March 25, 2021

What is Maestro Mazzola up to when he’s away from Lyric?

Enrique Mazzola has been very busy with creating and/or recording multiple streaming-performance projects at Lyric over the past few months. Sole e Amore, The Sonata Sessions, Attila Highlights in Concert, and The Great Verdi Chorus Showdown are either streamable now or will be released in the coming weeks. 

Lyric’s music director designate notes that “most of my time and energies are focused on Lyric for the next several years. I am working on creative projects for Lyric 365 days a year, but unfortunately I am not in Chicago at Lyric 365 days a year!” Currently he is enjoying spring’s arrival in Montepulciano, Tuscany, between European symphonic and operatic conducting engagements. 

Mazzola recently recorded two concerts with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. The first program, “The New World,” pairs Haydn’s tempestuous Symphony No. 49, “La Passione,” with Dvořák’s “New World” Symphony, and streams for free on Marquee TV until March 31, and then on demand. (The Times gave it a rave with a headline declaring, "LPO/Mazzola review--as thrilling to watch as it was to hear.") The second program, “Towards Freedom,” features the patriotic tone poem Finlandia and the volcanic First Symphony, both by Sibelius; and Missy Mazzoli’s haunting short work, These Worlds In Us. This program begins streaming on Marquee TV on March 31.

So far Lyric has experienced our Italian maestro’s artistry mainly in the context of opera, plus the art-song and chamber-music performances mentioned above, but there’s much more to Mazzola’s musicianship. “Symphonic music is also very much in my blood,” he declares. “It’s part of my view of being a conductor.” He finds that operatic and symphonic experience complement each other: “I specialize in opera and Italian repertoire, and also having a strong presence in symphonic repertoire helps to broaden my range, to have different visions of how to perform an opera, and a different way of working with our colleagues in the orchestra.”

As it turns out, Mazzola has had a decade-long relationship with LPO; they’ve worked together both at Glyndebourne Festival Opera, where the orchestra spends its summers, and at LPO’s home base in London’s Southbank Centre. “It’s one of the orchestras with which I have the strongest ties,” he says. “We have trust, direct, sincere and frank ways of working. Being friends and colleagues we have mutual, natural and deep respect.” At Glyndebourne he has led LPO in productions of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore, Don Pasquale, Il barbiere di Siviglia, and Poliuto, and this summer he will collaborate with director Christof Loy on a new production of Luisa Miller (they worked together previously on a new Don Pasquale in Zurich). 

It was Mazzola who chose to include a work by Missy Mazzoli in the second concert with the LPO, in part because “I wanted to ‘meet’ Missy artistically before we do her opera, Proving Up, at Lyric.” It was a fine first date. Of These Worlds In Us, Mazzola says, “I love this score; it’s full of emotions, full of rhythm, full of nostalgia, full of evocations. It’s about ten minutes long, a good symphonic introduction to a concert. It’s my first time conducting her music. I’m very proud to have the opportunities that women composers deserve in our programming. We have so many good composers who are women.”

Mazzola adds that “personally I love the Sibelius—it’s a rather mysterious symphonic world. He uses all the formulas of the romantic musical languages—but it’s like we’re reading a romantic poem and there is no punctuation, so you can read every phrase in a different way. Because of the absence of punctuation or the opposite, because of the exaggeration of the punctuation, sometimes, you are really shocked and surprised by the phrasing of Sibelius.” 

Because of the ongoing pandemic, these concerts were filmed without a live audience at Queen Elizabeth Hall at Southbank Centre. “It was a socially distanced situation,” Mazzola recalls. “All musicians were six feet apart, spread out on the stage, and all the Covid safety rules were followed, including that we were all tested of course.” 

So while there was no immediate public response to the performances, “the musicians liked the work of Missy Mazzoli very much,” Mazzola reports. “These were the first concerts that LPO played in three months, at least—you can imagine the enthusiasm they showed for every piece! They are a very versatile orchestra, and can play from Baroque to contemporary repertoire, changing style in a few minutes. In these two programs you have the chance to enjoy the classical style with the Haydn symphony, two major romantic symphonies by Dvořák and Sibelius, and one contemporary piece, written in 2006, by Mazzoli. They are two completely different programs, two very beautiful experiences.”

Before rehearsals and recordings could begin, Mazzola had to quarantine in London for six days. “It was really very difficult, a very strict quarantine in the hotel room, no going out even for a second—I was receiving delivery food for breakfast, lunch, dinner,” he recalls. “For an Italian and sunny soul like me, to have my only window facing north, it meant that I couldn’t even receive a ray of sun in all the quarantine days! So, even if there was some amore there was no sole!” Nevertheless, he adds, “I have to say the joy of reconnecting with my friends at the LPO really made up for the isolation.”

Mazzola greatly looks forward to being back in Chicago to open the season, his first as music director, “with our new Macbeth, with Sir David McVicar. I can’t wait to meet with David for this fantastic adventure of building together a new production for Lyric Opera of Chicago.” 

We can’t wait, either, to have Maestro Mazzola back in town and back on the podium. September will be here before we know it! In the meantime, we look forward to listening to these exciting concerts with the LPO, and experiencing new facets of his exceptional musical artistry.

Photos: London Philharmonic Orchestra