• The Second Exclusive Opera Lively Interview with Paul Appleby

    Rising American tenor Paul Appleby has granted to Opera Lively a second (and 90 minutes-long) interview on the occasion of his role of David in the Met's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, also with comments about his upcoming title role in the Met's The Rake's Progress. This interview is one of the most interesting Opera Lively pieces to date, since Paul is a specially articulate, thoughtful, and intelligent artist. This is Opera Lively interview # 154. It was conducted via Skype on 12/13/2014. Our readers should also consult Paul's first interview with Opera Lively which is equally compelling, by clicking [here].


    Photo Ken Howard - Fair Promotional Use

    Singer: Paul Appleby
    Fach: Lyric Tenor
    Born in: USA
    Recently in: Metropolitan Opera, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (David)
    Next in: San Diego Opera, Don Giovanni (Don Ottavio), February 14, 17, 20, 22, 2015 [tickets and info]
    Website: click [here]
    Management: IMG Artists, click [here]


    Artistic Biography

    Since this is his second Opera Lively interview, we won't repeat the entire biography which can be read in his first interview [here].

    Updates from that point on include:

    Following a summer season that included recital performances and a symphonic concert led by Leon Botstein at New York’s Bard Music Festival featuring a range of works by Franz Schubert, Paul Appleby’s 2014-15 season began with concert performances with the Milwaukee Symphony singing the role of Don Ottavio in Mozart’s Don Giovanni under Edo de Waart. Engagements of note during the season also included Mr. Appleby’s return to the Metropolitan Opera for David in Wagner’s epic comedy, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg and will include in May the lead role of Tom Rakewell in Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress, both conducted by James Levine.

    In two weeks from now, the tenor will make his company debut singing Don Ottavio in the San Diego Opera’s production of Don Giovanni, conducted by Daniele Callegari, and later will join the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center on tour in a program of Johannes Brahms and Robert Schumann at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in St. Paul, Minnesota.

    Recent performance highlights included the lead role of Brian in the Metropolitan Opera’s 2013- 2014 new production and company commissioned premiere of celebrated American composer Nico Muhly’s Two Boys, conducted by David Robertson, and Ferrando in Mozart’s Così fan tutte with Oper Frankfurt.

    In addition to the discography reported in the first interview, he released two other CDs:


    The Second Exclusive Opera Lively Interview with Paul Appleby

    This interview is under copyright. It belongs to Opera Lively Press. Links to it can be freely published, but to reproduce parts of it, use the Contact Us form to request authorization, and then quote the source and link to it.

    Luiz Gazzola for Opera Lively – Hi, Paul! Nice to see you. We thank you for being available to talk to us literally one hour after your Met Live in HD broadcast of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. You are probably tired.

    Paul Appleby – You know, I’m always wide awake after shows. I figure that is a better time. The day after is when I crash. I’m still feeling the energy of the performance running through me. How are you?

    OL – Good, good.

    PA – It’s nice to see you. I really enjoyed meeting you and getting to talk with you.

    OL – Yes, in Santa Fe it was lots of fun, wasn’t it?

    PA – Yes, absolutely. That was such a great time!

    OL - Last time we talked, you were tempted about buying a house in the Santa Fe area. Any new developments in your personal life? Any plans for children?

    PA – No house… [laughs] But I have some new developments in my family life, which is a daughter now!

    OL – Wow!

    PA – She is seven weeks old, only.

    OL – Seven weeks! Oh, my God!

    PA – Eight weeks on Monday, so, the fantasy of buying a vacation home evaporated with her arrival! [laughs]

    OL – [laughs] I think a daughter is better than a vacation home.

    PA – Yes, I think so too. It’s been pretty fun, so far.

    OL – What’s her name?

    PA – Theodora.

    OL – Theodora? Just like the Handel oratorio!

    PA – That was one of the clinchers for us. I played the aria that Lorraine Hunt Lieberson sings on that Glyndebourne DVD, I don’t know if you know it.

    OL – I do. It’s great.

    PA – “As with rosy steps the morn,” it’s a beautiful aria, and I’ve been lobbying for that name to my wife, and I played if for her and that sort of clinched the deal, because it is such a beautiful piece of music!

    OL – Yes, the Peter Sellars DVD, it’s a really good one; I love it.

    PA – That’s exactly right. Me too.

    OL - Is your wife into opera as well?

    PA – Well, she was a pianist by training. We met in school, and now she works in administration at the Juilliard School. She is the artistic administrator there.

    OL – Is it where you met her?

    PA – No, we met at University of Notre Dame where we both went to undergrad. We’ve been together for over ten years, actually.

    OL – I met my wife at the psychiatric hospital.

    PA – Oh, really? [Laughs hard] Was she one of the wards?

    OL – She had the keys and the badge. She was one of the doctors, like me. [laughs]

    PA – [laughs] Oh, I see. Good for her.

    OL – OK, let’s start with the questions I sent you.

    PA – OK, I have them on screen here. I did read them.

    OL – Number one, then. It isn’t your first time under the cameras of the Live in HD broadcast. Still, is it a nerve-wrecking situation? Does it affect the singer in any way? How did it go, for you?

    PA – The HD broadcasts… I do my best not to be affected particularly by them, in the nerves department or any other way in my preparation, but it is really inevitable to be affected, not least of all because there is a certain degree of adapting that you need to do at a minimum in terms of your performance. You get notes from the director that you need to be aware of this camera angle and where you stand, and so you can’t help but be sort of on your mind as you prepare for the actual performance. As you are singing you might see a crane moving [laughs] while you are holding that high note and all of a sudden your concentration might fly out the window. But again, the key to it as I found is to prepare as much as possible for the opening night and for every performance so that you are as consistent as you can be.

    OL – Do they do rehearsals with the camera movement so that you get used to it?

    PA – They do what they call a scratch taping, the performance before, so they taped it on Tuesday, our last performance, so if later they make a DVD, if there is any kind of major flubs, they have a back-up, and they also do a test run for the editing and directing and the camera detail work they need to do. So you get some practice with having the cameras there. But the psychological burden is fresh. [laughs]

    OL – Right! That’s when you think “the whole world is watching me.”

    PA – Yeah, exactly! It feels like “this one really counts.” And you can’t get it back; there is no forgiveness. It seems to be encapsulated for all time if there is a DVD release. Often there is, with these.

    OL – Interesting. In Act 1, scene 2, David sings a lengthy scene/aria about the rules and art of singing. The moment calls for a lot of "word-painting" and expressive use of tones, colors, and basically the whole palette of vocal effects to enhance the vocal lines and underscore what David is trying to teach Walther. You do this effectively. My question is, if/how your vocal plan of coloring and effects for this scene changed at all from the time you prepared it on your own, to the time it was performed in the production. Was the plan and execution the same?

    PA – I really like your question and the way you describe it as word painting, because one of the reasons why I enjoy this role so well and think I’m well suited for it is that I spent a lot of time working on my song repertoire; particularly Lieder. I think Karajan has a quote saying that great Wagner singers are great Lieder singers because the same usage of the language is essential to the expression of the character, the drama… Wagner is very loquacious in his writing, obviously, as anybody who sees Meistersinger will tell you. After six hours of Wagner libretto, you can’t deny it.

    Paul Appleby as David at the Met - Photo Ken Howard / Metropolitan Opera, used with authorization

    So, in this particular character and that particular scene you pointed out, it’s such a joyful, fun thing to do as a performer, because you have to employ just about every trick in the book! Everything you’ve ever learned about singing and expression, word-painting and color and all those things come into play. What makes it really challenging is that you have to have that degree of detail of specificity with your colors and use of the language, but on the scale of the opera stage, with an orchestra. The vocal demands have to be operatic, but the subtle approach to language has to be present at the same time, but that’s what makes it very challenging but also very fun, that opportunity to really bring it to life with the words.

