• The Exclusive Opera Lively Interview with Opera Composer Marko Ivanovic

    Luiz Gazzola met in Prague, Czech Republic, opera composer and conductor Marko Ivanović for an in-person interview. [Opera Lively interview # 53] The 37-year-old composer appears much younger than his stated age, in looks and enthusiasm. He is currently experiencing enormous success in his homeland, thanks to sold out performances and raving reviews of his new opera Enchantia. An acquaintance put Almaviva in touch with Mr. Ivanović with virtually no time to research and plan for the interview questions so this one has more of a conversational tone.

    Mr. Ivanović gave to Almaviva a copy of the DVD of Enchantia, together with an English translation of the libretto and some promotional material. Only after the interview Almaviva found the time to watch the opera, which is a pity because the interview questions would have been more complete, had the opera been seen beforehand. But better late than never: it must be said that Enchantia is absolutely brilliant! The creativity of the work is simply amazing, and the music is extremely beautiful. Regrettably there is no way to show a sample of this work here, since it is a non-commercial DVD. But see below on the bottom of this page; we'll at least post a link to a review, a link to the publicity material with several production pictures, and we'll publish separately our own review of it, and place the link here once it is done.

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    © Opera Lively - Disclaimer: this exclusive interview is copyrighted by Opera Lively with all rights reserved, and is not to be reproduced without express authorization. Brief excerpts can be used after consultation (use the Contact Us form) as long as proper credit and a link to the full interview on Opera Lively are provided. Links to the interview can be posted without authorization.

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    ARTISTIC BIOGRAPHY


    Marko Ivanović was born in Prague in 1976.

    - He attended the Prague Conservatory and subsequently the Academy of Performing Arts, where he studied composition (Prof. V. Riedlbauch) and conducting (Prof. R. Eliška, J. Bělohlávek). In 2008 he earned a PhD degree in the field of composition and theory of composition.

    - He is a laureate of the G. Fitelberg International Competition of Young Conductors in Katowice (2003).

    - His compositions have been played at a host of concerts both in the Czech Republic and abroad (New Music Marathon - Prague, Wien Modern - Vienna, Europe Young Classic - Berlin).

    - The production of his graduation opera The Maiden and Death won the Prize of the Director of the OPERA 2003 Festival.

    - He collaborated with leading Czech orchestras: Prague Symphony Orchestra (FOK), Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra, Brno State Philharmony Orchestra, Prague Philharmonia, and Bohuslav Martinu Philharmony Zlin, as well as with Czech ensembles Agon Orchestra, Ansambl Moens, and Berg Chamber Orchestra.

    - He is regularly invited to the most important Czech music festivals: Prague Spring, Smetana’s Litomyšl, Janačék May Ostrava, and Easter festival of spiritual music Brno.

    - His production of Janačék’s Jenůfa (Brno version) for Malmo Opera in Sweden was much acclaimed and belongs to his greatest recent foreign successes. As a guest conductor he has also visited Germany, Poland (Filharmonia Sudecka), Bosnia, and Japan (Toyama Academy Orchestra).

    - He is a specialist and important promoter of contemporary music and music of the 20th century. He conducted world premieres of many pieces by leading Czech composers (Michal Nejtek, Slavomír Hořínka, Jiří Kadeřábek , Miroslav Srnka). He also introduced to Czech audience for the first time many key compositions of the world's contemporary repertoire (e.g., Passio by Arvo Part, and Music for 18 Musicians by Steve Reich).

    - In the last couple of years he has released two CDs (with the Chamber Philharmony in Pardubice and Arco Diva Publisher) and has done many recordings for Czech Radio. With the Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra he finished the complete recording of symphonies by great Czech 20th century composer Miloslav Kabeláč for Editio Supraphon.

    - His Madman’s Morning Suite (2003) was included in Susanna Niedermayr and Christian Scheib’s Austrian monograph ”European Meridians“ (Saarbrücken, 2004) about contemporary music of Eastern and Southern Europe.

    - With the Czech Philharmony he established a cooperation with radio editor Petr Kadlec in a new concert project called "Four steps into the New World“. Its series of concerts for student audiences turned out to be very successful; and the project today continues to exist, now with the Prague Symphony Orchestra.

