Where were you born/where did you grow up and where are you living today?
Our bedroom’s window opened to Andrássy út across the Budapest Opera House. I spent my childhood watching this building where Gustav Mahler was opera director for a few years. When I was 8, I got my first subscription as a birthday present. I had a diary then, noting which singer I liked or disliked and why. Now I live in Berlin and Budapest.
When did you begin to understand you had a gift for music?
Coming from a musical and theatrical family this question was never asked. My father was a composer/conductor/ translater of operas into Hungarian and my mother should have become a singer. We discussed music, culture and literaure around the dinner table. I learned to read music before reading letters.
You have music in your bones. Is this natural or has it taken some training?
We were brought up by the Kodály method, an excellent school. Studying piano, violin and finally cello also helped. Training is very important at an erly age.
You play several instruments. Which of these would you say was your forte?
When I graduated with cello in Vienna, I realised that I am not really an instrumentalist. Repeating the same works and practicing for many hours didn’t appeal to me. I was interested in the meaning of music and art in general. And I was interested in working with people.
What does Iván Fischer like to do when he’s not being musical?
Now that I am also directing operas, this profession seems much more real: being responsible for the sound alone was never exciting. Being responsible for the essence of a work is really me.
You are the founder and Music Director of the Budapest Festival Orchestra, can you tell us about the company?
It is an excellent and innovative orchestra. I achieve the best results with them, although I am fortunate: I can work with the best orchestras of the world.
What are the secrets to being a good conductor?
You need to be a good, well trained musician, and a good, responsible human being. Conducting means absorbing the work completely and passing t it on to an orchestra and an audience. The absorbing process needs musical qulities and the sharing process needs human qualities.
In recent years you have been steadily gaining an international reputation as a composer. What has motivated you to begin creating new music?
I discovered this gift relatively late because I was so busy as a conductor. Composing needs time and a quiet place. Now I always compose in a small Hungarian village. It is the greatest pleasure at the moment.
You will be performing at this year’s Edinburgh International Festival, can you tell us about it?
Next to a concert I will present my Don Giovanni production that was first performed in Budapest and New York in 2011. Now I changed many details, extended the concept and I think this production can now be seen in a more mature version.
What does the rest of 2017 hold in store for Ivan Fischer?
Many tours and the finishing of my new children’s opera.
9 – 12 August 2017 : Festival Theatre
Scottish Opera – Puccini’s La Bohème
Eden Court’s Empire Theatre, Inverness
13th June 2017
Director Renaud Doucet and designer André Barbe open this production of Puccini’s La Boheme with a prologue which brilliantly blends the past and present together by presenting modern day tourists, complete with mobiles, mp3s and headphones browsing through a timeless Parisian flea market inspired by the Marché aux Puces de St Ouen, the largest flea market in Paris.
We are then transported back to the 1920’s Paris, the Années folles (crazy years) and time of the Lost Generation which were a group of creatives such as Ernest Hemmingway, Man Ray and Jean Coctau. Rodolfo (Christopher Turner) a poet and Marcello (David Stout) a painter are struggling to keep warm in their artists garrett, but are joined by friends who bring wood and alcohol and the lads begin to celebrate Christmas eve before they head out to party in the Latin quarter. Rodolfo stays behind to finish writing and falls in love with his ailing neighbour Mimi (Nadine Livingstone) who calls on him as she needs to relight her candle. The story follows the relationship trials of Rodolfo and Mimi and Marcello and the flamboyant Musetta played by Jeanine De Bique, who somewhat stole the show with her amazing voice and homage to Josephine Baker. Appart from a minor moment when Christopher Turner was drowned out by the orchestra, the four main characters gave good performances both in duet and in ensemble.
Puccini’s themes of love, friendship, illness, and struggling to make ends meet are just as relevant today, the beautiful and vibrant art Deco set and intelligent movement between past and contemporary Paris really highlighted that connection. It was indeed a pleasure to discover La Bohème for the first time.
Reviewer : Zoe Gwynne
31st March & 1st April
Last weekend I had the immeasurable delight of catching two of Ellen Kent’s 2017 operas. Nabucco & Aida, both by Verdi. This composer has a special place in Ellen’s heart, & handling Nabucco especially is always an emotional experience for her, having been the first opera she ever produced. This was Friday’s opera, & seeing as my two daughters (ages 7 & 9) had invited their pals for a sleepover – I mused upon introducing them to the opera while they were under my wings, so to speak. So gaining permission from the other poems, we dressed accordingly & all went to the opera.
