sat 13/07/2024

Q&A Special: Bass Sir John Tomlinson, Part 2 | reviews, news & interviews

Q&A Special: Bass Sir John Tomlinson, Part 2

Q&A Special: Bass Sir John Tomlinson, Part 2

The Wagnerian legend on beards, Hungarian, and why so many Englishmen can't sing in English

Wotan, without the beard: Wagnerian legend Sir John

A legend on the operatic stage, Sir John Tomlinson (CBE) has sung with all the major British opera companies, made countless recordings, and for sixteen years was a fixture at Bayreuth, where he performed leading roles in each of Wagner's epic works. Throughout his career he has worked regularly with English National Opera and with The Royal Opera, Covent Garden, where in 2008 he created the title role in Harrison Birtwistle's The Minotaur.

At his home in Sussex, Sir John talks to theartsdesk - in booming Lancashire tones - about getting into Wagner, the importance of a good beard, and why some English singers can’t sing in English.

Yesterday on theartsdesk

SIR JOHN TOMLINSON: Things are hotting up now. I’ve had a good break over the summer… but now I’ve got quite a lot to do. There’s a pile of scores there [other end of the table, maybe six or seven] for all the things that are in the pipeline.

ASH SMYTH: How long is that pipeline?

Well, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, because obviously when there are things for miscellaneous concerts you have a huge pile of copies but you’re only using one or two arias. But that’s for about the next six months or so.

So, what’s coming up?

Well, there’s a series of concert performances of Bluebeard’s Castle – 10, I think – with the Philharmonia. And then it’s Meistersinger at Covent Garden. Pogner. Through the Nineties I always did Hans Sachs, including the new production in 1992, and the CD recording of it on the Covent Garden label (from a broadcast in 1997). But now I’m doing Pogner, the old character. The page turns – and that’s fine. Time for a younger guy to do it!

Then it’s straight on to Rosenkavalier at the Coliseum, which I’ve done a lot there, over the years. It’s a great part, Baron Ochs: a fun part. He’s a lovable rogue. Well, hopefully lovable; but he’s certainly a rogue. He should be a very attractive character, but completely beyond the pale. Totally immoral. Hedonistic.

Is there a trend here, what with Leporello and Basilio?

Ha! Yeah. Though Sarastro should act as a sort of counterbalance.

After that I’m doing some recitals in March. I’ve put together this evening of Michelangelo sonnets, set to music: seven by Britten, 11 by Shostakovich, three by Wolf. And I do it with a table and a smock, sort of like Michelangelo looking through his poems, singing each one. I’ve done it twice before – at the Semperoper Dresden and St John’s, Smith Square – and I’m doing another five now. David Owen Norris accompanies me. I like to do some Lieder and song, some of the time. Increasingly, actually. It's wonderful therapy for the voice. And it’s more intimate. You’re your own master, you’re not reliant on lights and scenery and that sort of thing: it’s just you and the audience. A rather different feel. They’re fairly small-scale performances, at Nottingham, Southampton and Bristol universities, and then one here in Lewes for the local music society, of which I’m president – the Nicholas Young Society, he was a baroque musician, a local guy – and also Steyning, another music society just along the road. It’s a bit of a process of discovery.

A new direction?

At this stage in my career – I’m 65 next week – things are changing a little bit. For 15 years I was flying round the world doing certain roles, the massive ones: Wotan, Hagen, Boris Godunov, Baron Ochs… Gurnemanz. Instead of doing Wotan I’m doing Hagen. Instead of doing Boris Godunov I’m doing Pimen the monk. Instead of King Philip I’m doing the Grand Inquisitor. Y'know, I’m moving away from the colossal parts: instead of Hans Sachs I’m doing Pogner. They’re still great parts; but they’re parts with half an hour of singing, or three-quarters of an hour, rather than two or three hours. And instead of being on stage for four hours I’m on stage for one. But with that happening in my career it involves quite a lot of learning.

Whenever I woke up on the morning of a Walküre, or a Meistersinger, I always knew. I felt different. There was an element of physical fear

With that handful of familiar roles, was there ever any risk of getting bored?

No, I never got bored with those parts, because they’re just magnificent parts. Endlessly challenging, if not scary! Whenever I woke up on the morning of a Walküre, or a Meistersinger, I always knew. I felt different. There was an element of physical fear. It was different even from other big roles. With those there’s an element of fear. Can you physically get through it? Can you vocally and physically survive? Because they’re long evenings, and you end on an absolute high. Hans Sachs has been on stage for four hours, and then you’ve gotta sing these two huge narrations, and if you’ve done a proper performance, an intense performance from the start, it’s incredibly demanding.

