opera, dramaturgy and memorization of scores
The public did not realize it but when Andrea Molino conducted Bartók Bluebeard’s Castle for Opera Australia in 2021 he did so without a score. It was the same when he directed Szymanowski King Roger in 2017, as well as Bohemian in 2016 and Tosca in 2014.
It’s something the Italian conductor and composer likes to do when possible in order to connect more physically with the opera and the singers; if he’s reading the score, then he’s a little more “out there,” he says.
Born in Turin and now based in Zurich, Molino has forged a close relationship with Opera Australia since joining the company in 2011 when he conducted Carlisle Floyd’s Of mice and Men at the Sydney Opera House. He opened OA’s 2013 season with A masked ball, directed by La Fura dels Baus, and has since directed Tosca, La Bohème, Carmen, King Roger, Le Nez, The Turk in Italy, Wozzeck and Bluebeard’s Castle.
He is set to direct Sir David McVicar’s acclaimed OA production Figaro’s wedding for the first time, which this season stars Italian baritone Mario Cassi as the Count, Russian soprano Ekaterina Morozova as the Countess, Italian bass-baritone Tommaso Barea as Figure and Australian soprano Stacey Alleaume as Susanna.
When asked about conducting complex operas with no score to refer to, Molino replies, “Well, I do it whenever I can, whenever possible. It’s not so much about having or not having the score in front of me, because in certain situations it is necessary to have the score in front of me – for example, when I was conducting The nose, or when I directed Wozzeck, I kept the score in front of me – but it’s actually to free myself from writing as much as possible.
Molino says it’s something he’s been doing since the beginning of his career, when the situation and the opera allow it.
“The thing is, the score is a set of symbols that are pretty precise parameters, but it’s not music, and it’s not theater. So I feel like I’m immersing myself in the physics of conducting and music, which I found particularly helpful because you have very direct contact with singers and musicians, and singers and musicians react very positively.
“And also, it’s exciting in the sense that I’m a part of them doing it, and I don’t have to read the sheet music when]I find myself [feeling like I’m] outside of it. I really do not like [that].”
Different scores pose different challenges, of course.
“There are two elements of difficulty, I would say,” says Molino limelight. “The most obvious [is that] 20andThe works of the last century are, of course, more complex and multi-layered, so memorizing Shostakovich or Berg or Szymanowsky was in that sense more difficult than memorizing a Rossini or a Mozart. But the other part is the phrasing, fitting into the flow of the music, and in this sense it is paradoxically more difficult to memorize a classical work than a modern one.
“When you have a number of tempo changes and the instruments change like in the Stravinsky Rite of Spring for example, it is spectacular, but in the end, I find that it is less difficult than the other elements of memorization. But then again, I was also saying that memorizing the score isn’t something for the public, it’s [related to] the necessity of the dramaturgical needs of the play. So what I’m saying is I don’t care if the public knows whether I’m doing from memory or not. Ultimately why I do it is because the piece and the musical experience for the musicians and the audience becomes stronger, more passionate and more intense.
In fact, Molino will not lead Figaro’s wedding for OA without the score because the production is new to him. “I have indeed [the opera] memory, but I decided to keep the score in front of me for this particular production. I will do it again next year, and in this case it will be enough for me [to get to know it and conduct without the score].
Molino is known as a conductor who is fascinated by the play’s dramaturgy and enjoys being involved at that level, and has spent time chatting with resident director Andy Morton about McVicar’s production, which was staged for the first time by OA in 2015 then in 2019. .
He says they started discussing McVicar’s approach to opera, which he set up in the 1640s rather than around the time of the French Revolution as was often the case .
“It’s my first time working on a David McVicar production, which for me is very exciting,” says Molino. “I find his production of Figaro’s wedding exceptional – it’s extremely elegant, it’s very, very detailed, and I’m really happy to be able to be involved.
“When we started with the music calls, going through the room in detail with the singers without being on stage, Andy was with me and we discussed the details, because for me it doesn’t make sense to ask for certain things to the singers or to implement a certain tempo or a certain musical element if it is not intimately linked to the staging and the dramaturgical concept. It is an organism for me. And paradoxically, certain decisions which are purely musical , I just take them from what is happening on stage, like certain speeds or certain poses. It is absolutely necessary that what we bring on stage is not only coherent, but organic. It’s like a living being , you can’t separate the parts of it. I’m very passionate about this approach. That’s probably why I love conducting operas so much, it’s a multimedia work of art.
“But paradoxically, I like to take this approach in concerts”, explains Molino. “In a concert, the story that we tell is non-verbal, but always for me as a musician, in the presence of a symphony on stage, it is part of the narration. So I would like to describe my approach to editing a symphonic piece in a theatrical way in the etymological sense of the term. So really there is no difference for me. So, for example, when I conducted with the Melbourne Symphony [and] we did this program with Mahler, Strauss and Messiaen, the formatting of the programs, but also the way I rehearsed and also the way I communicated my conception of it to the orchestra, I would say that is theatrical.
Having worked with OA for a decade, Molino says he now has a close relationship with the company and has gotten to know the singers and orchestra members.
“I felt extremely welcome here, which is of course a very nice feeling, which allowed me to develop through the productions an intimate feeling with the whole company. I know what [singers’] are my strengths, and how many of them work, and they know me too. So there’s a lot of things right now that we don’t need to discuss, we to know now. It’s the same with the orchestra. It is a privileged position, I am very grateful.
Asked about the productions he has done for OA, he says he loves them all. “But the ones I’ve conducted over the past two years are also the ones that bring me closest to being a musician. And I would definitely say with the Wozzeck, then King Roger then Blue Beard, these pieces are probably the ones that I remember with the most joy, because I felt like I could integrate the reason why I am a musician into the work. Probably, if I had to choose one, I should choose Wozzeck.”
Figaro’s wedding takes place at the Sydney Opera House from January 27 to February 18.