    - As a conductor in the Prague National Theatre he prepared the first Czech performance of Benjamin Britten’s church opera Curlew River, as well as the critically acclaimed political opera Tomorrow will be... by Aleš Březina (with Sonja Červená as principal). He also did for the Prague National Theater the new orchestration for the jazz buffopera A Walk Worthwhile, in collaboration with stage director Miloš Forman, the famous filmmaker. In 2012 he premiered there as a guest conductor his own opera Enchantia.

    - Within the Department of Composition at Prague’s Academy of Performing Arts he leads a seminar on scenic and film music.

    - Since 2009 Marko Ivanović has been the chief conductor of the Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra in Pardubice.

    - For more details, consult the composer's official web site [here] (some content is in English although most is in Czech)

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    The Exclusive Opera Lively Interview with Marko Ivanović

    Opera Lively – Marko, like I told you before, we were able to set up this interview mid-way through my trip to Europe and there was no time to prepare for this talk by researching your works, and we did not formulate questions in advance. So, you’ll need to guide us through this. Let’s start by asking you about your works in the operatic field.

    Marko Ivanović – I am a composer and a conductor so I divide my time between these two subjects. Both as a conductor and a composer I am very much focused on musical theater and opera. When I graduated from the Academy of Music in Prague in the fields of Composition and Conducting, my graduation work in Composition was a chamber opera. I was very lucky with it. The performance achieved good impact and provoked many reactions. Many reviews were written, and it also received some prizes.

    OL – How was it called?

    MI – The Maiden and Death. It was based on Ray Bradbury. The original name in Czech is Divka A Smrt.

    OL – Is it a science-fiction story?

    MI – It’s not science fiction, it’s mostly fantasy; it’s dreamy and surrealistic. It’s about an old woman who is afraid of death. She has been living in her house, barricaded there for many years. A young boy comes to her and she recognizes Death in him. Then he tries to remind her of her childhood and youth, and she finally remembers some guy from her past. At the end she leaves her house. She knows that he is Death but he offers her one last day in her life to be young again. In the story it is not clear to the reader if she is young again, or just feels young. He tells her that she is beautiful and she decides to go outside.

    OL – Why did you pick for your first opera a writer from abroad, instead of a Czech writer?


    MI – I searched for a good story and found this one. For me it didn’t matter whether or not the author was Czech. It was very well translated. There was no reason to choose something else.

    OL – So The Maiden and Death was your first one.


    MI – Yes, it was the first one. Later on when I did my Ph.D. in composition, I composed a straight opera, based on a comic book. Cybercomics was the name of that. It was authored by an underground Czech writer in the 1950’s. It was a very dark book about the future, in cyber punk style. I tried to find a new way to build that story. In some parts of the opera the story was narrated traditionally, by singing. In other parts it was projected as written words on a screen. Not everything was spoken. I also worked with the contrast between what was sung and spoken, and what was shown in bubbles on the screen.

    OL – Did you use electronic music?


    MI – A little bit, yes. My work is post-modern and very much influenced by minimalism, and mostly tonal. For a long time I never left modality and tonality, except for some steps left and right.

    So Cybercomics was my second contact with opera. The third one was as an arranger, not as a composer. Miloš Forman was asked to stage a Czeck jazz opera from the 1960’s, a very famous piece named The Walk Worthwhile; in Czeck it is Dobře Placená Procházka. It was a chamber piece, for a combo, a small band and three or four actors. Miloš decided to do it on a big stage and with a different style, incorporating other songs from the same composer but composed for other pieces. He wanted me to make a new orchestration to put all those songs together in one piece. I was at the time working as a conductor for the National Theatre and I auditioned for Miloš Forman. He liked what I did, and I was hired for that project. It was a very successful production.

    After that, I was asked by the Chief of Opera at the National Theatre to write an opera for kids. For many years there was no opera for children in Prague, especially new ones. There is The Devil and Kate by Antonín Dvořák, as the only title suitable for children.

    OL – It’s a bit spicy for children, isn’t it?


    MI – Yes, yes, it is. So that’s the reason why they asked me. Miloš Forman’s twin sons Petr and Matěj are the owners of a theater and they had a very specific vision. It’s called the Brothers Forman’s Theatre, Divadlo Bratři Formanǔ. They are very much influenced by the new circus style, very visual, and very much connected with puppet theater as well. It’s a big combination of many styles. They had never done anything specific for children but all their performances were very much accepted by children as well because they are very playful and colorful. I met them, and we worked together in The Walk Worthwhile, in which they participated with their father. Petr is a director, and Matěj is a scenographer.

