Liner Notes: Mark Elder
© Chris Christodoulou/Lebrecht Music & Arts
MARK ELDER, music director of the Hallé Orchestra since 2000, has had close associations with English National Opera (music director, 1979–93), as well as Covent Garden and Glyndebourne. The maestro is artistic director of Opera Rara, dedicated to recording forgotten operas of the nineteenth century. He was knighted in 2008 for his service to British music.
What was your first opera experience?
MARK ELDER: I sang at the Cathedral Choir in Canterbury as a boy, and some of the masters drove some of us across country to attend the free dress rehearsals at Glyndebourne. My first was the famous Marriage of Figaro designed by Oliver Messel. Glyndebourne was the first opera house I smelt. I can recall it even now—the incredible excitement of going backstage and seeing the wings and orchestra pit—and I just knew I wanted to be part of it.
What was your first paycheck for?
ME: While I was an undergraduate at Cambridge, I and Peter Jonas were supers in a production of Anna Bolena. The funny thing is that my role was the Second Sheriff, and he was the Captain of the Guard. So when he came to run Glyndebourne a few years later, it was like history repeating itself—he was Captain of the Guard, and I was the Sheriff.
Who are your favorite maestros?
ME: Claudio Abbado and Carlos Kleiber. I admire in both of them their extraordinary ability to balance their head and their heart, which is the conductor’s ultimate aim.
Which composers’ music do you most like to perform?
ME: Verdi and Wagner. They were complete contemporaries, and I feel incredibly temperamentally connected to both of them. It’s one of the great advantages about being British that, because we don’t have a very rich, deep, long operatic legacy of our own, it gives one the possibility to examine and study and try to conduct two completely different temperaments without there being a clash with my own.
What was your worst moment in the theater?
ME: I was doing Tosca at the Coliseum, and I was very relaxed, because the first night had gone well. I went into the pit and started, and in the second bar, I looked down at my score and saw that it wasn’t there. In the third bar—a very loud chord—I screamed at the violins, “I haven’t got my score!” They thought I’d shouted “I want some more,” so they played louder. So I did something that perhaps anybody in my predicament would do—I leant over and stole the concertmaster’s music. And he turned around and tried to steal the one from the desk behind him. At this juncture, one of the second violins tiptoed bravely out of the pit to try and find my score. It was page seventeen before it arrived on my desk.
Coda: What Else to Consider
Mark Elder is at the Met this month for Rusalka—“an opera I adore,” he says. “Dvořák wanted to die respected and admired as an opera composer more than anything else—which is fascinating, isn’t it, because how many other operas by Dvořák do you know?” Later this season, Elder visits Paris for Carmen at the Bastille.