Nabucco is an Italian-language opera composed in 1841 by Giuseppe Verdi to a libretto by Temistocle Solera. In essence, Nabucco is a collection of Old Testament tales which follow the adventures oof teh Jews as they are persecuted by King Nabucco (Nebuchadnezzar II). It is globally famous for the epic, cinematic, hauntingly melodic Va Pensiero – Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves – & Ellen Kent’s inescapable penchant & reputation for handling such potentially hot potatoes with professional & entertaining creativity was proven yet again. My girls simply adored the magic of the moment. ‘Mother, do they sing all the way through?‘ asked my seven year old, but then returned the gaze mesmerised to the stage. Enraptured by the spectacular visual feast before them – including a real horse & the startling burning down of Solomon’s temple – French soprano Olga Perrier ‘s brilliant Abigaille, Moldovan baritone Iurie Gisca’s moody Nabucco & the orchestra’s sublime emotions, four of us fell in love with the opera that night, while the other – myself – could not wait until the morrow.
Thursday 30th March
Is it that time of year already, when the fabulous Ellen Kent invites us all to her private operatic society, in order for us to become more educated, lets say, in what an opera should be. She & her Moldovan maestros are in Scotland for a wee while, of which stint Ellen told The Mumble in an earlier interview, ‘There’s something atmospheric about Edinburgh – I love the Playhouse – I always make a point of coming up to Edinburgh for the shows & this year I’ll be staying for all three. I do like Scotland, what is there not to like, I’ve got my shows there, we’ve just played Glasgow Concert Hall – I have to say we get well over a thousand people every night – its just a pleasure, people come in a big way. OK, Edinburgh is a bit of a mission to fill – its a bit big – but I do Glasgow, I do Dundee, I do Edinburgh – I just love Scotland, but particularly Edinburgh, its one of my favorite cities.’ As always she is serving up a three-course meal, with the starter being Puccini’s inimitable La Boheme. Set in Paris & sung in Italian, its four acts tell the story of a poet called Rodolfo, his musewoman Mimì, & her tragic early end. The title comes from Puccini’s activities in the early 1890s, of which Robert Beale told the Mumble; ‘he & a few friends formed what they called the ‘Boheme Club’, meeting in an old hut near Puccini’s villa at Torre del Lago in Tuscany. Some were locals & some from the group of painters who worked in the area. They got together to eat, play cards & drink & had a set of rules which included ‘The treasurer is empowered to abscond with all the funds’ & ‘It is forbidden to play cards honestly.’ By 1896 the opera was ready, & after its first performance in Turin, at the Teatro Regio, it has projected far beyond its early dilettante status into a true stellar satellite of the operatic pantheon.
La Boheme is also one of Ellen Kent’s favorites, & the care she has shown for the piece with this particular production reflects her love completely. Her backdrops are magnificent, & their place in this opera was described by Ellen in her interview; ‘I love art – my great friend is Ralph Steadman – I see opera in pictures – I am very filmic, accompanied by beauty. La Boheme indulges that, each scene reflects a French Impressionist style or painting – my act 1 is more Renoir, for example.‘ In fact, perhaps they were a little too magnificent, for the scene transitions did linger a little too long, I thought, but as soon as the transition was complete all was forgotten. You simply cannot rush genius, & Ellen Kent has something of Da Vinci’s eye when it comes to an aesthetic. In Act 2 we have the Jardin des Tuileries on market day, an exquisite scene with brilliant costumes, a brass band & marching children. Even better was melodramatic Act 3, which contained a constant & enigmatic snowfall. All in all, a spectacle showing how Ellen Kent applies her mind mind to a classic art form, & reinvents it with pitch-perfect vigour.
