• The Exclusive Opera Lively Interview with Erwin Schrott

    It is our pleasure to treat our readers to Erwin Schrott's very thoughtful and intelligent answers. Questions by Mary Auer and Luiz Gazzola. [Opera Lively interview # 64]

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    Photo Credit Jason Bell

    Singer: Erwin Schrott
    Born in: Montevideo, Uruguay, 21 December 1972
    Fach: Bass-baritone
    Currently in: Le Nozze di Figaro (title role), Yokohama, Japan, Kanagawa Prefectural Civic Hall, with the Vienna State Opera on tour - 10/23/12 and 10/28/12.
    Next in: Don Giovanni (Leporello), Metropolitan Opera House - 11/28/12; 12/1-5-8-11-15-20/12; Concert with Anna Netrebko on 1/15/13 in Hamburg, Germany, at the Laeiszhalle; L'elisir d'amore (Dulcamara), Metropolitan Opera House - 1/30/13; 2/2-6-9/12; Don Giovanni (title role), Vienna State Opera, 3/2-5-7-10/13; L'elisir d'amore (Dulcamara) in Munich, Germany, Bayerische Staatsoper, 4/30/13; 5/2-4/13.
    Website: www.erwinschrott.com

    Since the artist's website does contain links to tickets for all of the above performances and more, instead of our usual links to tickets, we'll just direct the reader to this page on his site: [here]

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    Artistic Biography

    Erwin Schrott is one of the most exciting singers of our time and is universally regarded as today’s finest exponent of the major Mozart roles of Don Giovanni, Leporello and Figaro.

    He was born in Montevideo, Uruguay, and made his operatic debut at the age of 22 as Roucher in Andrea Chénier. After winning first prize in the 1998 Plácido Domingo “Operalia” Singing Competition, he shot to international fame, making debuts in one major opera house after the other in quick succession. He triumphed in theaters such as the Teatro alla Scala, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, the Opéra National de Paris, the Washington National Opera, the Vienna State Opera, the Teatro Colón of Buenos Aires, the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, the Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, the Hamburg State Opera, the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels, the Teatro Carlo Felice in Genoa, the Los Angeles Opera and many others. In the summer of 2008 he made his long-awaited debut at the Salzburg Festival as Leporello.

    In recent seasons Erwin Schrott has sung Don Giovanni at the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, the Teatro alla Scala, the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, the Washington Opera and the Los Angeles Opera, as well as in Seville and Turin and with the Metropolitan Opera on tour to Japan. He has performed the role of Figaro at the Metropolitan Opera, the Vienna State Opera, the Zurich Opera, Covent Garden and in Valencia. Other roles in his repertoire have included Pagano in Verdi’s I Lombardi, the title role in Verdi’s Attila, Banquo in Macbeth, Escamillo in Carmen, Méphistophélès in Gounod’s Faust and the title role in Boito’s Mefistofele.

    Engagements in 2011 included L’elisir d’amore at the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía in Valencia and Le nozze di Figaro at the Opéra National de Paris. In the summer of 2011 Erwin Schrott returned to the Salzburg Festival, appearing both as Leporello in Don Giovanni and in the title role of Le nozze di Figaro. In July and August he wowed audiences at three major concert events in Germany and Austria alongside Anna Netrebko and Jonas Kaufmann. The Berlin Waldbühne concert was seen on television by over one million people in more than twenty different countries.

    The year 2012 has started with a concert tour of Germany and Switzerland with Anna Netrebko that extended to the United Kingdom and Denmark later in the year. In February Erwin Schrott returned to Covent Garden for further performances as Don Giovanni. In June he again joined forces with Anna Netrebko and Jonas Kaufmann for a “Gipfeltreffen der Stars”. They will also be giving a concert in London’s Royal Albert Hall under the title “Opera’s Greatest Stars”. Erwin then also will be performing in Don Giovanni under the direction of Daniel Barenboim at the Staatsoper Unter den Linden in Berlin.

