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2006.03.01 Bühne: Simon Rattle loves this opera as much as I do

Derek Weber, Bühne March 2006

Translated by Ursula Turecek


Simon Rattle loves this opera as much as I do

Simon Keenlyside. The English star baritone will sing Debussy’s Pelléas under Sir Simon Rattle at the Salzburg Easter Festival

The Salzburg Easter Festival avoids Mozart and stages – as a co-production with Covent Garden – Debussy’s lyrical drama Pelléas et Melisande instead, a work still known far too little to us. But the Festival’s artistic head and conductor of both opera evenings, Sir Simon Rattle loves it all the more.

Debussy’s opera is based on a text by Maurice Maeterlinck. The composer admired in Maeterlinck the “magical, conjuring language” that he could set to music and would almost write itself. The result is a melancholy drama that happens more within the characters’ interiors. Debussy wanted it to be sung “in a completely natural way” and not in the “arbitrary tone” of the (Wagnerian) past. In this respect Pelléas et Melisande forms an attractive contrast to the Ring des Nibelungen that will set the tone of the Easter Festival’s programme for four years from 2007.

Exquisite singers. The singers are exquisite: Angelika Kirchschlager will sing Mélisande, Gerald Finley, Golaud, László Polgár, King Arkel and Simon Keenlyside, Pelléas. The English baritone has undergone a steep career climb. His debut as Figaro-Count at the Hamburg State Opera in 1988 was followed by performances at the Scala in Milan, the Salzburg Festival and as Don Giovanni under Claudio Abbado in Ferrara. He also made a name for himself as a lieder singer early on, mainly with the German repertory. He is a stranger neither to Baroque opera nor to 20th century opera.

Surprises. The range of the his repertory “simply happened” for him, “on one hand because as a young singer you have to take whatever you are offered, on the other hand because I’ve always been curious. Thus many surprises arose because I took every opportunity to explore new pieces and roles.” Of course he started to broaden his repertory methodically as soon as he could afford to. “If you don’t do this there’s never an end to it and you dissipate your energies”, he says. “I always wanted to sing every part as well and as perfectly as possible for me.” New roles in which he has either made his debut already or which he plans to sing in the near future are Wozzeck, Eugene Onegin, Germont père in La traviata and Marquis Posa in Don Carlos. He does not plan any excursion into Wagner beyond Wolfram in Tannhäuser. “Maybe I’ll sing Beckmesser one day.”

His first Pelléas he sang years ago already, in San Francisco. Frederica von Stade was Mélisande. ”She was gorgeous” he raves, “and she sang the part with a deeply felt simplicity.” Doesn’t he fear that the intimate nature of Pelléas et Mélisande might get lost in the vastness of the Salzburg Festspielhaus? “Of course it is not perfect” he answers, “but San Francisco has 4000 seats too. I find smaller houses better, but people appreciated the performances. After all, it’s the audience who decides if it was right to give a performance at a certain place.”

In safe hands. Angelika Kirchschlager has been his partner in recitals already “She is a dear friend, a wonderful artist. Furthermore: We are in safe hands. Simon [Rattle] loves this opera as much as I do. It cannot turn out other than well.”

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