• The Exclusive Opera Lively Interview with Brazilian Maestro Luiz Fernando Malheiro

    Opera Lively's 200th interview couldn't be any more interesting. Maestro Luiz Fernando Malheiro is, by his own definition, the crazy man who staged two complete cycles of Wagner's The Ring of the Nibelung in the middle of the Amazon Forest in the historic Teatro Amazonas in Manaus, Brazil. With 35 years of career in the operatic world, the conductor commands vast experience and has many stories to tell. We will learn from him about the environment in Brazil in the present and the past, and his heroic effort putting together the Ring. His insights about the training of young opera singers are precious.

    The affable and convivial conductor received us in person in his office from where he presides over the opera company and the orchestra of Theatro São Pedro, a prominent cultural organization in São Paulo, Brazil that thanks to Maestro Malheiro is presenting 22 operas in the 2016 season, a number unheard of in Brazilian houses with ten times the São Pedro's budget (for comparison, the best funded house in the city, Theatro Municipal, is showing 4 operas this season). This is a must-read interview for all opera lovers. Enjoy!


    Artistic Biography

    Recognized by critics as the main figure in opera in Brazil, maestro Malheiro has conducted dozens of operas in thirty-five years of career. Combining musical sensitivity with daring creativity in his opera programming, Malheiro has brought to himself the attention of the international operatic community, making history in the Brazilian scene.

    Malheiro is the Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the Amazonas Philharmonic and of the Amazonas Festival of Opera (FAO). He holds the same titles at Theatro São Pedro in São Paulo, Brazil, where he conducts the ORTHESP (Orchestra of the Theatro São Pedro) and directs the company. Formerly, he was the Opera Director of the Teatro Municipal do Rio de Janeiro and Adjunct Artistic Director of the Theatro Municipal de São Paulo.

    He is the winner of the Carlos Gomes Award (Universo da Ópera 2000) and directed at the Amazonas Festival 2005 the first Brazilian staging of Wagner's The Ring of the Nibelung, for which he received two awards (Universo da Ópera and Best Production of the Year). In 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2008 he conducted at the Opera Festival in La Coruña, Spain. In Brazil he conducted the Symphonic Orchestra of São Paulo (OSESP), the Symphonic Orchestra of the Teatro Municipal in Rio de Janeiro, The Brazilian Symphonic Orchestra (OSB), the Minas Gerais Symphonic, the Bahia Symphonic, and several others.

    He also conducted at Teatro Del Libertador in Córdoba, Argentina, and the Symphonic Orchestra of Puerto Rico. In Europe he did concerts with the Filarmonica Marchigiana in Italy, the National Opera Orchestra of Bulgaria in Sophia, the Symphonic Orchestra of Galicia, Spain, and the Symphonic Orchestra of Castilla and Leon, Spain. He recorded Fosca and Maria Tudor of Carlos Gomes in video and CD.


    The Exclusive Opera Lively Interview with Brazilian conductor Luiz Fernando Malheiro

    This is our interview #200. Copyright Opera Lively; all rights reserved. Reproduction of excerpts is authorized for all purposes as long as the source is quoted and a link to the full piece is provided. Reproduction of the entire interview requires authorization - use the Contact Us form. Photos unless otherwise stated with specific credit are fair promotional use (we do not know the names of all photographers; will be happy to include them if we are told who they are).

    Luiz Gazzola for Opera Lively – Thank you for granting us this interview. We feel honored.

    Luiz Fernando Malheiro – Are you related to the Gazzola who sings at the Municipal in São Paulo?

    OL – Maybe I am. My family came from Italy and part of it settled in São Paulo, but personally I do not know this singer. Let’s talk about your artistic project for Theatro São Pedro. You came here in the second half of 2014.

    LFM – Exactly.

    OL – What transformations have you implemented in the theater’s artistic scene?

