This marks your first season as music director with Glyndebourne on Tour. What’s the company like to work with?
I worked with Glyndebourne Opera this summer, so it feels like a return to a family environment. It’s a fantastic combination of things – professionalism, spark, and a friendly atmosphere. Often you meet ensembles with a lot of tensions and backstage problems. This isn’t true in Glyndebourrne. It’s very human, somehow. The tour mirrors the summer festival. The only difference is the singers are younger, less known.
Can you give us a quick guide to Mozart’s Don Giovanni, which you’re conducting on tour?
If I had to choose which Mozart opera to do, I would choose Don Giovanni. I’m not anything like an early music specialist, but the stylistic meaning of this piece is broad and rich, it can be approached from any listeners’ position. It’s maybe the most psychologically rich of all operas. The characters and their depiction in both the music and the staging is remarkable. The opera is one of those which will always be valid and important – whenever there are instances of seducers and victims. Mozart’s music brings it this universal plot to life in an understandable and divine way.
Is it challenging for a conductor?
Balance is a challenge. Keeping the balance between the almost Romantic plot, the depth of characters and drama with the structure and style of the Classical period. Also balance between sound and stage concerns, thoughtful meanings with speed and freshness. Today the score’s often heard in the hands of so-called authenticists. Glyndebourne on Tour is not that kind of band. We play modern instruments, so it has to be cast on the instruments in a way that’s suitable for the piece.
Do you have a favourite moment?
I don’t want to be too shallow, but one of my favourite moments is the first chord. I always try to imagine the effect it had on the first listeners of the opera. It must have been a terrible shock. One of the orchestra players told me that, even though he’d played it probably hundreds of times, when he’s sitting in the pit waiting for the opera to start and that first, horrifying D minor chord comes in, all the little hairs on his hand are suddenly raised. He has goosebumps. It’s so dramatic. In this production it’s done as a complete surprise. It’s not like the conductor comes in, lights fade and there’s applause – the staging works with the shock.
How does working with individual singers affect your interpretation?
In preparation you have to put the nature of each singer into your conception of the opera. You can’t prepare at home. Singing is so undetachable from body, mind and nature that you have to embrace what the singer brings. As a conductor, you have to influence the singer and I try to do that in a warm and non-conflicting way. Singers fascinate me. One thing’s clear – they are very fragile human beings. It’s as if they’re naked on stage – you can’t hide any aspects of your personality, and either you win or lose. You don’t have the help of music in front of you and it has to be memorised perfectly, often in a foreign language. You have to consider the music, the conductor, your colleagues, costumes. I always feel humble towards singers and respect anybody who can be a great figure on stage. They sell the opera, not the conductor.
Interview by Rebecca Franks
Glyndebourne Touring Opera and Jakub Hrůša perform Mozart’s Don Giovanni on 25 & 28 October, 5, 9, 12, 19, 23, 26 & 30 November and 4 December 2010