Monday, October 2, 2023

From the Stage to the Podium

Rehearsals are underway at Seattle Opera for Alcina, George Frideric Handel’s spellbinding story of sorcery and seduction. At the helm is conductor Christine Brandes, who, despite making her Seattle Opera conducting debut in this production, has performed at Seattle Opera before—as a singer. In a recent profile by Joanne Sydney Lessner in Opera News, Brandes detailed the process that brought her from the stage into the pit.

Maestro Brandes, right, in rehearsal with Vanessa Goikoetxea (Alcina), center, and Assistant Conductor Philip A. Kelsey, background left. © Sunny Martini.
In 2016, Brandes scheduled a production of Handel’s Alcina at San Francisco State University, where she was teaching and running the opera program. She planned to both design and direct, but when she learned that the university’s orchestral conductor would be on sabbatical, she found herself taking up the baton as well.

“[I thought], ‘I’ve sung the role of Morgana a number of times. I’ve sung bits and pieces of Alcina in concerts. I know this piece!’ Well, okay, I quickly discovered knowing one way and then knowing in the conductor way [are] completely different things. So I was on a pretty steep learning curve,” Brandes admits. She recalls the precise moment when she glimpsed her future as a conductor; with one gesture, she altered the shape of a phrase, and the orchestra responded. “I was looking at the second violinist, and she looked back at me with this radiant smile. That was it, and then I was really bitten by the bug.”

Brandes went on to conduct Amelia al Ballo, Die Fledermaus and several new chamber operas at San Francisco State. She had just been accepted into The Dallas Opera Hart Institute for Women Conductors when the pandemic hit, but the program continued over Zoom and culminated with a week on site. “I thought, ‘All signs are pointing in this direction,’ and so I left my golden handcuffs of tenure,” she says. “It was in part this Covid thinking of ‘If I knew I was gonna be dead in four years, is this what I’d want to be doing?’ And the answer was a very quick no. I’d rather just take the leap. And I’m super, super pleased that I did.”

This month, Brandes makes her Seattle Opera conducting debut with Alcina, having previously appeared onstage there as Pamina in Die Zauberflöte, Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro and Cleopatra in Giulio Cesare. Tim Albery directs, and Vanessa Goikoetxea sings the title role.

Christine Brandes made her Seattle Opera singing debut in 2007 as Cleopatra in Handel’s Julius Caesar, pictured here with Anna Burford as Caesar. © Bill Mohn.

Before rehearsals began, Brandes told Seattle Opera she considers her background as a singer to be a secret weapon for success: “Being a singer and having been on the other side of the pit is sort of my superpower,” said Brandes. “It gives me a much more intuitive relationship with the singers and the ability to react more quickly and subtly to their needs. Alcina is a visceral piece with such fully realized, relatable characters—I hope the audience feels immediately drawn into the emotional landscape of the story and swept along by this amazing music.”

Read more at Opera News, and don’t miss your chance to see Maestro Brandes in action when she makes her Seattle Opera conducting debut in Alcina, October 14−28. Tickets and info at

No comments:

Post a Comment