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2004.07.27 Friends of Munich Opera Interview

This interview took place on 27 July 2004 under the

auspices of the Interessenverein des Bayerischen

Staatsopernpublikums (Friends of the Munich Opera).


Simon bravely asked for the interview to be conducted in German, and this translation reflects the spirit of the original, retaining many of SK’s linguistic acrobatics. We hope you enjoy what is a highly entertaining and revealing interview.

Preparing this interview was a lot of work, and Jane and I would like give our heartfelt thanks to Ursula Turecek for all of her help in transcribing and translating it, and to our unnamed friend for letting us have the material and for her advice. JW


Simon drawing in the IBS guestbook. Look at the end of the interview to see what he is drawing


Red : what SK says (or does)

Black : what the interviewer says (or does)

Blue : what the audience says (or does)

Green : music

Violet : extra information

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen!

Oh, is that for me, is it? Wonderful! It is red wine… a whole bottle

Do I need this? (the microphone) … I hate that! maybe, we must see! ok!

… and would like to quote briefly from a review: …“Among the singers it was only Simon Keenlyside as the intellectual conformist Wolfram who made a lasting impression.” And this Simon Keenlyside, this Wolfram with the lasting impression is our guest here tonight and I would like to welcome him sincerely.

Mr. Keenlyside, not so long ago you sang Prospero in the world premiere of the opera “The Tempest” by Thomas Adès. What does contemporary music mean to you?

First of all I must say: excuse me for my German being so bad but I’ll try to speak German, if it is not possible we can mix and match, and do it without the mike too, tell me if it is not loud enough, because I’m a bit bothered by it…. you always have to be controlled with this gadget (We’ll take it away) Thank you! (laughs). Yeah, it’s the same with CDs too! (laughs).

Well…er… I cannot say, ehm, how can I as… as a simple singer say … that… that this “Tempest“ is a… a wonderful… piece? But I know it is, it is not my opinion, it is… the role of Prospero was very heavy for the voice, not lyric. Nevertheless very fulfilling – how [do you] say “fulfilling” in German? (Very fulfilled). (Audience: Difficult?) Difficult? Awfully difficult, yes! Very low and too high and…, like a ten… tenor one moment and next moment, er, totally low, but it served, it was always with the text and for me this was very important.

(Audience: How does he compose? More like Schönberg, more like Kagel or more in the manner of the late romanticism?) More like Thomas Adès. (Audience laughs) No, the… the truth was that I didn’t do this piece because I knew the … er… work of Thomas Adès, only that it was two months at home, this… right in the beginning. But… half of the reason, this is for… was for me so wonderful, it… it was not pastiche, it was really something else.

You told us already that it was relatively difficult to sing. Have you sung modern music – or contemporary music – often before?

No, I don’t feel like it, er… not… to sing modern music… operas often… Why? We have… us singers… have a responsibility… to make new music from time to time, but not always. My… my favourite music is what is lyric, this I… I know quite well, it is an old… erm… tradesman… it is an old… er… craft, an old… (An old trade). Yes, yes. That’s interesting for me and I have… to do so much with old music myself that…. I…. better for me to stay between [17th, 18 th (he plays with numbers 24, 30)] (laughs) … yes, to… to Benjamin Britten – for me. I don’t have enough time!

Old music: We understand old music as from the renaissance and from the early baroque. Do you sing baroque music too?

Erm… what is Monteverdi? Well? In the middle? (Audience: It is late renaissance, early baroque) Just for fun I have er… sung Monteverdi’s Orfeo one… once and it was such… such a surprise for me, this is such… such wonderful music, therefore I have to say: Yes, Monteverdi, but not often. It is like a recital. (You can do recitals often, can’t you?) Yes.



You told me yesterday that you come from a very musical family Mm and that you came to music at a very early age. Will you tell us a little about it?

My grandfather was… they were both famous… er violin players – fiddlers as we say – first in erm… string quartets my grandpa in the forties er… and my father too – Aeolian String Quartet – therefore I never er… heard singers in the house, only… (only violin) Yes. My… my mother sent me to one of those weird English boarding schools and er… we had four hours per day singing, and this at the beginning at an age of eight, and we … travelled… departing all the time.

StJohnsSt John’s College, Cambridge

This was a very famous choir from Cambridge Yeah, yeah that travelled much. Was this church music or secular music too?

Church music, but er… half of it modern, Messiaen, Tippett, we met them all.

So you did sing modern music then? Yes, yes, in the chorus, yeah. Erm and… the… standard… the… level was… as high as our profession now.

As high as of professional singers today? As high as… yes.

Even then you travelled outside Europe. Yes. Or just in Europe? No, America, Australia, Japan, everywhere in Europe. Yes.

So you were a child star? No, not me! Choir.

Were you singing solo or just in the choir? Yeah, yeah we have to do both. Both.

You sang solo too? Both. Yeah.

Soprano or alto? There’s only one – soprano. Treble, we have… we call them treble… with boys.

Well, the boys’ choirs here… It is… yes… yes… they differ between soprano and alto. Yes. Not in England, it is… no, the music is… er… treble and contra. Contra are… er countertenor.

But afterwards you bade farewell to the music for some time, studying zoology.

What can I say? Yes.

Why? Oh… this is my … my passion, it is my… I … one animal amongst many other animals. (Audience laughs). I… but I really think that, and I want to spend my whole life looking at the world around me and that means other animals who share this planet with me.

And this also was the reason why you left school relatively early and could not study music at once, wasn’t it?

No, no, I have er… done all my time at school and afterwards… university till… 24 – in England this is normal – and afterwards four more years at a College of Music till nearly 29. Rather late in England.

