Entrevista con Leslie Dala

Updated: Feb 13, 2020

Leslie Dala es uno de los directores de orquesta más reconocidos de Canadá, y Tintas: Portal de Arte y Cultura, tuvo la oportunidad –a propósito del estreno de Madama Butterfly– de conversar con él para conocer de primera mano, la importancia que tiene su papel dentro de la escena musical.

Aquí la transcripción de parte de la entrevista:

TINTAS: What can you tell me about Leslie Dala, the conductor?

LESLIE: Well, it depends on what you want to know.

TINTAS: How do you see yourself as a conductor?

LESLIE: I see myself more as a musician than as a conductor. I’ve been surrounded by music since a very young age, and when I was growing up, I studied piano and organ and violin and singing. I had older siblings who also studied music. Music was just a constant in my life. I think I figured out while I was not even a teenager that I just loved music so much that I thought: “Wouldn’t be wonderful to be able to spend my life doing this?” It wasn’t very clear on which way it would go, though.

I sang under conductors and played under conductors, so I found that really fascinating but that was always such a special thing and as a child, I wasn’t sure if that was what it was going to be. But I loved playing the piano and all that. Anyway, I have maintained my deep, deep love for music all my life and I figured out a while ago that…I thought I had the skills to be able to work with people. I love working with people and so instead of just spending hours and hours alone in a practice room trying to perfect technique and certain pieces, I thought actually maybe my role was best suited to working with other musicians, singers and instrumentalists.

In the world of opera of course you work with stage directors and set designers and costume designers and everybody. For me, I love collaborating with other people on projects that give me the greatest satisfaction. I love all kinds of music. I love all aspects of classical music, very contemporary things to the classic works. When I was a child I studied Gregorian chants, so the history of music, to me, is like the greatest thing, it’s like being in the world’s biggest playground and you can visit various stations of wonderful music which is very inspired and inspiring. I guess that’s what I would say about me as a musician.

TINTAS: What made you first realize that you wanted to become a conductor?

LESLIE: I can’t tell you specifically […] I realized that I had to try and get into conducting when I started working in the world of opera, I would say. I started as a rehearsal pianist when I was working with Vancouver Opera. Again, I loved that process, but what I realized then was, for me, when you are the rehearsal pianist, most of the time you are not involved in any of the performances and your role is in rehearsal.

After a while, I started to realize that it really bothered me because I wanted so much to be part of the actual performance of when all of that comes to fruition. I thought, well, in Europe in particular, the road to becoming a conductor through the opera is to be a rehearsal pianist and then to work your way up and be an assistant and then conduct, and so I was determined to do that.

TINTAS: What does your typical day look like?

LESLIE: Well, I can tell you right now, it’s a very rewarding and a busy time. These days, we are into the second week of rehearsals from Madame of Butterfly. Typically, the rehearsals started 10 o’clock in the morning. We usually do two sessions with the principal artists, we are done by dinner time, and then often, the chorus has rehearsals in the evening.

Last night, I worked for the first time with the chorus on the score and now, they are going to be joining us in staging rehearsals in the upcoming weeks. I also have some concerts this weekend coming up with the Vancouver Bach Choir that I direct and also the Vancouver Academy of Music Symphony Orchestra. I am going back and forth in the next couple of days with those projects as well.

It keeps me on my toes because with the Bach Choir, we are doing a piece that we commissioned three years ago for my friend and colleague, Andrew Downing. That’s a new piece, and then with the orchestra we are playing Elgar and Prokofiev and a piece that’s we are premiering on Sunday by Doug Smith who is a local Vancouver composer who also teaches at the Academy. It’s a lot of diverse music and like I said, it’s great, I love the variety and it’s what really keeps me on my toes and in love with…

TINTAS: One of the most fascinating aspects of your work must be the challenge of coordinating the output of the rest of the musicians. What could be, along your career, the thing that you remember like the worst thing that happened during this process of leading the musicians?

LESLIE: The worst thing did you say?

TINTAS: Yes, the worst thing.

LESLIE: The worst thing?


LELIE: That’s a good question. On the top of my head I’m having a trouble of thinking of something very specific… What your biggest nightmare is, when you give an upbeat or something and then nothing happens or nothing is together. That, for a conductor, I think is the most worrisome, that you are trying to do is create cohesion, and ensemble and togetherness, and that doesn’t happen.

In any performance, particularly opera because most operas are over two hours, some more than three hours, on any given performance, it’s going to happen here or there that there might be a little bit of ragged ensemble or something where somebody on stage is not exactly with what’s going on. That’s true to life. That happens all the time everywhere. What it matters is what you do about that. One just tries to make people aware right away that, “Look we are not together, so please come together”.

