Spotlight on: Kimberley-Ann BartczakInterview
1. How does the role of the conductor differ between opera and symphonic work?
I feel the main difference is that in opera, the conductor has to make sure a story is told both in the text and in the music. Therefore every word needs to be heard and understood, just as every note in the orchestra should be heard as well.
2. What makes a conductor “singer-friendly?”
I don’t think that the term “singer-friendly” conductor is something that people should use. You wouldn’t hear the term “viola friendly” conductor (I feel like a viola joke should be inserted here), because either the conductor is making music with the instrument, or not. As a conductor, if you are to work with a specific instrument, you need to understand the fundamental concepts of said instrument, before stepping foot on the podium. For singers, the conductor needs to understand the breath, the language, and adapt to the spin of each different voice.
3. What kind of communication skills does a conductor need to work in opera?
I can think of 3 main communication skills: listening, speaking, and nonverbal communication. A conductor needs all of these.
Listening: The conductor is actively listening to the music, and adapting the musical lines to the interpretation, or giving more time to the singer so that they can move in accordance to their directorial notes.
Speaking: Able to communicate with other colleagues, either a director who wants to be given more time for a specific moment, or talk to the repetiteur because there was an error in the edition.
Nonverbal communication: This is EXTREMELY important in conducting, since all the communication between the orchestra and the singer on stage is through a conductor “waving” his arms in a certain way. The singer and orchestra need to be able to understand what he is “saying” through his gestures to all stay together.
4. What does opera need more of? What does it need less of?
Opera needs more exposure. I watched a TED talk a few years ago where Benjamin Zander was explaining how classical music is accessible to everyone (which by the way, if you are reading this, you should follow up this article with watching said TED talk), they just need to be educated about it, and I fundamentally think that this statement is 100% true. School and community outreach programs help, although there could be so much more, which leads me to what it needs less of: the stigma of it being a sophisticated art form that only the rich and snobby can enjoy. Any generation can enjoy opera, they just need to be exposed to it.
5. Do you have a “bucket list” opera that you’d love to conduct? Why?
I am a sucker for French opera, specifically post-Romantic. I can listen to Dialogues des Carmélites and L’enfant et les Sortilèges over and over again. I have had the privilege of conducting L’enfant recently with piano (and did I ever have a fine pianist), but still hope to one day stand in front of an orchestra to completely fulfill the dream.