DTC’s Kevin Moriarty ventures out of his comfort zone by directing an opera
Anyone who wants to direct for the theater has control issues. After all, that’s what the job is, right? Deciding how all the pieces fit together. Telling the actors, designers, crew what to do. Running the ship.
That is true of theater. But in opera, the job of the stage director is an entirely different thing.
That’s the lesson Kevin Moriarty learned once he agreed to direct a one-act chamber piece, The Lighthouse, at the behest of the Dallas Opera. (It plays for only three performances this weekend at the Wyly Theatre.)
“They asked me if I would be interested and I said sure,” he says. He studied music in school and welcomed the opportunity to explore a new layer of his craft. Only he didn’t know what he was getting himself into.
As artistic director of the Dallas Theater Center, Moriarty is already one of the busiest men in the North Texas arts community, from planning out his season to directing shows at DTC to nurturing students at Booker T. Washington High School. But tackling opera involved an entirely new learning curve.
For one thing, Moriarty is usually involved in casting, but “the number of people who can sing these roles is very limited. But Jonathan [Pell of the Dallas Opera] worked really hard to put together opera singers who can act.”
The director’s job is usually to establish the pace of a show; at the initial read-through with a cast, Moriarty usually maps out his vision. But at an opera read-through, it’s the conductor who’s in charge. He’s at the hands of the composer and the music director.
That’s a big change for someone who, in recent seasons, has done a mash-up version of two Shakespeare plays for his Henry IV, retooled The Who’s Tommy as a furious fever-dream and put the audience on moving seats for The Wiz. And that’s not The Lighthouse.
“It is a psychological, actor-y piece,” Moriarty explains. “I’ve never directed an opera but I like opera and I’m familiar with the genre. But they are not like musicals. The Lighthouse is more like doing a Pinter play — there are long pauses with orchestral music that slow the action. And Pinter is not something I would usually direct.
Vagueness and stillness are not attributes people would ascribe to me.”
Indeed, as a modernist opera, The Lighthouse has less in common with classic opera like The Marriage of Figaro and is more like Pinter’s Betrayal with music.
But those limitations have also challenged Moriarty to stretch himself — and given him the opportunity to work with conductor Nicole Paiement (only the second woman ever to conduct for the Dallas Opera).
Still, there’s a lot of work for Moriarty to do. The Lighthouse, by the gay modernist British composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, is a psychological opera (inspired by a true story) about what may have happened to three crewmen of a lighthouse on a remote crag of the Outer Hebrides. Moriarty himself eschews answering the mystery of what actually happened (madness? ghosts?) — the opera itself remains opaque.
“It keeps reminding me of literature,” Moriarty says. “It’s forcing me to go really deep into the piece. It’s almost like writing a paper.”
A few years ago, when he directed A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the opening of the Wyly Theatre, Moriarty added a hip-hop attitude and rock music to convey the spirit of the work, but the changes did not go to its nature. Here, he’s taken a more respectful approach. “It’s humbling to me,” he says.
So given the demands of directing his first opera, is it something Moriarty would like to keep doing? He pauses.
“Ask me again in a few weeks,” he says.
‘IN THE HEIGHTS:’ THE GAY LECTURE
With many theater openings lately, be sure to check out DallasVoice.com for the latest reviews, including the Tony Award winning In the Heights which just came to the Winspear. And if you want to learn the gay appeal of that show — and all the others at the Lexus Broadway Series — come see Dallas Voice Life+Style editor and critic Arnold Wayne Jones’ LGBT Broadway lecture in Hamon Hall inside the Winspear at 7 p.m. on March 20. (The series always takes place the second Tuesday of the run.)
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 16, 2012.