In front of a mesmerised audience and immersed in natural Corfiot surroundings of a fairytale scenery Garsington Opera delivered on July 21-22 two high-quality performances of Mozart’s masterpiece “The Marriage of Figaro”.
The Alvarez Young Singers performed a special version of Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro” (Le Nozze di Figaro) and the result was truly remarkable, as they once again revealed the indisputable: the deep quality contained in Mozart’s masterpieces.
The leading roles of Figaro and Susanna were interpreted by Jon Stainsby and Hazel McBain respectively, while Kirsty Taylor-Stokes was also excellent in the role of Almaviva. The other roles were performed by James Corrigan (as Earl Almaviva), Andrew Tipple (as Bartolo and Antonio), Ailsa Mainwarning (as Marcellina), Elizabeth Lynch (as Cherubino) and Cliff Zammit Stevens (as Don Basilio and Don Curzio). They were accompanied by conductor Susanna Stranders, along with the woods quintet composed by Helena Gourd (flute), James Hulme (oboe), Jordan Black (clarinet), Christopher James (fagotto) and Carys Evans (horn). Deborah Cohen directed the famous opera and the costumes were made by Estelle Butler.
Michael Sisk – the producer of the festival and creator of the Gastouri Open Theater – returned to his favourite island after forty years marking the beginning of an effort to establish the festival of “Corfu Music Days”. We had the pleasure of meeting him and be inspired by his great vision.
Why did you choose Corfu to accommodate your vision for an opera theatre?
Michael Sisk: Well, the choice was made long ago in the early ’70s, late ’60s. I came with a famous American conductor and other musical friends. We encountered the great beauty of Corfu and the wonderful musical tradition. We all thought what a wonderful place to make a festival. So that is how the first festival came about and then I was away from Corfu for 40 years. When I came back, I was even more impressed with Corfu as a sight for an international musical event of great proportions. I think you can move into something very important in the European musical cycle. It is a two-piece saying. Early in my life, I decided it was a great place and when I returned I was even more impressed with it and this time we are playing.
Having spent so many years producing plays, operas and festivals all over the world, could you share with us the most important moment of your career?
Michael Sisk: Every opening night, every premier is a new moment when you are there. So Friday night when all open the theatre after so long, there was a presence of so many friends who helped to make it originally and the great joy of sharing it with so many people who did not know about it and with the opera. I can pretty much say that was one of the best moments of my career.
What is your favourite part of putting a show onstage?
Michael Sisk: Well, you know I think it’s the adjustment to the place where you are. Pretty much one of the reason this theatre was built, to begin with. All my life and throughout my career I have been concerned about placing works of art in a situation to which they respond well. Something that is returned to them. This theatre is unique in that it has settled into the environment in such a way that you need to do an organic creation and that is what I find most exciting, to be able to situate a great work of art in an environment that has to fit not necessarily what it was intended for. I think that is what I find most exciting.
What was your first feeling when you saw your theatre on Friday night?
Michael Sisk: It was a great moment! All of us stood there and we knew it was going to be good. We talked about leaving the doors open and letting the environment be seen. I think that thanks to our lighting designer it came off better than we supposed. I am very proud of that moment. That last scene was more beautiful than it can be anywhere else.
Which show has influenced you most?
Michael Sisk: There is a work called Le jeu de Daniel, it’s a medieval work and it occurred in a number of countries and it in response to the need to illustrate the traditional Biblical story of the lion. which every found exciting in the early church. So in many parts of Europe, including France and Greece, there were versions of the story using hymns and traditional songs that actually formed an opera. We brought in the 12th-century version, the french version which we brought to Herodion in Athens and it was a spectacular unexpected moment reconnected to the medieval time in a very modern way. So, I think that is the one that is most memorable and impactful. But once again the marriage of Figaro in this theatre is something that I am very proud of, it took on a new life and adventure.
So you are a citizen of the world but does it feel like home when you visit Corfu?
Michael Sisk: Oh my, yes. I suppose I am a citizen of the world as I have lived in so many places and visited more and worked in them but you know that when I first came to Corfu, I really feel Greek. I do not speak the language but it feels like home to me. So despite all the travels and temptations of other places I always come back here because this is where I feel best.
What was the biggest challenge of this particular production?
Michael Sisk: The biggest challenge is to get together the means to do these things. We all live in a difficult time and in a moment which is particularly difficult in Greece. So seeing all that together was the biggest challenge. The theatre itself was inviting to be reused and opera was prepared to create something for us to fit precisely into that situation. So artistically it was challenging but it was something which we knew we could succeed. Putting together the means was the biggest challenge. But I have been very grateful that even in these difficult times we have had a happy and good response from people who were volunteering to help us in time and gifts. Just because they were interested in the idea. Greece Sotheby’s International Realty has been enormously helpful… I am very touched by that. I think that challenge was met in ways that should all make us very proud.
What would you say to somebody going into your field?
Michael Sisk: We are expecting to establish a world festival here and one must think about how it’s going to go on. I think there are some very good prospects for the people who are helping me with this to step in and take over. I suppose that I would say to them Courage. You would need to wrap your hope in courage and just go ahead…
At the moment I am feeling very content and happy at the prospect of being able to extend the creation of this year. We have been thinking about plans for next year and how to shape it. I am just happy to be at this plateau and happy at the great response of everyone who came here and the performers. I am grateful to Corfu and Greece for inspiration.