Young People in the World of Opera: Interview with Francesca Zambello, International Opera Director
BY SOPHIA REBOLLEDO
During the intermission of the Italian opera Luisa Miller at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, I had the opportunity to interview internationally recognized director of opera and theater Francesca Zambello. Zambello is the General Director of The Glimmerglass Festival since 2010 as well as the Artistic Director of The Washington National Opera at the Kennedy Center since 2012. In her current roles at the Kennedy Center and the Glimmerglass Festival, she is responsible for producing 12 productions annually. Both companies have thrived and increased their national and international profiles due to Zambello’s artistic vision and leadership.
How did you get interested in the world of arts?
"My parents were in the arts, so it is a family business. My father started as an actor while my mother is an actress. When my parents were working, I would typically be backstage, in which I began to befriend people in the theater. But I was really drawn to the stage managers. Ever since I was little, I would love to direct people to move around like, 'Move this here, move that there.' I even created my own small theater company with kids in my neighborhood in my basement."
What got you interested in the field of opera?
“I knew very little about the specific field of opera. Then, I went to college for business school, and I was also in their theater program, studying play directing and design and stage management. When assigned to stage management, I thought I was being punished because I really wanted to work on the musical. So that is how I started opera if I am honest with you. From then on, I thought the world of opera was cool. There is great music. But nobody wakes up one day and decides that they are going to do this. They have to work hard to get there and really want to do it. Everyone here really wants to be here doing what they are doing in which many of us spend our lives trying to get at this point. Also, the scale of it is so big and powerful. There are like 20 people on stage on a musical but 100 people in an opera, so there is a compelling vibe that I enjoy very much. I also like how what you see is what you get-- there is no manipulation or special effects. It is in real-time, and it is real art which is refreshing compared to the world we live in.”
What do you enjoy most about opera and your job?
“I get to show up every day and play. We get to dress up and play pretend. Sometimes the logistics are tricky, but it is all worth it in the end.”
What do you think the future of opera looks like? In terms of younger people getting more involved?
“It’s tricky because there are a lot of cases to it-- opera has never been financially solvent as the history of opera has always relied on rich people and businesses giving money. This also limits to a certain extent what shows to do because if you want to do something on a massive scale, it is going to be really expensive. If you do an opera that is really expensive and really big, you will need the money in which generally young people are not rich people, so it is tricky. But I know that companies are trying to do a lot to engage younger audiences and people to give discounted tickets. Many companies are doing newer works written by people who are still alive and not old white males who are dead, but you need to do both. You have to do big old pieces to raise money because people are most likely not going to write checks for things they haven’t seen before and hope it’s good. I think it will adapt to the world’s current realities, such as changing shows that would be seen as problematic. We are currently staging Don Giovanni, which is about a guy who rapes women but adjusted it, so he goes to hell in the end. We also constantly have conversations about what is appropriate in shows and what is not, and what message we are trying to say. It is a work in process. But I hope opera will be around for a long time because it has been around for a long time, and I would hate for it to go away.”