Tom is one of Ireland’s most exciting new generation of theatre and opera directors. Based in Dublin, Tom recently he directed Private View, a new opera by Annelies van Parys, produced by Muziektheater Transparant. He has directed Suor Angelica, Mavra and Renard for the Royal Irish Academy of Music and will direct Die Zauberflöte in January 2016. Tom has been a staff director at Welsh National Opera and completed a Jerwood Opera Writing Fellowship at Aldeburgh Music. He is currently developing new music theatre projects in the USA and Canada with Irish composers Donnacha Dennehy and Jürgen Simpson. His extensive work as a theatre director includes productions for the Abbey Theatre, Gate Theatre, Rough Magic, his own company Playgroup and a range of independent Irish companies.
Tom was kind enough to take some time out and tell us about his love of Opera.
What was your first job out of college, and how did you land it?
My first theatre job was actually while I was still at university, I skipped classes for a week to direct a reading of a new play for Corcadorca at the Pan Pan International Symposium in Dublin. Pat Kiernan from Corcadorca had seen some student productions I’d directed at UCC and offered me the opportunity. Lots of things come about this way, a combination of the right person seeing the right work at the right time.
What was the first Opera production that you went to see?
I really came to opera through my interest in theatre – I can remember seeing some of those touring Eastern European productions at Cork Opera House while I was at university, but the first production I remember really having an impact on me was Handel’s Hercules directed by Luc Bondy at the Barbican in London in 2006. At that point I’d started going to see opera productions directed by theatre directors I admired, and the Swiss director Luc Bondy had made a great impression on my at that time. It showed how opera could be fantastic theatre, and featured an amazing performance by Joyce DiDonato who I had never heard of at that stage!
How old were you when you took your first music class? Who introduced you to it? Did you immediately feel passionate about it?
I studied piano, violin and music theory from an early age, at school and at Cork School of Music, but was never interested or dedicated enough to practice or study, and I abandoned music pretty quickly when I discovered the theatre as a teenager. As I work more and more in opera now though, those early years of music have really stood to me.
At what age did you realise directing was what you wanted to do with your life? Was it a slow progression or can you recall a particular moment?
As soon as I directed my first play at university about fifteen years ago, I knew that that was what I wanted to do. I always had an interest in opera – I used music in a lot of my theatre work and was interested in the combination of drama and music. In 2010 and 2011 I started taking steps in the direction of opera in earnest: I stage a music piece by the Irish composer Ian Wilson at Project Arts Centre which was invited to the Dublin Theatre Festival, I took a directing course at the Royal Opera House in London, studied opera writing at Aldeburgh Music, home of Benjamin Britten, and worked as an assistant director at Welsh National Opera in Cardiff. Those all gave me an excellent grounding in opera and convinced me that I was eager to work in the art form.
Where do you see yourself five years from now? Any major goals you’re still working towards in your career?
I hope in five years that I can continue to do what I’m doing now – working on exciting projects around the world while continuing to be able to work in Ireland. It’s a very difficult time to be a freelance director in theatre or opera in Ireland now, and I’ve only been able to continue to do what I do by working in both art forms and increasingly outside Ireland. It’s fantastic but rare for me these days to have the opportunity to work with an Irish company like Opera Theatre Company on a project like this.
What can audiences expect from the upcoming Opera Theatre Company productions?
I hope that theatre audiences who don’t go to opera very often will be surprised and excited by what they see – all the singers are fantastic actors and the two operas are really interesting and engaging stories. They’re also in English, and quite short, so audiences who associate opera with long evenings struggling to understand other languages can breathe a sigh of relief. For opera experts, this is an opportunity to see two important works which are rarely seen in Ireland, and also to be surprised by how immediate and fresh opera can seem when its energised with contemporary theatrical values.
And finally, what was the last TV show you binge-watched? How many episodes did you see in a sitting?
I almost never watch television, I’m travelling too much and out and about seeing performances when I’m in Dublin. But about a year ago I watched the whole first series of Broadchurch in one night – I switched on the first episode on the recommendation of a housemate, and many hours later dawn was breaking and I was still sitting up, captivated by the whole thing. And I have been know to catch up on The Great British Bake Off in bursts of three or four episodes.
Susanna’s Secret & The Human Voice comes to at The Civic on Thursday 12th November 2016. Tickets are €25 & €22 concession and are on sale from our box office – 01 4627477 or online here.