Maestro Nicola Luisotti (pictured with San Francisco Opera's General Director David Gockley and President of the Fondazione Festival Pucciniano Paolo Spadaccini; photograph by Cory Weaver) is currently conducting the centennial performances of La Fanciulla del West at the Met, including the upcoming HD simulcast on January 8th. He has been met with success in New York and just received the 39th Premio Puccini Award in recognition for his work. The Opera Tattler spoke to the effervescent conductor just before his final performance of Fanciulla at San Francisco Opera last season. Upon reaching his dressing room, Luisotti could be heard playing the piano.
What were you playing?
Some Chopin waltzes.
Are you always playing?
I study all the time, 6 to 7 hours a day, if I am not conducting, working with musicians, or listening to auditions.
You seem to often wear a navy polo shirt with a white sweater draped over your shoulders. What is the story behind how you dress?
I dress the same all the time, everywhere I go. This is so I am not a distraction to the musicians, I just want people to see that it is me, Luisotti, and get on with the music.
I hear you are to conduct Fanciulla for the centenary of this work at the Met, where the opera premiered. How many times have you worked on Fanciulla?
This will be my 7th run of Fanciulla. My first performances were in 1985, as part of the chorus. I have been the chorus master for Fanciulla as well, and the Met production will be my 3rd time conducting the work.
I was surprised how much certain parts of The Phantom of the Opera sound like Fanciulla. Have you heard this musical?
Yes, I have. My wife and I went to hear The Phantom of the Opera for the first time in London last April, when I was conducting Aida at Covent Garden. My wife and I like musicals, and we see a lot of them, it makes for a nice light evening. Andrew Lloyd Webber is a good musician, but some whole lines of Fanciulla were lifted out for some of the songs in the musical! In rehearsals with the orchestra, I would say things like "and now let's start again at the "Music of the Night" part. It made them laugh!
You have conducted both Puccini and Verdi a great deal at San Francisco Opera, is there non-Italian repertoire coming up for you here?
I don't want to say too much, but Tannhäuser, Lohengrin, Carmen are all on the SF Opera schedule for me.
You are hiring some new musicians, tell me about some of them.
As far as new hires in the orchestra, we have chosen a new principal oboist Mingjia Liu and a new prinicipal clarinetist just started here, José González Granero. José is great, he can go from nothing to everything to nothing again. You can hear this in Act II when Rance asks Minnie why she loves Ramerrez. I don't have to tell José anything, he just knows what to do. Music is not a job! Everyone needs a job, of course, but we try to hire musicians, people who love music more than themselves. I love music more than myself! Music is indescribable, just like love. It is just a group of 200 hundred people moving their hands, with me waving my arms, and suddenly you see Canova's Amore e Psiche, and we stop moving our hands and it is gone!
You seem to have rearranged the orchestra quite a bit for nearly every production, what exactly is going on?
We have tried 5 different configurations of the orchestra, even adjusting the level of the floor. The pit is too narrow and too long. The acoustic is challenging so we are trying to find a balance. I know that not every word that the singers utter can be heard, but I don't want it to be boring. Even if you find something to be too much, that too is a reaction. Being disturbing is a reaction. If I restrained the orchestra, I am afraid it would be boring after a hour. I have to respect the score, for Fanciulla, the winds are doubled, and it wrong to cut that orchestration down. When the composer writes "Tutti forza," I must follow that. I hate mezzoforte, and love pianissmo and forte. Life is full of colors. It is like when people go to the movies, no one complains that it is too loud, we get immersed in a world, just as in opera.
Are you still working on a symphonic season with San Francisco Opera's orchestra?
We are still working on this, but it will not be in the city. There is no need to compete with SF Symphony, of course.
Are you going to make it back to San Francisco for the Ring next summer?
I really wanted to make it back here, but unfortunately, my schedule is just too full!
Would you consider conducting this work?
I go back and forth about wanting to conduct a Ring, fighting with myself. I have 30 or 40 years to torture you with my conducting, so who knows!
Now for a very stupid question! What is your favorite pasta?
No, no, it isn't stupid, everyone has to eat, food is important! I like homemade pastas with Bolognese sauce or egg and tuna. I also like risotto with fresh mushrooms!