In the Wings

Backstage glimpses with Boston Lyric Opera

BLO exposed: Interview with David Angus, The Flying Dutchman Conductor

May 10, 2013 6:40:00 PM
By BLO Staff

Boston Lyric Opera is in its second season of presenting BLO Exposed.
The intermission conversation series gives audience members a behind-the-scenes
look into each production and invites YOU, its audience, to ask questions
through social media during our Wednesday night productions at the Shubert
Theatre. For BLO’s recent production of The
Flying Dutchman,
Megan Cooper, Director of Community Engagement, and
Cecelia Allwein, Patron Communications Manager, interviewed David Angus, BLO’s
Music Director.

David, what is different musically from this 1841 Critical edition as
compared to the one that many people have probably heard and seen?
There are lots of [different] elements. The standard
version—the one that you’ve heard for the last hundred and fifty years—was actually
put together by a conductor.  He
basically took everything that anyone had found [in scores of The Flying Dutchman] and stuck it all together
so you have every possible variant.  [The
standard score has] lots of information about underplay; Full of direction, lots
of alternatives depending how the piece is going, and with a lot of repetition […]
 it became very complicated. You end up
having a very, very full piece.  Now you also
have some excellent music, like a bit from the overture that comes back at the
end of the opera.  A harp has to play
that. [The harp] sits for two hours and it comes back at the end of the opera
again, just so it can play a wee bit.  It’s
not the most efficient way of using a harp. It also makes the critical edition
version clearer. I feel that way the
overture came in, just smash straight into the action and then you go crashing
into the next number without any hesitation is much stronger dramatically.  The thing just flows all the way from the
beginning.  It all started in the
overture, the tradition that was marked. In the other version, it slows down in
the forward momentum.  It just gets more
and more exciting in the original version. 
In the later version it gets more and more exciting, and then it slows
down and goes to sleep,  and then it gets
exciting, then it goes to sleep, and it keeps doing that.  The critical version is much stronger.  The music  builds and builds and builds and then it
slows.  It’s much more dramatic. And also
it saves fifteen to twenty minutes on running time.
So how many orchestra members are in that pit down there?
Oh, I should have counted! Sixty-something, I think.  [David confirms with us that there are 61
members of the orchestra in The Flying
How do you fit them all down there?
[Leans over to pit] Anybody down there want to answer? By
playing with no bows and no elbows. You should see the winds.  They’re sitting like you are [knees crossed]
– they’re playing instruments that are very long that involve moving their
arms. And the trombones are trying not to hit the person in front of them with
their slide.  It’s cozy.  It’s not the most comfortable, but on the
other hand they are mostly enjoying that space.
Do you find anything particularly challenging about conducting Wagner’s
work as opposed to other composers?
Too many notes! Our bassoon players play so fast, so many
notes:  tremolo, tremolo all night. They
come up shaking.  It’s very, very
difficult. If you’re not careful, it gets very loud and overpowers the singers,
so my job is very much to say, “Shh. 
Control.”  If not, the poor
singers get completely swamped.  My job
to try and keep everything absolutely controlled. That’s actually the biggest
problem—to control it—it’s actually very easy to lose control and start
smashing on, so my job is just to calm it down.
What’s different about working with this chorus than a Mozart chorus?
Well, you see the size and power of the chorus is very
exciting.  They also get very excited and
run away. It’s very easy for them, running around and dancing and shouting,
that they can run away.  Whereas, it’s
actually much harder to sing Mozart. 
Here, there’s a lot of background sound from the orchestra so they could
goof off if they wanted but they don’t – we see to that.  Mozart is very smooth, very languid, and very
beautiful. The Flying Dutchman is
full of energy and excitement.  My job
again is to control the energy so that they don’t get too excited and run away.
Describe how you prepare as a conductor – do you practice as the
musicians or the chorus might?
I don’t practice all this stuff [motioning keeping time],
that’s more experience. My job is to study the score for weeks, months - I’ve
been studying The Flying Dutchman for
over a year.  I sit down and I play.  I sing the lines.  I know exactly what every instrument plays,
how every vocal line goes – I study the German and understand the wordings. Because
all these people play better than I can and probably can even sing better than
I can, and the only way I can be an authority and say how it needs to go is by
using the score.  I can’t play it for
them but I will know how it should go, but to do that I have to understand what
every single word is doing.  It takes an
incredible amount of studying.  On the
physical side, I don’t really practice keeping time – I can do that for quite a
long time.
BLO would like to thank everyone who participated in this BLO Exposed
event and for continuing the conversation with us post-performance here and on
our social media pages! To have your questions featured here in the future,
join us at the Wednesday night performances of the
2013/14 season !

Topics: BLO Exposed, david angus, The Flying Dutchman

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