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2013.07.03 Interview Codalario: Music interests me as a reflection of life but not as a way of living in itself



Music interests me as a reflection of life but not as a way of living in itself

03 July 2013

Click here for the interview in Spanish

the part about the Lieder is already translated and published:

click on this link to read the Lieder part

The following translation of the first part of the interview is a composite work by Gudrun, Petra and Gwyn. It has been translated into English from a German version of the original Spanish text.

During the run of Wozzeck at the Teatro Real Madrid the English baritone gave „Codalario“ his only interview during his stay in Spain. Even though he said very early on that he would not have a lot to say about his life and his work, these doubts were very quickly dispelled and we met a very sensitive, well-educated and polite human being who has thought a great deal about his profession.

What has changed in the world of opera since your debut in Hamburg in 1987?

That’s a very good question. Just this morning I wrote to a friend that young singers of today have a hard time. Nowadays it is considered normal to give three performances in a week – one every other day. Certainly, life is hard and everyone has to earn money, but this frequency is not good. On the other hand, our contact as singers with productions goes from bad to worse. Many theatres have performances every day and have to put on a different piece every evening. This results in rehearsals with the orchestra only, hardly ever having contact with the production [on stage]. Here in Madrid the situation is different, I would say exceptional, because we are always rehearsing on stage. In general, the frequency of rehearsals has changed and not for the better.

You are a very theatrical interpreter – a true singing actor. What is more important for you when you consider a new part, the music or the text, the score or the theatrical dimension?

Strauss has written an opera about it and left the end open. If you want to show the colour, the soul of a person, you have to see him or her, only hearing is not enough. In the business world, for example, a video conference or Skype, with everyone on a screen, is not always satisfying. If you deal with something important you need better visual and physical contact, you have to see the body language of your counterpart. With opera it is the same. You have to consider everything: the colour of the orchestra, the meaning of the words, the physical and theatrical aspects … you have to use all these means to express yourself. I have to admit that I find myself in the fortunate position of being able to choose my repertoire myself. And I just say that dramatic roles appeal to me more. I am not talking about DRAMA in capital letters. The extreme does not interest me. The fascination for me is in the middle, in the grey area, in the area of uncertainty which is so near to real life. This is the case with Wozzeck, which is on the borderline of the extreme but always with a huge dose of reality.

Bit by bit Verdi is becoming a larger part of your repertoire. What does Verdi mean to you?

When we talk about a certain repertoire, such as in the case of Verdi, the question is not so much whether a singer is able to sing a certain part at a certain time of his career but if he has the appropriate colours of voice at that time. When you are young it is quite clear that there are parts which you are not able to sing due to lack of technique or lack of maturity etc. But this is not the most important question with Verdi, who in a certain way reinvented the future of the baritone voice in the 19th century. It is not my intention to be seen as a Verdi baritone. I believe it is Cassius in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar who, after the death of Caesar, said about Brutus: “Brutus is an honourable man and I am sure that he had good reason for what he has done because he is an honourable man …” at the end of his explanation you realize that what he said is complete nonsense. The same happens in my case with Verdi. Whenever I made my debut in one of his roles (Don Carlo, Traviata, Rigoletto,Macbeth) I had to fight against the disapproval of those who are of the opinion that singers should be restricted to a specific repertoire. It seems as if you need the permission of certain people to be allowed to sing a certain role – although the singer alone is the best judge of his ability to sing the role or not. That is the case with me and Verdi and I remember the words of Cassius: I am not a Verdi singer, but I have good reasons to sing certain roles. Verdi is an important part of my career, and is becoming even more so. But I struggle against being compartmentalized. It would be tedious always to sing the same roles. The appeal is to jump from Wozzeck to Macbeth, for instance. To summarize, in answer to your question: Verdi is very important to me, no one has written for baritones like him and therefore I am lucky to be able sing these roles, but at the same time Verdi is not everything for me.

Let‘s talk about Wozzeck. Is the role a particularly physical and emotional experience for you? Your body language is as rich as your vocal expression in this role.