In England, but not here. (laughs) And this was in Manchester? Yes, yes. There’s a lot of famous singers who have studied there. Yes, it was a wonderful school because it did not cost much (laughs). Yes, I think this was important because we had many er sailors… erm mar… marin…. (Seamen) yes, or… or firemen or… yes we had… or like me, we… we can take a small risk, for example [paying] £500 per year for the whole school. We had many mature students, which is very important.

Here everyone can study without paying, unless he goes to a private boarding school. Yes, yes.

But the universities too… there are only certain fees.

Yes. I did not pay for my university but afterwards, I had to pay for the second degree myself. Yes.

And… after that you made your first appearance in opera.

Yes. Hamburg.

No. Yesterday you told me something else.

Oh, er, in… in Aldeburgh – Rape of Lucretia. Yes.

Did you see this Rape of Lucretia? (SK asks the audience. The production was playing at the Staatsoper at this time)

(Affirmation from the audience)

And what do you think? (Positive reactions from the audience)

It is interesting, isn’t it? Personally I find the last 5 minutes a little difficult, but (laughs) apart from these … apart from this I find it wonderful. Hm. Interesting piece. And it’s good that it… in the Prinzreg … regenttheater, the… acoustic is a bit more like Aldeburgh and er… because I’m tired of… always doing the War Requiem or these erm “quasi religioso” operas like Lucretia… in an opera house. It… the… the acoustic is not right.

But the Prinzregententheater is an opera house.

Yes. Yes! Nevertheless the acoustic is all wood and… a little odd.

Well, yes, it was constructed in accordance with the Festspielhaus in Bayreuth. Yes. Really? Oh! Yes… I’ve never been to Bayreuth.

Also with the covered orchestra pit, it was constructed in accordance to the Festspielhaus in Bayreuth. Right. Right. So it was constructed as an opera house. Hm.

It is just nowadays not only used for operas but more for concerts.

Which role did you sing in Rape of Lucretia?

Tarquinius. Hm. (laughs) I wanted to sing Lucretia but they said no.


And then came the real beginning of your career, which means that you went to auditions.

Yes. Baritone day in Bremen or Köln or Hamburg. Uiui. Yeah.

And so how did you come to Hamburg?

Luck. Only… chance, just chance. Just chance. Yeah.

But you wanted to start in the German speaking region? Yes. Yes.


Ah, that’s funny, because I wanted my German to improve. (laughs).

Had you already learnt German in England? No! No.

No, well then you had started to learn German! Now that you mention it! No, but my… my prof, my old… he was a friend of both of us… actually (pointing at a man sitting in the first row, whom he obviously knew)… John Cameron, he er… told me that it would be better if I study German first and live in Germany… otherwise… er… if half of my life is lieder and it…

And that’s what you wanted right from the beginning, to sing lieder.

Yes. But without the… German grammar it is a little hard, I found. (laughs)

Audience: There are very nice lieder recordings that are without any accent!

This we will hear…

Not by me! (laughs). Yes, by you! No!


I have read that you made your debut in Hamburg’s Almaviva in Marriage of Figaro. Is this correct or did you sing smaller parts first?

Yes, I did sing all the smaller parts in Hamburg, as normal, it is a… a good start, for a beginning to… to do all these small parts. So many stories that we all know.

But in your CV is written that you sang Count Almaviva in Marriage of Figaro then.

Yes, yes.

And now we are going to listen to… the aria from Act 3. RecordingViennaStateOpera, conductor Riccardo Muti, from 18 June 2001.

If I am not good, I must say “stop”. This I haven’t heard, is this from… from the radio?

Music: Hai gia vinta la causa


(SK got out his drawing-book and started to draw, humming along but clearly not enjoying what he was hearing)

You have no idea how stressful it is to hear my own voice….. And live too!

You’ll all have the possibility to hear this here, really live, during the next season because he will sing this role several times here.

Yes, I love this piece so much. I have been singing erm… mostly Mozart for ten, nearly ten, twelve years, it is good for my voice because it… it came peu à peu, er… it was… it was a small lyric voice and… I make no apology… how do you… how do I say this in German? (I don’t want to apologise) yes, for this, because I think this is normal, it is only an old… an old way… and… and… yes, the modern way is where a young man [who] is doing well to begin to sing too much. Thus [I] sing… yes, Mozart and… and so ah… I have… I’m never tired, I’m never tired for… of Zauberflöte and I find more every time I do it is like the first time, the text by da Ponte is utterly fabulous, is utterly unbelievable.

And do you still sing much Mozart today?

Yes, [but] not Cosi any more. Yes.

But still Figaro, Zauberflöte, Papageno. Papageno. Yes. Yes. The Zauberflöte is like a….

(Audience: Giovanni) Giovanni, yes, yes.

Not too much because it [Giovanni] interferes with the… it interferes with my voice a bit. If… if you do… four months, it’s too… too much for me. For… for you play the… this… this vengeance, this… so… much… er, there this is too much. Mm. Two months is enough.

(Audience: I bought some years ago this recording by Abbado, Don Giovanni is sung by one Simon Keenlyside. What made Abbado choose you?)

Chance. Bryn… Bryn is a… a… is a good friend of mine and er… we have worked together and he was a… a new star in the… in the panoply… pantheon… and… and… er… Abbado heard me and said ok.

We’ll take him!


But I… I don’t like this… no, I don’t li… this er… (Audience: Recording) yes… my part in the recording is… is bad, is… is very bad and I would… Because we sang seven performances in ten days. This is so stupid and dumb. It is not necessary to make another Don Giovanni, unless it… it… it brings something else, something that… with detail, with a [new] thought, a [new] overview, but why do we make another… a middle of the road Giovanni? And between these seven performances we have three per… per… three days six hours per day… er… (recordings) yes, recordings. Performance, performance, recording… performance, recording – ten days. I was completely (making a gesture like falling dead from the chair)…. I can believe that! Yes.

