Josh Major Tackles Falstaff
"One of the seven wonders of the world!
by James Leonard
Josh Major is flabbergasted that anybody finds his opera productions for the U-M School of Music controversial. "They do? I didn't know people even talked about it!"
I assure him they do, that some loved his Dialogue of the Carmelites and loathed his A Midsummer Night's Dream, that some found his direction "wonderful," "beautiful," and "often moving," while others found it "strange," "weird," or "just plain wrong." "'Wrong'?" he asks. "I would say … there's not much I would say."
The consensus seems to be that his Carmelites was brilliantly affecting, his Cunning Little Vixen sweetly delightful, his Midsummer Night's Dream barely tolerable-mostly because of the music-and that reaction to the rest was all over the map.
"People are allowed to disagree," says Major. "I try to tell the story as well and as cleanly as I can, but I don't expect everybody to agree with the story I decide to tell, because it's done from a particular point of view, and people will disagree with your point of view."
An associate professor, Major is marking his twentieth year in Ann Arbor. "It's crazy. I never thought I'd stay this long. But I quite happily stayed." Just because he lives and works here, however, doesn't mean Major doesn't travel. In addition to what he estimates to be upwards of thirty-five productions he's done here, he's directed dozens of operas from Tulsa to Tel Aviv.
From November 10-13, he's doing Verdi's Falstaff. "Falstaff is not controversial," he says. "It's a normal production set a few years earlier than the actual period." Major did a Falstaff here in 2000 and isn't sure how much this one will differ. "I like what we did last time. It's very theatrical. It's suggestive and fun, and it's got a sense of humor. So I said let's start there and keep working on it and see what happens."
His goal for this production is to have the audience sympathize with Falstaff, a lout, braggart, and drunkard. "He's
an old fool, but I don't think he's entirely an old fool," Major says. "In his day, he was a knight. Now he's misguided and self-inflated and perhaps a little foolish. But he's like us. We're not all fools, but we all act foolishly."
Even after twenty years, Major says he's "constantly impressed by the level of singing here, which is very, very high. We've been rehearsing for a week, and I'm in a great mood. How could I not be, working on Falstaff for five weeks! I don't want to sound pretentious or anything, but this is one of the seven wonders of the world!"
[Originally published in November, 2011.]