Victoria Stevens is a gifted soprano who studied a Masters of Music in Opera at the Royal Conservatoire, graduating in 2016. Her studies in Glasgow gave Victoria the opportunity to explore her love of directing and now, she’s working at one of the largest and oldest repertory houses in Germany.
Mark Good meets the South African stage director and performer as she goes Under the Spotlight.
Tell me about your new role in Germany.
VS: In September, I became a staff director and assistant director for opera at the Nationaltheater Mannheim in Germany. The theatre showcases around 1300 performances a year, encompassing opera, theatre and dance, attracting over a quarter of a million spectators annually.
When I was invited to audition, I had an interview with the board of directors and a working session with five singers from the house, leading them in a staging revival of The Magic Flute. I was very nervous, particularly because I had to conduct the interview and work trial in German and did not know which piece I would be working on. I think it went okay though, as I got the job a few days later!
To begin with, I assisted on a revival of La Traviata to get to know the company and the team, then I began a rehearsal period of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg over the summer. Now we are in the midst of final rehearsals for our big Meistersinger premiere at the end of the month.
How did you transition from the role of performer to director?
VS: I’ve had the ambition to direct opera for almost as long as I’ve wanted to sing, I just wasn’t sure which of the two paths might reveal itself as the right one. As a South African, I grew up surrounded by a rich, diverse musical landscape and I’m lucky to have been raised by parents who encouraged curiosity for the arts and freedom of expression.
At 14 I was cast in Cape Town Opera’s production tour of The Magic Flute, directed by renowned South African artist William Kentridge. Watching the way he worked with the singers to execute his quirky vision, lavishing the staging with sensitivity and attention to detail, is what really sparked my desire to direct. Through my studies at RCS, I was able to take advantage of opportunities to assistant direct MMus Opera Scenes as well as opportunities outside RCS. Among these were the Lyric Opera Studio Weimar, Trentino Opera Festival, Clyde Opera and an internship with Scottish Opera.
How do you look back on your studies at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland?
VS: My time at RCS was exhilarating, full of unexpected surprises and never boring.
RCS offers so much room to spread out creatively. At any one moment there are myriad productions, performance opportunities, competitions, auditions, societies and support initiatives available for students to enjoy and fulfil their potential.
I found the tuition and life at RCS to be more nurturing, more student-focused and more individualised than any other institution I came across. The like-minded people encountered on a daily basis, the opportunity to network with other young artists, discuss ideas and plan future collaborative endeavours, helped me to build confidence in myself as an artist and inspired me to pursue goals that once seemed unattainable.
How did those student days help lay the foundations for the career which has followed?
VS: Being a singer informs my directing work to a huge extent. I understand the singer’s process; how to map thoughts, tie them to breath and, out of this, craft an organic physical narrative. This aids me in working collaboratively with the singer to bring their character to a place where he or she can communicate with immediacy and clarity.
Were it not for my time at RCS and the mentorship I received, I wouldn’t understand or be able to explore the mental, physical and vocal connection that needs to happen, in that order, to bring an opera to life onstage.
What was Glasgow like as a place to study the performing arts?
VS: I loved living in Glasgow. Everywhere you look, there is evidence of the vibrant cultural beat that pulses through the city, with a dusting of that token, mischievous Scottish sense of humour. On your walk through the Merchant City to the Royal Conservatoire, you might hum along to songs played by different street musicians, stand gawking at a giant mural on the side of an old building and chuckle at a statue of the Duke of Wellington with a cone on his head.
A big draw for studying opera in Glasgow is the Royal Conservatoire’s relationship with and proximity to Scottish Opera, the RSNO and the Theatre Royal, and the accessibility to the Edinburgh Festival.
What does your schedule look like over the coming months?
VS: In the coming months, I will direct revivals of La BohÃ¨me, extracts from Wagner’s Ring Cycle, Carmina Burana and the premiere of Sanssouci, a new piece combining opera and ballet.
I will assistant direct Il Trovatore for German director Roger Vontobel and Barrie Kosky’s Pelléas et Melisande, a co-production with Komische Oper Berlin. Future plans within this contract will see me appearing as a guest director at other houses, as well as new staging opportunities for festivals over the next two seasons. This summer, I formed part of the production team for the exciting, ever-expanding New Generation Festival in Florence, founded by RCS alumnus Maximilian Fane. Talks are underway for me to return for the next instalment in a directing role watch this space.
Photo credit: Limelight Photography