In this excerpt from the podcast, Conklin explains how he’s been able throughout his career to restage an opera as well-known as Carmen in dramatically different ways. [3:22]
John Conklin: Well, of course great pieces, and I apologize for the word "great," because it is another thing that I think possibly confuses the issue, have a multiplicity of meanings. I think that is one of the definitions of greatness, that they mean many things, and not as we come back to, not just what the composer said he meant. So, that these pieces will generate different meanings in you. Because again, they are not the bearer of an exact meaning, they are a stimulus. And again, so I approach -- when I'm approaching Carmen and I approach it with a different director and a different set of collaborators I'm sort of -- we're sort of like an audience in front of "Carmen." And "Carmen" is being performed, and it is detonating in us a whole series of different emotions and different reactions so that the same stimulus ten years or even three years later, listening to it with a different director, or even just listening to it by myself, will sound like a different piece, because I am a totally different person, and therefore the piece has changed. I mean, this doesn't work with all pieces. But again, because I tend to want to do, and that's one of the reasons I tend to want to do that, to work with "classical" theater or classical opera, I mean, or the more standard repertory as it were. Because I find them, for the most part, able to supply an infinite number of events in one's self, to say nothing of a group of other people. I had the rare chance, certainly for an American designer, to design two Ring cycles, one in San Francisco and one in Chicago. And one of the first things that being faced with a Ring for the first time you're sort of facing this thing. And I think one of the first realizations that I had was because you're never going to be able to do everything, you can't worry about that. You need to do what stimulates you. I think that people get very wrought up about productions of pieces that seem to be violating the composer's intentions, say. I mean, this whole business, which I find quite fascinating, is this Porgy and Bess in Boston that Diane Paulus is doing, in which they have gone into the piece and into the book, and into the music and moved things around and changed things. And there's been a cry of outrage. But you think, now wait a minute. If at the end of this production of Porgy and Bess, all scores of Porgy and Bess were going to be destroyed, and all recordings, so that the only record that was left in anyone's mind was this A.R.T. production of Porgy and Bess, well, of course, that's not going to happen. So let's just let people play around more.