    So when I was asked to write an opera for children I immediately thought of them, and I asked them and they were very pleased, so we started the work. Initially what the National Theatre asked us to do was very vague. We just knew that we had to do it for the big stage, for the National Theatre building, and it was really up to us to decide what we’d be doing, and what story we would chose. It took us about one year to find a story. Again, we started with Czech authors, but we were never satisfied. When the story seemed interesting for me as a composer to go in, then it was not interesting for Matěj as a scenographer, and vice-versa. So we searched for a long time, and ended up going back to one of the first ideas we had, a work by Gerald Durrell, an English scientist who wrote a book called The Talking Parcel. It was the first modern fantasy book ever published in Czech, in the 1980’s. It’s very English, it is funny, and doesn’t take itself too seriously – it’s a fantasy story similar to those that have Hobbits and so on. It was interesting for us as a world, but the story was too complicated to be set to music as an opera.

    So we started from this book but we picked up the main characters and the core story, and wrote a libretto, which took us another year, approximately. We changed a lot of things from the book. During that year, many of us participated in writing the libretto. The main persons were Ivan Arsenjev who is a screenwriter, and a young Czech poet called Radek Malŷ who is very experienced in writing poetry for children. So these two guys were the ones most responsible for the libretto, but from the beginning me as composer, Petr as director and Matěj as scenographer also contributed to the libretto and we had our own ideas on how it should work. I usually ask the librettist for how many verses this should be, how long that should be, or I want to change a line because it is not too singable. So it was a very long process, but at the end I had a libretto all of us were satisfied with. By that moment I already had many musical ideas, because this libretto was written to fit my musical ideas (laughs).

    Then I spent approximately another year composing the music.



    OL – So it was three years in the making?

    MI – Yes, from the beginning when I was asked to write it to the start of rehearsals, it took us three years.

    OL – What was the musical style?

    MI – Of course it was challenging for me to write music for children. It was actually written not only for children, but for audiences who had never been to the opera in their lives. The Brothers Forman’s Theatre is very popular in the Czech Republic. Everybody knows them, but their audience is not familiar with opera. So I tried to write a piece that would be in itself also instructive, to teach how opera looks like, to people who have never been to the opera.

    People were coming to a specific world which we called Čarokraj in Czech. It’s very difficult to translate into English. Maybe the closest is this word Enchantia. It’s a common word. There are many computer games and stories with this title. Čarokraj is very specific, it means “land where everything is possible.”

    So the audience comes into that very specific world full of strange creatures, some of which used to live in fairy tales a long time ago, but now they are in some kind of zoo. It’s a sort of ghost world in which these creatures can live their lives in harmony. This world has some rules, and these rules are similar to the rules of opera. I mean, everybody is singing; sometimes someone sings an aria when he is full of some emotion, you know? (laughs).

    Also, the beginning of the opera is not a traditional beginning. People come inside the theater with some guides. These guides are frogs. Frogs wait for them outside of the theater, and they pick a group of audience members and they guide them through the underground of the theater, through the basement. As they go through the basement the audience members see all sorts of creatures there, some of them dangerous. They go through tunnels and they end up on the stage. Meanwhile as the audience comes in, things are already happening – singers are singing, and the orchestra is already in the pit. So we actually start to play half an hour before the beginning. We start playing when nobody is in the theater at all, so that when the first audience members come we’re already playing. They hear singers, they hear the orchestra, and they see creatures on the chairs, in the pit, everywhere, while they finally find their seats. There are three different ways to come in, so people are coming simultaneously from three directions. It’s a very interesting beginning.

    And then fluently, within that half an hour, in the beginning there are a few musicians in the pit, but then there are more and more musicians, and after half an hour the pit is finally full with a symphony orchestra, and the story is beginning to unfold.

    I’ll not tell you the whole story because you have it in the libretto that I gave you, but very briefly, this word Enchantia is basically organized as a big zoo. It means that some creatures who are higher-born or prettier or gentler live in the upside and the more dangerous creatures live downstairs, under the surface. Every fifty years there is a big celebration, when a big book – and we have a singer in a big book costume – comes out of a cavern. Every fifty years the founder of that zoo can write on the book and make changes – for example, how many unicorns we should have. The changes written on the book will then be valid for the next fifty years. So the audience is invited to this event. They are sitting there and they are watching this big celebration where this big book is coming out and all creatures are waiting for it.

    OL – Is it a moment when all creatures are together?