    OL - Did the conductor or director want something different from the scene than you initially planned, or did you have it down pat and just performed it?

    PA – Luckily I had this particular scene when I auditioned for this piece a couple of years ago. That was a huge benefit to me because I actually really learned it and memorized this big scene, which is sort of the primary part of the role. Thankfully I showed up for the first day of rehearsals with it under my belt. I have played it on my own with very specific ideas, but once you get in a room with an orchestra you realize that there are certain realities of acoustics, and you can’t do everything you wanted to do. You have to coordinate with the orchestra. Sound travels at a certain speed, and you can’t go faster or slower than that just because you want to, the way you might be able to get away with a piano like in song repertoire.

    Certainly, maestro Levine knows this piece incredibly well, and he really appreciated all the detail and thought I brought to it, but he certainly had his own two cents to put in. He was really open to what I wanted to do but there were certain places where he said “this has to be this way for practical reasons.” There are also open debates about the character David and what he is trying to accomplish in that moment, and how that scene and the character function from the dramaturgic point of view, which is to say that I’m describing this thing essentially to Walter the knight, but really I’m also giving important elements of exposition to the audience who is learning about these things. You have to be conscious of all those elements of that moment. Of course when we have a conductor who really knows what he is doing like Levine, his input is not insignificant. It’s very much a collaboration.

    Of course, the director too takes into account the same elements of what exactly you are trying to accomplish with that scene, but for the most part the key to doing David the way I feel it should be done was that if you try and play him too sweetly or two naively or too youthfully, or too dumb which I think is a temptation or obvious choice, you end up undercutting all the interesting things that he is saying. It is never a good choice to play somebody as less dumb than yourself. [laughs] Not to say I’m smart or anything…

    LG – You are…

    PA – [laughs] I didn’t want to make him a bumpkin. He deserves more than that. The piece demands more than that.

    Paul Appleby as David at the Met - Photo Ken Howard / Metropolitan Opera, used with authorization

    OL – Very nice. What was your approach, as an American singer working on such a quintessentially German role?

    PA – I will tie this with one of your later questions about working with Wagnerians. It’s my first time singing a Wagner opera whatsoever. This role is somewhat exceptional in terms of how we think of the typical Wagner tenor roles, the very specific Fach of Heldentenors like Johan Botha who was singing today. I’m clearly not a member of that party. [laughs] This role intended to be written for a smaller, lighter, more lyrical instrument like mine. So the experience is really fascinating on a number of levels, to sing with these very accomplished Wagnerians who were in this cast and have so much experience with this repertoire, but also just the dimensions of their voices and their interactions with this composer’s music are so unique and so specific to this enterprise! It was really eye-opening to me. I’ve done so much Mozart and have that kind of world very much down in my ear – I know how it sounds and how it’s supposed to go, but this was a great challenge, for that reason; I had to jump into this Wagnerian pool. The Meistersinger, as you say, there is something essentially German about it. It’s a piece that speaks very loudly to this idea of German identity. I’m not going to get into the discussion about the historical implications of that identity, but the essence of Wagner’s language is there, and I think everybody in the cast would agree with me. That’s why I was amazed by Michael Volle who sang Hans Sachs today, standing there on stage, and you realize that he is working with great intensity and focus on every single syllable that comes out of his mouth, every single consonant, and the relationship between the consonants and the vowels has such vitality and such significance! I tried to emulate that, and it ties back into the experience with Lieder and how important language is in those situations. The language is the key to everything, especially in Wagner.

    OL - Was this a role that was always on your radar, or something that came up? Any plans to sing more Wagner?

    PA – I don’t have any more plans to sing Wagner for the time being. If I was asked to sing David again I would leap at it – literally I would leap at it, because it’s this sort of role. It is a very fun role, hard as it is. I think maybe the Steerman in The Flying Dutchman is about the only other role I could sing now. We will see how my voice develops. Maybe twenty years from now I’ll be able to tackle some of the younger Helden roles. When I grow up maybe I can pull off a Lohengrin or Parsifal, but I wouldn’t bet on it, if I was betting now. [laughs] I would love to, but I don't think it will necessarily happen.

    OL - To me it is very vague what age David is. At first he seems to be a young man, an apprentice, but seemingly the oldest or most responsible of the apprentices because of their references to him doing all the work and knowing how everything goes. Then there is a moment when he speaks of his failure as a singer, and the master reproaching him, and David makes a physical gesture of smacking himself on the behind, to indicate the master spanking him, which would seem inappropriate for a young man, but makes more sense if he is a child. Yet, he has a complicated relationship with Magdalena, which seems maternal and romantic at the same time. She gives him food and dotes on him, and they definitely have something going on. What is your take on his age, his personality, and his relationship with Magdalena?

    PA – I think he is probably a late teenager which is to say somewhere in between 17 and 19. I would place him there, because again, it’s all relative. A 19-year-old in 16th century Germany had a lot more expected of him and was thought of as much older and more mature person than a 19-year-old person in today’s society. Even though that sounds young, someone that old in that time period is actually well past the demarcation of adulthood. He is certainly one of the oldest, if not the oldest of the apprentices. In my approach to the role I try to make him a little less boyish and naïve. Particularly, I try to manifest this in the relationship with Hans Sachs whereby he is very much like a father figure to David. There is also an element of some kind of roughness and violence in that relationship. One of the first things that Hans Sachs says to David when he comes on stage and speaks out of turn is that he threatens to beat him, and not in a cute way. It’s quite violent. David is always getting in fights. Throughout the piece there are these strings of violence. The end of Act II is a big brawl in the town. David’s engagement with this when he is wrestling with the other apprentices is not childish or playful. There is an element of intense pugnaciousness going on, here. I took that into account when I thought about David. Although he might be somewhat immature, he is still closer to adulthood as we think of it today, than childhood.

    OL – What about the flirtatious part?

    PA – Magdalena is older and he gets teased again for that, but who knows what that means? Maybe she is in her late twenties which may mean to them an old maid. [laughs] Historically speaking the way we think of ages varies. In our staging the assumption is that they are a romantic couple, certainly, and I don’t think there is anything inappropriate about that, or questionable. It might be ripe for teasing from his peers, but on the whole it’s a very sweet relationship. She is certainly a maternal type. She looks out for Eva. I actually assume that David and Eva are about the same age. They may have known each other for their whole lives. Magda with Eva is part a mother figure, part a sister figure. As you get older these age differences don’t mean as much. That’s how I thought about the relationship with Magdalena, definitely very clearly in the realm of romance, not just friendship or mother-son type of thing.

    OL – Of course that varies in different stagings with who is cast. I’ve seen productions in which Eva and Magdalena seem to be the same age, and others in which Magdalena is much older.

    PA – Sure, I’ve seen that too. I think I’d have more trouble with it if they cast a decidedly more matronly mezzo to sing Magda, but in our case there is a conceivably much younger Magda to play against. I guess you need to respond to the casting in that situation but luckily the casting aligned with my own concept of that relationship so it was easy to execute.

    OL – We’ve talked about your colleagues, as you said, when you answered to two questions together, but there’s still that one line on that question, if you’ve learned anything from your illustrious colleagues. You’ve mentioned their use of language, but did they give you advice on David?

    Michael Volle in the middle, surrounded by Cargill, Appleby, Botha, and Dasch, credit Ken Howard/Met Opera

    PA – You know, it’s funny. Johan Botha has sung this role all over the world in so many different productions, and he gave me really lovely compliment, just to say “I’ve seen a lot of Davids, and it’s nice to see one who actually sings it!” This role, in the much more strict sense of the German Fach system is considered a Spieltenor role. It has historically been cast by a voice or a performer who is decidedly a comprimario career singer who is not known particularly for his vocalism, and more for his acting. That Spieltenor sound is a very distinct…

    OL – Declamatory?