From our conversation about Don Giovanni we [now] have red wine on the table. Yes! You said that you actually can drink it in Don Giovanni on stage because you die soon afterwards, so the wine makes no difference any more. It might be more critical with Papageno if he drinks wine and has to sing on for longer afterwards. Yes. That’s what I noticed (laughs). That’s why I have decided to give him a glass of wine or even two… No, for Papageno I just have… one, one… (clinks glass) one glass of wine…

Yes, but tonight you don’t sing Papageno, so you may drink even two.

Yes, I will! Later in the restaurant, I’ll sing the whole night then! (laughs)

But you want to go to the highest mountain in Germany tomorrow? Yes.


Which is your favourite – Italian opera, French opera or German opera?

Well, that’s a good question because… ehm… I… I always want to play Papageno… it is not dif… it is easy to sing but it is a wonderful training for… for… for every actor and for my German too. Wonderful! And… and er… Mozart is… is…

Count… it is not difficult to… to sing, it is not high, not low, it is in the middle, but you act the whole time… and [for] Don Carlos or… Tannhäuser you always must have total discipline. I could not say it is… which is better, green or… or yellow, it is… it is like a sunny day or rainy day. They’re both wonderful.

But you very much like to sing French opera too?

Yeah! Willingly. Mm. Pelleas c’est… is un peu special… er… (blows) Iphigénie en Tauride because it is such a… piece for… for act… actors too. Yes.

In other words, roles where you have to act and create a lot particularly appeal to you?

Cappuccilli-HamburgI… I … I am interested in this. In the beginning I have, my first… nearly my first job was… was Pagliacci… erm… Silvio in Pagliacci. And I had the… the great joy to work with Piero Cappuccilli. And he said to me, as… as young man, he said er… he… he liked me and I thought “that’s great, I would love him”…

he said: “Don’t… don’t leave … your Italian repertoire too late”… And… I had thought the opposite… you had to wait… for 15 years and I er asked: “but why?”

And he said: “Because you are an Englishman and it will be very difficult to start erm… with the Italian repertoire in 15 years.” To start. And he was right. He is right.

But he also said: “Always act“… er…there is, you all know, there is an old… Italian erm… phrase – “prima la voce”.

When I was a student, I did not understand, I thought, that this is the stupid Italian stance that remains static and one just sings – so wrong was I, because he… he says to me “Always act with your voice“ – now I understand. Now I understand!

IBS16DonCWhen a… when a great poet stands here and… and says a… a… a poem, it is not necessary to make these somersaults and all to the audience, and… that’s the same with us too. And for… for me, for example, Don Carlos is like… a role like… like that. You… there is nothing to … to… to do on stage, not too much, but all the colours that are possible in my voice must…. That’s interesting me more and more.

Now we have another musical example from the French opera, in fact Faust has been broadcast from London recently… Ui! … This is Valentin’s aria…

I did not loiter about before the mike… I noticed when my dear colleague er… came on stage and looked to see where Roberto [Alagna] was – ah! Because I did not understand that the mike was here [that it was being recorded?]

Music: Avant de quitter ces lieux


(SK starts drawing in his book)

Audience: It is not as bad as you pretend.

Hm. Interesting for me. Er…. Not interesting for me…. But when the… the mike really understands [works?]… it is … no different (no difference) no difference, of course, no difference between piano and forte, only the attacca. It is nearly frustrating. Yes.

Well, but I would say that you may well sing French Opera here with us too. Pelleas for example.

Oh I love Pelleas. I adore Pelleas.

In a relatively new operatic encyclopaedia I have read that you are always searching, hating every kind of commercialization and stardom and not liking to work on directors’ experiments.

(postive reaction from the audience)

Our audience recommends it. What is it like to sing, for example, in a production like the Tannhäuser here that is a director’s experiment to a certain degree?

I have not seen any other Tannhäuser or… or… Is this the only Tannhäuser Yes in which you have been singing so far? Yes. Yes. And….

(Audience: O infelice) (laughs) Pardon? Stumm! (laughs)

And… I … really, what can I say? Nothing about the production, because I have only seen this one… this is my only Tannhäuser, but this role, it is difficult for me because I don’t understand this man. And like all geniuses – Wagner like Mozart, for example Guglielmo, or… like Cosi, it… it seems to me… that Wolfram represents a… a state of mind, he is not a whole man and I have not yet so much sympathy – sympathy? (Yes) with… with him, and… because the… the colour is rather monochrome from th… beginning to the end… and I find this… difficult for me to hold for four hours. (To wait one and a half hours and then…?) No, I mean that there is no… in the beginning you are so… (Audience: No culmination) no… yes, no…. (Audience: No development) yes, exactly, yes.

Tannhauser4Munich2004(Audience: but if you saw the performance on Tuesday you would have to say that the opera must be renamed from Tannhäuser to Wolfram.) Yes, that’s what was also written in the review I quoted before.

Audience: So how did you approach this role, with a special teacher or something?

No, on stage. (Audience laughs) Really. That you… you live this character and… make discoveries all the time… what… one thinks. Maybe this is… wrong but this is my own way, I cannot study in a book what er…. lives on stage. I… I find it… futile. For me.

Audience: The press wrote then that you fit into this conception better because this Wolfram usually is such a self-assured type who stands above everything… Really? Me? Ha. No, Wolfram, not you… In this production Wolfram really is shabby… Yes. And this review said that you impersonated this better than Bernd Weikl because he is just a big lump of a man – it never fitted that well… and that you fitted into this conception better.