So no, there’s never any boredom. But I find now that, to keep the voice in good shape, I have to work harder. I have to be more professional, more disciplined about singing every day, and quite a bit every day, to keep the muscles tuned up. And if I don’t they degenerate quicker than they seemed to 40 years ago. As a task-master, the singing becomes harder and harder. It’s like anything else. I’m sure if you asked a 35-year-old footballer he’d probably say exactly the same as a 65-year-old opera singer. He’d say, y’know, it’s great, he still loves it, but he has to train harder now, he’s more susceptible to injury, and all that.

Did you get into this type of role on purpose? You start fairly late, singing things like Wagner, don’t you? You don’t get cast at 25. 

No, you don’t. You know, it’s very interesting, because a lot of things in your life just happen. Whether they happen because you want them to happen or you will them to happen, I’m not quite sure. It’s like at this stage: I haven’t willed it to happen that I’m singing Pogner instead of Sachs. It’s just happening. I suppose people in the business sense that, y’know, he’s still singing very well, his voice is fine; but he’s 65, not 45. So, if we’re planning a Ring cycle over the next 10 years, we can’t have him as Wotan because he’ll be 75 by the time we finish, and that really is pushing it a bit!

But no, I never thought I’d do these colossal parts. I mean, until the age of 21 I was training to be an engineer, I did an engineering degree, but I was singing the whole time, and then I thought I’d give singing a go. So I went to college [Royal Manchester College of Music] and studied it seriously and it slowly took off: chorus at Glyndebourne, other small parts, understudies, then English National Opera, in the Seventies doing about 40 parts, understudies, some bigger parts. And then, from the age of about 34, going freelance and singing all over the place, a lot at Covent Garden.

When I set off I had a big voice, a very deep voice, strong, but very restricted in all sorts of ways. So I had a heck of a lot to learn in those first years – it takes a bass longer to develop – and so I never expected I would end up singing a part like Wotan, which is a bass-baritone part, at the top end of the bass range. It’s very impressive when sung by a lower voice. It’s a different tone. You bring lots of power to it, lots of vocal colour and drama to it. So it’s great if you can do it, but of course there are limits as to how high you can go. In a way you are pushing it to the limit, in order to be spectacular, but you can’t just go on singing higher and higher until you’re singing "Nessun Dorma"!

Wotan has a great range: it goes up to F# and down to bottom F, which is actually as low as Sarastro, which is one of the lowest parts in the bass repertoire. But it can also be sung by baritones, can Wotan, although the baritones then sometimes don’t have the depth and the confidence, so they often have to push the voice to get enough noise out. I’ve never had to make more noise than I was capable of making. Even as Wotan I’ve had people telling me to quiet down, which is a good sign that you’re not blowing a gasket.

The problem for a lot of young basses is that they look like teenagers, and you spend all your time sticking on beards

Was that a purposeful development, into the baritone range?

Not really. I expected to be doing the standard bass repertoire and when I was 30 I was very young and lithe-looking, so I was cast not as Sarastro but as Figaro, Leporello, and the rather more lively characters. And then my acting developed. I love acting, and I became, y’know, hopefully, a good operatic actor – and so when Daniel Barenboim was looking for a new Wotan in about 1986 he heard about me. I said, “But I’m a bass!” and he said, “Come and sing it to me,” so I did, and it went from there.

I’ve ended up doing The Flying Dutchman as well, the Damnation de Faust, Pelléas et Mélisande – these bass-baritone parts – for about 20 years. And now I’m coming back, in a way, to the repertoire I did when I was younger. There’s a kind of arc over the whole thing. In fact Pogner, which I’m doing at Covent Garden in a few months’ time, I last did for English National Opera on tour, in 1980. Of course, now I look the part! The problem for a lot of young basses is that they look like teenagers, and you spend all your time sticking on beards and thick make-up and everything, to try and make yourself look over 40.

You didn’t have the beard at 30, then?

Oh yes, I first grew a beard when I was about 25 or something. It wasn’t quite the Sixties, anymore, but it was a time when a lot of chaps had beards. But it was a bit of a scrubby affair. I remember all the days in the dressing-room, though, it used to be rather comical because your head was literally full of glue. You stuck a wig on, big eyebrows, as well as moustaches and beards… I hated that glue. It’s better now: the wigs and beards are made on finer gauze and so are a bit more comfortable; but then it was heavy-duty stuff. It is rather funny how you spend your youth as a bass doing those things.

