Dr Philip Purvis is the musical director of Sunset Boulevard which comes to the Oxford Playhouse in November

Could you name the musical director of the last West End show you went to see? I couldn’t. This anonymity resonates with me as someone who has been fortunate enough to conduct, and write about both musicals and opera.

Musicals, so the story goes, are much easier to conduct than operas because their music is simpler. As the musical director of Oxford Operatic Society’s upcoming production of Sunset Boulevard by Andrew Lloyd Webber, this is something I know all too well. Based on Billy Wilder’s picture about the downfall of Norma Desmond – the Siren of silent film – the musical contains complex music that certainly wouldn’t sound out of place in an opera house. Indeed, the English National Opera seek to make exactly this point with their semi-staged version of Sunset Boulevard starring Glenn Close early next year.

The score of Sunset Boulevard is littered with musical themes that are Wagnerian in the way they are manipulated to represent the developing narrative. The word setting is similarly intricate. It is driven by uninterrupted speech rhythms, not dissimilar to operatic recitative, which necessitates frequent changes in time signature more likely to be found in the contemporary operas of Adès and others.

Like most operas, Sunset Boulevard is packed with music. There are only a handful of lines which are not musically underscored, which presents its own challenges for the actors who need to carefully pace their dialogue. The orchestra and the music become, then, a character, which demands to be listened to, its own right.

I am fortunate to have a very talented creative team (with Glen Young as director and Stephen Piper as choreographer), company and 17-piece orchestra to help me navigate through this complexity.

As a conductor do I want recognition for my part? Not at all!

Do I think, though, that musical directors more broadly deserve recognition from those ‘out there in the dark’ (to appropriate a phrase from Sunset Boulevard’s fated heroine)? You bet I do!

Sunset Boulevard plays at the Oxford Playhouse between November 9-14.