Friday, March 7, 2014

Meet Our Artists: CARLO MONTANARO, Conductor

Maestro Carlo Montanaro made his Seattle Opera debut three years ago, making a very strong case for an opera not many people knew: Massenet’s Don Quichotte. Since then, he has returned to conduct Verdi’s fierce Attila and Puccini’s lyrical La bohème, and we’re excited that he’ll be conducting a very special concert in Seattle this August. These last few weeks, leading our first-ever production of The Consul, he has given us a real treat: according to The Huffington Post, “Carlo Montanaro conducted a performance that assumed Menotti's opera is a masterpiece and did everything humanly possible to make everyone in the house believe it as well.” During intermission the other night, he very kindly spared me a moment to share his thoughts about this remarkable piece.

Act Three Interlude

Have you conducted this opera before?
No, first time!

Have you conducted a lot of operas in English?
No, as a matter of fact, this is my first opera in English. I’ve studied some of them—Britten’s operas, for instance, but now I work on one for the first time.

Carlo Montanaro in rehearsal
Bill Mohn, photo

What is special about this music?
It’s really a music drama—recitar cantando, you know, like a Baroque piece. The composer loves the text; and why not, the libretto is amazing, the music is gorgeous.

Act Two Interlude

Is The Consul a Wagnerian gesamtkunstwerk?
No. You can find the perfume [sniffs] of many composers in this; Puccini, Strauss. But it is Menotti.

Yes, but this all-important balance of words and music, which so obsessed Wagner?
The problem is that Menotti wrote everything, libretto and music. He was also the director. He had the entire show in mind. I think it may be his masterpiece. He once wrote, “The only way you can really create a character is to live their life. You have to find yourself onstage with them in a certain way.” And it’s true.

Carlo Montanaro rehearsing in the orchestra pit (with Susan Gulkas, viola)
Elise Bakketun, photo

With an opera like The Consul, that’s such a fusion of words and music, does your job change?
No. My responsibility is still to bring out all the details of the music. There are so many details in the instrumentation, for instance, which describe the action and the story and the text. The association of English horn with the Mother, or the clarinet with the Police Agent. The trombones are used for destiny. Piano is so important, harp is so important. He uses the orchestra fantastically to color his special interests—Menotti was fascinated by the occult, by magic, by anything supernatural—the nightmare scene, for example.

Is Menotti well-respected in Italy?
Yes, particularly at Spoleto, where he founded this wonderful festival.

Do you think of him as an American or an Italian composer?
Oh, he’s an Italian composer. Yes, he traveled a lot, and spent most of his life outside Italy. But he has this Italy in his heart, in his blood.

Carlo Montanaro at a music rehearsal with Colin Ramsey (Mr. Kofner), Margaret Gawrysiak (Vera Boronel), Dana Pundt (Anna Gomez), Mark Haim (choreographer), and John Keene (piano)
Alan Alabastro, photo

What’s it like working with this young cast?
Very nice! Everyone is so full of energy, so positive. They all want to do their very best, which makes it such a pleasure to come to work.

Quintet Finale to Act One

In your profession, have you ever found yourself waiting in the Consul’s office hoping to get a visa so you can go and conduct somewhere?
It’s funny, when I came to the U.S. two months ago to begin rehearsals of The Consul, I was sleepy when I got off the plane and the first word I heard was the customs officer: “Next!” And I thought: “Oh, no! The opera can’t be starting already, I’ve barely arrived!” I’ve spoken with so many people who find this opera so familiar, so real.

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