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RRM 25 - Interview with Luminița Arvunescu, producer of Radio România Muzical
I'd like to start with a fundamental question, I think, about this journey: why opera?
Because its main vehicle is the human voice, pure and simple. The most fascinating musical instrument. That's why, opera.
How is the world of opera more tender for a musicologist and why not, for a listener than the symphonic field, let's say?
I suspect that in whatever direction I would have taken her as a musicologist, I would have found enough motivation to invest as much passion and work as I did by specializing in opera on the radio. But, indeed, the more I advanced in the knowledge of the operatic repertoire, the more interesting I found it and I let myself be totally captivated by this field. First of all, the history of opera as a genre, is by far the most interesting in the history of music, being linked, more than any other, to the historical and social conditions of the era. Then, an opera score, I think it is known, surpasses in complexity any symphonic score by the simple fact that it brings into discourse the human voice as a solo part or a choral ensemble and last but not least, the work offers to the musicologist the most extensive and interesting field of research from the point of view of its interpretation, both musically and dramatically, both as a conducting version, and especially from a vocal point of view. You can never exhaust research or knowledge of the operatic phenomenon. On the contrary. The more you learn, the more you need, tomorrow, to find out twice as much. And you find yourself, in a way, trapped inside this phenomenon. And this is the fascination that I have noticed that opera exerts, not only on the musicians, but also on its audience.
What is the origin of this inclination you have for the world of opera?
I have said it on other occasions. My love for opera was born late, and it wasn't until about five years after my employment in radio as an editor in the opera and operetta music department. Quite by chance, the first post put up for competition by the Music Editorial Board in the spring of 1990, after almost a decade in which no employment had been made, was that of an opera editor. And I, entering the sixth year of the assiduous collaboration with the Radio, found it normal to rush towards him, without knowing exactly what I was going to do in this section, my collaborations being carried out with the Music and Symphonic News departments, until then. However, I signed up for the contest. I picked it up and started working. The thing, that is, to make up musical opera programs for the three channels of the Radio. At that time, the Music Editorial Board had as main occupation, "filling" in general, the gaps between other shows. The idea of a station that would broadcast exclusively classical music, being clean utopia. Or, very soon I would realize that the opera section was the department for which I was least prepared and that I had nothing else to do but start listening to opera and going to the opera, reading about opera and listening again, with the score in hand. So I spent hours in booth 49, scrolling tape after band from the opera integrals that our phonotheque had. The Radio archive, representing at that time, our source of documentation and the object of work. In any case, as my gaps were filled, the opera series project also took shape. The show I've been doing weekly since 1995. In fact, the longest-running classical music show after 1989 and the only one broadcast on the two cultural stations of the Public Radio, Radio România Muzical and Radio România Cultural.
Any such project, such as the one you have undertaken and continue to undertake, that of offering the Romanian public all the news in the world of opera has a basic idea. What's the idea you started from?
You ask me what was the idea from which I started. In 1995, when I was offered the broadcasting space, generous, very generous, of three hours, which the opera section had on Saturdays, in the 1922 hourly section, I simply started from the idea of offering listeners a presentation of the opera integrals existing in the radio phonotheque, as tempting as possible, in an accessible language, based on the latest information, as much as it could at the time, without the internet and computer and with an immediate musical exemplification to support my opinion. Then, after a discussion with my colleague Alice Mavrodin, an excellent musicologist and a great lover of opera, I found out that in the International Music Exchanges section, where she worked, she was constantly receiving among the so-called musical packages and live opera recordings, which no one was in charge of and which lay untapped in the closet of the section. And one day, I took everything I found opera in that closet, with the thought of just informing myself and listening to myself in the first stage. When I realized, however, what treasure I had discovered, I wanted to show the treasure to the listeners of the Opera Series as well. And I started working with the International Music Exchanges section through which I ordered and received, recorded on DAT tapes, opera performances on the biggest lyrical stages of the world, which I was striving to broadcast then, within a period of no more than four weeks. Thus Opera Night it became overnight, the only show of the editorial staff that offered its listeners the opportunity to access the musical genre it was promoting - the opera - at present. Because I myself was maddened to listen and to know everything that was happening in the fascinating actuality of the lyrical theater, and the work at present is still today the basic idea of my radio show and mission.
