Directing Thesis Interview: 'The Trojan Women'
BY Luz Lorenzana Twigg, November 12, 2021
For her thesis production, student Rebecca Miller Kratzer directs the thrilling new opera The Trojan Women.
The Trojan Women features a libretto by Barnard faculty member Ellen McLaughlin and music by acclaimed classical composer Sarah Taylor Ellis. Set in both the Capitol on January 6th, 2021 as well as the shores of Troy, Miller Kratzer finds new resonance in McLaughlin’s contemporary language of Euripides’ enduring classic.
This is the first time an opera has been produced at Lenfest. What drew you to choose The Trojan Women?
This particular production was a result of a mix of kismet and fate. I knew I wanted to work on a new chamber opera that was ready for production, and I started asking around hoping to connect with a composer. Sarah Taylor Ellis reached out to me thinking that The Trojan Women would be a good fit, and she was right! It just so happened that I had directed a chorus from Euripides’ The Trojan Women (my favorite of the Greek tragedies) for my very first assignment at Columbia, and a large part of my artistic practice focuses on re-imagining classic texts, specifically looking at stories by and about women. Sarah’s music is just gorgeous. And it’s truly an exciting endeavor to work on a piece that sits right at the intersection of musical theatre and opera.
A hybrid chamber opera/musical theatre piece. Can you tell us a little more about what that means?
The cast of The Trojan Women features singers from both musical theatre and opera backgrounds. Rather than hegemonizing the sound, we were excited by the incredible and unexpected textures that emerge when these worlds collide. This way of working—where no style of training is placed above another, but differences are acknowledged and celebrated—is central to my mission as a director of both theatre and opera.
And what were some of the challenges of producing a piece with music at the center?
Well, first of all, simple logistics like where are we going to place the chamber orchestra and how will the conductor connect with singers? What are the acoustics like in the space and how will we achieve great balance? Because this piece sat at the nexus of theatre and opera, we were able to work with greater freedom and deploy the practices that best served the production and the space. Opera, for example, is often defined as performance of the unamplified voice. Because of the balance of the space and the video recording, we thought it would best serve this project to mic the singers and instrumentalists.
What do you hope the audience will get out of the performance?
For anyone who has preconceived notions about opera (that it’s boring and always problematic) or musical theatre (that it’s light and fluffy) or Greek tragedy (that it’s irrelevant), I hope that The Trojan Women directly challenges those preconceptions. I hope that after almost two years of isolation, we find a space for collective grief and release.
You chose a very specific setting for this production.
Yes, I was so tired of seeing productions that place the conflict so geographically far away. I hope the audience questions their complacency and becomes complicit. In staging Euripides’ monumental tragedy in an imagined aftermath of the January 6, 2021 Capitol insurrection, one in which the forces of fascism and white supremacy have won, we press the trauma of an ancient war against the most potent symbols of contemporary American democracy. And in this way, we can talk about power, class, and gender in a uniquely urgent and American way.
What does ancient Greek tragedy have to say today?
We can trace a direct line between the ancient and today. That’s what rituals of joy and grief and meaning-making do for us as a society. When I think of theatre as ritual, it both roots the process in traditional performance practices and leaves so much imaginative and gestural space for symbols and associative meaning-making. The past, present, and the might-have-been can live simultaneously on stage and in our consciousness.
What was the most exciting part about this project?
It might sound sappy, but it was the first full-cast, in-person music rehearsal. Being literally enveloped in sound, in a shared space, with such talented singers bringing Sarah’s incredible music to life was overwhelming. There’s something about waiting — how we waited for almost two years to make this production, how we’ve waited for some semblance of normalcy to return, and how the Trojan women wait for what’s coming next — that I really felt was potent in both the rehearsal room and performances. We didn’t take our time together for granted.
What has been a crucial lesson from your training?
Anne Bogart said something in my first year that I think about every day. “We operate either from a place of survival or gift giving.” Neither one is to be judged but as much as possible, I try to make theatre a gift for my collaborators and the audience. Oh, and you can’t abstract from nothing.
What is your philosophy for directing?
Unlike other artistic practices, theatre directing can only happen with and through other human beings. Care and consideration of those people are essential to a healthy and joyous rehearsal room. If theatre teaches us how to live together as a community, directing reminds us that leadership is an act of service.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
In a rehearsal room, making gifts.
Rebecca Miller Kratzer (she/her) is a New York-based theatre and opera director and a MFA candidate in the Theatre Directing Concentraion at Columbia University School of the Arts. She tells multifaceted stories by and about women, informed by her connection to the Jewish diaspora, through the fusion of theatre and opera. She also directs new plays, creates dream ballets, and coaches directors.
Rebecca is the Resident Stage Director and Chief Engagement Officer at Helios Opera, and was the 2020-2021 Directing Fellow at Opera Saratoga, where she directed Don Quichotte at Comacho’s Wedding. She formerly served as the Artistic Director of the NEMPAC Opera Project where she directed La Cenerentola, Don Giovanni, and Fidelio, and has worked with Katie Mitchell, Whitney White, Annie-B Parson, The New York Times, The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Big Dance Theatre, BAM, Opera Saratoga, Opera del West, The Bushwick Starr, The Tank NYC, The Footlight Club, Bridge Rep, and Hub Theatre. She has held development positions at Trinity Repertory Company, SpeakEasy Stage Company, and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Upcoming projects include directing The Drag at Fordham University this November, and working with students at The Longy School of Music in the fall of 2022.
Rebecca received her BA in Theater Arts from Brandeis University and holds a Graduate Certificate in Arts Administration from Boston University.