Covent Garden puts out call for women conductors

Covent Garden puts out call for women conductors


norman lebrecht

March 12, 2018

From the ROH website:

Female musicians in the UK with an interest in conducting opera are invited to apply to a free, week-long conducting course, created in collaboration between the Royal Opera House, the National Opera Studio and the RPS Women Conductors Programme.

The course, held between 3—7 September 2018 at the National Opera Studio in London, will cover the specific skills required by a conductor of opera, including score preparation, approaches to different styles or repertoire, conducting recitative, co-ordinating singers and instrumentalists, and clarity of expression. It is designed for female musicians who already have a good understanding of how opera works, but may not have had experience conducting professionally or in an opera house.

Music Director of The Royal Opera, Antonio Pappano, said: ‘We are very excited to be pioneering this course for aspiring women conductors in partnership with NOS and RPS. We hope that by working together we can encourage and nurture, and eventually start to effect, some long overdue changes within a creative environment.’

Apply online via the RPS website by Friday 20 April 2018




  • Olassus says:

    I’m getting sick of this.

    • Sue says:

      Great! I think I’ll apply, having the right set of genitals and some musical knowledge and experience. Where do I email?

      Read “Dr. Zhivago” and learn about the results of such social engineering in the USSR. Sobering reading.

  • The View from America says:

    I don’t think the issue pertaining female conductors successfully entering the field has to do with a lack of personal funds to pursue the discipline.

    So offering this course free of charge seems … curious. This is conflating way too many “causes.”

  • John Borstlap says:

    Learning conducting within a WEEK. Apparently, aspiring women are considered so brilliant that a week will be enough, or else the time span is meant to make sure everybody fails. It’s a strange story, really.

  • John Borstlap says:

    I’m going to register! I had wanted to conduct al my life but I have been discouraged in advance by ages of patriarchal suppression. Everybody can conduct. You only need to get a chance!


    • Nicholas Bartulovic says:

      Love this haha! Great comment!

    • buxtehude says:


      I was hoping for this!

      If Maestro Rattle fails to do justice to Gruppen later this year you’ll be in better position to show us how it should be done.

      • John Borstlap says:

        I’m already preparing for this, and I’ll do it all on my own, you don’t need more than one conductor if it’s a woman. Only silly men think you need more than one conductor for Gruppen, that’s because they never had to clean the toilet and answering the phone while calming a child all in the same time, just no multipurpose brains. I will have a specially-made contraption, a big size turn table to stand on, so that I can conduct everybody all the time in every direction. I found the design of this big thing in the papers of an assistant of Stockhausen who had proposed it to the master, but was fired immediately, and got hospitalized in the Baden Baden Irrenhaus. My aunt – who worked there years ago – got it from the duist bin.


        • buxtehude says:

          Will we — I mean, men in particular — be allowed to to wander round during the perf? If not I’ll understand I guess, with the turntable, toilets, babies &c but still…

    • Sue says:

      I want a promotion from bus conductor to orchestra conductor!!

  • minacciosa says:


  • Larry says:

    The Dallas Opera has been doing this for a while

  • Petros Linardos says:

    Why Mirga’s picture ?

    • Player says:

      Is she going on the course?

    • FS60103 says:

      It’s an odd choice in this case, given that she’s already been MD of an opera house. Guessing it’s simply a case of whatever picture of a female conductor was closest to hand when Mr L put the post together.

    • Hanna Nahan says:

      The Venomous Fishwife Lebrecht is Utterly Obsessed with Mirga. Which is reasonable, given she is pretty. And also reasonable given she has been over-hyped. But however obsessed Lebrecht is about Mirga, it is still Far Less Obsessed than he is with His Own Undeserved Status as “Cultural Commentator”. O Tempora, O Mores etc….

      • FS60103 says:

        Always interested by these comments about her being ‘overhyped’ because personally I haven’t found that to be the case. But I’ve only heard her perform live 7 or 8 times at most. I’m guessing you’ve got considerably more experience of her live work – can you specify precisely which aspects of her interpretations you found disappointing?

