Vasiliy Barkhatov made his directorial debut at the Mariinsky Theatre aged 22 - a unique statistic in world theatre. At 23, he had already staged his first major work, the little known Czech opera with the elusive title ‘Jenufa’. Why would a young Russian director who established himself in one of the world’s most famous houses of opera in record time choose an operatic crime story to start off his career? In fact, why does he need opera at all? Vasiliy Barkhatov shared his thoughts with DE I.
DE I: Did you make a conscious decision to become a professional director?
V.B.: It was even higher than conscious. But the decision was made when I was already starting to enter the profession. I kept getting told about my predisposition to it, so I decided to try and study as a drama director. The change of course in the direction of music was thanks to a meeting I had with my future professor Rozetta Yakovlevna Nemchinskaya. I took the decision trusting in luck – maybe it will work out and then we’ll see. But when I was in my second year of studies, I already knew that I would never do anything else.
DE I: Are there any figures in theater whose opinion for you are absolute and undisputable?
V.B.: There is no such thing as an undisputable opinion for me. That’s not because I’m uncompromising. It just seems to me that there’s no such thing as a person whose opinion can be taken as an absolute. There are people of authority that have influenced me. When I was in my second year of college, I went to a rehearsal by Dmitry Chernyakov and then later that year, I went to something staged by Peter Konvichnov. He and I met at the Bolshoy Theater where he later directed ‘The Flying Dutchman’. He hinted that he would be staging ‘Don Juan’ at the Komische Oper in Berlin and then went on to detail the entire opera from start to finish for me and the other few students who stayed on. Then I managed to go to Berlin and see the whole process with my own eyes. He, most likely, is one of the greatest authorities in opera direction in the world.
DE I: Are you satisfied when you see the works you direct?
V.B.: It’s difficult to say. I get a lot of pleasure from the process, when you invent some things along the way. It’s hard to get any pleasure from rehearsals it seems to me. I see my work objectively. But I get anything you can imagine from that other than pleasure. When you start a new project, you set yourself a task or a goal which you may not be able to put in words, but which you understand deep down. It mightn’t even be connected directly to the dramatic theme of the opera, it’s more like your own personal goal, your point of contact with the work. You never manage to do things exactly as you would have wanted. That’s impossible. But the feeling that you almost achieved what you had hoped for – that’s a feeling like you almost have managed to convince yourself of something.
DE I: Aren’t you worried about your workload in the Mariinsky Theatre? You have one opera after another with very little time in between – Jenufa in April, Benvenuto Cellini in July, Othello in the autumn. Won’t the quality suffer – surely for a proper result you have to have some kind of free time?
V.B.: Benvenuto Cellini appeared on the radar even before Jenufa. I’d already been thinking about it, psychologically I had already got involved in it when everything got delayed and the premiere date was postponed. It’s much worse when your biorhythm is disrupted than when you force yourself into a certain tempo. I know for sure that I can never again direct Jenufa. I can probably make some adjustments from the human point of view but even if I was to be offered to do it in for example La Scala, I’d still say, cancel it. You can’t imagine that Fellini would direct one of his films over and over again in a fundamentally different way each time, or that after some time had passed Tarkovsky would be to direct one of his films radically differently.
DE I: What are the qualities that a director should and shouldn’t have for his profession?
V.B.: Probably the most important is to believe absolutely in what you do. On the outside a director doesn’t have to be emotional, he can behave fairly coldly, but inside he should be pumped up to a certain temperature, at almost a critical, near death state of concern over even the smallest details. His moral determination has to be running at 100%. I can’t say that there are many things in theater that can give you pleasure. Regarding personal relationships, they say that some people love for some reason, and some people love in spite of some reason. It’s the same with theatre – some say that rehearsals are their main love, but I say that each three hours of rehearsals are the worst torture on earth. Professional people advise to slack out a bit, and that with time I’ll be able to chill out about this. But I think that when I start getting chilled out …I’d rather get knocked down by a car if I start getting chilled out about what goes on during one of my operas. The greatest quality in a director is not to ever get chilled out about anything.
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© DE I / DESILLUSIONIST ¹10. «VASILIY BARKHATOV - I KNOW A PLAY RIGHT DOWN TO THE MOVEMENT OF THE LITTLE FINGER»