For the next music director of the Royal Opera House, Jakub Hrusa, one main thing defines the theater’s activities: “Quality.”
“It’s the quality of human relationships and sensitivity to the genre so that it can be done really well,” he said. “There is an environment which is cultivating, not killing, creativity and the individual voice.”
An authoritative, elegant but humble presence on the podium, Mr. Hrusa, a Czech native, has become one of today’s most sought conductors. At the end of the 2024-25 season, he will succeed Antonio Pappano, who became music director at the Royal Opera in 2002.
Mr. Hrusa, 41, already resides with his family in London while serving as chief conductor of the Bamberg Symphony and principal guest conductor of both the Czech Philharmonic and the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome. In November, he will make his U.S. operatic debut with a production of Janacek’s “Jenufa” at Lyric Opera of Chicago.
A passionate advocate of his country’s composers, Mr. Hrusa has penned his own suite based on another Janacek opera, “The Cunning Little Vixen”; championed the symphonies of the little-performed Miloslav Kabelac; and written a book of essays about Bohuslav Martinu.
But he of course embraces a range of mainstream repertoire. As a regular guest with the Glyndebourne Festival, Mr. Hrusa conducted works by Mozart, Puccini and many more. In 2018 at the Royal Opera, he led Bizet’s “Carmen” in a production by Barrie Kosky, a director he will rejoin for a cycle of Wagner’s “Ring” after his tenure begins in Covent Garden. (Mr. Pappano will kick off the project this September with “Das Rheingold.”)
In a recent interview, Mr. Hrusa discussed his anticipation about becoming music director and some of his repertoire choices, including Czech music. The following conversation has been edited and condensed.
You must be looking forward to making the Royal Opera your artistic home.
Opera is kind of a pinnacle of what is possible to achieve in music. But it’s a genre which, in practice, demands an incredible amount of compromise. Covent Garden is a fantastic exception because it maintains basic principles for what opera needs to shine. So they care about the rehearsal process. The stage management is better quality than anywhere. The orchestra is motivated to play on the best possible level every night.
Of course, opera is occasionally criticized for being elitist. But what I sense is that the house really matters to the local community. And yet the profile is very international, including with running streams worldwide.
You’ll be working alongside Antonio Pappano for the next two seasons — how does the house bear his handwriting, and what can we expect you to bring to the table?
I’m a huge believer in natural transitions rather than radical changes. The house is very harmonious. After those over 20 years of Tony Pappano’s tenure, it’s achieved an incredible amount.
Covent Garden has the broadest possible ambition to embrace opera as a genre internationally, and rightly so. That said, Italian repertoire is and must remain an integral part of any house’s curriculum.
It will only be a slight shift in focus. I will do Italian masters such as Puccini and Verdi. The house has appointed Speranza Scappucci as principal guest conductor, which I’m very happy about because she is an extremely inspiring artist, and her focus is much more like Tony’s.
I would very naturally want to embrace a bit more Czech music, which I think everyone expects because there’s so much to offer there, and why not do it with the love and conviction of a Czech conductor? Janacek will be in a central point because he is arguably the best Czech composer of opera, and one of the best composers of opera of all time.
But I don’t want to exclude anything. I will do German opera, Russian opera, French opera.
Has Janacek succeeded at entering the operatic repertoire?
I think he’s made it. Of course, Janacek will never be Giuseppe Verdi or Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. His music is too specifically urgent and emotionally charged.
He will always be a little bit more the performer’s hero than the general public’s hero. But I haven’t yet met anyone who would stay indifferent to Janacek’s music. You can’t. It’s too powerful.
There is, of course, a wonderful tradition of presenting Czech music in London.
It would be very difficult to find another country apart from Britain which has taken so much care about our traditions. Of course, Czech music is by far not the only segment they are passionate about. There is a huge sense of openness to other music cultures. And they’re always embraced with respect and curiosity and quality.
Are there any contemporary composers whom you’d like to champion?
I’m rather eclectic in that field. I would love that to be more of a team decision because it’s a huge enterprise to make a contemporary opera alive onstage. It’s a huge investment of creative power and finances. I’d like to have this be thoroughly discussed and know, institutionally, that we’re doing something which we all want.