    LFM – I’m a team player. My faithful knight is Paulo [Esper, artistic coordinator, producer, and stage director; also interviewed by Opera Lively – read it by clicking (here) to learn more about Theatro São Pedro]. I’ve always had as compass in these thirty-five years of career both here and at the Manaus Opera Festival two main priorities. The first one, investing on Brazilian artists, not only singers but young conductors like the one you are seeing here [we came to his office from the rehearsal of Adriana Lecouvreur conducted by one of Malheiro’s apprentices], stage directors, set designers, ultimately all areas that belong to the opera universe that you know so well. The second one, prioritizing opera titles that are badly neglected in Brazil.

    Rehearsal, Adriana Lecouvreur at Theatro São Pedro - photo Opera Lively

    In the Amazonas festival we have had, and still do, a history of world premieres and Brazilian premieres. We did the first Brazilian staging of Alban Berg’s Lulu, in the complete three-act version. We did the first Brazilian The Ring of the Nibelung cycle in 2005, and the first Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District there as well, and others that I presently don’t recall, not to forget commissioned operas from Brazilian composers that had their world premieres there.

    Here in the São Pedro what most attracted me when I got invited to direct the company, other than the pleasure of working with Paulo, was the fact that they had an Opera Academy that was founded before my arrival. Right after the invitation I wanted to listen not only to the young Academy singers but also to anybody else willing to audition. I was surprised that 180 singers showed up. I said “where did they all come from?” [laughs]

    There are many interested youngsters, but when I saw this number, I thought “many will be dropping in by parachute, without much notion of anything” and I was surprised that it wasn’t the case. The majority had good and solid musical training. I felt very enthusiastic. From these 2015 auditions I selected one hundred singers. Last season we used one hundred different singers, with variable levels but all talented and useful.

    Here at the São Pedro we had last year L’Amore dei tre re by Montemezzi, which was done here in Brazil in those seasons of the forties and never more. Then we did a Brazilian opera by Villani-Côrtes who is a beloved composer here in São Paulo, Poranduba which he composed but was left in a drawer for years until I decided to stage it first in Manaus, then here. We did a Falstaff revival from an old production there at the theater, and Oedipus Rex by Stravinsky together with a Brazilian opera by Arrigo Barnabé, and Betrothal in a Monastery by Prokofiev which had never been seen in Brazil and was a huge success, in original Russian.

    Poranduba at Theatro São Pedro

    The Oedipus Rex staging

    The 2016 Season poster

    So, as you see, it’s not the most usual repertory. This year’s isn’t either. Adriana Lecouvreur for instance was last done in 1951 in São Paulo and 1964 in Rio de Janeiro. It was out of the repertory for a long time. We opened the season with Massenet’s Don Quixote which had had a single performance in one single day, by one of these traveling European companies that came here with several singers and various operas which they changed almost daily. They did one show of Don Quixote in Rio in the twenties, and then never more. Since this year it the 400th anniversary of Cervantes’ death and I love Massenet, it was a coincidence of motivations.

    A full house for Don Quixote at Theatro São Pedro

    After Adriana we will do O Espelho by Brazilian composer Jorge Antunes and Der Zwerg by Zemlinsky. Der Zwerg is a well-known opera, but O Espelho is a commission and a world premiere; we paid for the production. Then, in Children’s Week in October we will present Where the Wild Things Are which is a contemporary opera by Knussen with a very hermetic language, but the story is cute and very successful. There is a translated version of the book with Sendak’s drawings, and a video of the original production. My 3-year-old daughter wanted to watch the video over and over – and it is very difficult music! – she’d say “again, again!” I remembered this when I was considering what children’s opera to present. It was never seen here, and it has those big monsters.

    Where the Wild Things Are - drawings by Sendak

    OL – Yes, with those big heads.

    LFM – Exactly. We’ll do it in Portuguese translation. I don’t like very much opera in translation in languages that are not the original, but since we’ll do it for children always at 5 PM, with two shows on Children’s Day which is October 12, I thought it was a good idea. We’ll see. And to finish, Il Trovatore which was the first opera I ever saw, and I’ve never conducted it.

    Before my arrival there was a huge prejudice against certain titles, in spite of Paulo’s protestation – he was already here. “No, this is a very small theater; we can only do Mozart.” And it is not true, mind you. We who travel a lot know that most German repertory houses are small theaters, but they do the entire repertory.