    Early 2013 will see him at the Met as Dulcamara alongside Anna Netrebko in L'elisir d'amore.

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    Discography

    Solo Album - CD - Arias - Sony 2012 - on Amazon.com, [here]
    Solo Album - CD - Rojotango - Sony 2011 - on Amazon.com, [here]
    Solo Album - CD - Erwin Schrott - Decca 2008 - on Amazon.com, [here]
    DVD and blu-ray - Le Nozze di Figaro - Opus Arte - on Amazon.com, [here] and [here]
    DVD - L'elisir d'amore - TDK - on Amazon.com, [here]
    DVD - Moïse et Pharaon - TDK - on Amazon.com, [here]
    Blu-ray - Carmen - C Major - on Amazon.com, [here]

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    © Opera Lively - Disclaimer: this exclusive interview is copyrighted by Opera Lively with all rights reserved, and is not to be reproduced without express authorization. Brief excerpts can be used after consultation (use the Contact Us form) as long as proper credit and a link to the full interview on Opera Lively are provided. Links to the interview can be posted without authorization.

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    The Exclusive Opera Lively Interview with Erwin Schrott

    Opera Lively - Let’s start by talking about the beginning of your career – actually, back to your decision that you wanted to make singing your profession. How early did you begin singing?


    Erwin Schrott - I was a child when I first set foot on an operatic stage. I was eight and was enrolled in the children chorus of La bohème, very frightened as I was worried about messing something up during the show, but at the end of the day I wouldn't have wanted to step off that stage anymore!

    OL - Your own cultural background is Austrian, Swiss, and Spanish as well as Uruguayan. How did this influence your interest in music and singing?

    ES - I think that nationality or geographical roots can influence an interest in music just to an extent. But the people you grow up closer to, really can influence you, because when you're young you don't choose what to listen to; you listen to what your parents listen to, then you start developing your own taste in music, and most of the time that doesn't even overlap a little with what your parents like - and that's when you get a punk kid out of classically inclined parents, for instance! I must say that's not really my case though, as I have learned to love classical music, opera, and tango music too, thanks to my parents. It wasn't imposed on me but it grew on me. I soon realized that I actually enjoyed what I was listening to and that I would've loved to sing what I was listening to.

    OL - How unusual was for a boy in Uruguay to grow up with this career choice? What was the cultural environment there then, in your home country?

    ES - When I was a child we were living under a dictatorship. I remember the curfew, I remember tight times in my family and practicing music exercises on a kitchen table turned into a silent piano. The career choice came later, of course, although I'd always had a fondness for the performing arts. But making a profession out of that fondness is a decision I took when I was out of the teen years -- I could've become a lawyer or an opera singer, and that's when I realized I preferred studying scores rather than codes of law...

    OL - Just out of curiosity, how many languages do you speak?

    ES - Spanish, of course, as my native language. I can speak English, Italian, and Portuguese. I would like to become fluent in French and German, too.

    OL - You made your professional debut in 1994 at the opera house in Montevideo, and you also sang at Santiago’s Teatro Municipal. Of course, your big breakthrough came when you won first prize in Plácido Domingo’s Operalia competition in 1998, and since then, you’ve sung leading roles with many important international houses and at the Salzburg Festival. Do you ever go back to Montevideo or Santiago for guest appearances at those houses? We heard that you’re planning a South American tour. Would you tell us more about it?

    ES - We're currently preparing a world tour of Rojotango Live, not just in South America. We want to take the show everywhere -- the schedule hasn't been settled as of yet, but we're working on it, and I'm really excited about that.

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    Photo Credit Jason Bell

    OL - The Rojotango project and recording introduced many people to music that has been an important part of the culture in South America. I think a lot of opera lovers in Europe and Anglo-America are unaware that Latin America has also been home to a number of opera composers. Some may have heard of Antônio Carlos Gomes, who wrote Il Guarany and Lo Schiavo – and you did include an aria from his opera Salvator Rosa in your latest CD. But there are many, many others – including the Uruguayan composers Tomás Giribaldi, Oscar Camps y Soler, León Ribeiro, and Alfonso Broqua. Is this a repertoire you would like to explore further? If a recording company offered you the opportunity, would you have any interest in making a CD of arias from some of these composers?

