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2019.05 Deutsche Oper Berlin: Sechs Fragen an…Sir Simon Keenlyside

Deutsche Oper Berlin, May 2019

Sechs Fragen an…Sir Simon Keenlyside

Six Questions to…Sir Simon Keenlyside

Below is an English translation of an interview with Simon by Deutsche Oper, Berlin, in May 2019 before he sang Wolfram in Tannhäuser.

Link to the original interview in German

Six Questions to…Sir Simon Keenlyside

In Wagner’s Tannhäuser Sir Simon Keenlyside sings Wolfram, a poet who has vowed abstinence. The baritone tells us here how the great love succeeds – and why no singer can be like Wolfram.

Wolfram praises the ideal of pure love, Tannhäuser desire. Why decide between the two?

In the opera there are clear outlines. When sitting in the theatre we are reflecting about our existence – and when we leave, we live on as if nothing has happened. Practical, isn’t it?

Who actually benefits from abstinence?

You are asking the wrong man. Wolfram is not successful with Elisabeth, so he vows a life of abstinence. Just imagine if Elisabeth had accepted him! Do you think he would continue to preach abstinence? I don’t think so. Opera is like shadow theatre. Here stands one simple figure with sharply defined boundaries and opposite another clearly outlined figure. Wolfram von Eschenbach represents this simplicity to set himself apart from Tannhäuser.

Does not every great love always need great barriers?

Every love has its challenges and you need to work on each love relationship in the same way as a building needs maintenance and cleaning. When I was younger, I had relationships I should have worked on. I didn’t. So they failed.

What is more powerful? Love or art?

Are you having me on? Love, of course. When my second child was born I was so afraid that I would not have enough love for both of them inside me. But love is endless. Art is pathetic compared to love.

Your personal Wolfram moment?

Wolfram has a special function for me. I need roles in my repertoire which will not kill me. Otherwise, I will reach the limit every time I go to work. And that is not healthy. I have sung Wolfram quite often, but not for many years. I am looking forward to it. It does not exhaust me totally and it is good for my voice to sing something gentler. But this does not mean that I am not interested in him, on the contrary. Wolfram is not unbelievably interesting to sing, but it is wonderful to be part of this opera. There is nothing else for my voice in Wagner.

Hand on heart: Are you more like Wolfram? Or Tannhäuser?

Do you know anyone who is like Wolfram? I don’t! First of all, I do not know a single singer who is like Wolfram. Anyone who goes on stage risks failing. Wolfram’s personality is at odds to the joy, the passion and the risk needed to dare this impossible thing which we call singing. But I also really would not want to be like Tannhäuser. He is like a man who climbs a huge mountain without a safety rope. I do not understand him either; I do not even understand how it is possible to sing this part. Singing Tannhäuser is like climbing Everest!


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