Performing in Glasgay! for the first time, Cathie Boyd’s Cryptic Productions is setting a tragic tale against the authentic flavour of Haiti, finds Mark Fisher
Cathie Boyd takes her research seriously. She wasn’t comfortable directing a modern opera set in the Caribbean without getting a proper sense of the place. So, at the start of this year, she took a trip to Haiti. ‘I wanted to know what Haiti looks and smells like,’ says the Glasgow director of Cryptic Productions, a company dedicated to ‘ravishing the senses’. ‘I went in January on my own and you can’t get travel insurance, so it was quite dangerous. At one point I thought I was going to be kidnapped. The major reason for going was to visit an all-girls orphanage, which is very important for the central character.’
The result of her efforts can be seen in An Ocean of Rain, the story of a prostitute who flees from the murder of a sex tourist to the Port-au-Prince orphanage where she was brought up. Refused sanctuary, she resorts to desperate measures, much to the consternation of three well-to-do women who are regular visitors to the orphanage. With music by French electronic composer Yannis Kyriakides and a libretto by French Canadian playwright Daniel Danis, the opera opened the recent Aldeburgh Festival – deemed a controversial choice by the classical purists – and has subsequently been reworked by Boyd and her international team from Ensemble Mae.
‘The audiences at Aldeburgh in that wonderful hall at Snape Maltings are used to piano recitals, chamber music and orchestral works,’ says the director in a break from shooting a short film called Rewind in Glasgow. ‘So to open the Aldeburgh programme with a composer like Yannis Kyriakides, who wants to break all preconceptions of what opera is, was very daring. In hindsight it probably wasn’t the right place to open that work, but since then I’ve developed it, cutting scenes, adding music, so the journey is now quite different.’
Despite her company’s long pedigree in the city, this is its first appearance in Glasgay! and Boyd finds herself in tune with the festival’s ever more inclusive approach. ‘Two of the five women in the show are lovers,’ she says. ‘It’s a sensuous libretto and the love scene between the women is beautiful. That’s the main reason why this work has ended up in the Glasgay! programme, but I hope the work remains open to everyone. It’s very important that if a work has gay themes it isn’t just put in a box for that reason. Neither sexually nor politically has my work ever had those themes at the forefront. If it’s part of it fine, but it’s never been something I’ve pushed. I’ve never tried to make statements and I’m certainly not attempting to do that with this.’
The show originated from a libretto that Danis wrote specifically for Boyd, who directed his Celle-La in 1997. Captivated by the writing, Boyd saw the chance of working with Kyriakides, whom she had met at Aldeburgh in 2003. Her challenge was to create a visual setting that would do their work justice. ‘Daniel’s text is very descriptive and Yannis gives you those sound worlds not quite cinematically, but you hear the visuals,’ she says. ‘It means that as a director, I’ve put less and less video in. My brief to the video designer was “less is more”.’
An Ocean of Rain, Tramway, Glasgow, Thu 9–Sat 11 Oct.