Q&A: Richard Mills
27th March, 2024

Q&A: Richard Mills

Introducing Richard Mills as Musical Director and Conductor of Brisbane Bel Canto! Renowned for his mastery of the bel canto repertoire, Mills brings a wealth of experience and passion to our inaugural festival, conducting limited performances of Lucia di Lammermoor, Jessica Pratt in Concert and Stabat Mater. 

How did your passion for music develop? 

Growing up in Toowoomba, there was always music in the house. My mum played the piano and the violin in the Philharmonic Orchestra and the Choral Society Orchestra. There was music in school and I sang as a kid – I grew to love it!

What was the first opera you conducted in your career?

The Magic Flute

What do you enjoy about working with Jessica Pratt? 

The partnership. Jessica and I, we don’t need to talk much as our relationship is very musically intuitive. We don’t have to second guess each other. She is a joy to perform with really.

How do you approach collaboration with different opera companies and orchestras? 

I think you have to be open and flexible. Every orchestra has a different genius, a different spirit and it is important to read that and inform it in a way that’s productive.

What distinguishes the bel canto canon and makes it special?

The bel canto operas, which by strict definition is the work of Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti and others and there is a more general definition that goes back to early Italian madrigal. But the operas that are normally part of the bel canto canon, they locate the human voice in the domain of the expression of feeling. It’s a very stylised language with many conventions in it, and the singer has a certain freedom to invent cadenzas.

There’s a great flexibility in terms of delivery and there’s a unique relationship in every opera between the text and the music.

It also needs great flexibility on the part of the conductor to respond to the different situations as every bel canto performance is different. For example, the bel canto text Norma, is like Shakespeare,  its able to be inflected so many different ways.  I remember my performances with the late, great Elizabeth Connell. Every single night was different, but amazing.

What do you hope audiences take away from this concert production of Lucia di Lammermoor?

An encounter with something extraordinarily beautiful.

To some extent, we’ve lost the honesty of emotional expression in the 21st century and people today hide their feelings. We need to remember that life was much shorter in the first and middle part of the of the 19th century. It was much more emotionally honest as people didn’t live as long and there was an urgency in the way that people relate to each other.

This production conveys the notion of emotional expression and emotional exploration as value as it puts us in touch with our feelings, which is civilising.

Last one, what is your favourite Bellini piece? 

Look, I love them all! They are all absolutely wonderful, but Norma (which will feature in Jessica Pratt In Concert) is a special joy for me to do.


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