Artist Interview Series: Albert Sherman

Stupendous Stage Director Sherman:

 

As a resident stage director at New York City Opera for 30 years, give us some of your thoughts on the rise (and fall) of this important institution.

The New York City Opera was an important institution for many reasons. Known as "The People's Opera" it made attending opera affordable with tickets as low as $2.50 when it first opened its doors over 70 years ago. The company presented numerous world premieres of operas many of which became staples of the operatic repertoire. Some of these included Floyd's Susannah, Hoiby's Summer and Smoke and Ward's The Crucible to name a few. The company was known for presenting innovative and dramatically exciting productions of standard repertoire. Some of these included Madame Butterfly and La Traviata directed by Frank Corsaro, Boito's Mephistofele directed by Tito Capobianco who also directed Beverly Sills in The Three Queen Operas by Donizetti and Le Nozze di Figaro directed by John Copley. In addition, the company presented exciting production of musical theater and operetta. Some of which included Sondheim's Sweeney Todd and A Little Night Music, Bernstein's Candide and Lehar's The Merry Widow.

The company later championed the Baroque Opera revival presenting numerous productions of Handel, Rameau, Monteverdi and Lully operas. Many of these productions featured such singers as David Daniels, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Carol Vaness, Erie Mills and Lisa Saffer.

One of the most important aspects of the company was that it provided an opportunity to help launch the careers of many singers who would later go on to sing in many national and international companies. These singers included Beverly Sills, Samuel Ramey, Placido Domingo, Jose Carreras, Jerry Hadley, Matthew Polenzani, Richard Stilwell and Christine Goerke to name just a few. The fall of the original New York City Opera was a great cultural loss not only to New York City but to the world of the arts. It was a true ensemble repertory company which was, and still is, a rare thing in the world of opera. But I am hopeful that the new NYCO will continue to grow and succeed so that it can fulfill the void and continue the legacy of the original company.

You have assisted perhaps the most important producer and director of musical theater, Harold Prince, on productions of Candide and Sweeney Todd, among others.  Tell us a bit about working with this titan and your thoughts on the juncture between musical theater and opera.

Working with Mr. Prince was an education in itself. Not only have I have been fortunate enough to work with him on these musical theater productions but also on some of his operatic productions, especially Don Giovanni, which I later directed when the production was remounted many times. But whether it is musical theater or opera, he brings the same work ethic and values to both worlds.

Mr. Prince's productions are well thought out and brilliantly crafted. Every detail from production values to the process of honing dialogue are carefully thought out. He is not only a great director but also a masterful producer. He carefully chooses his cast and designers and allows them to contribute their artistic talents but helps guide them so that in the end a production flows and in some ways is a beautifully orchestrated machine of sorts. But you are never aware of this. However, in order to achieve these results it takes many weeks to accomplish this. Candide alone was a six week rehearsal period.

It was an honor and a privilege when Mr. Prince entrusted me to direct his production of Sweeney Todd for Portland Opera last year. I was very nervous about doing this as I had only assisted him on the production at NYCO but had never directed the entire production. Needless to say I was very nervous about doing this and felt I had a huge responsibility not only to do justice to this great production but to fulfill the trust of the man who was responsible for bringing me to the New York City Opera. In the end the production was a huge success and Mr. Prince was very pleased with the job that I had undertaken.

 

This will not be your first production of Rigoletto - how have your thoughts evolved on this masterpiece?

This will be my second production of Rigoletto. But in between I have worked with a number of directors on a number of different productions.

I have lived with this opera since I was a child. I love the piece and no matter how many times I am exposed to it, I always learn something new about the score and the libretto. Part of this is due to experience and part in the contribution of each conductor and cast. But in the end I am there to service Verdi and try to do justice to what I feel is what he wanted.

 

You are originally from Richmond -- are you looking forward to spending the summer back in Virginia?

Yes, I am very much looking forward to being back in Virginia and am very grateful to Michelle Kriesel for giving me the opportunity to work in my home state again.

I was first exposed to opera on stage at an early age when Boris Goldovsky came through Richmond on tour with his company where I saw The Barber of Seville and La Traviata. It opened a whole new world for me and in many ways was responsible for putting me on the path that I ended up taking.

Growing up in Richmond, I had the good fortune to work at the Virginia Museum Theater starting at the age of 10 when I was cast in their production of The King and I. I continued to appear in productions until I graduated high school. And when I was not onstage in a production, I worked backstage on other productions learning about every aspect of technical theater. All of this was an invaluable experience and taught me a great deal. It created the foundation upon which I have continued to build upon in my career.