Kurtág's opera debuts at BBC Proms: Interview with Ryan Wigglesworth

Kurtág's opera debuts at BBC Proms: Interview with Ryan Wigglesworth

After Italy, Holland, Spain, France, and Belgium, five years after the world premiere in La Scala, on August 17th, Fin de partie will be also performed in the United Kingdom in the framework of BBC Proms. The cast is similar to that of previous performances (Hamm: Frode Olsen, Clov: Morgan Moody, Nell: Hilary Summers, Nagg: Leonardo Cortellazzi), the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra is conducted by Ryan Wigglesworth. The conductor is asked about the preparations, his experiences and expectations.

How did you first meet Kurtág’s music? Have you already conducted any orchestral pieces by him?

Actually, this is the first time I conduct Kurtág’s music. I’ve had a continuous relationship with his piano music, finding my way into his language. And I was around when in 2008 Thomas Adès invited him and his wife to the Aldeburgh Festival. So, you can say, I’m starting in the wrong end when I’ll first conduct his huge magnum opus Fin de partie.

You are in the middle of preparation; the premiere happens in six weeks: what are your impressions about the opera?

I’m trying to think of an experience that comes even close to the experience of learning this music because it makes you think on a musical work in a very different way. That has partly to do with the relationship you have between the performer and the notation. While Kurtág’s notation is very specific and full of details, nevertheless, you have to find your own way towards what is correct in terms of tempo for the text and for the details to become meaningful. There are composers where you can follow the rules and you get somewhere close to what the composer intended. With Kurtág, it is quite different: you have the score to enter in your bloodstream, and it takes some time before you can begin to see how it might be interpreted. So, it is a rich and rewarding experience spending time with this opera. What also fascinates me that Kurtág’s primary concern obviously has been to give the text of Beckett a clarity and an amplification that you can never get in spoken theatre.  It is the text that is on the pedestal, it is the most important thing that the music serves.

It is a great privilege that Fin de partie gets its first performance in the UK in the framework of BBC Proms. What are your expectations about the impact of this chamber music-like opera in the Royal Albert Hall and on the Proms audience?

Even though the RAH is a huge space, some of the most touching experiences I had in that hall have been with music which is quite chamber-like in intensity. That hall is strangely capable of being a very intimate space. And I hope that we can achieve an atmosphere with lighting in the hall which creates a space of extraordinary intimacy that this piece needs.

On the other hand, the Proms' audience has been historically incredibly open and adventurous. And the specialty of that hall – and this will be very different for the singers – that in that amphitheatric arrangement, they will have audience around them, so that they will feel much more like in the center. I hope in that special space, with a special audience, with this special piece we shall be able to create something really magical.

Photo: Benjamin Ealovega