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The muscular opera conducting style of Omer Meir Wellber pleased critics during his UK pit debut in 2014 at Glyndebourne with Eugene Onegin. Filmed rehearsals online reveal Wellber, a Daniel Barenboim protégé born in 1981, as talkative with musicians, so naturally he wished to verbalise his views of the Mozart-Da Ponte operas in this conversational essay. Too much talking from the podium can weary musicians over time, but at the start of an international career – Wellber has already conducted opera at the Semperoper Dresden, Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia in Valencia, the Berliner Staatsoper, Arena di Verona, Teatro Verdi in Padua, La Fenice, La Scala and Teatro Massimo in Palermo – these preliminary reflections have a charming unrehearsed spontaneity. After leading the Mozart-Da Ponte operas at the Semperoper Dresden starting in 2014, these notions emerged as a Kaffeehaus monologue transcribed and complemented by German journalist Inge Kloepfer (who inexplicably adds a bibliographical reference to a book on Mozart by ‘Jeremy Siepermann’.)

Wellber admits frankly that until a few years ago, he found Mozart’s ‘omnipresence’ a bore, and was more drawn to music by late Romantic and 20th century composers. With Freudian gusto, he confesses that ‘hundreds’ of childhood viewings of the film Amadeus left him ridden with angst, from Don Giovanni’s hell-fire to the Leopold-Wolfgang Oedipal conflict. Also, Mozart is ‘always a risk’, insofar as ‘infinitely many brilliant musicians and scholars have been so intensely concerned with him’.

Yet when the Semperoper came calling, Wellber accepted: ‘The temptation was great, the risk still greater. Mozart can also fail.’ One way to achieve unassailable originality, he decided, was to accentuate the improvisatory nature of recitatives. He did so by leading from the harpsichord, fortepiano, and even accordion in The Marriage of Figaro, with the latter instrument adding a soupçon of the Édith Piaf tune La vie en rose. Thereby, Wellber asserts, ‘I became an automatic part of the dramaturgical process’. This intrusion of The Little Sparrow, dreamed up by stage director Andreas Kriegenburg, may seem kitschy to some, but punters as well as critics relished it in Dresden.

Benjamin Ivry Read the full review on Agora Classica

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