    We refurbished the pit last year in January. I came on board in the second half of 2014 but in January we greatly expanded the pit. So, it’s only Elektra that we can’t do [laughs] because we can’t fit one hundred musicians there. But all the bel canto and the post-bel canto repertory including Verdi, we can do very well.

    So, the adventure continues. The Academy has already graduated a class, and there is a new class. We had a big audition last year, and I wanted to keep close the best students who had spent two or three years at the Academy, so we created a stable ensemble, which is something that was never done in Brazil. We have all these youngsters who were the most promising Academy students doing all the supporting cast for example for Adriana, and they all have a permanent full-time job. They don’t make a lot but at least every month there is a regular paycheck dropping in, and it allows us to have a very intensive programming, in spite of our very limited budget [the company is presenting 22 operas this season, counting not only the main fully staged productions but all the other series].

    Theatro São Pedro, exterior

    Theatro São Pedro, interior

    OL – We are surprised that with a budget of three million reais [less than one million dollars] you can do so many productions and initiatives.

    LFM – It is made possible by all these ideas for this time of complete crisis: it is the investment on people, even if they don’t make a lot, but they have constancy in their work. Naturally this also contributes to their development and betterment. For me, this theater is a delicious amusement park. [laughs] It is not financially rewarding for me, but I have lots of fun. I gave this gift to myself.

    OL – Since we talked a lot with Paulo about the São Pedro [again, read his interview (here)], I would like to focus more on Manaus. A few years ago you and I were in touch by email, when I was surprised that a Brazilian theater in the middle of the jungle did the Ring. I would like to know more about the obstacles you faced when trying to produce the Ring’s sixteen hours of opera.

    The maestro at Teatro Amazonas

    The gorgeous Teatro Amazonas in Manaus, Brazil

    Teatro Amazonas, interior, photo Carla Lima

    LFM – Yep, sixteen hours! [laughs] Manaus has some peculiar characteristics. Most likely I wouldn’t be able to pull it off in any other Brazilian theater, but in Manaus when we started this project with the Secretary of Culture in 1997 which was the year of the Festival’s creation and the founding of the Amazonas Philharmonic, it was a city that was completely virgin for opera. Nobody had ever seen opera. Nobody had any information about classical music in general. Everything was big novelty, and the first two festivals of which I did not participate were almost entirely done with foreigners. They rented two productions from the Minsk Opera Theater in Belarus [National Academic Grand Opera and Ballet Theatre of the Republic of Belarus]. They did three titles, La Traviata and The Barber of Seville from Minsk, and another production that came from Brazil, I don’t recall from where – Porto Alegre [the capital of the State of Rio Grande do Sul], I don’t know. The orchestra also came from Minsk, as well as the conductors and singers. Ultimately there wasn’t much that was Brazilian.

    The opera house in Minsk

    The Philharmonic was created after the first festival. The governor at the time found that having an orchestra was interesting. He wanted to make of the Amazonas a live theater, something it was not. It was rather a monument, and once in a blue moon they would put a stage play there, coming from São Paulo, but it did not function regularly; it did not have its own life, and did not have artists.

    This orchestra was formed with very good musicians, the majority from Eastern Europe; excellent musicians. In the beginning it was a small orchestra. When I arrived there, it was a classical-size orchestra so to speak, and then we kept growing it, up to ninety instrumentalists which is what we have today.

    Thinking about this repertory, when I was the assistant conductor here in São Paulo under the principal conductor maestro Isaac Karabtchevsky, I suggested “let’s do Wagner’s Ring cycle; nobody has done it in Brazil.” He had no interest whatsoever for my suggestion; it didn’t happen, which ultimately I found to be a good thing, because *I* ended up doing it! [laughs]

    So then I went to Manaus. The first festival I did was in 1999 with very little money and very poor conditions. Then I did the 2000 festival and it was the celebration of Brazil’s 500th anniversary, and I did the Il Guarany production that we ended up showing in Lisbon, Portugal as well.

