Cesara is recently finished her studies at Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance in London and is directing Promenade Opera Project's August Production of Justice or Mercy (an immersive modern adaptation of Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito). We caught up with her to discuss her vision for this production.
POP: Where are you from? How did you first get interested in opera or musical theatre?
Cesara: Originally from Central Texas (howdy, y’all!), I initially became involved in the performing arts through community productions at a young age, first performing and then slowly moving into the technical and creative fields.
POP: What are your dream directing jobs?
Cesara: My answer will likely be a bit more vague than what you are looking for because I really enjoy working on new theatrical pieces. I also am very much drawn to existing works and then totally reimagining them much like we are with Justice or Mercy, so I suppose my dream directing job in that respect would simply be to do something new and innovative and exciting with a classic piece of theatre.
That said, when it comes to opera Verdi’s Aida is definitely at the top of my list and it would be an absolute dream to work on that production in any capacity.
POP: How should we as interpretive artists deal with works that are highly politicized and potentially sexist?
Cesara: I think all artist have an obligation both to the original work and to the message it communicates, which will vary depending on the time, place of presentation, political climate, etc. In my opinion, it would be extremely irresponsible and potentially dangerous to present a highly politicized or sexist piece without, in some way, recognizing and calling attention to the problematic content or themes. With Justice or Mercy, we’ve tackled this by having the character’s gender be reflective of the performer’s chosen gender and have replaced the problematic theme of Titus “picking out a wife” with a more modern and realistic “campaign running mate” track. This is not to say that the original work is in any way “wrong”, but we would be naive to assume that works of art will convey the same messages to audiences ten to fifty to hundreds of years apart. Our goal as artists should be to present these pieces to audiences in such a way that they can receive and appreciate the original work of the author or composer. Their ability to receive and appreciate can be much more challenging if there are outdated or problematic themes that take the spotlight and get in the way.
POP: What do you think is the best way to make opera relevant to the next generation?
Cesara: My answer to the previous question applies to this one as well. When many of these pieces were written, they were dealing with or addressing the relevant issues of the time, in many cases through historic storytelling. To appeal to the next generation, we need to ensure our representation of these works is dealing with and addressing the relevant issues of the current times and presenting them in a way that the current generations can relate to and identify with. Not every opera needs to be completely modernized or translated, but incorporating themes and ideas more relevant to American youth than 79 A.D. Rome, is a great place to start.
POP: What do you love about this interpretation of Tito? What’s challenging?
Cesara: I love love love our “choose your own ending” take on things. Not only is it exciting for the audience, but the performers are fully aware that their character's fate is in the hands of a jury of their peers and I think this dramatically changes the feel of the performance.
My favorite part is also what makes it challenging. If the audience chooses an ending directly contradictory Mozart’s original finale, how do we as artists present this drastically different ending while still maintaining the artistry and intent of the composer?
POP: What’s your favorite moment in the opera?
Cesara: I am a sucker for the antagonistic characters, and I really love Victoria and several of her shade throwing moments, but my favorite part is probably the duet between Anna (Annio) and Sylvia (Serviglia) about half way through the first act. In contrast to the hatred and manipulation being spouted by Victoria, Mozart gives us a beautifully pure love song between these two characters. And, in our version, we have the added benefit of showcasing this pure love in a same sex relationship, something I am happy and proud to promote in our unfortunately still somewhat unaccepting society.
POP: What do you think will be special about doing this as a promenade adaptation?
Cesara: Opera is often described by younger generations as being stuffy and boring. Having the entire performance be an immersive promenade means that our audience isn’t just sitting back, watching things unfold, they are active participants in it. Our story provides the audience with a sense of agency, and given our current divided political climate, it is now more important than ever that young people get involved and make their voices heard!
POP: Most importantly... which will you vote for: Justice or Mercy?
Cesara: In truth, I’m not sure which I’ll vote for. For me, it will come down to the specific performances of each character, in the moment. Who knows which way they may pull my conscience.