I was a little star struck with one of my stories this week. I interviewed the conductor of the Opera San Luis Obispo, Brian Asher Alhadeff. I love opera. One of the most luxurious things I’ve ever done as a human being was watching Puccini’s “Turandot” at Puccini’s actual house in Torre del Lago, Italy, and I have already put in a request to be a famous opera singer in my next life.
Conductors are octave above sopranos to me — genius minds — and the same category as Einstein and Tesla — the way they can guide a pit-full of bows and buttons and mallets to make the most beautiful sounds on Earth. So having the opportunity to interview Alhadeff was a treat-and-a-half. For our coffee interview at Starbucks, I had a ridiculously long list of questions — even a few from my dad who, just like Alhadeff’s father I came to learn, introduced me to the beauty of classical music. Like me, Alhadeff learned to love classical music from his dad’s record collection.
I found Alhadeff to be extremely approachable, a little goofy and very humble, and more fascinating than I could ever explain. But to my absolute pleasure he is also dramatic. In true opera fashion, his voice whispers, then builds when he’s hyped on a subject: talking about building Opera SLO from some real humble beginnings or talking, lovingly, about his amazing “just about a sommelier” wife, originally from Queens. And when Alhadeff laughs, it’s a belly laugh, fit for a tenor. When he was telling me how hard it is to cast the ‘ha-ha-ha’ part of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” he sang the part, and I was delighted, and felt undeserving, like I had snuck into a Broadway rehearsal. Sometimes I love my job.
Learning how he got into conducting made me laugh so hard my own belly ached. Our hometown conductor is quite the rebel. I hope you can read the story to find out about his sassy high school years.
Truth be told, I find it really amazing that such an accomplished conductor chose Atascadero as a place to live. I had to ask him why. He told me it’s probably the most inexpensive place to live in San Luis Obispo County and laughed. He said that the little stream his family condo looks out on is as busy as a river now from all the rain. The flow is really happening. He and his wife are expecting their second child soon.
What Alhadeff told me about music kind of blew me away. I learned some things. Did you know in order to be a strong violinist one must have a petite structure? But every once in a while you see a chubby violinist, Alhadeff told me. I was also a bit surprised at his love for Western movies, the Hollywood Bowl, and composers like Bernard Herrmann, who composed for all the Hitchcock films. I guess what didn’t surprise me was that he is very good friends with Dr. Brescia, Superintendent of SLO Schools, who is also a performer — and a tenor at that. Without hesitation, Alhadeff said reintegration of arts in our schools is because of Dr. Brescia.
“He’s such a mentor to me,” Alhadeff said. “A brilliant thinker.”
But the most important thing I learned, and I don’t think most people realize, is that the collaborative deal with other arts organizations that Alhadeff has built from scratch has changed the way operas and orchestras and ballets present their performances in this county. Alhadeff said his company has been moving beyond and away from what some people (not me) think is the boring — the locked in your chair, five-hour long “fat lady singing.” The answer right now is musical theater and collaboration.
“The last 30 years have been awful on classical music,” he said.
He’s right, and I’m simply in awe, because he’s changing that.