On the Scene with Hawaii Opera Theatre’s Emmanuel Plasson
Emmanuel Plasson will be wielding his conductor’s baton when HOT’s production of Puccini’s ever-popular tragedy “Tosca” opens Friday in the Blaisdell Concert Hall.
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Emmanuel Plasson grew up in Toulouse, France. His father was a conductor, his mother was a violinist. They both inspired his career choices. Plasson studied violin at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, and conducting at the Monteux School and Music Festival in Hancock, Maine, and at the Yale School of Music in New Haven, Conn.
Plasson made his professional debut as a conductor in Toulouse in 1991. Since then he has conducted across the British Isles, continental Europe, in Australia and New Zealand, Japan and the United States.
In February, Plasson, 54, was appointed principal conductor and artistic director of Hawaii Opera Theatre. He will be wielding his conductor’s baton when HOT’s production of Puccini’s ever-popular tragedy “Tosca” opens Friday in the Blaisdell Concert Hall.
What would you like us to be watching for next weekend?
A great story, beautiful music and a terrific cast, young singers who are wonderfully motivated (with) beautiful voices. It’s a beautiful production, a little on the traditional side, but “beautiful traditional,” and we have the marvelous Hawai‘i Symphony Orchestra that I will be conducting.
How does your musical training influence your choices as HOT’s artistic director?
As a producer or artistic director you always have to respect the subject you’re working with. From there you can do a lot but you have to keep the core of it. It’s always better to come from the inside (of the orchestra) where you have the experience of the interactions between the conductor and the musicians. I feel lucky that I had this upbringing.
What challenges are you facing?
Today the opera world has to adjust itself with (competition from) the movies, with all kinds of artistic expression. We need to find new ways to exist and to be credible today and be attractive and accessible to all generations. It’s a big challenge but we are ready and we are thinking of a lot of interesting ideas.
What are some of the things you’re looking at?
I would love to present some modern contemporary American operas. I’m thinking of (operas by) Jake Heggie and Tom Cipullo — those composers are really amazing and deserve attention from us. There’s a opera called “The Shining,” based on the book by Stephen King and the film. The composer is Paul Moravec and it’s a very potent story because it’s not only a supernatural and horror story, it’s also a family story.
There have been opera companies that would not do anything by Wagner because Hitler was a Wagner fan. HOT has done Wagner in recent years so we know that’s not a problem here, but are there other “PC” issues in choosing operas these days?
Yes, because political correctness is still going far. You have certain subjects from the past that are sensitive and of course we have to negotiate that. “Tosca” is violent, but because of the beauty of the music and the singing and the powerful theatrical moments, the violence is accepted. I don’t think we should be too timid, too shy, about showing certain materials from the past, you just have to do it intelligently.
What do you like to listen to when you’re not working?
I listen to everything. Everything that has quality to it. I could listen to jazz, to rock, to pop, you name it, as long as the tune has quality (and) good chords. I need something that’s going to make me feel “That’s nice!”