Jacques Attali – Economist, Financier and Musician

The world famous political scientist, economist, writer and musician Jacques Attali has performed as a conductor at the Gala Concert at the Astana Opera on May 26. In an interview, Professor Attali spoke about collaboration with the Astana Opera Symphony Orchestra, how to attract the attention of young people to classical theatre arts, and much more.

– Mr. Attali, this is your second performance at the Astana Opera. This time, the program featured overtures from operas by W.A. Mozart, G. Verdi, L. Beethoven and K. Weber. Could you tell us why you have selected these particular works?

– For this program, I decided to choose light classical music. The overture is a small sample of all the best things in the opera itself. These four pieces are examples of everything that has been done in the genre of classical opera in the XVIII and XIX centuries. I love Mozart more than I do anything else; “Le Nozze di Figaro” is one of the world’s most famous operatic works. L. Beethoven’s “Egmont” is played rarely, and “Luisa Miller” is perhaps not the most frequently performed of his operas, but it is a wonderful composition. K. Weber’s “Der Freischütz” is not very well known, difficult to perform, but an incredibly beautiful work; it is a masterpiece!

– Please, tell us about working with the Astana Opera Symphony Orchestra. How does the exchange of experience and knowledge between the conductor and the orchestra happen?

– I really love to conduct this truly outstanding orchestra. The musicians are very professional, but also kind with amateur conductors (laughs). The role of the conductor is not to be a dictator; it is a collaboration built on mutual respect. It is necessary to create such an environment so that the performers give their best. I would like to note that the orchestra has excellent first violins. The musicians are very demanding, and I learned a lot from them. When I do something they do not like, they let me know, which is good, because it is a way for me to gain valuable experience.

– What is your opinion on Kazakh music?

– Kazakh music is very interesting. Last time I had a chance to conduct a piece by Kazakhstani composer. I was struck by the quality of this piece of modern music. I would love to attend the opera, which uses Kazakh folk instruments.

– What is your favourite opera and opera production and why do you like them?

– My favourite opera is “Der Rosenkavalier” by R. Strauss. I like everything in this opera by the great German composer, especially the second act – paroxysm of Romanticism. My favourite production was another opera by R. Strauss – “Elektra”, beautifully staged by the famous director, actor and writer, winner of the Cannes and Berlin film festivals P. Chéreau, which he presented at the opera festival in Aix-en-Provence in 2013, just before he died.

– What is your opinion on ballet?

– Ballet – is a fascinating and extremely difficult art, in which men and women’s attempt to fly, to surpass human conditions, becomes real.

– You consult the governments of different countries in matters of economics, finance and much more. What is the state of the world of classical arts today?

Today the world of classical arts is very threatened everywhere. There are two reasons for this. First, it is not economically viable. Without the use of government funds, it is difficult to make a sustainable business venture from the opera. However, I am confident that it is possible to create alternative sources of income here. For instance, the Metropolitan Opera of New York is producing opera online that you can see in movie theatres around the world. They make a lot of money that way. I believe that new technologies can provide new ways to attract the audience to the opera. Another reason is that the young generation does not attend the opera. When the older generation disappears, there will be no audience. Therefore, attracting young people to the opera houses is fundamental. In France, we do a lot to find a solution to this problem.

– Should the ways of creating the productions in terms of music, stage direction, and design change in order to attract the audience to the opera houses and the revival of interest in them?

– In order to be competitive, the opera has to be a real show. It is strange to see a musical like “Miss Saigon” by C.M. Schönberg and A. Boublil, make a fortune for twenty years, while G. Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly”, which “Miss Saigon” is based on, is difficult to finance. This should not be true. When the opera is well directed has a strong cast, choir, dancers and orchestra, it can and should make money. Quality, quality, and again, quality is important here.

– Please, tell us about your plans for the near future.

– I am pleased to share exciting news to me – at this very moment I am directing G. Puccini’s opera “La Boheme” in Paris. It will be onstage fifteen days from now. The production will be performed in an open air in front of different castles, and not only in Paris. In September, it will be held in front of Hôtel National des Invalides – one of the most prestigious monuments in Paris. King Louis XIV initiated the project in 1670. I must say that it takes a lot of time to be a stage director.

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