Is physique a problem as well, when you’re young? Skinny guys just can’t play Wotan. Can you train, or does the body just develop over time?

Yes, the problem is particularly the diaphragm and the abdominals. In my case, really, as soon as I started singing these parts seriously, my chest and diaphragm and abdominal muscles just started expanding – and I’ve never looked back. I might look as if I’m quite big here [punches gut through gap in black leather waistcoat], but there’s no fat, that’s just a heck of a lot of muscle. I mean, I weigh 18st, but I don’t look like it. I’m pretty solid. But I think that happens to most singers of the heavy repertoire. If you’re a good singer the work is done in the diaphragm and the abdominals, that’s where the power comes from. Obviously there’s a lot of skill in the vocal cords, and you can’t feel the muscles in your vocal cords, which is one problem when you’re learning to sing. It’s not like a violinist, where you can actually point to it.

Is it surprising that a lot of basses aren’t such big guys?

I don’t know. I mean, perhaps if you’re very tall, there’s a likelihood that your vocal cords are longer, which means you’re gonna have a lower voice. The longer and thicker the cords, the lower the voice; the shorter and finer, the higher the voice. So with a short person, there’s more of a chance that you’re going to be a tenor. Certainly it happens racially, doesn’t it? The sound of oriental voices is associated with physical characteristics. If you take a person from the steppes of Russia, he’ll have a particular vocal quality; if you take a black guy from the Caribbean he’ll have certain vocal quality. That’s pretty vague, but it is wrapped up, to some extent, with your physique.

If you’re a good opera singer, you’re an international opera singer. In the whole of Britain tonight you might have two-and-a-half operatic performances. In Germany there will be 60 or 70

Do you still travel a lot?

I am slowing down a bit, not doing quite as much. But I still am travelling around a lot. Last season I was in Frankfurt for two months, doing Murder in the Cathedral [Assassinio nella cattedrale by Pizzetti, from the play by T S Eliot]; at La Scala for two months doing Walküre; Hamburg, two months doing Götterdämmerung. So that’s six months abroad, last winter. This winter it’ll be quite a lot less. The Bluebeard concerts, in Spain, France, Austria, Germany, Portugal and here. Then at home for Meistersinger and Rosenkavalier. And then finally to Amsterdam for a month or so to do Don Carlos, and Barcelona for Arkel in Pelléas.

It’s part of our business: if you’re a good opera singer, you’re an international opera singer. The market place is international. If you restrict yourself to one country that’s a very unnatural thing to do, and it’s a very unhealthy thing to do, from a point of view of your artistic standard. You need always to be working with good people, wherever in the world they are. In this country, on any night – let’s say it’s a Tuesday – there’s probably a performance at Covent Garden; if you’re lucky there’s one at ENO; is Glyndebourne still on? I don’t think it is; and the Welsh may have one… so in the whole of Britain you might have two-and-a-half operatic performance. In Germany tonight – though they are also suffering from the usual financial problems, and things are not quite as prolific as they were 20 years ago – still, there will be 60 or 70.

Did you study languages alongside your engineering, or as part of your musical training?

Well, I learned French and Latin at school, of course, and a bit of Spanish; but I was, then, specialising in the sciences, because I thought I was going to be an engineer. So I neglected languages, and it was only through the singing that I came face-to-face with languages again. And so then, of course, you have to sing beautiful Italian and German, and Russian and French… and English, of course.

Not everyone does.

A lot of English singers sing bad English and a lot of French singers sing bad French. It’s a lot to do with vocal technique: one of the points of having good vocal technique is you can sing all the vowel sounds really well, on all the notes in the whole range, so whatever language you’re singing in you can sing that language beautifully. And so if you have an English singer with a bad technique, they’re going to sing bad English. They may also be getting other things wrong about the language.

If you have an English singer with a bad technique, they’re going to sing bad English

It’s quite important, that. I feel quite strongly about the English language. The English language as a singing language is absolutely fine. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s a legato language, it’s got no more diphthongs or consonants getting in the way of a line than any other language. In many ways it’s more fluent, in many ways it’s a more beautiful language. The big problem with it is at the page: it doesn’t look anything like it sounds, so it’s very confusing for a foreigner. And it’s confusing for an English person. You see the word “I” (which is actually an “ih”) and it’s really an “ah” vowel with a slight diphthong at the very end. “Aaaaaaahhhh-i.” You actually have to analyse it, and don’t do a Frank Sinatra sort of “Aahh-iiiiiii” – great singer though he was, y’know, in that field.