    Il Guarany at the Teatro Amazonas

    It was a very interesting production, the first complete Guarany done here, because Guarany has always had many, many cuts. Practically one third of the opera was always cut. Even that Neschling recording with Plácido in Cologne was much more complete than what was usually done here, but still, it had cuts.

    So in 2000 I put in my head that I’d do the complete opera, and that’s what we did there, in a very interesting production. Paulo Szot [the famous Polish-Brazilian singer successful at the Metropolitan Opera and Broadway, an Opera Lively interviewee – read his interview (here)] was the baritone. It was a simple production with a limited budget, but it worked.

    In 2001 I had already worked with an English stage director called Aidan Lang who is today the artistic director of Seattle Opera. I always thought that he is an excellent director with many good ideas, and a very good acting director, which is not often seen in our opera world. The first opera we did together was Massenet’s Manon, another one that hadn’t been given in Brazil for many, many years.

    Then when Manon was over in Manaus we sat together for dinner, and I said “what’s next?” He said, “I don’t know, let’s talk.” I said “look, I have a crazy idea that I always wanted to do but never had the opportunity, but what about doing The Valkyrie as the first one for a probable cycle?” He was startled, and said “The Valkyrie?? What??” but at the same time he was much energized.

    Then in 2002 we staged The Valkyrie. Why The Valkyrie? Because I thought, “well, to do a Wagner here in Manaus with a public that has always been enthusiast and ever-improving in past festivals… but it’s a long opera with hours of music… [laughs] – just that talk between Wotan and Brünnhilde in the second act – but let’s start by doing The Valkyrie because at least there is "The Ride" and if people are still alive by the third act [laughs] they will recognize it, not do forget that Valkyrie is my preferred one from the cycle. So, let’s do it.”

    And we went ahead. The project was very interesting, with sets and everything. And another thing I was never in agreement with, is the resistance and a certain prejudice to say that in Brazil there were no Wagnerian voices. I always thought, first, that if we hear the old recordings from the beginning of the 20th century, the first ones we know of and have access to, we see that Wagnerian singers of that time actually sung! [laughs] It wasn’t a factory of big tentorial voices. The tenors at the time worked with the musical phrase, did music, especially in a theater of small size.

    I remember that I attended a cycle in Saarbrücken in Germany in a very small theater, basically the same size of the Teatro Amazonas. It wasn’t that much bigger and they did a cycle every year, or almost. So it’s all rubbish. I said “Let’s use Brazilian singers!” True, certain voices we didn’t have. At the time we didn’t have a Brazilian Brünnhilde, and I think we still don’t. The first year’s Sigmund was Eduardo Alvares who is a very intelligent singer who had certainly the perfect voice for that. In our first Valkyrie only the Brünnhilde wasn’t Brazilian; it was an American called Maria Russo, with a big, musical, and malleable voice.

    In Manaus there are other characteristics. First: the orchestra has no union, committee, etc., nothing. They work, they keep their weekly hours, and never complain, never whine, nothing. My assistant there remembers this story: we had a pre-dress rehearsal of The Valkyrie, and at 1:30 AM I said “intermission!” [big laughs]. I think we had started at 7 or 8 PM, I don’t know. I said “intermission” and nobody quit. We broke for a while, came back, and finished the opera.

    Both from the musicians and the technicians, there were no limits. “Oh no, we’ll work for two or three hours then we'll stop.” There wasn’t that. They were there for the spectacle; everybody downed the team’s jersey and let’s go! Imagine, they played double the time, went on blank nights without complaining, making little money, but they remained involved. Still today it’s like this; they get involved with the show and hum the melodies that they learn by heart.

    So it was a very favorable condition, different from the rest of Brazil. And it was a big success to the point that I was in a local supermarket and someone approached me and said, “Maestro, next year, Siegfried, OK?” and I said, “Yes, next year, Siegfried!” And that’s how it was. Next year we did Sig, and the following year The Twilight of the Gods, and the fourth year we did the whole thing. We premiered Rheingold and did the complete cycle, twice.

