The view from the podium from the young Czech conductor, Jakub Hrůša.
Photo © Prague Philharmonia
For me, working with singers means a special discipline. I love it immensely - and I'll never stop learning about it. What I feel as most remarkable is the fact that singers are not separable from their instruments, and this puts them in a particularly vulnerable psychological situation. You simply cannot co-operate with singers without your sensitivity sensors being ready a hundred per cent at all times.
However, what could be seen as a problem can become a strong artistic advantage - something simply unique in the world of art. No instrument is able to engender such a human achievement as the voice can. Therefore, as I see it, the main thing for a conductor is to create such conditions for his singing colleague so that his or her voice can run in complete comfort.
Sometimes it is not easy to remember this when taken over by the purely musical ideas and goals you have developed about the piece. But I really think that you must never lose this respect if you are to have a good working relationship with singers.
When I am in danger of falling into the trap of feeling the conductor's 'superiority', I always imagine being in the singer's shoes on stage. They have huge amounts of music and text to remember (with no hesitation and always naturally, as if speaking normally, and often in an unfamiliar language). They are totally prepared to fulfil the conductor's and director's expectations. They have to act convincingly, be generous to their colleagues, be permanently anxious about the condition of the voice, to repeat over and over again, not showing any loss of enthusiasm at any time.
And at the same time, the stress of the many kinds of danger (noise, cold, a missed cue by a colleague, a scenery failure) which could come out of nowhere. On the concert stage I can personally imagine the situation better... but in the theatre? Imagining everything I would have to manage to succeed in the singer's skin makes me more than respectful.
And sometimes you really get close to a miracle. No other connection in the world can make me so moved as a virtuoso singer having his or her voice entirely in harmony with his or her character. Believe me, I would just worship the very ground he or she walks on.
I find a special pleasure in accompanying generally. I never argue in a bad way. Being enriched by someone else's musical idea (including basic and important things like phrasing, tempi, dynamics), I am potentially happier. But with those exceptional singers I would do just about anything to oblige their requests, however strong or unusual.
But it's fair play: such an ideal personal harmony demands a lot. And the most perfect artists usually are the most fragile or even vulnerable. So I believe that the opera conductor has to be not only a leader and a very idealistic and demanding person, but also the singers' protector - in any situation. A hard task, with no doubt. For a whole life.
Jakub Hrůša is one of the most exciting young conductors on the world stage. Born in the Czech Republic, he has worked with many of the world's leading orchestras, and in the field of opera he has conducted Carmen at Glyndebourne, Rusalka for Prague National Theatre, and Werther for Opera Hong Kong. He becomes Music Director of Glyndebourne on Tour in 2010, and returns to Glyndebourne that year to conduct Don Giovanni.