By Rebecca Oliverio
A few members of our newsletter team sat down with Speranza Scappucci, conductor of La fille du régiment. She gives great insight into Fille, her strengths, dream operas and more! She also compared conducting orchestras like Lyric Opera to driving a Ferrari.
Q: This opera has not been staged here for fifty years, and why do you feel that this comedy is lesser performed of Donizetti’s 70 operas with a well-known aria and so many funny moments? Why isn’t it done more?
S: Well I don’t know about here in Chicago what the reason is, but I do know that in Europe, for example, in the last few years, it’s been done quite a bit. In fact, as we speak, there are at least three productions running in the world of Fille that I know of. It’s become more and more popular. I think part of it may be because there are dialogues. And so the issue is with dialogues in a foreign language. I did it once in Santa Fe where the dialogue was in English but the music was in French. If the dialogue is very well-acted it doesn’t really matter. I do believe it’s truer to do it in the original language, but I also see the point of doing it in a different language.
Q: Does your interpretation of this, or any opera, change based on the staging and the singers or do you always figure out what you like to do and commit to it?
S: I obviously have a vision of the piece and of the style. So, I have an idea of how the piece should be shaped and of basic phrasing things that I’ve shared with you during the rehearsal. But of course, then I am faced with the singers, and what kind of voices they have. Tempo-wise, I might like something faster, but the singer needs it a little slower. Sometimes even in a performance, as you’ve noticed, we might have rehearsed it one way and then, all of a sudden, he or she starts taking time. You have to be very flexible. And then of course there is staging. In this show for example there are some things that are dictated by the staging choreography-wise. Some pieces of the chorus maybe musically I think could be a little bit faster, I have to adapt because they’re doing steps and singing and it's far away. There are a lot of compromises that one has to do in a live performance.
Q: Congratulations on your appointment as principal guest conductor in Covent Garden! From our orchestra to that orchestra, are there major differences?
S: I do think, and I really believe it, that at a certain level, there is no difference in the sense that when the quality of the players and the professionalism of everyone involved is so high, of course, there are going to be differences in the soloists, the level is so high that it’s hard for me to say “this” or “that”. Honestly, it’s very hard when you’re up at that top league. Like you, the Met…I was just recently in Toronto, amazing orchestra and chorus there, too. It’s like having a Ferrari in your hands: it’s easy to drive if you know how to drive it. It can also easily slip away, but the engine is good! It’s not like trying to drive a little Cinquecento, it’s different. You can still drive it well and achieve similar things, but it requires more work in other senses.
Q: Do you have a preference for Donizetti’s dramas over the comedies?
S: I love both. Because I have to say that I have conducted a lot of Donizetti’s music and I do find that of course like in Bellini I would say that the music that attracts me most is the more melancholic and romantic part. That’s my nature. But the lightness of this score, or of L’elisir d’amore. . .I like the contrast of both. There is a clear contrast between the melancholic, serious moments and the funny ones and light ones. And the hard part is to make sure that that switch happens so fast. It has to be so well done musically, other than scenically, that you have the high C’s of the tenor and then immediately after it’s "Il faut partir", you have a solo from the English horn and there’s no room for “we’re still laughing” or “we’re not laughing anymore.” It’s so drastic.
Q: What do you feel are your strengths conducting Donizetti’s music?
S: I am a pianist. I was trained as a pianist. And I did a lot of solo and a lot of chamber music with instruments and then a lot of vocal music before I got into opera as a coach and then, eventually, as a conductor. And I would say that as a pianist I was always attracted by Schubert, these kinds of composers, even Debussy. But I loved the simplicity and, at the same time, the complexity of a composer like Schubert, let’s say. And I do find that in our Italian repertoire of that time there are similarities with the triplets accompaniment. It’s very, very similar. We always think as musicians who do this music or the audience that it’s just simple accompaniment. Actually, no, it’s the vital heartbeat of the piece. I feel a particular sensibility towards this music because I do find it very chamber music-like. Many times when I ask an orchestra to shape things in a certain way, I do even have the piano in my mind. And of course I’ve studied a lot of that and then a lot of Verdi, his style. I think the advantage of knowing the language helps in terms of how that music connects to the text, why I choose to do it in a certain way rather than the other shorter, longer notes. It is always connected to the text. It’s never an abstract choice.
Q: What is your dream opera to conduct?
S: I have several. Some of my dreams have already come true. For example you will not believe it, but one of my greatest dreams was to conduct Eugene Onegin, which I did a couple of years ago. One of my absolute dreams would be to conduct Otello by Verdi because I know the piece very well. I am just dreaming of the day someone will offer it to me.
Q: What stands out about Chicago?
S: So I’ve been to Chicago on and off a few times in the past 20 years. I love the architecture of the city with this very specifically modern look, but also ancient, like a mixture of both styles. We have Venice in Italy, which is a completely different city, but a city with water, for me, is always a big attraction. And I am in the West Loop this time around which I did not know at all.
Q: What is your next project?
S: After this (Fille) I haveTraviatain Berlin. I am working on the following three projects, and all three the first time that I conduct them. A double bill ofCavalleria RusticanaandGianni Schicchi. And then I am doingLa Rondineat the Met andTurandotin Washington. That [Turandot] is going to be with a new prologue and a new ending of music that’s being written right now. I haven’t gotten the music yet but I am very excited about that, too.