We continue our in-depth profiles of our Adler Fellows this week with second year coaching fellow Robert Mollicone
. Originally from East Greenwich, Rhode Island, Robert completed both his undergraduate and graduate studies at Boston University's College of Fine Arts where he assisted on productions there, as well as the Boston University Tanglewood Institute. After completing his studies he was a member of the Spectrum Resident Artist Program at Virginia Opera and the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program at the Washington National Opera. He was a participant in the 2011 Merola Opera Program. As an Adler Fellow, Robert has assisted on productions including The Magic Flute
, Nixon in China
, and The Secret Garden
as well as productions with the Merola Opera Program. He has also worked with Boston Lyric Opera, Opera North, and the Baltimore Symphony.
At what age were you introduced to the piano? Did you ever plan to pursue a career as a soloist?
When I was 5 years old, my Dad (Bob Sr.) started taking piano lessons - there was a little classical repertoire in there, but he was mainly practicing The Beatles, Elton John, and particularly Billy Joel. I thought it was so
cool and obviously had to give it a try myself. To this day, I still have 'Scenes from an Italian Restaurant' and 'Martha, My Dear' in my hands! I struggled with myself when applying to conservatory, as at the time I was playing piano, bassoon, a little harpsichord, and was doing a great deal of choral and musical theater singing. I initially opted to pursue a career as a solo pianist (what I'd been working at the longest), but soon found that I was more inclined to 'play well with others' when I was overwhelmed with requests from my undergraduate colleagues to play Brahms clarinet sonatas, concerto competitions, and work on art song with young singers my age. Making music with friends easily trumped spending eight hours a day alone in a practice room with Prokofiev any day!
When and where were you first exposed to opera and at what point did you decide you would pursue a career in the field?
My first experience with opera was at the age of 15 singing in the chorus for Ocean State Lyric Opera (may it rest in peace). The chorusmaster at the time was an inspiration to many young area musicians by the name of Mark Conley who had been allowing me to attend the University of Rhode Island summer music program as a bassoonist gratis - if I agreed to accompany the choral and vocal programs on piano (little did I know at the time...). That fall, he was desperate for chorus baritones for a production of Carmen
, and since I had been shaving since the 5th grade, I looked the part of a swarthy Sevillan soldier/gypsy! From the first downbeat of the sitzprobe, I knew I was hooked whether I liked it or not! It was actually this experience that pushed me into several small community and high school productions of musicals (as well as two more operas with the company), both as a performer and music director/conductor; the idea of these incredible scores that lived and breathed differently at every performance with the specific energy of what the cast was doing on stage was and continues to be a real thrill to me!
You recently worked as the Assistant Conductor on the world-premiere production of Nolan Gasser's Secret Garden and had the privilege to conduct the piano dress rehearsal - you plan to pursue a career as a conductor, correct? How has your experience as an Adler Fellow on the music staff here prepared you for that career path?
Once one has studied technique long enough (I practice various varieties of gesture in the privacy of my living room with everything from favorite opera recordings to Adele and other pop records), the key to actually succeeding in the business of conducting is experience. My Adler Fellowship has allowed me to profit from playing for and learning from some of the greatest conductors in the business. Additionally, I was partially responsible for getting our singers prepared for their roles in the Secret Garden
; this kind of specific knowledge of what people are doing onstage is invaluable in one's own comfort at the podium. I unfortunately didn't get much time away from the piano prior to that dress rehearsal, but luckily for us all it felt like a stress-free afternoon - my fellow Adler pianist Sunny Yoon played superbly, and I managed to count to 5 and 7 when the score called for it!
(Robert Mollicone leading a rehearsal of The Secret Garden at Zellerbach Hall. Photo credit: Philippe Sly.)
What have been some of the highlights of your Adler Fellowship in your first year?
Being even the smallest cog in the fantastic, well-oiled machine of San Francisco Opera, particularly when we're in season, is an experience for me which has known no peer, professionally speaking. There's a sort of inherent bond and mutual respect that all we artists share, regardless of what overlap of cast or music staff there is from production to production. Having such incredible colleagues of all kinds in the house doing their best work in rehearsals or on stage is a non-stop masterclass, as far as I'm concerned! If I had to pick favorites, I must admit I'll never forget how much fun I had with fellow music staff members Matthew Piatt and David Hanlon as the keyboard section in the Nixon in China
pit. Additionally, I found Moby-Dick
deeply moving to work on, and take it as an exemplar of how a cast of singers and production/music staff should treat each other and themselves through the intense, emotional process of mounting such an important piece.
Who have been your greatest musical influences thus far?
There are so many people to whom I owe a great deal in my musical formation! As a young man, I had the opportunity to meet and play for the great Boris Goldovsky
(my childhood teacher was his only piano student that I know of); he not only taught me everything I know about Mozart, but his legacy to our field as a conductor, director, and impresario is undeniable! In graduate school at Boston University, Shiela Kibbe
taught me how to really play the piano again, and how different physical approaches can generate different timbres to serve the demands of various composers, styles, and instrumentations (I'll never forget having to solve the puzzle of accompanying the harrowing 'Trockne Blumen' variations of Schubert for solo flute on a full-stick 9 foot Steinway grand!) While watching video of Carlos Kleiber's enigmatic but deeply communicative gesture is like attending church for me, it was my conducting teacher Louis Salemno
that taught me the practical value of owning "every note on every page, and every word in every bar." It leaves very little to chance...
How would you compare life in San Francisco to life in New England where you spent most of your life?
While there are certain things about my New England upbringing to which I'll always cling (I got a wicked bad sunburn in Flahriddah), I've otherwise really embraced west coast living. I love being able to be a pedestrian commuter twelve months of the year, the strong emphasis placed on work/personal life balance, and the really interesting mix of artsy and technologically or business-minded people from all over the world to be found here. While my professional life will almost certainly have me travelling a great deal, I'm strongly considering keeping San Francisco as my 'home base' once my fellowship ends in December!
What are some of your favorite places in San Francisco?
I have the great pleasure of living nearby Alamo Square - a wonderful place to bring scores, a good book, or just a picnic blanket for getting some sun. I run a 5K every morning before rehearsal in the Panhandle. It's a fantastic way to wake up, get focused for the day, and sweat a little bit before what can often be long days in rehearsal. My taste in neighborhoods and restaurants is rather fickle, but what I find refreshing about San Francisco is that they each have such a distinct personality and feel that one can find great food and entertainment depending on what the day or one's mood demands.
(Above: Former Adler Fellow Ryan Kuster, Opera Center Director Sheri Greenawald and Bob Mollicone. Photo credit: Kristen Loken.)
We hear you dabble a bit in musical theater as a regular at the local piano bar Martuni's every Monday night as a SINGER! What are some of the 'go-to' songs that you perform?
I must admit that I do love catching up with my non-opera friends and belting out showtunes on Monday nights. I've been known to sing both of Tony's songs from West Side Story
, 'What do I Need with Love' from Thoroughly Modern Millie
, and LOTS of Gershwin, Cole Porter, and Rodgers and Hart. The Monday night pianist, Joe Wicht, is a master at piano bar style (i.e. he can accompany any kind of voice on any song in any key), who loves making me get up and sightread obscure standards - it's a lot of fun!
What are you most looking forward to in the final year of your Adler Fellowship?
I've got a really busy season ahead of me; after working on what promises to be a great production of Hoffmann
, I get to feel what it's like to do double duty on two big pieces - I'll be prompting the performances of Dolores Claiborne
in the evenings while rehearsing The Flying Dutchman
during the day. It's an exciting challenge!