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Girolamo DeracoGirolamo DeracoInterview with Italian composer Girolamo Deraco, whosse instrumental piece called Indaco was peformed at this year's Bartók Plus Opera Festival.







Last year you were a contestant in the Bartók+ Opera Composition Competition. You submitted an 8-second opera called Taci!. Many people thought it was a joke or a provocation. Was it?

No, it wasn’t. Or rather, if it is a provocation, then I think Wagner’s four-hour operas are also provocations. If an opera is very long, nobody thinks it is a provocation, but if it is too short, people do. I do not want to provoke, I meant Taci! as a serious opera, not a joke. I worked very hard to find the way to realize a conception in an unrepeatable, single performance. I was very happy to find the word ’taci’ [’silence’], because there are several meanings inhering in this word and it can be used in many different ways. The first letter of the word gives a rhythm [note: at the beginning of the work the soprano pronounces the letter ’t’ in rapid succession - Ed.]. The other letters refer to the music notes ’A’ and ’C’ [note: the latter is pronounced ’chi’ in Italian, Ed.]. In other respects the idea is close to the man of today. On the internet it is enough to click once, and you are in China, then, the next moment - let’s say, in 8 seconds - in the United States. The world is speeded up, sometimes things happen so fast that you almost feel shocked… The silence at the end of my opera refers to this. The work is ending so fast that you are sitting silently for a long time, motionless.

So you also wrote this silence into the opera.

Yes, it is in the score. At this point the audience and the musicians interact with each other. In the score I wrote down in every musician’s part to remain motionless after the end of the work until they can hear the applause. It creates a tension because everybody is waiting motionless: the musicians are waiting for the applause of the audience and the audience is waiting for the work to end and the musicians to move. This is a very powerful silence, which is created from the sound. Moreover all the musicians have difficult parts in the score, which they must play in eight seconds. So, they have to concentrate very hard as does the conductor… All this tension creates the silence following the end of the music.

John Cage wrote ’a silence’, too.

That’s totally different. That was really a provocation, and there was only silence in that. Moreover people are moving during that silence, there are noises around them. That is not a real silence. In my opera I create silence, even the title of the work is Taci! (Silence!). I know it is a strange, odd idea, but I was very excitedly waiting to see if my conception can be realized. Because theory is one thing and practice is another. But it worked: at the premiere in Miskolc last year I was sitting in the audience and looked around at the end of the music: everybody was sitting motionless, at least for 30 seconds.

Has Taci! been performed anywhere else?

Yes, it was performed at the ’Play it!’ Festival in Florence two months ago, and will be presented again in South Italy in August.

How many operas have you written?

I’ve written many, around 10-15. I do not know exactly because some of them are not finished yet. I do not finish them unless I know that they will be performed. I don’t like writing for the drawer… I present the parts already written and if someone decides to put it on, only then will I finish the piece.

How long is your longest opera?

One and a half hour. I am against writing a longer one because it would be too much for me – and in my opinion for the audience, as well.

Girolamo DeracoGirolamo DeracoThis year you did not bring an opera to Miskolc, but an instrumental piece called Indaco (Indigo). You call this performance Musictheatre. Why?

Because it is music and theatre but I deliberately write it in one word. This is a neologism, a new word. An actor acts on the stage and thinks in the way as actors do. And musicians think in the way as musicians do, they ’only’ play music when they are on the stage. However, for me the gestures of the musicians also mean a kind of acting but they are usually not prepared to really perform it on the stage. For example, when a pianist slowly moves his or her fingers over the keys, it can be very impressive. Everybody in the audience is watching that and thus the musician can control the tension. The audience also follows the music by watching the motions and the musical gestures. The musicians in Indaco have to think correspondingly. They present the ’theatrical’ acting and the gestures of the musicians but also exaggerate them a bit. However, in certain parts of Indaco, like in ’Game over’, they really act and perform a scene.

In Indaco a flute, a vibraphone and a clarinet is used by three musicians. Why did you choose these three instruments?

