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He adds: ‘When you see what’s going on in the world and then you spend three hours rehearsing a semiquaver, you do sometimes wonder whether you would do more good at Médecins Sans Frontières. You can’t help asking yourself questions of this kind but I know that our semiquavers are not completely useless and that doing them well is better than doing injections badly.’

For all his admiration of America, Langrée remains very Middle European (Mulhouse was, after all, once a German city) in the way he constantly asks himself questions or leaves phrases floating unanswered in mid-air. His silences are eloquent too. His grandmother had a farm and he draws an analogy between conducting and a life on the land: ‘They are not that far away from each other—both are characterized by solitude. You can be in a city, but you are alone for hours when you are studying a score. You are cultivating something else, but you are concentrating on a very small plot. It’s a solitary profession. You are alone. As a conductor, you learn a score in silence. An instrumentalist hears what he is working on, but we have to hear it with our inner ear, we can’t try anything out. And an instrumentalist can play chamber music. Conductors are on a podium in front of seated musicians, so a hierarchy comes into play, but they face those musicians alone, just as they are alone when facing the audience or critics. It can become oppressive, but for the most part, I absolutely love it. It is essential to organize your time efficiently and to look after yourself properly—there are no ifs or buts about that. It’s an exciting life if you are able to take command of what you are doing and it’s a very stressful life if you let things get on top of you.’

These days, committed as he is to Cincinnati, Langrée sees himself first and foremost as an orchestral conductor: ‘I’ve never worked so hard in my life—I’ve aged 15 years in five years, but it hasn’t been for nothing.’ While he is pleased not to be seen simply as an opera conductor, he is still happy to return to the theatre on a regular basis, finding it a joy to ‘meet the artists, dream and share an artistic adventure like no other’. He mentions a dozen or so directors and a similar number of singers and apologizes if it sounds a little like a laundry list. His guest dates are now centred on three houses, the Metropolitan Opera (where he has conducted Hamlet, Iphigénie en Tauride, La Bohème, Don Giovanni, Carmen and Dialogues des Carmélites), the Vienna Staatsoper (La traviata, Don Giovanni, Le nozze di Figaro, La clemenza di Tito, La Bohème and Yevgeny Onegin) and the Opéra Comique in Paris, where he now conducts a production

■  Town and country: Langrée’s formative bases, Opéra de Lyon and Glyndebourne

Opera, December 2018


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