So, languages became very important to me. The first thing, of course, is you have to understand the words you’re singing; but crucial is pronunciation and the use of the language: how to deliver the language well, as a professional singer. And then the more of the language you understand, the better it’s going to be. But crucial is pronunciation. Thinking, as you’re singing, before you sing it, what you’re singing about. The thought comes, you sing the line, and it means something.

Do you approach language through the scores, or as a separate discipline?

When I was a college – this was in the late Sixties – it was a great course in Manchester, great singing teaching, great work musically and dramatically, and the movement and dance and all that was fantastic. Languages not quite so strong, I have to say. But it’s something you work on for the whole of your career. I mean, Bluebeard’s Castle is in Hungarian. I do two pieces in Hungarian, both by Bartók, and whenever I do them I go and work with a Hungarian coach in London, whom I’ve worked with for 20 years. I went to see him last week, to brush up Bluebeard again. And of course Hungarian is an extremely remote language, with hardly any recognisable vocabulary: “kastély” is “castle”, “gyémánt” is “diamond”... but that’s about it!

Hungarian is an extremely remote language. There's just nothing to hang on to

It doesn’t have any common Romance ancestry?

No, only with Finnish. They came over with Attila the Hun, or something. So, there are seven doors in Bluebeard’s castle and the fourth, for instance is “negyedik”, the fifth, “ötödik”. “Harmadik” is “third”. In all other European languages it’s “tres” or “trios” or “drei”; so it’s completely unrelated. The number “one” is “első”. There’s just nothing to hang on to – and that’s true of the whole language! But I’ve been singing Bluebeard now for 20 years or something, so every time I do it, hopefully, I get more and more intimate with the language.

When you go to the language coach do you sing, or do you take the music out of the equation?

Well, with this man, Gabor, I speak it. I don’t sing it. I sort of think, well, if I can speak it that’s usually, if anything, harder than singing it. Although, when one sings it there can be certain difficulties that happen, but generally… So if I can actually speak it to him and he’s happy, then that’s all right.

Of course, he’s never happy with it. I say, “ötödik,” and he says, “No, no, no, no: ‘ötödik’… ‘ötödik’.” So I say, “ötödik”, and he says, “No!” This is how it goes. But I think English singers are very good on languages. Because, traditionally, if you’re an English opera singer, you’re always singing in a foreign language. Unless it’s Benjamin Britten, or Purcell, or Harrison Birtwistle: a few exceptions. And that’s not true of Russian singers, or German or Italian. Y’know, a lot of them spend most of their time singing in their own language. So if you ask an Italian to sing German it’s often a catastrophe. The Germans are better, but if you ask a German to sing Russian it may be very difficult. And if you ask any of them to sing English… But we’ve always been up against it, from that point of view.

Ironic, given the infamous English hamfistedness when it comes to foreign tongues.

Well, yes. And why were more operas not written in English? Opera for hundreds of years was written in Italian, even by Handel when he was living in London. It had to be in Italian. The Russians have a strong national school, the Germans have a great tradition. But we just didn’t have an opera tradition, outside of Italian and German operas, until as late as Britten.

Since you’ve worked a lot at ENO, what are your views on singing in English, and on surtitles?

When I first sang at the Coliseum, in the Seventies, the singers on stage had wonderful vocal projection. You could hear 80 per cent of the text. With some singers, 100 per cent. And there was a great tradition of hitting the back of the stalls like a machine-gun, particularly amongst the men. Denis Dowling, Harry Blackburn, Eric Shilling – there was a whole generation of them who all had this incredible facility. Like the old actors of the 30 years ago. When you go to straight theatre now, often there are people struggling vocally. There’s a problem somewhere.

And then some old servant comes on, somewhere in the last act, and says “AH, MY LORD, I SEE WE ARE…” and the theatre’s just suddenly full of sound, and you think, “That’s how it’s done!” It’s a chicken-and-egg situation. You bring in surtitles, and people want them. They pay their money for the ticket and they think it’s part of the deal. But if a singer knows there are surtitles, and everybody in the theatre knows there are surtitles, then it’s subconsciously accepted that you don’t need to hear the words.

Surtitles are justifiable when singing in a foreign language. But when singing in English, I am against them

If you’re in the cheap seats you’re actually closer to the surtitles than you are to the singers. It’s quite hard to concentrate on the show.