It is the same for me with any role. I immerse myself in every part. And in principle I should take what you say as a compliment. But it is not always like that. Fifteen years ago a director of an opera house knew your voice very well, knew what you were able to sing, and your career developed much more within a certain theatre, in which you were able to sing a number of different roles. This is no longer the case. We singers travel around half the world with our repertoire and so we are labelled in a certain category. When you sing Pelléas and suit your voice, your expressivity and your body language to this part, people tend to pigeon-hole you and believe that you might be a good interpreter of this role but not of others. The problem is when you perform Pelléas or Billy Budd, two roles I no longer sing, people consider you to be an appropriate interpreter because of the way you use your voice to express the character of the part. But they exclude the possibility that you could use the same resources for other roles, as if you would be limited to this part alone. When you do something very well, you should be proud of it – but this can become a problem because it hinders the way you are seen in another part. Actually it should be a compliment to hear that your interpretation with regard to body language, facial and emotional expression has been successful, but sometimes this identification with the role can become counterproductive because it limits the singer’s profile. That’s why I say the ability to round out a role with acting should be taken as a compliment, but it sometime constrains a singer in his development because it is so difficult to break this pigeon-hole way of thinking. This leads people to find it odd if one and the same singer occupies himself with Pelléas, Wozzeck and Macbeth –  which is actually no contradiction at all. Concerning your question about Wozzeck, I do not totally understand  why  this part should be considered to be so strictly physical . Of course I have worked a lot on body language, not as an end in itself but as a means to enter more and more into the psyche of the character. (When walking along the street, I pay attention to the the facial expressions of  people with obsessive-compulsive disorders.  I reflect what these disorders could mean, how they could help to illustrate the character of Wozzeck and try to see if I can use them on stage as part of a specific production.) I like to look at the obsessive gestures of people in the street, think what they mean, see how they can contribute to illustrate the character of Wozzeck, try how it may fit or not fit a particular production.  (Translation was corrected by John – see comments below – thanks John)

In another interview you have said that Wagner is not an appropriate repertoire for you because if you sing Wagner you would have to stop singing Schubert.

Wagner has nothing to offer me and I will tell you why.  I would like to sing his roles and they were offered to me on various occasions but I preferred to concentrate on the Verdi parts I am now singing. Yes, the idea to sing Siegmund in a concert performance did fascinate me, but this was as fascinating as bewildering. How can you justify singing Siegmund when you have sung Rigoletto and Macbeth? The only Wagner roles which really suit my voice are Wolfram in Tannhäuser and Beckmesser in Meistersinger. Sachs is nothing for me and never will be, and nor is Amfortas. So only these two remain but they do not enthuse me that much. I am a lyrical baritone and feel myself much more at ease in Italian parts than in the dramatic Wagner parts. On the other hand the German repertoire does not only consist of Wagner. I have been offered some fascinating Strauss parts, for instance the baritone in Die Liebe der Danae which has incredible music. Also Mandryka in Arabella would be a good option for me.

You have sung two world premieres of contemporary opera. 1984 by Maazel and The Tempest by Adès. What is your relationship to contemporary music?

In fact I believe myself to be rather old-fashioned. I am not interested in marketing, the press, fame … my voice gives me work and an income. I love what I am doing, I feel I must do it, but it is only work. I do not need more, no reviews, nor photos. For a lot of my colleagues this is important. It is not unpleasant for me, but it is nothing that I want or need. Music interests me as reflection of life, not as a way of living in itself. This is hardly a media-friendly attitude, but it’s how I feel. Tonight after the performance I will go with my friends to the Casa Patas, a flamenco club here in Madrid – just like we have done after each Wozzeck performance here. Opera is only one aspect of my life. I love this work and want to do it as well as possible but it is not everything for me. So, as I say, I have rather old-fashioned habits far away from the high media profile which opera has nowadays. The premieres of contemporary music in which I was involved both took place in London  – 1984 by Lorin Maazal as well as The Tempest by Thomas Adès. Both were good experiences. But I do not see myself as a singer who is especially interested in this repertoire. Right now I am studying a piece by Adès which we will perform for the first time in July, – a very difficult piece. I am not someone who is exclusively tied to contemporary music. Time is limited and there are so many things out there which attract me. I would like to be like the great singers of the past, who sang hundreds of performances of Macbeth or Rigoletto. This is really the only way to enjoy your work and to become able to control your material. I have no interest in novelty for its own sake. Every singer needs a few years before he has anything to say concerning a certain role. My experience with Rigoletto, for instance, is still too new and too short to be of value. You need time to mature, to find your place and form an opinion about something. With singing it is the same. Often young singers are asked too, early before they have anything to say.

So you are not thinking about new roles for the next few years?

On the contrary, I am, but without any urgency. I will possibly sing Boccanegra, but not yet. If I sing him now, what would I sing in 10 years’ time? I will sing Beckmesser, in 2017, together with Bryn Terfel. This will be a wonderful experience; I am looking forward to  our collaboration. Please allow me to return to something we were talking about in connection with flamenco. You asked about the stage, the theatricality, the drama. In reality this is not the question…. When I go to the Casa Pata, to a flamenco club, then I don’t go because of the attraction of the spectacle, but because of the feeling of authenticity which the artistes convey. They are as they are.  There is no disguise. They speak of a “goblin” when they refer to the inspiration to give everything today as well as tomorrow. When they are on stage then nothing else exists, there is nothing more. This is the same with opera – to consider very evening as unique, not as a show. It is not drama, it is life. Therefore I identify myself so much with these flamenco artistes. They are people who live their work and think about it as I do, although in a different art form. We are brothers in a certain deeper sense of the word. We make music in an equal way, with the same intensity, with the same kind of life experiences.

