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  • Melissa Trier Kirk and Terri Van Valkinburgh

Interview with Maestro Mazzola, part II

Photo credit: Laura Miller Boen

This is a continuation of an interview we had with our incoming Music Director. You can read the first part in a previous post. Melissa: This has been a strange year for the orchestra. We missed performing Atilla with you. I know you created a wonderful online discussion of the score. How has this year affected you?


I think that, as artists, we had a very bad first period, and then we started slowly to react, to organize small concerts, to speak with people, so this was my very first reaction. At first, at home in Montepulciano, I thought, “I’m so sad that I’m going to lose with the Lyric Opera this early Verdi title,” because we are doing this cycle, so I was very sad to make it disappear in the air. I opened the score, and even if it’s badly filmed, even if it is in my poor English, I tried to make a very lively reading. So not a lecture, not “Verdi was born in this year,” I don’t know if I even was telling exactly the plot, but my main attention was the score. What happens when I turn this page? Ahh, I have an emotion because here the flutes are playing this, and listen to the harp, and listen to the magic of this violin! So it’s like helping the audience to understand that they do not necessarily need to be pedagogically prepared to watch an opera. I tried to invite them to enjoy a score through different ways. And one of the main ways I think for the audience of today has to be the emotional way, just to sit down and let the emotions of the opera come into them.

This pandemic was the most difficult period for all the art world, for us artists. In the same way, I think that the pandemic period brought us to our roots, to our origins, yes? To restart in a way from zero, to restart to play the same simple things, to restart to play for friends, to restart playing maybe for the neighborhood, for the community when we are used to playing with the biggest singers with 3000 people applauding. This pandemic brought all of us with a frenetic musical life a little bit back with our feet on the ground. This natural ability that we have to speak to everybody, to meet everybody with our art. This is something we have all done. I do not say that this is better than what we had planned to do. We went back to the beautiful, highly communicative, simple things. If we all will remember this period like a nightmare, at least in this nightmare we will also remember that it was a period in which we have re-found a little bit ourselves and the beauty and the humility to restart to create art for everybody from zero. This is my personal thought. I don’t ask everyone to agree, but this is what I feel. There were some moments in which I was on Facebook and I was moved over a singer doing a small concert by himself, Larry Brownlee singing songs in the car, of the 9th of Beethoven. There was such a variety of expression because people need it. This is the strength of being artists and probably is our role in society, that we cannot be silent, we cannot remain silent.


We don’t want to take up too much of your time but we had one more 'small' question: What is your vision for the future of Lyric Opera?


Hmm, you know, I’m freshly arrived in the U.S., so I’m here to build and not to criticize. Of course, I see a lot of beautiful things, as in many cities all around the world, contradictions, and things that could be better, society problems, so I mean I’m trying to watch Chicago with the eyes of the person who just arrived, but you know, which has good things and bad things. The bad thing is that I’m the last one to arrive, so I have to learn everything. The good thing is that because my eyes are very fresh, I see probably things that Chicagoans living here, they don’t see anymore because it’s something so obvious. So I think that the role of Lyric Opera has to be, it is, but it has to be, and that has to be underlined, it has to be emphasized the role of let’s say cultural lighthouse for the city. So everybody sees in this house a reference point for arts and culture. At the same time, I think that we should be projected to be opened to all the audiences, so one of our missions would be to invite all Chicago communities to consider Lyric Opera as their opera house, yes, because of course there is this thing, that opera comes from Europe, it’s basically white, I already heard all these things, which makes me very thoughtful about our role, yes, so opera is very different from our colleagues at the CSO because differently from them, we tell stories, we are storytellers, we are specialists in this. People come here, sit down and see stories that we show them with fantastic orchestral sound, with chorus participation, with great singers, but they see stories, and this is, I think, a big advantage because it can really catch the attention of more different communities and also a range of age which is absolutely absent from the operatic world, let’s say from 20 to 40, even maybe 20 to 50. So there are not many audience members in that age range.

So if I may speak about vision of course to imagine what is the role of Lyric in our city, I dare to say ‘our city’ because it is going to become my principal residence, Chicago, yes, so I come here to live. But you can answer, ‘but Maestro, Lyric is open to everyone.’ Yes, of course it is open to everyone, but to be open to everyone means that we have to also go outside of the Lyric, we can not anymore I think, in the 21st century, wait inside our walls, that people would buy the ticket, yes, so we have to go outside. A project like Hansel and Gretel, for example, should be an example of a community project which should be continued in the future. It’s something engaging, maybe audiences, which would not naturally come to the Lyric but which are brought to discover opera in a different way. So this is for example, a very beautiful example of how my vision could be for the future. So going outside and to attract a new audience for this marvelous world which is opera.

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