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2002.08.23 Austrian Radio (Oe 1), broadcast

Interview with Simon Keenlyside for the Austrian Radio (Oe 1), broadcast 23 September 2002.

Translated by Ursula Turecek.


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[Note: Simon conducted this interview in his slightly idiosyncratic German, which is reflected in the translation!]

SK: I think that Billy Budd, he is not a lamb being slaughtered but a young man, and all young men are naive and innocent – how do I say “innocent” in German ? Unschuldig, of course, and I think that he is a simple young man and you have to trust the text and music, not act too much.

The issue of “acting” dominates your way of being on stage very much I think – the way that you perform. I’m thinking of how you were playing the Count in “Le Nozze di Figaro”, this is not only a character that you invent artificially but this is a real man who stands on the stage with all his weaknesses and who has to struggle especially against his jealousy very very much although there is no reason for it.

SK: Yes, exactly. You must trust that if a genius has…. like da Ponte or Mozart has written something it is complicated enough, you don’t have to act too much, only work with the Text and – (actually be) – yes (yes), then you can do everything as though you are quick to temper [literally: exigently bad-tempered].

On the operatic stage, where do you go now ? Mozart, Britten – how far do you go with your voice ?

SK: I’m not interested in the “Fachsystem” at all. I always do love Mozart but you can’t say that “Don Carlos” or “Onegin” are inferior, I’ve got to try it.

When ?

SK: “Onegin” in Paris in April, March and “Carlos” with a friend of mine, a wonderful Austrian musician, Franz Welser-Möst, in Cleveland, with orchestra in concert. Yes.

Concert also is a main focus for you. Songs are something that we’ve heard you do very very often here in Vienna lately, at the Salzburg Festival and as I have read, you will do a very unusual thing in New Yorkin december – the “Winterreise” choreographed for the stage by Trisha Brown – what is this going to be ?

SK: We’ll see. I’m not the first one and won’t be the last one with these pieces – don’t know. But songs mean freedom for me, chamber music – my father was in String Quartets and this is my only chance to be on stage together with a pianist with these wonderful German poems from the 19th century, I… ah – incredible. You just got to experience this in full, we all can understand this, it is not some High Art, it is life and I love this way. Half of my work will always be lieder.

I suppose that this concentration is also something of a challenge as you have to change very quickly between different moods very often.

SK: I find it very hard to sing lieder in addition to opera, I find this awful. Sometimes I think that I have made a mistake and cannot sing an opera, this performance, or I give my voice a rest too late and the recital is too “fat” but I must try it. I like many tiny colours and great subtlety. I like that.

How long do you take to change between the two mediums opera and concert, for example not to have your voice too broad for the recital, so “fat” as you said, and suddenly to get more slender ?

SK: Hmm… That’s a good question. Ideally one week, 10 days, because you’ve got to rehearse for the recital of course and sometimes this is just in the last minute, you have four days to rehearse the recital and that also is too much with two hours per day.

Do you have plans for the State Opera in Viennanow, after „Billy Budd“?

SK: Not yet. Only on paper, but I want to, I really want to. I know that the modern system without too many rehearsals, is not ideal either but if you have good colleagues on stage and you love to work it is better to work one week than to drag six weeks and I must say that in Munich and in Vienna the acoustics in the halls are wonderful for the singer and this is important too.

Click here for a transcript of the original interview (in German).

Previous interview 2002.09.23 östereichischen Radiosender Ö1, Interview in German >>>
Next interview 2002.03.02 Simon Keenlyside in interview with Melanie Eskenazi Seen & Heard, >>>

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