An ideal opera to return to

David Alden is an opera director who has left his mark both in his homeland, the USA, and in Europe. His 30-year career includes productions at some of the world’s top theaters. One of Alden’s most recognizable productions, Verdi’s opera «Simon Boccanegra,» is about to be staged at the Athens Concert Hall. The new production by the National Opera will open this Sunday and is scheduled to also run on May 7, 9 and 11. Alden talked to Kathimerini while on a break during rehearsals. It is an opera that the American director knows only too well. «I worked on it 20 years ago at the Royal Opera House in London and it was a great success. I always wanted to go back to it and work on it with a fresh perspective. That is what I am doing now at the National Opera.» Alden sees «Simon Boccanegra» as something special. «Verdi wrote it twice. The first time was at the beginning of his career and it was a huge failure. The second time was toward the end of his life, so we have a mixture of an early Verdi and a mature, settled Verdi. It is an opera that carries a deep, personal stamp. He lost his wife and children shortly before writing it and the opera tells the story of a man who loses his child and whose wife is taken away. Although a great political career follows, there is a feeling of loss that never goes away. This opera is also political and contains references to the civil war conflicts in Italy. To me, this work represents the dream of a wounded man’s soul and that is why I chose an abstract approach.» Alden believes that Verdi had a unique way of castigating social and religious hypocrisy. «He lived together with Giuseppina Strepponi in a small town without being married to her. He wasn’t interested in what people said. His great dramatic power lies in all these personal matters and ‘Boccanegra’ has it all.» Alden loves Verdi, but he loves baroque music as well. «Over the past few years there have been vocalists and musicians who give excellent interpretations of that repertoire and people respond worldwide. In a Verdi or a Wagner work, you have to have a star opera singer, whereas in baroque music you can use younger people. It is more interesting for a director to work with young singers, because when you want to try something new, a prima donna will refuse to do it. Today’s opera singers have been trained to work more closely with the directors. In the past, the conductors were the ones who mattered. The conductor was the one that the singer had to thank.» Alden grew up in New York and saw his first opera at the age of 15, at the Metropolitan Opera. «I was in awe. I knew then that it was what I wanted to do in life as did my brother, who is also a director. At the same time, we realized that what we were watching was not done right. The Met used to follow that old-fashioned style, but even that institution, the last bastion of conservatism, has become more theatrical because it had no choice.» Alden prefers to work in Europe. «The USA is going through a conservative phase. Most theaters in America are not interested in my type of direction. I do modern art on stage and they don’t like that. I don’t work as if I am in a museum. In the USA, money for the arts comes from rich individuals and not from the state. People will pay to see something original in visual arts, but not in opera, where they remain backward. Things are different in Europe, especially in Germany. I feel at ease there, Europe is my area.»