International Conductors Forum

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Opera Music Theater International, under the direction of James K. McCully, hosts the International Conductors Forum with distinquished Maestros Eve Queler, Heinz Fricke, Peter Mark, John Keenan, Cal Stewart Kellogg and Willie Anthony Waters.

Opera Music Theater International, under the direction of James K. McCully, presents highlights from the International Conductors Forum with distinquished Maestros Eve Queler, Heinz Fricke, Peter Mark, John Keenan, Cal Stewart Kellogg and Willie Anthony Waters.

Opera Orchestra of New York, New York City, Teatro Liceu Barcelona, Australian, Kessel, Hamburg, Kirov & Bonn Operas

I'm going to introduce this forum of distinguished conductors, maestros. What I am suggesting to look at, as conductors, what are we looking for from other components, mainly the singers that we work with. As conductors, we are the people left holding the bag after the stage director has finished, and all of the scenic things have been put in place. With some backup, we're really translating it all into what we hope will be a great performance serving the composer. What do we need from these people, what can we give to them? And particularly, what are we looking for in the singers after they have been hired? What do we look for from them when they arrive for rehearsals? What are we willing to do for them? What are we willing to give? What would we like them to ask of us in order to help them help us with a wonderful performance?

New York City, Washington, Rome, Montreal, Edinburgh, Florence, Genoa, Naples & Parma Operas

From my own point of view, when working with singers, I have developed a system of my own, to try to calm the waters, so that the person working with me is not on edge. I sense when people come in for the first contact, they are very apprehensive about what they are expected to do, how their reactions will be, whether they will be liked, or whatever. I have indoctrinated a system of three things that I do. I try to listen, evaluate, and then suggest, how to better the performance that I am hearing. I usually do this, in an ideal world, by having a one-on-one rehearsal, with myself at the piano, and the singer. Basically, I say to them, "sing your ideal perfect performance," and I will accompany them, and listen very carefully to what they are doing. If I hear something that needs to be corrected, then I will go back over it, and try to suggest that they try something different. If that person catches on, and finds that it is a benefit to them, then I will go after everything I can get. If I am dealing with a singer who, shall we say, is a little more insecure, or incapable of moving in a different direction, then I have to mold the performance the best I can around what that person has brought, because there is not much point in tearing down a wall, to build a new one, if that new one is not going to be as convincing as the one that was brought originally, even if it is not the way that I thought the piece might go. One thing to keep in mind, of course, is that all these operas can be done in thousands of different ways. There is really not one set way to do anything. A singer who is insecure, and can't change, is someone you don't work with in the future. But while you are working with them, you might as well make them feel as comfortable as possible, and get done what needs to get done, and then get on with your life. After I have done a rehearsal at the piano with this person, then I would add a rehearsal pianist, and I will conduct the rehearsal with the singer, as we had done with my listening. What decisions we had made to change, I will show them immediately that I am right on what we reproduced at the piano, with a pianist playing, and myself conducting. When we have gotten through that barrier, so that the singer sees, that I am reproducing exactly what we did before, regardless of whether it is an improvement on, or it is the same thing that we started with, I will add another singer, scenes, duets, trios, and keep adding people, until we have like a sing through of the opera. Then we go into what would be the production aspects of the process. And of course, later on, we add the orchestra.

Opera Orchestra of New York, New York City, Teatro Liceu Barcelona, Australian, Kessel, Hamburg, Kirov & Bonn Operas

I actually concur with everything that has been said on this panel, and I work very similarly to Maestro Kellogg, in that I like to work alone, even without a pianist, the first time I work with someone. I try to make them comfortable, and then see how much I can get, then go for broke, if I can get what I am looking for. What I wanted to add to this, as something that I had learned as a student. I have been privileged to work with many great singers, and I have learned a lot from this, so that I can bring this to a newer singer. Some great singers have asked me specifically, from their experience, from this point, they need this, and at this point, they need that. This is helpful, and useful, and once we get past the comfortable stage with a younger singer at rehearsal, now you have already been hired for the job, so you have some kind of confidence that you are going to do the job, and that the people in charge want you. It is useful if you would say, "I really need to take a breath here," or, "I need to move this phrase here or I won't make it to the top." This is no disgrace; this is helpful to us, and we can analyze, or make another suggestion, so that our idea of the phrase can concur with yours. I don't know if others agree with me, but I think it is useful in the beginning, if you know what you need in the role. It is no disgrace to ask for such assistance. My passion is young singers. My passion is finding them, and combing the world, as I go to conduct, and seeing what the traditions are in the various countries, and the education is very different wherever you go. The Americans are generally among the best educated, but stylistically, I would say they are among the weakest. I think that is what we need to work on.

