Entrevista con Tom Wright: "We’ve set nothing but records on this show".

Updated: Feb 13

Vancouver Opera estrenó el sábado pasado en el teatro Queen Elizabeth, Evita. La obra ha alcanzado una gran audiencia y obtenido críticas de todas las índoles –ya por la pericia de sus estrellas, ya por el contenido histórico que tiene–. Todavía quedan cuatro fechas para su presentación (5, 6, 7 y 8 de mayo); sin embargo, los lugares están prácticamente agotados para todas.

En todos los medios de prensa de la ciudad, de alguna u otra manera, hemos tenido la oportunidad de leer en torno a Evita, su noche de estreno, lo que se vio o se escuchó, lo bueno, lo malo, lo peor. En Tintas pensamos que sería bueno presentarles a nuestros lectores la historia detrás de la producción. Así, les presento la transcripción de una entrevista con Tom Wright, Director de Planeación Artística en Vancouver Opera, realizada unos días antes del estreno, en la que nos habla acerca de todo el trabajo que hay detrás de la producción y nos comparte las expectativas y logros que hasta el momento tenían, mismos que los afortunados que alcanzamos boleto podremos constatar de primera mano:

TATIANA OSEGUERA FOR TINTAS: In general, we go to a live performance and go crazy about the amazing work of the singers, the musicians, the actors, and in general, about all the things we are able to see or hear the day of the presentation; however, we rarely think of all the hard work and planning required in order to make it happen. As the Director of Artistic Planning in Vancouver Opera, what is your role in this process?

TOM WRIGHT: My role is to oversee all of the artistic production and education related programming events, performances. Anything we produce at Vancouver Opera, whether it’s a small single recital in a church to a full-scale Opera or musical such as Evita. It’s my job to oversee that it all happens, that it all happens to the best of our abilities. And, that it happens under or as close to budget as possible.

I start the planning process with my colleague, the General Director, usually a couple of years —maybe three years out, when we start talking about repertoire for future seasons. And, It’s at that point that I start researching whether we’re going to rent a production from another company, or build another production for another company, and I start building budgets based on the show. And, those budgets detail everything from the principle singers, whether they are coming in from out of town, what their fee will be. Whether we’re paying accommodation or not, travel… all those particulars. And, then I go to the chorus and then to the supers and then to the orchestra, the conductor, the director, all the music staff and then I go to the production side and I budget the designers, set designers, the lighting designers, the costume designers, whether they are coming in or not. Whether we have to pay a royalty on their intellectual property or not, I have to negotiate all of that. So, I’m working two or three years out creating these budgets working with my colleagues in development and marketing to make sure that the season we are working to put together is balanced, that it has an exciting arc to the season. And, then once we commit to it, then I go full tilt into contracting all the artists. First of all, I make sure to have the conductor and director. After, I start working with the director on whether it’s a brand new production such as Evita […]. Then, the conversation shifts to who the design team is going to be […]. Everything that happens backstage is my responsibility.

TATIANA: Two to three years ahead? That sounds intense!

TOM: Yes, two to three years ahead is what I like to be working on. But, for this production, we decided fifteen months ago to do Evita, instead of another opera we had been looking at.

TATIANA: Which leads to my next question: What were the reasons for choosing Evita as the closing show for the season?

TOM: We had initial conversations about which production we were going to do, and found out very early that there were really no rentable productions with Evita that existed in North America to fit the Queen Elizabeth’s Theater stage. So, it was at that point we decided to build our own […]. When we looked at the season and we looked at the five past years of programming we have been trying to introduce some of the musical canon to our opera audience. So, there are many, many musicals that we feel have a place on the operatic stage […] Bernstein’s, of course, West Side Story was the first big musical that we produced so we looked at Lloyd Webber, and Evita is probably, —well, in my opinion, the only piece that makes sense for an opera to produce. In fact at the end of the opera in the piano-vocal score that he wrote, he wrote: “End of Opera”, and that’s because it’s a rock opera. In 1976 when he and Tim Rice released a double album of Evita, it was released as a recording first; before it even became a musical he considered it and he wrote it as a rock opera. When an Opera Company produces such a musical, we take a different look at the scale of it. Our theatre is way bigger than any of the Broadway theaters or any of the other theaters here in Vancouver for that matter that have produced Evita. The Arts Club, when they do a musical they have seven or eight musicians in the orchestra, we have twenty-five. Our ensemble in this production including the children is over fifty. And, you would never see that amount of human resources in the Broadway shows, they just don’t work at that scale. But, we have a big stage to fill so we need to have those bodies on stage to make it look good and sound good.

