Welcome to Issue 2 of Notes from the Podium! This is the second part in the two-part series on opera that has opened the periodical.
Excerpt - [re the 'Lanterloo' Chorus] That really has to have real Stravinskian finesse and edge, but at the same time it can’t become too heavy - it has to remain within the sound world. It’s something that orchestras, I remember, didn’t always find the simplest thing to do because it’s quite a strange, slow tempo. It’s easy for them to want to make too much of it. So you’re constantly tugging in different directions. That’s the life of a conductor actually, you say ‘don’t do this, don’t do this!’ and then they do the other and you say ‘yeah but not now! Now it’s different!’
Excerpt - From bar to bar, you’re thinking ‘oh I know where he got that from! That’s a real 1800 gesture’ or ‘that could be from late Haydn or Mozart’. But it’s the way his polyphonic lines interact and produce dissonant harmonies which one has to be careful to balance beautifully. To get precision in that music is fundamental.
Excerpt - When there’s one person per part the conductor needs to be sensitive to the fact that you are essentially dealing with thirteen soloists. Each musician should feel free to express what he/she might feel about the music. I don’t want to tread on their toes. But of course I have my own feelings about it as well - the piece does need a conductor! It has to stay on the same railway track and be unified, it’s not as if people can just do what they want. That dynamic of leading the piece in the way that you feel it should go, but at the same time giving the musicians some kind of personal space is quite hard to achieve.
Excerpt - The theme and variation and serial elements are such a central building block of the piece and it’s remarkable how much of the material from the opera is derived from this theme that we hear after the Prologue. But it is not something I can remember us speaking about a lot in our rehearsals – sometimes it is helpful when working on performing a piece to take the material apart in this way and to discuss its construction but often in dramatic pieces the rehearsals are more about looking at the whole rather than about these building blocks.
Excerpt - In this repertoire the ideal is that the singers lead. If they really know where they’re going - they show you, they shape and conducting it is very easy. That said, even in the rehearsals you would have to work with them very carefully about where to lead you. It’s particularly important in the fermatas when there’s the coloraturas or the moments of decoration. For example the moment when the orchestral music stops in the famous Malatesta aria [‘Bella siccome un angelo’] at the start of Act I (bars 47-49) - you need to show him how to keep a shape and a purpose through all this material that he sings on his own, the drama doesn’t just stop... if that doesn’t have the right shape to it, you’ve lost the whole scene.