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2008.02.01 Dresden Opera magazine: Fauré’s Requiem

Interview in the February edition of the Dresden Opera magazine, prior to Simon’s appearance in Fauré’s Requiem at Dresden Semperoper

Translated by Ursula Tureck


Simon Keenlyside was born in London and studied in Cambridge (zoology) and Manchester (singing); highlights of his career so far were among others Count Almaviva under Muti in Milan and Vienna, Don Giovanni under Abbado in Ferrara or Pelléas under Rattle at the Salzburg Easter Festival 2006; he is also in demand all over the world as a lieder singer and sang among other things in Trisha Brown’s choreographed “Winterreise”; 2006 he was awarded the ECHO Klassik as “Singer of the year”.

Lyrical remembrance

Baritone Simon Keenlyside sings in the Staatskapelle’s Requiem-concerts.

As Count Almaviva, Posa or Wolfram he enthuses the international operatic audience. However, it was only late that he decided in favour of a career as a singer: Baritone Simon Keenlyside completed a course of studies in zoology before he headed for a training to become an opera singer. In this year’s Requiem concerts of the Staatskapelle at the Dresden anniversary the Briton will sing the baritone part in Gabriel Fauré’s lyrical requiem. Tobias Niederschlag talked to him about his relation to Dresden and working with Sir Colin Davis.

Mr Keenlyside, in the ZDF-Adventkonzert 2006 you made music for the first time with Staatskapelle at Frauenkirche. Are you looking forward to your current return to Dresden?

SK: Yes, very much. I was in Dresden for the first time in 1979, experiencing a performance of Benjamin Britten’s “War Requiem” then, which was very moving. The city was still very much destroyed then and amidst the many remains, the performance made a strong impression on me. However, I didn’t return to Dresden after this until December 2006. I did not know what to expect and was very surprised how wonderful and new everything is here. Then I also visited the Green Vault but sadly did not have enough time for a visit of Semperoper.

You will sing now in the Staatskapelle’s traditional Requiem-concert on the anniversary of the destruction. With what feelings – maybe also as a Briton – are you awaiting the concerts?

SK: I am very grateful to belong to a generation that was allowed to grow up in peace and stability. This is a present one should not forget. And if I succeed in having an – albeit minimal – share in reminding of these things with my singing, then I am very proud of it.

On the concert’s programme is scheduled among others Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem. How is your relation to this work?

SK: A very long one: As a choir boy in St. John’s College Choir in Cambridge where I spent the first half of my life, I frequently sang this piece. So I knew it from my childhood on. It is a piece that approaches the idea of a requiem in a very lyrical way and apart from Maurice Duruflé’s Requiem there actually is nothing comparable to it. I am always very glad to sing this baritone part.

Are you a devout person?

SK: In this context this is a very interesting question. I would say: No, certainly not in a confessional meaning. But when I sing a work like “St Matthew Passion” and I realise how it moves people who are very devout, then it fills me with great satisfaction and joy. I understand myself to be a means of helping others to feel deep emotions.

What unites you with Sir Colin Davis, the honorary conductor of Staatskapelle?

SK: We have already worked together several times, for example in the da-Ponte-operas at the London Covent Garden, I also sang Papageno under his conducting. I regard Sir Colin as a musician who stands out above all in one thing: he cares first and foremost about music, not about himself. Naturally he has everything under control, like every great conductor but at the same time he shows such a deep humanity which is important to bring out human truths of the music.

In these concerts you stand on the Semperoper’s stage for the first time. May we hope live to see you also in an opera part in Dresden in the future?

SK: I would be very pleased about it! I know that it is a wonderful opera house. You’ll laugh but I am, heart and soul, an opera singer. When I come into an opera house I feel at home at once, in this magnificent opulence, in this brilliance. I take a look behind the stage at once; I’m interested how the people work there. I feel a part of the musical “theatrical family”.

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