The Viet Nam National Opera and Ballet (VNOB) will debut the musical Les Miserables on November 21 at the Ha Noi Opera House.
Director Nguyễn Triều Dương graduated from musical theatre at Sheffield Hallam University and theatre art for community development at the University of East London, both in the UK. He has experience in performing and as a director’s assistant in Miss Saigon, Hamlet, A Dream and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Viet Nam News reporter Nguyễn Bình spoke to Dương about the musical.
You are working with artists from VNOB to stage Les Miserables, how’s it going?
It has been a great journey of learning and exchanging experiences for all of us. Musicals are not yet common in the Vietnamese theatre industry so it is exciting and also challenging.
At this stage, I think we will present a performance that we can be proud of.
What’s the biggest difficulty you have encountered so far?
I would say the most difficult thing is how to inspire the artists to be confident as they tap into new art forms.
All of them have an opera education, but the lack of acting and movement/dance skills could be the limits that can hinder their overall performance even before they think to try it.
Having said that, I am so proud of the artists that I’m working with. They have overcome a lot of challenges and improved a lot from when we started the project.
Besides, singing in English is another challenge when more than half of the cast does not speak the language. I spent our first two weeks with them just to read through the whole of Les Miserables before going into the details of each character.
What are your thoughts on Les Miserables, one of the world’s most iconic and longest-running musicals?
It is my great honour to direct Les Miserables. There is more than one reason why it is the longest-running musical in the world, but to me, the greatest thing about it is the music. Every song/aria is an individual story and the connection among all of them is love. The love between and among humans.
The humanity in the original story will never get old despite how further and further away from Victor Hugo’s time we get.
In a world full of technology that is changing human’s behaviour, pure love has become a luxury dream — to me anyway. I guess that’s why people are still coming to see Les Miserables, perhaps, because they miss that purity.
Is there any pressure from directing a musical which is not popular in Viet Nam?
Of course. The pressure comes from all aspects: the cast, the crew, the audience and most of all, myself.
Not only to make it a success which is obvious but also I am directing the first musical by a State-run culture organisation. This marks a pioneering moment in the Vietnamese theatre industry.
What have you done to make the musical attract an audience and make it different from other versions?
This version is set in an unspecified place and period of time. It could be any city that the audience thinks of or a place they have been, maybe a place they only know about through television or a travel book.
And before they realise it, they have already become that place’s citizens. The traditional way of staging would not be easy to apply to Les Miserables.
The minimalism with some special touches is cleverly arranged to take the audience to the space and context. Having said that, it is not simple at all.
Is it the first time you have worked with the Viet Nam National Opera and Ballet?
I first sang in the choir with VNOB nearly 20 years ago. I was still singing with them even when I shifted my career focus to work with two embassies and a cultural organisation in Ha Noi.
I then left Viet Nam in 2014 to settle in the UK where I decided to study musicals.
I came back for Lunar New Year last year then the first meeting with VNOB about a musical in future was set up nicely. Looking back, it feels like just yesterday, but we have actually gone a long way.
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