        • Hanna Nahan says:

          Yes I can. I felt she misjudged the tempo of the Magic Flute overture in the Albert Hall – if you perform there you have to allow for the venue’s acoustic and she didn’t, so it came across as garbled and messy. Her Tchaikovsky 4 was strong and affecting, until the finale, which again was rushed and over-emphatic. I think she is strong in contemporary scores, but with the classics, although elegant and convincing with slow, richly-scored music, she seems to over-compensate in fast and loud sections, not allowing the score to breathe naturally. It may be exciting, but it is not necessarily musical. The less said about the Proms Beethoven 5 perhaps the better, but then she is far from alone among the younger generations these days for treating Beethoven like some kind of whipping boy. Her Mahler 1 also never really relaxed, or found a centre. Too much angst and obsession with details at the expense of the boarder picture. Well, that is from the performances I have attended: am I allowed my personal opinions, or is that also frowned upon these days, in our age of instant PR and uneducated blogging?

          • FS60103 says:

            Valid observations – though I’d estimate they could probably be made of about 90% of young conductors (and I’m fascinated by your preference that Beethoven 5 should sound relaxed…to say nothing of the finale of Tchaik 4). From the comments about the classics, I’m guessing you’ve not heard her Haydn – or for that matter her (extremely measured) Brahms? (And I have to say, from where I sat in the RAH the Flute overture was almost startlingly lucid). Essentially, her interpretations are those of a young conductor finding fresh things to say in familiar repertoire, trying out ideas – sometimes successfully, sometimes not – but always (and I’d have thought self-evidently) guided by a seriousness of purpose, an intelligence, and a real connection with both orchestra and audience. They’re not what any intelligent person would call “finished”, but then – what intelligent person would consider a “finished” interpretation possible or even desirable?

            Essentially, then, you’ve identified the superficial flaws one would expect in any live performance from a young conductor who has – as you’ve said – very strong qualities in other areas. That seems a very slight pretext upon which to unleash quite so much bile – and the final sentence of your last comment seems extremely defensive. You’ve clearly got ears to hear: why do you feel so much hostility? Might be worth asking yourself that, because it makes a very unpleasant impression.

          • Derek says:


            In some of the larger symphonies (e.g. Tchaikovsky 4th, Mahler), I feel that Mirga gets tied up in little details which results in the overall feeling and shape suffering. I agree that she tends to go for the “Big Finish” as well.
            However, she is still at an early stage and it is to be expected that she will not get everything right.
            Her performance of the concert version of Idomeneo was excellent and, as implied by FS60103, her Haydn has been very good. Further, Mirga is not afraid to innovate, surprise or treat her audience and that is refreshing.

            There is bound to be some ‘hype’ as she is one of the first young women to become music director of a major orchestra in the UK. However, that has come from some media and commentators but not from Mirga herself, the CBSO or the audiences.

            I think we have all taken this on as a new adventure with enthusiasm and an open mind. It will be very interesting to see how she develops.

  • Ben says:

    …. as if we haven’t seen enough Barbies pretending to be conducting music …

    • John Borstlap says:

      I went into the local toy shop this morning to check this out, but the saleswoman could not help me with my question, but showed me the latest models, which did not offer any indication of musical activity.

  • Craig says:

    This comment section is a complete graveyard, for both rational discussion and attempts at humour. None of you care enough about this issue to actually have anything worth contributing to the discussion, it’s just easy to joke and complain about female-orientated outreach type projects, so by all means continue to faceplant the keyboard and laugh at your own searing wit. Social engineering a la Doctor Zhivago? Please.

    Of course they aren’t going to learn how to conduct opera in a week, it’s basically a taster course. Of course there’s motivation for potentially getting women into conducting, as we’re discovering that (shock horror) they’re not half bad at it.

    Some people out there are trying to open the door to a previously male-dominated profession. Even if not many people walk through it, let’s consider that a small victory.

    • buxtehude says:

      It seems there is an adult in the room at last. (You!)

      But please don’t turf us into a single grave, all mixed together, that would be wrong.

      • Phillip says:

        Craig = supplicating blue-piller par excellence.

        • Craig says:

          It’s actually hilarious that Slipped Disc of all places is frequented by at least one TRPer.

          Listen, I’m sorry that you subscribe to that philosophy – it probably comes from a lot of pain – but it’s all a lie. This is not a situation where men are being deprived of anything, there are plenty of conducting courses everywhere to join onto, and funding available to those that need it. The profession is not short of very ambitious men on the intake, who will get where they want to be by sheer force of will, so this represents an incentive to women to see if maybe a few more people might like to take it up.

          I mean, if you really want to view it cynically, then someone has put money towards this because like many people they think it’s a good thing, and it could end up making the business more money because female conductors are currently very marketable, just look at Barbara Hannigan and Mirga.

