Veronika Loulová and Vilma Bořkovec, a duo that has been synonymous with opera ever since high school: The two lead the RUN OPERUN art group that tries to take the opera closer to audiences that would not choose it, and direct the opera and operetta sections in the Moravian Theatre Olomouc. Veronika is the director and Vilma is the chief dramaturge.
Opera is an entirely foreign universe to many people – myself included; I have to admit. How did you get to decide to study something so surreal – to me anyway – as directing opera?
Veronika: I met Vilma in a music class in high school in Prague and we made a show – songs organised into a story – during an adaptation stay in the very first week of school. I think we just naturally spelled out what we’d been doing all along by applying for opera directing at HAMU. Actually, I was quite surprised when my father, who is a composer and conductor, told me that this was a programme you could study. I immediately went, “Wow, that’s exactly for me!” And I made sure I’d be admitted since age 16 or so. Later on, Vilma went on to study at a conservatory, so we didn’t see each other in school, but when I was in my first year at HAMU, I asked Vilma to assist me on The Magic Flute, and that’s how I got her to study opera directing at HAMU as well.
Vilma: That’s also when Veronika founded the RUN OPERUN ensemble, and this creative group helped shape the thinking of what we want to do – which is, opera does not have be boring, like what most people imagine at first thought. This is the essence of what RUN OPERUN lived and has lived to this day. I tried everything under the sun; I worked as a co-director, choreographer, you name it... and then I chose opera directing and dramaturgy.
Can the school teach the “craft” required for the opera director job?
Vilma: In my opinion, it can teach the technical craft – the way you work in very classic opera. The question is, what’s next? There are no new stimuli or respect for contemporary theatre approaches.
Veronika: Having graduated from HAMU Opera Directing Department, I went to DAMU to study alternative theatre directing. I wanted to develop my creativity in ways that I had missed.
Vilma: I think inter-faculty cooperation enhances the creative angle, and it’s vital for departments to speak to each other. If they don’t communicate, they will encapsulate themselves into microworlds of their own. I believe we students can connect, and that’s great. And it’s also nice that we can hear lectures provided by other departments and faculties.
Veronika: The connection with other art schools is a benefit too – not only within AMU, but with fine arts as well – UMPRUM and AVU. I think this connection also benefits from the location of the schools quite close together, so students meet quite naturally.
Vilma: The benefit of AMU in general is that even if you are not a 100% happy at your department, you can still learn many subjects elsewhere to get out of a rut or cope with an artistic crisis. For example, I took a course in fine art history delivered by Ms Janečková and I still benefit from it; I remember it; it was a very powerful experience for me.
What personality traits are essential for an opera director?
Veronika: Resilience. I think, in general terms, mental stamina is very important for studying at AMU. I think this applies to all art schools because you are not hidden in an anonymous crowd and are exposed to considerable pressure.
Vilma: Just realise that, to study opera directing, one student is admitted every two years, so you are really in the spotlight. You want to be somewhat mature; the relationship between a teacher and a student is different from non-art universities.
And what about real-world careers?
Veronika: In the real world, you will find that everything works quite differently from the Academy. On the flip side, it’s quite difficult to work your way into practice naturally. This applies twice to opera directing. HAMU will certainly not give you this interim stage. You need to fight your way through.
Vilma: We’ve been immensely lucky with RUN OPERUN because that’s the “mycelium” where we were able to do “whatever we wanted to”. Of course, you are limited by grants, time, and so on, but we were in an environment in which we could develop and evolve. When you work at a brick-and-mortar theatre as an assistant, it’s great because you see how things should be done, but for us, it is even more important to have failed and tried things that didn’t work.
Veronika: That’s the most important, I guess: don’t be afraid of a total fiasco and get through it. Get ready for everything hurting you because you put everything on the line with your show.
Vilma: At that moment, the show is your child, you are highly sensitive about everything, and you are grateful for any support.
If you could give any advice to students who consider studying opera directing, what would it be?
Veronika: My mum’s a French teacher, and she once found an article in a French magazine about what it takes to become a director. It said the candidate of the craft should do just about everything right from the start, take part in projects, find contacts, do everything selflessly and for free, and it will start to pay off after five years, and you may be the head of an opera after nine years. Realising this helped me a lot.
Vilma: I completely agree. It takes an awful lot of time before any results are visible, and you have to try as many things as you can and take part in everything you can in theatre.
Veronika: Not just in theatre. It makes sense to try all art projects and do everything for free. The initial investment of energy and finance will pay off massively, even if it takes a long time.
Vilma: Then, when a crisis come – and it will, sooner or later, even when you think you can do a thing or two – it’s important to not falter or be scared.
Veronika: Then there is a piece of advice I read in a horoscope, and I keep repeating it to myself all the time. “Doubting your abilities is a luxury you cannot afford.” I say this to myself often when I’m working on a show and I start falling apart because I feel like I cannot make it. Then I say, I don’t have the luxury to think this way. As I said a moment ago, when you want to be an opera director, don’t just go see operas – it’s crucial to also go see drama theatre, art galleries and modern art. You need to be aware of the current trends in all fields of art, because otherwise you cannot bring anything new to the field. You need to have an open mind and love all art forms equally.
What is it that you enjoy so much about opera and the opera directing job? Why do you do this even if it is so difficult?
Vilma: What we’re trying to say all the time is, opera is worth it. Come and see – it’s not just for the 80+ generation. With that said, I am sometimes tired of the huge effort we have to put forth, always explaining that opera is not a museum exhibit that you dust once a year…
Veronika: … especially when it actually is, a little bit. We try to convince people that it is not, take it out of the showcase, and dust it. That is, I believe, our lifelong mission. It may sound a bit big-headed, but I feel that we cannot really afford to do anything else. Who else would do it instead of us? It’s a mission that we found and that has to be accomplished, and we just can’t wrap it up right now. What I do gives me an incredible sense of fulfilment. It is an amalgamation of all art forms, and it’s a delight for me to create as well as watch opera. I enjoy it, as exhausting as it can be at times, especially working with people. I love working with artists. I love the fact that the life Vilma and I live is totally unpredictable and incredibly intense. I feel like we are truly living our lives.
Vilma: When I’m going to rehearsal tired, I sometimes feel like I should have taken up another job, but then the rehearsal clicks and I get this feeling of euphoria, an adrenalin rush and happiness, and I tell myself: This is being born here right now, and I am there to witness it. Of course, not every rehearsal is like this, but when you experience it, it drives you incredibly. I love theatre and I love how different each show is. That’s why I keep enjoying it.
The interview can also be found at www.universitas.cz/en
photo: Zuzana Lazarová