Peter Tromp for Next 48hours
PT: Tell us a little about yourself and your musical background.
TM: I am Associate Music Director of Cape Town Opera and have been working with this tremendous company regularly since 2012, here in Cape Town and on our international tours. I first came to South Africa in 2000 to play the piano for the Spier Festival and fell completely in love with the singing tradition of the country. When I’m not in Cape Town I am conducting in Europe and the Far East, or at home with my family in London.
PT: Tell us about C.W. Gluck’s opera ‘Orphée et Eurydice’; its significance within the operatic oeuvre and why it remains revered and relevant to this day.
TM: The story of Orpheus is well-known from many different versions – operas, plays, films, poems and books – and I think its themes are universal: grief, loss, and the power of love despite human weakness. Gluck’s music has a kind of gorgeous simplicity – restrained melodies with great expressive power. It’s not fussy or extrovert, but manages to express a range of emotions – utter bliss, or extreme anger – in a very eloquent way. Plus he uses the orchestra brilliantly.
PT: What can opera fans, as well as newcomers look forward to with Matthew Wild’s new production? What has your working relationship with the director been like?
TM:This is the second production that Matthew and I have worked on together, and we have a close and productive collaboration. It’s great to work with a director who is similar to me in temperament – we both have a relaxed yet rigorous approach to the rehearsal process. Matt is very respectful of the operatic tradition, but also willing to question and challenge it, and I think the results are excellent. Of course with CTO there is the sheer entertainment factor of a chorus that can sing and dance to such a high standard, and we are very lucky to have a young superstar, Fleur Barron, singing the role of Orpheus.
PT: I understand that the characters of Orphée and Eurydice in the opera are being played as two women in love. How has this changed the way you are approaching the musical arrangements?
TM: With any production of an old opera it is good to look at the characters with a fresh eye and not to fall back on familiar ways of doing things. Issues of gender identity are not new to opera (The Marriage of Figaro has a female singer playing a man who is pretending to be a women!) and it’s a great way of re-assessing the piece for a contemporary audience. The same goes for the music: I want it to sound modern and engaged.
PT: In your conductor’s notes you say, ‘Throughout our rehearsals I have been struck by Gluck’s ability to speak a complex emotional language using a simple musical vocabulary’; this sounds rather modern. How ahead of his time would you say Gluck was?
TM: Gluck was trying to reform the opera world so that there was greater psychological truth in the storytelling, and to get rid of some of the excesses of Baroque music. In that way it is quite a modern aesthetic – the piece reminds me a bit of a film or Netflix series where you concentrate on a particular character in intense detail. But the musical language is absolutely mid-18th-century and in many ways prefigures Mozart.
PT: What has your method been for tapping into the spirit of the music? Has it differed at all from how you have approached works in the past?
TM: The piece has a very complicated history so it was necessary to do quite a lot of background research before deciding which version to do. This is also the first time I have conducted any music by Gluck so I did investigate the singing and playing styles of the time in detail before starting our rehearsals. For example the make-up of the orchestra is quite different from a regular modern orchestra. But I am not delivering a history lesson, I am conducting what I hope will be a captivating live performance for Cape Town in 2019!