Opera interview: Freedom and creativity in Paris – after WWI- the setting for La rondine, directed by Christine Crouse for Cape Town Opera

Christine Crouse – director

Latest production: Puccini’s La rondine
When: November 16, 18, 20, 2021
Tickets: R350 Booking: https://tickets.computicket.com/event/la_rondine/5301948 or Artscape Dial-A-Seat 021 421 7695

Directing La rondine for Cape Town Opera (November 16, 18, 2021), resonates personally for for opera maven, Christine Crouse (Nolte). She is using a copy of the score of Puccini’s opera, which her mother, the famous soprano, Nellie du Toit, used when she sang La rondine. Together with designer, Michael Mitchell, conceptualised the production in Paris, in the aftermath, of World War I, with much of the action, taking place in the salon of Gertrude Stein. After wars and periods of struggle, there is often a sense of re-birth and regeneration –albeit within a context of loss and privations. We are not exactly ‘over’ the pandemic, but with infection rates stabilizing, there is a palpable sense of hope and La rondine – set in Paris of the 20s- buzzing with romance, creativity, style, freedom – is a rich opera landscape to become immersed, in a time when we need to transcend the grind of lockdown, load shedding, as we look towards brighter days. Christine Crouse gives us a taste–of what to expect.

The inspiration and trigger for setting La rondine, in Paris, after World War I

In the spurt of creativity, loss and reclaiming of freedom and the sense of emancipation for women, La rondine took shape for Cape Town Opera, pandemic era staging. Christine Crouse: “Set designer, Michael Mitchell and I were inspired by the movie Midnight in Paris. Paris was the melting pot of new ideas -a new form of art – and many renewals at hand. [In the film, directed by Woody Allen, a writer does a time warp and becomes immersed in the romance, inspiration, style and inspiration in Paris of 1920s]. Crouse: “Paris after the war was a hive of activity with the ‘lost generation’ and many foreigners co-mingling with Parisians. It was also an era where many prominent writers visited Paris, including Scott Fitzgerald and the so-called ‘new women’ writers such as Mabel Dodge and Neith Boyce Hapgood. Clothing for women became less restrictive. Women started smoking in public. The ‘flappers’ also added spice. Josephine Baker was the talk of the town in Paris.”

Love and loss in La rondine and how this production has been shaped by loss from Covid

La rondine pivots around the innocence of youth – which has been searched for but then lost. It is an opera about love and loss. Has Covid and lockdown impacted on the staging of this work now, in the time of the pandemic? Crouse: “I think that we have all had a sense of loss somehow, through the periods of lockdown. I found it very interesting that I personally experienced a huge growth in myself where Opera is concerned. During hard lockdown we had to resort to creating stimuli in our lectures for the opera students and I found myself exploring new pathways. It forced me to adapt to a new level. La rondine has never been on my wish list. I was thrilled when CTO asked me to do this production. I gave my score which has my mother, Nellie du Toit’s signature in it to Cape Town Opera and that is the score that I am working from.”

The creative team behind La rondine in Paris, in the 1920s

Act 2 is set in Gertrude Stein’s famous Salon at Rue de Fleurus in Paris. From 1903 to 1938, this was the home for Stein and her partner, in the 6th arrondissement of Paris on the Left Bank. Hemingway and Picasso were regulars. This was before Netflix and social media and this has opened up wonderful vistas for the creatives on the production who have a history of collaborating on theatre.  Crouse: “The design is by my good friend and colleague Michael Mitchell, with costume design by Maritha Visagie and Rabia Davids- women who I have worked with a lot in the past and are extremely talented and creative. Sue de Moyencourt is doing the choreography- also someone whom I have worked with as a stage manager and assistant director for many years. Faheem Bardien is the lighting designer. I have a history with everybody on the creative team. We all have had a long history together. Our fab stage manager, Juanita van Wyk, babysat my son (now 26 years old). We have all shared many good theatrical experiences. This opera asks for a deep emotional level of involvement. Everyone has worked very hard in finding the truth of these emotions. There have been many tears in the rehearsal room.”

Exciting new opera production for Cape Town Opera during year two of Covid and lockdown

Cape Town Opera has continued to stage work – albeit with limited seating and has filmed projects for online viewing. Crouse: “I have been lucky. I was fortunate to direct the double bill for UCT/Cape Town Opera earlier this year, shortly before we moved to another level of harder lockdown. I am always reminded about how privileged we are to be able to create and put a production, on stage, at this time.”

La rondine: Christine Crouse is directing a new production for Cape Town Opera – November 16, 18, 2021.
La rondine at Artscape -November 2021- creative team

Director: Christine Crouse
Orchestra: Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra -conducted by Marvin Kernelle

Set design: Michael Mitchell
Costumes: Maritha Visagie and Rabia Davids
Lighting design: Faheem Bardien
Choreography: Susan de Moyencourt  

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✳This interview has been marginally edited for length and clarity. Featured image – Christine Crouse directing, in rehearsal. Images supplied. Related coverage of La rondine, on TheCapeRobyn: https://thecaperobyn.co.za/on-stage-cape-town-operas-la-rondine-is-set-in-paris-after-world-i/