Q & A: Andrea Castello on Festival Vicenza in Lirica & His Work With Unknwon Works

By Francisco Salazar

Andrea Castello is the Artistic Director of the Vincenza in Lirica Festival. But he is a very different type of Artistic Director.

For him a festival is about discovering young artists, discovering new works, and trying to challenge the norms. He is not interested in bringing the biggest names for the sake of the box office but in bringing them to work with the youth and he believes that opera is about constantly giving the public something new.

This past month the Festival celebrated its 10th anniversary and OperaWire spoke to Castello about his programming choices and why he puts such an emphasis on the youth.

OperaWire: Let’s talk about this year’s festival and what was presented

AC: This year we celebrated 10 years and this year we divided it into two parts. The first part was in June and we did baroque works as well as a benefit concert. Every year our festival tries to do a benefit concert. The second part was held in September and was dedicated to Mozart. We started with the Mass in D Minor from Mozart and then we did a Musical concert created by students from Verona. The festival concluded with the “Don Giovanni” with the winners of the Concorso Lirico Tullio Serafin.

There was also a concert “Actus tragicus: la Cantata Barocca” in collaboration with the Milan Conservatory and masterclasses with Barbara Frittoli and Renata Lamanda. We also had two book presentations and a CD presentation by Federico Longhi. We will conclude the festival in October with the Stabat Mater by Boccherini starring Silvia Frigato and the Ensemble L’Arte dell’Arco.

OW: Tell me the relationship the festival has with the Concorso Tullio Serafin and why is important to work with the winners of this competition.

AC: It is important to help young singers. In everything that I have studied about the conductor, Tullio Serafin was in favor of younger singers and had younger singers work for one year to one and half years at his home. I am not talking about Maria Callas, who he discovered in 1947. I am talking about Rosa Ponselle, who had her work with him for one and a half years before she debuted in Norma.

I think competitions have to change because money is not the only thing they need. I think juries that callow young singers to work are a much better strategy. There are so many great voices and the competitions need to have the courage to allow these young singers to work. They also need to contract singers who do not have representation because not everyone has the chance to have one. I do not work with agencies and there are those competitions that do and lobby certain singers. The jury should also have artistic directors and not simply famous people.

One of the concerts held at the festival was performed by younger singers too who I awarded prizes at a competition in Sienna. I gave three prizes so that these young artists could sing and they were not even the winners, they were finalists. I want to help the young singers and we need to think about it immediately.

OW: What kind of advice would you give the youth?

AC: They should be able to say no. You can not tell a young singer to debut “Norma” tomorrow. And you can not tell a young singer they have a Verdi voice at the age of 21. That is the same with Puccini or Wagner. There are small Wagner and Puccini roles that can be sung like the Sacristan in “Tosca.” Musetta as well but it’s a role that is sometimes interpreted in a vulgar way and yet she is the only one who prays in the opera. The youth have to study the work.

There is also too much emphasis on the physical aspect of social media. All they are doing is emphasizing their beauty and it is not correct. We will have the wrong idea of what opera is in 10 years if this continues. We will have a bad level of opera if we do not find a way to work with the youth. It is the responsibility of the agents as well as the directors.

The young singers need teachers and guides who know what it is to be in the theater and who know the theater. They must work with people who know what it is to work with a conductor. Because when you are in rehearsals with a conductor you need to be prepared. That is why the best theaters in the world want prepared singers. That is why our singers in the festival are prepared with the opera studio and that is why we do these masterclasses. The masterclass is not a lesson but a way to perfect certain things. You do not learn how to sing.

OW: This year you gave masterclasses with Barbara Fritolli. Tell me why you think the masterclass is important to this program.

AC: The masterclass is important because it is a way to perfect someone’s singing. This is not a way of learning to sing. Before doing a masterclass you have to go to the academy to work on your technique. The masterclass is important when the teacher has been on the stage and knows how to work the stage and knows how to work with a conductor. Barbara Fritolli is still on stage and she knows how to work on the stage and how to create a character You have to know how to create that character and you cannot do a masterclass if you have never sung a role or on stage.

But again they are not your teacher. They are not the ones who teach you your technique. They are more of a guide. If you want to learn to sing you have to go to a teacher, not a masterclass. Young singers have to be careful before they go to a masterclass. If you have a masterclass with someone who has not been on the stage, you should not go. You have to do the research.

OW: This year, the festival was held in two parts. Why was this the best method this year?

AC: We did only this year. It was to celebrate the 10th anniversary. I did not want to concentrate on everything in one period. Usually, we used to do it at the end of August and that is a difficult moment for the audience. Therefore we started it in June and then the second part was made in September. We distributed the festival for many months so it wasn’t overloaded. Vicenza does not have the same tradition that Milan, Verona, and Venice have. The public has to be convinced to come here.

This method ended up working because we had an audience in June but the public identifies us with being in September because that is what they are used to. Therefore next year we will look to see how we do.

OW: How has the audience grown in the past ten years?

AC: We do not have a subscriber base. We do a lot of rare operas that the public must be receptive towards. It is very niche. The public is always growing and this year with Don Giovanni, there was a lot of publicity because it is a popular work that always does well. The Mozart Mass as well. The public is always growing and I must say that I am happy because I do not do a repertoire that is very well known. This is not “La Traviata” or “Nabucco.” This public is very specific and I am very happy with what we have obtained. It is very difficult economically because a traditional work will always get public but an opera that is not known will always have difficulty. But there are so many works.

Last year we did “Mitradite,” which had not been done since 1984 in Vincenza. In Italy, it has not been done in the past years. But I cannot do the same titles all the time. I cannot do “Barbiere di Siviglia” because there are operas that are fantastic and we do not have the courage. We always think about economics and I want to be a different type of Artistic Director that thinks about culture and music. I want to think about the unheard masterpieces and then I want to think about the economics.

OW: Do you think that festivals are ways to explore repertoire?

AC: A Festival is a way to be innovative and to have new ideas. A festival is also for young singers. I did get some big names to help the young singers. You can have known works with some unknown works. You have to give audiences the ability to discover new works.

OW: How do you see the festival in the next years?

AC: I want to continue and give the same passion to the festival I want to give opportunities to the youth and I want to also work with some of the great singers so they can help the youth. I will continue this way. I will bring new productions and I will bring baroque works that are unknown as well as some known works. I will also make sure that the young singers get the lead roles alongside some of the bigger names.


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