Getting to know Lyric Opera music director Enrique Mazzola



Any conductor who steers a company of lyric opera stature is going to be a globe-trotter—no two ways about it. it is practically day Orchestra or opera heads to spend only a few months per year in their employer’s home city. Take the oft-repeated, perhaps apocryphal story about Herbert von Karajan. When a taxi driver from New York once asked the late maestro where he was going, Karajan waved to him: “No problem – I’m in demand everywhere.”

In comparison, Lyric Opera music director Enrique Mazzola’s embrace of his adopted city is a breath of fresh air. since being nominated Nominated conductor in 2019, the Spanish-born Italian conductor has spent almost half a year here making Chicago his primary residence. When he is “home”, Mazzola documents his rambles around town. on InstagramA red-glassed spin on “Where’s Waldo”.

Mazzola’s wide-eyed enthusiasm on all things Chicago seems to be the hallmark of a more green condor. But Mazola, 54, has been more than around the block. During our conversation over breakfast (coffee and croissant at the Gold Coast eatery, not far from his dig at Hancock), he realized that this spring marks 30 years since his professional debut. Since then, Mazzola has made top appointments at the Orchester National d’le de France, the Deutsche Oper Berlin, and the Bregenz Festival — and of course, Lyric, where she plays this season’s “Ernani,” “Don Carlos,” “Le Comte Ory”. “Leading. “And Kevin Putts’ 2019 concert drama “The Brightness of Light,” based on letters between actors Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz.

Here’s the conversation, excerpted and edited below:

My father was a coach at La Scala and my mother was a dancer. You might say, “Well, of course you’d be a musician.” But I also had a brother and a sister who studied music like me and who are not musicians. Therefore, I am the only one in the family.

I started with violin and piano, but I was a little lazy initially. I began studying composition when I was 14 years old (at the Conservatorio Giuseppe Verdi in Milan). It was fascinating to me to know the reasons why a musician wrote in a particular genre. It was as if I was a marine explorer, leaving the coast and drawing a new map.

The other thing was that I joined the children’s chorus at La Scala, singing several titles with (Claudio) Abbado, Carlos Kleber, Georges Pretre, Seiji Ozawa… It’s like a little duck. I really remember the moment when I thought, “I’ll do what this man is doing.” Perhaps from the time I arrived in Chicago, I realized that my passion for opera came from a time when I was probably eight, nine, 10 years old. Even now, major rehearsals with some of the world’s greatest musicians, when I go on stage to give a note to a singer, I smell the stage dust — sweat, old costumes — and I think, “Okay, this is where I belong.”

I try to be very modern in my use of social media and living my life, but really, I had what I call an old-fashioned career. Today, young conductors are sometimes introduced to major orchestras and opera houses after a year at their own risk. If it goes well, we have a new star. But if it goes bad, we burn them. I doubt this new model. conduct is social work; A conductor is the master of cooperation, of empathy, of group psychology. You need time to learn these things.

I was Terrifying When I started operating I thought we were in Karajan’s time now, so I began to be a petty dictator. Then, when my manager told me I was being too harsh, I went the opposite – I dropped everything. For example, if the intonation wasn’t good in Woodwinds, I didn’t stop (rehearse). Then, my manager said, “Okay, but now the orchestra is complaining that you’re not busy enough.”

To find the right balance, I learned that I had to be myself. Because as a person, I’ve always been like that – sunny, friendly. Still, it took me five years of adjustment to do it on the podium and to learn to share the power and responsibility. In “Ernani,” the singer and I share the tempo together.

We couldn’t have imagined a better cast than this. Everyone was very ready. What makes him a unique artist is that he is very aware of what it means to have a Wordian voice. We have four word principals (Tenor Russell Thomas, Soprano Tamara Wilson, Baritone Quinn Kelsey, and Bass-Baritone Christian Van Horn) With knowledge of correct Italian pronunciation and Verdi phrase development, Verdi pronunciation, Verdi strength and weight … I had very few things to add to the rehearsals.

Actually, the rehearsals went very fast, because the opera Is Not in fast – (pacing), but in tempi. I believe “Ernani” to be one of Verdi’s fastest operas. The score also has some “velocissimos” – a technical term you would normally say for a car, not for tempo! is a ferrari Velose, is an F1 velocissimo,

Many people have asked me about Verdi’s conducting of “Don Carlos” for the first time in the original French version (which is five acts long and rarely staged compared to later revisions, which are translated into Italian). Has been done). But I don’t have a big problem with it. At the Deutsche Oper Berlin, where I am a principal guest conductor, I played a cycle of Meyerbeer Grand Opera. In French, (as well as) “Les Vépresses Sicilians”, which is Verdi’s first French grand opera. Therefore, I feel very comfortable with the old grand opera style – epic, historical plot, expansive choral scene, conflict between religious and secular… I am so close to the grand tradition of opera that I could not even imagine starting with the Italian version of “Carlos”!

I have been involved in programming at Lyric since I was named music director, Before COVID, so I agreed to do “Don Carlos” and worked a lot with (General Director Anthony) Freud this season. I love that there’s a programming collegiate here – we’re brainstorming together. But every title depends on several factors: How many years ago was the opera last performed? How many tickets to the opera are estimated to sell? How will the marketing be? It’s actually a very complicated process to build a season, which is the result of huge teamwork.

Now, after many years, after many years of exploring Italian early romanticism, I would like to begin an exploration of German Early Romanticism. I will conduct (Robert Schuman’s) “Rhenish” symphony with the Detroit Symphony in December, then, in 2024, I will perform my first “Freischutz” (by Carl Maria von Weber) at the Bregenz Festival. We’ll see what happens in Lyric, but I can say that “Freischütz” won’t be the only one.

Mazzola hosts “Ernani” until October 1, tickets $40–$330, followed by “The Brightness of Light” October 8 at 7:30 pm, tickets $35–180, at Chicago’s Lyric Opera, 20n Upper Wacker Drive;

Hannah Edgar is a freelance writer.

The Rubin Institute for Music Criticism helps fund our classical music coverage. The Chicago Tribune exercises editorial control over assignments and content.


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