I sat down over coffee Thursday afternoon with departing Spoleto Music Director for Opera and Orchestra Emmanuel Villaume for an informal final interview. We discussed in further detail his reasons for leaving the festival, and what his very busy future looks like.
LK: You got quite a sendoff at your final concert last Sunday. What were your thoughts and feelings on that occasion?
EV: I was very touched and honored — even overwhelmed — at the audience’s huge ovation. Making audiences happy is what we musicians are here for, and it was good to know that we succeeded. It was a good thing we had prepared a second encore, even though I wasn’t sure we’d need it. The thrill of a successful performance feels like nothing else on earth, but I must say that the full impact of my decision to leave the festival didn’t hit me until the very last stage call, when, all of a sudden, I felt the emotion boiling up inside me. It was a very special, unforgettable moment. It’s good to know that my Spoleto audiences appreciate my work here.
LK: You told me several years back that you considered Spoleto to be the most important of your professional obligations. Did anything happen to change that?
EV: No, I meant what I said when I told you that, and I have continued to take my Spoleto obligations very seriously ever since. But exciting new opportunities kept presenting themselves, opportunities that I knew — if I was to make the best of them — would demand a great deal of hard work. So, after I accepted my two current orchestral positions and the guest-conducting invitations kept coming, it quickly became apparent that I would no longer be able to give the festival the time and effort it deserves. So I soon realized that it was time to move on. Besides, 10 years in any major musical directorship these days is a very long time. Still, I’m very sad — even heartbroken — to be leaving. But the festival, and especially the orchestra, is in great shape. But I’ve been on the job here longer than anybody else … and it’s better to leave a little too soon than a little too late.
LK: Please tell me about your two European orchestras, both of which, if I’m not mistaken, suffered greatly during the long years of Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, as well as during the economic hard times that came after the iron curtain fell.
EV: Yes, both of them have been through hard times, but they are bouncing back. Many of their best players left for American or Western European orchestras, but are now returning home as things improve. They are both national institutions, and sources of great pride to their countrymen. They are rediscovering their national identities and cultural heritages, so it’s an exciting time to get involved with both of them, even though it’s like working two full-time jobs. The Slovenian Philharmonic Orchestra in Ljubljana, which I serve as Artistic Director and Chief Conductor, is a very fine orchestra that recently celebrated its hundredth anniversary; it’s known for its unique blend of Italian style and Slavic soul. The Slovak Philharmonic in Bratislava, where I am Chief Conductor, is also an excellent orchestra with a distinguished history. I look forward to helping both of them achieve their full potential.
LK: Tell me about some of your upcoming guest appearances. Will you be concentrating on orchestral or operatic work?
EV: Like most conductors, I don’t want to be typecast as either an orchestral or operatic specialist, so I always try to achieve a good balance between the two. But, with two orchestras to work with, most of my upcoming guest appearances will be in opera. There’s a new production of Massenet’s Werther with the San Francisco Opera this fall. I’ll be working with the Chicago Lyric opera in productions of Puccini’s La Boheme (with star soprano Anna Netrebko) and Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffman. Then there’s Covent Garden’s (England) production of Gounod’s Faust. And from here I’m going straight to Canada for an orchestral concert with the Quebec Symphony.
LK: Have you discussed or given any thought to what kinds of productions you might return to Spoleto for as a guest conductor?
EV: No, it’s too soon for that. But I love Charleston and the Spoleto Festival very dearly; I will miss my work here terribly, and so I’d love to return occasionally as I am able, and if I am invited.