You’re conducting Rusalka at the Opéra Bastille. In your opinion, what are the characteristics of Antonín Dvořák’s music?
music is the result of a rich synthesis of European styles and proof of his
command of a musical art which, in reality, is representative of his own style.
Dvořák is certainly no modernist (we can detect the influences of Wagner as
well as the Russian and Italian schools in his music), however, he succeeded in
developing a unique and distinctive world. As performers, we must respect the
Czech style so admirably represented by Czech conductors like Rafael Kubelík
and Karel Ančerl. Sometimes, I find that Dvořák’s music is played rather
solemnly. Conversely, when you hear traditional Czech orchestras play Dvořák,
the character of the music and the orchestral colours are totally different:
and that, in particular, comes from the language. I really appreciate that
style of playing.
In terms of vocality, how do you get as close as possible to the sound of the spoken Czech language?
Do you think that Rusalka is infused with the composer’s symphonic work?
Can we say that Rusalka is the culmination of a wide array of musical ideas associated with theatre?
obvious. The libretto is excellent. Furthermore, all the operas that have been
hugely successful have two elements of quality: a libretto and a score in
harmony with each another. The work's overall dramaturgy has to function. In Rusalka,
there’s a great deal of humour in the libretto which is translated by Dvořák
into the music. This is also reflected in Rusalka’s suffering and the prince’s
anguish. In my opinion, the musical idea must echo the original idea of the
text. My role, as a performer is to understand the composer’s intention, which
can often be found in the libretto. Dvořák uses musical ideas in a highly
organic way, which makes them less recognisable to the ear than Wagner’s leitmotifs,
for example. The work and the composer’s intention are one and the same thing.
I try to go beyond the notes to make them come alive. Understanding the
composer’s intention allows us to translate it musically.
When you conduct the orchestra do you weave links with Robert Carsen’s production?
Carsen has come up with a psychoanalytical interpretation of the original tale
in which Rusalka is prompted to explore her passage into adulthood through an
initiatory journey. All tales tell a story which goes beyond their literal
message. In this production, the ending is ambiguous. There’s a beauty in
sadness “like a smile with tears”. Portraying that is difficult. However, by
bringing together the text and the composer’s intention, it is possible to find
the requisite magic. Adapting my conducting to the stage direction is
essential, but it’s all the more important when voices are involved. For
example, in this production, the witch Ježibaba is not presented in a
Machiavellian or caricatural way. Instead, she comes across as a woman of
experience. On the other hand, the music inextricably contains some snappy
sounds. I need to retain that aspect otherwise I’ll contradict the composer’s
message. It’s all a question of balance between emphasis on the music and
emphasis on the staging. The exchanges with the director are always
fascinating. As the conductor, my role is to respect what is written in the
score. We have truly succeeded when we manage to find a common solution.