Carlo Rizzi holds Welsh National Opera very close to his heart. He has served two tenures as music director of the company (even learning Welsh to the extent of being able to be interviewed in the language on the S4C television channel), and is currently conducting two Rossini operas with the company.
When I last caught up with the maestro it was in 2000, at the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, the composer’s birthplace. He had conducted a late-night performance of La Cenerentola and we spent the next morning discussing his enthusiasm for Rossini’s work.
An enthusiasm which remains undiminished after all these years.
“Rossini, like Mozart and Bach, is one of the composers whose work is the ‘summa’ of a style or of a musical period. There are many things to admire in Rossini: his skill in mastering the form of both opera buffa and opera seria, his almost mythical prolificacy, his inspired melodies, his unstoppable rhythm and his knack for comic situation in his opera buffa,” Carlo explains.
He is now preparing to conduct two operas in WNO’s current tour, William Tell (Rossini’s final opera, before he retired into creative cookery) and Moses in Egypt.
“Having said that, Guillaume Tell and Mose in Egitto are both special cases in his production. Tell is his last opera and is completely different from the 38 operas that he wrote before,” he explains.
“Here Rossini looks forward to the new genre of Grand Opera that just started in Paris and gives us a work where we can hear the sounds of a world that has yet to come.
“We can hear the sound-world of Schubert, of the first Verdi and even (in the glorious finale) of Wagner. Mose in Egitto is different for other reasons. This is the only opera that is described by Rossini as “azione tragico sacra”, almost an oratorio, where the drama is more in the music than in the stage situation.
"In this work Rossini gives us the best moments in the ensemble pieces, in the quartet, the quintet and in the wonderful tune of the Preghiera “Dal tuo stellato soglio”. Even if the writing here is more traditional than in Guillaume Tell, in this opera Rossini has created some of the best pages of his work.”
There was once a famous meeting between Rossini and Wagner (the Italian composer famously referring elsewhere to the German’s “bad quarters-of-an-hour”), and Carlo conducts them both, with equal success. How does his approach between the two differ?
“Conducting Wagner and conducting Rossini are two different things, not only for the conductor, but also for the orchestra, the choirs and the principals. As conductor I need to create a different sound with the orchestra for each different composer, so a big part of my job is to express through my hands and my words the kind of articulation, emission and balance within the orchestra and even within a single section of the orchestra.”
And Carlo also enjoys conducting out of the opera-pit and into the concert-hall, as he explains, telling me about the composers he especially enjoys programming.
“I’m particularly attracted to the possibility of the sound that a symphonic orchestra can create, therefore I like very much to conduct impressionistic music, Ravel and Debussy in particular.
"I find the mix of the different instruments and the harmonic language of these two composers very exciting and challenging at the same time. Exciting because when you get it right it is like you can produce a palette of all the possible colours that we can imagine; difficult because to achieve this it is necessary to have a very detailed and rigorous rehearsal process.”
And Carlo has a busy schedule stretching into the future.
“I have many exciting projects in my calendar in the years ahead, both in the concert hall and in the theatre. For example this year I will go back to La Scala in my native city Milan, and this is always a nice thing.
“With Tell and Mose in Egitto I have arrived at conducting operas number 95 and 96 in my repertoire. Only four more to arrive at 100 titles! I know the next two new titles that I will conduct (one is next year with WNO – Bellini’s I Puritani), and I can’t wait to choose the other two to arrive at the big number. Exciting!”
*Welsh National Opera is in residence at Birmingham Hippodrome.
November 19 Carmen (7.15pm)
November 20 Carmen (7.15pm)
November 21 Moses in Egypt (7.15pm)
November 22 William Tell (6.30pm).
All details on 0844 338 5000 or visit the WNO website.