|Opera Australia's Aida|
Allerta!: It has been said that Aida concentrates on the set pieces of grand opera, namely the grand ceremonial scene and the multi-sectional duet. What are the challenges of conducting an opera filled with these elements?
Arvo Volmer: Aida’s composition underlines continuity; the arias and duets are all seamlessly linked to the score and even the well-known ones end in a way that suggests continuation without stopping. The exceptions are the ceremonial scenes and dances, which are meant as intermezzi and which represent the grand opera tradition of the time. For me as conductor, the challenge is to link the different components of the score into a continuous musical whole, thus providing an ongoing musical and dramaturgical narrative. The duets are particularly interesting as they develop the narrative and provide insight into the psychological conflicts that torment the characters. Providing good timing is a true test for the conductor here: too little time and the content is lost, too much time – and we have the same result.
AV: Aida was proposed by Lyndon, but of course I wished it as well and I am very happy to be conducting the opera in Sydney, among other things because of the high standards of the OA chorus. Without a first-class chorus, any attempt at staging an excellent Aida is doomed to failure.
A: For a soprano, Aida is a notoriously difficult role to sing. Why is that? And how do you as conductor help a soprano to overcome the challenges of the role?
AV: Aida asks for a voice that is deep and rich in the lower and middle register and yet possesses lyrical qualities too. It also requires the capacity to float effortlessly through long phrases that sit on top of the register. These things are difficult to develop in a voice; a conductor can help a little by pacing the music in the right way, as well as by providing suitable dynamics from the orchestra. An understanding between singer and conductor, which can be only reached through thorough rehearsing, is crucial.
A: You are Chief Conductor and Artistic Director of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, and you’ve conducted several Australian symphony orchestras. Could you tell us a little about how your musical connection with Australia came about?
AV: An Australian recruiting team accidentally met me while I was conducting in Sweden, and thus the cooperation with Australian orchestras and the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra began. OA is a logical continuation of that.
A: In terms of a classical music culture, Australia is a young country; we do not have Europe’s long cultural traditions. In your opinion, what are some of the ways in which Australia can ensure that it grows its own classical music tradition?
AV: I do not see Australia as a young cultural nation; I would rather describe the musical scene here as a unique mixture of influences. As such, it is thrilling and full of opportunities. Australian musicians seem to have a keen interest in whatever they are doing, a quality which European colleagues sometimes lack. To ensure that the local music tradition continues to develop and flourish, I would say that Australia needs to continue to invest in music education. It also has to encourage an appreciation of musical skills and creativity, so that culture comes to be regarded as an important measure of Australia’s success. I would like to see Australia aim to be a major player in the field of arts and science.
|Opera Australia's Aida|
AV: Estonia is a small country with a population of about 1.3 million. Yet there are two theatres which regularly put on operas, The Estonian National Opera and Theatre Vanemuine in the university town of Tartu, south of the capital, Tallinn. We also have the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra and The Tallinn Chamber Orchestra in the capital. I find this level of musical activity quite extraordinary, and I do think this is the way that things should be everywhere. Culture is, after all, an important measure of the success or failure of a society. The situation in Estonia is economically challenging for musicians, but one has to be optimistic and face the challenges of the changing environment. The opera house regularly commissions and produces new works by Estonian composers: the centenary of the present building of the ENO will be marked by a newly commissioned opera.
A: Would you say that the Soviet era provided musicians with better opportunities than the present one?
AV: All totalitarian regimes like to present themselves to the rest of the world as benign, and sports and arts are their favourite tools in doing so. The USSR was no exception.
A: Who are some of the opera composers that you would like to explore?
AV: I have conducted most of the Puccini operas and would love to do the ones I have not conducted yet. The Danish master Carl Nielsen left behind two operas which interest me, and I'd like to conduct a production of Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande, having conducted it in concert. I am also keen to conduct more Prokofiev operas; so far only Love for Three Oranges is in my repertoire.
Aida is showing at the Sydney Opera House from 17 July until 13 October: Click here for information, show dates, tickets, videos and more.