I find that working with musicians, musicians are usually very sensitive and very keenly aware, and so, a situation like that makes people to just pay attention even more. Oftentimes, those situations are not even noticed by the audience because we are talking about like a split second or a couple of seconds where something isn’t working out. Usually, you can take care of those things pretty quickly, and that’s the hope. The nightmare is just something that is not together and it stays not together for a long time.

Opera is the most challenging because so often, the people on stage can’t even hear the orchestra especially when they are singing because with those big voices and all that resonance, you are watching somebody making a motion sometimes 40 or 50 feet away, and you can’t hear anything. So there is so much trust involved, and that’s one of the most challenging things, I think. The fact that people are trying to make music together, to play together, to sing together, but in actual fact, they can’t hear each other and that creates challenges always.

TINTAS: What is your ultimate goal as a conductor?

LESLIE: That’s an interesting question. I can answer that in different ways, for each performance that I do, my goal is to be really whole heartedly in the music to be so involved that it feels like for everybody that you are doing something that even though you have rehearsed it, it’s fresh and you are doing it for the first time and you are doing it with total commitment.

The constant goal is to be completely committed to the piece, and the players, the musicians who are involved in that performance. On another level, as I said earlier, there are so many incredible works of music from across the centuries. I’m not a specialist in one kind of music, like there are many people who spent their entire careers performing music of the Baroque period or something.

For me, I really want to try and be a part of as much music making as I can. Not just the masterpieces like the Beethoven symphonies and the Mozart operas and things like that, but also new works. I’m very interested in pieces that are being performed for the first time. I’ve being involved in many projects like that, I’ve given many premiers.

For me, I would like to continue hopefully if I continue to be blessed by having a career of being able to work on a wide range of music, and again bring a full commitment to that and curiosity. I find that curiously and passion and commitment are the most important things. For me, I need to stay true to those things always.

TINTAS: Is it difficult to maintain the same standard on different nights because different musicians are involved in each night. Is it difficult to maintain the same standard?

LESLIE: I don’t think so. The thing is everybody is, of course, very professional, and everybody wants to do their best all the time. What can be challenging sometimes is when everything is leading up to opening night, and then after that the show takes on a different kind of energy. I find most often not just here but anywhere that I have ever worked that the show actually just continues to get better and better because once you’ve done it once in front of an audience then that stress is gone, so then you can really actually relax more if you know what I mean. Some people might think when you are relaxing, you are not doing your best work, but this is a different kind of relaxing. It’s mostly about just about trusting oneself and trusting others.

Again with live performance, it’s a different show every time. Not intentionally, it’s just because of the way it is, because human beings are involved. I also find that audiences too sometimes are sometimes with the way they come in… I know when I go to see a show, if I’m really, really tired, sometimes that may affect the way I listen or observe a performance as opposed to when I’m really excited about something and go in.

That kind of thing that happens in performance is very much a collective energy between the person on stage and the person who is receiving, so it’s consistently changing and that’s what’s so wonderful about it because it’s like really life, it’s always changing and evolving.

TINTAS: What can we expect when we go to the performance on the opening night?

LESLIE: Well, I think you can hear some world class singing. I love Puccini but Butterfly, for me, is the number one, and I believe that it was Puccini’s favorite opera of all the works that he had composed. I find it so moving, I find it just so realistic. The characters in this piece…there is nobody who is good or bad. There is just somebody who is very naïve and misguided and somebody who has such integrity and such moral fortitude that even though it looks like she is completely wrong about her perception of the person that she made and everything she refuses to give up, and so it’s really the last second.

I find that the characters are very true to life and the score is so inspired, it’s so sumptuous as music. There are so many elements of what we expect of Puccini, the beautiful long melodies, also the orchestration that gives a kind of exotic flavor to it. Puccini used some authentic Japanese folk melodies and also the orchestration for this with the percussion really creates something that’s very different from La Bohème or Tosca. He really tried to evoke the world of Japan. All of those things are what we are trying to bring to light.

I feel very blessed. We have an incredible cast for Madama Butterfly. They are just fantastic singers, artists, actors, a wonderful stage director Michael Cavanaugh that I’ve worked with many times over the years. We are really getting some really great work done, and also fairly enjoying the exploration of Madama Butterfly.

Most of the singers in the cast have sung this role many times in many different theaters with different conductors, directors, different singers. What’s lovely is that everybody has invested in wanting to approach the piece as if it were for the first time. You have your ideas and you have done things certain ways but everybody is quite willing to explore the piece with fresh eyes and ears, and that’s so wonderful.


La conversación con Leslie concluyó con la invitación que hizo el músico a los lectores para que asistan a las presentaciones que constantemente se están llevando a cabo en Vancouver. Puedes conocer más acerca de su carrera en:


Muchas gracias Leslie Dala y Selina Rajani de Vancouver Opera.

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