    OL - Why not? That could be quite interesting -- and would require a lot of researching and studying, too, which I'm not afraid of, of course. I would only have to find the time to do that researching and studying. But yes, it would definitely be an interesting project.

    OL - Regarding Tango and other South American genres – for example, you’ve included two Brazilian songs in your Rojotango CD - would you like to develop a career as a crossover singer or a singer of South American popular music? Do you like the Tango and MPB repertory more than you like opera, or vice-versa?

    ES - I wouldn't describe that as a crossover project. Crossover singers basically sing pop songs using an operatic voice, and with all due respect, this is not something I'm interested in. I know my instrument, my voice, and I know what I can sing and what I can't, unless you count humming pop songs by myself while shaving as me leaping into crossover music. I love music, I love and respect any kind of music, but there's only a specific range of repertoire that I'm allowed to tackle with my voice. Tango music is something I find myself more at ease with as a singer; it's different than singing opera, the vocal technique is not the same, still I feel comfortable with it and I don't think of it as a substitute for opera -- I'm still first of all an opera singer! It's a little, big side-project for me; I'm working on it with wonderful people who enjoy it as much as I do, and I'm really, really happy about how it's all turning out.

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    Photo Credit Jason Bell

    OL - Tell us about your latest CD Arias – how did you select the tracts? They seem more adventurous than the ones in your first CD of 2008 – it includes arias from a Zarzuela, from a Brazilian composer... Which tracks are your favorites?

    ES - I picked arias I'd already sung in stage productions, and arias of roles I'm currently working upon and would love to add to my repertoire. I don't really have favorite tracks. In my head this album is some sort of a memo note on the work in progress that is my career, a bit like "year 2012: that's where I was at".

    OL - There are a couple of songs from a Zarzuela in your CD – do you have any interest in performing in a Zarzuela on stage?

    ES - Again, that would be interesting. We'll see.

    OL - Right now, you’re in Japan as part of the Vienna State Opera’s tour. In 2006, you also visited the country with the Metropolitan Opera’s tour there. Can you tell us what it is like to sing in Japan? Are the audiences very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about opera?

    ES - Very much, equally well-read on opera and enthusiastic about it! I suppose that's because Japanese audiences simply love the drama. There's a great theatre tradition in this country, and albeit opera is very different from Nogaku, there are some similarities that just can't be missed. It's a theatrical form that influenced contemporary opera composers in the west, too -- just think of some of Benjamin Britten's works or of Olivier Messiaen's Saint François d'Assise. I strongly believe that musical and theatrical genres can influence one another, and, after all, an opera tells a tale with words and music, and tales have always been influenced by the world surrounding those who wrote and composed them. Even if they're fantasy tales, you can find glimpses of their reality in them.

    OL - In this current tour, you’re singing the title role in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro. Next month, you will sing Leporello in Don Giovanni at the Met. Figaro and the title role in Don Giovanni are two of your signature roles. But unlike Figaro, Don Giovanni is not a character you find very sympathetic. I think you once said that Don Giovanni had been an unhappy, spoiled child. Would you tell us more about your views on this character?

    ES - Don Giovanni can be depicted as a spoiled man who had an unhappy childhood, yes, that can be one of the ways to look at him. He gets bored very easily; he doesn't really like any other human being and probably doesn't even like his own self, his wickedness is his way to live and survive -- but in the end he doesn't survive his own wickedness. Characters out of the Mozart-Da Ponte trilogy are all very multifaceted, so you can always find a new way to look at them, that's what makes them so captivating.

    OL - In general, you find Leporello a much more appealing individual than his master. Is it true that you are thinking of dropping Don Giovanni from your repertoire because you have so little sympathy for the character?