TATIANA: What have been the challenges of putting the show together?

TOM: The challenges for me… I was actually casting the three main roles simply because I like to try and get my cast worked out at least a year or two out in advance to have a comfort level that I have the best artist that I’m casting for my roles so that I can get someone good. But, working in the musical world is something that I don’t do a lot and they also work on a shorter term planning horizon. So, we lucked out in getting Ramin Karimloo to sing his first Che. Also, John Cudia —by the way, is the only person in Broadway history to ever sing the Phantom and Jean Valjean, you know the two big roles in the Phantom of the Opera and from Les Misérables. He’s the only singer in Broadway history to hold that title, so he’s singing Perone for us and then Caroline Bowman who is singing Eva, she came on board; actually, we had contracted another singer who was going to make her debut in the role, but she got lured away in a role in a TV series. We obviously said, “Okay, we understand, our little opera doesn’t compare to doing a mini-series on AMC."

TATIANA: So you had to find another one?

TOM: So we found another one and I had created a list of potentials, So, I worked with our director Kelly Robinson we had conversations back and forth about who might be the best fit and Caroline was hands down that person. What she brings to it, of course, is the experience of having done the role on U.S. national tours. So, she’s done a lot of performances, and what was amazing to us, when we started the rehearsal process is we always start with table-work: we gather everybody around and we go through, we read the libretto and we talk about characters and how each scene develops from the artists portraying the characters and then from the directors ideas of how he would like to tell the story. And, Caroline who has done so many performances and so many rehearsals on this national tour had never done any table-work on her character of Eva. So, she really had a great time here and actually all the singers had a wonderful time working for Vancouver Opera so, we’re thrilled!

TATIANA: What were your expectations when you first chose Evita? I’ve heard the first dates are already sold out. Last night I was trying to find three tickets for my friends, and it was actually impossible to get the three seats together! Why do you think it’s doing so well?

TOM: Well, it’s certainly exceeding our expectations. Our expectation is to always reach the budget that we’ve set so, my budget in expenses and my colleague’s budget in marketing, in ticket sales. Our goal is to reach those goals of the budget that the board has approved now we’re far exceeding the revenue on this show, far exceeding, way beyond what we had thought. We’ve set nothing but records on this show and I attest that to the timing of a lot of things, the timing of when the last time Evita was last seen in Vancouver, the timing of the type of audience we’ve been developing in coming to see these musicals on the operatic stage. The timing of what’s going on in America right now politically has resonance to this production, obviously. The marketing materials and I have to say, the cast is pretty darn good too. I mean, Ramin Karimloo is a superstar on Broadway, he tweeted out on his Facebook page that he’s having a great time and looking forward to opening night and you know instantaneously five thousand friends or fans or whatever, they are all thrilled. When we signed up and we released that he was coming to Vancouver. We’ve had calls coming from Tokyo, South America, England, and all over America. They are coming in to see this because this is a role debut for him.

…so, you have a ticket, but your friends don’t?

TATIANA: [Laughing] No!

TOM: I am sorry about that…

TATIANA: I am sorry about that too! [chuckles] I told them to get them earlier and they wouldn’t listen!

TOM: We actually thought about adding one show. We can only add one, and that would make next Saturday a two-show day, but we just felt that it was going to put too much pressure on the cast, it’s too taxing to do that… and what a better way to end our current boss, James Wright, ten years with a sign, with an ad that says: “Thank you, Vancouver, Evita’s sold out. Come back and see us next year in the lounge of the Vancouver Opera Festival”.

TATIANA: That is a great idea! The Vancouver Opera Festival, which is –by the way, the theme for another conversation I hope to have with you in the near future. In the meantime tell me, in your opinion, what is the relevance of Evita nowadays?

