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'The challenge for us find and enjoy moments of lightness and solace' - Nina Brazier on directing East West Street: A Song of Good and Evil

17 September 2018

Ahead of its US premiere at 92Y in New York City next month, we spoke to opera director Nina Brazier on how she came to be involved in the musical adaptation of 2016 winner Philippe Sands' East West Street.

How did you come to be an opera director?

It was actually a complete accident! I was just starting out in London and planning to direct theatre after studying Drama at Exeter, and while I was on a course for young directors at the Royal Court Theatre, another director (Vicky Jones) put me forward to assist John Wright on a brilliant contemporary opera. Originally from Wales, I already had a very musical background (performing endlessly in Eisteddfods from a young age), and I was completely enraptured by the whole operatic process. Opera brought together everything I was interested in - music, poetry, art, and it seemed to explore the depths of human emotion and interaction in a way I had not yet experienced.

How did you get involved with East West Street?

From its initial incarnation as a lecture, Philippe realised that the piece was growing and needed a director to draw it together into a more cohesive whole. Philippe contacted his friend Paul Cremo, Dramaturg at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, who contacted his colleague Terri-Jayne Griffin who was producing director at English National Opera where I had been working as a freelance Assistant Director.  Terri-Jayne kindly recommended me, and I met with Philippe, Laurent (Naouri) and Guillaume (de Chassy) when they performed it at the Hay Festival. We brainstormed over breakfast the next morning about how we could develop the piece, and it soon expanded to include a new narrator, the wonderful German actress Katja Riemann, who would soon join our team.  We are now delighted to have performed the piece around the world, with our recent performances taking place in the Berlin Konzerthaus and across Australia.

How does it differ from directing an opera?

Instead of planning and directing entrances, exits and more continual action between characters as I might do in an opera, our company is on stage throughout the performance, mostly addressing the audience directly with narrated text with sections of dialogue and interaction.  My focus is on balancing the nuance and flow of the language of the two narrators.  The challenge for us is to keep the audience fully engaged for 90 minutes straight, and also to find and enjoy moments of lightness and solace within a series of stories that have, undoubtedly, some very dark content.  The integration of the many images and beautiful pieces of music selected by Laurent help to lead our audiences through the narrative, and part of my work is to ensure there is a smooth flow between music, narrated text and images.

What are your ambitions for the future?

I am based in Frankfurt as a Staff Director at Oper Frankfurt, so over the next couple of seasons I will direct revivals including Brigitte Fassbaender's Ariadne auf Naxos, Christoph Loy's Wozzeck and Harry's Kupfer's La Damnation de Faust among other productions.  I will be touring with East West Street to New York, Paris and Brussels, and my production of Così fan Tutte will be revived at the Chiltern Arts Festival in the UK. Following the world premiere of Dear Marie Stopes in London this summer, I am working with composer Alex Mills on developing a new opera for season 20/21.  After my time in Frankfurt I plan to work more on my own productions both in Europe and worldwide.

After New York, East West Street: A Song of Good and Evil will be performed in Paris, on 5 November, and Brussels on 28 January 2019. For more information and to book tickets visit