    Let's see some pictures from those productions

    Now, it was a theater that did not have 20th century conditions. It was very technically limited. The sets for the productions were completely different and very heavy; they weren’t made of some cloths hanging from the top. In the first act of Sig, for example, Mime’s little house was a huge thing; we still have those productions there, under storage. Valkyrie had some columns, a maquette, everything huge.

    So it was like this; we did Rheingold, and had some containers because we couldn’t store everything inside the theater, so around the theater we had enormous containers. The dress rehearsal for Rheingold was over, and the technicians spent a blank night changing everything over; they put The Valkyrie on, and the change lasted until next day up to the time the rehearsal would start again, and it was all ready. We did Rheingold and Valkyrie in consecutive days, paused, Siegfried, paused, Twilight in rehearsals; next week we did everything again, and then we did the first and second cycles for the public the same way. And it was always like this, all night long, changing, tuning the lights, and so on and so forth. I would never pull it off in another theater.

    And it’s the same orchestra, because Bayreuth for example has two orchestras, and sometimes they switch in the middle of the performance; no musician plays the entire opera. And in Manaus, no; the same musicians were playing two hundred hours per day [laughs]. Today they say “maestro, don’t come up with ideas because now we are old, we can’t endure it any longer, don’t even think of doing it again!” [laughs]

    It was the divisor of waters for the festival, in 2005. It had enormous repercussion. There were Wagnerians coming from Australia, from Germany to attend, and the festival achieved more diffusion. “Who are these crazy people who did the Ring in the middle of the jungle?” people were saying. It was very funny. I don’t recall the precise year, 2010 or 2011, I don’t know, but I went to conduct in La Coruña, Spain, and they were having a festival in Santiago de Compostela nearby, and the same artistic director in La Coruña was the festival’s director. Riccardo Muti went there to conduct his youth orchestra, the Cherubini or something like that. I went there to see it, and this director came and said “don’t go away in a hurry because we will have dinner with Muti.”

    I thought “imagine, dinner with Muti; it will be a long table with millions of people. He will make his entrances, nod to us, eat an olive, and go away.” It wasn’t like that. It was a table for six people, and I sat directly in front of him. There was his agent, that artistic director, the Secretary of Culture or whatever was equivalent to that title in the city, my Spanish agent, and another lady whose function I don’t know. And he arrived saying that he couldn’t stay very long, but the conversation got traction, and he stayed. Someone told him who I was, and he immediately said “Ah, you did the Ring in Manaus! You are crazy!” And I said, “yes, we did!” So, it was the divisor of waters.

    But what guided the programming was always the idea of gathering Brazilian singers, both the ones who live in Brazil and the ones who are abroad and have little opportunity to perform here, and the idea of launching the highest possible number of young singers, to give them space.

    OL – And now you are doing Berg there. You did Lulu! How did the public react to such a complex work?

    LFM – This is another thing I always say when I’m invited to a round table, because still today people say “ah, we can’t do this or that.” Once I had an ugly fight with people from the culture environment in Brasília in one of these gatherings, and they speak one by one and always ask me about the Ring and doing Wagner in Manaus and it was very well received; I alwasys talk about how surprised I was with the local public’s reaction. And then in this round table in Brasília everybody had spoken and I was quiet, and then someone said that Brasília didn’t do much opera, only once in a while, and he said “evidently we wouldn’t be able to do Wagner in Brasília; it would have to be a popular opera.”

    Then I said “OK, really?? Brasília is the nation’s capital, has all the embassies and so on and so forth, and can’t have Wagner. Only my indians there in Manaus can.” [big laughs from all present]. He was mad. I can’t stand hearing about this notion of popular operas. These titles, Trovatore, Butterfly, they were popular when I was a little brat, and my grandfather and my father knew the arias. Nowadays, who knows them? What is a popular opera? It doesn’t exist, understand? What exists, is a well-done show.