    PA – Yes, reedy type of sound. I was very flattered that he complimented me on that. I tried to apply the most beautiful voice that I could muster for this evening even though it fits that Spieltenor categorization. That was really helpful from Johan to give me that sort of encouragement to make it my own and try to make it as beautiful as possible and approach this character with as much desire for beauty and complexity as any role and not to paint it as a cartoon or a caricature. I thought the same thing incidentally from Johannes Martin Kränzle who sang Beckmesser in our production.

    Johannes Martin Kränzle, credit Ken Howard / Metropolitan Opera

    Certainly he made Beckmesser very complex and interesting and funny but he didn’t make him a buffoon and I think that serves the piece and all the themes within it much better to create real human characters who are interacting, all of whom have their own desires and their own flaws, whether it’s Walther and Hans Sachs or Beckmesser and David, they have good and bad elements to them and understandable motives at all times. There is not just an evil and a good guy. That serves the piece too.

    OL - Please tell me something that is extraordinary about this current run of Die Meistersinger. What sticks out as the most striking characteristic of this show?

    PA – The most striking thing about this run of the show is the fact that there have been two Hans Sachs. The original singer pulled out relatively last minute so James Morris has been singing the run and will continue now after these last two shows when Michael Volle sings. Hans Sachs is such a cornerstone role of this kind of German bass-baritone repertoire! It’s my first time doing the show — any Wagner show — and to get to learn this role just from hearing it and being around and on stage with Hans Sachs has been one of my great privileges and pleasures and joys in this experience, aside from my own performing. To get to see these two guys who are such strong artists but so distinct and different in every conceivable way! Vocally they are very different and psychologically there are different, and the way they perceive and characterize Hans Sachs has been a great example to me that there is no one right way to do any given role.

    As long as you have the same commitment to the process and to understanding the role and character, you can execute it in any number of ways and be totally justified and “correct.” Both these two artists have been very correct and beautiful in their performances, but it’s been eye-opening. It was really shocking the first night we did it with Michael Volle because I didn’t have any rehearsals with him; we just did it [laughs] on stage, and the difference was pretty shocking. Instantaneously I had to rethink certain reactions or certain lines I was going to say after these moments I had with this new Hans Sachs because the relationship was fundamentally different based on the energy and the line readings he was giving, so that was really eye-opening and a great learning experience from this particular run.

    OL – How did they do the alternation for the casting, again?

    PA – Morris sang the first two shows, Volle sang the third and fourth shows and now Morris will sing the last three performances.

    OL – I was looking at the sheer beauty of those sets that are being retired now. It’s kind of sad to see them go. What do you think about those very beautiful and realistic sets that the Met had, and are being all updated and transformed into more modern and sleek design? Wouldn’t we still have room to keep those beautiful things a little longer?

    PA – I will say that I consider myself very lucky and very grateful to have had the experience of doing this production, because as you say they are kind of going the way of the dinosaur. Unfortunately I think that metaphor works in more than one way [laughs] which is to say that it’s fantastic to get to do this in such a beautiful and hyper-realistic set that recreates very accurately a medieval city street in Nuremberg. I’ve never been there but apparently people who have actually seen Nuremberg recognize the castle in all the detail of the final scene when you see it in the distance.

    Photo credit Ken Howard / Metropolitan Opera, used with authorization from the Met Press Department

    Because these kinds of productions are so expensive to make and very expensive to store because they are so large I expect that they are going to continue to be retired as this one is. A good production is a good production if the director has the intelligence and the imagination and the respect for the score and the libretto to make it happen. I’m not pro new productions or pro old productions; I’m just for any kind of good direction. Looking up to the next question about Dialogues des Carmélites which at the Met is a very sparse bare set, there is very little at all visually to that production but it is a very powerful production because the organization of the staging and the acting direction that is implied in the production tells that story so beautifully.

    I’m sad to see them go and I’m very grateful to have had this experience, because it is really special to actually feel that you are in Nuremberg and to actually be that character in the very literal context intended by the composer and by the libretto. That is a great gift and I don’t expect to receive that gift too much in the future, for better or for worse.

    OL - You sang Chevalier de la Force in the Dialogues des Carmélites at the Met in May 2013. I recently saw a German production of it where the relationship between brother and sister was quite ambiguous. What is your take on this character and how he relates to Blanche?

    PA – My take on this character and how he relates to Blanche is that it is a very troubling relationship in a lot of ways. I’m not sure what the ambiguousness of that relationship you are referring to is, but I do think that basing strictly on what is in the actual libretto and not imagining beyond that, the underlying element of their relationship between this brother and sister is the fact that their mother died when they were both babies or very little, but more importantly it left their father damaged emotionally. He never, maybe, recovered from the loss of his wife and as a result became a very distant, even neglectful parent. So their only parental figure was absent in a lot of ways—even if he was physically there he wasn’t present in the way a parent needs to be for kids. Blanche and the Chevalier have this very close relationship that is not based on the healthiest upbringing, because they depended on each other so much, and that’s why the Chevalier’s feelings towards Blanche are so tense, because she is his real family and his only family is his relationship with this little girl. There is some juvenility to it. They hold on to their childish things even into adulthood and have this sort of intimacy that is a little unsettling and a little inappropriate and, in some ways, unhealthy anyway.

    I wouldn’t go so far as to say that there is any kind of sexual impropriety as I’m sure other productions have hinted to that. I don’t think there is any kind of incestuous threat there. To make that assumption you have to make an assumption that is beyond the page, which I don’t think is appropriate. Nonetheless, I think of the trauma of the situation… The piece doesn’t seem to address the political aspects of it as much. It really is about the human relationships that make this, granted, very violent period in history. There is certainly a lot of violence in the show but really what is affecting about it is just the interpersonal human elements that speak beyond this specific historical moment, and that’s certainly the case with this brother and sister – their drama and the trauma of their lives is something that can happen with anybody in any time in history – losing a parent and then having an emotionally handicapped surviving parent.

    OL – Yes. Actually the mother dies at childbirth.

    PA – At Blanches’ birth; that’s right. So the Chevalier may or may not have some remembrance of his mother. I’m not entirely clear how much older he is than Blanche. Blanche has never know her mother but the son may have had some memory of his dad before the death of his mother, and that makes it a little more complicated, and that’s why he needs to take on this responsibility of being for Blanche both her brother and her father in himself.

    OL – And there is also the aspect of guilt for Blanche, in having killed her mother, in a sense.

    PA – Absolutely, yes. It’s a little more benign in our time. That sense of guilt we would avoid today very much but I don’t think they thought of it in such a sophisticated way, back then.

    OL – But Poulenc himself was a more modern man, so I wonder what kind of twist he gave to this story.

    PA – That’s true, but he himself was a Catholic and he was trained in the Catholic Church pre-Vatican II and I wonder if that more primitive approach to morality and guilt and the complexities of that are a little less compassionate, perhaps, than it should be. Incidentally, I’m a Catholic myself. [laughs] I’m not trying to speak out of turn, there, against Catholicism.

    OL – Yeah, I’d imagine that; with your Notre Dame background.

    PA – [laughs] Yes!

    OL - In your first interview with Opera Lively you were about to perform the role of Brian in the new opera Two Boys at the Met. We talked extensively about it. Now you’ve done it already, and actually even got a recording out of it. Tell me how it went.

    PA – Being in Two Boys has been one of the highlights of my career, so far, artistically speaking. I found it to be an incredibly accomplished work. Nico Muhly is a fantastic opera composer.

