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2005.02.01 Extracts from an interview on Austrian ORF radio “Apropos Oper”

Extracts from an interview on Austrian ORF radio

“Apropos Oper”

2 January 2005

Transcribed and translated by Ursula Turecek


Interviewer (Robert Werba)

Simon Keenlyside (SK)

Michael Heltau: director of Le Nozze di Figaro, Vienna 2000 & 2002 (MH)

2009_08_30_Schwarzenberg_06Simon in recital with Malcolm Martineau

… When I talked to Simon Keenlyside after a recital he told me a little about his background and training and to the question of if he prefers the concert platform or the operatic stage he answered:

SK: Both. It is so much fun on stage of course. I have the possibility to play all the Mozart er… roles for example.

I was in a school for boys who like those Tölzer… where I didn’t have holiday er… records all the time (laughs). And… and my father was very famous in String Quartets – Aeolian String Quartet. My grandpa was the first er… leader of the Philharmonia Orchestra (concertmaster) concertmaster, yes. Of the Philharmonia Orchestra, founded by Walter Legge?Yes, yes. I have… I have [a] letter by Walter Legge in the house, which says er… er… “Dear Leonard, we must” – it is so dramatic ! – “we must [make] an orchestra of the best… God and man never has heard before and you must make a… a string section.” My grandpa was born in 1902 (laughs).

RW: Keenlyside did his vocal studies in Manchester at the Royal College, where an Australian, John Cameron, was his teacher.

SK: For singing it is… very important in… in the country, in Europe too, but it was… o…organised like an operatic studio. You have a schedule of rehearsals every week and … you study a language – hm, sadly not me! (laughs) – French rep… melodies, lieder twice a week, twice a week er singing with my prof, the whole time long, for five years. Wonderful. A wonderful opportunity for me.

RW: And after you graduated from there you started to sing at an opera house ?

SK: Yes, it’s funny. Normally for a lyric baritone you sing Mozart, if.. .if possible. Er… because it is… it is perfect on stage for.. er.. for .. for acting and singing. You… don’t interfere with the voice for… with.. with… with…. It may be dang…. very dangerous if you sing Italian…. no matter if it is lyric or not. For me it was only Mozart. Mostly lieder. Because my voice wa… came rather late, I’d say it began a little stronger after 30


RW:His Viennese Count from about two years ago brought Keenlyside a collaboration with the doyen of the Vienna Burgtheater, Michael Heltau as director. He says:

MH: He gave the demonical possession of a comedian to the Count. Not the demonical possession of a Don Giovanni but a… the demonical possession in a comedy like we find it, in my opinion, again in a Falstaff of course – a Falstaff must have this… this demonical possession too. The Count’s aria by Simon Keenlyside is in such an ideal balance of inner emotional processes and how much is shown in outward theatrical actions, I think. This whole work was an…. egregiously positive experience for me, I must say ! We invented something then, which made me very very happy, that er the Count nearly gets rough vis-à-vis Figaro. Because I said: What… so what is the revolution? The Revolution pervades the whole piece. With Beaumarchais it is… er.. it pervades the whole piece, again and again there are those moments where you say: Something is going to happen. And the way Simon Keenlyside all of a sudden with a – how shall I say?- very arrogant, pseudo-aristocratic gesture…. well, brings his hand really dangerously close to Figaro’s face, this…. this was matchless. Simon Keenlyside – the way he stands, the way he walks…. I think he facilitates things for his partners too. With Simon Keenlyside they all are better.


Photo by Axel Zeininger

RW:Finally having  reached maybe the most subtle achievement  of this subtle artist concerning the stage [he is speaking of Billy Budd], we must not ignore the subject of Lied, the concert platform, a category that, as Keenlyside thinks, has gained some sort of artistic right of residence in London already.

SK: In London, Lied is … very important. Every day there is a recital for example in Wig… Wigmore Hall or somewhere. It is very important. This is funny. There is a long tradition in England…. er… Gerald Moore and and Geoffery Parsons and there is a tradition with… with pian…. with accompanists too. And my old prof, he was… Austra… Australian, he was a soldier in the Second Wa… in the Second World War and (laughs) he has… in Italy this… he was not an intellectual, er… an academic intellectual but he has this songbook by Goethe and.. and he lives in.. in the middle of the… the battles [with?] German poetry. Fascinated with all… all all these German songs. And thank God he encouraged me. I tell myself: I want to find my mistakes, vocal mistakes by our song repertoire and not always in opera… in the opera because you…. it may be often that you just sing loudly – a bad singer sings loudly and… and… and… for a recital you need… you need much more colour for the definition … than for a.. a hall with 2500 people for example. It is much m… er… more complicated on stage, you… in opera… in an opera you have to compromise much more of course and er.. a wonderful conductor and orchestra and… and.. er.. produ… er.. production and five or six good singers with .. with a…. with… who can act… act well on stage – this is hard to find. A… And we have to compromise mostly – this is not the case in… in.. for a song or course, it is much easier [or calmer], but a recital is not a holy.. church for me, it is… mm.. I find.. er… a bit of a problem with the little things like the tails, like the tails because it is too… it never was… it only was a uniform of.. of the time and there is no room for me for sentimentality. For example something that is too…. simple: If you sing too simple – er one side, and on the other hand if it is too sentimental and too much love and woe and delight and all those keywords, the… the… the whole er… encyclopaedia, I think this is cruel, I find it…. it is too… er messy, this is a disorder, I think. Because you cannot put all.. er.. these informations… together because that’s not the stuff. Little things, for example that, if you sing er.. about a lime-tree it is like death or or pain, it….

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