In fact, it's not inappropriate. I had a wonderful long interview with him that traversed his background, training, attitude to opera directors, what it's like working with Christian Gerhaher and much more. But the paper wanted the bit about the perfumery he runs on the side, so that piece appears below and I will offer more of the interview at a later point.
Luisi is in London today with the Zürich Opera, performing Wozzeck in concert at the Royal Festival Hall. I saw it whole, with Andreas Homoki's production, in Switzerland, right after the interview, and it is absolutely amazing and if you're here, you should go. I found it amazing, incidentally, that any conductor would do an interview all of two hours before curtain up on a new production, first night of the season, an opera he's never done before. But that, dear readers, is Maestro Lucidity for you.
UPDATE, 8.42am: I've just heard that unfortunately Christian Gerhaher is not well and won't be singing tonight. His place will be taken by Leigh Melrose, who sang Wozzeck at ENO and was terrific. So, still go.
You might think that being principal conductor of two world-class opera houses would be enough to keep anyone busy. Fabio Luisi (56) divides his musical time principally between the Zürich Opera and the Metropolitan Opera in New York. He is at the helm for the Swiss company’s forthcoming visit to London’s Royal Festival Hall, opening the Southbank Centre’s International Orchestras Series 15/16 with a concert performance of Berg’s opera Wozzeck, starring the German baritone Christian Gerhaher.
But this soft-spoken maestro from Genoa has a startling extra strand to his life: he has his own perfume business, FL Parfums.
“I was always interested in perfumes,” Luisi says, “and one day I thought: why don’t I try it for myself? About four or five years ago I started to read, to get informed, to try by myself to make mixtures. I had a teacher and continue to learn. It’s a continuous learning process; it never ends.”
He likes to use essential oils in his scents – indeed, has recently qualified as an aromatherapist. Some of the perfumes are inspired by music; two are named for elements of Debussy’s La mer – Jeux du Vagues and Jeux du Vent – and for another, Invincible, Richard Strauss’ Alpine Symphony was his chief “muse”.
Luisi’s personal balance of ingredients – whether in music, life or perfume – include focus, sensitivity and organisation in what one imagines are equal parts. Slight, wiry, not remotely flamboyant, he directs the energy where it needs to go: into the creative task in hand, whatever it may be. Most perfume hobbyists might never consider turning a passion into a business – but for Luisi, perhaps if something is worth doing, it is worth doing thoroughly? “Possibly,” he agrees, laughing. “I can’t stand it when people do not care about quality.
“To be a perfectionist is a challenge,” he admits. “I try to do it well. Why are we doing this?” Music, that is. “It’s not for the money! For the audience? Yes, for the audience – but also for the respect of what we are doing. I think how much energy, thought, passion and time Alban Berg put into Wozzeck; I feel forced to do it well for him, for the work itself, and to show the audience how great this opera is.
“Sometimes I can do it, sometimes not as good as I want,” he adds. “But my father always used to say, ‘You have to try not harder - harder is not enough - but hardest. Then if you don’t achieve that goal, even if you are a little bit behind it, the result will still be good. But if you don’t aim for the best, you will never achieve any goal.’ And this is right.”
His father was a conductor, as it happens – a train conductor. Every small boy’s dream? “Mine too,” Luisi smiles. “Sometimes he would take me on the train in the driver’s cab. I loved him and I loved his job.”
Zürich Opera, Southbank International Orchestras Series, Royal Festival Hall, London, 2 October. Box office: 0844 875 0073