Dudamel talks ‘Tannhäuser’

Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel meets the media as he prepares Wagner for the city.
Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel meets the media as he prepares Wagner for the city.

“The word ‘Yes’ just rolled off my tongue,” remarks Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel when asked during a press conference, how it came to be, that the Opera de Colombia’s director Gloria Zea managed to convince him to leave a tight schedule to conduct Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser in the Colombian capital. “I received a phone call last year from Gloria asking me, if I would like to do Wagner, and I couldn’t resist the challenge.”

Although the conductor “was waiting until 2018” to tackle Richard Wagner, given the demands on an orchestra, his schedule, and having soloists learn Old German lyrics, Dudamel rose to the occasion and for the first time in this country a Wagner opera will be performed next month. Gloria Zea spoke emotionally about her “hero” Dudamel and the enormous undertaking of getting the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra to Bogotá and putting them underneath the stage of the Jorge Eliécer Gaitán Theatre.

As the music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra (OSSBV), Dudamel is invited the world over to perform with international heavyweights, such as the New York Philharmonic, the Vienna Philharmonic and Sir Simon Rattle’s Berlin Philharmonic. In what may seem a coincidence – 2018, the year Dudamel was to take on the Wagner – Sir Rattle relinquishes his baton with Berlin; and the 34-year-old Venezuelan seems well-poised to assume the reigns of what is considered the world’s most prestigious orchestra.

For the three nights in July – the 13th, 16th and 18th  – Dudamel will also perform his first Wagnerian masterpiece and an opera close to Gloria’s heart. “It may seem crazy of me to do this,” remarks the conductor. “But it wouldn’t be the first time, I’ve been called ‘crazy.’”

Dudamel’s rendition of Tannhäuser requires 10 soloists and for this, the Opera de Colombia assembled an international cast among them many Latin Americans. Colombian soloists Valeriano Lanchas, Hans Mogollón and César Gutierrez take to the stage along side Uruguayan baritone Marcelo Guzzo and Venezuela’s Ernesto Morillo. Russian Elena Zhidkova plays Venus and German soprano Melanie Diener, Elisabeth. At any given time there will be 80 singers of the Ópera de Colombia Choir on stage to accompany this award-winning line-up.

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The most Germanic of German operas will also see members of the Cartagena-based contemporary dance company Colegio del Cuerpo perform the ballet sequence. Another first for the Gloria Zea, these talented dancers under the creative direction of Alvaro Restrepo – and who have taken their tropical-infused dance to the four corners of the world – will be embedded in the first Act. “It’s an enormous challenge for the dancers and Restrepo,” states Zea.

For Dudamel, Richard Wagner is classical music’s real deal: The “totality” of his scores, the acoustics and every detail which goes into a performance of this size. Zea is emphatic that the three shows have very little to envy with Bayreuth, Germany; venue of the yearly Wagner festival. On his role in Tannhäuser, Dudamel jokes that like many European opera venues, he has been “relegated” to the pit. “You might not see much of me, except my hair.”

The Wagnerian nights are also an opportunity to bring music closer to the people; an aspect of Dudamel’s professional life which he considers fundamental. In his native country, and under his leadership, the OSSBV has set  important cultural milestones in the formation of musicians and the orchestra founded in 1978 by maestro José Antonio Abreu moves crowds, and audiences, on part with the star-power of Venezuela’s best baseball. The OSSBV has recorded seven albums with Deutsche Grammophon and works closely on these, with world-class conductors, such as Claudio Abbado.

Dudamel is a man with a global fan base thanks to his commitment to music and his people. In keeping with this philosophy, Gloria Zea teamed up with the city’s cable network Canal Capital to broadcast live the last performance of Tannhäuser. According to Hollman Morris, director of Canal Capital, the idea is to put a large screen in one of Bogotá’s parks so that the public can enjoy the four-hour spectacle, for free. For Dudamel this is one of the motivating forces of working closely with the Opera de Colombia on Tannhäuser. “With this music we bring beauty and peace,” he remarks.


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