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Aleksandar Markovic: ’You have to recruit audiences one step at a time’

Aleksandar Markovic Aleksandar Markovic

After staging Jenufa at Opera North, the conductor was invited to become its music director. He tells David Hutchison about his plans to bring in new audiences.

Congratulations on the new job – how did you get it?

I immediately felt on the same wavelength as the musicians. I knew about the house and its remit, but the first time I worked here I realised what a splendid place it is. My first contact with the orchestra was really inspiring – a concert I will always remember. I was offered a production of Jenufa last autumn, and a project with the National Opera Studio, and after I spent last autumn here I got the job. It’s a place where you can simply do absolutely anything. Everyone is highly motivated and excellently prepared. The level of the performers, the orchestra, the chorus is very high, so the director has a completely free hand. And that’s inspiring for everyone.

What was the inspiration behind doing Der Rosenkavalier as your first production as music director?

It’s a show piece on every level. It is difficult to sing, to play, to shape and to deliver on stage. It’s music that I feel closely related to. For me, the current repertoire at Opera North is like a wish list. I don’t have an agenda of things to fulfil. I’m not coming in and saying: “It’s going to be like this or like that.” I take it one step at a time and I’m keen on working out details and exploring all the possibilities without being rigid. It’s all about teamwork, and what we achieve all together.

What barriers prevent people from experiencing opera?

It’s about prejudice – opera is seen as an elite kind of entertainment, or its long and boring, or you have be intellectual to understand it. Even people who are not highly educated still instinctively react very strongly – perhaps more strongly – to an operatic performance than an educated listener. They are blown away by the immediacy of music theatre, of what happens on stage. This is what opera is about: an immediate, gut reaction to what you’re seeing and hearing. With educated ears you may absorb more, or differentiate between what was good or not, but you may be spoiled and not enjoy it as much. Theatre is for everyone, it’s how it was created.

How are you going to go about bringing in new audiences?

You have to recruit the audience, one step at a time. Our PR department has a long-term strategy for this. I’m very willing to speak about our activities, to give insight into what we do and to talk about the pieces themselves. I have always found the audience reacts well to this. If you can bring the music nearer, they seem to hear with fresh ears. And, of course, working with schools and bringing people to dress rehearsals. We want to invest in the audiences of the future and develop their taste in classical music.

CV: Aleksandar Markovic

Training: University for Music and Performing Arts, Vienna (1996-2003)
First professional role: Conductor, The Land of Smiles, Austrian Festival Operetta (2000)
Agent: Thomas Hull, Maestro Arts

Der Rosenkavalier runs at the Leeds Grand Theatre from September 17 to October 28, before touring to Newcastle, Salford and Nottingham

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