An Interview with Maestro Mazzola
Photo Credit: Laura Miller
My colleague Terri Van Valkinburgh and I had the great pleasure of interviewing Maestro Enrique Mazzola before our first rehearsal of Pagliacci, Monday, June 7. What follows are excerpts, edited for clarity.
Maestro Mazzola: I just posted a small video in which I say “It’s a great Monday because for the first time I’m going to meet the orchestra, I’m going to meet the chorus for our fantastic project. I’m happy that our artistic forces are back.”
It is very exciting for us to be back rehearsing together in person. What is special about Pagliacci for you, for the orchestra?
Pagliacci by itself is an exciting opera. I would say that the orchestral participation in the dramaturgical game of the opera is absolutely fundamental. We are in the period at the end of the, let me count, 19th century because it’s 1892, the composers tend to give to the orchestra the responsibility of creating the stage color.
So it’s not any more the singer alone. We create, for example, when we do bel canto, a very simple accompaniment and the singer alone creates the color, but here the orchestra, opening with the prologo, and with the intermezzo, the orchestra is really the color of the opera, it’s actually the orchestra which is able to send to the audience the atmospheric feeling of what is going on. We have this verismo style in which the singers show in a very direct way their daily life emotions, yes, like in Boheme, but they could not do this if it was not prepared by a stronger emotional orchestra participation.
You know that I conduct a lot of bel canto and Verdi. I conducted almost everything Puccini wrote 20 years ago, so it’s good coming back to this repertoire. In some way, after 20 years, having conducted most of the Mahler symphonies, it’s a very subtle, mind-engaging, coming back. In 1892 I feel that Leoncavallo was aware of what was happening in the German symphonic world, and in a way, you can feel this in his orchestration, in his way of creating the orchestral line. I sometimes have the feeling of being in a Mahler symphony, a feeling that I could not have had 20 years ago because I had never conducted a Mahler symphony! I’m coming back with a completely different mind for this repertoire.
You’ve been a welcome guest conductor and are now music director designate, soon to be music director.
I will, but I’m not yet. It’s very important for me to say, because I love Sir Andrew, and respect so much of the heritage and the legacy he’s leaving to me, and until the last day in duty of Sir Andrew I want to honor him for what he has done in this magnificent 21 years. I love so much Sir Andrew’s work with you, with The Lyric Opera in general.
So, I’m still, I think the music director designate when this newsletter will appear. I think I was already music director designate when we did Luisa Miller. I met with part of the orchestra for the Rossini Sonatas project, so let’s say this (Pagliacci) is the 3rd project that we have together. I include Rossini Sonatas because it was a meeting with the orchestra, a way of working on the details of the bowings, of the intonation, to discuss the difficulties of making music in the COVID times. For me, the Rossini Sonatas were absolutely important because in a way it was an answer to our necessity to not be silent, to say something. Most of all, this period for me was a period of preparation for the future seasons, being part of the artistic team to see what is possible to do in the future being realistic after these 15 months of the pandemic. For me, it’s very strange that I arrived to be music director after 15 months in which everything was closed. I didn’t have the possibility to really live the daily opera house life because it was closed. Nevertheless, as you know, I tried to do new programs online with the chorus, with the orchestra, with The Ryan Opera Center, I even played the piano after 20 years that I was not playing. ‘Sole Amore’ was this project with the Ryan Center young artists of Italian chamber music songs by operatic, Italian composers. You’ve conducted us many times over the past few years. What stands out to you about our orchestra?
Well, I speak from personal experience, because I have not been only your conductor, I have been also a part of the audience. When I’m here, I love to come to listen to what else you are playing. What I appreciate is in different repertoires the flexibility, the fast adaptation of the orchestra to a Mozart score, and maybe the day after, a contemporary music score. And you know, this is one of the characteristics that’s required today of the modern opera orchestra. One hundred years ago, one hundred fifty years ago, the repertoire in Italy, they were playing bel canto operas and only bel canto operas. It’s as if today, we would be only specialized in playing contemporary opera. So today an operatic orchestra has a really different task. They have to be able to play Cosi Fan Tutti one night and Dead Man Walking the night later. The orchestra is really fantastic at this, you can feel the quality of the orchestra through this ability to change a color, to change a story in one night, in one day, this is very beautiful of the orchestra.