The Orchestra of the Opera of the Serbian National Theatre (SNT) had a series of guest performances in Beirut, from February 12th to March 17th, at the renowned international music and performing arts festival – the Al Bustan Festival.
Since this prestigious festival was founded in 1994, Lebanon has managed to practice a rather unique way of nurturing music tradition during the winter season. The Festival revived the country’s cultural life by presenting each year over 30 performances during the five weeks in February and March. Although chamber music dominates the Festival, the audiences can also see opera, performances by orchestras and choirs, dance performances and theatre plays.
This was one of the topics that we want to talk about with Gianluca Marcianò, the Principal Conductor of the SNT Opera and Art Director of the Beirut festival. Gianluca Marcianò was only five years old when he started playing the piano. As a wunderkind, he won prizes at national and international competitions for young musicians and started performing at renowned opera and concert venues around the world. He graduated from the Music Academy in Florence (under maestro Pierre-Narcisse Massi), and started his career by performing at the most reputable Italian theatres and festivals.
Now that you have returned from Beirut, what are your impressions of the guest performances by the Orchestra of the Opera of the Serbian National Theatre at the international Al Bustan Festival?
— The Orchestra played excellently in every concert which I am very proud of as its principal conductor. To be together 24/7, for the whole 10 festival days, to do many rehearsals and have many performances was very inspirational because it had a great impact on the musicians and our joint performance. As a result of this, we got ovations from the audiences. There is a strong interest in our Orchestra performing at Al Bustan in 2020 too, and I am confident that this is a good foundation for longterm cooperation.
As the Artistic Director of the Al Bustan Festival, could you tell us about the significance of the festival itself, which was founded with the goal of reviving Lebanon’s cultural life and setting new standards in terms of artists, orchestras and performers?
— Next year it will be 10 years since I was appointed Artistic Director of the Al Bustan Festival. I have a great honour every year to work with over 300 outstanding musicians from all over the world, during the period of five weeks. The creative process lasts for a whole year because we have to pick a theme which is the basis for the festival’s programme. Only then do we contact the majority of soloists, orchestras, choirs and other performers. Of course, there are soloists that we need to book 2 or 3 years in advance, and naturally, their programme has to fit the theme of our choice. The Festival’s team is great. It is helmed by President Myrna Bustani, the Festival’s founder and the first female MP in an Arabic country. Mrs Bustani is very unique and has a greater than life persona. I learnt a lot from her and I am thankful to her for her trust in me.
What was so special about the four performances of the SNT, both in the context of the Festival and the ensemble itself?
— I think that our orchestra, choir, soloists, in fact, everyone deserves success on the international stage. It is very important to perform outside your principal company because that immediately raises the standard, the focus becomes stronger, it creates the opportunity for the colleagues to get to know each other better and try even harder to perform as a team. Many people started to inquire about Novi Sad after our Orchestra’s performance at the Al Bustan Festival. This is the best business card for the city; a real promotion beyond the borders of Serbia.
Your work in the region has been very noticeable and during your career, you have been working with numerous opera houses all over the world. What is the biggest challenge for you when working with ensembles that come from the countries with a far smaller musical tradition compared to Italy’s?
— By all means, the greatest challenge is to attain the real Italian style in opera – a proper pronunciation of libretto, ease of performing, precision and respect for the score. The most popular Italian operas have been a part of repertoires all over the world and it often happens that precision is forgotten. The Orchestra in the pit and the singers on the stage often perform on auto-pilot, masking it as “a tradition”. I cannot tolerate that and when I notice it, I start to “clean” very immaculately. Of course, I want everything to be in good order from the very beginning, but I like those challenging situations since the final result is the best reward.
What is it that the SNT Opera has to have in order to be recognized for its repertoire and quality of performance both in Serbia and the region?
— We should definitely have the right conditions – a new orchestra pit, the large acoustic hall needs to be renovated, we need to acquire new instruments for the orchestra, have quality sheet music and increase the number of the Orchestra members. After that, we should, of course, increase the budget that would allow us to stage beautiful productions. When the curtain opens, there has to be applause! Opera is the most expensive type of stage performance (costing much more than ballet and drama) and extraordinary resources should be invested in order to elevate it to the highest level. Of course, if we want to be successful on the international stage, we must also “refresh” the audience’s taste. The repertoire should also have lesser-known operas, there should be a modern direction, and we should expand our cooperation with artists and opera houses from around the world.
Since October 2017, when you became the principal conductor of the Opera’s Orchestra, what significant progress have you made towards the set goals?
— My dream is to be able to plan three or four seasons ahead, to have four premieres annually, and stage opera festivals and international co-productions. I am already working on this and I have support for it. Of course, all of this will take time to materialize. This year, the SNT will host the first-ever opera festival in Serbia, and I am currently negotiating with the Art Academy regarding a large-scale project that will result in us having one more premiere on our repertoire. We have already reached an agreement with Teatro Carlo Felice from Genoa and Teatro dell’Opera from Rome in terms of co-productions. We also cooperate with the Al Bustan Festival, and we have a big premiere of Gounod’s opera “Faust” in September. And this is only the beginning…
What are your further plans in regard to the premieres of the SNT Opera and guest performances in 2019?
— I have already mentioned the premiere of Gounod’s “Faust” in September, but before that, we are going to stage Verdi’s “Rigoletto” in June. I am happy to say that we are opening the NOMUS Festival with Liszt’s opera “Sardanapalo” and I hope that this will be the beginning of long-term cooperation. There are more surprises in store, but I cannot speak about them publicly yet. Of course, the biggest project of the year for me personally is the Opera Festival in June.
Should we view opera, just like the classic literature, in the context of the 21st century or are they both timeless in terms of the motifs they cover?
— Depends which individual work we are talking about. For instance, the opera “Andrea Chenier” won’t come across well if it is not performed in the context of the French Revolution. But I also believe that the way we present the content on the stage should be refreshed. I really do love and respect the real traditions, but I do not want to completely dwell in the past. The worst thing is when people start talking about how it was better then compared to now. The easiest thing to do is to complain and do nothing, as oppose to doing concrete work, discover new ideas and be open to understanding and accepting these new ideas.