I think surtitles are justified in a foreign language. But basically, at the Coliseum, when singing in English, I am against them. That’s my position. There’s nothing you can do about it now: they’re there and you can’t take them away. But this question of singers’ projection, there’s a tendency for everybody to think, well, the words are there so diction’s not that important. It’s also gone along with a sort of Classic fm, populistic classical trend that while we’re doing the ironing we just want to switch the radio on and have some cello concerto slow movement. Or some soprano singing glorious, endless legato lines with no words – because it just sounds gorgeous.

Like “Nessun dorma”, the most famous opera aria in the world: nobody knows what it means. Nobody’s going to sleep tonight; but nobody cares what that means in the drama, it’s just a great song. Surtitles, strangely, go along with this fashion of beautiful singing with no meaning, which has been around for the last 20 years. It’s not just the radio stations, of course: it’s a whole popular classics movement. “We don’t want to be interrupted by drama, or emotion, or meaning; we just want all these classical melodies.” The whole thing is working together. All I can say is, 30 years ago, this was not a problem.

Hasn’t there always been a tendency with opera that people listen out for the classic bits?

I think there are two schools, and always have been. There’s the grand operatic school, where that applies, and there’s the theatrical school – the music-theatre school – which the Coliseum always used to be associated with, where that’s not the case. This division was very clear until about 20 years ago. A lot’s changed in the last few years. I don’t know if it’s the internet, popular classics, "The Three Tenors", CDs... With the internet now nobody’s making recordings, there’s a lot of financial competition, so we’ve gone more down the popular classics route to try and sell CDs.

Opera, in the Eighties, was regarded as the avant-garde of theatre

Up to 1990, I would say, the pendulum was always swinging the other way, towards the theatrical side in opera. You were getting great productions, great actors on stage as well as great singers, people would project. Opera, in the Eighties, was regarded as the avant-garde of theatre, actually. The straight theatre was lagging behind. And opera was incredibly trendy and fashionable in that sense, as well as being very high quality.

And the tendency was away from grand opera, with the set-pieces, traditional costumes, wait 'til the fat lady sings, all that sort of stuff. The exclusive nature of the great opera houses, the high ticket prices, beautiful singing and no acting at all, glorious productions, but no innovation... I’m exaggerating, but in the Eighties, with the Brechtian influences coming over from Eastern Europe, there were really strong productions, to do with reality, to do with real life, concrete and steel, almost like a kitchen sink thing, as had happened in straight theatre 20 years earlier.

Things started changing with "The Three Tenors" in 1990, and with all the technological things I’ve discussed. In the early Nineties there was a burst of recordings made, everything had to be on CD: for about for years I recorded all sorts of stuff. But it’s all gone now more and more populist: more and more you have to fill the house, you have to make the money. Back in the Eighties it was more a question of principle: y’know, we’re doing this piece because we believe in it, whether or not people come – and usually people came, because it had this great commitment about it. But now the first question is: "Will it sell?"

Certainly at ENO there are obvious “banker” productions in the calendar. The Mikado, Figaro, Madame Butterfly

Yes, and you also get directors who have never directed an opera before but who are big names. This is becoming a very popular thing, to draw the crowds. They’ve had Sam Mendes, Terry Gilliam for Faust. These things are publicity – I’m perhaps a bit cynical, he’s obviously a very talented guy – but they’re doing it on a routine basis because everyone wants to come and see what Terry Gilliam will do on the opera stage. There’s an eye very much to marketing. Which is fair enough: I’m just saying, things have changed. The problem with the popular-classics approach is that when I play Wotan, for example, I’ve often wondered how much the audience understands. Sometimes people want to simplify things. I’m being a bit ungenerous here, but I sometimes wonder if people don’t see the depths of it.

Serious music is a challenge to the listener

How much can you reasonably expect an audience to comprehend? Let’s say I’m seeing Meistersinger for the first time, and it’s in German… I mean, you’ve dedicated years of your life to these operas.

I think we bend over backwards too much to make it unnecessary for people to think. I think we live in an age when everything has to be accessible. You’re not saying quite that, and of course people aren’t necessarily going to understand all of it. But still people might see a performance, they might see me do it, then they might see another performance two years later, they might get the CD out, and actually begin to understand it, begin to really love the piece. Y’know, serious music is a challenge to the listener. There’s as much work in the listening as there is in the performance. But it’s very wonderful music: if you put in the effort you reap tremendous rewards.

