Robin Ticciati on Festival 2023
Robin Ticciati talks about his role in Festival 2023 and conducting two very different 20th-century masterpieces.
Digital Content Editor Andrew Batty caught up with Robin to talk about his role in Festival 2023 and conducting two very different 20th-century masterpieces.
Photo: Benjamin Ealovega
‘What makes a festival?’ asks Robin Ticciati, as we discuss his role in programming our 2023 season, ‘In essence it is a complex balance of so many factors,’ he says. ‘One component is what I myself can bring to life on the podium. If that can coincide with repertoire that hasn’t been performed at Glyndebourne then all the better. The Festival must be a world of delights, from familiar friends to unknown gems’. The two operas that Robin will conduct at Glyndebourne in 2023 perfectly demonstrate this ethos – our classic production of The Rake’s Progress, and our very first staging of Poulenc’s powerful Dialogues des Carmélites.
Part of the appeal for Robin is the contrast between the two, ‘technically these pieces are worlds apart,’ he explains. ‘The art of conducting the Stravinsky is to make the physical beating incredibly precise whilst escaping all sense of “painting by numbers”. Poulenc’s writing is less rhythmically complex and the overall sound world is more overtly sensual. It calls for a wildly different physical technique on the podium.’
Despite these differences there are aspects that unite the two works: ‘Where both composers find common ground is their economy of orchestration and mastery of setting text so it flows,’ Robin notes. ‘The clean lines reveal such emotional intensity. For a conductor the challenge is to find the balance where the emotion is fully realised without losing the shiny clarity of each work.’
The Rake’s Progress, 2010. Photo: Alastair Muir
For The Rake’s Progress, these emotions will be as raw and intense as when the production was first staged in 1975. ‘There is a wonderful philosophy in Glyndebourne that there are “no revivals”. Everything is re-examined, rehearsed and rediscovered as if for the first time with each new cast. From timbre of voice to a particular physicality, every singer will bring a new set of traits in order to release their particular character from the page and that will have a huge impact on how the opera is delivered.’
This will be a welcome Festival return for the production, which has been performed all over the world in the decades since its premiere, but why is it that this particular staging has endured? ‘It’s one of those rare magic moments in the history of opera where the score, the direction, the design all come together in perfect harmony’ Robin enthuses.
He’s equally passionate about Poulenc’s work. He has championed French opera at the Festival including works by Berlioz, Poulenc and Debussy. ‘I find the sound world and sensuality of French opera totally beguiling and I freely admit it!’ he says. ‘So often there seems to be an otherworldliness that accompanies these works which is where I often want to dive as a musician.’
Illustration © Katie Ponder
Dialogues des Carmélites is one of the most devastatingly powerful operas in the repertoire, and it’s a challenge to bring its weighty themes to life, as Robin explains:
‘Pacing, balance, sincerity, sound… it ALL needs such crafting and calibrating. This opera is a wonderful example of the difficulty of balance: overcook it and the emotions become murky and syrupy, leave it underdone and you are left with a bland, shapeless form. The music is very often slow – so the key is to analyse what lies behind the music, what propels these scenes. Key to my work will be a dialogue with Barrie [Kosky, director] to dig and find the religious discourse in these characters.’
If there was one moment in Dialogues des Carmélites to turn a Poulenc sceptic into a believer ‘it would be the final tableau which takes place at the Place de la Nation’ he says. ‘The guillotine is repeatedly heard over the orchestra as the nuns sing ‘Salve Regina’ to their death. It is both devastating and ecstatic all in one. Dusky flutes and clarinets over a pizzicato bass-line usher in the procession and by the end Blanche is singing ‘Deo Patri sit Gloria’ soaring over the top as she herself mounts the guillotine. The whole opera has worked itself up to this precise moment.’
Both productions will, for Robin, be the culmination of years of contemplation: ‘I sit, often a good two years before rehearsals, and read, read and reread the text through like a good book. The score will travel on trains with me, stare at me from my bedside, be perched somewhere in the garden and I will dip in and out for as long as it takes to get it into my bones’ he says. ‘The fascinating part is that I must learn the score inside-out and back-to-front, knowing how I wish every bar to sound in isolation whilst remaining open, curious, flexible for the collaboration of director and singers.’ That process will begin in just a few months’ time, when rehearsals start, an inspiring time for all involved, ‘When I think and dream of Glyndebourne it is about a place where everyone gives ALL of themselves for the art. No one is more important than anyone else and we are all here to serve the opera and each other,’ he adds.