    OL – But Two Boys has been harshly criticized by a reviewer as “an assemblage of ill-fitting components” with characters that come out as “small and distant.” While the same critic praised you as a marvel and indicated that you did your best to make your character come to life, he said you had little to work with, and he called the piece overall “clunky” and “constrained.” I know that you hold this opera in great esteem, so how would you defend this work from this criticism?

    PA – I found that the critical reception to the piece had a complete lack of perspective about this opera in terms of it being Nico’s very first piece that he wrote in his twenties. Although I can understand some of the critiques of these reviewers, I think it is very easy to point out the flaws of something like that, but it takes a little more imagination and a greater sense of actually real critical responsibility to take into the bigger picture what is going on with this piece, which is that it was an incredibly accomplished work of musical theater by Nico.

    There might have been some inherent problems in the libretto that were not really solvable without completely going back to the drawing board at a certain point, and very understandable problems because of the nature of what they were trying to address is very new territory in terms of storytelling. Hollywood hasn’t figured it out either. How do you include things like text-messaging and online chats in a narrative structure, let alone in a piece of theater, a live performance on a stage? It’s a very difficult thing and I don’t think there is going to be any consensus about how you represent such things on stage for a long time, because it is such a new reality. So, I found a lot of the criticisms including the ones you pointed out as being really short-sighted and demonstrating a real lack of imagination and bigger picture-thinking on the part of these people. Can I go on about my complaints about the critics?

    OL – Sure!

    PA – The thing that I found particularly jarring about a lot of the criticism I read about the piece is that so many of these critics lament the lack of new works. They say if opera is going to survive we need new works. And yet they seem to be ignorant of the fact that most composers, even Mozart and Wagner and Verdi, their first works are not considered their masterpieces today. Their mature works are performed today still for reasons that it takes time and experience to really hone your craft writing an opera. It’s a very specific challenge of creating a piece of drama with an orchestra, because the way you have to time out theatrical bits, the way you have to shape this telling of the story is a very unique and special thing and you can never really learn how to do it until you do it.

    So I think for them to lose sight of the fact that this is Nico’s first opera, not only is frustrating but it is frankly harmful to the art form because their lack of perspective about what he is doing is discouraging the very thing that they claim needs to exist for opera to be relevant and develop new audiences and reach out to them. I’m not saying that the piece needs to be treated with kid gloves or that it needs not to be criticized at all, but I think that there needs to be greater respect for the moment in this composer’s history when this is occurring, and be much more loud about appreciating the potential that is demonstrated there, and what further opportunities to create opera will yield for all of us opera fans, and for the future of opera.

    OL – This was a spectacular answer, Paul. I think it should be highlighted in a separate article on Opera Lively. [laughs]

    PA – OK! [laughs]

    OL – We always discuss contemporary opera there, and I’m one of the big defenders of it. Others are not as much. I love your answer. I think I’ll make some use of your answer in more than just the interview, you know?

    PA – I hope so! I think we need to all invest in opera’s future, and that involves that we can’t expect Verdi to write Falstaff his first time out, you know what I mean? But that seems to be the expectation for the composers, today. The journey to learning how to become a master of something is never the first time, especially in opera. Look at the great composers that we respect and perform today; it’s never their first, or even their first dozen operas, that is or are much in the repertory.

    OL – Right. I interviewed the composer of Silent Night, Pulitzer Prize-winning Kevin Puts -- and he said “composing opera is really hard; I didn’t know it was that hard! This is my first one, and now I look forward to the second one and the third one and so on.” He mentioned how much he learned in the workshop while they were doing it. It’s a different medium. He was used to symphonic pieces. There is an exception to it, though. I mentioned it to you in Santa Fe but by now I’ve paid even more attention to it – Written on Skin by George Benjamin. Have you seen it? [Opera Lively has just published a guidebook to the opera - available on Amazon (here)]

    PA – I have seen a DVD of it. I was fascinated by it! To be honest, I need to listen to it a lot more. It’s a very challenging score, I found. But I was really struck by what a successful piece of theater it is. I keep going back to this idea of theater. Opera has to be successful theatrically, and I found that that one was. I was skeptical when I read the synopsis for the plot. I thought it was so mysterious, and it affected me in a way that I don’t quite understand yet. I’m looking forward to spending more time with that score and really learning it better. There isn’t a role for me in it, other than that one small role.

    OL - Yes, the Third Angel / John is a tenor role, but the two male leading roles are for countertenor and bass-baritone.

    PA – Right.

    OL – And it requires a soprano with wide range. But I mentioned it as an exception because George got it right the first time. Of course he did the short chamber opera Into the Little Hill, but this is his first full-length opera for a full orchestra, so I think of Written on Skin as sort of his first one. It is very good.

    PA – Yes. I’m going to watch it again, and then several times, to get it right. But technically speaking you are right, it’s not his first piece of theater, because of that Pied Piper opera [Editor’s note – Into the Little Hill is about the Pied Piper of Hamelin]. This is what composers tell me: until you are actually sitting in a seat in a hall watching it on stage, you can’t really know how the audience is going to feel about it. If you are composing a musical phrase and you are just trying to do a symphonic piece, it could take this long to execute it [makes a broad gesture]. But in opera you can’t complete that musical thought the way you otherwise would want it to happen, because it stifles the theatricality of the moment. Those are things you can’t know until you do those workshops and have an experience. I’m sure George Benjamin is one of the smartest men alive. He must have learned immensely from that first experience.

    OL – Oh wow. This was a great part of this interview. I knew I could trust you, Paul. You are a smart man. Your answers are always very interesting.

    PA – [laughs]

    OL – OK, so let’s continue. You did the title role for The Rake’s Progress for Oper Frankfurt, and soon you’ll be doing it again for the Met. Let’s talk about this major work by Stravinsky and this character. First, together with Porgy and Bess and Peter Grimes, I personally rank The Rake’s Progress among the top three operas in English in modern times (I say modern times because I don’t want to upset the memories of the likes of Purcell and Handel…). Do you agree? It’s been called a neo-classical homage to Mozart but it does have fractured meters and modernisms. Others listen in it some sort of American musical language especially in the jazzy tones of the auction scene. What is your take on this music? What is special about it?

    PA – I absolutely agree. I think Rake’s Progress, I’d rank it above Porgy and Bess and Peter Grimes, personally, and I love those two shows. I know that Rake’s Progress, the sort of diction of it, especially the libretto and that sort of very specific way that Stravinsky writes for the orchestra, is maybe not to everybody’s taste. I don’t think that means it’s not amazing and accomplished and beautiful. It’s a major work and a great piece, but I can understand people voting for some other things above it, just based on personal taste. For me, I personally love the world that is created in this piece. I’m going to jump ahead to the question you have later, about the psychology of the character Tom Rakewell. That echoes some of the things that I said about Meistersinger, which is that the reason I find it so successful is that it manages to be incredibly funny and witty, albeit it demands a lot of the audience in terms of just following the syntax of the poetry that is used in the piece.

    The characters are very relatable and human, even though they are also at the same time archetypal. They are kind of broad strokes. Look at the very generic character Anne Trulove; even their names suggest what they are; not specifically full stroke human beings, but representative of some kind of pre-existing, even Commedia dell’Arte types; these pre-existing notions of people that we collectively have as a society. Everything that is going on, including Auden’s libretto, which is just delicious, I think, incredibly fun and stimulating and then combined with Stravinsky’s use of an orchestra that is almost identical to Mozart’s orchestra in Così fan tutte… I’m sorry, can I start again? [laughs] I’m trying to answer too many questions at once. I can see the threads spinning off in different directions.