Well, but I would say that Bernd Weikl, he is a brilliant artist and he has done so many Wolframs that maybe he knows better than Mr…. erm…. yes. Maybe…. maybe, maybe that he… er…. and maybe at the age of about 50, 55 years that like me a… already in Giovanni I say to… I sing my own self. No, I won’t do… the… this as Giovanni I cannot. And maybe Bernd Weikl does understand something that I not and he says: “No, it is a proud man and and… has more dignity and he is not so fragile.” But I did only… the… er… Alden says to me: “It must be fragile”, that’s why I must.

Audience: But you may well sing Don Giovanni here, Giovanni is also this shabby. (laughs)

Audience talks about the Giovanni production in Munich: Our Giovanni production would suit you. (Audience:…at the end he has to cower around totally broken).

The Don_ferrara

Yeah… yeah… yeah. But I think when you… are… how do you say… proud? from… from the beginning to the end, this is bori…. slowly er… borin…. boring! boring – for me. Because er… the… the… vulnerability of … of the human condition is more interesting actually for me. Yes. Yes.

Ah… this is an interesting er… question because I did an interview with an old colleague from the … the University in England, er… Simon Russell Beale. He is a magnificent Shakespearian actor and I have… we have both played Hamlet. I have sung this opera, this… er… French opera, Thomas’ opera, Hamlet and he has played a wonderful er… Hamlet in South Bank…



Two Simons, two Hamlets: Keenlyside and Russell Beale (right)

….and I asked him… “how is it possible, Simon, that… how many versions of Hamlet do you make in a whole lifetime?” and he laughed and said: “There can be only… one for each actor, one… one Hamlet – one Hamlet, one Othello, one”.

And after this, afterwards I thought: “Be calm” because… because I cannot do more than two Papagenos… different Papagenos, a… bird and… and an… old man, a little... (Audience: Clown) Clown yeah, a little, not too much… not too much clown.

ROH papagenoPapagenoLaScala2

And Giovanni as well – I cannot do more, I cannot do more. But it’s… it’s ok with me because if such a great actor tells me: ”No, no, no, one is enough“ – yes, this journey is enough. Therefore I only mean that when I do this Giovanni here, I always try to find a way that is… er… [right] for the production, yes. But I can’t do anything different really, not really (Audience: But there are the costumes and the make-up too…) I try, I try. Yeah. A new wig, yeah (laughs).


Wolfram was your only Wagner-part so far. Yes. Yes.

Are you interested in singing others or are you planning…?

I couldn’t really. Only Beckmesser. At the moment it… I have no ambition to do Beckmesser. Wonderful piece, wonderful role… And [I only have] this silly idea… to sing Siegmund once just for concert. That’s what I want. That’s what Franz_WM2I’d like to do. With my friend Franz Welser-Möst in… maybe in America. So we’ll have to go a long way! Do this here with us! Yes, of course you’ll have to. Yes. Yes… he’ll do the second act in concert and I think this is a good idea, and he says that if this works well then maybe we can sing the first act (laughs). Yes. Because it is… it is always like this… is like… I was… doing athletics 20 years ago, and er… the… difference… diver…. erm… (the difference) differ…. alas! I know ”difference“… difference between a…. 400m runner and an 800 is not that a 400m runner cannot er… do a 800 once, this is… of course he can, but that he… erm [cannot do the] heats, semifinals and finals, this is… the difference between the two. And… so it is, many times, between erm a lyric baritone ….. who sings in the high [range] and… er “Heldenrolle”. You can sing Siegmund once, it is not so… not so difficult but for… for three… er… five weeks, oh… this is something else. You cannot pretend all the time, it is not… er… right for colleagues.

Audience: And also because the tessitura is too high too.

Nope, nope, for Siegmund it is not so high. Nope. You cannot every day six hours for…. er… four weeks. Yes.

In this encyclopaedia was also written: “In opera he has sung more roles than most of colleagues of his age, and yet there seems to be a hint of loneliness around him. Where a Hampson wants to embrace, Keenlyside tries to escape.” Is this correct?

Nah!!! (disgusted: laughs)

Actually I think it is funny that I am sitting here before you all and… and saying that I am a private person but this is so… it is like that… I… I don’t feel like explaining my whole life with the press, it is… all the same. (Audience applauds) thank you!

What does Lied mean to you? Do you sing only German lied, French, English too?

For me… er… lied or mélodie means life itself, it really is a mirror of life for me. At the moment…. I really don’t feel like… er… making recordings like… IBS30arp3CDs, only it is… is a… like an agenda of my life, is not… for myself. I don’t feel like … seeing a… a CD in a shop with my… my face on… that’s not the thing, but I want to make a CD about every two years, for myself because…. at the moment I am for example totally in love with Brahms, a… a dixaine de… er… melod… er… de… lieder. And… last year it was something else, Hugo Wolf, Mörike. Why? Because there was a… my girlfriend in my life or… problem at home or something, or joy or a new child or something. And this is always for me… I make no sense, like all of us, of life, it’s too difficult and I cannot express it any other way, it just… The problem is, there is a… I know a farmer in England, a rich… rich farmer? (Yes) Yes. And he has a studio, recording studio, a … .er… (recording studio) yes and I can, whenever I want, I can go with EMI engineers and make a CD for myself, only for myself. And this for me is perfect, but I don’t have time enough. That’s the problem! I want to have holidays and… go to Wales and this for me is… for me is more right than to record another CD.

Audience: How often do you sing in a year? How many performances?

