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Conductor Survives Marathon, Placates Romanian Diva: Interview

Interview by Zinta Lundborg

April 5 (Bloomberg) -- Marco Armiliato did a lot of unexpected arm-waving at theMetropolitan Opera on Saturday.

Having conducted the matinee of “Aida” (around three- and-a-half hours) he said goodbye to the marching extras, horses, dancers and suffocating singers, only to return equally triumphant for the evening’s performance of “La Traviata” (another three hours of toasting, coughing, and sad addios).

The popular Met regular took over “Traviata” on short notice from Leonard Slatkin, who had arrived insufficiently prepared for last Monday’s show, enraging diva Angela Gheorghiu.

By Thursday, Slatkin was gone.

Sitting at a cafe near Lincoln Center on Sunday afternoon, the fit-looking Italian, 46, spoke about his marathon.

Lundborg: What did you think when you got the call?

Armiliato: I was at Carnegie Hall rehearsing for a concert on Thursday, when (Met general manager) Peter Gelb asked if I could do it. I said it was no problem. I can’t say no to the Met.

Anyway, after “Traviata” I could have done another opera.

Lundborg: You didn’t find it taxing?

Armiliato: It was exhilarating. Music gives me energy.

Afterwards, I went home, cooked myself some pasta, played some Playstation and called my wife in Genoa. When I looked at the clock, I was surprised to see it was 3:30 in the morning.

Lundborg: What did you do in between shows?

Armiliato: I showered, changed clothes and immersed myself in “Traviata.”

It Was Fun

Lundborg: You usually conduct without a score. What about Saturday night?

Armiliato: No score. I feel so totally comfortable with this great orchestra, it was fun.

Lundborg: How was it working with Angela Gheorghiu?

Armiliato: Angela has sung Violetta so much it’s in her body and so it is difficult for a conductor to change her.

She’s a diva and she prefers the conductor to follow her lead. She knows exactly what she wants, and 99 percent of the time she’s right.

Lundborg: What did she say to you afterwards?

Armiliato: She came to my dressing room, closed the door and sang a beautiful Romanian folk song just for me.

I didn’t understand a word.

Pavarotti’s House

Lundborg: Years ago you worked as a pianist with some of the great singers, including Pavarotti. What was that like?

Armiliato: I went to his house one summer to help him learn “Andrea Chenier.” He was very lazy, he didn’t want to study. I’d start playing the piano in the room at the back of the house just to get him in there so we could work.

Luciano wasn’t a good student, but he was one of the great instant musicians who could create magic. Sometimes when he was doing something weird, I would wonder but then saw that it really worked.

Lundborg: You’re a protege of James Levine. Do you want his job when he retires?

Armiliato: Who doesn’t? I love New York and I love the Met and the orchestra Jimmy built. When I walk through the stage door and the security guard gives me a smile, it makes my heart bigger and I want to give the best I can.

Lundborg: Are you looking forward to settling down?

Armiliato: It’s great being a guest conductor. You do the job and you can leave all the problems behind when you’re done. You don’t have to challenge or change things.

On the other hand, I’d like to grow something. I’ve had offers, but right now my calendar is too busy.