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Rizzi reminisces

28 July 2020

Earlier this month WNO Conductor Laureate Carlo Rizzi celebrated not only his 60th birthday this month but his 30-year anniversary with Welsh National Opera. We spoke to him to find out more about his highlights and experiences with the Company:

Tell us what led you to first becoming involved with WNO
The story goes that Sir Brian McMaster, WNO General Director at the time, was listening to a Radio 3 broadcast of my very first performance in the UK – at the Buxton Festival in 1988. He decided he wanted to invite me to conduct in Wales, where I arrived for the first time in February 1990.

Your first performance with WNO was The Barber of Seville on 6 March 1990. How was it?
I was really impressed with the way that the Chorus was enjoying being on stage, particularly in that production, directed by Giles Havergal, that was very lively and, importantly, was absolutely in unison with the music of Rossini. I remember in that production, there was a pre-play of 10 minutes during which the Chorus was ‘setting up’ the stage and the principals are preparing as if they are from a troupe of the ‘commedia dell’ arte’. So I started to go on stage myself in my tails, pretending to give musical advice to the various people in the production and I really enjoyed these tongue-in-cheek moments before starting the show. I remember a warm response from the audience too, something I am happy I have always had in Wales.

Since then you have taken Wales to your heart and have even learnt Welsh. What is it about Wales that made you want to make your home here?
When I got offered the job of Music Director back in 1991 I soon discovered that, because of the particular pattern of rehearsing and performing, I needed to be where the job was. It was not an easy decision because of it would be a different way of life, but I decided to take the plunge and make the move in 1992. I started a family and had two half Welsh children and felt I wanted to make a much longer-term commitment to Wales, its rich culture and its identity and its language.

If you could go back in time, and give advice to your 30-year-old self, what would it be, and why?
Well, I think that the advice that I will give to myself is to trust people more. On a more artistic side, I would now have a different approach to the first rehearsals. At the time I wanted to make everything right from rehearsal number one, while now, knowing my colleagues in WNO much better, I know that certain things get fixed naturally in the later rehearsals without having to micro-manage every bit of each bar. But I guess this comes with experience and with the deeper understanding of each other as musicians.