    MI – It’s mostly for the high-born creatures. We see some of the underground creatures but most of them are hidden. This celebration then is broken by an attack of the evil creatures called cockatrices. They have the head of a cock but the body is that of a basilisk. So they attack the celebration and steal the book, leaving everything in big disorder. Some of them go to the orchestra pit and they take one violin. The story goes that one girl from the orchestra – Penelope, a violinist – gets her violin stolen, and she stands up and climbs on stage, looking for her violin. So she is from our world – the world of people – and she starts to help these creatures in order to build their world again. They go to the cockatrices’ castle, and they think of ways to fight the cockatrices.

    In the end there is a big battle. It’s a fight for the book, because these cockatrices want to change the world of Enchantia to fit just their own needs. They want all the other creatures to be their slaves, and want to write it down on the book so that it will be enforced for the next fifty years. Then there is this battle between the good creatures and the bad creatures, and the result is that at the end there will be no more cages, nobody will be punished, because everybody has a place in this world. Bad creatures, good creatures, they are all part of that life. So the conclusion is… what’s the English word for it? Anti-xenophobic (laughs).

    The opera lasts for 90 minutes, it’s not a short opera, and we were afraid of how it would be received by the children. But they were very mesmerized. Not just by the music, but because many things are happening; there are beautiful costumes, a big choir, a big orchestra, twenty extra dancers and ten soloists, so it’s a big performance and it really works for the children. And we have a big joke at the end, after the curtain calls. Oh, I forgot to mention something: the beautiful creatures sing beautifully, and the creatures who are under the surface sing not-so-beautifully. One of the main characters is a frog called Ethelred, and he sings the way someone usually sings. He is not an operatic singer. He is an ordinary actor who just tries to sing. So he sings a bit out of tune, and his songs are mostly pop songs. He is the comical figure in the story.

    So in the end after the applause this frog stands on the stage, then he asks Penelope if she would kiss him, because he is suspicious that maybe he is a prince. Then she kisses him, and he turns out to be a man, takes off his mask, and sings. It’s a musical number, not an operatic number. We bring in drums and guitars and play a big musical non-operatic second finale, after the story has already ended. It’s a big surprise for a lot of people in the audience (laughs).

    OL – Is the music very lively?


    MI – Yes, yes. I tried to avoid being too innovative for this occasion. I tried to use different kinds of styles for different kinds of situations. For instance, these creatures who are dangerous, they are depicted by dangerous music, atonal and with specific instrumental effects. Creatures who are nice and beautiful are mostly tonal. One of the main characters is a big parrot, a big bird who is very full of himself. He is like a dramatic character in a traditional, old-fashioned opera. So all his arias are somehow connected with traditional heroic arias. This makes a contrast between him and this frog who sings pop songs. But I tried to make of it all a coherent unit.

    OL – How was it received by the children?


    MI – Very well. We were afraid, because children are very honest. When they are bored, they are bored and they are going somewhere else. It depends on the age. The ideal age is seven years and up – I mean, for children, because it’s generally very liked by older audiences. But there were much younger children, it depends on their parents. But we never had any problem. I was surprised that there were 3-year-old and 4-year-old children there too. These younger children got a little bit confused, especially because not everything in the story is spoken – some of it is shown in visuals. We tried not to be too explanatory, not to spell out everything. If someone says “I’ll do this” we don’t show the character doing that, because we don’t want to duplicate things. So some things we tried to explain just through music, others just through visuals, others through dance. Of course the main difficulty for children is to understand the sung word. We tried our best but sometimes it is not possible. For older children the surtitles are very helpful.

    OL – They were in Czech?


    MI – In Czech and in English at the same time. It was funny because I was invited to an elementary school and the teachers had prepared the kids for the visit to the opera for a couple of months; they had games based on Enchantia, and then the grand finale was to attend the opera, and they invited me there for a discussion with first and second grade students. Their questions and ideas were very good. But they complained that the surtitles were too small and they couldn’t read them in time. (laughs)

    OL – The future opera audiences, huh? And… how many performances so far?


    MI – It was a big surprise for me. In general, Czech opera audiences are very traditional, but up to know, we had 18 performances, and they were all sold out! Our performances in September are already sold out as well, and now we’re selling tickets for November. I’m very pleased.

    OL – Are adults coming as well?


    MI – Yes, yes, it’s 50-50. I was also surprised by the acceptance by musicians. Many people came repeatedly to the performances, even older people – I know people who saw it three times.

    OL – Any plans to perform it abroad?