    ES - I don't think I'll be dropping Don Giovanni anytime soon, honest. I don't like him as a man, at all. I wouldn't want to meet anyone like him in my real life, but the character is an absolutely exciting one to be performed on a stage. The music is mesmerizing; the story just screams to be acted out. A character like Don Giovanni is basically the dream of any opera singer, because you sing and act and run on a stage for three entire hours, and that's exactly why I love my job, because it allows me to sing and act and run on a stage for hours on end!

    OL - During this year, there have been a couple of very different stagings of Don Giovanni. In one, Giovanni survives at the end of the opera, and all of the others are dragged down to Hell instead. In another version, a very avant-garde production by a small, experimental opera company, Don Giovanni was portrayed as gay, and all of the women’s roles had to be adjusted so that they could be sung by men. What are your thoughts on such productions?

    ES - I haven't seen them, but directors have the right to experiment; it's their job. Some people just turn up their noses to experimenting in opera, because they want it to stick to traditional settings and costumes. Of course not all experimentations work out as expected, but you need to try out something in order to see if it can work. And then again, there are so many productions going on everywhere, any time of the year... I think people have plenty to choose from. If they don't like experimentation they can easily find a more traditional approach in another production and leave experimentation to those who are not afraid of it. I think there should be room for everything. Opera is an evolving art, people just can't expect to see and hear the same exact staging and direction over and over and over again, year after year. The audience would get bored, musicians would get bored, singers would get bored. A new approach, even if it fails, still brings fresh air and makes you think; it keeps opera alive.

    OL - Great answer! But let's push it a little more to the personal side. Would you have been willing to sing in them? Or is there a point at which you would refuse a role in a production because you disagreed with the staging concept?

    ES - As I said, i haven't seen them, so I really can't say if I would've liked to sing in them. So far in my career I've been lucky enough to work with intelligent people, directors and fellow singers and musicians, whom I could discuss with during rehearsals. Sometimes if an idea doesn't seem quite right to me I just express my doubts about it and discuss about it with the director to sort it out. So far it's always been the best way for me to approach these things.

    OL - At least in the Mozart-Da Ponte operas, the servants are much more pleasant characters than their masters – and in the case of Figaro, usually much smarter, though even Figaro isn’t as quick-witted as Susanna. So, even though you’ve sung both Don Giovanni and Leporello, I’m guessing that the role of Conte d’Almaviva is not one that would interest you. Or is the role perhaps not well suited to your voice, which I think you once characterized as being more bass than baritone?

    ES - I've already tried out Conte d'Almaviva, but I think I won't be reprising that role anytime soon. It somehow doesn't seem quite right for me, at least not at the present moment. I can't make precise plans on roles I'll pick up in the future -- as I said, there are roles I would love to sing, but I must be sure my voice is fit enough for them, I don't want to spoil neither a role nor my voice.

    OL - Your repertoire includes some pretty dashing characters – not only Don Giovanni, but Escamillo in Carmen, Verdi’s Attila, and even Gounod’s and Boito’s Mephistopheles. Quite often, when reviewers or bloggers are commenting on your performances, they not only discuss the musical qualities you bring to your characters, but also the fact that you have a very suitable physique du rôle. There are some web sites that are even devoted to male singers because of their handsomeness or sex appeal. Does this sort of thing bother you? What are your views on this phenomenon?

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    Photo Credit Fabrice Dall'Anese

    ES - I have dropped Escamillo because the role doesn't really thrill me anymore. You see, it doesn't suffice to look fit for a role; a singer should first and foremost feel the voice comfortable with it. Looking fit for a role doesn't mean you can sing it. It can eventually help portraying a character, but we're singers, we're supposed to sing a part, not to stroll on a catwalk.

    I like keeping in shape because it allows me to move easily on the stage and portray characters with my voice and with a little help from my body as well. If that's also appealing to the eyes of the audience that's a bonus point, and I'm flattered by compliments as any human being can be, but surely "looking like the part" can't be the main concern of an opera singer. Our main concern is singing a story, projecting our voice so that even the last person at the back of the standing room can hear us and, possibly, can be moved by our singing. When that happens, that's when our job is really done.

