This Opera Director Rides a Lot on a ‘Handmaid’s Tale’



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She saw her first opera when she was 10 years old, when her father performed in a church hall in an amateur production of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute”. It was a decidedly lo-fi production: Her father’s costume for the part of Papageno was “a flat cap and a pair of pan pipes on a string around his neck,” Miskimmon said.

Still, Miskimmon soon fell hard for the art form. While opera was an escape from the violence of the Troubles, part of its appeal was that it somehow reflected them too, she said: At the time, Northern Ireland was a place where people didn’t feel much. control their destiny, as they “can go out for a normal working day and get blown up”. In opera, Miskimmon said “the characters are relentlessly driven to heaven and hell”, also without much freedom of choice. It felt “a much fairer, more artistic portrayal of life.”

At the University of Cambridge, where she studied English literature, Miskimmon directed several student productions. But she never thought she would become a professional director, she said, until she was invited to assist British director Graham Vick in Glyndebourne. After working on seven productions there, she landed a job as Artistic Director of the Opera Theater Company, Ireland’s national tour opera, before finally transferring to the Danish National Opera in Aarhus and later the Norwegian Opera and Ballet in Oslo.

Andrew Mellor, an opera journalist specializing in the Nordic countries, said Miskimmon was successful in Denmark, with several innovative productions becoming topics of conversation. Her take on Mozart’s “Così Fan Tutte” in Aarhus offered the audience two productions – one traditional, one contemporary – and started each evening with a vote to decide which one to perform. Equally notable was an opera Miskimmon commissioned there, called “Brothers,” about Danish soldiers dealing with post-traumatic stress after fighting in Afghanistan.

Her time in Oslo was more “turbulent,” Mellor said. The Norwegian company’s music director, Karl-Heinz Steffens, left before Miskimmon even started, and she “had a fight with the ensemble system” when she wanted to use more guest vocalists, Mellor said. Amid the conflict, Miskimmon staged several critically acclaimed productions, including one of Britten’s “Billy Budd” featuring a huge submarine on stage.

“She’s not a shrinking violet, and if she has an idea, she’ll follow it,” Mellor said.

Miskimmon said her “memories of working in Oslo are not turbulent memories”, adding that in her opinion it had been “a very positive work experience”.

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