    MI – At this moment, no, because it is a very site-specific project, written for this building – when you watch the DVD you’ll understand. And it’s big scale, with too many people involved in it; it could be very expensive for the theater. But I think it could work abroad, because it’s very much based on visuals. Still, it must be translated.

    OL – Any plans for more operas?


    MI – I’ve been asked to write music for Lanterna Magika, which is a specific Czech project that exists since the 1960’s and combines theater and multimedia. It was new at the time, now it’s a bit outdated. But this theater Lanterna Magika is still working and attracts many tourists. I was asked to write a piece for them. But Enchantia had its premiere in January of 2012, so at this moment I’m more focused on conducting the performances.

    OL – Are you conducting all performances?


    MI – Yes. And it’s funny because at the same time when I was rehearsing my opera here, I was rehearsing Janačék’s Jenůfa in Sweden. So I travel all the time between two interesting projects. It’s challenging for me; it’s really full time, I travel all the time.

    OL – Do you see your music as belonging to the tradition of the great Czech composers, or is it more in tune with contemporary music from anywhere?


    MI – I don’t think much about that. I don’t think about myself as a traditional composer. There is no music that I hate. I love many styles of music and I use everything I want to use. But also, I can’t close my eyes in front of the audience. I want my music to be understood. I don’t write music just to fulfill myself, I write for the audience. Even when I compose in new ways, I always try to be clear.

    OL – Is the contemporary opera scene in Prague very active? Other than you and Martin Smolka, are there other composers writing good contemporary operas?


    MI – Yes, yes, there are several small opera companies. For instance, there is a very interesting company called Opera Diversa, there are a couple of composers around this company, but their language is sarcastic and satirical. There is an interesting composer called Hanzlik, I’m not sure of his first name. He works with another one whose name I don’t recall. It’s a combination of neo-baroque, minimalism, and new tonality. The stories that they write are usually based on old librettos. They point to baroque tradition, and they are quite popular.

    OL – Are you a fan of traditional Czech opera as well?


    MI – Yes, of course, of course. As a conductor, I’m a traditional kind of conductor. You know, for me the greatest operatic Czech composer was Janačék. Czech audiences think of him as a modernist composer and his operas are not as visited as you and me would think they should be. For the traditional operagoer Janačék is too strange. For instance now in Sweden, when I mention that, they are very surprised because for Swedish audiences these operas are very dramatic but have roots in romanticism.

    And then there is Martinů. He has very interesting ideas about how to solve the problem of opera. Each of his operas has a different approach to this genre. Sometimes he made TV operas, and radio operas, and sometimes he combined pantomime with opera; one act of pantomime and one act of traditional opera – so he was very influential for me as well.

    OL – What do you think of the Regie productions of Rusalka? There have been two recent ones – she is depicted as a prostitute in one of them, and as a victim of sexual abuse by her Water Goblin (who is made in this production to be her father) in the other one. Are these approaches seen as offensive by the Czech people? Do you get upset with this treatment done to this national treasure, this masterpiece?

    MI – Of course the Czech people want to see Rusalka in the traditional way. But the story and the music are so challenging for the characters; I absolutely understand why they do it in different ways, because it could work in different levels. You can feel the story as being very stupid, but it also has a deep background behind it, so it depends on what you choose to underline. Musically it is for me one of the… I don’t know, I don’t have words. It’s very touching, it’s very moving for me. But I had a discussion with some English opera lovers who dislike Rusalka very much, they kept saying that Wagner is real music and Rusalka is, you know… [mumbles]… I don’t agree with them, I’m so touched, so moved…

    I love Dvořák, all his music, and for me this is the essence of Dvořák’s work. I feel his life experience in this particular work. There is a lot of symbolism there. In his life, he was in love with his wife’s sister. He had asked her but she married some rich guy, so he married her sister. When she died he wrote the end of his cello concerto, which is very much about his love for her. So this unfulfilled love is the main subject of Rusalka, and that is why it is so moving, because it’s his life experience. It’s like Tristan und Isolde – for me it’s the most honest of Wagner’s operas, you can feel it. The Ring of the Nibelung is very nice, it is great, but for me Tristan is much deeper because it is really sincere.

    OL – What about your other compositions? Do you see yourself as a composer of symphonic music who does some opera, or are you really interested in approaching the operatic genre?

    MI – At this time most of the music that I write is for movies or theater plays. My own work is about 15% of what I write. When I have time, I write something for myself.

