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Excerpt – It’s important to emphasise that in every rehearsal, and every performance, the conductor has to ignite the style. You can do a perfectly helpful rehearsal of a Wagner opera, without the singers singing out and it’s still valuable to get the flow of the music and people can mark it. But in Italian music you have to make it happen all the time, otherwise it’s incredibly dull. Because the music, from one point of view is quite simple, you can analyse it quite easily as opposed to Wagner or Strauss that are symphonically complicated. But a lot of Italian music is very like they are – open, operto. So it feels unsophisticated, but it needs to be performed beautifully and above all elegantly. I think this is something that people don’t talk about enough. Italian music must be elegant, it must be very cultivated and yet have fantastic bravura.
Excerpt – I can remember all sorts of little moments where we were making adjustments. A lot of them I foresaw in the score, there were certain bars I knew would be an issue, even with someone like John Tomlinson, who delivers very clear text (he’s fantastic). You have to do diminuendos, but you have to be very careful not to emasculate the music. If we have to make adjustments, to make sure that the voices come through, I always approach things from a dramatic point of view. There may be a lowering of the orchestra level, in order that a couple of bars later, it sort of seethes upwards in a dramatic way. Sometimes the composer doesn’t necessarily write that, but it enhances the dramatic effect. And it also means that the voice and the text are audible.
Excerpt – … the combination of opera seria and buffa, that aspect is very important to me. From a conductor’s point of view (as well as the orchestra’s) the more light and funny you make certain moments, the more dramatic, dark and powerful it makes the others – especially when the Commendatore returns. I think that’s the key in this opera, but I think it is in Mozart generally. This is why he was a genius. That is the risk – to do this subject as an opera seria but having these buffa elements (without actually taking you away from the story) requires mastery.
Excerpt – It’s more of a principle that I have. I love conductors, I love working with them and I love it when the synchronicity between the performer and the conductor is so that it is less about ‘you watch me’ and ‘I watch you’ and one of us commands at some point, but more about a very organic symbiosis that grows through feeling and watching as much as it is this [mimes conductor’s actions], a baton. Because a baton is absolutely necessary at times, and a clear gesture is obviously extremely necessary, but the gift of the truly fantastic conductor is that they’re not only like a traffic cop, they’re not just directing rhythm so that sixty people all play in sync. If you can truly conduct an orchestra, it means that if a singer on one day takes more fermata, or they take less fermata, or they stop because it’s so emotional – that conductor has the ability to bring sixty people to a halt and keep his eyes on things and then bring them in with authority and with clarity. That is not necessarily something that is charted out in exactitude to the nanosecond – I think that is the gift.