    Scratch that, and let me get to the actual question. Do I agree with Rake’s Progress being top three? Absolutely. I’ll go so far as to call it number one in my esteem. What is my take on the music, and what is special about it? What I love about the score is that it is so evocative of Mozart again, because it uses a Mozartian orchestra, and has such clear references to so many moments in Mozart operas, most notably Così fan tutte. For example, Tom’s second aria, “Love too frequently betrayed” starts almost exactly like “Un’aura amorosa,” Ferrando’s aria from Così fan tutte, except that it is in A minor chord instead of A major chord [sings a fragment of it]. It immediately puts in your mind that piece, in the instrumentation and the way it’s scored. And it is followed by the chorus of the whores, who are singing something that sounds very much like the quintet in Così fan tutte.

    The “Di scrivermi ogni giorno...” and the “How sad a song” – and so there are all these little references to Mozart; also to Verdi and a lot of other 19th century composers throughout the piece, so it ties into this whole idea of the tradition of opera, and it has all that history underneath it, informing it. But at the same time Stravinsky -- the biggest musical genius I think of the 20th century -- is employing his own very unique and very skilled use of the orchestra, rhythmic invention including all the unusual meters, syncopations throughout the thing, that give this undercurrent of energy that makes these stock characters come to life in a very vivid and exciting, palpable way.

    OL - How Russian versus how American do you think this opera is?

    PA – Again, back to Stravinsky’s musical style especially by that point in his career towards the end of the fifties, he had established his own style that transcends any kind of national identity, and not to mention that he influenced a whole generation or two by then of composers of the 20th century modernist that goes beyond any sort of country borders or traditions.

    That’s why I would say the opera is very American even though neither of its creators are Americans, because it questions a very American idea, I think, which is this idea of the individual, and this idea of being special, and being able, through you own abilities and efforts, to achieve immense, great things. And then there is this sort of mythology that animates so much of the American history and American personality that I think is functioning in this. Already by that time, by the 1950’s, America had emerged as one of the most influential cultures in the world. As we know now, Hollywood and American pop music have become world-wide phenomena. So that’s why I think the piece is American in that sense, because at that time in history, this idea of Capitalism, of the individuals as opposed to Communism in the Soviet Union, it was sort of critiquing that in a way. Auden certainly had his Marxist leanings and this was a different time in history before we saw what Communism in its actual form the world really understood what that system entailed in case of lack of personal liberty. So that’s why I think that the piece is very American.

    OL – Great. And there is syncopation and jazzy rhythms as part of the music. And actually, let’s be proud of our country, because Stravinsky at that point was a naturalized American; did you know that?

    PA – Oh yes, certainly.

    OL – So when you said no Americans created the piece, I’d say, “wait a moment, Stravinsky is American.”

    PA – You are absolutely right! I take it back! Sorry for it! [laughs] He was really American. God bless America! [laughs]

    OL – OK, so tell me about Tom Rakewell. Is it difficult to sing?

    PA – Not for me. It’s not easy but it suits my voice so well, the ranges of it, the demands of it. Again I find the challenges musically stimulating. The rhythmic complexity makes it a lot of fun. One of the reasons I enjoy singing it so much is because it suits my voice very well. I don’t mean to say it’s easy to sing. It plays to my vocal strengths.

    OL - Now, what about the psychology of the character? It is a complex character. First he appears quite callous and not interested in working hard, rather saying he’ll live by his wits and his luck, and he seems to really use Anne Trulove. Then he does appear ambivalent before succumbing to Mother Goose’s seduction. Next he is bored with his dissolute life and earns for happiness. He comes to genuinely regret his marriage to Baba the Turk and longs for Anne again. Finally we see him as pretty much the victim of Nick Shadow, leading to his insanity and death. This is a rather convoluted arc. As an actor, how do you go about it? Is it difficult to make the public relate to this character?

    PA – On the surface Tom Rakewell looks like a caricature, like a representative of some kind of idea of the young man in the narrative. Those kinds of characters exist. These stock figures exist because they are so universal. I don’t think Tom is a good guy or a villain. He is a human being like you and me, and I don’t think anybody, even people who do bad things, necessarily think of themselves as the villains of their own lives and Tom Rakewell is no exception. I think he genuinely loves Anne. Actually he does love and respect her father. However he is young, he thinks very highly of himself because he hasn’t been out in the world to have his self-esteem challenged by anybody. When opportunity comes along, that seems too good to be true. He doesn’t have enough experience or intelligence to question that it might be too good to be true.

    Anyone of us, especially someone without a really good parent which he clearly doesn’t have in the story – going back to Blanche and the Chevalier who are lacking a paternal figure too to look after them – I think will stray, and it doesn’t make him a villain at all. It’s an obvious human choice by anybody in his position. He might come across as very prideful and callous and not interested in working hard. Maybe it’s just me; maybe I’m just too quick to relate to Tom Rakewell! [laughs] I don’t think that makes him a bad guy; it makes him a somewhat naïve and inexperienced guy who hasn’t learned these important lessons about life yet. He is more victim in that sense when he is preyed upon by Nick Shadow.

    So I don’t think he uses Anne Trulove. I think he genuinely does love her, but I think it is too tempting for him to stray and to explore other paths. When he gets sucked into this other world it is not that he abandons Anne. He experiences great shame and embarrassment and he feels unworthy of Anne because he’s betrayed her. I think that’s why he avoids her; not because he was using her before, but because he loves and respects her so much that when he has to confront his actions when he sees her again he feels unworthy of her.

    That’s a genuine thing that he does, this sort of cycle of committing these sins, I guess you call them, and acting in a reckless way. It’s a natural thing for kids to do without proper guidance. It leads to this downward spiral that he falls into. That’s why the genius of Nick Shadow is revealed because of the series of temptations that lead him inevitably further down. I don’t think Tom is a villain at all. He is not necessarily a hero either, because he gives in to these temptations, but they are easy enough ones to fall into. I can relate to it. He is bored with his life because he doesn’t know the treasure of commitment to a virtuous life.

    OL – Is it hard to portray all of this to the public, in terms of acting? It’s a very complex arc.

    PA – It is, but I think that’s why I find that no matter what you are singing, whether you are singing in a very verbose German role like David in a foreign language, or Tom Rakewell, my technique as an actor is to try understand the subtext and simplify whatever is being said or translate it, whatever the keys may be. This is true of acting as an art form, period, whether it’s an opera or theater or television or movies, whatever it is, is that you have to understand what a character is thinking or feeling at the most fundamental, broken down, simple level. I mean, it might be complex but you have to sort of understand that at all times. If you can achieve that and have that subtext constantly present, and take in this whole idea of the complexity of Tom, you won’t judge him certainly as an actor and say “this guy is a jerk and I’ll let the audience know” because I don’t think anybody goes through life thinking of themselves as a jerk no matter how much of a jerk they might be [laughs]. That’s a first pitfall to avoid in terms of trying to get this complexity of this arc of the story to come across and make it in a way that anybody in the audience can relate to him, because he is not acting deliberately to hurt anybody. Many of us, all of us, end up hurting people that we love even though we don’t want to, because we give in to temptations that come along the way.

    That’s why I think this role and the arc of it is so crushing and beautifully sad at the end when he is so devastated by his choices and this downward spiral of sin that he sort of falls down into. When at the end of the show he is unable to think of himself as Tom anymore, he has to dissociate himself from his own identity because it has to do with regret. All of us can relate to that regret, to that sense of loss that all of us have experienced going through to life. Your childhood connection to the world is inevitably for all of us kind of broken, and there is always some kind of loss that we experience, whether it’s the death of a loved one or the loss of a relationship through your own fault or someone else’s. That’s why I find the piece so deeply moving and why I rank it number one, because even though it is a very Rococo approach to storytelling in music, that essential human journey is very relatable to all us, and that regret and the sadness of that. On top of which, Anne Trulove’s grace in that moment is so generous and touching; we should all hope to have that kind of forgiveness. No matter how unchanging it might make our current situation, that kind of grace and love between people is what makes it all worth continuing to strive for.

