Should you read this collection of interviews: Living Opera, by Joshua Jampol

Jampol talked with Pierre Boulez, Robert Carsen, Patrice Chéreau, William Christie, James Conlon, Natalie Dessay, Joyce DiDonato, Plácido Domingo, Renée Fleming, Ferruccio Furlanetto, Kasper Holten, Simon Keenlyside, Waltraud Meier, Heidi Grant Murphy, Kent Nagano, Seiji Ozawa, Samuel Ramey, Esa-Pekka Salonen, José Van Dam, Rolando Villazón.

Among the highlights:

Boulez explaining why Schoenberg was a trifle deluded when he claimed that with the twelve-tone, he fixed the future of music. His explanation of moments in music that are absolutely free and those that are fully determined. Paris doesn’t have a single hall with superb acoustics. The staging of opera still needs to undergo the revolution that the spoken theatre had (and profited from). He tried writing an opera with Jean Genet and Heiner Muller, but “both died in the process.”  Among the works that influenced him hugely, The Rite of Spring.

Robert Carsen on why he placed Der Rosenkavalier (Salzburg 2004, Adrianne Pieczonka, Angelika Kirchschlager) in the pre-WW1, end-of-the Habsburgs era when Austria was arming itself, and why it didn’t go dowd too well  with the locals; why he has greatest respect for the opera singers (“awful lot of juggling” yet “all the technical sides have to be invisible”).

William Christie interview is a blast. Said in this frank chat: most large opera houses of solid international repute don’t know how to deal with the pre-Gluck music (this includes programming, staging, casting); reasons he hates the label “authentic”; the compromises a conductor has to make with the general managers of opera houses who may lobby for this or that opera star to be cast due to their name recognition.

Joyce DiDonato sharing one of the best compliments to her singing: the pregnant Anna Netrebko as Giulietta to her Romeo, saying “Don’t look at my stomach while you sing, you will laugh at how much the baby is kicking.” (In DiDonato version of the Russian accent, natch.)

How incredibly practical and full of useful advice for the emerging singers Renée Fleming was in this interview.

Ferruccio Furlanetto on why it was important to sometimes know how to say No to Karajan’s enthusiasm for you as a singer.

Kasper Bech Holten, the now-outgoing head of the Copenhagen Opera, on how opera and film could collaborate more. This is also the only interview where the question of singing fees paid in Europe was touched on. “Some European houses say their maximum is fifteen thousand euros per night,” says Jampol in a question. “We’re lower than that…” Holten.

The awesomeness of Simon Keenlyside. The picture he provided is the one of him lying in bed holding a score, with his newborn baby son next to him (feminist points through the roof). He comes across as incredibly humble and (at the same time) hugely talented. Open-minded, experimental, serious with tons of humour, quick to acknowledge his shortcomings, as only a perfectionist is. Lots of good stories on how he tried something for the first time on stage, and it turned out it didn’t work. Repeats in many varieties the phrase “I had no idea what I was doing”. But how he does.

The awesomeness of José Van Dam. He’s even more into talking about his own fallibility and the need to stay humbled than Keenlyside. His answer to the question that Jampol asks a number of his interviewees — “After a performance, and the restaurant with friends, it’s 2am, when you’re all alone in a hotel room in a foreign city. How do you feel?” — is very sincere, starts somber and ends in hilarity.

Kent Nagano coming across as boring.

Heidi Grant Murphy talking too much about her children, but I don’t blame her: she has four pieces and, by the sound of it, does most of the childcare herself, in spite a living, breathing husband.

Samuel Ramey well into his 60s, still singing (double standard, anyone?) though thinking of gradually retiring, has a young family that follows him on his travels and thus solves for him the empty hotel room in a foreign country problem [see above].

Waltraud Meier proving that Wagnerian singers too are capable of pranks. In one Bayreuth performance of Tristan und Isolde she snuck in ‘Mein Herr Marquis’ from Der Fledermaus in the section that begins with ‘Mein Herr und Ohm…’ In the same opera on another occasion, Siegfried Jerusalem (Tristan) lost himself in the long phrases of text and started singing “about spaghetti and I don’t know what else”. [No critic noticed. Hee.] At the end of the interview, and very guardedly phrased, why befriending or dating a fan never worked out for her.

Should you read this collection of interviews VERDICT:

Yes. There are few women in it, no queer content, not enough open venting and a couple of odd choices, but generally he gets substantial stuff out of his interviewees and the conversations are better researched, edited and more wide-ranging than the average deadline-rushed and news-oriented print interview.

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