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2012.06.14, Wiener Zeitung, Zweite Chance für die Stimme

Zweite Chance für die Stimme – und eine Wien-Premiere

A second chance for the voice – and an opening night in Vienna

 Wiener Zeitung, 14 June 2012

Von Christoph Irrgeher

translated by Petra Habeth

Shall we speak English? “Too easy“, says Simon Keenlyside in German. The baritone also searches for challenges apart from the stage and aspires to know everything he considers worth knowing. So during his Vienna visits he is notfixated on his workplace at the opera house. The Londoner,who started his higher education studying Zoology and as a teenager memorised the calls of European birds, likes to stroll around the Wienerwald (Vienna Woods), and most recently made a walking tour to the top of the Schneeberg (Snow Mountain). Also institutions like the Burgtheater are not unknown to him He visited a Don Carlos performance there. “Fantastic”, the 52 years old raves about the Schiller play, “much deeper than the opera.”

For this opera – more precisely: the Italian version of Verdi’s work – he is staying in Vienna at the moment. Whereas the French Version under the direction of Peter Konwitschny remains in the repertory, the Italian version opens on 16 June in a new production directed by Daniele Abbado, son of the conductor Claudio. Music Director Franz Welser-Möst conducts. And Keenlyside alongside colleagues like René Pape and Ramón Vargas, once again portrays the Marquis of Posa, who inspires the tragic title character with humanist aims.

“I am just a small wheel“
The Briton is less fascinated by his role than by the work itself.  “My part is only a small cog in the wheel. The main theme is political power and manipulation, and this topic of discussion is interesting.” Couldn’t you also call this debate pessimistic? After all King Philip II and the church manipulate their surroundings without scruples, Posa dies – and Carlos, the prince, has to abandon his love. “I would rather say: realistic”, states Keenlyside, “Life is not black and white, but grey. If you find that depressing, you’ll have a depressing life.“ In any case, he rejoices in Abbado’s choice of staging. The direction is strongly focused on the relationships between the protagonists, avoiding lavish staging. In Keenlyside’s opinion scenery and costumes have nothing to do with the direction and can distract from the dramatic heart of the work if they are too traditionally extravagant or belong to the “director concept” style of staging.

The Briton was burdened with the latter in his Vienna opening night in 2009 – the Macbeth directed by Vera Nemirova – an evening which was greeted with extravagant catcalls.  “That direction was illogical”, says Keenlyside today; at the time he tried to get through the project in cooperation with his fellow artistes.  He thinks it “brave” of the then Director Ioan Holender to dispose of this production (also lambasted by the music critics) after the first run.

Accident as a warning
So a new Vienna opening night, better luck this time. The baritone has already happily overcome greater problems and now has a second chance. Three years ago Keenlyside had an “accident with the vocal cords”: The combination of family life and a long US tour left him in hospital. “This was a warning for me, now everything is fine.” Now Keenlyside sadly sometimes has to be a professional singer at home too – and therefore a quiet Papa!


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