    OL – It’s probably one of the saddest endings in all of opera, isn’t it?

    PA – I swear, I can’t… I have to make efforts not to get choked up in that last scene when he says “In a foolish dream, in a gloomy labyrinth, I hunted shadows, disdaining thy true love; forgive thy servant, who repents his madness.” He is asking for forgiveness. He says he hunted shadows and was lost in this sort of haze of his own temptations, and giving into them. It is so sincere and so desperate, that feeling that he expresses there, and I find it so moving that when I’m in a performance of it I have to separate myself from that moment otherwise I’ll give into the emotion and it will interfere with my vocal production.

    OL – So, if I understand correctly what you said about acting before, if you get a character that is so complex and has such a wide arc, you try to break it into the building blocks of each state of mind and you try to make it simple, like a pure emotion in that moment, so that you can relate to it and convey it to the public? Is that what you said?

    PA – Yeah… [hesitates] but to give it a little more nuance, I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t think that people generally think of themselves as bad people, and so if you are going to be that character you have to kind of say “OK, I’m in this situation and I make this choice – why would I have made that choice?” You then can come up with much more human and realistic reasons in that moment, when you are not casting judgment on the character but actually contemplating yourself in that situation and then moving forward from there. I try to have that, and be informed of the choices that Tom makes by humanizing him, by just putting myself – this human – into that situation, as opposed to a representation of somebody that I already made a judgment about.

    OL – I interviewed Jessica Pratt. Do you know her?

    PA – I don’t know Jessica, no.

    OL – She is having a big bel canto career in Italy.

    PA – Sure, yes, I’ve heard a lot about her; I just don’t know her personally.

    OL – Right. She said something very interesting about Norma. She said – I paraphrase – “it’s not just a question of vocal ability to sing it, which might come later in my career, but another problem is that I haven’t been through all the experiences in life and the losses that she experienced herself, so I don’t think I can portray her well because I am a single woman with no children, so that ambivalence when she is so desperate that she plans on killing her own children, I don’t think I can make that leap, psychologically, so I don’t think I’m prepared at this point in my life to portray that character. I found that answer interesting. So you are a young guy doing very well in life, married, with a seven week-old daughter. Do you feel that it is hard to take on all this intensity that Tom Rakewell brings? You haven’t been through this level of loss, either.

    PA – Well, I think it’s our job. To respectfully dissent from what Jessica stated, I think that’s too limiting. We don’t have the luxury of only taking on roles that we can relate very specifically to the character’s life experience. This is actually part of the technique that I was taught by Stephen Wadsworth who is a great director and who teaches at the Juilliard School and at the Met Young Artists Program. The technique, I sort of hinted at it earlier when I talked about my approach to acting, is to boil down any given moment in the show, or, say, like in this aria the character is feeling this or doing this; he actually makes you break it down and say “a character who blah blah blah verb… and feels… this.” It’s this sort of translation as you take it: “OK. Tom Rakewell is going through this and he says this.” And he generalizes it as much as possible: “a person who does this…” And then you go from that general statement, and then you try to connect it to your own life and draw on those moments or emotions. Sometimes you have to draw on your imagination too, if you aren’t really quite at that life moment. You know, who would play Medea? What actor has been through that? There are ways of approaching those emotional states, I think, and you might have to make leaps of imagination, but that I think is the task and the technique of the actor.

    OL – Very good. I had sent you this question, “Does playing him affect you personally and messes up with your mind a bit?” and I think you’ve answered already, when you said that last scene almost chokes you up, right?

    PA – Yes, it does. Again, this idea of sadness and loss that I think we all experience, for me I can draw on memories or thoughts that make me respond to that moment, really, from my personal life. It’s a good thing, though. It doesn’t mess with my mind. In certain ways it’s cathartic or therapeutic for me to have that outlet in doing what I do.

    OL – One of my very recent interviews was with Chris Maltman. He was telling me about the Captain, in The Death of Klinghoffer, and saying that after the performance he would be emotionally devastated and have to take some time to cool off and recover emotionally from the impact of portraying the character. He was saying, “you know, as trained as I am as an actor, it still gets to me; I need to go out with friends and have some beer to decompress.”

    Moving on. It might be too early to ask, but it’s a revival anyway of the original 1997 run, repeated in 2003, so, do you know anything about the Met’s The Rake’s Progress? It is set in Berlin of the early 1930’s, cleverly alluding to Auden's period of dissipation in the bars and brothels of the panicky city. It uses modern imagery. Anne and her father live in a surrealistically tall country house with a roof of leaves from tall trees growing within the walls. The London townhouse that Tom purchases has a stark, white-walled salon with huge windows that open upon a commercial street. The graveyard is a creepy place where the only hints of outside life are billboards with remnants of posters with blue sky images. How would you compare it with the production you did in Frankfurt directed by Axel Weidauer with sets by Moritz Nitsche which from the photos I saw is even more surreal and stark? If you can’t compare, then just tell us about the concept in the Frankfurt production – the curious part is that you’ve referred to that production as very American although it was in Europe, so I’m curious to know how the American production at the Met feels like since it is set in Berlin.

    A scene of the Metropolitan Opera's production of The Rake's Progress

    PA – I don’t know a lot about the production. I’ve seen some still photos of it. I’ve heard the recording of it from 2003, I believe. It was Paul Groves singing the role. I’m not that familiar with the details of the production. I knew it was set in Berlin. I can’t speak in great detail about what I think about it, just yet. About my experience of the production in Frankfurt, that was my first time doing the role so that informs a lot of my thinking about the piece. That’s why earlier I said that this piece addresses a very American world view. The production we did in Germany, although aesthetically, physically, the way the set looked was much more – I would call – German, with the stark use of color and things like that that you would find more in a German opera house than in an American one, but it explored and took this idea of the American celebrity culture that is such a big presence in Western media today, particularly in America.

    Paul in The Rake's Progress in Frankfurt, photo credit unknown

    Paul with Brenda Rae in The Rake's Progress in Frankfurt - photo Monika Ritter House

    For example, Baba the Turk was a celebrity, and this whole marriage with Baba the Turk was in some ways like a publicity stunt for Tom Rakewell in the concept, there. That was why I said that that production was American, because it was very much sort of this idea of becoming famous or becoming a YouTube star. It’s a very American idea that anybody from anywhere can become the next big thing if opportunity strikes.

    OL - Do you know why they are doing only three shows?

    PA – I think the Met always has this slot at the end of the season when they only had three performances. I’ve been in those a few times. They typically put a 20th century piece there, I suspect because those shows may not have as big an audience as some of the warhorses of the 19th century and Mozart. [I’d like to strike this following sentence…I stumbled over myself trying to get to the idea!] Hopefully, I think, lately there’s been a trend that they stick to this plan, but it always seems to be impossible to get a ticket for those shows. In Dialogue des Carmélites we only had three shows in May just like this Rake’s Progress. Nobody could get a ticket to the show; every single one was sold-out, because people just really loved that production in that show. Billy Budd they did a few years before with the same situation. Hopefully this is promising, in that I think that contemporary audiences are more and more interested in the works of the last fifty years than they had been. These works are starting to fold into the canon in the minds of the audience. It’s promising that such pieces will become less marginal and more central to our conception of the canon.

    OL – Great! That’s what I want too! And I got my ticket, so I’ll be there.

    PA – Oh, wonderful!

    OL - This production originally had Jerry Hadley as Tom Rakewell, and its revival in 2003 had Paul Groves. You said you listened to Groves’ performance. Do you typically look at the work of your predecessors when preparing for a role?

