Since beginning her éesidency with Opera San Jose, Director-in-Resdience Michelle Ainna Cuizon has been busy to say the least.
Jumping in days after arriving in California she has since directed our Resident Artist Showcase, Assisted General Driector Shawna Lucey with Romeo and Juliet, Assisted Stephen lawless with our most reecent production of The Barber of Seville and now is assisting Director Emeritus Tara Branham with our winter digital showcase.
We took some time to catch up with Michelle amid her busy schedule.
Opera San José: You are now in your second production with Opera San José. How has it been to assistant direct this season so far?
Michelle: Assistant directing has been a great experience so far. In Romeo and Juliet, I got to meet and work with my fellow resident artists, and meet the whole ensemble of artists that creates OSJ. From the chorus to our supers and down to our children’s chorus, I felt welcomed and that made it easier for
me to navigate the process and ask questions. Being an AD, it’s crucial to create that relationship with our performers and our backstage crew to be able to be on the same page about the big picture. I appreciate Stage management and the OSJ staff members for helping me adjust. When we started rehearsals for The Barber of Seville, I felt more settled and confident. I’m having fun staging our covers and collaborating with Johannes, our Resident conductor, and it just makes me excited for the upcoming shows to come. OSJ is starting to feel like my artistic home.
OSJ: You have worked this season with our GD & CEO Shawna Lucey as internationally acclaimed director Stephen Lawless. How has it been working with such big names in opera?
Michelle: Working with both of them felt like two full circles. I missed the opportunity to work with Shawna last season at the Met, only to be here and work in this residency. Assisting her was wonderful. She gives you a lot of trust, and for someone like me coming into a new company, it helps a lot for it contributes to me realizing my full self in terms of being an artist and the director I hope to be. Working with Stephen, he had hundreds of stories to tell about his life and work, and hearing all of that is inspiring. With Shawna assisting him before as well, you feel lucky to collaborate and work with artists who have impacted the opera world. You can’t help but thank the universe that you get to do what you love for a living AND be surrounded by wonderful artists.
OSJ: Coming from your residency at the MET, how has it been moving to the more intimate setting of the California Theatre?
Michelle: With the MET being regarded as an opera factory, you feel the difference in scale and the number of people you talk to. At OSJ, we focus on one show at a time, but in principle, it’s the same deal. It’s the same standard. You want to help to produce this wonderful artistic idea and create a show that displays the company’s best. I love my experience here so far in working with a core group. Mastering communication and collaboration are transferable traits to any opera company, and that’s why I aim to improve no matter where I am.
The Barber of Seville Costume & Set Designer Adrian Linford, Director Stephen Lawless, and AD Michelle Cuizon
OSJ: What do you feel are some of the bigger takeaways people coming to our shows will have?
Michelle: Opera is here to stay, and there is something for everyone. If they’re new to the opera, I hope they see themselves in these characters and also give it a chance and find the type of operas they like. I hope kids are inspired to sing and be creative. For our seasoned theatregoers, I hope that they take away how opera is an art form that will always be here. It will continue to retell old stories but also accommodate new stories that will pave for opera’s growth as an art form in this century
OSJ: As our Director-in-Residence, you are kept quite busy. What are some things that you have been enjoying now that you are on the West Coast in your free time?
Michelle: I have been enjoying the West Coast so far. I love the weather. I loved that Japantown is near my place. I walk and bike a lot and play basketball as my fun workout. On some of my days off, I got to see 30+ whales and hundreds of marine wildlife at the Monterey Bay Aquariym, watch live sports in the city, saw some Redwoods, and got to see some shows at San Francisco Opera. I hope to discover more nature spots and eat a lot of good food.