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2006.10.01 Spotlight: “An English lesson with Simon”

An English lesson with Simon

From the magazine “Spotlight” aimed at German-language speakers wanting to learn English, October 2006 (with CD)

The charismatic English baritone Simon Keenlyside, 47, has been known to opera-lovers for nearly 20 years. Since singing his first major role at the Hamburg Opera House in 1987, he has given highly acclaimed performances around the world. Keenlyside’s interpretation of Papageno in Mozart’s The Magic Flute at the Royal Opera House in London last year, and his Don Giovanni at the Bayerische Staatsoper in February, received excellent reviews.

Keenlyside grew up in a musical household –  both his father and grandfather were professional musicians. “Every single day in my life till I was eight there was a string quartet playing,” Keenlyside told Spotlight. He attended St John’s College School, Cambridge, and toured and recorded with the school’s choir. Keenlyside studied zoology at Cambridge and sang in his college choir, rather than immediately following a career in music. “I had a light, undamaged voice,” he says, “but most male voices don’t settle down until about the age of 30.” Fortunately, Keenlyside was prepared to be patient, and alter training at the Royal Northern College of Music, he moved to Salzburg to begin his career.

His latest CD, recorded with the Münchner Rundfunkorchester, is Tales of Opera (Sony). The 15 tracks include arias from Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, Verdi’s Don Carlo and Wagner’s Tannhäuser.

tales of opera

Simon Keenlyside [recorded interview and text]:

”Hello and welcome to the arts section. This month we have an exclusive Spotlight interview with English baritone, Simon Keenlyside. The singer is popular with opera lovers for his subtle and innovative style, and he has now recorded with the Münchner Rundfunkorchester, a collection of well known arias called Tales of Opera.

[excerpt from “Deh vieni alla finestra ]

Each of the 15 tracks on the CD is a favourite of Keenlyside’s. They include arias from Verdi’s La Traviata, Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, and Mozart’s Don Giovanni. [another excerpt from “Deh vieni alla finestra”] The singer, who was born in London, grew up in a musical family, he sang with the choir of St John’s College School in Cambridge from the age of eight. Keenlyside remembers and intensely musical childhood…”

SK: When I was little, my father was in a famous quartet, and they were recording all the late Beethoven quartets and Haydn string quartets – wonderful music – Mozart clarinet quintet and Mozart string quintet. So, every single day in my life till I was eight there was a string quartet playing, rehearsing, which was like the wafting of cigar smoke, And so music was part of my life.

“Though Keenlyside chose to study Zoology at University, music remained a part of his life. He continued to sing in a choir and waited for his voice to mature…”

SK: A male voice doesn’t really settle down till probably 30 – not really: late 20s – and that’s normal. Women’s voices, a little sooner. And my voice was light and lyrical.

“20 years and dozens of roles later, Keenlyside has found both his voice and his style. Here he describes his very personal way of preparing for a role…”

SK: I would spend about a month every day working with a pianist – an hour and a half – and then at the end of that month, l’d make a work tape, a little Dictaphone work tape. I wouldn’t sing out; I would just sort of … you know, I might go, “Leise, rieselnder Quell’, Ihr wallenden, flispernden Pappeln!” Or something like that. So that then I would walk around outside with this thing on my head. I’ll walk around a park or something like that and just force the stuff in my head. That may take – some people are quick: I’m slow – it’ll take me two months, at least, everyday. Maybe six hours a day, five hours a day: hard work. That’s the preliminary work that you’re not paid for, of course. Then you turn up for the first day of rehearsal of a four or five-week rehearsal period, but you must be ready with the words and the music learned, and that’s stage one.

preliminary Vor-
rehearsing üben
settle down hier; reifen
string Streich-
wafting (Geruch) Umherziehen

“Learning the words and music for a role are one thing, behaving professionally, however dramatic and unexpected the situation, is another, as Keenlyside has experienced on a number of occasions. One incident in Barcelona particularly sticks out in his mind…”

SK: Two hours before going on stage in Barcelona for a live DVD of Ambroise Thomas’s Hamlet, I was hit by a bus at 45 kilometres an hour – run over by a double-length bus -and just by luck, because it was a bus that was higher off the ground, and just by luck, because the wheels were further back, the double wheels missed me. The bus ran me over and the whole of the front of the bus was smashed to pieces. I didn’t have any scratches or bruises or anything, and I had to go into the theatre and sing two hours later: être ou ne pas être” – “To be or not to be.” I remember giggling quietly on the stage, thinking, “How funny!”

“Keenlyside’s talent and dedication have paid off; he is one of the few British baritones to have achieved an international reputation. Critics called his Papageno at London’s Royal Opera House last year “Unforgettable”, and as Don Giovanni, also at the Royal Opera House, “Electrifying”. So as he moves toward his 47th Birthday what is there left for the singer to achieve?”

SK: Well, I’m 46. God willing, I’ve got about roughly the same amount again. There’s tons left. Not much gets easier as you get older: that’s just a fact of life. But singing, I think, does get easier. If you have a balanced voice, nature gives you gifts that you didn’t have in your 20s. It opens the doors for roles that you could never have done or shouldn”t have done-in your 20s. For me, that means a number of wonderful roles.

bruise Bluterguss
fact of life; be just a ~ einfach so sein
giggle kichern
scratch Kratzer
smashed to pieces: be ~ Zerschmettert werden

[excerpt from “Deh vieni alla finestra”]

Simon Keenlyside’s CD, “Tales of Opera”, is a product of Sony Classical (ASIN: B000HEVAL2). A booklet included with the album contains an English translation, as well as the full text, of tile arias that Keenlyside sings in Italian, French and German.

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