A Q&A with FELLOW TRAVELERS Conductor Daniela Candillari
Critics and audiences alike are raving about the provocative new opera Fellow Travelers, which will receive its Chicago premiere in four performances this March 17 - 25 at the Athenaeum Theatre (2936 N. Southport Avenue), presented by Lyric Unlimited. Directed by Kevin Newbury, this new work tells the emotional story of love, politics, and betrayal when two men fall in love in 1950s Washington D.C.
The production stars Jonas Hacker as Timothy Laughlin and Joseph Lattanzi as Hawkins Fuller, with music composed by Gregory Spears and libretto by Greg Pierce.
Daniela Candillari, a Slovenia native who has triumphed as a conductor and pianist all across the world, will conduct the 17-piece orchestra. As she gears up for the Chicago premiere performances, she took the time to answer a few of our questions about this compelling piece.
How have you been preparing to conduct Fellow Travelers?
Preparing a new piece is always the same process: I play it on the piano, which is my primary instrument, then sing through all the instrumental and vocal lines. English is not my first language and there are some sections that require very quick delivery of the text, so I’ve been practicing those as well. As someone who didn’t grow up in the United States, I’m also learning more about the time in which this story is set.
What do you most enjoy about conducting this piece?
I’ve really fallen in love with the score. Gregory Spears has an amazing talent for writing with such a variety of colors and textures, and the music fully supports the dramaturgy of the story, which is what great operas do.
You’ve probably become very familiar with the music of Fellow Travelers, but our audience will mostly be hearing it for the first time. Do you have any tips for what they should listen for?
There are so many beautiful moments in the piece. One of my favorites is right at the beginning when basses and cellos enter and the flute plays this little descending motive that keeps coming back throughout the opera. Another special place is during the first intimate scene between Hawkins and Tim. The piano and strings play chord progression while the meter changes every measure, creating an incredible sense of timelessness and tension. It’s incredible.
Why is a piece like Fellow Travelers important for audiences to see?
It’s an incredibly moving story of two people who loved each other, but could not be together. I see the character of Hawkins Fuller as someone who was afraid to be honest and fully embrace life, but rather kept things on the surface. So I think this piece is there to remind us to be courageous in our lives. Additionally, the score that Gregory Spears has written is beautiful — approachable and complex at the same time, and with every new hearing there are new things to discover.
What are you looking forward to doing in Chicago?
One of my favorite restaurants is the Purple Pig, so I’m really looking forward to going back! I would of course love to see Faust at Lyric Opera, concerts with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, visit the Planetarium, and explore the city and its beautiful architecture.