - dreadful, Manon Leascaut - bearable, Maria Stuarda - awful, Eugene Oniegin - awful, Parsifal - awful. The only good ones are either ancient - La Boheme or imported from elsewhere - Wozzeck, Dialogue des Carmelites.

    [Edited to conform to community guidelines]

  8. Jacques Franck responded on 17 March 2016 at 1:05pm Reply

    I couldn't agree more with Kurt Ryz's comment : "the drama is in the music not the action" ... and meant that way by Donizetti ! Stage directors should be faithful to an opera's historical context of creation. "Lucia di Lammermoor" is a romantic opera and not an expressionist one like Berg's "Lulu" or Shostakovich's "Lady Macbeth of Mzentsk". Opera fans need art, beautiful, emotional singing, and not staged wild imaginings that distort the composer's musical/dramatic intentions.

  9. Stephen Diviani responded on 17 March 2016 at 6:14pm Reply

    If the 'drama is in the music not the action', why on earth do you pay to see opera staged?

  10. Jacques Franck responded on 18 March 2016 at 12:20pm Reply

    The scenes wanted by Donizetti in "Lucia di Lammermoor" are the only ones expressing the true logic between his music and the drama it tells. Who is anyone to "improve" and make "more explicit" a composer's work? The ROH 's 1959 production of "Lucia" has become legendary while respecting Donizetti's intentions. Which means that artistic achievement has nothing to do with formal concerns.

  11. Alan Gallagher responded on 18 March 2016 at 7:02pm Reply

    "I have a very strong feminist agenda." Oh dear - I shan't be spending money on this, then, despite it being an opera I'd love to see. I'll hope to live long enough to see it as Donizetti intended, not as a vehicle for someone else's political views. When will we see an end to these travesties?

  12. Heather Parry responded on 20 March 2016 at 3:26pm Reply

    Oh Dear! Bad memories of St Matthew Passion at Glyndebourne are resurfacing.

  13. Jacqueline Levene responded on 20 March 2016 at 8:24pm Reply

    Having seen Pavarotti and Sutherland in Lucia, I swore I would not see it again because nothing could surpass that experience. I changed my mind when I saw the cast of the present production. When I read about yet another director's ego trip and ruination of a wonderful production, I changed my mind again, and will definitely not be seeing this production. The ROH seems to have introduced directors who are determined to bring in 'innovations' which detract totally from glorious music and singing. Idomineo turned into farce with the choir singing about dolphins while holding a not very menacing rubber shark!

  14. Bea responded on 21 March 2016 at 3:26pm Reply

    I have read and listened to everything about this production to be sure that I am making a considered choice, as this is absolutely my favourite opera, but I have decided to stick with my principles and have had my tickets refunded. I have loved Lucia since I was a little girl, and I have never had any trouble letting the music lead me to understanding her growing desperation and resulting madness. I am so grateful that Donizetti, and Scott before him, trusted the intelligence of their audiences to be able to enter into their world with them and share in the music and imagery. I booked to see Donizetti's Lucia and am very upset, having waited so long for it to return to Covent Garden, to discover that I wouldn't be seeing that. I challenge the insinuation that if you can't handle sex and violence on stage then somehow you are not intellectually adequate. And if sex and violence are not depicted in the original works then they are, by definition, gratuitous. Surely the point is to tell the story to the best of your ability, not make it up to fit an agenda? I find it quite extraordinary. Opera seems to be unique in that its audiences seem so often to be held in contempt. So, I'm voting with my feet. It's a small stand and will probably not make the slightest ripple at Covent Garden, particularly if they sell the tickets, but I think they should take note. I have NEVER in all my decades of going ever been allowed a refund under any circumstances, so it's extraordinary mixed messages to hire Katie Mitchell and then actually contact purchasers to OFFER refunds. Mad, indeed.

