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Dalia Stasevska on conducting A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Kyiv-born Finnish conductor Dalia Stasevska is reflecting on the escapism offered by art and music, and what this has meant to her since the invasion of Ukraine.

‘Thank goodness I didn’t stop conducting because music saved me’.

‘It’s so hard, everything that you have to deal with daily. My little brother is in Kyiv and being scared all the time for him and worried about the ordinary Ukrainian people…’

Senior Press Manager Kate Harvey caught up with Kyiv-born Finnish conductor Dalia Stasevska. Dalia reflects on the escapism offered by art and music, and what this has meant to her since the invasion of Ukraine. When the war started, she considered giving up conducting to become a full-time volunteer, before realising that her platform as a musician gave her another way to help. ‘I have this unbelievable audience,’ she says. ‘I cannot change the world with music but I can use my voice to help change the world. I can talk to people and tell them what is going on.’

Photo by Veikko Kähkönen

Since then she has regularly used her performances to speak out about the war, or perform Ukrainian music or the country’s national anthem as a show of solidarity. Along with her brothers she is helping deliver relief and raise money, and two weeks before we speak, she visited Ukraine to give a concert. ‘Their whole cultural life is, of course, completely crippled. You sometimes wonder, how is it possible that we can do a concert in the middle of the war?’, she asks. ‘The answer is that making music gives you a space to process things that you cannot verbalise and remember what normal life is; remember normal feelings, that you can be happy and joyous… feelings of hope.’

And for her personally, that has certainly been the case: ‘being a conductor, you cannot think about anything else while you are conducting. It became this place for me where I can deal with things. I don’t need to talk to anyone, I don’t need to explain, the music washes me every time and gives me power to continue. It is important for us to have those spaces. It doesn’t mean that we escape from the truth or from reality but it is really important for our health and well being. Art is an unbelievable superpower.’

If art is a superpower, then opera, in bringing together all the different art forms, is one of the most potent forms available. And a world of meddling fairies and mistaken identities, where everything turns out well in the end, certainly has all the ingredients for an escapist night in the opera house.

Glyndebourne’s production of Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, first seen in 1981, makes its return to the Festival next summer with Dalia making her Glyndebourne debut leading the London Philharmonic Orchestra and a cast that includes Tim Mead as Oberon, Louise Alder as Tytania and Brandon Cedel as Bottom. The production has achieved iconic status and remains beloved by audiences, something Dalia is embracing.

Festival 2016, photo by Robert Workman

‘I know that this is a legendary production so it’s a great honour, as my first production at Glyndebourne, that I can be part of this,’ she says. ‘I don’t think that anybody who comes into a long running production should be somehow scared or afraid to do something. You have to come as you are. This is why art is so great. It’s an ongoing process and that’s why these pieces are alive forever. There’s always something new to do. And it’s not absolutely new – it’s just a new combination and some magic that happens while we’re performing.’

It will also be her first experience conducting an English opera and the perfect composer with which to start. ‘Britten is one of my favourite composers,’ Dalia explains. ‘I played The Turn of the Screw at the Sibelius Academy when I was a student and I remember that I was so in love with the music. It was mind blowing.’

At 37, Dalia has only been conducting professionally for seven years but is already well known to UK audiences through her work with the BBC Symphony Orchestra – she became both the youngest person and the first woman to be awarded a title conducting position with the ensemble in 2019 – and several performances at the BBC Proms. She had been due to conduct the Last Night of the 2022 season, before it was cancelled due to the death of Queen Elizabeth II.

While much of her work has been orchestral, she is exceptionally versatile and a passionate opera conductor, asserting that ‘some of the greatest music is in opera repertoire’ and for a conductor in such high demand, opera offers some respite from a hectic travel schedule.

‘I’m definitely enjoying this very busy, exciting time in my life and career. But I also very much like doing opera, at least once a season, because it gives me space to be fixed in one place for some time.’ Another attraction is the highly collaborative approach that opera requires. ‘The process of putting together opera is different and much slower from symphonic music because you have so many more elements to take care of. You have the stage, you have a director, you have soloists, you have choreography, you have the orchestra in the pit, you have lights and many other elements that I haven’t even mentioned.’

‘When I do my interpretation of the piece it is not the same process as in symphonic work where I make the biggest decisions. In opera, you have to collaborate on everything. This is also the element that excites me because there are so many talented people around. Every time I work at the opera, I learn so much.’

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is on stage from 1 July – 22 August 2023

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