All these instruments are full of harmonics resulting in a very full sound. Moreover, we also play with non-traditional methods of making sounds on these instruments. I am talking about contemporary techniques, by which we can make multiphonic, that is double, even triple chords on the flute alone. The flute usually plays only the melody in classical works but here we use it in a different way. Nor is it a coincidence that most of my music in Indaco is atonal, because in this piece I also use the intervals between two semitones. For example, when the vibraphon is playing a C note of definite pitch and the flute is playing it slightly below, a vibration is created resulting in a tension. With the three musicians - Francesco Gatti, Tony Capula and Matteo Cammisa - playing in this piece of mine I always try out new things. For instance, in Indaco we use a violin bow to make a glissando on the vibraphone, too. By the way, in this work the flutist also plays the alto flute and the clarinetist plays the bass clarinet, as well. According to my knowledge no music has been composed until now for these three instruments together.

For the wider audience atonal music is not easy to listen to. But as I understand, in Indaco atonality is also part of your conception.

That’s right. For example, the music of the part ’Inter alia’ is based on microtonal intervals and it is not by accident, because the expression ’inter alia’ means ’among the things’. But it is exactly Musictheatre that helps bring this kind of contemporary music closer to the people. For instance I have a work for solo timpano [kettledrum]. During the concert the musician is playing in the dark. He cannot see the score, can’t even play properly, and we can only hear some noises. However, under the timpano there is a lamp and a foot switch. In two or three minutes your eyes have adjusted to the gloom but at this moment the musician steps on the foot switch, becomes visible for some seconds and begins to play. There are several other unexpected surprises like this for the audience during the concert. When people watch a performance of this kind, they can really enjoy contemporary music. It’s a show, not only music, but Musictheatre.

Would you tell us something about your next work or production?

A special or a ’normal’ one? [smiling]

Let’s start with the normal one!

There is a new project: an opera which is going to be performed in South Italy. The subject of this work is closely linked to the history of the region, and I am also going to write a tenor aria for this opera. It is going to be premiered in August, so I should start working on it very soon.

And what about the ’special project’?

I have a plan for that but I would not like to talk about it. Taci! was an original idea, which could not be repeated at the same venue. My new project is similar. I'd rather not talk about it because someone could steal my idea. People can be dangerous! [laughing]

Who are your favourite composers?

Two of them are Hungarians: György Ligeti and Béla Bartók. I think they are among the most important composers of the last century. But I also love Puccini, especially the way he composed his operas. Puccini’s music is not only about beauiful melodies. His method of composing is just as important: the way he could influence people by his dramas, the way he could control them. This is very important. I also try to do this: to find the tools with the help of which I can control people’s feelings and emotions. This is the central idea of my work.

Girolamo DeracoGirolamo DeracoLast year you were a contestant in the Opera Composer Competition of the Miskolc Opera Festival. This year you are a member of the jury. What do you think about the three operas we heard in the finals?

First of all I am really happy that all the works are completely different. It is essential for an author to have his or her own style and character. It is also very important for them to take part in an international competition, even if they do not win. For young composers it’s very difficult to find a theatre where their compositions will be performed. But here they can also be part of the theatrical productions. They can communicate with the performers, which helps them develop and go on. It is also part of the composer’s job to make the musicians, the singers and the conductor understand what the author wants. You can only learn it through experience. It is a great thing, that the Miskolc Opera Festival offers an opportunity for them to get this experience.

You have watched all the opera performances in this festival. Which one did you like the most?

Aida was one of the best performances. I really liked how conductor Gergely Kesselyák was keeping the huge orchestra and the singers together. Conducting Aida is a very difficult job. Moreover, it is ’dangerous’, too, because it’s a very famous piece, known by everybody, performed very often, and it can easily become worn-out. But I have a very good opinion about the festival in general. I visit many places in Europe and the United States but I could hardly name another festival where 6 or 7 contemporary operas are performed within one week. And there were in addition Korngold’s Die tote Stadt, Nino Rota’s Napoli Milionaria and the already mentioned Aida as well as several other programs including my concert, too.

Last year you brought an opera, this year an instrumental work. Will you come again to the Miskolc Opera Festival next year?

I do hope so, but I don’t know yet which work of mine I will bring.


Balázs Csák



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