    OL – Martin Smolka told me the same thing. He said they keep asking him to compose music for films and that’s where the money is.


    MI – Yes.

    OL – He would like to compose different things but must fulfill the wishes of the people who are commissioning his works. So his really creative work often is not as well placed in the market. Is this something you feel as well?


    MI – Yes, exactly. But you know, I also have to divide my time between conducting and composing. There are months and months when I don’t have time for writing, I’m just conducting other people’s compositions. But I was always very much interested in the combination of music and theater, so when I write music for theater I don’t do it just for money; it’s also a challenge for me.

    OL – Can you tell us a little about your background; how you got into classical music, composing, and conducting?

    MI – Originally I was a piano player. Since I was young I started to write my own compositions. I’m half Serb and half Czech. I spent my childhood in Yugoslavia, and we lived in a very small city where there was no culture at all. There was just one music school where a few of us were pianists and most were accordionists. I wrote my music in Chopin’s style, and so on. My mother is Czech, and she encouraged me to apply for the Conservatory in Prague. They accepted me and I came to Prague at age 15, and then I started to be more familiar with classical music, because until then I didn’t know much. Then I started to listen to everything and to educate myself a bit, and after three years I was interested in studying conducting as well.

    But I’m a very shy person, and in the beginning it was a big obstacle for me; I didn’t know if conducting would be good for me. But time passed and I found these two subjects equal to me. I continued with these two subjects in the Academy of Music, and after graduation I thought I should adapt myself to taking on both of these roles at the same time. Until now I have just found advantages in the combination of these two subjects, because through conducting I find inspiration to compose, and vice-versa. As a conductor I’m very much focused on contemporary music because as a composer I understand contemporary music, which is not usual for most conductors in the Czech Republic.

    OL – Who are your favorite contemporary composers?


    MI – Some of my favorites are not properly contemporary any longer because they have died; Alfred Schnittke for example, or George Crumb.

    OL – Have they influenced you as well?

    MI – Yes, yes. Steve Reich, of course, and oh yes, Goebbels, German composer; he is interesting; he came from heroic music to the theater, and his works are very theatrical. Most of his music is a combination of music and theater and it’s very interesting.

    OL – You have mentioned minimalism; do you like Philip Glass?


    MI – Yes, but I like very much his earlier works – Einstein on the Beach, Akhnaten, but later on, I don’t see much progress in his work, I see regression – now it’s a combination of minimalism and Hollywood music. Steve Reich is much more interesting.

    OL – And Satyagraha?


    MI – Yes, Satyagraha was actually the first contemporary opera I’ve ever heard, because my teacher of composition introduced me to this kind of music, and it was a big revelation for me to realize that contemporary music doesn’t need to be just creepy (laughs), it can also be easy listening.

    OL – It’s very beautiful.


    MI – Yes, yes.

    OL – What about his Jean Cocteau trilogy?


    MI – Yes, there was a very successful performance of Les Enfants Terribles here last year. It was done by the National Theatre but in a mental hospital. They put a stage there, and it received many prizes. La Belle et la Bête was also a very interesting idea; an opera written after a movie. But for me Reich and John Adams have more interesting orchestration. It’s very difficult how to judge Glass. As an operatic composer I admire him. He knows how to write opera. But many people hate him because his music is too eclectic, too easy listening, too open to the public.

    OL – Recently I saw a very avant-garde work by Portuguese composer Miguel Azguime, called Itinerário do Sal. Ah, it’s fabulous, it’s mostly percussion, and the voice sort of does percussion as well.

    MI – Wow!

    OL – The question is, is it opera? I think it is. They’re singing, the singing is in line with the percussion, and it is very interesting theater. And there is also that Israeli lady composer, Chaya Czernowin, who did Pnima… ins innere (Opera without words), I think you would like it.

    MI – What is it about?

    OL – It’s about an old man, victim of the Holocaust, who is traumatized and doesn’t speak. His young grandson tries to communicate with him. There is just a brick wall in a sort of loft, with a broken window on the right side, and they just try to interact. The music is fragmented and atonal. They approach each other… the boy plays a little… the old man gets anxious and moves around… the boy tries to comfort him… nothing is said but the music conveys the entire emotion of that encounter, with a possibility of communication that is non-verbal.

    MI – Pretty interesting.

    OL – But then it’s hard to call it an opera if there is no singing. There is a version of it on commercial DVD. It’s quite striking. But tell me, how is the local scene here in Prague; how are things going?

