Making his San Francisco Opera debut with The Magic Flute
this summer, Scottish-born Rory Macdonald has rapidly established himself as one of Britain’s most talented, dynamic young conductors. Below Rory shares the challenges and thrills of conducting one of Mozart's most beloved operas.
Conducting Mozart can be a daunting experience! Everyone knows The Magic Flute, and it can be performed in so many different ways. Perhaps the biggest challenge is deciding exactly how you want it to sound. This means thinking about the smallest details--the precise lengths of notes, details of phrasing, dynamics and so on…. Mozart didn't notate his scores as precisely as later composers, such as Mahler, so there are many decisions that need to be made during rehearsals. Even the size of the orchestra is up for grabs! During rehearsals we decided to reduce the size of the string section, as the sound in the theatre was rather heavy, when it should sound light and transparent. We only have 10 string players playing in Monostatos's aria, for example!
[Left: Jun Kaneko's colorful sets from this summer's The Magic Flute. Photo by Cory Weaver]
One of the things I love about conducting opera is the relatively lengthy rehearsal process, where you have time to really get to know the singers. Every singer’s voice is different, and it’s important to find that elusive ‘groove’ where the music flows naturally, but the singer still has time to breathe and sound as wonderful as possible. As Colin Davis once said, it's like holding a small bird in your hand - it will die (or at least bite you!) if you hold it too tightly, and fly away if you hold it too loosely.
This has been my first visit to San Francisco, and I've loved every minute of it. I'm a total foodie, so I've been eating my way around the city. Amazing, fat burritos and tacos in the Mission (it's impossible to find this sort of thing in London, where I live), wonderful pizza in North Beach (it was worth the wait!) and amazing sushi in Nob Hill. I've also done a lot of walking, and the first thing I do when I get home will be to re-sole my shoes! However, the highlight for me was a day spent sailing in the bay. I got quite sunburnt, as anyone at the first night of our show may have noticed, but it was an experience I'll remember for a very long time. It's been wonderful to get to know the city, and a privilege to work at this great and historic opera company. [Above: Rory Macdonald in the San Francisco Opera Orchestra Pit. Photo by Cory Weaver]