Wexford Festival Opera chats with American conductor Timothy Myers (conductor of this year's Margherita) about returning to Wexford, bringing Foroni's Margherita back to life and what makes this Festival different from others.
Previous Wexford Festival Opera engagements for Timothy include conductor (Vanessa, 2016).
This is your second time working at Wexford Festival Opera. Last year you conducted the highly acclaimed Vanessa. How do you feel to be back in Wexford again this year conducting Margherita by Jacopo Foroni?
I’m delighted to be back at Wexford. Last year’s Vanessa was a terrific experience and I fell in love with the festival, its people, and the town. It’s also very interesting to return and conduct a piece that, at least in compositional style, is nearly the polar opposite of what I conducted last year.
Margherita was Foroni’s first opera, premiering only 9 months earlier than his recently rediscovered opera, Cristina, regina di Svezia, performed in Wexford in 2013. As there is no recording of Margherita, tell us what it was like to hear it for the first time with the Wexford Festival Opera orchestra?
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact feeling, but it was somewhere between excitement and awe. After having studied the piece for nearly a year, discussed it at length with the design and production team and learned all I could about the composer and his other works, we had finally arrived at that moment. That moment when the silence was broken and the music again entered time and space for the first time since 1852. The orchestra and I certainly had a feeling that we were embarking on something special. That feeling was also very present in the Sitzprobe, where we put the orchestra and singers together for the first time. Imagine, something that went for that long without any representation, and we have the privilege of bringing it back to life!
Hundreds of people are coming to Wexford to hear this highly anticipated work. What can Wexford audiences expect (how would you describe the music to an opera-enthusiast?)
Those familiar with the standard opera repertoire will find many familiar elements in the compositional language. The beautiful melodies are reminiscent of late Donizetti or Bellini, the dramatic sensibility of early and middle-period Verdi. Foroni’s extensive travels are also heard in his orchestration, which I find to be rather Viennese at times.
That being said, while one can certainly ascertain some of Foroni’s influences, even for a first opera there’s already a distinctly individual voice and forward-leaning compositional approach. When looking at the piece as a whole, it’s remarkable to see how much he grew during its composition. Comparing it then to Cristina, which he wrote shortly thereafter, we can see that Foroni was firmly in command of his craft and a very quick learner.
Margherita hasn’t been performed since the 1850s. What were/are some of the challenges you discovered when approaching this long-forgotten score?
Fortunately, Wexford Festival Opera had the assistance of a wonderful musicologist named Anders Wiklund, who was also a catalyst for the resurrection of Cristina. When I signed onto the project Anders had already invested years of work putting together an authoritative version of the score based on several sources. He is also a wealth of knowledge about Foroni’s life, his influences, travels, and body of work.
From that point, there was still a lot of detective work to do. I am very active as a conductor of world premieres, and I found myself exercising many of the same muscles, just without the benefit of having direct access to the composer or librettist. On the micro level that meant continuing to decipher unclear things in the score, correcting errata, etc. On the macro level, it was using the knowledge we have of history to bring context to the opera, from both the musical and sociopolitical angles.
What do you do in your downtime when in Wexford?
My wife Christina and nine-month-old daughter Lilla are here in Wexford with me, and we love using our free time to explore Wexford and surrounding areas. Beach walks at Curracloe, Kilmore Quay or Rosslare are a favourite activity, and we are looking forward to some fun side trips once Margherita is open. We also have various family and friends visiting, and we enjoy sharing our love of Ireland with them.
I’m also constantly studying scores for upcoming engagements. This is a busy season with a lot of repertoire I haven’t yet conducted, so my plate is full.
How does Wexford compare to some of the other opera companies you’ve worked with in Europe or the US?
Wexford feels very familial, which I love. The leadership, staff and board create an environment in which artists from many countries can come together and focus on one thing: Celebrating opera as a living, breathing art form that has limitless potential for discovery. It’s hard to imagine a better environment.
What is your next project after Wexford?
Next, I’m conducting my first Salome, at Florida Grand Opera in Miami. I’m fortunate to have a lot of variety in my musical life!
Margherita runs at the National Opera House 20, 26, 29 October and 1, 4 November. Book tickets here by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 1850 4 OPERA/+353 53 912 2144.