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2007.02.01 Der Neue Merker

Der Neue Merker, February 2007

In conversation with Simon Keenlyside

On the 7th January I met Simon Keenlyside for an artist’s conversation at the Vienna State Opera. Although he had to sing the Count in “Marriage of Figaro” in the evening he was so kind as to answer some questions – bravely in German.

Mr Keenlyside, you come from a family of musicians, your grandfather and your father were fiddlers, why didn’t you continue this tradition?

It was too much practising for me, as a young man I did not have so much discipline. I always liked to sing, even at school as a choirboy. I always wanted to become a singer, but at 20 you don’t know exactly what you really want. As I am also interested in nature very much I studied zoology first. After the end of my studies I began to study singing because I saw more professional chances there.

Did you ever want to change into the tenor fach?

No. When I still sang in the choir I wanted to be a bass. I never wanted to become a tenor, although I’d like to sing Siegmund once, but only in a concert.

This certainly would be an interesting experience for the audience. So did you set yourself a target which parts you want to sing? Are perhaps Wotan, Sachs or Falstaff on your wish list?

No. I do not want to make any commitment. I do not sing roles that overstrain my voice. But neither can I say what will be in 10 years time. I choose the parts that I just can sing, I do not plan too far ahead. I won’t sing many Wagner roles. Wotan and Sachs would strain my voice too much. I have already sung Wolfram, I’d surely be interested in Beckmesser, I also could sing him now. Amfortas, maybe some day in the future. Of course it would be nice in Bayreuth, this house has fantastic acoustics. Wagner wanted lyrical singing and there you still can sing belcanto. Wozzeck will be added in the near future to the parts that I sing at the moment, like Giovanni, Count in „Figaro“, Papageno, Posa, Eugene Onegin. I won’t do another Billy Budd nor Pelléas, I’ll do Pelléas only one more time now. They are young, passionate men. You should not sing these roles any more when you are nearing 50. So now I’m interested in more profound characters. There Rigoletto would surely be a wish role. With Verdi there are also other parts I’m interested in.

Is Don Giovanni another dream role for a baritone, surely a very multi-faceted character?

Yes indeed. He is a role with much aggressiveness and many colours and this is difficult to sing, very exhausting. But also to act. I see him as a naughty boy with much charm and try to perform it like that. I think that if the audience is still on his side at the end of the evening, then the performance went well. I also like to sing Papageno, but this part is not easy either, above all in Vienna. You have to be able to get in communication with the audience at the spoken passages, this is difficult for me as Englishman. It is bad for me when the people laugh too late because the text does not come across well or because they don’t understand it.

How important is the stage direction for you?

Very important. You need a director to get the many ideas that come from him and from the singers in line. He must help me to make a decision for the necessary course of motions, otherwise I do too much, am like a tornado without any focus (laughs). I like to act, I don’t mind an intricate direction. You can take along something from every director, an idea that I like. But in the first instance the musical side must be right.

Will you direct yourself some day?

No, I don’t think this is my cup of tea.

Or teach?

I like to pass my experiences on to young singers on stage. But to teach singing, I have not thought about it yet.

You devote much time to lieder singing…

Yes. I like to sing lieder, life is interpreted in the songs. There is only music and great poetry, I can express myself even without acting in a way that is not possible in opera. I would like to sing as many recitals as operatic performances. But this is not possible, mainly when a new operatic role is added.

How much leisure time remains between operatic performances and recitals?

Not very much. I aim at a balance between work, family and my interests. I love nature and like hiking, do some sport. Fitness is important for my job. I read much. Whenever I have some time I draw. I’ve made many drawings. Maybe I’ll make a book from them one day.

Do you have any other hobbies beside drawing?

[smiling, with an impish look]

Giving interviews !

Recently a new CD came on the market where you sing well-known arias and rarities. Not all of them are parts you sing on stage. Is there another role that you will add to your repertory? Herodes (in Hérodiade) maybe?

Not really, I don’t find Herodes too interesting, maybe Giorgio Germont, this part is beautiful to sing.

What are your plans for the future?

In the near future I’ll sing Posa at several houses, afterwards Onegin in Vienna and Wozzeck in Paris and many recitals of course. I have some new projects but nothing is fixed yet.

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