Isn’t there a problem in opera that there are so many more artistic factors for the audience to take into consideration? The music, the libretto, the choreography, even the lighting…

Yeah, it’s too complex in a way. Not just for the audience, sometimes. I saw a production of Meistersinger recently where the relationship between Hans Sachs and Eva, the young woman he loves, was not there at all. You didn’t feel it. The truth is Hans would love nothing more than to settle down with her for the next 20 years and have 10 children; but you didn’t sense that there was any mutual, emotional attraction between the two. So, even directors miss out on things.

It wasn’t just bad opera-acting?

No, I think the people involved actually missed it. Another great thing about Wagner is that nothing is explicit in the text. It’s not like Verdi, where Sachs would have an aria saying, “Oh, what a beautiful young woman Eva is, and how I would love to settle down and have 10 children!” because that’s never said. It’s there in the subtext all the time, and often in the music. It’s quite subtle, but it’s definitely there, definitely genuine, because the whole story is sailing on that bed of the emotion between him and her. Perhaps people want it spelled out a bit more; but the whole point is that it isn’t.

It's a generational thing. When I turn Radio 3 on, I want to hear some music

That’s not just specific to opera, though. Aren’t all art-forms working around the assumption that the audience need things spelled out?

Yes, and I struggle with that. It’s a generational thing. When I turn Radio 3 on, I want to hear some music. And if I hear that “Mozart was at that time having problems with his health, and he was under new employment with the emperor of Vienna, and he was travelling in his carriage, and perhaps after lunch he thought, ‘Why don’t I do this because I need some extra money?...'" I just get so fed up of all that. You want to hear a symphony!

You know one of Classic fm’s slogans is ‘Now with more music’?

Exactly. What were they doing before?! Whether he’s short of money or in ill-health is irrelevant, actually to Mozart’s music. He immersed himself in those compositions, as an artist, a credible composer: he created that stuff, and whether he was penniless, whether he was drunk, whether he was suffering from migraine… if he was feeling sad he didn’t write sad music. If he was feeling sad he probably wrote even more joyful music! You can’t just say he’s just lost his job and he’s writing this slow movement so it’s terribly sad. It’s just not true, and it’s very simplistic.

And over-riding the audience’s right to hear what they hear? “This is Barber’s Adagio: feel sad!”

Exactly. Yes. Perhaps people are insecure and need to be told what to feel. But I think that’s just needless. There’s nothing that mysterious about classical music, for God’s sake. I mean, you’ve got to get into it by listening to it, you’ve got to apply yourself to it, you’ve got to sit down and just hear it. But that’s all there is to it. It’s expressive, and when you hear it you feel certain things in response, regardless of what people are telling you to feel. That insecurity is a pity.

In what I do, correct has nothing to do with it. It's about communicating with people

Is there a fear of getting one’s interpretation wrong, perhaps?

Well, it’s supposed to be very individual. “Correct” is a completely inappropriate term in creative art, I feel. It’s a non-word. In what I do, correct has nothing to do with it. One is true to the notes on the page, one is accurate, but the rest is being in the piece, and being expressive, giving a performance, communicating with people. If you think of correctness – [sings, from Leporello’s “list” aria:] “Madamina, il catalogo è questo” – it gives a feeling of rigidity, which is completely what Mozart would not have wanted.

Surely, in the professional context, accuracy is the bare minimum?

Yeah, that’s only the beginning, the bedrock. And “Madamina” done “correctly” would be “” – but you have to say that word “Madamina”. So you’re probably not singing exactly, precisely, the right notes, probably the “na” is coming a hundredth of a crotchet earlier. But, of course, Mozart writing notes on the page, he’s not going to stop and write a hundredth-best rest. I think people lack faith in the artist to interpret those notes. What Mozart does, the artist does the other way around: Mozart puts it down on the page, in code; the artist makes it mean something. Obviously there can be such a thing as an irresponsible artist. If it’s, I dunno, a pop-singer going “Maadammiiinaaah!” then it’s completely wrong. But a good-quality artist will do, hopefully, what Mozart would have applauded.

And a good-quality audience will reach their own conclusions?

You know, the Mozart Requiem, whenever I hear it, people say it’s so dramatic and frightening: about death, and it’s so operatic. I feel the Mozart Requiem is probably about the most beautiful piece of music ever written. To me, over and above everything else, it is sheer beauty. Y’know, it doesn’t get me frightened about death. It gets me to feel, yes, we’re alive and we die, and whatever happens happens. But there’s a great serenity and beauty about the situation.

Not like the Verdi.

No! … That would make you worry a bit! 

I’m moving away from the colossal parts: Pogner instead of Hans Sachs... The parts with half an hour of singing, rather than two or three hours.

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