          But all in all conducting is seen as a profession populated by men who know the right people and have moved in the right circles, and that isn’t their fault specifically, but anything to introduce a bit of variety into the equation is probably a good thing. No man who really wanted to be a conductor is going to fail because of things like this.

          • David R Osborne says:

            Yep, well said, this is a good initiative. But whereas the generally flippant tone of the comments in this thread might be easy for you to dismiss, a more considered takeaway might be that it reflects an awareness that in music, we face way bigger problems than a lack of gender equity in the ranks of conductors.

          • John Borstlap says:

            The trajectory by which young musicians become practicing conductors is much more complex and diverse and dependent upon many different factors, as to be generalized in such way. It is easy thinking from the outside.

          • Craig says:

            How are you so sure I’m from the outside, JB?

          • David R Osborne says:

            Because there are very few insiders called Craig?

    • Will Duffay says:

      Hear hear. Well said.

    • Conducting Feminist says:

      Women are genetically and inherently superior over men in conducting. Conducting is inevitably going to be an all women profession.

  • Kundry says:

    Hahahaha! You men should hear yourselves. You’ve just proved why such courses are needed.

  • Kevin Scott says:

    One week? How about at least one month?

    You’ll get every armchair conductor on board as well as the real deal, and everyone in between, applying for this.

    Opera conducting is not something one can learn in a week, regardless of whether you’re male or female, black or white, gay or straight, cis-gender or transgender, Earthling or Martian…or Klingon!

    It is more than just knowing the score, but the voice as well. It is more than working with a cast and orchestra, but with a director and the backstage crew. One has to familiarize themselves with the language of the opera, not only the words but the actual idiom of the piece. One cannot conduct Mozart as if it were Wagner, and one cannot conduct Alban Berg as if it were Handel. It takes years to master the craft of conducting opera. The days of learning the craft of conducting, which started in the opera house, is all but gone.

    You have to believe in the opera itself, otherwise the performance of the work will come off as tawdry and superficial, dishonest and cumbersome, but most important…you will look as if you have imbibed on snake-oil and expect those around you to believe that its effects will ripple across the stage. A good cast and orchestra will know in five minutes whether you can make the opera dramaturgically convincing or devastatingly casuistic for the audience that pays to see the production you are conducting.

    Nope, nada, nyet, nein to this Walter Mitty fantasy!

    • Craig says:

      I am seriously struggling to understand how anyone can think this is a comprehensive course. ‘Week-long’, ‘(perhaps) no prior professional experience’. It’s a starter week and will probably be selective beyond that initial application form. Besides, is anyone ever truly ready to conduct opera when they get to it in their career?! It’s a mammoth and perhaps unprepareable task, as you have told us in detail.

      • John Borstlap says:

        That may well be, but the whole idea looks suspiciously like a mere PC gesture to win sympathy than a serious proposition for female talent.

        • Craig says:

          If you view this kind of thing with fixed preconceptions then you’re always going to think it’s useless and terrible, to be honest. I know a couple of female conductors who were repeatedly prodded into following it by persistent colleagues or teachers, so I’m of the view that even if a couple of hours in this week inspires a few women to give it a proper go when they wouldn’t have otherwise, that’s a step in the right direction.

  • Ellingtonia says:

    It seems to me that in this age of gender fluidity, all any man has to do is “self identify” as a woman and they will automatically qualify for entry to the programme………….but then we live in an age of PC crass stupidity!

    • Craig says:

      It won’t be a free-for-all as the initial application form might suggest. ‘It is designed for female musicians who already have a good understanding of how opera works, but may not have had experience conducting professionally or in an opera house.’ Then again, all you needed in your post was the bit after the dots, because all you wanted to do was to cry PC. Snore.

      • Ellingtonia says:

        Such a course is nothing but tokenistic and patronising to women…… there , there, young lady, just pop along to our course which will be of little use to you but will make us virtue signalling creeps feel much better about ourselves. And to quote “but may not have had experience conducting professionally or in an opera house,” there may well be a good reason for this, and doesn’t similar apply to many young male conductors……….I feel an International Mens day in the offing.

        • John Borstlap says:

          In the far away future, applicants for a conductor’s post will not only be interviewed by the orchestra’s board, but also checked on their gender in a small cubicle.

        • Craig says:

          It exists, it’s on the 19th November. Sorry that you feel marginalised, I’m sure you’ll get over it in time.

  • Bruce says:

    So much evidence of the ‘zero-sum’ mentality, in which there is only so much success to go around. By this view, if anyone is winning, then someone else (probably everyone else) must be losing.