Michael held a fascination for opera which he saw, at its best, as the perfect marriage of music, words, drama and design. So commenced a collaboration with Garsington Opera which began with Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin in 2016 and ended, sadly, with Dvořák’s Rusalka which was first postponed in 2020 because of the pandemic and then was unable to be realised by Michael in 2022 due to ill health. With characteristic good grace he passed his project on to new director, Jack Furness.
Despite no formal musical training, he had an innate understanding, not only of the emotional power of music, but also of how a composer painted the meaning of the text.
Michael’s experience of studying and living in Moscow as well as his deep love of Pushkin and of the Russian language proved invaluable in Eugene Onegin, whilst in Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande (2017) he captured a fin-de-siècle dream-like world of fear, of a culture that had lost its confidence. In all Michael’s work, not least in his Don Giovanni (2019), he found a deep humanity in all the characters. Not interested in “operatic gesture”, he encouraged everyone to become “real” flesh and blood people in whom we could believe and sometimes also explored daring, breathtaking stillness, such as in Natalya Romaniw’s “Letter Scene” in Eugene Onegin.
Michael brought to Garsington his long-term design partner Tom Piper, with whom he had created so many memorable productions at the Royal Shakespeare Company where Michael had been Artistic Director for many years. They were an extraordinary team, moulding visually stunning yet thought-provoking concepts for the Garsington stage.
Michael was not only hugely respected as a theatrical master by every member of the cast and the Garsington Team but was also loved by all. We shall miss him dearly.
Garsington Opera’s Artistic Director, Douglas Boyd wrote:
“I am so honoured to have worked with Michael, who was inspirational in our projects together, bringing his brilliant ideas to the world of opera whilst always respecting the integrity of the music. He was much loved by everyone at Garsington and I am privileged to have called him a friend. To Caroline, Rachel, Daniel and Gabriella, we are so sad for your loss and send all our love and condolences.”