John Pascoe’s affair with opera goes back to early childhood when he heard recordings of the tenor Mario Lanza. He first came under the spell of the soprano voice at the age of thirteen, when a school music teacher introduced him to recordings of Maria Callas and Joan Sutherland. A passion for the human voice and a profound admiration for singers and musicians has remained at the core of his work ever since. For forty -plus years, Pascoe has directed and/or designed productions for many of the world’s major opera houses and has been closely associated with some of the greatest names of the operatic world, including the composer Gian Carlo Menotti, the late Dame Joan Sutherland, the legendary soprano Renée Fleming, the great tenor and conductor Plàcido Domingo, the ‘authentic music’ conductor Alan Curtis and the tenor Vittorio Grigolo. John Pascoe’s Royal Opera House debut in 1980 was as set designer for a production of Lucrezia Borgia marking Dame Joan Sutherland’s thirtieth year at Covent Garden, London, and at Teatro dell’Opera, Rome. He went on to work extensively with Sutherland, designing sets and costumes for Alcina for Australian Opera and sets for Anna Bolena in San Francisco, Chicago and Toronto. In 1988, he directed and designed Sutherland’s last new production at Covent Garden, Anna Bolena, and, in 1989, her farewell performance in the role of Norma at Costa Mesa, Los Angeles and Detroit. After her death in 2010, his costumes for Anna Bolena were feature in a major exhibition celebrating her career at Royal Opera House.
Maestro Pascoe, first of all, thank you very much for accepting my invitation! It’s an immense honour to have the chance to chat with you in an interview for OPERA Charm Magazine. Since we are passing through a historical moment, I’d like to start this conversation with this argument: from the point of view of the stage director/designer, what do you think about the live-streaming?
Thank you so much for inviting me, I’ve been very excited following OPERA Charm and am honoured to be part of it. To your first question about live streamings. It’s been in one sense a blessing in that it has given us some form of contact with ‘live’ productions while the opera houses have been closed. But to be honest, mostly I fear that we – the opera producing community, haven’t yet realised how far behind the world of opera is in terms of what the wider audience expects in its diversions, we have in that sense been ‘preaching to the choir’ of opera goers whom we would normally have a reached through opera productions rather than chasing a new audience. For instance, with all of the amazing power of video with its ability to create a virtual world within which we can place singers, most major companies have been happy to ‘just’ create concerts with socially distanced performers, instead of creating virtual events using all the power of video within which the performers can create their magic. These images from the concert tour I created in 2016 for Vittorio Grigolo, did exactly that. I created a story line to link his 9 favourite arias, that of a young italian who is endlessly chasing the elusive woman in red (i.e unattainable ideal) while dreaming of finding here in various icons moments of Italy’s history, this image shows him as n officer within the Risorgimento. To my mind this is one way to reach a wider audience, who are used to viewing through their computer screens, iPads, televisions or indeed mobiles. Lets create magic using video to enchant them. Lets face it, our musical language is already widely distributed in it’s to some extent imitated endlessly in many spectacular, fantasy filled movies. It doesn’t seem to be too much of a exaggeration to observe that the roots of most sound tracks are virtually always to be found in Puccini, Wagner or R. Strauss. So we have the music, we have endless violence and drama, we just need to stage it in a way that is recognisable to a younger audience. Think Rammstein concert meets Game ofThrones spectacle. Now of the aspect to definitely NOT ignore, is the level of both violence and eroticism that are found in entertainment aimed at the young. However there are exceptions and a few examples come to mind: Seattle Opera have produced a Don Giovanni with video elements that have created an enlarged reality, plus there were some marvellous moments within the concert at La Scala which opened their current season that had video magic and provided some new form of energy. But generallycompanies have been more stunned by the closure rather than spurred into creation, clearly finances are a vast problem, but… live streamings can raise massive audiences. Am I correct that a recent Rome Opera productions had a million people watching? At 1 Euro each, this is serious revenue) Brava Rome Opera. I want to see opera productions set within the kind of spectacle that “The Game of Thrones” offers us. Google tells us that the young audience at whom we are all aiming, love the fantasy of “The Game of Thrones”. No comment is needed from me on the number of Torrent downloads of this mythic success! But for me one of the extremely positive aspects however about streaming has been the number of streamings from the archives of various opera companies that have been available to us, some of which have been without free to the viewer. Marvellous!
Read the entire interview & many other interesting articles here, in the 3rd/2021 issue of OPERA Charm Magazine.0