    PA – That’s a great question. I’m glad you asked, because actually those two guys plus Matthew Polenzani are the three tenors who did a lot of work at the Met in a similar period of their careers as me. A lot of the rep of those three guys overlaps with me. In fact every role I’ve done has been performed by at least one of these three guys. Even in Troyens, I sang the small role of Hylas, and Paul Groves did that. Chevalier de La Force, Polenzani sang. Also Brighella was my debut in Ariadne, and Paul Groves sang that. Polenzani sang David in Die Meistersingers and of course Jerry Hadley did Tom Rakewell. So these three guys I looked to a lot. I’ve scoured the Internet and YouTube for all kinds of videos of that, because although we are all very distinct singers, of course, we are all within this very specific sort of starting with Mozart and growing out of that into other things and voices, so I looked at those guys a lot and I have to say, Jerry Hadley is the one who I think my voice is closest to, just in the physicality sense. I’m a very different singer and artist than him, but when I listen to those three guys, I hear how Hadley approaches the passagio and the ways of his voice. I feel closest to him. Particularly in this last year I’ve been listening to him religiously because I think he is such a great example to me of good singing.

    OL – So you extensively listen to predecessors. I’ve had singers probably divided half and half into two opposite camps on that. Some people feel that it is absolutely not a good thing for them to do; others will do it as much as they can and will go after all the YouTubes and things. So you fall on the second camp.

    PA – The thing is, ultimately it’s me; I have to learn how to sing with my voice or it’s not going to happen at all, so the way I see it is that I’ll take any kind of good example or tip I can find anywhere. I cast my net as wide as possible because ultimately my brain has to transform and it has to go through the same system and come out as the uniquely Paul thing, but the input can come from anywhere so I’ll take it whenever I can find it, especially from people who I admire and whose singing relates to mine in a technical way.

    OL – And you’re never afraid of picking up idiosyncrasies that don’t actually match your voice and might get in the way?

    PA – Like I said, I don’t think so, because everything needs to go through my own machine here and come out as me. There might be a trick or two that a singer does and you might try, but as soon as I find that it doesn’t work for me and impedes my progress I drop it. I’ve had a lot of feedback in places like the Met working with such good coaches and conductors who give me good input on what I’m doing. I don’t think I’m ever too at risk of falling into those traps.

    OL – I see. Nice. So, your voice has been described lately by critics as having unusual range of colors and nuances. Is this something you strive your best to accomplish? How do you go about enhancing your color palette, in your studies and practices?

    PA – Yes, I’m flattered by your question that I’ve gotten described as having a range of colors and nuances. I attribute that to my extensive work with song repertoire. In some ways my desire to have a lot of colors in my voice has been an impediment. [laughs] Maybe not an impediment but it complicates things a little bit more when simplicity would be easier in certain situations. That’s something I learned again by being in Die Meistersinger, where the actual acoustic demands limit you in a lot of ways in terms of how many colors you can use, because half of your color palette might be inaudible [laughs] in Wagner. Learning how to discard a lot of those colors before you even start; I’m learning to do that especially in the operatic repertoire. I think having all those different colors and cultivating them by being on the recital stage with just a piano and trying to express a poem in a song as much as possible by any means necessary is helpful, but you have to shed some of them, because they might not contribute to the best vocal health. As I grow up I’m learning, for example, “this color I love; I think that’s a very beautiful softness in what I’m singing, but I realize that in order to do that I might have to come off of my support or something, and I’m not willing to pay the consequential price of making this one choice here if it is going to undermine my essential vocality.”

    OL – Wow! OK! So, yes, you are passionate about the art of song even though you need to be careful about making those choices like you said. But how do you compare the pleasure of singing song cycles or song recitals with that of singing staged opera? Do you feel like you can be more expressive in songs, or in opera?

    PA – Being in an opera is so much fun, because of the collegiality of it, and jumping into a character so fully and completely, there is something of an almost childish fun about that. I still get a kick out of it. Certainly I want to continue to do that as long as possible. But if I had to choose, I’d say that the art song is a little nearer to my heart, because it is such a personal art form, not only in the performance of it but one of my favorite things, one of the greatest joys of this whole career, is not just performing but programming song recitals. I take a lot of pride and spend a lot of time in not just learning as much repertoire as I can, and being familiar with as many art songs by as many different composers, but then piecing together a program that somehow threads through different thematic and musical ideas and creates a cohesive evening at a recital hall.

    I try to avoid just programming songs that people like [laughs]. Not that there is anything wrong with songs that people like but I’m not just going to put on greatest lieder hits of Schubert, Brahms, and Strauss just because that’s what people do. I have a recital coming up next year at Carnegie Hall and I want to explore an idea of German poetry at a certain time in German history so I’m doing Schumann’s Opus 24 which are poems by Heine [Editor’s note: Liederkreis] and pairing them with some [Hugo] Wolf songs with poems by Eichendorff. I think there is a lot of interesting overlap between these two poets. The stanzas will be very different, but in the hands of these two composers they bring out common thematic elements that I find really interesting. So, I try to be very deliberate in my art song programming and I take a lot of pride in that. And of course the intimacy of the relationship with the pianist, the intimacy of the music that you create, and the intimacy with the audience, it’s just you, and you are just naked there with your intellect and your voice, your personality, and your energy. That, I think is the most delicious part and the most lasting and delightful aspect of my work as a singer.

    OL – Ha! That’s interesting. Some of the singers who share with you the love for art songs have said similar things to me. It’s almost like you are composing something in terms of creating a program, right? Because you are taking the public into some sort of story arc as well. If you sing a song cycle, it is already there, but if you are creating your own program with different composers and different songs, you want to maintain coherence, with the beginning of the show, the middle, and the ending. It’s almost like you are doing some composition yourself in a sense, or some librettist work. [laughs]

    PA – [Laughs] No, I feel very much that way! Another aspect of it that I like, is that people love to hear stuff that they know so it is certainly worthwhile and I always try to include more of the well-known works of the song literature, but there is a lot of amazing song repertory that people just don’t know, and it doesn’t mean it is not worthy of being performed or not as great. For example, I’m going to be doing some Villa-Lobos songs next year too, which I think are phenomenal pieces of song composition and are fun and beautiful, and there is a lot of dance music brought into there, so I think it’s going to be successful, even if I’m sure very few people will be familiar with the music.

    OL – Well, I am. I’ve spent many years in Brazil.

    PA – I was going to ask you. You will know one of my anchors, then, I presume, which is “Carinhoso.”

    OL – Hm, hm. Wow!

    PA – Do you know that song?

    OL – I do!


    [Editors note - see the video clip, and below, the lyrics in Portuguese and English]


    (Pixinguinha e João de Barro)

    Meu coração
    Não sei porque
    Bate feliz
    quando te vê.

    E os meus olhos ficam sorrindo
    e pelas ruas, vão te seguindo
    mas mesmo assim
    foges de mim

    Ah! se tu soubesses
    como eu sou tão carinhoso
    e o muito muito que te quero

    e como é sincero meu amor
    eu sei que tu não fugiria
    mais de mim

    vem, vem,vem, vem
    vem sentir o calor
    dos lábios meus
    a procura dos teus

    vem matar esta paixão
    que me devora o coração
    e só assim então,
    serei feliz,
    bem feliz.

    Meu coração ......



    Carinhoso (affectionate)
    (Pixinguinha e João de Barro)

    My heart
    I Do not know why
    It happy beats
    when it sees you.

    And my eyes are smiling
    and throught the streets, they are following you
    but despite of this
    You run away from me

    Ah! if you knew
    as I am so affectionate
    and the much and much that I want you
    and how my love is sincere
    I know you do not run away
    more from me

    come, come, come, come
    come feel the heat
    from my lips
    on looking for yours

    come to kill this passion
    that devours my heart
    then and only then,
    I will be happy
    very happy.

