by Daniel Hathaway
When Severance Hall audiences experience the thrills and chills of Béla Bartók’s The Miraculous Mandarin and Bluebeard’s Castle this weekend with The Cleveland Orchestra and Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet, they’ll see the culmination of weeks of preparation by a whole staff of behind-the-scenes personnel. Among those who will be witnessing the fruits of their labors but not taking a bow at the end is the répétiteur for the two productions, Miloš Repický.
Repický, who serves on the music staff of New York’s Metropolitan Opera, has been hard at work on his third Severance Hall project, having previously served as pianist and vocal coach for Leoš Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen in 2014, and for Richard Strauss’s Daphne in 2015. “They hired me for the Janáček because I speak Czech,” the Bratislava-born Repický said via cell phone from Chicago as he was boarding a Cleveland-bound plane on Friday. “I was happy to be invited back for Daphne, and now for Bartók. All of these have been really great, and not the sort of thing you get to do all the time.”
While Czech and German were already in his professional tool belt, Repický needed to do some special preparation to coach singers in Hungarian, the language of Bluebeard’s Castle. “I had to study that, but I had a good teacher who helped me through the language and the pronunciation. I was born in what was the Slovak part of Czechoslovakia, where there are a lot of Hungarian speakers. Because it’s not one of the Slavic languages, it’s a unique experience learning it, but I have to say that I love its rhythm and the way it sounds. It’s actually quite beautiful, and very singable.”
Repický’s usual operatic routines also required some adjustment in preparing for the Severance Hall performances, which add the element of dance. “It’s been an interesting process because these are two very different pieces. Miraculous Mandarin is a pantomime choreographed for the Joffrey Ballet, and Bluebeard’s Castle is an opera with just a pair of singers. And though they’re by the same composer, you’re dealing with two different musical languages.”
In Bluebeard, Repický’s job is to support the singers as they engage with the text and perform the movement the director gives them. In Mandarin, his job is to stand in for The Cleveland Orchestra during rehearsals. “Mandarin is really interesting because it’s such a rhythmic, virtuosic piece of orchestral music,” he said. “It took some time to get the right feeling, the right accents, and to give the illusion of the right orchestral color when rendering the score on the piano.”
The pianist-coach likes this combination of styles in a single performance. “Though it’s unusual to have ballet and opera on the same program, the pieces fit together very well,” Repický said. “There’s a real kind of poetic connection that you can draw — but as far as the practicality of rehearsing goes, dancers need something very different from the pianist than the singers do. They need a strong sense of rhythm, musical gestures, and cues that they can hear and respond to physically. It’s very instructive to play while watching them do what they do.
“They’ve been working for several weeks now preparing and creating it, and we had a runthrough yesterday. It’s going to be so spectacular, so beautiful, exciting, and colorful. The two principal dancers work so well together. I used to play ballet classes when I was a teenager to earn a little extra money, but I was never very excited about it. I was much more interested in theater and working with singers and chamber music. But this has been a very inspiring experience.”
As for the singers, both basso Mikhail Petrenko and soprano Katarina Dalayman have sung Bluebeard before. “They’re perfectly cast for the roles, and they’re both such excellent musicians that they can actually create something from what is a very challenging score.”
When we talked, Repický was looking forward to the first musical rehearsal in Cleveland with Franz Welser-Möst after spending two days with the principals in Chicago. “Then we’ll rehearse with the Orchestra very soon, which is good. Almost more than any other piece I’ve worked on, Bluebeard really requires the orchestra for the singers to get what they need. I’m happy to give it my best on the piano, but since it’s essentially a monochromatic instrument, you can only give the illusion of the orchestra.”
Once the production has been rehearsed and dress rehearsed with the Orchestra, Repický’s job won’t be quite over yet. “One of the reasons The Cleveland Orchestra engages me is because of the relationship I have with the singers. I support them during the process, offer feedback, take notes, and work with them and Welser-Möst in the studio, making adjustments here and there. Last year, I met with the soprano who sang Daphne every morning at 10 o’clock. We worked through the whole role as if she were an athlete getting ready for the Olympics. She was so disciplined, and I appreciated that.”
Published on ClevelandClassical.com April 4, 2016.
Click here for a printable copy of this article