A Day in the Life of a Rehearsal Conductor

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By Sara Jobin (Assistant Conductor)

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Tonight I got to conduct some of the most beautiful music ever written (the Immolation Scene at the end of Götterdämmerung) with one of the world's most amazing sopranos on stage, Nina Stemme, and one of the best pianists in the business, Bryndon Hassman, in the pit.  Pinch me.  Who knew, when I begged my stepfather to let me join his church choir when I was seven, that it would lead to this?  Then I rode my old-fashioned girl's bicycle home in the cool San Francisco night.  I feel lucky.
This was a good day.  Make no mistake that opera is an endurance sport and a Ring cycle is like an Olympic village.  We're all here for three months.  Around the end of Week 6 was when the accumulation of stress hit me in particular—my back twinged and I had to hire a masseuse to put me back together.  But we let go of those moments as quickly as we can, and focus on the endgame, which it is a privilege to be a part of. [Right: Sara Jobing conducting a Götterdämmerung staging rehearsal with Prompter Susan Hult]
 
What does a rehearsal conductor do?  Eric Weimer and I were hired to lead staging rehearsals—those rehearsals where Director Francesca Zambello works out with the singers all the action you're going to see on stage.  Because time is of the essence, these rehearsals are frequently scheduled while Maestro Donald Runnicles is rehearsing the orchestra in another location.  Besides, all four operas are being rehearsed simultaneously. Hence the necessity for a few back-up conductors. During the performances I'll be conducting backstage horn calls, offstage Rhinemaidens, and playing thunder cues on a synthesizer.  Am I disappointed not to be conducting performances when I've conducted here so many times before?  No, I'm grateful for the opportunity to learn this enormous volume of music and get a feel for how a Ring cycle works.  There's nothing quite like it, I'm beginning to understand. [Left: Jobin with other members of the Götterdämmerung music and production staff. From left: Assistant Director Elise Sandell, Director Francesca Zambello, Assistant Conductor Sara Jobin, Prompter Susan Hult and Pianist Bryndon Hassman]
 
The more we delve into the work, the more we find.  I find it interesting that Wagner conceived of the cycle as a hero's story, and admittedly wrote some great music for that hero and for his death—but towards the end of his life, with a harmonic language that was completely changed and more complex, Wagner's mind also changed so that Brünnhilde became the hero; and in the end, musically speaking, it's not bravado that saves the day; it's that achingly beautiful melody in the violins.  Brünnhilde follows her heart.  Now there's a hero I can get behind!
 
[Note: This bolg entry was originally written by Sara Jobin on May 25.
 
To learn more about Brünnhilde as the Ring cycle’s true hero and to see Sara Jobin speak, come to one of three symposia presented by San Francisco Opera on June 14, 21 and 28. http://sfopera.com/Season-Tickets/The-Ring-of-the-Nibelung/Symposia.aspx