AT THE NEW VANCOUVER OPERA the Pearl Fishersthe conductor Kamna Gupta finally sees the different threads of her cultural education being woven.
The innovatively cropped production – the first in 30 years at VO of Sri Lankan work – brings to life not only Georges Bizet’s lush classical score, but also different styles of South Asian dance.
“The kid who did Bharatanatyam and Bollywood and the kid who went to piano lessons and learned to conduct: this is the first time that these two things have come together,” explains the French-born artist based in New York, which makes its Vancouver debut on the podium.
In fact, echoes through Gupta’s life and career go even deeper into the project here.
Gupta has recently made a name for himself conducting new operas, including this year’s West Coast premiere of In our daughter’s eyes at LA Opera – but she feels deeply at home in the beautiful world influenced by bel canto the Pearl Fishers during rehearsals over the last few weeks.
“I love working on new operas, but my training has always been on the more traditional canon. And I have to say, new works only make sense in the context of that canon,” she explains with “The best new music is rooted in tradition, just like Bizet when he was writing this work in his day and it was new, and you can hear the influence of bel canto in his works.”
Gupta moves with extraordinary ease and passion between centuries, it seems. “I have three pieces of music sitting on my piano bench at the moment: one of them is this Bizet from 1863; I have this new room from 2022; and then I have this piece from 1651, at the beginning, early opera,” she says. “And it’s really fun to have these three pieces in front of me, because there’s more in common between these different works than on the surface. They sound very different, but the technical issues of storytelling through music, how to navigate between speech, recitative and singing, those things have really stayed the same.
the Pearl Fishers, with its rich and colorful choirs and constant duets – including the ultra-famous and melodious friendship duet “Au fond du temple saint” – also allows the maestro to tap into his lifelong love for group singing. She grew up playing in choirs, and it was there that she first had the urge to conduct.
Gupta started out as a choir director – not once stopping to contemplate how rare it was for a woman, especially a woman of color, to step onto the podium.
“I guess a lot of my choir training was female,” she recalls. “When I started directing, I was interested in the profession; I liked the work and I liked studying the score and I liked performing. And it wasn’t until later that I started saying to people, ‘Oh, I’m going to be a conductor’, that people were like, ‘That’s really unusual because you’re a woman who get started! But I had never thought of it myself!