How often? Oh, performances! That’s something else. Because singing… every day (laughs), nearly every day, yes! I don’t know… I… I don’t know anything else… er… Performances – no idea. No idea!

Audience: 40, 50, 80?

Really! I swear… I have no idea! I have no diary, I have my little red book with notes and thoughts and drawings… But… my manager calls me, and says “tomorrow you must go to Vienna or something” – ok, fine! I have read a contract only twice in my life because they are very disappointing to read, contracts (laughs). No, I don’t… I have no idea. No idea. I think too much – too much, yeah. This year April, July, August and December are free – this is not bad. But next year – er… two weeks? Er… this is not good.

This is by Schumann, from the Kerner-Lieder,”Wanderlied“, a recording from the Schubertiade Feldkirch. If you don’t make CDs we have to get them from the radio.

Yes, right! I’m sorry. Yes. (sighs).

These… thes… the poems of Julius Kerner are…

[Music: Wanderlied]

O NO! I hate this one! Why this one!…

“You are alone when having to interpret a song… The song is rendered by one person for the whole theatre” Yes, difficult. Very difficult. I find it… very very difficult, er… with… only with the voice, no acting, no… no help, no… nothing. Yeah. But it is so wonderful– you must, you must do it.

Audience: How do you study the songs? At the piano yourself or do you have a repetiteur?

No, with er… the poem, the text, the text. Always alone, as if I am marching around the park, and I pace a little game for myself. I set a tempo for the feet, for [the] feet and must [know it] by heart and if I’m making a mistake, I must… erm and is not in time – [go] back. Yes. (laughs). And then, and then it costs a great deal because I cannot play the piano and erm… every day with a… only with… with piano and not singing for maybe a week, only speaking with the text dadada – like this and so on. It is for me a… a game, always, it always has to be a game, otherwise….

That is, you speak the text in the correct rhythm yeah., like yeah it yeah should be yeah, yeah sung in sympathy with the language, [therefore] getting easier when you sing it.

Erf! Hopefully. (laughs)

Now I’ve lost the thread [Interviewer was following a cribsheet with her finger] Yes, yes, no, yes, no. Up. (laughs)

I think we hear something totally different, this song was very alive. You asked me why I chose that one? Because it is very active. Now I have now chosen the total contradiction, in my opinion one of the most difficult and most wonderful songs: Der Leiermann from Winterreise…17 June 2004. (Audience groans) Mm.

Audience: Did he sing the whole Winterreise then?

(whispers) Only Leiermann. Pardon? (a little louder) Only Leiermann.

[Music: Der Leiermann]

What I found particularly amazing in this song is the German diction – impeccable and wonderfully clear. (Audience applauds)

Yeah, it’s frustrating for me. Why? Because it’s always… I must always be outside. (Microphone falls down) Oops! Sorry.Because I’m always outs… I must always be outside [the language], I must – it’s not my mother-tongue, is not my mother-tongue, I must always be outside. It is… is all right like this but it’s frustrating.

Are there English songs?

Many, I’ve heard!

Do you sing No! English songs too? Not really so much, no, because right in the beginning my prof … my prof introduced me to Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Wolf, Debussy, Fauré, Poulenc and I don’t have enough time to sing them all. Not t… Er… And I made… a deci… decision right in the beginning that I wanted to stay in Europe, I am a… I’m European, I’m not English, my mother, my family are mixed from… right from the beginning and… and for me this wonderful… apart from some Britten which I like, some. Some! – only one cycle – er… Songs and Proverbs of William Blake, because I… I like the… er… poems of William Blake, erm… apart from that, when my colleagues… sing something in English I think “Ah, this is beautiful!” or American, I find this beautiful but not for me. It is not for me.

So although you say that you are an outsider because it is not your mother-tongue, you prefer to sing French and German songs?

Of course, yes. Yes.

Of course? I think this is admirable. No, because… you… for me it is… it is a… nearly a funny question because you say Quilter / Schubert – ok, so I keep Schubert.

Britten – er… Schumann, Brahms, Wolf. That’s obvious to me – all of these great geniuses are my family… because I’m a singer, it’s my family and I belong with the music written for … people like me – and I don’t… I don’t care about… I’m … I’m completely antinationalist in every single way except for the natural barrier of language itself that my… it’s as… because it is not my mother-tongue, otherwise for me…

You say you are absolutely no nationalist. No… And the great geniuses in song for you are Schubert, Brahms, Wolf  Poulenc, Debussy too and also in French Poulenc, Debussy. Mm, Ravel – so many. Ravel, Fauré, yeah, Fauré of course, Duparc – wonderful!

How about some recitals here in Munich…?

(great approval from the audience)

In the evening I spoke very often with Gerd Nachbauer the chief of Schubertiade… and… he says, er… in English we say “with… with tongue in cheek”… “May I sing something in French, Gerd? Ravel for example?“ “No, no, no„ “Or Debussy… or…?“ “No, no, no, this is… er… parlour music. No, no!” (laughs) He is wrong, he is wrong, wrong, wrong – but it’s his festival.

Yet he was the first one who broke out from the actual Schubertiade… Originally this was supposed to be only Schubert.

Only Germ… German lied, I think. Yes, er… I understand this.

No, no, Schubert! Only Schubert… No, I have b…. I have sung Wolf. Yes.

Well, Mr. Nachbauer has disregarded the wish Yes that Hermann Prey had and has… played Beethoven and I don’t know what. Yes.

During the first four years they played only Schubert there. O yes. Yes, but after 10 years it is a bit boring that they just… [play] the same, 5 or 600 [pieces?]…

Therefore it actually should not be called Schubertiade any longer! Yes. Half. Percentage – sixty/forty.

