June 20, 2024
Nicholas Muni

Nicholas Muni Discusses the Artistry of Opera Directing: Bringing Drama to Life

Nic Muni has had the privilege of serving as Artistic Director for esteemed American companies, including Tulsa Opera and Cincinnati Opera. Muni finds joy in collaborating with diverse teams to shape a distinct and powerful vision for opera within communities. In the following article, Nicholas Muni discusses the fascinating field of opera direction, delving into the intricacies, passion, and creative vision that breathe life into every note and word of a production. He discusses the artistry behind the curtain, where seasoned directors illuminate the stage with their expertise, enriching the cultural tapestry through the marriage of music and storytelling.

Opera is an art form that combines all aspects of performing arts – music, poetry, drama, dance, and visuals. It is a grand spectacle that requires a team effort from the composer, librettist, conductor, singers, musicians, and of course, the opera director. While all these elements are crucial in creating a successful opera production, it is the director who brings them all together to create a cohesive and compelling performance.

The stage director, like the designers of the visual elements, communicates to the audience indirectly. But one could argue that the designers who create the visual elements also communicate directly with the audience. Therefore, the director is the only member of the team whose efforts are once removed from the audience. He or she influences the artists who communicate directly with the audience. But there is no immediate and direct connection between the work of the stage director and the audience. In fact, prior to the 20th century, the role of the stage director as we know it did not exist. There was a “stage manager” who organized the activities onstage and coordinated the various creative forces. But that was the extent of his/her duties. In many instances, the composer functioned as the director. So, stage directing in its present form is a relatively new art form.

Nicholas Muni explains that opera directing is often seen as a daunting task, as it involves shepherding various personalities, concepts, and elements into a seamless whole. However, with the right skills, knowledge, and creative vision, an opera director can guide the potential chaos into a captivating experience for the audience.

Nicholas Muni Highlights the Role of an Opera Director

An opera director is responsible for leading a team to create a cohesive and compelling vision for an opera production. They work closely with the (living) composer, (living) librettist, conductor, and other artists involved in the production to bring a particular vision to life. Their role is multifaceted, involving psychology, time-management, promoting a positive working atmosphere, storytelling, visual design, and collaboration.

One of the primary responsibilities of an opera director is to interpret the libretto. This involves understanding the characters, their relationships, and, naturally, the overall plot of the opera. The director also works closely with the conductor to ensure that the music and drama are in perfect harmony.

Aside from interpreting the libretto, an opera director also has a role in guiding the design of the visual aspects of a production. This includes set design, props costumes, lighting, and wigs and makeup. These elements must all work together to clearly project, in visual terms, the conceptual interpretation of the opera.

Nicholas Muni
Florencia en el Amazonas, UNCSA, 2017


The Creative Vision of an Opera Director

Nic Muni explains that one of the most important aspects of opera directing is having a clear and creative vision for a production. It is not enough to simply depict the plot of an opera, the sequence of events. The director must also decide what the plot means. What is the story about? To do this successfully, a director must have a deep understanding of the music, libretto, the historical context of the story and the context of the time of composition. He or she must also psycho-analyze each character and decide how each character fits into the whole, beyond their participation in the plot.

The creative vision of opera directors can vary greatly. Some choose a traditional approach, depicting the plot in a literal way and in accordance with the stage directions in the score, adhering to “the way the composer intended it”. Others vigorously embrace theatrical license, opting for a more alternative, non-literal interpretation. Whatever the approach, Nicholas Muni believes the production must simply be “good”. But what does “good” mean? It must be consistent within itself, it must intrigue and move the audience into a feeling state, it must be completely believable, and it must have a strong payoff at the end. It need not be irreverent or shocking, unless these qualities are deemed necessary to express the meaning of the piece, as the director sees it. There is no such thing as “just let the piece speak for itself” because at every turn the director makes interpretive decisions, whether conscious or not.

Nicholas Muni
Werther, Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, 2007


The Importance of Collaboration

Directing is a collaborative process, and the success of an opera production relies heavily upon it. Working closely with all team members, including the conductor and music staff, choreographers, stage managers, designers, singers, dancers, chorus members, supernumeraries, stage technicians, the costume shop, and the opera company administrators. Each member of the team plays a crucial role in the success of an opera production, and the director must work together with them to ensure that their vision is brought to life, on time and within budgetary resources.

The Impact of Opera Directing on the Audience

Opera directing is not just about creating a visually stunning production, but also about connecting with the audience emotionally. The director’s role is to transport the audience into the world of the opera, and compel them to remain in that world until they enter a feeling state. Nic Muni maintains that through effective storytelling and with a strong, specific creative vision, an opera director can evoke strong emotions in the audience, by taking them on a compelling journey through music and drama, leaving a lasting impact long after the curtain falls.


Directing an opera is an intricate and multi-faceted art form that requires a combination of skills, knowledge, and creativity. The director plays a crucial role in bringing together all artistic elements to create a cohesive and compelling performance that connects with the audience. Through collaboration, a strong artistic vision, and effective problem-solving, an opera director can bring music and drama to life in a way that makes the art form indispensable to society.