September 6, 2008
The Fat Lady Sings OK, It’s Not the Knicks, but Woody Allen Takes a Shot at Directing Live Opera
By Bob Strauss
At the moment, Woody Allen is enjoying his most popular, best- reviewed movie in years, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona."So, in typical self-sabotaging fashion, the next thing up for the 72-year-old comedian and film auteur is something he could likely get crucified for.
"Unlike at movies, at the opera, they boo," says Allen, referring to his first-ever stab at directing live opera, "Gianni Schicchi," which premieres Saturday at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
"I don't know if I could take that. I've been disliked, but from a distance."
The final part of Puccini's trilogy "Il Trittico" (fellow Oscar winner but more experienced opera-stager William Friedkin directs the first two one-acts), "Gianni Schicchi" is, at least, comical. And there are other factors that made Allen more comfortable ... well, let's rephrase that as a little less anxious ... about helming the piece.
"I'm not doing it because it's something I wanted to do," Allen insists. "A friend of mine is very big on the board of the Los Angeles Opera, and for years Placido Domingo has been pushing me to direct an opera."
L.A. Opera's general director confirms that part of it.
"Many years ago, I was trying to convince him to direct 'La Boheme,' and I was close to succeeding," Domingo reports. "But it didn't happen because he had something else to do. ... But I kept after him ... so when I offered him 'Gianni Schicchi,' which is a short opera, Woody said, 'I want to do it.' "
But "want to do it" is a relative term. Let Allen explain:
"I enjoy opera, but not so much so like Friedkin. I would rather someone had said to me, 'Would you like to coach the Knicks for a month?'
"I'd always tell Placido, 'I've never directed on the live stage before, except for my own one-act plays. I've never directed anybody else's thing. I've never directed a three-act play, I've never directed anything serious. So how am I going to do an opera?'
"So Placido said, 'You do the last one of this Puccini trilogy. It's only an hour long, it's not like you're directing "Aida" or something. And it's a funny opera. You'll be able to handle it. You're not gonna have to move elephants around the stage.'
"So, in a moment of weakness three years ago, thinking the day would never come, I said, 'OK, I'll do it.' And then I got a call that the day, y'know, is next month. So I'm here."
To make himself feel a bit more at home during the month he spent in L.A., Allen brought art director Santo Loquasto, a Tony winner who has worked on the director's films since 1987's "Radio Days," in to design the whole "Il Trittico" production. Wife Soon-Yi Previn and their two adopted kids also joined Allen for his Southern California stay -- which, despite the "I hate L.A." impression many of his films have given, Allen pretty much enjoyed as usual.
"This is, of course, exaggerated from my jokes," the dyed-in-the- wool New Yorker says of the anti-Angeleno stance. "I always have a nice time when I come out here. I would not like to live here, because the lifestyle is antithetical to what I like. I like to walk around everyplace, I don't like sunny weather; I would never think of living here because it's just not my kind of place.
"But to come out here for four weeks and do a project, or just to come out here for a week now and then, my wife loves it and I like it. It's fun, I have a lot of friends here. I love to tease it because it's just a great thing to tease. But y'know, I tease New York City just as much."
Recently, Allen has been working in gloomy old England and sunny Spain (he claims to have enjoyed both countries). Europe is where he finds most of the money for his films these days, although the French producers of his next -- the already finished comedy "Whatever Works," starring Evan Rachel Wood and "Curb Your Enthusiasm's" Larry David -- let him shoot it in New York.
"The hardest part of making any picture is getting the financing. Writing it, directing it; anything else is easier than getting the financing for it."
Some have questioned why Allen even bothers to keep making a movie -- sometimes two -- a year at an age when most directors have retired or drastically cut back on work. The fact that in the last decade, only "Sweet and Lowdown" and "Match Point" garnered notable praise and attendance even led to some suggestions that less might be more from a guy who could be running low on good ideas.
"VCB" has squelched that kind of talk for the moment. And should it come up again, it's unlikely to deter Allen from making movies for as long as he's able.
"Sept. 6 I'll be back in New York," he points out. "I've already written another movie. I've shot it, I've edited it, I've put in the music; it's done.
"So what am I going to do? I'll get up in the morning, take my kids to school. Do my exercises, my treadmill. Practice my clarinet. Then it's 10 o'clock in the morning and I've got the whole day ahead of me. So I'll start to work on another script. There's nothing else to do."
How about another opera?
"I don't have any flair for this," he insists. "And this has not been a burning desire. Y'know, I enjoy opera, but I'm not a fanatic.
"I've only been to 15 of them in my life or something. When I was asked to do this, I figured, 'Ha! I'll be dead in three years; this is never gonna happen.' So I said, 'OK.' And then I didn't die."
Jim Farber contributed to this story.
Bob Strauss (818) 713-3670 [email protected]
>Where: Los Angeles Opera at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., downtown L.A.
>When: 6 p.m. Saturday; 7:30 p.m. Thursday; 2 p.m. Sept. 14; 7:30 p.m. Sept. 17; 2 p.m. Sept. 21; 7:30 p.m. Sept. 23 and 26.
>Cost: $20 to $250.
>Info: (213) 972-8001 or www.laopera.com.
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