Where [else] do you sing recitals? Have you sung… in Munich already?

Er…. (Audience explains that he has stood in) stood in, only stood in. Yes. The acoustic in this wonderful… er… is very difficult. Ooof la!

Cuvilliér is difficult to sing. Mm. Difficult. Yes. Er, where? Erm… Wigmore Hall because lieder in England is… is is very alive, very, very alive.

In England people like to listen to lieder very much. Yes. In London.

In London, I think Wigmore Hall is the one where most… Every day. Every day there is lieder, every day.

And in the Barbican Centre too, I think. Not every day but yes, yeah, yeah. In London, er, in London, in Paris, in Geneva, in Carnegie Hall, in… wherever. Wherever somebody says “You can have a recital“ then I sing (laughs).

In Bolshoi, you know, the Bolshoi… I sung a recital in… in Bolshoi and I… er… I came to the stage entrance for… for the rehearsal and there was a… a huge lady and four small men and er… [I said]:

“I am… er… I am the singer – Schubert-voca… er… Vocal score. Schubert, I am the singer for the performance…”


Er, “I am… sono cantante – aha – Schubert singer…”

”Njet, da, njet!” (laughs)

I went to my hotel for a jacket… (demonstrating)[to] find my jacket, [to] put my jacket on, [and] my tie, and back to the stage entrance and [I] said:

“Elena Moskova, Bolshoi, See-mon Kin-li-sid-i” (laughs). “Cantante, s..singer, I sing, I’m singing this. Elena Moskova.”

“Ah!” And the man says: “Ah, Elena Moskova, da, da, da. Elena Moskova blah blah blah.“

“Fine, thank you, thank you.” And [I’m] out in the street and 20 minutes later no Elena Moskova (laughs). Back to the man once again and say “Elena Moskova, da?“

“Da! Njet!”

I [don’t] have a rehearsal, they… they have [refused] me … refused – how do I say this? refused Yes. refused the rehearsal and then in the recital, when we were about to start the recital er… the lady came and said:

“I am sorry, we don’t have a text… no text. Could we make a translation between every song?”

“No”, I said, “we don’t have enough time”

Therefore – shame, shame, shame on me – I sung all my Schubert lied that has a lyric tune – how do I say tune? lyric melody Yes, melody like a… sung like an Italian aria (demonstrates, laughs), because otherwise they could not understand anything, nothing at all [from] what I did. Nice adventure.

And in the end a… a voice from behind said ”Onegin! Onegin!“ (laughs)

So – did you sing Onegin then? I can… cancelled because I had a… an acci… accident erm in Covent Garden and er… and cancelled my contract in Paris. What a pity! First Onegin in Paris – there is a certain elegance to this Paris-Moscow. I think that’s interesting.

Have you sung Onegin before??No, it would have been the first time

Maybe you will do one day. Yes.

One more [added] to the countless roles. (blows) So much work for this role.

What new roles are you planning to do?

Hmm… Carlos, Don Carlos. Germont père, because it is totally lyric and for me it is like a… like a… er… how do I say this in German… crossword puzzle, like a crossword puzzle yes, vocally… only. Erm… At the moment that’s all I think. I ca… I don’t know.

And something modern again. Yes. Er… at home, too.

So when will this be? No idea. Next year. (Audience: In May) May? Aha.

Will Mr. Maazel be ready by then? (blows)

In Covent Garden, right? Yes.

1984 by Lorin Maazel will be premiered at Covent Garden.

I would like to [tell] … a little story about Mr. Holender of Vienna. Er… I … I hope this is not rude – how do I say rude? Er… how… how do you say rude? Rude. Yes.

This… I… Mr… Mr. Holender says: “Why did you… every time that I offered [you] a Giovanni or Don Carlos or Germont [why did you say no to] all these? No I can’t”. Why?”

“Because, er… I have… Mr. Holender, because I want to go home”

… and it is 1984 and music by Maazel, – no idea what this music is [like]! I have my… have already signed? signed my contract that is for the music already and… right in the end of this interview with Mr. Holender he says to me (imitating Mr. Holender’s voice)

“Don’t worry, Keenlyside, probably it will be pastiche and… therefore easy for you to sing” (laughs) What a cynic! What a cynic!


Audience: …So have you seen any score already ? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. He has called me once…

(Audience tells quite quickly about 1984 having been supposed to be staged in the beginning of 2000) Sorry, I didn’t…

Audience repeats… And now it still is not ready? Yeah, well…

But he did talk about it with you? Yes, he talked to me at home once and… my nephew? – my nephew – my nephew… was… biting my leg so vigorously… and who… (SK jumps up and demonstrates)who bit me like a dog, so…

“ Hey, get Ben, get off my leg!” and

“Yes? Yes, hello, Mr Maazel? Yes.”

“Ben, get off!“ ,

“Yes. Yes. Yes. Willingly, Mr. Maazel, yes. Yes, Maestro.“,

”Ben get off!“ (laughs)

This was the only [occasion] I have spoken to Maazel. (laughs)

But you just agreed on singing it. Well, yeah. He’s a charmer, so I don’t know.


As a singer you are away a lot… on the other hand you like to be at home. Yes. And “at home” is in Wales and in London. What do you do in your spare time there?

Hm. During the first week I always have a little panic because we… we are in… in the middle of a wonderful country and, and city, and then I go with my girlfriend or alone to Wales and it is so quiet – What shall I do? But four… four days later there are not enough daylight hours. I am outside all the time, yes. Fishing, diving, walking. I have a little farmhouse and er… I have a lot of fun.