    • Stephen Diviani responded on 22 March 2016 at 9:49pm

      Bea, everyone is entitled to their opinion, but it is wrong of you to equate your own views with those of the generality of opera audiences: I, as one audience member for opera, profoundly disagree with your views. I don't feel that I am 'held in contempt', but I do resent how some people 'hold in contempt' creative artists who bring to opera their vision, intelligence & considerable talent to stage & interpret opera in new ways, with new insights that, more often than not, are drawn from the text, from the music. It is a compliment to an opera that it is open to such a variety of meanings, and such new readings honour the work as both music and drama.

    • Caroline Healy responded on 8 April 2016 at 12:04am

      You were so right to get a refund. It was a dreadful production that distracted from wonderful singing. I will try and erase this (expensive) mistake from my memory

    • Brendan Quinn responded on 21 April 2016 at 2:01pm

      Bea, you made the right decision your money will be better spent on something else, as I had booked a flight from Ireland and my hotel I came I saw and I cringed. It was the one of the worst operatic productions/reinterpretations I have ever seen in my 40 years of avid opera going.

  15. Valerie Osborne responded on 21 March 2016 at 3:32pm Reply

    I do not understand why Kasper Holten says in his Telegraph interview that if Donizetti chose to write Lucia it gives him, Kasper Holten, the right to try to upset people.
    Nobody has the right to try to upset people.

  16. Nicholas Scott responded on 21 March 2016 at 4:51pm Reply

    To Bea - brilliant. My goodnes the dire productions we have had to suffer under the reign (or should that be hailstorm?) of Kasper Holten

  17. Taylor Cunningham responded on 23 March 2016 at 2:20am Reply

    I for one am excited to see this production! I'm traveling to London especially to see Diana and am going in with an open mind. Her vocal performance is sure to be top-notch, either way!

  18. Chiaki Ohashi responded on 26 March 2016 at 7:04pm Reply

    Having listened to the insight, I am wondering if the opera house can now reveal at which point we are getting the one interval. thank you.

    • Chris Shipman (Head of Brand Engagement and Social Media) responded on 5 April 2016 at 4:43pm

      Hi Chiaki,

      Acts 1 and Two run for 90 minutes. There is then a 35 minute interval before Act 3 which lasts 1 hour.



  19. Peter Lewis responded on 27 March 2016 at 3:02pm Reply

    I've been eagily anticipating seeing Lucia at Covent Garden for many years and, whilst the soundings aren't encouraging, will give the production a chance. I just ignored the ramblings of the director as I doubt I'd be interested in her message.

  20. Isolde responded on 2 April 2016 at 9:33pm Reply

    I am very excited to see this new production, with such a strong cast, and welcome the opportunity to engage with a feminist take on this classic. Opera is as much about the production as the music - intellectual stimulation as much as musical appreciation - and Kaspar Holten has presided over a rejuvenation of the Opera House which will ensure that its audiences can enjoy an art form which is relevant and vibrant rather than repetitive and redundant.

    • Brendan Quinn responded on 21 April 2016 at 2:03pm

      Isolde you won't get much intellectual stimulation from this production.

  21. Anonymous responded on 3 April 2016 at 6:28pm Reply

    Total depravity. Do not support this perversion.

  22. Neil Taylor responded on 3 April 2016 at 10:42pm Reply

    I am amazed at the number of people who see fit to give an opinion without the benefit of actually seeing the production concerned.
    Is it any wonder that opera gets a bad press when these pompous bores bumble on giving us their own particular prejudice rather than anything useful. Why go and see something exactly the same as you have seen a hundred times before. Where is your spirit of adventure I will go to see the production, sadly at a cinema not in the flesh and make up my own mind thank you very much.

