Conductors notes for a newly commissioned opera almost always begin with a statement declaring what a challenge and privilege it is to bring a new work to life, and indeed it is, but it is equally so much more than that. An extremely talented group of musicians and creators come together to bring to life a body of text which has been set to music. We are guided by the tale and the nuances and colours which the composer adds, but ultimately it is up to us, those of us who are in the rehearsal room, to interpret and bring this work to life. This is of course true of any staged musical work, however the process with which a new work is being created for the very first time is almost an entirely different one.
We spend the first three days of the rehearsal process clutching onto our scores, slowly and carefully piecing the score together for the first time. I find with contemporary works that while preparation is the key to making the process of staging smooth, no amount of preparation makes the first few days any less challenging. This initial period gives everyone a chance to really try things out, suggest possible changes to anything in terms of character or pitches in vocal lines. It is a unique chance to be able to make alterations for a specific singers needs or for dramatic purposes.
Dani’s music is intensely rhythmic. The harmonic shifts are really familiar to the ear and the musical language with which she writes seems immediately accessible. However, learning this score for the singers is a real challenge. Each character has their own music, almost a leitmotif if you will, but on a more extensive scale. A lot of phrases being extremely similar, and repetitive, but ever so slightly different. Through the repetition we see these characters come to life and grow to love them, not just because of their story or the performers stagecraft or the wonderful voices performing them, but because of the development of their music language as well.
Similarly, the learning of all the detailed intricacies of the orchestral score is a slow process too. The orchestral writing in this work often breathes in different places from the vocal lines, making the challenges for a conductor slightly more complex. I must always breathe with the singers so as to support them and be ready to give a helping hand at any moment, but I must also breathe with the orchestra and bring the orchestral colours to life. Every day we notice something new, learn something unexpected and develop new thoughts which we hadn’t even considered the day before. Day by day, the music seeps into your minds and bodies and three weeks into this process, it already feels like we have known this work all of our lives. We leave the rehearsal room singing lines from the opera, we quote parts of the libretto to each other within other contexts, and this is when we know the work has paid off and that we all have the privilege to be creating something special and for the very first time.