A little farm there with large flower meadows, also the neighbour’s sheep grazing there…

[I’ve] planted woods… pla… planted? How..?

Pardon? Woods pla…

Planted a wood – birches, larches… Oaks.

But oaks take very long to grow. Yes, but I have planted 50%.

Oaks? In principle.

Yes. I’ll be an old man before it is this high (laughs), the birches are huge. Hopefully.

But you have a hobby too – you have very much fruit in… Yes. Yes. What do you do with your orchard?

Jam. (laughs) Yes. Yes.

Therefore the long stays …For example…

for operas, like 1984 in London, because you also make jam? Yes.

Because I… at the moment [it] is funny (laughs). A… colleague of mine, who is not so fortunate, is [staying] for two months in my house because he is not so lucky… could not stay in a hotel. Nevertheless he… he… he… he called me and said:

“Simon, today the Greengage” the tree… er… like… a… er… Audience: Apple? Yes, plum? Er… plum, yeah, yeah, it’s a species of plum.

“It is er… it is ready“

And I said: “Then put it into the freezer”

And he said: “Well, there is no space left.”

Then I said: “Then, Alan, you must make jam” (laughs).

For two days Alan has made ja… jams (laughs). Greengage, yes. And this is only the first Greengage tree. Next week there are two more. Yes.

So who eats all the jam ? Do you just live on jam then…?

No! I eat them all! No! No! (laughs)

Audience: Presents? Yes.

Audience: Orphans? What? Orphans. What is orphans? Orphans. Orphans! Bless you! Yes. You give them to orphanages? No. I have… er… er… friends enough for presents.

Audience: … You did not tell us before where you are born.

London. Yes.

In London but you only lived there until the beginning of school and afterwards you went to a boarding school very early. Yes. And this was in Cambridge. Mm. Seven.

You told me that you also have an orchard in London. It does not belong to me, it is leased It is rented but the fruit is yours. I planted the trees ten years ago, now it is beginning yes. All. Pears, plums, Apples, pears, plums. White currant, red currant, black currant. Now I have four species of… of plum… apples. Oh no, not much. No.

All species of currants? Yes.

Raspberries? Raspberries, yes. No, no… not this year because when I came er back again from… from Vienna, back again, and at night… I have – because the… the grass was so high… yes and… I got a letter from the manager [which] said “The condition of your garden is not good enough. Either blah blah blah or wah…” And at night I [cut the grass] with this boytoy, yes– how do I say this? This big noisy strong… Some sort of saw (growls) … And with this you sawed off the raspberries? Yes. Yes, yes, yes. Yes. All these… these…

Yes. Sadly no more for this year. (laughs)

Audience: Will you sing another Billy Budd– in Vienna or maybe in Munich?

I am rather old for Billy Budd. Maybe it is time for… sadly… I only have two more… one… I don’t like this production in Vienna actually. Willy Decker is such a… a brilliant artist [director] but I don’t understand this… this 2005_BillyBudd_Viennacroppedproduction. It is… I don’t think it’s good that…. this is a whole ship that… wi… in blue clothes and then comes a young man in white and is like an angel and this… this is… no for me it is… But I’ll do it in Vienna one more time… and for the last time in two years in London at the English National Opera. I have asked when it is possible because it is a wonderful house, they are [in] a little difficulty at the moment and erm… for this piece in English I have asked whether John Tomlinson and John Daszak and I and others could er… [perform] a Billy Budd and they [said] yes, it is organised like this. A wonderful production from erm from Wales, Welsh National….

Audience: Is this the old production…? Yes. From… from Wales. Oh God, I have forgotten the name of the the director. [It] is… is not ancient but it is a…

But some years old Yes. Yes. And [it] is a good production, yes. And he came back again for the reopen… reopening and I am… er… I… probably this is my last Billy Budd, sadly. But, well, lucky for me that I have the chance to sing it.

Audience: Will there be another Hamlet in London?

No. Audience: No? No. Not bad, this piece. In the beginning I was so afraid, this… this Hamlet with a… a… when he… he does not die in the end but… it is not bad. With a… with an honest production. I think it was honest.

Audience: The review in Opernglas was absolutely super. With Natalie Dessay…but with Natalie Dessay it is not… not hard to make a… a real er theatre. She is wonderful.


Audience: …Do you read reviews?

No. No. If I er… read the good reviews I must [read] the bad and don’t feel like reading the bad reviews. (laughs) No. I… I know, I know when I have made a not bad job of it and it is not necessary for me, a… a… louche… louche old man to read. And when I am bad I know exactly when I am bad.

But… I would say that in… in our time I… don’t you think that when I… read a review sometimes one reads… reads about… about the scenery, about dadadadada… about… about… [But] about our… our belcanto and our way, it is nothing… The last three lines. Yes.

Scottish_opera1991The story (blows) of Barbiere di Siviglia – is it necessary? No. (laughs) No. But there are many reviewers… nope, er, not many… I have heard there are reviewers that are very intellectual and good and… that I find [it] interesting to read a… a… review sometimes, not my… my own but the man in England for example is – probably many in Germany too – he understands.

I think that if I… the first day a… at rehearsal, it… it is in my contract that I have to have the… the text by heart and understand a little of the tradition of this role and all. I would say that it is important for a reviewer too [to have] a longer understanding of the history of this piece, of other productions, of … some… understanding of… of… this work and not… they are not… they are… erm… students… today… often. I find this… it irritates me… often.

Audience: Are you interested in with whom you will sing something?