    Sometimes you do Lulu, or the Lady Macbeth that we did there, and their language is much closer to today’s virgin public, than that of those so-called popular operas. You’ll do a Lucia where the dude is parked there on stage – I adore it, by the way – singing ornamentations for half an hour; it’s much tougher to be convincing. The staging needs to be a lot smarter, much more creative, etc., etc., so that you can sell it to a young public of non-aficionados, rather than a title like Lulu and even the Wagners we did. We presented the Ring cycle, Tristan, The Flying Dutchman, and Parsifal. The last one we did was Parsifal.

    The maestro overseeing the rehearsal for Parsifal at Teatro Amazonas

    The reactions sometimes are much more enthusiastic for this kind of repertory than for the so-called traditional repertory.

    OL – Well, Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District is extremely lively and strong.

    LFM – Exactly.

    OL – It has a lot of theatrical value, and it is vibrant for the public.

    LFM – Exactly.

    OL – Now, Lulu, musically with the dodecaphonic serialism is much more difficult.

    LFM – Yes, but the story is so strong as well! And the stage director that did it with us -- Gustavo Tambascio, is a half-Argentinian, half-Spanish man who has been living in Madrid for several years -- is a man of great culture and sensibility, with an impressive creativity, and the staging was very neat. It was very strong. Within our limitations we got a very interesting cast.

    Anke Berndt as Lulu at Teatro Amazonas, photo Evandro Seixas

    The Lulu was a very good German singer, Anke Berndt, and there was also a Swedish singer as the Countess, Ulrika Tenstam, who is a tall, blonde woman with a huge voice, and very nice too. The baritone was a Dutchman who didn’t have a good voice – he was suggested to us – but he also knew the role very well and was a good actor. The rest of the cast was all made of Brazilians. Ultimately, it was a lot of hard work for the Brazilian singers and for the orchestra, but the reaction was very good too. It was one of those things that gave me a lot of pleasure.

    Four more pictures of Lulu at Teatro Amazonas, all by Evandro Seixas:

    A video clip of Lulu at Teatro Amazonas, conducted by Malheiro:

    OL – And you also did traveling opera for the communities along the Amazon River?

    LFM – It’s very difficult. The money is very limited. Over there everything is very expensive, the service component, the physical stage, the lighting, the sound systems for open air shows, they cost something incredible. What is least costly is the artists’ pay, and the scenery. What we can do with our budget is very limited. Everything that relies on technology and involves doing it outside of the theater increases costs astronomically. On the other hand the Secretary of Culture wants to do it; they like it; it’s politically important, so all closing shows for the Festival are done outdoors, around the theater, in the plaza there where we sit 15,000 people in plastic chairs, which is also something neat.

    I love open-air shows. We had some traveling ones. We were able to do a Pagliacci in a very distant town, and it was a very neat experience. People were very emotional; they cried, and asked us to come back. With the orchestra we have had many trips to the countryside, by boat, stopping at the riverside communities, but full operas we don’t do frequently, because of the costs; not for any other reason.

    OL – How do you compare the musical quality of Brazilian singers with the ones abroad?

    LFM – Look, regarding technique, Brazil has always been very lacking. We had Italian professors after World War II. The best ones went to the United States, but some came here. At the time we still had some tradition; a good singing school; good but not outstanding. Later, this was lost, with the death of those people. The greatest cradle of singing technique after World War II was the United States. With a broken Europe, the large majority of good singers went to the United States, and there, this great Italian school is still active. The greatest feeding pool for German theaters for a long time was the United States. These singers went to those German houses with fixed ensembles and were drained dry. The same soprano had to sing The Merry Widow one day, and Tosca the next day. They always lasted some four or five years, then they stopped or quit or got ruined, and then a new batch of Americans arrived.

    When I started growing an interest for this, we had singers in Brazil with very good voices and solid technique, but they were musically a disaster. They only sang by ear. This was a very limiting factor for the repertory.

    Later it was the other way around. We no longer had good voice teachers, but the youngsters had better musical training, attended universities, etc. So they were better musicians but vocally they weren’t that good. Those who were able to go abroad, some of them developed good technique. But mistakenly – I’m talking about the late seventies and the eighties – the youngsters went to Germany to study, because there was a prevalent notion at the time that the good place to go to learn everything about music and singing was Germany. It was rubbish, because it wasn’t true. Many voices got ruined in Germany. Those who chose to go to the United States for example, had much better luck.

