What happened to the conductor?

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Italian opera houses didn’t generally have a stand-up conductor until the 1860s or later. Even La traviata and Il trovatore were premiered without one! The leadership was shared between the first violinist, usually listed as Primo violino e capo d’orchestra or Violino principale e direttore dell’orchestra and a Maestro concertatore or Maestro al cembalo, who sat at a keyboard (whether he played it or not, and how much if so, depended on the style of the music and the needs of the ensemble). "Concertare" means putting things together; the maestro concertatore was the person who had rehearsed the singers - usually a composer, and if the opera was new, always the composer. The first violinist, meanwhile, was basically responsible for the orchestra, and the two of them shared the job of coordinating the vocal and instrumental elements in performance. 

Teatro Nuovo is reviving this style because we want an ensemble of players and singers listening and reacting to each other every exciting minute - and we want to put each singer in the driver’s seat for his or her aria. In a way, the stand-up conductor is an intrusion on this process. It became a necessary function later, when orchestration became much more complex. But if Rossini didn’t need it, why should we? The older concept emphasizes more leading and less directing. Leading is something you do from within a team, with your hands on the music like everyone else. Let’s see if our team can make it work!