The Conductor

Santiago was a direct, simple man with clear ideas. At that time, he was directing the orchestra rehearsal that would soon play Die Zauberflöte, The Magic Flute of Mozart, in an important theatre of the city. It was not the biggest theatre, but many people used to attend. They were going to give four performances.

Not only did he like the piece, it fascinated him. He was totally mad about it. The mysteries of the script and the enigmatic story were no longer important when the music began to play. He had been an orchestra conductor for more than thirty years, so he had played several times all the pieces of such a marvelous author. But there were two of them that dazzled him. Die Entführung aus dem Serail, The Abduction from the Seraglio, was a comic opera with a captivating, funny and entertaining music. And the Magic Flute, a piece that Mozart released as conductor just two months before his death. He always used to say that it was an unsurpassable master piece. He usually said that Mozart should have been under the influence of some powerful hallucinogen to imagine such architectural piece of music. He then felt sorrow at thinking that such tremendous artist composed the most important piece of his career to make some money. That was so because Emanuel Schikaneder, impresario and author of the script, and the great Mozart were completely broken at that time.

But coming back to the present, he realized that he had a huge problem to deal with. The orchestra was not answering to his conduction. There were quarrels among the members and, each time they rehearsed, the union delegates complained before the authorities about the low salaries. They were playing their instruments with a hostile attitude. The rehearsals were a disaster and he was losing his mind. On top of that, one of the singers, the one who would interpret the important and comic role of Papageno, always complained because he did not like the orchestra playing so loud. He used to tell the conductor that he needed his own space. This one usually required him to sing louder and the baritone used to answer that he couldn’t, since he was not a high-pitched voice tenor and, according to the score, he should not scream; he had to sing soft melodies, the ones that Mozart wrote for his role as a baritone.

The conductor was about to quit a couple of times, but that would not have been seen as a good action among the theatre environment. A resignation could cost him dear. He had to think about his career and prove that he was able to tame that fierce monster. So, he set up a plan. He expected that plan to be fruitful so as to positively channel his efforts.

He talked to each of the musicians and all of the theatre authorities and, little by little, he persuaded them to work together in harmony. He resorted to each musician’s career, that precious gift so much adored by them. With each phrase uttered, he tried to make them understand that if they tried hard, they would be appreciated in the future. He wisely advised the musicians how to play their instruments and showed each of them the small secrets of playing. Every time they rehearsed, he explained to them why he was giving each order and each request. This took him several extra hours of work and he even visited some musicians and authorities in their homes. He denied no invitation and accepted cups of coffee in bars after rehearsals even when he was beyond tired. Finally, he achieved what once had seemed impossible: the theatre authorities promised to consider a pay raise for the musicians.

Gradually, the musicians began answering satisfactorily. The orchestra was more tuned and focused. One morning, when he arrived at the rehearsal, some musicians began to call him “master”. He did not relax. The conductor wanted the play to be extraordinary. He was not going to give the performance at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan and it was far from being the Metropolitan Opera in New York or the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires. However, he wanted the piece to get what it deserved: a brilliant interpretation. He did not want it to be perfect, he was sure that it would not be free from mistakes, but he expected the musicians to play it using their tuned minds and hearts. He wished the play to be interpreted passionately, with the same strength, talent and joy that its author always had.

The singers also started to show him their affection; except for the baritone. The conductor had talked to him several times. He had praised him, told him that his voice was marvelous and admirable, which was in fact true. But the baritone did not give in. At least, he noticed that the critics of the singer towards the orchestra and towards him were getting less frequent.

And the debut day arrived. Santiago was convinced that he had made everything he could to get a good performance. When he came on stage, he looked from the pit towards the boxes and stalls to happily notice that the theatre was full. He was greeted with a brief and almost indifferent welcome applause by the audience. They were getting to know him, he was not expecting more.

The overture began elegantly and perfectly tuned. The conductor looked and smiled at his musicians because he realized they were giving the best of themselves down there in the pit where, almost anonymously, they were part of a unique and unrepeatable team. On stage, the baritone showed a deeper and louder voice than that of the rehearsals. All the singers excelled and the orchestra was able to play at the highest volume possible, just the way he liked, without the fear of hindering their voices.

Upon her entrance to play the second and last act the audience ovated him. Santiago bowed with humbleness, but he already had a wide smile on his face.

Then came the surprise, it was something he did not expect at all. In one of the scenes of the second act, Papageno was holding a bottle of wine and he was sad because he couldn’t find a woman to marry and have children. He was singing very well; as a matter of fact, he was not Simon Keenlyside, but he was as good as him. The conductor perfectly knew all of the actor’s movements from the rehearsals. The baritone had to give an about-turn towards the stage center while singing his aria, Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen. But he did not do it. Instead, he approached the orchestra pit and sat there, on the edge of the stage, in front of him. Santiago looked at him, a bit frightened. The baritone, while singing that sweet melody composed by Mozart, stretched his hand over the musicians and offered the conductor a sip of wine. The pit was relatively narrow, so he did not have any obstacles to approach his hand near the director’s. The music and the sweet and tuneful singing of Papageno were all heard in the theatre. The conductor accepted the bottle and sipped… it really was wine! Finally, he handed in the bottle to Papageno. A great roar of applause and laughter broke out in the theatre thanks to the funny idea.

The performance was an absolute success. If they had been a rock band, they would have had to play at least three more songs due to the applauses and ovation they received.

Coming out the theatre, after midnight, the conductor and the baritone briefly met on the street. Santiago asked him very seriously:

“How did you come up with the idea of the wine?”

The baritone laughed with all his strength and gaped at him in amusement.

“You know, we artists are like that. We find it hard to accept we’re mistaken, but when we do, we have many ways to show it; that was mine.”

The director smiled at him and they shook hands. Then, each of them set off.

Three functions were left, but he was satisfied with his labor. It had been really hard for him, but he proved to be efficient in doing their work under the toughest conditions. While walking, he decided he would ask the baritone to repeat the scene for the following performances. If Mozart had been the director, he would have laughed as much as the audience that night. And maybe he would have drunk all the wine.

Translated by Flavia Marcos and Natalia Riera: Rima Traducciones

Escribo, tomo fotografías artísticas y analizo música clásica y rock, literatura, historia medieval y me atrevo con las noticias de Argentina y del mundo.

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