    It depends, also, because regarding voice teacher and singing student, Pavarotti used to say that there wasn’t a good teacher; what existed was a happy match between two people, which was his own case, because his voice teacher who taught him technique, I met him at his house, already very old, and he was Pavarotti’s size and had a very similar voice; not with the same quality but very good – Arrigo Pola if I’m not mistaken – and when I heard him singing in his lessons – I went there to listen to his lessons – I said “well, perfect, a guy with very good technique, from the old Italian school, with a voice similar to his student’s; it is a naturally fruitful situation.”

    So it’s like this; that’s it; you go to a place with people who are even famous and had interesting careers and there is no guarantee – Giulietta Simionato for example was a terrible teacher; never formed anybody – Paulo’s friend Virginia Zeani who went to the United States and is still there teaching in a university [University of Indiana in Bloomington] also has contrasting opinions regarding whether or not she is a good teacher. Actually the vast majority of American singers we see with wonderful technique had unknown teachers – at least, unknown outside their own environments.

    So for the issue of Brazilian singers, the big deficiency is in many cases the technical side. This is something I’ve been fighting a lot against, and now we have here the Academy that is improving it. Daniella Carvalho who is here singing Adriana lives in New York City; she settled there, went to school there, and she has solid technique. She sings hours and hours in a row, and never spares her voice in rehearsals. She is doing a technical upgrade on our youngsters and is making me very happy.

    When I arrived I encountered many excellent voices but nobody knew how to support. Nobody sang with the body, only with the throat, with deficiencies and limited high notes, and now we are getting very good results after Daniella took over this technical side of the body.

    Now, I think Brazilians are very sensitive and with the Latin side in many cases, when they are able to sing well and also have good technique, I find the results superior to those of many singers of other origins, including the Americans that have people who sing very well with very good technique but in many cases I don’t see truth in their singing. I see technique, I see a school of singing, but I think that our creativity, our sensitivity, in many cases is superior.

    Italy which was the cradle of technique and voice, I think that they regressed a lot, in what they produce today in the matter of singers. Spain had a very good phase with good singers, but now is so-so. Ultimately I find everything very annoying in our environment, in general, especially the superstar system. It’s very boring.

    OL – What about the instrumentalists and the orchestras?

    LFM – That, it has improved significantly in Brazil. It’s the same case of singers. The orchestras in Brazil after World War II especially in the big cities like Rio and São Paulo, were completely the feud of Italians. The vast majority of musicians was made of either Italians, or players of Italian origin. They were a technically limited bunch, but with a strong notion of style, especially for opera. It was something! They were doing Bohème, and had to lower the tone of “Manina” for the tenor, and nobody needed the score. The maestro arrived and said “one tone lower; half a tone lower” and the dude executed it then and there immediately, understand? Today we can’t have anything if it is not in written form. So, they had enormous culture regarding the repertory, but technically they weren’t all that.

    Finally, in Eleazar de Carvalho’s tenure with the old OSESP, there was a different batch of musicians. Eleazar liked French woods, so he brought them from France. He liked American metals, so he brought a bunch of people from the United States, and percussion too. A new and different school of musicians started to form, and it was vastly superior to the ones in the fifties and sixties. I’m talking about the early seventies.

    Then there was the fall of the Berlin wall, and Eastern countries opened up for the musicians to come out which before was forbidden, and with this, a big bunch of people came from the East. Manaus for example was an orchestra formed by Eastern musicians who have a very good string school. At that time in the seventies the wind and percussion sections had already improved but the string sections were still very deficient. With the arrival of these Eastern musicians with very good Russian and Bulgarian string techniques there was a general upgrade, because they arrived and started to teach. This is automatic. They start playing for the orchestra and automatically become professors.

