Thursday, September 29, 2016

10 Questions with Gary Thor Wedow

(Photo by Jonathan Timmes)
With such an impressive track record, it's hard to believe that it's taken this long to bring Gary Thor Wedow to San Diego. Wedow is currently a faculty member of the Julliard School and has been a frequent guest of Seattle Opera, Florida Grand Opera, Boston Lyric Opera, Canadian Opera Company, Glimmerglass Opera, Portland Opera, Wolf Trap Opera, Berkshire Opera, Chautauqua Opera, Opera Saratoga, Arizona Opera, Amherst Early Music Festival and Pittsburgh Opera among others. He was for many years associated with New York City Opera, leading the New York premiere of Telemann’s Orpheus, the groundbreaking Christopher Alden productions of Don Giovanni and Stephen Wadsworth’s Serse.

Since we can't wait for Maestro to take the podium for La Cenerentola in two weeks for rehearsals, we asked him a few questions to calm our senses and get further acquainted..
San Diego Opera (SDO): Thanks for helping us bring back the Aria Serious Blog, Maestro! What was your last gig before coming to San Diego? 

Gary Thor Wedow (GTW): The Dvorak Requiem with Berkshire Choral International---that was a bucket list experience, and right before that a long run of Gluck's Orphée getting Eurydice out of hell night after night at Des Moines Metro Opera with our beautiful Clorinda, Susanna Biller Kness as Eurydice.

SDO: Where does Rossini rank in your personal list of opera composers? 

GTW: At the very top. He is an Italian melodist with a keen classical sense of structure and a man of the theater with a marvelous sense of humor. He adored Bach, Haydn and Mozart---I certainly agree with his taste, and he tried to emulate them in his works while still pushing forward into new terrain. He said 'Mozart was the inspiration of my youth, the agony of my adulthood and the consolation of my old age.' Without Rossini, Italian opera would have been a very different animal.

SDO: What is your favorite musical moment in La Cenerentola? 

GTW: Just one? Alidoro's aria in E flat must be one of the greatest pieces of bel canto music written (E flat is the key of noble love, the Magic Flute key--it reoccurs again and again symbolically and colorfully in this opera), it challenges the singer immensely, but our Alidoro, Ashraf Sewailam sings it magnificently. La Cenerentola is about the Triumph of Goodness, and this glorious aria is a vindication of Cinderella's suffering and the crowning of her great goodness.

SDO: Your conducting repertoire includes a variety of classical periods, which is your favorite?

GTW: Do you know the 70s disco song: 'Love the One You're With', that's me! I believe musical style is a continuum and though hemlines may go up and down, certain values stay consistent. I love trying to find where things change and what things stay the same. Rossini is one of those moments when style was changing dramatically, string playing changed, the bow had changed, Paganini was the great virtuoso; but many values remained consistent. We have a disadvantage in that we look at music backwards through a faded looking glass. We look at Rossini through Verdi, Donizetti and Mahler; Verdi was three years old when Cenerentola was written! Mozart, had he lived, would have been only 60.

SDO: What was your introduction to conducting and how did you decide this was the path you wanted to pursue?

GTW: I was the keyboardist for the Handel and Haydn Society in Boston and one night for a major rehearsal the conductor, Tom Dunn an exciting Handel scholar, was stuck in a snow storm, I was on; I love making music with people and it went on from there. 

SDO: Fill in the blank - "If I was not a conductor, I would be a  __________" 

GTW: Gardener-farmer

SDO: What is a dream work that you have not yet conducted?

GTW: Since we are talking Rossini and since we are dreaming, I would have to say, William Tell--I've done excerpts in concerts, but of course even in Rossini's day, it was the rare exception to do the whole opera. Everyone is looking forward to the new production at the MET with Gerald Finley.   

SDO: How do you prepare your scores and how has that process changed over time?

GTW: Getting the best edition possible is key, understanding the text (Cenerentola has a delicious libretto), studying from the ground up every note, often at the piano--singing and playing away, understanding the structure-- the architecture, working with the concert master on the bowings, (the concert master in San Diego, Jeff Thayer, was very wise dealing with my ideas and worked very hard preparing our version along with your terrific librarian Courtney Cohen). Reading about the composer, his era, his orchestra and his singers gives a lot of information. I like to listen to lots of versions, to see the piece live if possible as often as possible, in our digital age the world is at our fingertips. I worked in several repertoire opera houses, New York City Opera, Canadian Opera Company and Santa Fe, etc. and seeing a piece over and over again with different casts and conductors is a great lesson, so I try to replicate that with a new piece. An opera particularly is a living organism and the cast influences the interpretation, so you must have your own vision, but yet you must be flexible and be responsive to the performers, that is the key. If anything has changed for me, I would say looking beyond the score has become as important now as looking into the score.

SDO: What are you most looking forward to doing in San Diego while you’re in town?

GTW: Working on La Cenerentola of course---and having delicious food! Like Rossini, I'm a foodie and I hear San Diego is the foodie epicenter. Bring on the fish tacos!

Stay tuned for an interview with Gary Thor Wedow with Dr. Nic Reveles in two weeks!