The libretto – by Luigi Illica & Giuseppe Giacosa – is a perfect thing, especially come the sweet-scented fragrance of Rodolfo’s love lyrics to Mimi. Lines such as ‘Because I am the poet, she is poetry,‘ & ‘in blissful poverty I squander rhymes & song of love like a rich man… I have the spirit of a millionaire,’ float down straight from the slopes of Parnassus. The singers were positively excellent, with Giorgio Meladze’s Rodolfo maintaining a sustained majesty through his rather difficult part. At times it seems as if his voice were a chamber orchestra, all playing the same note in perfect harmony. He also managed to pull of the gay opening, a difficult to perform romp through Parisian bohemia; but there was a fine bouncy rapport between the five actors, as if they were the operatic prototypes of the three-stooges. It was also adorable to watch Rodolfo sing with, act alongside & caress with much sweetness with his co-star, Alyona Kistenyova. There was an exceptional sweet chemistry between them, their voices interweaving like branches of ivy snaking up a single polar tree. Together they invoked in me a genuine pathos at the end, when Mimi boarded her death-bed just as Keats mounted the Spanish Steps. Another young English poem sprang to mind as Mimi stretched her arm with her final breath, & created an image I had seen before, concerning the Death of Thomas Chatterton, & I am curious to know if Ellen was aware of this in her conscious or subconscious mind. Kistenyaova’s soprana, however, was outdazzled I think by Olga Perrier’s Musetta, who looked, moved & sounded amazing. From the moment she glided onto stage in a pink dress in Act 2, leading a lovely white Scottish Terrier, she dominated the stage with her glitzy style & splendid arias. Her dog had won a recent competition advertised in the Edinburgh Evening News, & though a little bamboozled at times, was calm enough to let the opera flow about it with nothing so much as a bark. A tremendous effort from the insatiably high-standard-setting Ellen Kent.
Reviewer : Damian Beeson Bullen
One of the most important & influential figureheads in world opera is rolling back into Edinburgh with this weekend with three operas on three separate nights. The Mumble managed to catch up with her in the foyer of her Edinburgh hotel for a wee blether
THE MUMBLE : Hello Ellen, so when did your long love affair with opera begin?
ELLEN : About the age of about 6 I would imagine. I lived in India, I was born out there… my father was working for the High Commissioner down in the south of India. When I was born in 1949, my father worked for British India police. After the British had left in ’47, Nehru asked my father to stay on & control the whole of the south of India. So we lived in Bombay – or Mumbai, I remember it as Bombay. My mother was British Raj family, going back hundreds of years – my father actually was from Liverpool. My mother was totally in love with putting on the Operatic Society of Bombay Experience – she did Madame Butterfly, the local Christmas show, & at every opportunity she put me into it. I loved dressing up, I was always dressed up as some Maharashtran prince or something. There were the most wonderful costumes, I still remember them. Also, where mother loved opera, my father was equally as musical – he could play the piano by ear.
THE MUMBLE :For you, what are the key ingredients to a good opera?
ELLEN : A very strong story line. I like drama accompanied by beautiful music – which opera gives you. Yes, a combination of a strong story-line with a lot of melodrama… I love stories to go over the top a bit, I mean Ellen ‘over-the-top’ Kent is what people call me. Then of course there is the grandness, the largeness of it, the large scale-ness of it. The huge, massive epic-ness of opera.
THE MUMBLE : Does every opera have that quality?
ELLEN : No, not every one, but I always see it in rather large scale modes – probably because most of the venues I play at are quite big. My sets are always rather grand, rather beautiful. Opera is perfect for artistic directors with that love of grandness. Even La Boheme, where Puccini is going into the realness of opera, its reality opera which both he & Verdi went into. Verdi with La Traviata & Puccini with La Boheme. La Boheme can be done in an intimate, but also in a big way. La Boheme is a strong story set in Paris in the Latin quarters, but it has all that beautiful French Impressionistic opportunities – so my sets are quite big & I indulge myself. I love art – my great friend is Ralph Steadman – I see opera in pictures – I am very filmic, accompanied by beauty. La Boheme indulges that, each scene reflects a French Impressionist style or painting – my act 1 is more Renoir, for example.
THE MUMBLE : Does this mean you have a hand in almost everything concerning the production?
ELLEN : Yes, I am very OCD. I’ve spent my life in opera 24/7, its become almost like I am an opera It is like who is the real Ellen Kent, am I real or have invented myself. Its hard to tell
THE MUMBLE : Can you tell us about your relationship with the Chisinau National Opera & the Chisinau National Philharmonic?
