[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”1491″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center”][ultimate_heading main_heading=”Maestro Conducts Magic” spacer=”line_with_icon” line_height=”1″ icon=”Defaults-music” icon_size=”32″ icon_color=”#dd6b1f”][/ultimate_heading][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_single_image image=”1458″ img_size=”medium”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”3/4″][vc_column_text]by Claire Mathieson
Unlike some wizards, Phil Kuttner didn’t have to receive a letter in the mail to know his destiny; he discovered his calling at the age of five, when he sat down at the piano. “Something just spoke to me,” he recalls. Through his high school days accompanying the rehearsals of a local opera company to conducting all over the Bay Area, he comes to his first season at Island City Opera with an experience as varied as the orchestras he leads and with a life of practicing magic for all to hear.
Kuttner will enchant us with both Don Pasquale and Don Quixote. He describes the first as a fairly traditional Italian opera, but one that its composer, Gaetano Donizetti, was very passionate about – after all, he wrote it in eleven days. “I think he was really inspired; the music was obviously tumbling out.” Pasquale is bright with coloratura, or vocal coloring, where the singing becomes very fast and high, very “flashy.” Kuttner calls this “vocal fireworks,” and we can see it in Pasquale’s overwhelmingly fast-paced duet with Doctor Malatesta. Kuttner’s passion for Pasquale rivals that of its composer. “I think it’s his best comedy,” he says, “the characters are really interesting. It’s so beautiful.”
Quixote, too, is comedic, with what Kuttner describes as the mood of Cyrano de Bergerac – “romantic,” “archaic,” and with a protagonist who is “insane.” Quixote is rarely performed outside of France and has not been seen in the Bay Area since the 80s. According to Kuttner, the musical cliché that says that the best Spanish music was written by Frenchmen holds true here. Jules Massenet’s work is a tapestry of “very flashy, bright music,” like “a big festival, like a crowd celebrating.” Massenet even ventures into flamenco-style music; one of Dulcinée’s pieces is accompanied only by guitar. Despite taking on Spanish music with great success, Massenet’s score “really matches the French language – it’s very subtle, and it’s very sensuous.” Kuttner loves the way the music grows sparse and simple in Quixote’s death scene, the disappearance of the music’s festival quality mirroring the way in which the hidalgo’s life is seeping out of him.
It’s not just Kuttner’s wand-like baton that parallels wizardry. If experiencing the music from the perspective of the audience can be magical, imagine being the one who waves his hands to bring it forth. “Conducting is very strange,” Kuttner points out, “we don’t actually produce any sound at all.” For him, the wonder lies in those particular moments in a performance when, he reveals, “it’s like all I have to do is just imagine exactly what I want to hear, and the orchestra plays it that way, and I’m not aware of having done anything physical – I’ve just thought it.” “Those moments,” he marvels, “are amazing.” He confirms, however, that magic requires a great deal of study. Before Kuttner even meets his musical collaborators, he must learn an opera’s every note, and the first rehearsal is always nerve-racking as he wonders if he truly knows the music well enough. Even outside of those amazing moments, though, which he feels must be a sort of telepathy, conducting is always a “big thrill” for him, “like being in a storm at sea.” He believes it is the magic, not the magician, that is most important and feels he has done his best work when people compliment not his conducting but the music itself.
Although he had been aware of his magical powers for years, Kuttner was excited to get the call from Island City Opera inviting him to direct their season. He is looking forward not only to more of those awe-inspiring moments but also to the unusual space of the Elks Ballroom drawing a crowd that is perhaps newer to opera. “The audience is the other part of the whole performance,” Kuttner stresses, “they’re necessary.” In other words, Kuttner’s magic is collaborative and involves not only the orchestra and the singers, but us, too – all one has to do to be a part of it is accept his invitation to the magical world of opera tucked right into the heart of Alameda.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]