Virginia, Covent Garden, Torre del Lago Puccini Festival, New York City, Mexico, Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires & Shanghai Operas

Eve, you have done a wonderful job with your passion, and with all the singers you have really discovered, and worked with. I guess I feel as a conductor, we are responsible for the art form of opera. When you come down to it, it's our job to coordinate the music and the drama. We all know that we are living in the era of the singer. We have survived the era of the stage director. It is not that the stage director isn't important, he is, but my feeling is that it's the conductor's responsibility to make sure, and hopefully the opera political structure allows for this, that the drama is based on the music. We all as conductors work from a score, that's the written part of the music, where the opera exists before we bring it to the public. When you really stop to think about it, the person responsible for the interpretation of the score, has to be the conductor. What that means is, that we are responsible for coordinating, making sure that the right singers are chosen for the parts, right there with the casting, that you have the proper match of voices, and that each voice is capable of singing comfortably, the particular role, because it is in their range, and that it is the correct size voice for the house and the orchestra that you are using. Those elements come together in a disciplined way. When you see the score as printed notes on a page, it doesn't have life to those who cannot read it. Most of our audience cannot look at the score and understand what it is. So literally, the conductor has to bring the score to life, and there's much more about bringing it to life than reproducing notes. I think that it is the dramatic impulse of music, and the musical line that a trained operatic voice is capable of delivering it, that has specific requirements that are really very different from the instrumental music. If you think about an oboe going up to a high C, and a soprano going to a high C, and a mezzo going to a high C, you will see that there are maybe three different tempi you'd have to take that would be appropriate. Part of the joy of conducting opera, is that you can coordinate both the expansive capabilities of the trained operatic voice, and you have to be sure that the orchestra has the flexibility to respond to the elements of the operatic voice, that are different from the instruments. Personally, if I can't have the singers produce better having worked with me before they came, then I am not doing my job. I feel the same about the orchestra. In a real way, it is up to us to create a discipline, and work atmosphere, that goes past the notes, and really does project the drama, and the glory of our art form.

Metropolitan, Washington National, Bayreuth Wagner Festspiel, Los Angeles, Grand Theatre de Geneve, Norwegian National & Vancouver Operas

I grew up in New York City, and went to Juilliard half-days as a pianist, and was a horn player in the orchestra. I couldn't figure out the exact day, but it was about the third bar of the prelude of LA TRAVIATA, that I attended as a young child, the final dress rehearsal at the MET, that I thought, "This is what I want to do." Because it was the most glorious sound, sitting in a dark theater, to hear that prelude come out of the pit. At that point, I decided what I wanted to do. I knew that I needed to get as accomplished on an instrument as possible. It's just the most important thing as a conductor, and I continued my piano studies, and my horn studies. Through some fortunate auditions, I was able to get to a theater in Europe, in Milan for a year, basically due to the fact that I was an English speaker, and spoke German, and they needed a pianist who could deal with the German side of the theater there. I made it back to New York, because when I was in Italy, I learned Italian. The man who brought me back to the MET made it very clear to me, that if you didn't speak Italian, he had no interest in you as one of his assistants. So, I got back to the MET through a six-hour audition, and a follow-up audition with him. My friends tease me, because I have done everything in theater, except move sets. I have played harpsichord in millions of piano rehearsals, conducted backstage, assistant chorus master, and eventually chorus master, which was such an incredible experience. I recommend it for any young conductor. They say being branded a chorus master is a curse. Be branded. Believe me, ignore what people say, you just have to do it. So that was just an old-fashioned theater education. I highly recommend it. Of course, you need to not just get up, and sort of say, "Well I can conduct." You really need to study with someone who is a real technician. I got to watch some of the greatest, and the worst of my life, and that's also the way to do it. As my other colleagues brought up, I feel that being a conductor can be a complicated thing in today's time of music. But I think that the focus actually, as a conductor, and as a musician, is very clear and very fine. That we are there as an instrument of the composer, and of the score. One who should not reproduce, but to interpret as the composer envisioned his piece. I think that we certainly in doing that, encompass being an inspirer, a teacher, a cheerleader, certainly a therapist, and also a student. The combination of those facets, makes conducting what it is, and what it should be. The most important thing is to be an instrument of the composer, and it is a very clear focus.