    MI – The Czech audience is not fond of contemporary music. It’s not just because it is a post-communist country, because in Poland, even in Slovakia, and in Hungary, the situation is different. But the Czech people are always weary of anything new, and they accept new things with a delay every time, because they are suspicious of the new. Contemporary music here is performed by few ensembles.

    OL – So it’s not staged by the main National Theatre, but rather by alternative small houses?

    MI – Yes. For new opera to be commissioned by the National Theatre, it’s very unusual.

    OL – But with such a rich operatic tradition here, they need to get things going, since every generation needs its own opera composers, or else the tradition will die out.

    MI – I understand that, and I try to change this situation through my work as a conductor. I try to conduct new pieces and try to make people be used to different styles of music. But for many traditional audiences music stops in the beginning of the twentieth century, and everything else is strange.

    OL – What about the Czech Republic joining the European Union; did it bring about more opportunities?

    MI – I haven’t noticed big changes since that.

    OL – Is there an attempt at cultural integration with other European countries?


    MI – Of course, there is one significant change, is that now many musicians have the opportunity to travel abroad. Now there is a new generation coming, made of people who have studied abroad; and they are, let’s say, much more broad-minded, and for them it is no problem to accept a style that they don’t know much about. So I’m slightly optimistic in this way, thinking that musicians, the professionals, will change, but it’s a question of how to change the opinion of the audience.

    OL – So maybe the way to do it is what you did – get the kids and expose them to opera and educate them.


    MI – Yes, but I didn’t expose them to anything very… you will see, the language is not specifically modern.

    OL – Are you content with Enchantia, or do you regret that you had some constraints and had to make it easier for the kids?

    MI – No, no, no. I just ask myself if I was, maybe, too easy. But even with this awareness, I sometimes hear from someone that it was too modern for him. I’m satisfied with it because it works for a very wide, varied audience, and it works as musical theater.

    OL – So if it is harder to have this kind of music accepted here, why don’t people go, say, to Germany where there is space for avant-garde thinking? Are you planning to go elsewhere?

    MI – For me it would be difficult to cut the ropes that attach me here and start anew somewhere else. I have a job here as a conductor.

    OL – Interesting. Jana Sýkorová did that Elephant Man from Petitgirard and was phenomenal. She seems very talented. But she remained kind of local, she never ventured very much abroad. Why is the mobility so limited? Is it because of a language barrier, since Czech is not widely spoken?

    MI – Yes, of course. One factor is the language barrier. Another one is that the music world works through agencies. It depends a lot on whether or not an agency will notice you and pick you. It’s not easy to succeed. The competition is simply too big. Somehow it is easier to succeed in this small area. In France for example the competition is much wider, you have to compete with many other people. In every country they slightly prefer more the people who are from there or at least were educated there and have contacts. It’s very difficult for newcomers to succeed. Over here it’s the same thing, it is very difficult for foreigners who come here. There is always a preference for the locally educated people. So I think that’s the reason why people don’t leave too much. They leave when they have an agency behind them that can take care of it.

    OL – Is there still contact with Russia?


    MI – I don’t think so. I think musically we are much more connected to Germany than to Russia. But there is another phenomenon: not only singers but many operatic professionals from the former Soviet Union are coming to the Czech Republic. At the State Opera here there are many singers and accompanists and artistic staff who are Russians or Ukrainians.

    OL – I’m also curious about the former Yugoslavia; what can you tell me about the situation there?

    MI – The tradition of Western classical music was only introduced there at the end of the 18th century because that area until then was under the Ottoman Empire. There wasn’t much Western tradition there. Many musicians were educated in Prague, actually, because it was also a Slavic country, but with good tradition in music. They have much less than here – they have fewer orchestras, fewer opera houses, and the audience is much smaller. I don’t see for myself a professional future there. Maybe just as an emissary, and ambassador of music.

    I feel comfortable in the Czech Republic. I told you about the problems that I see here, but I still think about it as a challenge that I can chase somehow with my work.

    OL – What about Slovkia?

    MI – It’s the same as in the Czech Republic. Czechs and Slovaks are almost the same nation; at the very least they are nations with the same problems. I think they are not as conservative as in the Czech Republic. But the big problem both here and there is lack of money, because you cannot do opera without financial support, governmental or private. There are no laws to encourage big businessmen to support opera. It’s very difficult to financially support culture, because you cannot earn money from it, so some type of donation is needed. The government is giving little money.

