I was born during the Soviet period, when Russian and Soviet culture were imposed on us, but I like to read, and did my own research. I came across great names like Joseph Roth, Paul Celan and Stanislaw Lem, the Polish science- fiction writer who was born in Lviv.
I also discovered that Leonard Bernstein’s parents were from Rovno, 100 kilometers from Brody, where I was born. Brody was once known as “the Jerusalem of Austria,” and there are still the ruins of a synagogue destroyed in the Second World War, which reminds us of the past in a very strong way. In 2019, I conducted a special concert there in memory of Joseph Roth, and we played Bernstein’s “Kaddish” Symphony.
Do you sing yourself?
I started with piano. Then I played flute, studied violin a little, and then I studied singing. I have a high soprano voice, and I really liked singing in a choir. When I was young, I thought about being a choir director like my father, but then orchestra conducting prevailed. The sound of an orchestra fascinated me.
What do you do before a performance? Do you have any habits or superstitions?
It is important for me to have a coffee and something sweet, but I don’t really have any other needs. The most important thing for me is inspiration. I rely on finding out so much about the composers beforehand that I feel I know them personally, that they’re almost my friends.
Do you sense resistance to female conductors today?
In the last 15 years, everything has changed a lot. I don’t feel any hostility; in fact, just the opposite. There is a lot of interest and support: from the public, from orchestras, from managers and from the critics. Next season, I have some great things planned: In November, I will have my debut at Covent Garden in London with “Tosca,” and next May I will have my first concert with the Berlin Philharmonic, a Stravinsky program.
How is the pandemic affecting Bayreuth this year?
During the pandemic, I have had to deal with every kind of situation. In Frankfurt, we did a whole “I Puritani” with only 19 musicians in the orchestra pit. Now in Bayreuth, we’re playing with a full orchestra, but we have two groupings; I rehearse with each one in case something happens. We have 140 people in the chorus, and they are divided. Seventy are in a special room and their singing is broadcast into the theater, and the other 70 are onstage, like extras, but they can’t sing a note for safety reasons — though they’re meant to react the whole time as if they’re singing.
Are you vaccinated?
No, I have not yet been vaccinated, though I plan to. But we have PCR tests every day. And I don’t meet anybody or go anywhere — except rehearsal.