ELLEN : A very long love affair which began in 1996/97. For a few years I ha been working with the Romanian National Opera, & brought them back to England. A very wonderful conductor who was conducting the Romanian National asked me one day if I had heard of the Maria Biesu festival in Chisinau. I said no, I haven’t heard of it, & where is Chisinau? He said its in Moldova, & I said wheres Moldova? He said why don’t you come with me. So we drove over the mountains on an overnight journey form Bucharest, & there was this wonderful city & this lovely country that was reminiscent of Provence in France, with the vineyards, & the wine, & the heat, & it was very close to Russia, very heavily influenced by Russia. Lots of investment, major big opera house, very civilised & sophisticated people, with a great sense of opera – all their sets were being designed by people who came from Moscow & I thought, ‘o my god, this is a magic, fairy country.’ That is when the love affair began & it is still going on. At the beginning I was getting involved more more & I decided I would direct the shows because I wasn’t happy with the acting. The singing was good but I couldn’t stand their acting. I’ve had a long mission that has turned my singers into performers, I spend every summer in Moldova to do it, but I think the results speak for themselves – there is a lot of drama on my stages. Using Chisinau as the core, I made an opera company by cherrypicking the best across eastern Europe… I now have a french soprano, an Italian tenor…
THE MUMBLE : You have a penchant for using an international cast. There must be difficulties & also advantages, could you elucidate please?
ELLEN : The only disadvantage are some of the language issues – the international people I bring in have to come to Chisinau – I put them up in apartments. They fly in from all over the world – from California, Japan even, from wherever. They are all artists & I find that they are actually on the whole very easy to work with because they are artistic. They are also all top professionals, they like what I do, they like touring Britain & the big venues when we go abroad. You do get the odd difficult one, but there is nobody who looks down their noses at anybody, its a very professional team I’ve got… I can be be quite tough.
THE MUMBLE : You are always coming back to Edinburgh, how do you find the city?
ELLEN : One of my absolute favorite cities, so beautiful, so historical. I’m part Scottish, you know, my father moved down to Liverpool from the Argyle peninsular. There’s something atmospheric about Edinburgh – I love the Playhouse – I always make a point of coming up to Edinburgh for the shows & this year I’ll be staying for all three. I do like Scotland, what is there not to like, I’ve got my shows there, we’ve just played Glasgow Concert Hall – I have to say we get well over a thousand people every night – its just a pleasure, people come in a big way. OK, Edinburgh is a bit of a mission to fill – its a bit big – but I do Glasgow, I do Dundee, I do Edinburgh – I just love Scotland, but particularly Edinburgh, its one of my favorite cities.
THE MUMBLE : What does the rest of 2017 hold in store for Ellen Kent?
ELLEN : We have operas already in preparation for next year. Madame Butterfly with a Japanese cast – I do like Oriental girls. Rigoletto in certain venues, with golden eagles, naked ladies & greyhounds. La Traviata another of my favorite operas. This Autumn I would also hope to be introducing a Russian-style spectacular – bringing in an an orchestral score, a named conductor 2-3 top singers, with the orchestra dressed in Traviata costumes. Should be special.
Les Malheurs d’Orfee / Le Vin Herbe
Royal Conservatoire Scotland
This being my very first live operatic experience, I was thrilled to be there, & all tangled up in an expectant mood. I took my seat to think about the night to come. The half size orchestra were warming up and the stage was set with easy-going props of small buildings purposed for trade, and a town set in the distance. We were to see two classics tonight – Les Malheurs d’Orfee & Le Vin Herbe – the converging of the evenings two performances a special occasion for Opera aficionados. Though I discovered there is a question among such folks as to whether these are actually operas at all.
The first of these two stories of love took the form of that operatic phenomena that I was expecting & excited to see. Acting, music and singing saw the characters compliment the story in song, bringing the lovers to life every time; Orphee, played by Alexey Gusev, and Euridice, played by Anne-Marie Loveday. The success of the evening’s first performance came from the glowing confidence, delicate moments & sheer power of the 12 or so cast members who put their voices together creating a unison for the story. This was a stunning start to my burgeoning sense of operatic appreciation, with those concise 40 minutes dreamed up by Milhaud a perfect taster for the art, with the Thracian bard himself singing as if he was on the slopes of Parnassus.
The stage was recast for the second performance of the evening; a much more opened space compared to the first. The orchestra now sat in a reworked way, and there were boxes across the stage in a semicircle with the addition of a singular pianist. The difference in stage-setting was also a difference in the style of writing between the two operas. As Le Vin Herbe rolled by in its many times bleak delivery, every dialogue seemed to be about death and was prolonged, so if there is a query as to whether this was an opera or not it was certainly inclusive in its makeup to become one. During the performance there were strong emotional responses from myself, and I presume for the other members of the audience. Some of the scenes I felt I could barely even live through, but to my delight there were long periods that I found held me both in gaze and in thought. The French libretto came deep and hard, but had a poetry and flow that was truly beautiful, in their inimitable concise shapes.