    OL – Why are the Czechs so traditional and conservative?


    MI – I think it’s historical experience. They were disappointed historically so many times, especially in the 20th century, that they are focused on surviving – survive every regime and every new wave that is coming. The Austrian-Hungarian empire, then the New Republic, then they were betrayed by France and England in the second war, then fascism and communism, and Russia… they don’t believe in anything. The Czechs are very non-religious people, more than 80% of the people are atheists. They are not going to church just because their father went; they’ll say “I don’t believe in it; then I’ll not do it.” They are very suspicious about everything for which they don’t have proof. And also they are weary of institutions, they don’t believe in churches. They have their personal beliefs, but the Church as an organization is very unattractive for Czechs. Also, political parties; people don’t like to be part of a political party because it’s strange (laughs).

    OL – To finish, how do you describe your personality, your goals, and the things you like to do?


    MI – It’s difficult to say (laughs). To be sincere I live mostly for music, but music in a broad sense. I cannot imagine my life without music, but I can imagine my life without opera or without classical music (laughs). The modus vivendis for me is music.

    OL – Thank you for a very interesting interview.


    MI – You’re welcome.

    ----------

    Here is the very inventive way in which the opera Enchantia was presented on the playbill:




    The existence of Mythologia (in English also Enchantia), a realm of mythical beings, has been documented for a number of years. It was first described almost four decades ago by the British traveller, naturalist and writer Gerald Durrell in his book The Talking Parcel. He portrayed the journey of three children to this wondrous land inhabited by fantastic creatures, monsters, beasts and small animals. As a naturalist, Durrell duly classified, described and assigned scientific names to them. He discovered the secret entrance to this land amid the Greek mountains, in which, according to ancient mythology, such beings once dwelled. After Durrell had published his first guide to Mythologia, hundreds of his readers made numerous, mostly private, expeditions to those climes.

    In 2009, a team of explorers and researchers headed by Marko Ivanović and Petr and Matěj Forman made the startling discovery that one of the secret gates to Mythologia was in all likelihood located right in the centre of Prague, in close vicinity to the National Theatre. Further exploration, as well as excavation work carried out in 2011, confirmed that the entrance is indeed located somewhere within the system of underground corridors beneath the National Theatre!

    One of the most recent fascinating discoveries made by our team of explorers and researchers is that Mythologia’s inhabitants are extremely musical creatures, that they even communicate among themselves by means of song. Inspired by these findings, the National Theatre conceived a plan to present the fantastic world situated directly beneath its foundations to the public. During amicable negotiations, the theatre’s management and representatives of the mythical land, headed by the magician Hengist Hannibal Junketberry, came to agreement that Mythologia’s grandest ceremony, which only takes place once every fifty years, would this time be held on the stage of the National Theatre. Within the festivities, a public expedition has been organised to show the nooks and crannies of Enchantia beneath the National Theatre..

    Welcome to Enchantia!

    The team of explorers and researchers was made up of:
    Composer and conductor Marko Ivanović, stage director and librettist Petr Forman,
    librettist Radek Malý, librettist and dramaturgist Ivan Arsenjev, set and costume designer Andrea Sodomková, set designer Matěj Forman, lighting and video designer Dáda Nemecek, choreographer Veronika Švábová and chorus master Martin Buchta.

    Feeding cockatrices is strictly prohibited throughout The National Theatre building!

    The opening and the first expedition got underway on 14 January 2012.

    -----------

    DON'T MISS THIS: - The web page from the National Theatre in Prague, with several production pictures of Enchantia - click [here]; once there, click on the arrow pointing to the right on the strip of images to continue to scroll them.

    A review of Enchantia: click [here]
    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Schigolch's Avatar
      Schigolch -
      Interesting interview.

      I haven't heard any of Mr. Ivanovic's works.

      But I do have read Bradbury's The Maiden and Death!. It's a quite short story, and not really very interesting. Sounds much more exciting in Mr. Ivanovic's summary.
    1. Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
      Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) -
      "Sounds much more exciting in Mr. Ivanovic's summary."

      That's what opera can do to stories!

      Back to Enchantia, my jaw dropped when I watched it on DVD. This way of bringing in the audience is very interesting, and the pace and music are... well... almost at a Magic Flute level of quality. This is a composer to be heard, and I believe he'll still make a big impact on the operatic world. I have talked to a couple of opera companies and to a stage director about Enchantia; let's hope someone will have an interest in producing it abroad.


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