Talking with conductors: Harry Bicket
At the podium for David Alden's production of Alcina at The Santa Fe Opera (July 29-August 23) is in-demand conductor of Baroque opera, Harry Bicket. Bicket leads an exciting cast that features Elza van den Heever in the title role, Anna Christy as Morgana, and Daniela Mack as Bradamante.
Bicket's Santa Fe debut came in 2004 with Agrippina, and he became Chief Conductor of The Santa Fe Opera in 2013. We spoke with him about the "extraordinarily profound music" that Handel writes for Alcina, and the storytelling among the composer's "relatively simple" scores.
How did you find yourself a "specialist" of sorts in Baroque music?
I was asked to conduct a new production of Handel's Ariodante at English National Opera in 1993, since it was then a rarely performed work, and I had some experience of playing harpsichord with early music groups in London. The success of that show lead to invitations to conduct other Handel works at Glyndebourne, Munich and the Met, and all of a sudden I was apparently a specialist.
As a conductor or music director, what are your first priorities when you approach a Handel opera?
The notes of a Handel opera are relatively simple, compared to a Strauss or Wagner opera, but I concentrate a lot on the rhetorical gesture of every phrase and in creating a soundworld that precisely matches the emotional temperature of the drama.
What do you think are some common misconceptions that opera lovers may have about a character like Alcina?
Handel operas are rarely just about the fictional characters of the libretto or even the plot. They are vehicles to explore every facet of human emotion, which is why they seem so modern in many ways.
Alcina is a powerful, seductive woman who takes lovers and rejects them ruthlessly when she is tired of them. When one of her lovers decides that it is he who will leave her, her world is turned upside down. The misconception that she is simply a picture book sorceress who waves a magic wand to turn her lovers into wild beasts misses the point, and goes nowhere in explaining the extraordinarily profound music Handel writes for her.
When you go to the opera, can you define what it is that makes an impressive or memorable operatic performance?
A memorable operatic performance for me is when one is so engaged by the performances on stage and in the pit that one forgets one is sitting in a theater, and you are transported to another level of experience.