A recent interview to Franz Welser-Möst got me thinking about Karl Böhm. Welser-Möst set a new rule for himself when it comes to opera: “I reached a point where I will only work with a director if he lets me explain the music to him. What he does then, that’s his business, but I think we have suffered so much from productions where the director does his thing and the conductor does his thing, so that you have two parallel worlds, when you should be working together.” Generally long overdue and most welcomed attitude towards opera. At least in the past three decades, the tendency seems to be of the “let’s not step on each other toes” kind, driven by the love of conductors and directors, first and foremost, for themselves before the artwork they are supposed to be serving. As a fabulous treat, when it comes to contemporary works, it’s not rare to ban the composer from the rehearsals to prevent any interfering. It’s bizarro world. It’s the reason why we go to some shows and have no idea of the relationship between music and stage. Welser-Möst had a big argument in Vienna during a production of Le nozze di Figaro when the director wanted the Countess to throw china at Susanna during her aria Porgi amor. You can judge by yourself how much that has to do with Mozart’s music. In his conception of cooperation when it comes to opera, Welser-Möst reminds me of Karl Böhm. Everything but glamorous, happy to be hidden the Bayreuth pit, Böhm firmly believed in the idea of full collaboration in order to do justice to the score. He had the luck of working directly with Richard Strauss, who certainly never got kicked out of a rehearsal. Take a look at ElektraLe nozze di Figaro or Salome‘: the balance and mutual understanding between conductor, director and singers is dazzling. It comes from a profound knowledge of the score and its nuances, a respect for the story, the composer and the fundamental idea that the only viable way to excellence is a constant collaboration between the key players. I have had the luck to conduct some world premieres during the years: the best and most fun productions were the ones where we could all together exploit the possibilities, work with the composer to change, cut, dovetail the music and rearrange entire scenes. After all, very few works are born perfect. Naturally, nobody in his right mind would change Mozart’s music today. But opera is a live creature: we all come to rehearsals with set ideas, but sometimes those ideas need to change in favor of a better outcome. Holding the ground on uncompromising choices for the sake of it, only plays to personal ego. What strikes me about Böhm is the quality he shares with all the greatest artists: humbleness towards the music. Not exactly an insignificant legacy. You can find Mozart’s complete masterpiece here   Cover photo by Tawheed Manzor | Flickr

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