"I have a reputation as a reinterpretive director, one with a quirky sensibility," says stage director David Alden, who makes his directorial debut with Long Beach Opera tonight, when the company, entering its ninth season, mounts Offenbach's "Tales of Hoffmann" in Center Theater at the Long Beach Convention Center.
"People tend to think I'm crazy when I first arrive for rehearsals," the compact, bespectacled, 37-year old New Yorker acknowledges. "I have to be a salesman and show them I really know my stuff."
David Alden and his twin brother, Christopher (director of productions for the Long Beach ensemble), have long since proved they know their stuff. But reputations linger.
"I've earned it," David Alden says. "My whole approach is reinterpretive, psychological and theatrical. And, since the American opera scene today tends to be basically conservative and not interested in that approach, I seem to work for the handful of impresarios who are interested. Like Michael (Milenski, leader of Long Beach Opera since its first production, "La Traviata," in 1979)."
For this "Hoffmann," Alden says, he and conductor Nicholas McGegan have agreed on the 10-year old edition of German musicologist Fritz Oeser--basically, the version first seen on the West Coast last year in San Diego.
This edition, Alden explains, makes into a major character the hero's friend (and muse), Nicklausse, as Offenbach originally intended.
"The whole opera--which can be thought of as taking place in Hoffmann's mind--is essentially a pas de deux between Hoffmann and his muse. That Nicklausse is male and the muse (and singer of the role) female has no bearing. The character is androgynous."
Nor does it matter, Alden thinks, that the current production, to be sung in English--the translation is, in Alden's word, "a compilation" of several different translations, "all poor"--is also in modern dress.
"The scenario is timeless, and certainly timely today: an artist becomes blocked and works through his problems in a series of dreams. If, at the end, a 'solution' is not delivered and tied up in neat little ribbons, the conclusion can still make sense."
Seen, then, as "a dream event happening in Hoffmann's mind," the opera becomes, in Alden's word, "schematic."
"It's about a life, about many facets of a single personality. It's about an artist finding his inspiration."
As a regular directorial visitor to Scottish Opera, English National Opera and Santa Fe, Alden observes, he says, "a whole generation of young singing actors who have learned to be inner-directed, who come to a first rehearsal with many ideas, but no preconceived notions."
He praises the Long Beach "Tales of Hoffmann" cast in this regard, and mentions by name Noelle Rogers (who sings all four soprano roles), Constance Fee (Nicklausse), James Schwisow (Hoffmann) and Edward Crafts (all four villains).
"But the first thing everyone will notice is how physically good-looking this cast is. It's quite extraordinary."
Dividing his time between home bases in New York and London, Alden has recently added a rock group, the Pet Shop Boys, to his list of employers.
"I staged their video last year. Now, I am going to stage the show they will take on a world tour in 1987." Does that mean he will share in the profits of that tour?
The short, genial stage director breaks out in a broad smile.
"That's a good question, one which I am thrilled to be in the process of asking, right now."