Another good question. A very… very good [question]. Actually I have never asked who’s singing dadada because… it is… very often a surprise that I have never heard of this chanter before and they are wonderful. Or – on the contrary… hm… for example I erm… Natalie Dessay in Vienna had… cancelled a Nozze di Figaro, Susanna and er… a young lass from er… Moldavia stood in, her name is Tatiana Lisnic. Hasn’t done anything before but I’d say is one of the best Susannas I’ve heard. Wonderful. Natural on stage and…

Well, it is important but not important enough that I’d say ”No , I would not”, … yes, exactly.


Audience: What about the conductors, do you have certain preferences?


When [you] see [that] somebody sometimes makes this gest… (SK demonstrates the gesture for the orchestra to play quietly)… gesture to the orchestra then I love him. (laughs) You don’t see this too often. Erm to the orchestra. So… there are many. And… it is not always that they are so famous… [I] just want that they… [are] sensitive and erm… open… For example?

ZMehtaAudience: Whom do you appreciate particularly? Er… these days it is… normally these are… they are… for example Mehta – Mehta is wonderful because you can talk to him and discuss and say: No! Zubin, I want to do [it] like this because… And then Mehta says: “Because? Why?” And… I say: “Because… I want to try dadadadada like this”. “So go, do it.“ Ah, that’s wonderful! And [if] it does not work he says: “Nope! Stop!”

RMutiMuti he is very difficult, very difficult, but I have learned so much from him. I’ve always er… done Italian things with him er… and… it is erm… always exhausting the… the… time of the rehearsals but [when we are] alone I would say he is a friend of mine. – Alone! In the… in public I always have to say “Maestro!”…and never answer, never, in… in public, on stage. But he is a… he is a really wonderful musician. Although… whether some people say his Mozart is… Italian Mozart – maybe it is, but it’s still wonderful music. I don’t care, it’s wonderful music, yeah.

Audience: What about Welser-Möst ?

Franz_WMHe is an old friend. He is an old friend of mine and I have… not worked often… so often with him and I find this… er… healthy because it is not so… easy to have er… an amitié with a conductor. Yeah, it’s… it is difficult, it is always… er… well… it’s a little bit of a fencing [match]. But Franz – we [have] known each other for 15 years and we… begin little by little… to work together. The… the…

Audience: That is to say you love his way of working. Ah… I love friends. I… I know the… the depth… profundity of the… the musicality of friends and… what… what a man achieves or woman achieves on stage is one thing, what a man or woman is capable of – personally, musically – is another thing.

There is a difference between… There may be a difference what a man or a woman is able to achieve on stage…(translation). And in private I know exactly what… the capability of my friend Franz, and I want to work with him very often in the future. We’ll make Schumann, Scenes from Goethe’s Faust – this is a wonderful piece, er… Giovanni in Zürich.

Where are the Schumann-Scenes? Zurich.

Audience: Zurich?Yes. Yes.

Audience: When? Ah… no idea.

But he is leavingZurich? Yes, yes, ah… sure, leaves er… as di… as leaves as boss but…

He’ll still do much. Guest [work] there, yes. And… I for me… mm… I don’t think this is unpolitical, I think this is true, the truth is that for Franz and for… sometimes for us… for our… European singers and conductors it is important that you… find a… a different…. alternative perspective and for Franz I think that Cleveland is perfect, perfect. Above all it is… living a completely different life, in this world and for his development I think it’s wonderful. He’s a wonderful musician and I… I know where Franz is going as my friend and I’m happy.

Audience: What about Munich?


Audience: Nagano? Nagano? When Nagano comes here… Er… Nagano comes here?

Interviewer tells the audience: Next season he’ll sing the Count Almaviva and then Ford in Falstaff. And who’ll conduct – Nagano? No… He is… Nagano will do the Billy Budd. Not with… nope… me… m…

Audience: Nagano will come a year later. But… Zubin is finished?

Audience: Zubin is leaving. O my God! 2006. Wow! I’m sorry!

Audience: Albrecht will come after Jonas. Who? Sir Peter will quit and Gerd Albrecht will come. Jonas certainly has not done any harm to the Nationaltheater of the Bavarian State Opera.

Peter_JonasPeter has been wonderful to me and he is a gentleman and… you know, when… when a director is in every performance – every performance! – this is wonderful. It is not so often that you see this, it is like a… an old… old boss. I love that ! I love that very much. It doesn’t matter what you think of him, it doesn’t matter what I think of him. What… actions speak louder than words, I think.

So I finally want to hear another song.

Music: Der Wanderer an den Mond

(SK is not happy, but whistles the last notes)

(clears his throat)

So I’d like to thank you very much… and we’d like to… [present] as a souvenir… (a badge showing the opera house) O my goodness me. That’s not necessary, how lovely! Bless you, thank you so much, how lovely! Thank you all very much for coming.

Interviewer invites the audience to get autographs – “…because Mr. Keenlyside would like to go to “Rodelinda” shortly afterwards .” (Handel’s Rodelinda was playing at the Opera house that evening)

I would like to say one thing though. Er… you have no idea how much pleasure… the thing is: The more you… the more you thank somebody the thinner it sounds. The more I say how much – to Peter actually, to Peter Jonas – that this is… for me… one of the most beautiful acoustics in Europe or anywhere, the more I tell him the joy I have to sing in this house the thinner it sounds. It’s true! I’d like you to say that. [Interviewer translates]… and therefore much fun to sing here. More than fun, is more profound than much fun, it is er… more as I say to Peter Jonas, that… I… admire this… this… my experience to … to… to come here, thinner… it becomes thinner and thinner. Peter, I love it here! Yes. But Peter, I really… act… I… I can’t tell you how much I love it. Yes, ok. (laughs). My little badge from Munich. Yeah.



SK is drawing a man’s head wearing a tricorn hat

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