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Miranda Summers on Reviving a Masterpiece

Revival Director Miranda Summers reflects on her history and connections to Opera Australia’s iconic staging of Otello.

You have a long history with Harry Kupfer’s production of Otello. Tell us about your connections to it.

My theatre career began in London as a scenic painter and prop maker for Russel Beck Studios, English National Opera, Royal Opera House, and the BBC.

I joined Opera Australia (OA) in 2003 and one of my first productions as a stage props hand was Harry Kupfer’s Otello. OA revived this production in 2008 when I had become an Assistant Stage Manager. My next interaction with this production was last year as an Assistant Director. That fortunate action has brought me here to teach this production to the beautiful cast in West Australian Opera’s season.

Why do you think this production is such an impactful staging of this opera?

Hans Schavernoch’s set design on a bomb-impacted sunken staircase is the perfect structure to underscore this drama. Minimalist with a hint of story, it doesn’t detract but enhances the theatrical experience.

The angle of the grand stairs tilts our singers toward the auditorium and into the face, hearts, and ears of our audience. Harry Kupfer’s direction utilises all the set elements to advantage and delivers a story that is timeless and human. A tale of tender love, passion, manipulation, power, jealousy, hatred, and murder. Thank you, Shakespeare.

Harry’s understanding of the human condition, sympathy with each character’s plight, his energy, and blocking have been documented and captured within the music score that I use to re-create his masterful production. Through his direction, we can all relate to or are given insight into the minds of the most innocent and devious characters.

Otello for me is the pinnacle of Verdi’s operas. Within the first bar or two, his score delivers all the emotional content you need to fully feel his intention; a far more sophisticated storyteller than words on their own will ever be. This score coupled with this direction upon this set is an experience that impacts every soul to partake in it, be it backstage and audience member alike.

Your father Jonathon Summers of course originated the role of Iago in this production. What insights have you shared with each other about this character?

My Dad, Jonathan Summers debuted Iago for Opera Australia in 2003, revived the role in 2008, and is my dear and very personal connection to this opera. I was privileged to watch Dad’s performance from the wings and his Iago for me is timeless.

Dad has given me some understanding of what this production asks of them physically and mentally, providing valuable insight and appreciation of how exceptional and truly unique Dad’s performance was.

His training, core understanding, and constant practice allow him to sing with beauty whilst executing the physical gymnastics directors ask of him. He says at the end of a performance: “I’ve run a marathon!” Reflecting on Harry’s direction, he said: “The Iago blocking, is all Harry. Harry at the age of 70 would run up and down those stairs and fling himself around the set like a 12-year-old. All I did was follow him!”

What has this group of performers brought to the production?

Energy! Each principal artist and chorus member are making their Otello debut. This is both frightening and wondrous! An honour to work with such a great lot of talent. All with vocals that fit right in the pocket and meet head-on the challenges of singing this piece. This is a show not to be missed, West Australian audiences are in for a vocally dynamic treat. 

How does it feel to share this production with West Australian audiences?

I’m honoured to be sharing Harry Kupfer’s production of Verdi's Otello, which has already personal significance and will, I hope, be impactful for many patrons. The people of West Australian Opera have made me so welcome these past few weeks, and delighted me with their enthusiasm, ability, and kindness.

What do you hope audiences will experience from attending?

I hope our audiences are impacted by the magnitude of vocal talent, swept up in a story richly woven with human traits, experience sublime beauty listening to Verdi’s score, and lastly cheer on for the raw visceral honesty that is live theatre!

West Australian Opera presents Otello at His Majesty’s Theatre from 20 – 29 July. Book here