    OL - Another excellent answer! Certainly, the increasing popularity of DVDs and the growing number of operas shown in cinemas have contributed to the need for singers who can withstand the up-close scrutiny of the camera. You are very active physically – you’ve been training for a triathlon! What else do you do to stay healthy and to take care of your voice?

    ES - I just make an effort to eat healthy food, no fried-ups, no refined sugars, basically no junk food -- and I practice every day.

    OL - On a somewhat related subject, you are a celebrity, especially in Europe. Have you found that this has made it difficult to protect your personal privacy? Or do people usually respect your right to privacy when you’re out in public – having a meal at a restaurant, for example?

    ES - It is indeed difficult sometimes. I understand that there are worse things in life than being followed by paparazzi, and I know that these days publicity plays a great part in rise to fame and all that jazz. Still sometimes one would hope to be able to go and do groceries without journalists following suit just to check how many tomatoes one buys...

    To be honest, I don't even see why anybody should be interested in strangers' private lives. If I have gained any fame as an opera singer people should be interested in that; I don't think that what I do when I'm not on the stage should be relevant to them. I just genuinely don't get it, I don't like being a puppet in the hands of gossip tabloids.

    OL - Jonas Kaufmann mentioned an incident when he was singing at Covent Garden and a fan handed him some photos she had taken of him and his children when they were out walking earlier. He said he knew she meant well, but he was still really upset by it. Have you also had experiences where you felt fans or the media were being too intrusive?

    OL - The media, mainly, it sometimes can be really, really intrusive -- and yes, when there are children involved that can turn out pretty nasty. I feel very protective towards my children and I can't think of a reason why strangers should take pictures of them as we walk down the street, for instance. I find that rather creepy.

    On the other hand I have pretty nice fans. The majority of them are really respectful and kind; they come and greet me at the stage door after a show, and they politely ask to take pics with me, which I really appreciate. I really like having a chat with people who value my work. It's not just out of gratitude. They really are lovely and affectionate, and it's nice to meet music lovers from everywhere in the world and listen to their thoughts about your performance, even when they point out things they didn't like very much, as there's always room for improvement, and most of the time their suggestions really make sense to me, too.

    OL - You have quite a varied repertoire, with Mozart, Verdi, Puccini, the Italian bel canto composers, Bizet, Gounod . . . I understand you are interested in singing more of the Russian repertoire. Are there any specific roles that appeal to you?

    ES - Nothing specific for the moment. I'm trying to approach Boris Godunov, but I don't know if and when I'll be ready for it.

    OL - Speaking of your repertoire, there are also some rumors that there may eventually be some Wagner in your future. True? Any specific roles of which you’re thinking?

    ES - Again, I would love to. I'm attracted by the dramatic Wagnerian roles, but I haven't yet started studying anything specific for the moment.

    OL - Unlike some opera singing couples like Mr. Alagna and Ms. Gheorghiu, you and Ms. Netrebko usually don’t perform together in operas, but give joint concerts instead. You are however singing Dulcamara at the Met in late January and February 2012 when she is Adina in the same production. Is there a reason to sing together, or not to sing together? Or is this just a function of random casting and scheduling?

    ES - You could write it off as a matter of scheduling; that would be the easy, standard answer to such a question, but above all it should be clear to all that repertoires can't be superimposed without proper thinking. A singer's voice is an alive instrument; it gradually develops and becomes more appropriate for a repertoire rather than for another, and it's impossible, and just plain wrong, to cast singers for a production just for the sake of publicity.

    I wouldn't want to spoil a production just because I love a role so much and want to sing it even though my voice isn't right for it; it wouldn't be fair. I wouldn't want to sing something my voice isn't ready for, or worse, not suitable for at all just for a production to cash in. It's a matter of integrity and respect towards the audience, the production and my own self, too. There are many colleagues I would love to sing with, because I appreciate them as artists and because they are wonderful people, but our repertoires are so different, and you can't, you mustn't overlook that.

