Rehearsal Style and Opera Conducting
13 What is the best way to explain something to get players to play something the way you want it?
Well I mean you have to explain everything that needs explanation, you have to explain according to the present need of that particular passage or movement what have you, one, tries to explain things, but it’s much better not to have to explain it, but to just do it, and hope that the players will just follow one’s emanations, in doing the expression that you want, and I’ll tell you, a great example of that method, is Gergiev, who never rehearses and who leaves everything to the last minute, and comes late to performances and that kind of thing, but he does express what he feels about the music, and the players all seem to understand him, but he doesn’t talk he doesn’t have to explain it in words, he thinks he can do it absolutely without any explanation, only by his hand movements and his emanations.
14 How did you persuade an orchestra and singers to play ornaments to be authentic?
I’m not sure I’d use the word ‘authentic’ anymore, when I first did “Figaro” with ornamentation, or the “Messiah”, I had to explain a little bit what I wanted, but most of them took it up very well, and were very interested in the whole thing, and didn’t argue really, they were interested in the whole idea in the first place before I even started.
AEH: So they were on your side really?
CM: Well yes.
15 If something in not right do you stop immediately and correct it or do you continue and then go back?
I would continue and then go back, players don’t liked being stopped immediately, and they don’t liked being stopped, obviously they don’t really like being stopped at all, you can usually, well I think it’s a good idea even a movement, which is well known to play quite a lot of it before you start stopping and then explaining things.
16 If you go back to a certain rehearsal point do you explain why you have chosen that particular point?
Oh yes you say well, just go back to letter A and don’t forget so and so, that’s got to be fortissimo, or piano, don’t forget that’s got to be piano, got to be soft, I don’t necessarily explain why I’m going back to that particular letter, because most of the players will realise why you’re doing it.
AEH: right because in my rehearsals, what’s happening Charlie, is I say something’s not quite right, let’s go back to letter A or whatever, and they say to me later on in the pub, you should explain exactly why you’re going from that particular bar, that particular point, you should give a good reason for it, so I say to them well its one of three things, either the rhythm isn’t right, or the notes aren’t right, or you haven’t accented or played the dynamics correctly, and it’s usually one of those three things.
CM: here that’s right, no you don’t, it’s a very risky thing, very risky because, you could usually leave it to the players to sort out intonation, I mean I did the prelude to “Tristan” not long ago, at a Philharmonia concert, and of course there’s, da da de da, those chords are terribly difficult to play in tune, beautifully, but they first of all the players did know the piece, and secondly they quickly got together and rehearsed that themselves till they got it right which they did almost immediately. I’m sorry I can’t quite remember what the question was. Yes it’s usually obvious.
17 How do you inspire the musicians to get the best out of them?
Well I mean I don’t know, you hope to share as it were the enthusiasm, your own enthusiasm for the music, and hope that they will be inspired by this thought, and that they will be inspired by first of all the music and secondly by the conductor.
18 Do you rely on singers coming in or do you always cue them?
Well you have to cue them quite often in opera because. although there’s usually a prompter in opera, the habit of having a prompter automatically, is actually going out of fashion because it’s so obvious when there’s somebody there sitting in a box, shouting out the text to the singers, whether they need it or not, but I’ve got to say, that particularly when there’s no prompter, I do give leads to the singers much more often than I would if ah, what am I trying to say, if there were a prompter who takes all the responsibility off the conductor’s shoulders, if there’s a prompter, but otherwise I must say I do give more cues to singers than I would normally do in a concert, say.
AEH: Right, just to make sure?
AEH: and they always watch and look at you?
AEH: you’re always there.
CM: yes they watch the conductor, but they’re not supposed to be seen to be watching the conductor!
AEH: and they’re acting as well.
CM: yes exactly!
AEH: that makes a lot of sense.
CM: so many opera houses have mirrors on either side of the stage, so the singer can look sideways, and look at the mirror and see the reflection of the conductor there.
19 How different is conducting opera to conducting orchestral music?
Oh, so very different, because of what I was just saying, that the singers are acting and trying to do a dramatic performance as well, assuming he conducts correctly with the right expression, and as I’ve said they frequently have mirrors and you know monitors showing images of the conductor in various positions so that the singer doesn’t have to watch the front all the time, watch the conductor straight, but also sideways.
AEH: right so it’s very different from
CM: certainly is, read my book, read my chapter on conducting opera, Cambridge book. You’ll never believe that the opening aria [of] the Seraglio was so complicated, that my boss at Hamburg used to say, that he could tell if a man was a proper opera conductor, by just hearing that very first number in the Seraglio, hearing how the conductor, conducted it. When he was looking for a person to replace me when I took the job at the Covent Garden, the Coliseum, you know, when he was looking for this person to replace me, he always asked them to do like matinees, and the “Seraglio”, and I said to Liebermann once, I mean what could you tell from that, and he said “I don’t have to see more than the first number, to see if that man is a good opera conductor” and of course that’s the thing you have to move on and the singers running out of breath, or you have to slow up if the singer needs time to take a breath, well I mean you have to accompany the singer, and the art of opera conducting is in my view, deciding when you’re following the singer and when he’s following you.
AEH: but you know how they’re going to sing it, because of the rehearsal, and the singer singing from moment to moment and you go along with it
CM: yes that’s right.
AEH: almost like an improvisation I suppose.
CM: yes in a way, it’s feeling each other, and feeling how they’re doing it.