    My heart ......


    PA – By Pissinghinha! [mispronounces it slightly]

    OL – Pixinguinha.

    PA – Pixinguinha! [does it perfectly this time] Right! I have to call you back when I do this, because I need some help with my pronunciation, because the Brazilian accent is the most elusive of all, it seems.

    OL – Wow!

    PA – You talk to two different Brazilians, they come up with completely different answers! [laughs]

    OL – Interesting. Yes, please do call me. [There are different regional accents in Brazil] OK. In your website your schedule only goes as far as The Rake’s Progress in May of 2015. If you are at a liberty to say, what does the near future reserve for you, beyond May?

    PA – I think I may need to update my website. I’ll be in Glyndebourne this summer singing in Handel’s Saul, and I’m very excited about it. It will be my first time singing there. I’ll also be back there but I don’t want to announce specific productions yet before the opera company announces them, but I will be singing a principal role there – a title role, actually, in the following summer. I’m singing roles at the Met and in San Francisco next season, and doing a recital tour. I don’t know if it’s been announced yet, but the highlight of it will be a performance at Zankel Hall, at Carnegie in March of 2015.

    OL – Good things coming your way. I love Glyndebourne. I think it is really among the top five opera companies in the world, in my opinion.

    PA – I’ve heard such great things! Most of the people I work with have worked there and they all tell me what a wonderful artistic place it is. And it’s also a very lovely place to spend a summer, too. It’s the Santa Fe of England, so… [laughs]

    OL – Yes, the attention to detail, and extensive rehearsals, and every single aspect of the production is taken care of; it’s just an amazing company, isn’t it?

    PA – Yes, they have great respect for the art form and they really do it properly in their shows.

    OL – Right. Maybe I’ll go there to watch you. Is is this coming summer?

    PA – This coming summer, that’s right.

    OL – Too bad. I have some mandatory things to do this summer, like the Santa Fe Cold Mountain, and the Written on Skin in New York; both involve Opera Lively Press books given that Jay Morris will be in Cold Mountain and we’ve published his memoirs, and we’re publishing the guidebook to Written on Skin so I’ll have to be there.

    PA – I know. I wish I could see that, too! I really enjoy Jennifer Higdon’s music so I’m very confident that it’s going to be a good show.

    OL – Yep. So, how is life these days, Paul? You seemed quite happy in Santa Fe, and you’ve been through thrilling experiences ever since. Is there anything new, like some additional conclusion or insight about the work and life of an opera singer that came to your mind based on your more recent experiences?

    PA – All the stuff we’ve been talking about is all secondary to the new arrival to the family, to be honest. It’s been a really joyful experience to have a new life around here and have a little daughter. Of course it’s hard to have a newborn around the house when you are doing rehearsals for Meistersinger [laughs] in a certain way, but on the other hand it has afforded me a little bit of psychological balance. It forces me to separate my attention to my work at the opera house and my time at home. That’s actually a healthy thing, and I found that – and I think this is probably true of a lot of my colleagues – the boundaries that family imposes on you are helpful, because the stresses and the mental preoccupation with what you are doing can bleed into anything. Before my daughter was born I might be having a conversation with anyone in the world but in the back of my mind I had this one musical phrase or an aria, “how do I exactly pronounce that one French vowel exactly on that?” and would be thinking of this role or that role. Actually the separation that I’m experiencing now has been a very welcome thing and it allows me to really focus and commit to my work when I’m working, and do the same for my family when I’m home. So far it’s been good. I’m sure there will be a lot of challenges ahead especially when I have to travel and figure it all out. For now it’s been very positive happy days, here.

    OL – Hm, hm. We are getting to the end. There’s an interesting thing – we did that interview at Santa Fe, when, about a year and a half ago, right?

    PA – The summer before last, yes, 2013.

    OL – I think you’re even more sophisticated as an artist, now. This is not to say you weren’t sophisticated then, but you learn very fast!

    PA – [laughs] For what it is worth, I don’t think The Grand-Duchess of Gerolstein is perhaps the greatest showcase for one’s full range of abilities as an artist! [laughs]

    OL – Right! [laughs]

    PA – I agree that I’ve grown since then, but… [laughs]

    OL – I mean, I’m talking more about how you think about the technique, the vocal productions, the colors, and so forth. You really put a lot of thought into it all. I think it’s amazing. I expect great things in your career. I’m a big fan.

    PA – Last year after Santa Fe I had a long stretch. I was gone, on the road for about five months straight, where I was in Toronto doing Così, Frankfurt doing Così, then Washington DC doing Magic Flute, and I had never been in that sort of long consistent time on the road. I’m learning that the work never stops. There are a lot of challenges along the way. Every time you are in a different theater, different rehearsal facilities, different colleagues. The Guglielmo in this show might sing three times louder than the Guglielmo in that show, and you have to realize how does that affect you in your technique and in your approach. You are tempted to try and match the louder guy and to sing softer with the softer guy. Every experience forces you to just sort of address all kinds of issues, psychological, technical, theatrical, whatever it might be. So, yes, every experience adds another layer of hopefully helpful learning too.

    OL – Very nice. Well, as I expected, this was one of our best interviews. It will take a while to transcribe – that’s the sixth one that I am behind with.

    PA – Oh wow! Don’t worry about me, I’m in no rush! [laughs] I don’t need to read my own interviews, so… [laughs].

    OL – You look exhausted now, Paul!

    PA – [laughs] It’s starting to come down!

    OL – I’m sorry for taking your time for so long after your performance, and with your young daughter and all, but I really appreciate your time. It is always a pleasure, talking to you. You are such a smart and outstanding singer!

    PA – You are coming to The Rake’s Progress, right?

    OL – I am! I’ll be there.

    PA – OK, great, let me know when you are in town; maybe we can grab a cup of coffee or something.

    OL – Great, good idea.

    PA – All right, thank you so much!

    OL – Thank you!


    Let's listen to the singer in Enchanted Island (his part starts at 2'20")


    If you came to this page through a link from another site, please consider exploring our exclusive interviews (Joyce DiDonato's, Anna Caterina Antonacci's, Luca Pisaroni's, Thomas Hampson's, Piotr Beczala's, scholar Dr. Philip Gossett's, Susan Graham's, Jay Hunter Morris', and stage director Thaddeus Strassberger's and many others are especially good, among by now 157 artists, scholars, conductors, stage directors, etc.), news, and articles by clicking on the Articles tab above and using our new clickable content index [here], or the Section Widget on the top left of the Home page; our very active discussion Forum (of course, by clicking on the Forum tab - and please notice that over there we also have an area with content in Spanish, German, French, Italian, and Portuguese).

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    You might consider the purchase of ours books "Opera Lively - The Interviews" volumes 1 and 2 - full announcement and links to sales points [here] for volume 1 and [here] for volume 2, just released. Also don't miss the very funny book by famed Met tenor Jay Hunter Morris, "Diary of a Redneck Opera Zinger" published by Opera Lively Press; click [here]. Also on sale, our guidebook to Berlioz's Les Troyens: click [here], and the very recently published guidebook to George Benjamin's Written on Skin: click [here].

    Bookmark our site and come back for more - several new and exciting interviews are always coming to Opera Lively - recent ones have included Greek National Opera's principal conductor Myron Michailidis, the great mezzo Sarah Connolly, Russian soprano Olga Peretyatko, star tenor Juan Diego Flórez, British countertenor Tim Mead, Dutch soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek, American tenor Brandon Jovanovich, British stage director Katie Mitchell, and others.


    We are scheduled next to interview Elina Garanca, Ailyn Pérez, Nadja Michael, Peter Mattei, and Luca Pisaroni

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