  23. Nairn Glen responded on 4 April 2016 at 3:43pm Reply

    The reason one might go to see an opera one has seen many times before is to hear different singers in the roles and perhaps a different musical interpretation of the score or even to reacquaint oneself with the opera afresh. What I don't think we need is to have the whole opera changed in context and additional scenes added to suit the message the director wants to convey. Why not write her own opera setting out her views and try to find a house to stage it? I am amazed that the director says she is 100% focussed on the female roles - what about the male characters? They are surely important to the music drama - how can the director simply ignore them and present a rounded production of an opera? After much consideration I have decided to keep the tickets I had booked and go to see the opera but I do so with considerable trepidation. By the way am I the only one who hates it being referred to as a "show"?

    • Stephen Diviani responded on 5 April 2016 at 10:28am

      Agree about 'show', but then, like Adorno, I also hate the term 'cultural industries'.

  24. Barry L Bem responded on 4 April 2016 at 7:56pm Reply

    Having read/listened to everything about this Lucia, I am hopeful that the production stays at the ROH and doesn't reach U.S. shores. It's yet another perfect example of a director's not presenting what the composer wrote and wanted but rather her own interpretation of the opera. It should be titled "Katie Mitchell's feminist take on Donizetti's Lucia" rather than Donizetti's Lucia. Obviously even the ROH is not convinced of the worth of this production, evidenced by return/refund offers. And the poor artists who want to sing this music have to fit into whatever production a director invents. Ask Diana Damrau about some of the outlandish productions she has had to suffer in her career of various operas.

  25. Giampaolo responded on 6 April 2016 at 9:48am Reply

    I ll be there tomorrow to express all my disappointment towards this perverse vision of Lucia. We have had enough of stupid productions, such as Calixto Bieito's ones. The directors, as the singers, are there to serve the music, and not vice versa. As an Italian, I cannot allow such a similar stupidity and narcissism to ruin the so called "masterpiece of belcanto".

  26. Sean responded on 8 April 2016 at 12:27am Reply

    Well it's been and gone (hopefully never to be seen again). I was left wondering about the warning notices sent out about sex and violence. The only violence was that done to Donizetti's creation and that was expected. I think the sex was when one of the singers took his shirt off! Glad they warned us about that.The productionwas limp and flabby, with no passion (even in the pit) and no acting. and of course no costumes. The only item on stage was atoilet, which alas was not used to flush away this totally worthless waste of some decent (not great) singers. This was second rate stuff. The director got some well deserved boos but really, they were quite muted... she didn't deserve even better boos.

    It seems to be a directive from "above" that if an opera has a simple affecting story, then it must be obscured by being overlaid with some right-on" bien-pensant PC "message" in order to make it incomprehensible and remove anything that humans might enjoy. I think the word used by ROH management is "challenging" , which clearly means "incomprehensible and/or unpleasant. I'm glad to say I didn't "get" whatever bs was behind this production.

  27. Vincenzo responded on 8 April 2016 at 11:18am Reply

    I saw it yesterday. Notwithstanding all her efforts, Katie Mitchell could not destroy this opera: her funny inventions remain credible only because a talented team of artists (Scott, Cammarano and of course Donizetti), created a masterpiece that can resist to all provocations. Thanks.

  28. Peter Lawley responded on 14 April 2016 at 7:50pm Reply

    Does the twin stages production design mean that you can't see half of it from Stalls Circle Right?

  29. Matt responded on 26 April 2016 at 2:22am Reply

    Do the commenters here realize that any theatrical production ever is an interpretative work of directors, conductors, singers, visual artists combined? That theater is meaningless without interpretation? That an "objective" Lucia never existed/will not exist? Come on, people, plays and musicals have been doing this forever! And since new opera isn't taking off as it should be, regietheater is basically the only way to real innovation in opera today. You can be a little less insular and be more supportive of a team trying to breathe fresh air into a stagnant art form.

  30. Noel Archbold responded on 26 April 2016 at 3:56pm Reply

    Having watched last night's live broadcast at my local cinema in Malaga, I am astonished at the vitriol that has been flowing from the pens (keyboards) of all those previous naysayers. This was just one brilliant performance, from first to last, so all of you undecided's go, and revel in the sublime music, and appreciate the innovation Ms. Mitchell has brought to this production.

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