Interview with Italian conductor Speranza Scappucci

Photo: Speranza Scappucci conducting ©Silvia Lelli
Photo: Speranza Scappucci conducting ©Silvia Lelli

Q: What do you like best about the current production of La bohème?

Speranza Scappucci:

We just started working on it. Although it is a revival of a pre-existing production, I like to not take a look at the video beforehand. I am working with the revival director Peter Kazaras and we are working on this as if it is a new production. I have seen pictures and they look beautiful, very classic. One of the great things about La bohème is that it works whether you update it or not. But, it is nice to do it the classical bohème way. We are working on making it fresh and rediscovering all of the characters the way that Puccini wrote them.

Q: What do you think you bring to the production as a female conductor?

Speranza Scappucci:

My view on the matter is that when we step on the podium we are musicians. Whether we are women or men, musicians have their own sensitivity and sensibility as musicians. It is very individual perspective. As myself, Speranza, I will bring my own interpretation of La bohème and feelings about the piece. I don’t know if it is any different because I am a woman or a man.

Q: Have you experienced any barriers within the music industry as a female conductor?

Speranza Scappucci:

Personally I have not encountered anything like that. I have always found a very enthusiastic set of musicians. As a conductor, I will always be subject to the judgement of others. It is hard to tell if they are judging you as a woman or for your musicianship, or simply judging.

Q: What do you bring to the production as an Italian?

Speranza Scappucci:

Growing up in Italy, I was raised in a music-loving family. Opera is integral to the culture. I went through the whole process of studying piano that brought me to being an opera coach. The advantage of the Italian language is a huge advantage, but I also studied French, German and English. You need to have lots of different qualities to be a good conductor, especially a good opera conductor. Definitely being Italian helps, but it’s not a given. Just being Italian isn’t enough to make you a great conductor.

Q: What made you decide you wanted to conduct, and to focus on opera in particular?

Speranza Scappucci:

I conduct symphonic pieces as well as opera, so I do both. But opera is where I spend most of my time because of my career as a coach and Assistant Conductor. I have had a long career as a coach and a pianist. I worked in great festivals like Glyndebourne, and Salzburg. I worked in the Staatsoper in Vienna, the Met, New York City Opera, Chicago Lyric opera, etc. After a few years of doing that, I realized that while I was coaching or working for other conductors I felt this urge to voice my own ideas. The way I was playing the piano, lots of singers told me: you lead from the piano and I think you could really conduct. So, I took courage and decided to go for it.

In the past, lots of conductors, whether it was opera or not, started by doing the behind the scenes work. That is what gives you all the experience you need to be knowledgeable for when you step on that podium. It makes you stronger. Today a lot of people start from the podium and then they are launched into careers before they have that background knowledge.

Q: What do you like most about America?

Speranza Scappucci:

I grew up in Rome, but my parents sent me to an American Kindergarten and Elementary school in Rome. They believed that learning English was important. Of course, they were right. I moved to the United States, and it was very handy to know English.

I love the openness of the American mentality. Especially for music, there is a sense of reward for talent, and promotion of people who deserve to be promoted. Not that it is missing in Europe. We are more conservative in Europe. Whereas, in America, people are bolder, more into taking risks to help young people. I am certain that if I had not started my career as a pianist and a coach in America, it would have been a much longer process than it has ended up being.

Q: Is there anything I haven’t asked you that you want to talk about?

Speranza Scappucci:

There is so much we could talk about! But, let’s talk about Puccini and how in this production we have enough weeks of rehearsal time that I am taking advantage of that and working hard with the singers to re-study the score, to bring it to life the way Puccini wrote it. It is one of the most famous operas ever written, together with La Traviata. Often we forget to go back to the original score and what Puccini really wrote. There are so many little details, things about the dynamics. Through the years we’ve gotten used to hearing it done in a certain way. It is very interesting to me as a conductor, someone who has worked with a lot of different singers who have different interpretations, to now have the possibility to go back to the score and say: actually Puccini wrote it like this, let’s try to do what he wrote because it makes sense.

I love the fact that I have a great cast [here in LA] with a good mixture of great stars like Nino Machaidze along with younger singers who have never done La bohème so we are discovering the production together with the director .

I am really happy that I can make my debut in Los Angeles with this piece because it is a beloved piece for the audience, but I love it, too, and I want to make it very true to what the author wrote.

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