    In Manaus as well we have three youth orchestras, currently. When I arrived to the theater there were two local musicians from Manaus playing for the orchestra, people who had never seen anything, from very, very disadvantaged families, very poor, who discovered a new world of possibilities, of life actually, not even of music and art. Rice and beans. Bread. Obviously they developed a lot.

    So now with the renovation of the OSESP, with the Sala São Paulo [a modern concert hall], it is an orchestra with structures and standards that are quite world class already, which was something that didn’t exist here. They played a role of raising the level and the organizational part of other Brazilian orchestras. They became a reference for the other orchestras, to convince politicians and people who control culture that things need to be different. This was very helpful. It helped the salary grades, and helped with the way of approaching things.

    I believe that today Brazil counts on many good orchestras, beyond the Rio-São Paulo axis, which before were the only good places. Today we have a wonderful Philharmonic in Belo Horizonte, and one in Goiânia as well which is great. It hasn’t made much splash in the media yet, but it is an excellent orchestra. I’ll conduct them in July or August. São Paulo has the OSESP, and the Orchestra of the Theatro Municipal which is in a very good phase, and there is ours here which is very young but is growing a lot. There is the Amazonas Philharmonic in the North which is an excellent orchestra, so, centers of music and art are spreading. I compare this to the time when I grew an interest for this, thirty-something years ago, and our current phase is much better, much more stimulating, and much livelier.

    OL – To finish, would you say something about you as a person, about your philosophy of life, and your habits?

    LFM – I don’t know if there is an interest.

    OL – Oh, there’s always interest. People love to read about this.

    LFM – [laughs] I don’t know… So, I’m a fanatic for what I do. I am a workaholic, deep inside, because I have lots of fun. I think this is a blessing, to be able to work doing something that ultimately is so amusing. I have only worked with music, in my life. I’m a Law School graduate but I only stepped inside the Court House on the occasion of my first divorce. [laughs] When I was in Law School I didn’t go there not even once, although I did like the Law, and still do. It helps me a lot in the matter of contracts and things like that, because a conductor normally has a double life. It’s not just the music. There is a whole bureaucratic side. In Manaus I was for a long time also the theater’s artistic director, and the director of all State musical bodies. Later I got tired and passed this side on to my deputy, but here in the São Pedro there is again this whole bureaucratic side, and deep inside I do like it. I like to organize things and make changes.

    I went to school at the Largo de São Francisco, which is the Law School of the University of São Paulo [editor’s note – it’s the most prestigious Brazilian law school]. Only the Chá overpass separated the school from the Theatro Municipal, then I was there more than at school. [laughs]

    In my personal life I don’t have a lot of… [laughs], I mean, I do, I have emotions, but they are not interesting. [laughs] I became a father very late in life, at age fifty. My daughter is now seven years old, and I think she is the best thing I’ve done in my life.

    [In this video clip the maestro is seen conducting, with his daughter Eleonora:]

    What else? There isn’t much. A philosophy of life; I’m not sure I have one. I like it, I live well, I love life and love what I do. It is very easy for me to have fun. I’m good company to myself. [laughs] Because it’s a solitary life; it becomes one, because we travel a lot, stay in hotels a lot, we have many solitary moments, but I don’t have lots of depressive states. I take some medicines but I don’t have a lot of problems. [laughs]

    OL – Perfect. Do you want to add anything?

    LFM – No, it’s all good.

    OL – Many thanks for the time you spent with us, and for the fascinating information.

    LFM – No, I thank *you.*



    This is a video showing the rehearsals for Adriana Lecouvreur at Theatro São Pedro:

    This interview with the maestro for Brazilian TV Cultura about Don Quixote shows several parts of the performance at the São Pedro:


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    Comments 3 Comments
    1. MAuer's Avatar
      MAuer -
      Another terrific interview! What Maestro Malheiro has accomplished is truly amazing.
    1. Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
      Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) -
      Thanks! By the way, I have fixed some problems - I had failed to include some links, and there were some typos and weirdly constructed translations (the interview was originally done in Portuguese) which are hopefully better, now.
    1. Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
      Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) -
      Now with video clips.

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