29 Apr 2013
Douglas Boyd on Garsington Opera at Wormsley
“Aim for excellence”, says Douglas Boyd, new Artistic Director of Garsington Opera at Wormsley, “and the audience will follow you”.
I arrive at the Jerwood Space, where rehearsals are underway for Garsington Opera’s forthcoming production of Idomeneo, to find that the afternoon rehearsal has finished a little early.
With its merry-go-round exchange of deluded and bewitched lovers, an orphan-turned-princess, a usurped prince, a jewel and a flower with magical properties, a march to the scaffold and a meddling ‘mistress-of-ceremonies’ who encourages the young lovers to disguise and deceive, William Makepeace Thackeray’s The Rose and the Ring has all the ingredients of an opera buffa.
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Atsuto Sawakami is a slightly built man in his late sixties with impeccable, gentlemanly manners. He communicates a certain restless energy and his piercingly bright eyes reveal an undimmed appetite for life.
‘Lieder v. Opera’? At first glance it might seem to be a pointless or nonsensical question.
Last year's Oxford Lieder Festival made something of a splash when it encompassed all of Schubert's songs, performed in the space of three weeks. This year's festival, the 14th, which runs from 16 to 31 October 2015 has a rather different, yet still eye-catching theme; Singing Words: Poets and their Songs.
For a company founded in 2013, Odyssey Opera has an astounding track record. To take on Korngold’s Die tote Stadt is ambitious enough, but to do so within only a year of the company’s founding seems almost single-minded.
American tenor René Barbera is fast making a name for himself as one of the top bel canto singers in opera houses around the world.
I’m interviewing Stefano Mastrangelo in the immediate aftermath of his conducting La Traviata for the Chofu City Opera in Tokyo on 22 November 2014; he conveys an air at once of tiredness and exhilaration.
Sara Gartland is an emerging singer who brings an enormous talent and a delightful personality to the opera stage. Having sung lighter soprano roles such as Juliette in Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette and Violetta in Verdi’s La traviata, Gartland is now taking on the title role in Leoš Janáček’s dramatic opera Jenůfa.
American composer Jennifer Higdon has won many awards for her imaginative music. Her percussion concerto received the 2009 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Classical Composition.
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Last year’s Strauss anniversary year — 150 years since his birth — offered, at least in the United Kingdom, a typical number of opportunities and frustrations.
Julia Noulin-Mérat is the principal designer for the Noulin-Merat Studio, an intrepid New York City production design firm that works in theater, film, and television, but emphasizes opera and immersive site-specific theatre.
Anita Rachvelishvili recently performed the title role in Carmen broadcast by The Metropolitan Opera Live in HD. Here she drops by for a little chat with our Maria Nockin.
"Although there are now more people on this planet than there have ever been before, there are fewer dramatic voices. Something is wrong with that equation. I thought there needs to be some sort of helping hand so that dramatic voices don’t fall through the cracks in the system as they advance through their various stages of development."
Anna Prohaska sings Sister Constance in Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites at the Royal Opera House. In the same month, she’s also in London to sing a recital with Eric Schneider at the Wigmore Hall, and to sing Henze with Sir Simon Rattle at the Barbican Hall.
Garsington Opera celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.
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Maria Nockin interviews tenor Saimir Pirgu.
“Aim for excellence”, says Douglas Boyd, new Artistic Director of Garsington Opera at Wormsley, “and the audience will follow you”.
Excellence is an ideal he learned from his earliest days as a musician, playing the oboe in Claudio Abbado’s European Community Youth Orchestra and later in the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. “Abbado has an absolutely enormous influence on me”, he adds, explaining how Abbado’s ideals shape his vision for Garsington Opera at Wormsley.
“Abbado instilled into us right from the start that excellence is a fundamental to strive for. It’s not a given. Although we were young, we played each concert as if our lives depended on it. So my mantra is “dedication and energy”. When you aim for the highest possible level of excellence, then you start with a fighting chance”.
Abbado also inspired Boyd’s approach to opera conducting. “He was one of those rare people who could allow singers room to breathe and also create a strong sense of ensemble between pit and stage. You’ve got to give musicians space. If you conduct them as if you were a military policeman, it’s horrible. Abbado was wonderful, he was tight in the best way, in the most musical way, and he had this incredible sense of the scope of the entire opera. He is an icon for me”.
With a solid background in orchestral music, Boyd brings a strong musical focus. He has conducted the Musikkollegium Winterthur, the Manchester Camerata, The Chamber Orchestra of Europe, most of the leading orchestras in Britain, the Gürzenich Orchestra of Cologne, Orchestre National de Lyon, Tonhalle Orchester Zurich, Swedish Chamber Orchestra, Budapest Festival Orchestra, Ensemble Orchestral de Paris, the Mozarteum Orchestra Salzburg. He also conducts regularly in Japan and the United States.
Boyd comes to Garsington Opera at Wormsley at a critical phase in its development. “We all loved Garsington Manor because there was something so quirkily, beautifully English about it. But now we’ve got this wonderful new home at Wormsley. The Pavilion is world-class, it’s racheted things up to a whole new level in artistic terms. It’s still an intimate performance space, seating 600, but it was purpose-built so the facilities are better. The acoustic is very good, and we have an enormous stage space which we didn’t have before, and the backstage area is much better, too. This gives us opportunities to explore operas in a chamber-like setting where every gesture, every sound is vital to the audience’s enjoyment. Yet we still have that indoor/outdoor feel and natural light”. He adds “and we’re improving the heating system”.
