Mary Zimmerman on Argonautika
Opening the season of the Metropolitan Opera with Lucia di Lammermoor, and the Argonautika tour.
I’m not one who has a rolodex of plays in my head I’d like to direct. Mostly I adapt non-dramatic texts for the stage. But … I always like doing Shakespeare and would do almost any Shakespeare play.
Recently I’ve driven back and forth across the country—Berkeley to Maine, and back and down and around—and I’ve been saved by podcasts: 52 Episodes of Savage Love, The Diane Rehm Show, The Story, This American Life, Radio Lab, On the Media and The Ricky Gervais Show. Also I have operas on my iPod that I’m supposed to be studying.
They aren’t considered The Greats, perhaps, but I think Midsummer and Twelfth Night are nearly perfect works of art.
How it is a company town, how you hear politics discussed constantly and with such familiarity, as in “Did you see Sy’s article last week?” Seeing a Supreme Court Justice in the deli; riding my bike with my dog running alongside up and down the mall and having him take a poop on the Senate lawn; Clinton coming to Pericles and being backstage and telling the actor playing a drunk knight, “I like your fella best. That would’ve been me.” I really, really love D.C. So small and so monumental at the same moment. It feels urgent and neighborly at the same moment.
So many good ones! But perhaps currently Iachimo in Cymbeline.
I’m slated for another opera at the Met in early ’09, and there may well be something with my company, the Lookingglass, before then.
I just had some really strong feelings about the story. It is both an epic adventure and a love story—something that isn’t too common. I like how the real danger in the play isn’t so much the monsters and harpies and so forth, but love itself, which is referred to all the time as “the destroyer.” And I had strong visual ideas about it pretty much instantly. In the end, it turned out to have contemporary political resonances, and that came as a surprise to me.
What has become your favorite scene in the play and why?
I like the early, “roll call” scene because I think it is a pretty good compression of the “catalogue” of heroes in the original, and it introduces everyone to the audience and charges everything up. I love also when Medea first enters with the arrow through her chest and what we call the “insomnia” moment where she is held in the air and tossed around as she is trying to sleep. I like those literal embodiments of metaphors of suffering: being “struck” by love and “tossing” in bed. I like the boat launch, the Boxer, the death of the baby, the death of Medea’s brother. I’m really fond of the acceleration and movement of the last 20 minutes of the show. Hmnn. I don’t have one that really outdistances the others. I like the sheer variety of episodes and images in the story.