Interview with the conductor Keitaro Harada

- Mr. Harada, what are your first impressions from the meeting with the Sofia Opera, with its atmosphere, with our singers, orchestra and chorus?

This is my first time in Bulgaria, as well as my first time in Sofia. I have heard about the wonderful singing of Bulgaria, about many of the wonderful opera singers and children choirs. They came to Japan often, so that I have always known about the importance of the song for the Bulgarian. So when I was invited for this production, I was very excited. I came here and still from the airport I met friendly people from your team. They were very nice and cordial and I feel very welcomed, I feel a part of a family already. Believe me, I enjoy every week, every day, every moment here is unforgettable! My impression of the singers is that they are fantastic. We have wonderful Carmen and Don José, and all the cast: Escamillio, Dancaïre, Frasquita, everyone, Mercédès and Micaëla, everyone is very, very good. And they are all unique! And so it’s very fun for me to collect all their interesting ideas into one concept. Maestro Kartaloff and I have a definite conception of Carmen, which corresponds with the Japanese culture and the Greek mythology. And so my job is to make sure that the singers will present themselves inspiredly, convinced in our idea. I arrived in Sofia and 12 hours later I was with the orchestra. They are very good! They are able to play anything.

After the first rehearsal I told the orchestra: “You are wonderful musicians. But let us now try our best to bring in more feeling, to tell in the appropriate manner this dramatic story. Let’s impart to these notes the desired dynamics, accents and rhythms, and most of all more feeling, in order to present emotionally the fatal story of these characters”. And so I said: “When you play this section, when for example Escamillo is very excited to see Carmen, so his heart is beating faster, so you have to be faster to transfer to the spectators his feelings.”

- You can show them… with the accents…

- Yes… And I decided to concentrate on the colour of the orchestra. Now I have a lot of time with the orchestra, so we work on different colours, different attitude, not just soft and loud, but is it blue, is it grey, is it purple, is it black and does the music sound happy or sad to you. Major doesn’t mean happy always, minor doesn’t mean sad always, minor could be happy. So I tried to explain all that and I really feel that the orchestra understands me. I am very crazy about music, of course, and they understand how crazy I am and how involved I am. The colleagues really want to show their very best and I can tell that after two weeks of hard work for me this is a different orchestra. And Maestro Kartaloff said today that the orchestra sounds fantastic! And I replied, it’s not really me, it’s really them. These are the same people, but they are really more involved and wanting to do better. And so my impression is very positive. I think we have a great production, in making so far, but hours remain before the premiere, in which we shall achieve the desired perfection. I am convinced that you will see a very exciting “Carmen”! But our goal is to provoke the audience to feel a spontaneous admiration. Our wish is the audience to remain speechless from what they see and hear… That’s what I want.

- How do you accept and feel the ideas and the artistic solutions in this production? What is the unique in the way you interpret Bizet’s music?

- I come to every production of any opera with blank canvas, completely white canvas. Because it’s not just the conductor, who decides, it’s not just the director who decides. Of course, the director has to have a concept. And I have a concept too. But mine is more about the sound of the orchestra, the sound of the opera, the singers, the orchestra. The director’s concept is more focused on the physical drama and the visual, and the stage, and the set… So it’s a perfect balance between the director and I, because he shared me all his concept and when I first met Maestro Kartaloff I said: “Tell me everything. Tell me everything you want and let me understand and absorb it for a couple of days. And when once I understand and I sweep through it, I said, I will translate this idea into music.” And so that’s what I have been doing.

- No doubt, the whole team strives to achieve the maximum by the realization of the artistic concept. How would you like to present this “Carmen” to be different from the others?

- I think I never compare productions. The different spectacles are not comparable. To begin with, this project is on its own very ambitious and I think that it is very strong, because everyone is so invested in doing it. So I don’t think I really answered your question, but everyone is in it together, because they want the very best. Exactly what we are here for.

- You had the chance to visit some of our performances these days. What is your impression of the audience, of the atmosphere in our Opera house?

- I came to see the ballet “Don Quixote” and then I saw “Don Carlo”. I am very impressed! I thought that everyone was happy to be in the audience! I felt the audience was very happy to be here. I thought it was very well done in these spectacles and I enjoyed my time very much. And it was nice to see the productions, conducted by two different conductors, because it’s the same orchestra, but with two different directors and very different sounding. And I think I was happy, because the orchestra is flexible. The way they play the ballet is very different from the way they play “Carmen” and it’s very different from the way they play “Don Carlo”. So it’s nice that the orchestra can do that.

- And how are you feeling our soloists like a talent, like possibility to recreate these roles?

- They are very good! They all master professionally their role. And it’s not just that they know it, but they also feel it. They are Micaëla, they are Frasquita, they live with their role! It’s not just: “Oh! I come into the Opera house and I become Don José.” But they are the very Don José all the time, which is nice.

It was also very interesting to me that the singers came and asked me: “Maestro, what do you want, what do you want?”. And I keep saying: “Oh, you tell me, you show me what you like to do, what is most natural to you and I’ll understand that and I’ll guide you through.” And they insist: “No, no, no. You tell us exactly how.” I replied: “Not, absolutely not. Until you tell me your idea, I won’t tell you mine.” And that took a while, because it’s a very different working process for them. They are not used to this. I could tell everyone is not used to it. And so I said: “Relax. Just trust me. And you do however way you want it, but I will make sure that the orchestra is with you.“ Because today we did the quintet so that they were not looking at me. And we did it. Then I said: “See, you could do it without looking at me. I’ll be with you.” And so they replied: “OK. We can trust you!”

- What are your first impressions of Bulgaria, of Sofia?

- Oh, I like this land and people! Of course, I read the history of Bulgaria. I read a little bit of the history of Sofia and how much it has changed since the joining the European Union. I can really see how the people want this place to be better. And you could really feel a good energy in what they want. They are excited for new development and want to modernize. And in the same time, are impressive the efforts to be maintained in time your remarkable historical monuments? And when walking around the city, you see the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. It’s very beautiful and the people are very warm, very kind.

In Japan Bulgaria is very present, because we have the Bulgarian yoghurt. It is very important in Japanese everyday menu. And then the Bulgarian Sumo wrestlers are very popular in Japan. So Bulgaria is a very close country in my mind.

- If you could make an advertisement and invite our audience to come to the production of “Carmen”, what would you tell them to be your guests?

- This “Carmen” is impossible to describe in words, because there is so much energy, which is concentrated in the centre of the stage. And so, it’s impossible to say, this “Carmen” will be like this or like that. There are no words to describe it. It’s a “Carmen”, which you have to see and feel and be part of it. Because the audience in the hall is also part of “Carmen”.

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