As the scenes were swapped about, positioning the boxes to suit the story, here was a great feeling that Frank Martin’s original vision was springing to life. There was a bleakness to the story that comes from its tragic roots, as the wind blows through sails and dresses. There was a certain dreadfulness that was great as the title of the show indicated. Because of the voyage in forests and at sea, it reminded me of Greek literature of Virgil or Homer. As the story blends such idioms, the many levels of greatness in the work became simultaneously apparent; musical performance and stagecraft which were especially adhering. They offered us a greatly dramatic vocal prose and softened down, without the comfort of peace or tranquility, to quietly whispering vocals of the pain of love. For me it was at times harder to understand the visual aspect that was inclusive of the singing. I understood the words fine, having read them on the prompter, but there was a sense of mystery to the act of observing the performers at hand. They seemed strange to me, as if they were there and not there at the same time, and when they held my gaze I felt slightly intimidated squirming in my seat. I guess I was feeling the true power of opera.
The only real reprieve during the performance from the tearful content was when they all sang together, blowing one’s mind as the wind assaults the sails; the great verbosity and conclusive acts of valour between various components coming together for a real spectacle of heart wrenching tragedy. I think that all these details were born of deliberation, and every detail created with purpose. In the highs and lows of this retelling of an ancient theme and this 90-year old story, If you’re interest is piqued by an evening of bright, yet bleak performance, I would recommend that you see this show, as a most splendid & soul-stirring night out.
Reviewer: Daniel Donnelly
Glasgow Theatre Royal
March 1st 2017
Some things, the best of things, take time. From inception, through evolution, to the final progression into folk-lore, there are very few classics that were tossed off in an hour or two. Claude Debussy’s Pelleas & Melisande is of the former sort, & the end product is quite simply divine. Debussy had seen the original play by Maurice Meterlinck in Paris, 1893, & had the first draft of the opera composed by 1895. But it would be another decade before he was happy with the piece, & we must all be grateful for his artistic care. Full of bassoons and cello-laden liturgicals, of its soundscapology Gavin Plumley told the Mumble how P&M was, ‘the product of a long and complex gestation, it reflects the many facets of Debussy’s musical apprenticeship, including his love of Wagner, his study of renaissance polyphony and his experiences of the exotic sounds of the east.’
Within a handful of years, P&M was being played out at the King’s Theatre, & 50 years later it would return as one of the two operas of the Scottish Operas inaugural season – Puccini’s Madame Butterfly being the other. Roll on another half century & more, Sir David McVicar has returned Debussy’s only finished opera to the Scottish hills, & I can still hear the echoes two days on. There is an especial sensuality to the music of P&M, while Debussy’s flirtation with the Symbolist movement runs rampant at all times, a mix which cast hovering night-birds over one’s imaginative realms.
Making a debut full of sincerity & warmth was BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Song Prize winner, Andrei Bonarenko, while his beloved Melisande was played by Carolyn Sampson, back with SO after her success as Anne Trulove in 2012’s Rake’s Progress. Her performance simply dripped liquid mercury as she drifted & glided about the stage as if she were a mermaid in the Aegean, & when she sang I felt more a sonorous siren than human being. Around there was no especial stand out singer, but instead a perfectly crafted combination accompanying voices including the dulcet chimes of wee Cedric Amamoo, making his operatic debut as Ynoid.
As Carmen, William Tell & Faust can all attest, he French language is simply made for opera, & Debussy is an excellent exponent, allowing a less formal roll of words which captures the effervescent vitality in the Gallic tongue. When to this we add Debussy accompanying musical touches, light & lucid brushstrokes of his mind, we are presented with a an audio banquet. What P&M also has incredible tip-toing tension. there is a constant nervous quality to the action, & P&M is indeed one of the most psychological operas I have ever witnessed.
The stage set was a sensation, very Noseferatu, & when the curtains condensed down in little squares between scenes, I felt as if I was watching an early 20th century film. To give the set character, Paule Constable waved her magical illuminative wand & one can see how she has won so many awards, such as 4 Olivier Awards, including her the recent ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.’
Although P&M is practically an Edwardian fairy tale, it is also a breathless, nuance-laden masterpiece – Debussy at his most exquisite best – that one should see in Glasgow this weekend if at all possible.
Reviewer : Damian Beeson Bullen