Do you have plans to return to Spain?

I hope so.  I have a close affinity to Madrid because of personal, family reasons and hope to be able to return soon. I’d like to come every year because of my children. We already have plans. Next year I will return for a recital at the Teatro de la Zarzuela. I will tell you something strange about recitals: In London they do not want Russian repertoire, in Spain not too much German repertoire. In Vienna they do not like too much French. What madness!

Will you appear again in the opera Pelléas and Melisande, after having given your farewell performance in the role of  Pelléas some years ago at Barbican Hall in London?

Yes of course. I will sing Golaud. This is a marvellous role. The concert in London was certainly  my last actual Pelléas, although in my memory  the staged performance in Paris always feels like the last one.

The question of the role of direction in opera is discussed more and more polemically. What is your opinion of it?

I believe that we singers are generally a bit frustrated in this regard. Directors have every freedom to realize what they want – and sometimes they produce very interesting work, but there are certain limits which should be respected, because otherwise they won’t help us singers to sing better, but rather quite the reverse. How the sound reaches the audience depends on the staging. In a huge theatre like the Vienna Staatsoper it is impossible to be heard when the stage is open on every side. The same is true for the materials which will be used on the stage – some absorb the sound, others reflect it. These questions are hardly ever considered.

I remember your Don Giovanni with Bieito at the Liceu. Did you feel comfortable in this production?

Yes , I felt good. This was not one of these cases I was referring to. Bieito is a great man of the  theatre and a brilliant artist. And sometimes the development process of a staging is more interesting and fertile than the final result. Working with Bieito was doubtless a good experience.

Who were and are your ideal baritones?

There are many, and it always depends on the role. There are great artists who are always in the back of my mind, like Jose van Dam, even though he is a bass-baritone.  I admire the beauty of his voice, his personality on stage. And there are so many models from the past. I love the beauty of the timbre of Schlusnus, the mezza voce of Dieskau, the freshness of the young Prey. I also listen often to Italian baritones like Tagliabue, Amato, De Luca, Bechi . Also American Baritones: Merrill, Warren, MacNeil.  Marvellous voices such as that of Bastinani also exist. Cappuccilli is possibly my favourite in the dramatic Verdi repertoire. In any case there is never only one way to interpret a role. The point is, to consider many different interpretations and from them to develop your own perception of a role.


{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Gudrun August 12, 2013 at 7:23 pm

I looked at the Spanish text again and saw that John is right. I’m afraid it was my mistake when I first translated from Spanish into German, sorry. We should replace that sentence by John’s translation. Thank you, John.

John August 11, 2013 at 8:43 pm

Diana raises an interesting question, but I think that the translation may be misleading. No words for “compulsive” or “disorder” appear in the Spanish text. My own quick rough translation of the sentence in question would be: “I like to look at the obsessive gestures of people in the street, think what they mean, see how they can contribute to illustrate the character of Wozzeck, try how it may fit or not fit a particular production.”

Inci Birsel August 11, 2013 at 12:18 pm

Any interview with SK is a joy to read. He has an indepth insight into opera —- staging,singing,acting et al. I certainly agree with what he says about the Vienna Opera and the many wonderful voices insufficiently heard due to staging . Sometimes the orchestra plays too loudly and drowns the voices. To create an opera piece on stage is complex and SK is one of those who is always commenting on it. Perfect insight. Is anyone listening???i just hope so.

Diana August 10, 2013 at 5:26 pm

Two members of my family are Psychiatric Nurses so I and they would be fascinated as to how SK can pivk out people suffering from OCD when he is walking down the street and studying facial expressions. Enlighten me, please,

Jane July 21, 2013 at 10:03 am

Yes Kang, how right you are! It will indeed be fantastic to hear Simon’s interpretation of Golaud- as you say, he is a more complex character than Pelleas and I am sure Simon will relish getting his teeth into the role!

Kang July 21, 2013 at 4:56 am

A huge thanks to all who worked on the translation. 😀 I already tried to read the original text with the help of google translator, but coundn’t figure out the exact meaning of some sentences. I’m looking forward to Simon’s Golaud, I think I’d enjoy it as much as his Pelleas, or perhaps even more, for Golaud is a more complex figure. And I’m happy to know that he liked Bieito’s Don Giovanni. Not every one apprecites that production, but I think it was great one. Thanks again for the translation.

Jane July 20, 2013 at 9:18 pm

Thank you very much indeed for translating this for us. What an absorbing interview – yet another glimpse into the amazing mind of Simon Keenlyside. He never ceases to fascinate me as a deep thinking man whose intellectual capacity and emotional intelligence are truly remarkable.

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