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Inside Move: Friedkin makes a legit connection

Helmer trades lenses for libretti in new gig

Jumping from Blatty to Bartok, Popeye Doyle to Puccini, really isn’t so hard, says William Friedkin.

The director of “The Exorcist” and “The French Connection” is working with the Los Angeles Opera Company, directing Bartok’s dark “Duke Bluebeard’s Castle” and Puccini’s satirical “Gianni Schicchi.”

The double bill, starring Samuel Ramey and Denyce Graves, opens May 31.

Certainly there are big differences between directing opera and film. For one, Friedkin wants film actors to seem natural and unrehearsed. Not so in opera.

“With opera, nothing is improvisational,” says Friedkin, who previously directed “Wozzeck” in Florence in 1998. “It’s all guided by the specific needs of the score.”

His approach: “First, do no harm. Don’t do anything to step on the music.”

Although beginning rehearsals 25 days before the “Castle” premiere may seem to be cutting it close, Friedkin says the brief prep has been ample.

“Singers have a discipline I haven’t seen with other kinds of artists,” Friedkin says. “A performer in opera can’t fake it. In film, you have many performances that were made better in the cutting room.”

Hollywood-to-opera crossovers aren’t unusual. L.A. Opera creative director Placido Domingo previously brought in helmers Herbert Ross, Maximilian Schell and Bruce Beresford.

Friedkin says his leap has been pretty painless.

“There’s a sense, when a director crosses over to Broadway, that he’s slumming,” Friedkin says. “I haven’t detected that here or in Florence. If you have ideas, they can absorb them. They know I’m not here to make them look like tomatoes.”