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Volume 25 Issue 5 - February 2020

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Visions of 2020! Sampling from back to front for a change: in Rearview Mirror, Robert Harris on the Beethoven he loves (and loves to hate!); Errol Gay, a most musical life remembered; Luna Pearl Woolf in focus in recordings editor David Olds' "Editor's Corner" and in Jenny Parr's preview of "Jacqueline"; Speranza Scappucci explains how not to reinvent Rossini; The Indigo Project, where "each piece of cloth tells a story"; and, leading it all off, Jully Black makes a giant leap in "Caroline, or Change." And as always, much more. Now online in flip-through format here and on stands starting Thurs Jan 30.


OPERA SPOTLIGHT Always Asking Why SPERANZA SCAPPUCCI, conductor LYDIA PEROVIĆ Will there come a time when we journalists will be able to stop making a big deal out of women conductors? We are not there yet – systemic barriers in the profession remain all too real – but the fact that we can already see such a time on the horizon is thanks to the critical cohort of women in their 30s, 40s and 50s who have more than paid their dues in the industry and are now toppling the dams everywhere, finding themselves equally at home in opera and symphonic music, and combining associate principal positions with at least one directorship. We are talking people like Susanna Mälkki, Xian Zhang, Keri-Lynn Wilson, Dalia Stasevska, Gemma New, Han-na Chang, and the conductor currently in charge of the COC’s The Barber of Seville (January 19 to February 7), Speranza Scappucci. Piano study since the age of five; degrees from the Conservatory of Music Santa Cecilia in Rome and the Juilliard School; nine years as the rehearsal conductor with Ricardo Muti; 15 years as a répétiteur in some of the most prestigious opera houses in Europe; fluency in English, Italian, French, German – even with such a résumé and experience, the switch to full time conducting wasn’t immediate. “It helped that I have worked as a coach in so many places and that I know the opera world well already,” recalls Scappucci. “But trying to break that wall between the categories – convincing people to see that yes I was a good répétiteur and can also be a good conductor, that was a challenge sometimes. People like to put you in a box. So they’ll think, ‘Oh she’s a pianist, and pianist primarily.’” It wasn’t a long uphill battle, however. “I think I was lucky that it happened in a historic moment when it was becoming more open for women to make that transition. If I had tried ten years ago, I expect it would have been harder.” And then there were colleagues who saw something in her from very early on: “People like Francesca Zambello, and the artistic director of the Macerata Opera Festival who gave me my Italian debut, or Emilio Sagi in Spain whom I have worked with – they all felt that there was something there to be explored and gave me my first chances,” she says. “And from then on things have started rolling.” They’ve continued rolling so well that the Romeborn conductor is now the music director in Belgium’s Opéra Royal de Wallonie Liège, has conducted in opera houses in Vienna, Zurich, Washington, Barcelona, Rome, and L.A. and is debuting this season in Toronto, the Paris National Opera and at the Tokyo Spring Festival. She is open to all kinds of repertoire – her ideal season, were she to be an artistic director of an opera house, would include a little bit of everything in between the back ends of Baroque and contemporary music – but these days she is most often found conducting the Italian 19th century, from the bel canto years until the late-style Verdi. What would she say to opera lovers who aren’t huge fans of Rossini and bel canto, who find it all repetitive, too focused on the vocal fireworks, hampered with weak librettos? Her answer is multipronged. It matters who sings it, of course. “With all of Rossini – and same for Bellini and Donizetti - you need these super voices who are technically very advanced. If you don’t have the right tenor in I Puritani, for example, you can’t do it.” And this is the reason why we don’t often see operas like Tancredi or Guglielmo Tell – works more complex than Rossini’s comedies: they’re not the easiest to cast. I tell her that for me there are only certain singers who can bring Rossini to life, like Cecilia Bartoli or Anna Bonitatibus – and ask her who else should I look for. “There are a few great Rossini singers of the new generation (there have been many in the past), like Paolo Bordogna, Bruno de Simone, Nicola Alaimo, Juan Diego Flórez, Lawrence Brownlee. They do other repertoire too, but they’re particularly good in bel canto.” They tend to be Italian? “Not necessarily… I just did Cenerentola in Liège with Karine Deshayes who was excellent, and there’s a new South African tenor who’s incredible in this rep, Levy Sekgapane. And let’s not forget Jessica Pratt.” But while singing is important in bel canto, it’s not the only thing that makes or breaks those operas. She concedes: “There’s been a tradition of focusing the attention only on the singing in this repertoire. And that’s a mistake. The orchestra is just as important in bel canto. The orchestra is not just an accompaniment to the singing. The orchestra is what propels the energy of the work. How you shape the music can change completely the sensation that the listener will have – they’ll be moved, not moved, bored to death. It’s not all about the singing; it’s the singing and the orchestra and the chorus. The 16 | February 2020

orchestra has to be refined, always, in its sound. Rossini’s orchestration is closer to Mozart than we presume.” There are also traditions of performing Rossini that have become dominant in the course of the last decades but are nowhere to be found in the original score as Rossini wrote it, says Scappucci. “We have to respect the composer and try to understand why the music was written the way it was written,” she says. “If Rossini doesn’t change the tempo in certain parts of the Barber, but for the last 50 years conductors have been deciding that we’re going to go drastically slower – why? Why did that tradition come in? Is it a good tradition or does it make more sense the way he wrote it? For example, when Figaro comes near the end of act one and tells the count ‘watch it!’ – Signor giudizio, per carità – the beat stops completely. It doesn’t even sound logical – if you’re amidst chaos and take somebody aside to tell him something, would you slow down? No. You stay in tempo. Otherwise Rossini would have written something like piu lento, col canto, rallentando, free. Performing Rossini is full of things like that.” She sings another example, a little later in the same act, when the police knock on the door and everything stops, followed by the next line slowed down: Zitti, che battono. “Why ignore the tempo? Is it because it’s easier to conduct the slower stuff – or is the time meant to have stopped? Usually I go back to see what Rossini tried to do. Does it make sense the way he wrote it? And sure, it doesn’t always – but it’s worth trying to see if doing it the way it’s written is more effective than the path usually travelled.” Riccardo Muti too is known for precision and research of this kind, as well as the mockery of some of the crustier traditions of performing Italian rep. (Search on YouTube for the clip from his onstage interview with Harvey Sachs about Toscanini, in which he defends Italian opera from its own performing traditions. It went viral for a reason.) Scappucci possessed this rigour even before meeting Muti, but working with him has certainly fuelled it, she says. And so we turn to the topic of Italian musical heritage – gigantic, globally celebrated. And yet somewhat under-supported at home? “If Rossini doesn’t change the tempo in certain parts of the Barber, but for the last 50 years conductors have been deciding that we’re going to go drastically slower – why? Why did that tradition come in? Is it a good tradition or does it make more sense the way he wrote it? Emily D’ Angelo as Rosina and Vito Priante as Figaro in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of The Barber of Seville, 2020. Franz Lehár’s The Merry Widow Friday, February 28, 2020 at 7:30 pm Sunday, March 1, 2020 at 2:00 pm MICHAEL COOPER Geoffrey Butler, Music Director Tickets : 905 787. 8811 • Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts February 2020 | 17

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