Berlin Staatsoper, Washington National, Hamburg, Brussels, Munich, Düsseldorf, Cologne & Vienna Operas

It is difficult, all my colleagues have talked about conductors, and young singers. I think this is a great problem for young conductors to learn. We can bring to young singers, what is the line, what is the air, what is the phrase, and so on. This is important for the opera also. Between a symphony orchestra, and an opera orchestra. And when we work with young singers, we can learn this. Young conductors should play an orchestral instrument, not only piano. With young conductors, it is important that they not only conduct with the piano player, but with the orchestra also. They have to learn about the violin, and the other instruments. This is important for the singers also. A singer is like an orchestral instrument -- a violin or clarinet. It is all the same. When we play Puccini or Verdi, we have so much rubato. Conductors have two hands, and in performance we cannot talk to the singers. We must say and show. Each performance is not the same. We must show with the hands to the singers what we want. The singers show me also. It is a combination of singers, orchestra, and conductor. I was with the Berlin Staatsoper for 32 years. We had a great repertory of 60 operas. Language was very important. We even had in Russian, THE MAGIC FLUTE. But most often, I conducted in German, but have also conducted in Norwegian. One time my general manager said, "Can we bring in a Don Carlos? He will also bring in his wife. The problem is that he sings in Italian, and she sings in Russian. If that wasn't enough. The next day, Filippo was sick. We got another singer who sang in Bulgarian. The baritone was also sick. We got another singer who sang in Romanian. The day of the performance, Eboli was also sick. We got another singer from Hungary, and she sang in Hungarian. My director says, "Do we need orchestra rehearsal? No! We have a very good orchestra and they can play without rehearsal." So, the performance -- one performance-in seven different languages. It was one of the best performances musically. But after the performance, I couldn't sleep for days. I thought - English, Russian, Hungarian. But it was incredible and probably the best performance of DON CARLO that I've ever had.

Connecticut, Miami, San Francisco, Cologne, Montreal, Australian & South Africa Operas

I'm spending a lot of time in South Africa, working with young singers, orchestras, and companies there, and its is a real eye-opener, because as you know, South Africa has been closed off to the rest of the world for so many years. It's very interesting, and edifying, to see the level of vocal training there, which is also, rather high. To see the level of orchestra playing, which is also, rather high. As a matter of fact, most of the orchestra's principal conductors are European, and there are two Americans, who work with orchestras there. The level of accomplishment there is very, very good, and it gives me an opportunity to work with these singers, on what we might consider to be, a rudimentary level. Even though many of them are well trained, they don't have the stylistic advantages. I had to understand as an American conductor, speaking American English, that it's quite different from speaking South African English, and working with them from that point of view, and stylistic points of view, was extremely edifying. This is preaching to the converted. I wish there were more young singers here, because an important part of what we do, as it pertains to working with young singers, and primarily training young singers, responding to, and with young singers, as to how a conductor actually works. I do a lot of work with young singers, and realize more and more everyday, that young singers are not told, and are not trained, and are not experienced with, working with conductors, or what a conductor really does. A lot of them think we wave our arms. In terms of dealing with a conductor, in a rehearsal situation, with a piano, with an orchestra, or in a coaching, what is it that we expect in terms of preparation, in terms of following our beat, in terms of responding to recitivi. How a singer deals with a conductor, in figuring out what this is all about. I think a conductor's job, is to a great extent, collaborative. We have a lot of egos on the podium, serving only their purposes, and from their point of view, trying to serve the composers purpose. But I think, we need to be a little more collaborative, in working with our colleagues, in getting it all together. Yes, I do believe the conductor has the final word, but in getting to that point, we have to deal with all the other elements, that are involved to make this one unified whole. So, I hope you will pass on the word with what we say. What we have discussed here, and from these professionals, as to how to translate this into this thing, we call opera, into a unified force.


On the 13th of August 1991, James K. McCully founded Opera Music Theater International (OMTI) as a nonprofit organization to help international emerging singers bridge the opera and music theater gap through international competitions, international performances, international master classes, international conferences, international symposia, and international forums.

Opera Music Theater International (OMTI) positioned itself at the monumental International Trade Center at the prestigious address 1300 Pennsylvania Avenue across from "The Theatre of the Presidents", The National Theatre, on the "Avenue of the Presidents" at Federal Triangle, directly in the center of a triangle connecting The White House, The Capitol, and The Washington Monument.

Opera Music Theater International (OMTI) was the host of the 43rd National Opera Association Convention in Washington DC sponsored by Musical America with a Welcome by Placido Domingo at Kennedy Center; and the Marjorie Lawrence International Vocal Competition with International Honorary Chairs Maestro Richard Bonynge and Dame Joan Sutherland at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC.

World Leader of Contemporary Opera Honored in Washington DC

International Singers Forum

International Arts Management Awards

American Contemporary Opera Composers Honored in Washington DC

American Musicals A Gift To World Theater

Evelyn Lear and Thomas Stewart Master Class

Ryan Edwards Master Class

Marjorie Lawrence International Vocal Competition Was Clearly A Success

Marjorie Lawrence Centennial Celebration Commission Memorializes 100th Anniversary of Metropolitan Opera Star in 2007

Concert Memorializes the Ghost of the National Theatre in Washington DC

The Belmont Mansion Grand Ball Great Performances

National Endowment for the Arts director of former Opera-Musical Theater Program elected President of Opera Music Theater International Board of Trustees in Washington DC

Governor's Awards for the Arts Honors Nominee James K. McCully


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