You also contributed to the launch of Radio România Muzical. I'd like you to talk to us a little bit about the ideals you shared with your colleagues at the time.
In fact, I was the editor of Radio România Muzical, from its establishment until 2004. That is, the man who thought about the first hours of broadcasting, the first grids of broadcasts, the first contents, together with the founding director of the station, Mrs. Mihaela Dobos, a man whom I respected enormously. With what ideals have I thrown myself into the adventure called today Radio Romania Musical? With the ideal of giving the music lovers, what we knew the German meloman had. That is, classical music in continuous flow or broadcasts only about classical music. I had lived between 1993 and 1995 in Germany and I had listened to such stations, so in 1996, when the management of the Romanian Radio Broadcasting Company decided to launch our station in the ether, I had an experience I would say, even more important than if I had worked as an editor at such a station. I had objective experience as a listener, with training as a radio editor. A listener and radio editor who had taken notes and who had analyzed both what was good and what had dissatisfied him at German classical music stations. So I threw myself into the adventure of Radio România Musical with the most fierce enthusiasm and all my forces, grateful that I can build something necessary in the Romanian cultural landscape and convinced that all of us at that time could support an editorial offer, capable not only of corresponding to the wishes of the Romanian music lovers, but even of rivaling the editorial offer of some European stations with tradition, like France Musique, BBC3 or WDR3, that is, Westdeutscher Rundfunk, the station that I listened to mainly in Germany.
International broadcasts, under the generic Opera Night they started relatively early in the history of Radio România Muzical. How do you remember the first such moment?
Obviously I remember it as if yesterday was the time of the first direct broadcast on the Opera Night. But, first of all, I would like to remake in the spirit of truth the preamble of your question by saying that international direct broadcasts began on Radio România Muzical with that evening of February 1st, 1998, when I took over in direct broadcasts the first show from the famous Metropolitan Theater in New York. Only a few days ago, the Romanian Broadcasting Company had purchased its own satellite station, and the first use of that station at the level of the institution was therefore, for an opera show and I am extremely proud of this fact, commented by me, blind from the studio of the new radio station Radio România Muzical and in fact, not only in the blind, but without having had a broadcast unfolder or at least in headphones, the presentation of colleagues at Metropolitan Radio, as I currently have. In 1998 we were still far from today's means of communication, without internet, without chat and without any direct connection to the Radio Metropolitan Opera International through which these broadcasts are made. I had clung to an opportunity and that's it, and the artistic offer that evening, that is, the debut of the exceptional baritone from Cluj Alexandru Agache on the stage of the Metropolitan Theatre in New York, with one of his landmark roles, Simon Boccanegra, was a strong argument that pleaded in favor of that approach. And now I remember how Mrs. Dobos looked at me when she asked me briefly: Can? Yes. And I did my best to offer that evening an opera radio broadcast worthy of the stage from which I was taking over an international show for the first time. With interviews recorded by phone, with the great Domingo, Agache's partner in that Simon Boccanegra and of course with Alexandru Agache. What if it was stress? Naturally. What if I had any emotions at the microphone? Of course it is. I felt like I was fainting. But after the broadcast I knew that that was the way. And once again, I thank Mihaela Dobos for smoothing everything around me then and let me do that first direct international broadcast. If someone had told me that in 13 years' time I would end up commenting right from the spot in the Radio Metropolitan Opera studio in New York, I wouldn't have believed him. And yet it happened. First time on March 5th, 2011. And again in an absolute first for our post. Then in 2012, in 2013, I happened to get to do whole stories and get to know beyond the scenes the Metropolitan Theater in New York. In addition, with each year since 1999, new scenes have been added from which we have taken live performances. Thus, to comment, for example, every December 7th the opening of the new season at the Scala Theatre in Milan has already become a tradition.
A question that perhaps our audience has asked themselves several times: how do you choose your guests for commenting on a broadcast?
