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Ivor Bolton: Probing beneath the Surface of Snack Culture

img  Tobias Fischer

Shostakovich once said: „The term 'undeservedly forgotten' is often used without questioning whether the audience may actually have chosen to forget a particular piece of music.“ In which way, do you feel that Simon Mayr's „Medea in Corinto“ really merits a new discovery?
In this case 'undeservedly forgotten' is a reasonable epithet. There are many reasons and examples of composers and works that have not always found their deserved niche in the repertoire. It's easy to forget that Monterverdi's operas, now viewed by nearly all international houses as essential, were barely known to the general public 50 years ago and Janacek's masterworks also had a long wait for international acceptance. A lot can depend on the power-base of the composer. Where he chose to work. Gluck purposefully came to Paris to make his mark and succeeded with a vengeance. Mayr was content to remain in Italy for the majority of his career. The work excites me because of its sure dramatic touch, the variety of his ensembles and the colour of his orchestral writing.

Simon Mayr was well-respected during his lifetime, but somehow faded from sight over the past centuries. Why do you feel this is and what are the most interesting aspects about his work to you?

His works, particularly 'Medea' were very successful and popular at the time of writing. Perhaps he didn't succeed in gaining the international reputation and knowledge of his works soon enough. Also the 19th century was a time of great musical and dramatic change, and the music of Weber, Schumann and of course eventually Wagner changed music forever. Mayr wrote more within a tradition, although drawing on more varied elements of that tradition than many composers, so his craft did not open new vistas in the way that many composers, Berlioz for example, did. He was not as 'internationalised' as say Cherubini. All of these factors play a part in his posthumous neglect.

From your experience, do you feel as though the audience is longing for these kind of fresh discoveries or rather for more of the classics?

There are many publics. The Handel experience in Munich showed a great appetite for new works. The most famous operas of course must be played and reinterpreted constantly on the world's great stages. The repertoire system, though it has many critics, gives the publics in these cities the chance for a rich balance of familiar masterworks and some of the lesser or unknown gems.

On the new rendition of „Medea“, you will be collaborating with Hans Neuenfels. What does Neuenfels' version add to the music, do you feel?
Neuenfels is also probing beneath the surface of the text and looking for the univeral message of the human condition.

An opera is always a multimedial performance by definition. In which way did  Neuenfels' interpretation influence your own thoughts about the musical side of the work?
One example: I admire his solution to the beginning of the opera, where we start with a blood-curdling scream from Creusa waking up form an awful dream. This gives a  great tension to the opening scene, which can easily fall into a too comfortable amabile character.

In which regard is the Bayerische Staatsoper the ideal partner for the Mayr in particular and the presentation of these forgotten masterpieces in general?
Firstly it is a great company, with an orchestra and chorus, not only of top quality but also great pride. It has the resources to cast well and plan in good time. All these things of course should be true of any top international company but I think there is a great deal of pride in the house in bringing lesser known works into the mainstream which has of course happened for many years in Munich.

You're currently spending a lot of time in Germany – what are the benefits of the country's cultural infrastructure for you personally?
I love the feeling in Germany that culture is essential to society's well-being and existence. This seems to be reinforced from an early age. It's quite different in the UK where even serious radio stations indulge in superficial debates on the existence of opera with the mindset of third-rate social engineers. I also work a lot in Austria with my wonderful Mozarteum Orchestra. I find the same there. In Salzburg somebody's interpretation of a Bruckner Symphony can literally be the 'talk of the town'. It is very different to what I call the 'snacking' approach to culture we find in UK and America.

Picture by Ben Wright

Homepage: Ivor Bolton
Homepage: Bayerische Staatsoper

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