Lorenzo Viotti
Text: Laura Roling | Photo: Linda Stulic

‘I give my all to projects I believe in’

21 March 2022

Chief conductor Lorenzo Viotti conducts Puccini, Strauss and operetta.

Chief conductor Lorenzo Viotti’s second opera season promises to be at least as diverse as his first. Not only will he be conducting two major repertoire operas – Puccini’s Turandot and Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier, but he will also reveal a different side to his talents with Operetta Land.

Viotti describes Operetta Land as a “little surprise”. “I thoroughly enjoyed working on two completely different projects at the same time last September. By presenting Der Zwerg and Missa in tempore belli, the house sent an important message to the world: we dare to re-envisage the future of our art form, we’re prepared to take risks, and we’re open to new disciplines and experiments. Although doing two productions at the same time meant I was working night and day, it was well worth the effort. So, I’m happy to be doing it again!”

In Operetta Land, a project by theatre maker and operetta fan Steef de Jong, Viotti will show a side to himself that we’ve never seen before in Amsterdam. He will be working with the National Youth Orchestra of the Netherlands for this project, and the sheet music on the stand will contain a selection of pieces from the operetta repertoire – a genre rarely played in the Netherlands anymore. Unjustly so, believes Viotti: “Operetta is often underestimated. It’s actually more difficult to conduct an operetta well than, for instance, Puccini’s La bohème. A waltz may seem easy on paper, but in practice it’s one of the most difficult things to do successfully. It’s also important not to shy away from sweetening things up with operetta – within reason of course. What I like about this project is that we’re creating another special production for a new audience – this time for all ages.”

Freedom

The concept of freedom – reframed as a question – is the common thread running through the programme for this new season. How much freedom did Lorenzo Viotti feel in choosing his projects? “Of course I have freedom, but I am also very pragmatic. It is my second season with this orchestra and I’m still discovering how my ‘instrument’ works: what are the musicians good at and what are things we can build on for the future? That’s why I’m exploring different musical styles and languages in my first seasons. Sophie de Lint and I shared a great desire to build a series of Puccini operas in three consecutive seasons with the orchestra and director Barrie Kosky.

But that meant there was only one title left to be decided for each season. I had always been told that the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra has a lot of experience with Strauss, so I thought, ‘I’d like to do something with that in my second season!’.”

Therefore, in addition to Turandot, the choice fell on Der Rosenkavalier – neither of which Viotti has conducted before. Der Rosenkavalier will in fact be his first Strauss opera. It is the charm of the work that appeals to him the most: “In Der Rosenkavalier, Strauss brings an element of frivolity to grand, serious opera. In essence, he incorporated the atmosphere and style of Viennese operetta into the work.” Viotti smiles: “Sometimes I say that musically I grew up in Vienna – with the waltz, the charm, the sentiment. Maybe that’s why my heart beats a little faster for projects like Der Rosenkavalier and Operetta Land.”

Love for Puccini

The same is true, it turns out, when Puccini’s name is mentioned. “I live for Puccini’s music,” says Viotti, his face alive with enthusiasm. “His operas are really for everyone. Composers like Verdi and Wagner based their work on great plays, such as Shakespeare, or they told stories about gods and heroes. Puccini, on the other hand, tells stories about people. The emotions are very direct and relatable. People sometimes say that Puccini is sentimental, but I disagree. And besides, what’s wrong with sentimentality? It’s almost become a dirty word these days, while deep down I think we all crave it.”

Viotti is happy to be an ambassador for the art form again in the new season. “I am young and definitely do not fit the stereotype of a conductor. I have boundless energy and I love to share my love of the art form – for example by opening up rehearsals and talking about music. That’s really important. In my first season, a new audience came to the opera and to my concerts in the Royal Concertgebouw. The energy was totally different. I’d like to achieve the same in the new season.”