Behind the mask: assistant director Valentina Carrasco on Verdi's Un ballo in maschera
The first time Valentina Carrasco saw a show by La Fura dels Baus it was, she says, “like a hurricane going through."
"I already knew their ideas were a bit punk," she explains, "but when I saw the show I thought, wow. You had no time to think about it, you only had time to feel it, to live it. It went directly to the gut.”
After a number of successful collaborations, the Buenos Aires-born director was invited to join the Catalan company, and has been with them now for almost 13 years, assisting their transformation from anarchic sideshow troupe to technologically ground-breaking opera-house auteurs.
“The company has always been very curious,” she says. “Even in the early days. It was one of the first companies in Europe to incorporate video into its shows. The technology has always been there."
The difference now, she explains, is that their colossal curiosity is properly resourced. "You can’t do, say, Le Grande Macabre if you have no money," she laughs, referring to the company's spectacular production of György Ligeti's opera, an eye-popping fusion of live performance and video projection seen at the Adelaide Festival in 2010.
Now Carrasco, whose own background is in video art and video projection, is assistant director on a new production Giuseppe Verdi's A Masked Ball, a huge co-production between Teatro Colon (Buenos Aires), La Monnaie (Brussels), Norwegian National Opera & Ballet (Oslo) and Opera Australia. It's an opera in the grand style about an English governor of Boston, Riccardo, murdered by conspirators at a masked ball.
As well as introducing numerous "mind-boggling" design elements, La Fura aim to re-introduce a whiff of radical politics, recalling the company's origins as an activist street-theatre troupe.
"It was originally there in Verdi's opera," says Carrasco, "but was lost somewhere in time and it turned into more of a love story."
Verdi and librettist Antonio Somma based their opera on an actual conspiracy to murder King Gustav III, but political censors in Italy, fearing the political implications, forced them to remove the action to distant America.
"We try to bring back the underlying politics of the situation. You know, it's not a love story and we want to show that," says Carrasco.
"Whether Riccardo is a king or president or the head of a corporation, he is still a totalitarian guy," she explains.
La Fura have therefore relocated the action to a fortified concrete bunker, inspired by Michael Radford's film version of 1984, where Riccardo and the rest of the governing class are protecting themselves from social unrest.
"The conspirators aren't revolutionaries. They want to perpetrate the system, just with themselves in power."
But can Verdi's shimmery felicities sustain such a transformation? The politics were after all suppressed by necessity in his work.
"The music is open enough to interpret it one way or the other," says Carrasco. "For us, this Riccardo is a bit of a nasty guy who thinks every girl should fall at his feet. You can play it as a naive young guy who's just in love, but the darker side is very present."