/Q & A: Sinéad O Neill – Opera Director

Q & A: Sinéad O Neill – Opera Director

Hampstead Garden Opera, North London’s leading opera company, presents a new production of Domenico Cimarosa’s masterpiece of opera buffa, ‘THE SECRET MARRIAGE’. Stage Director, Sinéad O Neill shares with us what it’s like to collaborate with HGO on this new production and where her love for opera directing, all, began. 

If you could explain what The Secret Marriage is about in less than thirty words, what would they be?


Have you directed Domenico Cimarosa’s work before? 

No, never, and it’s a delightful discovery, full of effervescence and charm.                               

What is it like in the rehearsal room? Is there a lot of buzz among the performers?

It’s great fun! The music makes you want to dance and laugh, so that’s what we do! It’s a real ensemble piece – everyone’s contribution is equally important and we really have to work as a close-knit team. Anyone can propose; everyone must react. The rehearsal room is full of energy and laughter and movement all the time.

What kind of challenges have you faced as a director when putting on The Secret Marriage?

Well, if I were being totally honest I would have to say that of course it’s always challenging working with an English translation – it is more or less impossible to recreate the many very precise things that come together in a musical text setting – rhyme, rhythm, speech inflections, meaning and humour. Sometimes the words can sit a little awkwardly, so we have to work doubly hard to make sure the text is comprehensible.

This will be your second production with HGO. What’s it like working with such an innovative opera company?

I loved working with HGO in 2009 on Susannah, and I’m enjoying it just as much second time round. The singers are superb, my collaborator – the music director Chris Hopkins – is a brilliant musician, and all-in-all I feel very lucky to be working with this team.

Do you have any favourite composers you enjoy directing productions for?

My all-time favourite thing is to work with composers on creating brand new work. There is nothing quite like the excitement of creating something new – of not hearing a single note until the first rehearsal – of the deep collaboration of making something exist where nothing did before. It is a creative process like no other; I only wish there could be more of it!

When did you know directing theatre and opera was your calling?

I remember the exact moment as if it were yesterday. I was an intern at Wexford Festival Opera in 2002 when I experienced my first ever opera rehearsal, in a community centre in Wexford. I was completely blown away by the extraordinary power and beauty of the singing, and I knew absolutely that all I wanted to do was be in opera rehearsal rooms and experience that sensation. I still feel that intense joy and amazement when people sing in rehearsal.

If you had any advice for anyone who wanted to start their career in the opera industry, what would it be? 

The advice I wish I had been given was: don’t wait! Don’t wait for the right time, the right moment, the right preparation – just go ahead and do the things you’re planning, because that’s the best way to learn, and anyway, time goes by incredibly quickly. Also, make lots of friends. Opera is the ultimate collaborative activity – you just can’t do it on your own – so make those connections and keep the creative conversations flowing.

The Secret Marriage is showing at JACKSONS LANE THEATRE, HIGHGATE, LONDON N6 5AA from November 16 to 25th, 2018. Click here for more information and to book tickets.