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2006.01.26 An interview with Stefan Ender for Der Standard

An interview with Stefan Ender for Der Standard, 26 January 2006.

Translated by Gesine Menardi

2006_Der _Standard

Aria-free Spaces of Passion

In “Pelléas and Mélisande” Simon Keenlyside plays the young dreamy hero. The British star baritone talks about his affection for this opera and part.

He certainly is one of the more friendly and affable of today’s opera stars who doesn’t have any problems to put even weird stage ideas into action: no problem for the worldwide celebrated baritone, who sang Don Giovanni at the Viennese State Opera not long ago. In Roberto de Simone’s grotesque kitsch-production Keenlyside had to change his costumes more often than he had to sing arias. The climax of the textile parade was a white ensemble in the first act, in which Keenlyside had to try to seduce Zerlina as a mixture between swan and meringue.

The performance page for Don Giovanni in Vienna, can be found by clicking here: Don Giovanni, Vienna 2006.

Even this seemed to be no problem: If you look like a swan, then behave like a swan. That’s what I did.” He also gave in to the rather slow tempi of conductor Philippe Jordan: “Why not. I am open to different views. It’s better to be cooperative.”

He looks very much forward to the collaboration  with Simon Rattle for “Pelléas et Mélisande” in Salzburg: “Simon always is prepared excellently, that’s very pleasant for singers. You can act more freely when the conductor has the score at his fingertips. And Simon is an extremely passionate man; music without passion is completely senseless. Just as life without passion is completely senseless.”

The performance page for Pelléas and Mélisande, can be found by clicking here: Pelléas and Mélisande, Salzburg Easter Festval, 2006.

No arias

One has to know that “Pelléas et Melisande” is one of Keenlyside’s the top favorites. “The libretto is unbelievably poetic, the music passionate and dramatic. And in contrast to the general opinion I think: This piece is rather close to life. Sure, people are often complaining: There are no arias. But Debussy just didn’t want any!”

Regarding the vocal form of Pelléas, Keenlyside thinks it advisable to use light colours as Debussy’s transparent orchestration makes this possible. An ideal part for the elegant, fine baritone of the Englishman? “That’s not the reason” says the 46- year old Keenlyside, a bit annoyed about this characterisation of his voice, “you just have to choose the right vocal colour for this opera, and here I am succeeding in doing so.”

Orchestra and singers often are showing different moods: “Debussy wanted these formations of layers of truth, shadow, hidden references. The obvious is not interesting. Truth never is simple or of one dimension.” How does he see his part, Pellèas? Doesn’t  he, the prince show a pitiable figure?

It is hard for him to make decisions, he let’s everything happen to him. When his grandfather forbids him to visit his dying friend, he accepts it without contradiction! “It was strict times then. And actually it is still the same: Show me the young man who contradicts his father who forbids him to go out at night? At the end Pelléas decides to leave the castle. I don’t see him as a weakling.”


All the singers in this opera are traumatized in reality: Right at the beginning Mélisande shouts at Golaud: “Don’t touch me, don’t touch me!” and soon afterwards Golaud  calls himself “ lost as well”. “ Yes, Mélisande  was probably abused shortly before, Golaud had lost his first wife. And Pelléas is bored stiff in this castle , he longs to get away.”

Pelléas and Mélisande is a very intimate play: Will this be functioning on the huge stage of the Salzburg Festpielhaus? “This certainly is not easy, but there is  a director who will have to find solutions. I have sung this opera at the Bastille Opera in Paris in Robert Wilson’s production. There everything of course was very stylised, but it did work.”In Salzburg it will be the last Pelléas for the 46-year-old: “My time for this role will end – age reasons”. For the role but not for the opera: I am thinking of studying Golaud. It intrigues me.” Is it difficult to choose the right roles, to plan a career well? “ This is as hard as to plan a successful  life. First you have to know what you want – this is already half of it. And than you have to keep fighting until you reach the goal.”

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