When the Metropolitan Opera tapped UC’s Robin Guarino to direct Mozart’s Così Fan Tutte last September, the assignment came with the added bonus—and pressure—of working with music director (and North Avondale native) James Levine, returning to conduct after a nearly two-year absence due to a spinal cord injury. The production will be broadcast as part of the Met’s “Live in HD” series on April 26. Guarino is Professor of Opera and the J. Ralph Corbett Distinguished Chair of Opera at the College-Conservatory of Music.
How did you meet Maestro Levine? I met him when I was 18. I was working backstage to get all the experience I could to become a stage director, and he invited me to observe all of his orchestra rehearsals. We reminisced about that after Così’s opening night last fall.
In 2003, you directed Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro at the Met with Levine conducting. What impressed you most about that collaboration? He’s a wonderful teacher and collaborator, and he brings out the best in everyone. He has a genuine love of singers and wants them to be the best they can. One of the most important lessons was that you always work with the person who’s in the room—not your idea of who you think should be there.
Was there the sense that his return was an historic occasion? Absolutely. He was at every piano and orchestra rehearsal. On the first day we were all concerned about his energy, but he had incredible stamina. He’s the old Jimmy and he is very adept in negotiating the wheelchair. On opening night, you could feel the love from the audience.
How do your stagings reflect your experiences at the Met and elsewhere? I learned to optimize every situation so everybody can do the best work possible. Sometimes it’s frustrating for students, because they want to be told exactly how and where to move. I don’t tell them, but I am always ready for a discussion that includes all the other elements: movement, costumes, lighting, scenery. For me, directing is a life-long dialogue.
Will you be taking a bow at the HD broadcast? No. I’ll be out in the television truck with the HD director, but I’ll be watching!
Originally published in the April 2014 issue.
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