Here's a Q&A with Adam da Ros, stage director for Master Class with the Mariposa Theatre Wing and musical director for CATS with Fighting Chance Productions.
So Adam, tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up in Dawson Creek, B.C., where I have been involved in opera and musical theatre since I was a child. I moved down to Vancouver in 2005 to take a science degree at UBC, and ended up getting involved in the choirs and the opera ensemble. From there, I went on to complete a degree in Opera Performance, as well as a Master’s in Opera with a focus in directing and opera production. I currently do freelance work as a pianist, coach, musical director, and stage director in opera and musical theatre.
What got you interested in directing?
As I continued to be involved in shows, I started to notice the effect that the directing would have on the final product, and on the rehearsal experience. After working on some small community productions in residence at UBC, I began to think “I bet I could do that!”, which led me to produce my first show with some friends back home who had been in the musical theatre program with me in high school. Soon after that, I began directing, and fell in love with it. As an audience member, I would always try to note what made certain shows resonate more strongly with me than others, and as a director I try to tell these stories in a way that will have as much impact for others as they do for me.
What would you say has been some of the most rewarding productions you've worked on, or the greatest learning experiences?
I was lucky enough to be a part of the opera ensemble at UBC for the better part of ten years, where I learned an immense amount under the mentorship of Nancy Hermiston, who is one of the foremost opera educators in the country, and who allowed me to be her assistant director for three seasons. I have also had the opportunity to travel to several different summer opera festivals, which are always a good deal of fun, as well as requiring a lot of work to get shows up and running in a very short period of time. One of the most rewarding things for me so far was the chance to direct Madama Butterfly for Burnaby Lyric Opera last February. It was my first time directing a full-length opera, and it was amazing to see it all come together into something that I could be so proud of.
What play, opera or musical would you most love to direct in the future?
It’s so hard to choose, but for opera I would really love to direct Tosca or Pagliacci. For musical theatre, I would love to work on a production of Hello, Dolly! or Beauty and the Beast.
Do you have a secret talent other than directing? Tell us one talent or interest that might surprise the people who know you.
People are often surprised to find out that I sometimes work as an accountant, or at a store selling concrete blocks and driving a forklift! For my friends and family, I don’t think I have many surprises - they all just seem to shake their heads knowingly at the messes I manage to get myself into.
What are you currently working on?
I am directing Master Class by Terrence McNally for Opera Mariposa and the Mariposa Theatre Wing, playing in Vancouver February 19th to 28th. This musical play is based on real-life events, when the famed soprano Maria Callas gave a series of master classes at the Juilliard School. However, the similarities to the actual classes soon end, and the play centres on the character of Maria: her life, her fame, and her relationship to her art form. I am also music director for Fighting Chance Productions’ presentation of CATS by Andrew Lloyd Webber, which is playing both in White Rock and Vancouver, January 27th to March 12th.
What first attracted you to working on Terrence McNally's Master Class?
I first encountered the work when I attended the Arts Club production in 2012 on Granville Island. I went to see a colleague perform as one of the singers, and was immediately struck by the power of the work, as well as its relevance to those of us working in opera. When Mariposa announced their season and I saw it on the bill, I knew I had to seize the opportunity to work on this piece!
You have a substantial amount of musical experience, particularly in opera. How do you think that informs your interpretation of Master Class, which is set in the operatic world?
Approaching the work from a background in music, I would say that there are a lot of things that McNally gets right. There is a reason he has chosen these particular arias for the singers to present, and while they do each represent a certain stereotype in some ways, there is a lot of realism in their characters. For audience members not involved in opera, I think it gives a nice glimpse into our world while also telling a very meaningful story about a real-life celebrity in our industry. I think it would be completely possible to present the work without paying too much attention to the parallels between the arias and Maria’s own life, but for me that presents such a deliberate choice on the part of the writer that it begs to be explored as fully as possible.
Master Class is based on a series of real-life masterclasses that Maria Callas held at Julliard in the 1970s. What sort of research did you do to prepare for this production? Would you say that there are any differences when it comes to working on a piece that was inspired by a real person and real events?
Fortunately for us, there is a large body of work available on Callas. In addition to the dozens of interviews and huge amount of tabloid coverage, the bulk of which centres around her personality and personal life, we also have glorious recordings of her in so many of her famous roles. Even the master classes the play is based on were extensively documented, and you can listen to them or read the transcripts to hear the advice she gave to the singers for yourself. Obviously this means we want to portray Callas in a way which is consistent with the real person, as McNally has tried to do, while taking certain liberties for the sake of the story. My hope is that people coming out of the show will want to look up information on Callas, hear her sing, and find out more about this fascinating personality.
The real-life Maria Callas was one of the most renowned and influential singers of the 20th century, and in Master Class, the role of Maria has been embodied by such stars as Zoe Caldwell, Tyne Daly, Faye Dunaway and Patti LuPone. What were some of the challenges in casting such an iconic role, and what were you looking for in your own Maria?
We definitely wanted to have as believable a Callas as possible, especially since she is such a well-known, inspiring, and controversial figure in the opera world. The role requires someone able to convey this same power and presence, while also being quite sarcastic and funny. We are blessed to have Laura Di Cicco playing our Maria. We could tell from the moment she walked into the room that she would do an amazing job, and that has certainly proven to be true.
Master Class isn't an opera – it's a theatre piece about opera. How is music used in the show? And how would you say that directing a play with musical elements differs from directing a musical or an opera?
The show’s music is used both to replicate a music class setting and to trigger Maria’s memories of past moments in her life. We have great singers presenting three incredible arias, but a master class setting is obviously very different than if the arias were presented in context. In a musical or opera, the rehearsal period is divided between musical preparation and staging, which often won’t happen until the music has been extensively rehearsed and memorized by the singers. A play comes together in a very different way, with the actors able to make different decisions on how to deliver the lines based on their colleagues, and the final product gradually developing over the course of repetition in rehearsal. This same organic process does take place in opera and musical theatre staging to a certain extent, but the music does also inform a lot of what happens on stage.
What has you most excited about this production, and what are you looking forward to the most?
The most exciting part for me is working with these incredibly talented people. This process allows me to continue to grow and develop as a director and as a person, all the while presenting an incredibly moving work with some fantastic music! Can’t wait to see it up on its feet!
Why should audiences come see this show?
I really believe that this show has something for everyone. It is witty, inspiring, heartbreaking, and informative all at the same time. Opera singers, coaches, and directors will find themselves in a familiar setting, but everyone can identify with the universal themes of love, loss, sacrifice, hard work, and a search for meaning that will have you both laughing and in tears by the end of the work.