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2016.11.15 El Periodico: A Passion for Song

EL PERIODICO  15.11.2016

A Passion for Song

Simon Keenlyside: “Art is much easier than life.”

The versatile British baritone offers a recital of Russian, French and Austrian songs at the Liceu this Friday

by Marta Cervera

 “El arte es mucho más fácil que la vida”

The versatile British baritone Simon Keenlyside returns to the Liceu, together with pianist Malcolm Martineau,  to show his passion for song – with a varied programme that includes, among others, works by Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky, Poulenc, Strauss and Schubert.

How do you select the repertoire? Sometimes I choose programmes based on a topic, as if the recital were a kind of calm conversation about that very theme. But in this case it is a little journey which combines Russian, French and Austrian repertoire. Some pieces are more operatic and longer, ideal for a theatre with the acoustics of the Liceu. Others are like little miniatures. There is no great theme, but all songs offer aspects of the human condition.

Opera or lied? They are different. The physicality of the opera attracts me, especially when the works denounce the lack of liberty and equality. In recital songs, the topics are usually quite different. They talk about the individual and how they manage their lives. The best thing about recitals is that they allow me to go home more often, but I dedicate the major part of the season to opera. Finding the balance between the two is difficult.

 With which roles do you feel most comfortable at present? I always want to discover new characters. I love Verdi, adore his music. He reinvented the baritone. But I don’t agree with this modern way of singing Verdi and Wagner, only loud, loud and louder. (forte, forte and fortissimo) This is not how it was sung 50 years ago nor is it in the score. To continue singing my Verdian roles I need to rely on a conductor (music director) who understands that: my voice is not made to defeat a  whole orchestra. Luckily, some conductors, like maestro Riccardo Muti,  feel the same passion for Verdi as me and understand me.

 Apart from Verdi you have left your mark with your interpretation of Papageno. I think that “The Magic Flute” is the last evidence of the fruitful dialogue between Mozart and Da Ponte about liberty and equality. Papageno and Tamino aim for the greatest liberty that exists: that a person can be who they want to be, provided they don’t hurt anybody. Often “The Magic Flute” is considered an opera for children. It is not. Papageno means making a wonderful journey, but cannot be compared with singing Don Carlo or Rigoletto. They are different pleasures.

 To what extent is the dedication to music like a religion? Not at all. My father was a violinist and I grew up in a house surrounded by melodies. For me, music is a quest. It gives me comfort and consolation. It fascinates me and at the same time allows me to express my own joys and frustrations. Finally, learning so many masterpieces by heart has allowed me to study great truths in depth.

 After such a long career, what does it mean to you to go on stage today? The chance not to be myself. It is liberating. Art is much easier than life! Interpreting a marvellously designed role is an exciting adventure. But on stage I’m not Simon but someone else, because part of the character has been borrowed, stolen, learned, copied or invented. Some roles can magnify a part of me or reduce it.

 How will ‘Brexit’ affect you? ‘Brexit’ is a disgrace for me and for all the people I know. So much so that I decided to apply for Irish nationality to remain European. My grandfather was born in Dublin, the capital of Ireland, and thanks to that I can remain European. To be honest, I’m not a fan of patriotism, but a great lover of Western democracy and its values. Europe has given me everything. Europe is my work and my home. Both my wife’s and my children’s nationality is Spanish. I lament the fact that ‘Brexit’ will wreck the possibilities of the English young generation.

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