BEHIND THE CURTAIN: Conducting, Collaboration, and Cooking

Castiglion Fiorention, Tuscany, Italy





Conducting, Collaboration, and Cooking

By Greg Carpenter

On numerous occasions, artists, production personnel, and members of our orchestra and chorus have commented that Music Director Ari Pelto and I have a collaborative relationship that is unique in the opera business. In many companies, the Music Director makes all of the artistic decisions and it is the responsibility of the General Director to raise the funds and implement those decisions.

Ari and I approach artistic decisions in a collaborative way, reflecting our shared love of cooking, travel, and great music making. When we share a kitchen, we bring a variety of high-quality ingredients together to create a spectacular culinary experience. Likewise, when we are making decisions about casting, we bring together a multitude of ideas, ultimately leading to thoughtful and inspired productions.

In this edition of Behind the Curtain, I’ve asked Ari to share our unique recipe for creating a truly memorable cast.

Take it away, Ari!

Opera Colorado Music Director, Ari Pelto.

Ari: In my mind, it’s true that there are certain compelling similarities between cooking and conducting. I love both dearly and when I’m not conducting or thinking about conducting, I’m cooking, or thinking about cooking. But for today, I’m going to spare you the details of the former and focus on the latter.

As Greg wrote above, we cast our Opera Colorado productions together as a team. This often takes place while we are eating or cooking together. A cast is like the ingredients of a recipe. With a meal, it takes more than just ingredients to serve up something great. If you have the best ingredients and put them all together in just the right way, then you’ve cooked up something truly special! On the other hand, if you just gather the best items and simply throw them together willy-nilly, you can end up with a mess. Spicy needs to be balanced with savory, sweet needs to be paired with salt or acid… You get the idea.

When we are casting an opera, we look for balance in the same way. We don’t just pick the best singer for each role, rather we look for the best combination of the best singers we can find. Depending on the kind of opera we are presenting, this alchemy becomes even more important. In the kitchen, say you’re going to go for steak and potatoes. You would start by getting your best steak. Perhaps you prefer Filet Mignon or you might select a ribeye. I love french fries, but if you want a baked potato, we can still work it out! But, even with that relatively simple scenario, the actual decision can be really difficult. Who do Greg and I think would be BEST?

We are both looking for someone we feel can fully inhabit the role; someone with a total command of the language, music, and dramatic expression required for the role; and then, there is the voice. Choosing the right voice brings us back to Filet or ribeye choice. There are just so many delicious possibilities! Do we ultimately want something delicate and tender or something bold and packed with flavor?! What else will be on the plate?

Ok, I’ve made my point, so let’s leave steak alone for a moment.

What if you are making a Bouillabaisse? This is an ensemble dish where it’s really about balancing all of the flavors. It is just like casting a Mozart opera, and this is where it gets really interesting. Of course, singers aren’t just ingredients (to all our wonderful singer friends, forgive us for this little game!). They live, breathe, and have moods and opinions of their own. How will this group of singers come together, work together, think together,
and perform together?

There is so much to consider, and it’s already 4pm and the guests are arriving at 6.30pm! Quick, Greg, let’s pour a glass of Sancerre and get on with it!

Malloreddus alla Campidanese

Malloreddus alla Campidanese
A classic Sardinian pasta made with a sausage, tomatoes, and saffron sauce.

For the malloreddus:
2 cups durum semolina
3/4 cup warm water
1/8 cup of dry white wine with 1/2 tsp of saffron threads added to it
Pinch of salt

For the sauce:
1 pound sweet Italian sausage, broken up
1 TBSP olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
4 whole very ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and diced or 4-5 canned pomodori pelati (diced)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 TSP crushed saffron
Small handful of basil, torn up
Pecorino cheese (preferably pecorino sardo)
Pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)

Make a well in the mound of semolina. Add the water, wine, and salt to the center of the well. Mix in the semolina, stirring from the center out to incorporate the flour. Knead for 10 minutes, then wrap in plastic and set aside (not in the refrigerator) for at least a half hour.

After the dough has rested, cut it in 8 equal pieces and roll each of these into 1/2 inch thick snakes. Tip: Keep the ones you have not rolled in plastic as you go, so the dough doesn’t dry out.

Cut each snake into thumbnail sized pieces. Roll each piece off the tines of a fork, pressing lightly with your thumb to create small Gnocchi. Scoop them onto a floured plate or cookie sheet.

In a sauté pan, heat your olive oil over medium-high heat and add the onion. Stir for 3 to 4 minutes until they start to become translucent. Don’t let them brown. Adjust the heat if needed.

Add the sausage and cook through, continuing to stir. Make a space in the middle of the pan and add the tomato and a pinch of salt. (Add in the pepper flakes if desired). Stir to combine and cook for 3 to 4 minutes.

Meanwhile, stir a good amount of pecorino into the wine-saffron mixture in order to make a kind of slurry. Add the mixture to the pan and stir in. Continue to cook for another 3 to 4 minutes. All together you don’t want it to cook for too long. It should be fresh and not gummy.

Meanwhile add the Malloreddus (gnocchi) to a pot of boiling, well-salted water. Cook until the Gnocchi float, and then for another minute or so. Add the pasta to the sauce in the pan and a ladle of the cooking water, along with the basil. Stir and cook all together for a half minute or until you can no longer resist the need to plate the whole thing and start eating!

This will serve 6 normal guests. Or, 2 Italian baritones and 1 light lyric soprano.

One Reply to “BEHIND THE CURTAIN: Conducting, Collaboration, and Cooking”

  1. and now I would like to have someone to cook it for me and share the meal and a glass of wine with me, I prefer white wine. Please let me know the date.

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