OVATIONS: A conversation with Joseph Mechavich, Maestro

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  • Can you speak to the role of an opera conductor? What are your interactions between the cast, director and stage managers?

The most important duty that I have is to make sure everybody – every singer and every orchestra player – stays true to the score. The score is the map we follow that guides us in producing these masterpieces. I am the curator-in-chief. I have to know everything about the opera, each note, rest, dynamic marking, word, etc. Everybody works as a team and the goal is good storytelling.

  • Did you always want to be an opera conductor? Can you speak to your career choices and journey?

I started out as a pianist but the “conducting seed” was planted very early. I just was never in a rush. I fell into working with opera/voice in undergrad. Part of my scholarship duties was accompanying voice lessons. The collaborative nature of opera and the sheer awe I had for the power of the human voice was all I needed…I was hooked.

  • Can you speak to the experiences from your youth, college education, and training that have helped you with career choices and journey?

Music is everything to me. Growing up in Minneapolis, I was exposed to the glorious sounds of the Minnesota Orchestra and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. I was in awe of the enormous impact music had on audiences. Prior to college, I had the honor to spend a summer studying at Tanglewood. I was far away from home, but I was surrounded by people whose lives, just like mine, were consumed with music surrounded me. It was transformative and I was dumbfounded by the amount of practice and study I had to do. But it prepared me for my time at Oberlin and Yale.

  • As an opera conductor, you travel a lot! Can you speak briefly on what a typical year looks lie for you in terms of traveling? The number of different companies you work with, and the number of productions?

I currently live in Philadelphia but I am on the road 9 to 10 months out of the year. That is about 6 to 9 productions a year. It is a wonderful journey as I get to see so much of this amazing world.

  • Can you speak to the musical language in MADAME BUTTERFLY?

The opera is through composed, which means that the drama does not stop until the end of an act. Puccini has implemented the colors of japan and the sounds of the port of Nagasaki while capturing the emotional moments of the piece. There are musical themes that are used to suggested characters or places or emotions (a technique used in movie scores today).

  • Having conducted this opera previously, how does it change for you with each new production?

This will be my eleventh production of BUTTERFLY. No production is the same, as I always have a new cast that shines their light onto the piece. Plus I am always moved to think that there will be patrons in the audience who will be witnessing the masterpiece for the very first time. I have the high honor and heavy duty to make sure that what they witness on stage is of the highest quality of art.

  • How does music support the story?

In BUTTERFLY, the music is the story. Puccini, like all brilliant theatrical composers, captures the heartbeat of not only each character, but of the situation. The music pushes the drama along while providing the audience with a sonic world that enhances the dramatic moment.

  • What unique aspects of this particular production with Kentucky Opera excite you?

I am always excited by a new cast who will bring their individual talents to the roles as well as a new collective energy. And with the intimate space of the Brown Theatre, the audience is so very close to the drama on stage it will seem as if they are actually a part of the story.