“Wormsley is an idyll. You can’t underestimate how much it means to spend six weeks in the summer in this incredibly dedicated, caring environment. Yet it’s also near London and its resources. Mark Getty has vision. Anthony Whitworth-Jones did an amazing job when he took over as General Director in 2005. He was unique in that he involved conductors and directors together from day one. We’re involved together as a team, right from the first casting auditions, so what we do is an artistic team effort. That might sound obvious, but that doesn’t happen everywhere, but it has always been the case at Garsington Opera. That’s something to build on. We have a supportive Board and Jonathan Freeman-Attwood has joined us from the Royal Academy of Music”.
“Mozart has been a foundation of Garsington Opera since its first season in 1989. This year’s Wormsley season begins with a new production of Die Entführung aus dem Serail heard previously at Garsington in 1990 and 1999. The great da Ponte operas feature regularly. Mozart has many times fulfilled Garsington Opera’s tradition of showcasing specialist repertoire. Earlier Mozart productions include Der Schauspieldirektor, Il re Pastore, Lucio Silla, La finta giardiniera and even the extremely rare Der stein der Weise, to which the teenaged Mozart contributed several parts.
“Now that we have the scope and means to do more, it would be my dream to develop Wormsley as a Mozart centre, perhaps even, long term, with a Mozart house style, created by different conductors, all with individual perspectives but who share a sense of the rhetoric Mozart addresses. The orchestra is never just accompagnato, where every word in the singing is mirrored in the orchestra. The orchestra in Mozart isn’t celebrated enough, and I’d like to hear Mozart’s music become an important part of the festival at Wormsley. There are many good Mozart musicians to choose from, so there’s a lot of potential. I’ve just come back from conducting at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, where the musicians have Mozart in their bones”, he adds. Boyd’s own credentials are substantial. He has conducted all the Beethoven symphonies. As opera conductor, he’s done Le nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni for Garsington Opera, Die Zauberflöte for Glyndebourne Opera on Tour, Salieri’s La Grotto di Tronfonio for Zurich Opera and La Clemenza di Tito for Opera North.
With his background as orchestral musician, he has a firm foundation in Mozart’s musical world. “I worked many times with Nicholas Harnoncourt. He’s extraordinary, he’s messianic. We’ve learned so much from him, and we have a duty to carry on his ideals. I don’t ever want to go back to the idea of Mozart as being dainty or fragile or pretty. Nor do I want to hear him played like any other composer. Mozart is in a completely different
sound world to, say, Tchaikovsky and the late Romantics. We need to speak his unique language. Harnoncourt conducted Mitridate, re di Ponto several times, and I’d love to do that at Wormley, where it’s never been done before. It’s not as great as the da Ponte operas, of course, but there are some good arias in it. And Mozart was only fourteen when he wrote it!”
“Wormsley has tremendous potential”, he adds, “and Mark Getty understands how it can contribute to the wider community, beyond opera. We are planning a Beethoven weekend next year, which will include Beethoven’s Fidelio, a revival of the popular Garsington Opera production from 2009. We’ll link the themes of brotherhood, freedom from oppression and sacrifice which run through Fidelio, Beethoven’s Egmont and the Ninth Symphony. The Beethoven weekend also coincides with the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War, so we could make a connection with the world of 1914. All will be revealed in July!”
“There’s so much we could be doing at Wormsley with the local community. We already have an extensive “Education” programme in place, although I don’t like the word much. I believe we are always learning, whether we’re 5 or 95, or even more, there’s always something to enjoy. This summer, we’re doing Road Rage, a community opera where Roman road builders are confronted by wild British birds. The text is Richard Stillgoe, and the music is by Orlando Gough. Almost 200 people are taking part. It’s vital to work with the community because that’s how you reach new audiences. We should be “exclusive” only in the sense that aspiring to musical excellence is exclusive. We want to inspire people with the idea of opera. We do young people a disservice by assuming they have short attention spans. At Wormsley and at West Green House in Hampshire, we work with local schools. If you can inspire young people to enjoy themselves, with luck, they’ll love opera for the rest of their lives without prejudices. I’ve seen it happen so many times. When young people engage with something it doesn’t matter whether it`s rock, pop or classical, as long as they are having fun”.
“I’d also like to do a world premiere at Wormsley. The opera world has changed in the last few years. Birtwistle’s The Minotaur, Adès’s The Tempest and George Benjamin’s Written on Skin show that modern music can be successful. A world premiere puts any opera house on the map and attracts interest from all over the world. We don’t have anything specific on the radar as yet but we know that the Garsington Opera audience is sophisticated”.
“At Garsington Opera, we’ve always worked with young talent. We have a very special pool of singers and maintain a relationship with them. Sophie Bevan, Paul Nilon and Matthew Rose, for example. At Wormsley, that’s an ethos we’re glad to maintain”.
The new season at Garsington Opera at Wormsley starts on 7th June with Mozart Die Entführung aus dem Serail. This will be followed by Giacomo Rossini’s Maometto Secondo in its first full performance in this country. Garsington Opera is famous for Rossini specialities. This will be the twelfth new Rossini production staged here since 1994. The main summer Festival concludes with Englebert Humperdinck’s Hänsel und Gretel.
For more details, please see the Garsington Opera at Wormsley website.