Barcelona opera house hires intimacy director to police passion


BARCELONA — Barcelona’s opera house has hired an “intimacy director” to ensure performers are comfortable taking part in passionate scenes, in a first for Spain and a rarity for continental Europe.

The role’s creation comes after the #MeToo movement rocked the movie industry but also the opera world with sexual harassment accusations.

Intimacy director Ita O’Brien will oversee William Shakespeare’s adapted play, Antony and Cleopatra, which opens at Barcelona’s Gran Teatre del Liceu opera house on Oct. 28.

Ms. O’Brien, who has advised HBO and Netflix productions on intimate scenes, said that operas have always revolved around dramatic stories and that historically a performer would arrive into a city just a few days before an opening, and was not expected to discuss intimate scenes.

“Without that process of agreement and consent sought, people were left feeling awkward, harassed, absolutely abused,” she said.

Ms. O’Brien, with 40 years of experience in musical theater and acting, is the founder of Intimacy On Set which provides support in the TV and film industry.

At rehearsals, she invites performers to “connect with a hug” then discuss where they are happy to be touched or feel uncomfortable.

“We are inviting the performer to really tell us your boundaries and that’s a big shift in the industry,” she said.

“Your yes is your yes, your no is your no, and a maybe is a no.”

In a recent rehearsal, Ms. O’Brien checked that mezzo-soprano Adriana Bignagni Lesca, who plays Cleopatra’s servant Charmian, was comfortable kissing another woman on the lips, and supervised scenes in which the performer playing Antony embraces Cleopatra.

Ms. Lesca said there should be an intimacy director in every opera. “(It) allows us to coordinate the way we do things, we interact, we kiss … we need to be comfortable with all of this,” she said.

Intimacy directors have been used in the production of television shows, and operas in the United States and Britain before.

An unsolicited kiss planted on the lips of a female player by former Spanish soccer federation chief Luis Rubiales in August sparked national soul-searching in the country over sexism and a movement entitled Se Acabo (It’s Over).

In January opera star Placido Domingo faced new accusations of sexual harassment from a fellow Spanish singer in a television program, three years after such claims prompted an apology and curtailed his career. He has denied any wrongdoing. — Reuters

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