    OL - About two weeks ago, you performed your Rojotango program in a concert held at Vienna’s Museum Quarter. That was a benefit for your Anna and Erwin Foundation, which is a charity you and your wife established to aid impoverished and disadvantaged children. Can you tell us how the idea for your Foundation developed?

    ES - Having been in the business for quite some time now, and having participated in charity events before, I'd noticed that sometimes, or most of the time, the money raised with such events doesn't directly go to the final recipients. There's a lot of bureaucracy and other factors involved, and that doesn't make sense, because if someone is in need, for real, and you decide to help them, you must do so quickly, without money leaking everywhere for collateral matters. So taking responsibilities into one's own hands is just a more straightforward and faster way to be effective.

    OL - Good! Well, I heard you when you said you don't understand the public's interest for your personal life, but our Opera Lively interviews usually do end by touching on something of the artist as a person, for a more human sort of feeling. So if you don't mind, let's end by a couple of items about your person and family. Your son, Tiago, is four years old now - still quite young, maybe too young to attend a full-length opera. Many European opera houses however present special opera programs designed for children. Have you ever taken him to one of these events? Does he like to sing or listen to music?

    ES - He loves music, but he's too young to enjoy a full length opera, although maybe he would if Sesame Street characters were involved in the production...

    OL - We heard that you are an outstanding cook. Would you tell us about it a bit more? What are some of the dishes you’re most skilful in preparing?

    ES - I like experimenting in the kitchen. I especially like cooking fish. My father used to have a restaurant and I sometimes helped him, too. I've always liked cooking -- and eating, too, of course.

    OL - What else do you like to do in life, in addition to singing, taking care of your family and friends, and fostering your foundation? As a South American, do you like football?

    ES - Yes, I sometimes follow international football; I enjoy yelling at the referee as any other man does. And I spend a lot of my free time talking to my friends, about anything, everything; that's something I couldn't do without.

    OL - This was a very interesting interview, Mr. Schrott! Thank you so much!


    ES - I'm glad to know that you liked it. And thank you for taking the time to speak with me.

    OL - We are honored with your attention. Ciao.

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    Let's listen to the singer:

    We can watch two beautiful promotional videos for his CD Rojotango, on his website, clicking [here] - the first one includes a video interview.

    And on YouTube, let's listen to this other short interview that contains a few excerpts of arias:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FnJNy0iEQtE

    And here he sings the Catalog Aria from Don Giovanni:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9c-NgV96vx4

    Let's listen to one more:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w1otIEnWufQ

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    Comments 2 Comments
    1. lilla's Avatar
      lilla -
      Very very interesting read, I didn't think he was this smart but I was sooo wrong!!! I especially like what he said about respecting the audience and his own job when picking up roles, that's very sensible and I think more artists should do the same.
      Anyway, kudos to Opera Lively for this brilliant interview, good job guys!!! Maybe the press should start asking him relevant questions in interviews too, because until now I had only read the same (boring!!!) questions all the time and the same answers in every interview (not just to him, I mean in general, the press usually asks lame questions to opera singers....), but this is truly a great read and now I am in awe of Mr Schrott!!! Bravo!!!
    1. Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
      Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) -
      Thanks, Lilla, and welcome to Opera Lively. Without false modestly, I must say that this style of interviewing with intellectually challenging questions is becoming Opera Lively's hallmark, and singers and their agents have repeatedly made comments about how interesting our interviews are. But don't take my word for it; see it yourself, by clicking on Exclusive Interviews and browsing our more than sixty talks with singers, conductors, composers, stage directors, scholars, etc. Yep, we're good, hehehe. By the way, we are in the process of writing up a book with our best interviews, so, make sure you get it when it is published. Erwin Schrott (and most of our interviewees) has already authorized us to reprint the interview in book format.


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