OPERA NEWS - Viewpoint: From Russia With Love
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Viewpoint: From Russia With Love

By F. Paul Driscoll

Viewpoint Bychkov hdl 719
Semyon Bychkov with the Czech Philharmonic
© Marco Borggreve

CONDUCTORS LOVE to talk about music—and most of them talk about it well. In October 2018, I had the pleasure of interviewing maestro Semyon Bychkov, who was then in New York for concerts at Carnegie Hall with the Czech Philharmonic, an orchestra he loves, and which he serves as music director and chief conductor. 

One of the topics Bychkov and I covered during our wide-ranging conversation was his return to Bayreuth this summer to lead Parsifal, the opera of his Bayreuth debut in 2018. When I asked him to describe what it was like to conduct Wagner in Bayreuth, Bychkov replied, “It was a tremendous revelation to do Parsifal in the atmosphere of Bayreuth. What you feel when you are inside Bayreuth is so different from what you see from the outside. Inside it’s a family, because everyone is there for a single reason—they love the creations of that one man, Wagner. Nothing else, just that. It’s the only place that is centered around one man’s music. Whether they’re stagehands or costume designers or people who do makeup or the musicians themselves makes not the slightest bit of difference. Wagner is the reason everyone is there.

Parsifal was the first opera that I heard in Bayreuth when I went there for the first time, years ago. I was sitting in the second row, center—two meters away from the cover of the pit. Lights go down, it’s quiet, and before I heard the first note of Parsifal, I felt vibrations with my feet, which then became that first note. It made me crazy.

“That sound is important, because Parsifal is the only piece written for Bayreuth acoustics. Ever since I heard Parsifal in Bayreuth, when I have conducted Parsifal—in Vienna, in Florence, in Paris, in Dresden—every time we would start the prelude, I would always tell my colleagues about that first sensation I had when I heard that first note in Bayreuth. 

“Now, you cannot recreate those acoustics or that atmosphere anywhere else, it’s clear. But at least if you have an idea of the sound of that first note, if you try somehow to approximate that, something will happen that otherwise would not.” spacer 

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