Conducting the Tour
We catch up with Ben Glassberg, Principal Conductor of the Tour, to find out more about what to expect this Tour...
As he will make a big impact on the Tour in his new role, Charlotte Alldis, Glyndebourne’s Senior Marketing Manager, finds out a little bit more about him.
I started as a percussionist, but was always fascinated by what the conductor was doing, particularly in performances. It seemed such an unusual ability, to encourage others to generate sound entirely through gesture. When I was 14, I joined a conducting class for young orchestral players and, through that, set up a small orchestra of friends who kindly indulged this new hobby of mine!
A good conductor in 2019 is perhaps different to how we would perceive a good conductor 30 years ago. I feel strongly that it requires a leadership style that is decisive and yet always serves both the musicians and the composer’s intentions. A good ear is very important, as well as imagination and strong people skills. For an opera conductor, understanding singers and drama is an absolute essential.
I was fortunate enough to start my professional career as an assistant to Antonello Manacorda at Glyndebourne [Ben was assistant conductor on Beatrice et Bénédict in Festival 2016]. In that first summer, I learnt a great deal and fell in love with the Festival. In subsequent years, I conducted several performances in the Festival, all of which were landmark moments for me. Jumping in for Robin Ticciati to conduct La clemenza di Tito in 2017 was probably the most significant moment of my career so far. Similarly, performances of Madama Butterfly in 2018 started what is becoming a really wonderful relationship with the LPO. Last year was my first time on Tour with Glyndebourne and it was a total joy. It felt like a very exciting ‘first date’, which greatly encourages me for the next three years.
L’elisir is my favourite Donizetti opera and probably my favourite opera in the bel canto repertoire. His use of harmony, orchestration and text is both economical and highly expressive. Perhaps what appeals to me most is the sheer joy that springs off the page in his music. I can’t think of a better way to spend the cold winter months this year.
I like to spend several months getting to know an opera score before the first rehearsal. Step one is always just to study the text – I think it’s imperative to understand the drama in order to appreciate what the composer is trying to say musically. Then I’ll spend time over several weeks analysing the structure, harmony and orchestration of a work, gradually getting into more and more detail (things like articulation, colour, texture). I always like to play opera scores through at the piano, although my keyboard skills leave quite a lot to be desired.
Donizetti writes very specifically for each voice in L’elisir. The pomposity of Belcore is always evident, in contrast to the slightly simpering pathos of Nemorino. Similarly, Dulcamara always sings with a characteristic buffo quality, whilst Adina’s flirtatious nature is evident in her frequent coloratura.
I’d like to think that I’ll be bringing an awareness of the dramatic requirements of the opera to the pit. I love working with singers, finding moments where I lead or they lead and those magical moments where we do exactly the same thing at the same time. I’m also aware that we’ll have a large number of performances this autumn, so I’ll be aiming to find ways of keeping the music fresh and alive each show.
For me the end of Act I is perfect. The balance and juxtaposition of the different voices, as well as the dramatic cliffhanger, makes for an ideal conclusion to the first half of the evening.
Working at Glyndebourne is quite unique. The quality of the work is unfailingly high, never compromising on standards. At the same time, prioritising fun and community is always on the agenda and I love this aspect of the work. The orchestra is wonderfully professional and flexible, plus they have a terrific attitude when it comes to taking a show to several different venues. Every time I work at Glyndebourne it feels like coming back home, so I can’t wait to get started in September.
Image credits: L’elisir d’amore rehearsals, Tour 2019. Photo: James Bellorini | L’elisir d’amore, Tour 2019. Photo: Donald Cooper