Unlike symphonic concerts, opera performances have longer breaks between acts of at least 30 minutes, and there are almost always two breaks. So, from the very first direct broadcasts I thought it would be appropriate to offer in those minutes of music break hot opinions of some guests. Who could I invite? On Costin Popa, Anca Florea, Cristina Sarbu, our most important music critics. Dr. Stephan Poen at the direct broadcasts at La Scala, because he lived in Italy and knew the Italian musical life in general from the inside. Maria Slătinaru Nistor, Ludovic Spiess, Eugenia Moldoveanu, artists who sang on the stage of the Metropolitan Theatre in New York or on that of the Viennese State Opera, from where I was taking over at that moment the show, sometimes even the same score. When Radio România Muzical started to take live performances from the "Richard Wagner" Festival in Bayreuth, it took a whole team of musical producers, first of all, because the breaks between the acts of a Wagnerian show are one hour at Bayreuth and I teamed up with colleagues such as Irina Hasnaș, Ligia Ardelean, Mihaela Soare, Anca Ioana Andriescu, Veronica Orha and more recently with Irina Vasilescu.
The broadcasts of the Bayreuth Festival are undoubtedly a challenge.
They're the biggest challenge for me because they contain, as I said, at least two hours of break, which you can't just fill with comments on how to sing in that show. Wagnerian work itself requires many explanations than any other work, explanations on several levels, mythological, philosophical, psychological, not only musical explanations. So, for the direct broadcasts from Bayreuth, we had guests from the art historian RazanTheodorescu and the specialist in the history of religions Bogdan Tataru-Cazaban, to the musicologist Ada Brumaru, the conductor Ludovic Bacs, the French composer and musicologist of Romanian origin Costin Cazaban and the Romanian-German musicologist Irina Paladi plus exceptional radio essays made for our transmissions of personalities such as Andrei Plesu, Ion Vianu, Valeriu Rapeanu, interviews given to us exclusively by the artists in the distribution of the bayreuth shows and the constant introductions in Wagnerian music with the presentation of the leitmotifs made by the musicologist Alice Mavrodin, our former colleague from the Radio. The preparation of the seven direct broadcasts from Wagner festivals at Bayreuth each year, began accordingly almost two months before the first gong.
In 2020, shortly after the start of the global pandemic, you started the series A virus called opera. Have you noticed any changes during the interviews you have undertaken in this series?
In fact, the dialogues made under the generic called A virus called opera they were my gesture of solidarity with those artists who Knew full well that they were losing important shows and debuts due to the COVID pandemic. It was a project born in a few days with the support of the Association for Music, Art and Culture to which I belong, taken over by Radio România Muzical and thought of by me as a counterpoint to the almost total isolation imposed by the state of emergency in the spring of 2020. The world seemed to me a ship without masts, and the idea of entering into online dialogue with 21 lyrical artists in the almost two months that the project lasted was somehow a joy for all. In addition, it was also the first initiative in the public space that brought up the concerns of opera artists of that period, which debated the issue of singing from home, of opera galas exclusively online, replacing performances with the public, the issue of recitals with an empty hall, but also of studying with the teacher or pianist far away, on Skype. In the end, the project summed up 18 video dialogues, which I think highlighted the entire mosaic of contemporary artist's introspections and I want to thank on this occasion also my wonderful interlocutors, Anita Hartig, Ioan Hotea, RuxandraDonose, Valentina Nafornita, TeodorIlincai and Paula Jancek, Adela Zaharia and Bogdan Talos, Ramona Zaharia and Bogdan Baciu, Vlad Iftinca,
Celia Costea, Bogdan Mihai, Cristina Pasaroiu, Laura Tatulescu, Rodica Vica, Roxana Constantinescu, Gabriel Bebeselea, Aurelia Florian, Sorin Coliban and George Varban. In total, 21 top Romanian artists who made us confessions, sang us exclusively and welcomed us into their homes, somehow making our isolation easier to accept. And that was the change that I personally noticed in them, in our viewers, in me, after the project. A virus called opera. I accepted isolation a little easier.
How do you see the road traveled by Radio România Muzical so far?
A rather difficult road, full of obstacles, but also opportunities for us, the producers of music shows.
And eventually, what do you think the future is?
In the current political-social conjuncture, frankly, I have no idea. But I wish this post - to whose elevation I have contributed and I contribute in turn through the shows I make - long life and as many successes as possible.
Translated by Beatrice-Andreea Porumb,
University of Bucharest, Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literatures, MTTLC, year I
Corrected by Silvia Petrescu