TOM: What’s interesting is Tim Rice, when he first pitched this to his colleague Andrew Lloyd Webber, was his fascination with celebrities and the celebrity status and how did this nowhere from-know-where girl, 15-year-old in a matter of ten years become this cult like icon in Argentina. That was the fascination. Now we’re seeing that play out in American politics in some weird sense. You know with Donald Trump, I’m not saying he came from nothing but if you can see the weirdness on what is going on down there in politics it translates to the weirdness of “How did she do that, how did she become so popular amongst the Argentinians of the time?”. The story that Che tells is not so complimentary to the story that Eva tells in Evita, in the musical. His narrative, his part of the storytelling is, “Was she really so good? What did Mr. Parone and Eva really did for the country? Yeah, so it’s interesting to take that story and look at the similarities of what’s going on down in the States right now. I guess you could even translate that, I haven’t really paid a lot of attention to what’s going on in Brazil right now, but I know their President is looking at impeachment right now.

TATIANA: Probably the fact that we are talking about a real woman it makes it even more exciting, don’t you think?

TOM: Definitely!

TATIANA: What did you learn during this production?

TOM: What I’ve learned, every time I do a big musical like this, I never give it enough time to really produce it… we’re not always working in the theater. We don’t own the Queen Elizabeth Theatre so I only have a certain amount of time to get into the theatre, to get the set, the lights, the sound, to get everything ready and then have time to rehearse on it with everybody before opening night. We have people working from eight o’clock in the morning until one o’clock in the morning making sure everything is happening in time, but when you compare it to those companies that own their own theater and can get more time in the theatre and have the flexibility to schedule longer rehearsals, and can be nimble enough to move things around if you need to make those changes, well, we don’t have that ability here because we don’t own this theatre, we rent it, so we have to take the time we can get and make it happen within that period. So, I learned that I need my own theatre to do this properly or at least to lower the stress level a little bit.

TATIANA: [Chuckles] Well, and I have to ask, having to look after so many things, what would be your worst nightmare?

TOM: [Chuckles] Well, what I’m constantly worried about is the health of my singers, especially my stars […]. If they get sick then I have to find somebody else at the last minute to learn an entire show that we have been rehearsing for a month. I hope that never happens. The big Broadway houses, when they go through the rehearsal process or show they always have understudies [people studying the roles in order to be able to replace the regular performers when necessary]. But, that’s when they plan to run a show for months and months. They invest in that. When I’m only doing six performances, it doesn’t make much sense for me to bring in an understudy to learn the show. I do have backup plans that I hope I never have to use. But, the worst part for me would be to lose an artist due to illness and not being able to perform.

[…] Last year on the opening night of Sweeny Todd our Sweeny Todd lost his voice halfway through Act One.

TATIANA: Oh, that’s true! I was there that night…

TOM: And, I knew he was sick so I flew somebody in out from Toronto the day before. He was in the audience and could hear his colleague was sick. He came straight backstage and we put a microphone on him. Then we had a conversation with the Sweeny who ran off stage to tell us he can’t sing. We said: “Yes, we know, but this guy can. You just mouth the words from now on”.

TATIANA: Wow, so much stress! Hopefully, it won’t happen this time.

TOM: [Laughing]. Yes, hopefully, it won’t!

TATIANA: And finally, what can we expect from this show?

TOM: You can expect to have the finest musical theatre and operatic artists in Vancouver. Our chorus is a big part of the show and they are all classically trained opera singers and they have been interwoven into the ensemble with an ensemble of musical theatre dancers and singers, along with the five principle leads and then the Vancouver Opera Orchestra under the musical direction of our musical director Jonathan Darlington. The musical forces of this production —it’s fantastic, it’s at the highest level you can get. Now, everybody has a microphone, it is a musical and that is part of making musicals […] It’s a beautiful brand new production, we’ve created it here, we’re utilizing seven video projectors which really help the director tell the story. The lighting is fantastic, the costumes. When Eva comes in the Act Two wearing her iconic white dress the audience will be gasping!