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Eleanor Bishop is the assistant director of the New Zealand Opera production of The Marriage of Figaro. It's a radical tale with strong feminist underpinnings, which suits Eleanor's political sensibilities rather well. What's Hot New Zealand sat down with her to discuss her favourite character, guilty pleasures, and the opera's messages.
You’re known for directing political productions – can you tell us about the motivations for your work? Ever since I was young I have found inner strength and power in female-driven stories – as an artist and an audience member. I make theatre because throughout history the stage has always been a revolutionary place. It’s a way to take apart the world as it stands and to imagine a new world.
Does The Marriage of Figaro tick the right political boxes for you? I think artistic work doesn’t have to tick boxes but I’m always excited when I see groups of women work together to support each other – and perhaps make some men look a little foolish.
Who’s your favourite character? Cherubino. It’s a ‘breeches role’ which means it is a female performer playing a male role. I was absolutely gobsmacked and overjoyed when I first encountered this convention. It’s so subversively queer. And they have the ‘Voi Che Sapete’ aria which has a special place in my heart ‘cos I first heard it as a preteen watching the iconic 1995 BBC miniseries of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice. Elizabeth Bennett plays and sings it as Mr Darcy gazes lovingly at her.
What statements is this opera making? The values of humanity, love and optimism are revolutionary and radical.
How does directing opera differ from directing theatre? The music drives everything and the words are less important.
Which do you prefer? Theatre so far but that’s only because I’m so new to opera. I’m hungry to do more.
What’s it like working with director Lindy Hume? Incredible. She’s a powerhouse and super fun.
What music are you listening to at the moment? I’m listening to the album Deep England by NYX and Gazelle Twin. NYX are an all-female electronic drone choir based in London. I recently met their leaders who are a couple of London-based Kiwis – Sian O’Gorman and Philippa Neels. I’m obsessed.
What’s one thing people probably don’t know about opera? That it’s still evolving and developing as an art form. New and contemporary works I’ve seen overseas that blur the boundaries between opera and music theatre are very exciting to me.
What’s the best advice your mum ever gave you? “Take it quietly” – basically it means don’t freak out, breathe and focus.
What’s your favourite guilty pleasure? The ‘sad classical’ playlist on Spotify. That algorithm knows me well.
What’s the best way to relax and unwind? Les Mills Bodybalance, massage, glass of rosé, Ru Paul’s Drag Race.
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