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Die Zauberflöte: a musical collaboration

An interview with Henrik Nánási and Clemens Jüngling

Interviewed by Emilie Chatoux
Die Zauberflöte: a musical collaboration

Robert Carsen's production of Die Zauberflöte is back on the bill at the Opéra Bastille under the baton of Henrik Nánási. At the end of the dress-rehearsal, the Hungarian conductor and his musical assistant Clemens Jüngling spoke of their collaboration and their work together with Singspiel, Mozart’s last opera.


Is this the first time you’ve worked together on a production?

Henrik Nánási: This is indeed our first musical collaboration together, and what’s more, it’s at the Paris Opera. After a number of initial meetings in Berlin, we forged a special bond. We share similar visions and some of the same ideas about music and we also studied under the same teacher at the Vienna Academy of Music. That may seem like a minor detail but in reality, it’s a measure of trust that helped to facilitate the encounter.

Clemens Jüngling: It didn’t take long for us to establish a genuine artistic connection. It’s really convenient to be able to understand one another and share the same ideas when you’re working on a project together.

Henrik Nánási
Henrik Nánási © J. Henry Fair

Musically speaking, Henrik Nánási, has the work here proved to be any different from the last time you conducted it in Berlin?

HN: The score for Die Zauberflöte holds so many secrets, even though I’ve conducted it over 120 times in diverse places like Paris, Berlin, Barcelone, Rome, etc. It was also the very first work I ever conducted at the beginning of my career. Despite my particular affinity with the opera, each new production is a new aventure. A production like this is built around teamwork. In addition to my interpretation, the director’s vision and choice of staging, the artists bring a distinctive personal element which makes each new version unique.

How do you divide up the work? Clemens Jüngling, what is your primary role as assistant conductor?

CJ: As assistant conductor my job is to support the work of the conductor during rehearsals by noting the directions. I’m also responsible for building a solid relationship with the artists whom I know well. I ensure the preparation of the work and I pass on the maestro’s wishes and instructions to the performers. I also oversee rehearsals with the singers outside the on-stage work sessions. It’s a complex mission which not only requires a perfect command of the work but also a capacity to guide the artists so that they can interpret their roles to reflect the maestro’s wishes.

How do you manage to unify your artistic vision when you are both together on stage or in the orchestra pit?

CJ: I can’t say that we’re building an artistic vision together. Above all, in my role as an assistant, I have to be able to adapt to the conductor’s wishes. I mustn’t impose my own choice or musical preferences; instead, I need to understand the maestro’s sensibilities and desires so that I can help him to achieve them.

HN: Obviously, the conductor is the one who defines the performance of the work. Nevertheless, we are fortunate to be able to share the same musical spirit, which creates a common basis on which we can coordinate. Above all though, it’s been a wonderful moment and we’ve had a great deal of fun working together.

What vision would you like to convey in your interpretation of Die Zauberflöte?

HN: Die Zauberflöte is a highly complex work of art, both musically and symbolically. My primary challenge is to reflect the message conveyed by the work as effectively as possible.

The clearly-identifiable characters with their unique sensibilities, joys and doubts embody different aspects of the human condition which all of us might experience. We all have a little bit of Papageno or the Queen of the Night in us and that is what makes the narrative so fascinating and poignant to the audience.

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