Het is zo simpel: je draait een telefoonnummer. Er wordt opgenomen en een donkere, warme, lieve stem zegt: “hallo, met Marilyn”. En weg zijn de zenuwen. We praten veel langer dan het toegestane half uur. En er wordt veel gelachen.
Op 16 januari 2003 werd zij zeventig en tegelijkertijd vierde ze haar officiële debuut, vijftig jaar geleden. Om het te vieren kwam er een cd uit, die zij zelf heeft samengesteld. “Had je het al gehoord?” vraagt ze. “Want ik ben er best trots op. Er staan zowel studio als live opnamen op. Allemaal zelf gekozen”.
“Zeventig, mijn god, waar is de tijd gebleven? Mijn debuut in de opera maakte ik toen ik twintig jaar oud was, maar ik heb mijn hele leven gezongen. En in feite debuteerde ik toen ik twee jaar oud was, dus ik zing al bijna 70 jaar. Mijn vader was een semiprofessionele zanger, een tenor met een prachtige stem. Hij was mijn eerste leraar, mijn mentor. Ik begon met de zanglessen toen ik 5 jaar oud was, iets, wat ik overigens niemand zal aanbevelen. Te vroeg.”
Toen ze twintig was stierf haar vader. En zij vertrok naar Europa. Was er enig verband?
“Puur toeval. Mijn Europese plannen stonden al een tijd vast. Hij kreeg een acute vorm van leukemie, en in die tijd stierf je er snel aan. Zondag kreeg hij de diagnose en woensdag was hij al dood. Maar ja, ik was al onderweg naar Europa. Met een Nederlands schip overigens, dat ‘Maasdam’ heette”.
Marylin Horne is als sopraan begonnen om daarna één van de grootste mezzo’s uit de geschiedenis te worden.
“Jonge meisjes hebben geen lage noten, en ik was een jong meisje. Toen ik ouder werd, werd me steeds vaker gevraagd of ik er zeker van ben, dat ik een sopraan ben, Nou, daar was ik dus zeker van. In de opera van Gelsenkirchen zong ik zware sopraanrollen, zoals Minnie in La Fanciulla del West. En Marie in Wozzeck, een rol die mij roem en geluk heeft gebracht. Ik zong het in de Covent Garden, en daarna in Los Angeles. Gelukkig bestaan er piratenopnamen van en zo kan ik er weer naar luisteren. Ik ben de ‘piraten’ dus bijzonder dankbaar want zelf nam ik mijn optredens nooit op. En het is live en als je een operazanger bent dan doe je de opera live, op de bühne.”
Marilyn Horne zingt Marie in Wozzeck in een piratenopname uit1966:
Haar repertoire is immens: van Gesualdo tot de modernen, opera, liederen, musicals.
“En film” voegt ze eraan toe. “In feite zong ik alles wat mogelijk was. Ik was een soort kameleon, was in staat de benodigde kleuren te veranderen. Nu ik terugkijk naar mijn carrière vraag ik me af: waarom was ik zo gehaast? Dat raad ik mijn studenten absoluut af.”
Meer goede adviezen?
“Werk aan je techniek, dat is het allerbelangrijkste”.
Had ze een voorbeeld? Een idool?
“In mijn kinderjaren Lily Pons. En dan voornamelijk in haar aria uit Lakmé. En in mijn puberteit Renata Tebaldi. Nog steeds trouwens.”
Heeft ze een verklaring voor de immense populariteit van de opera in de laatste jaren?
“Ja zeker! De boventitels!”
“Absoluut! Luister, een paar dagen geleden was ik in de MET, naar La Bohéme. Zelf heb ik ooit zowel Mimi als Musetta gezongen en nu kon ik voor het eerst volgen wat de anderen te zeggen hadden”.
Marilyn Horne zingt Musetta in 1962:
Ze lacht en begin te hoesten. Ze is toch niet verkouden geworden?
“Een beetje wel. Maar ik let wel goed op mezelf. En zo meteen stap ik in de taxi en rijd naar het zwembad, want ik ben verslaafd aan aquarobics”.
Komt ze ooit nog naar Nederland?
“Zou ik best willen, want het is al zolang geleden! Ik weet niet eens meer wanneer het voor het laatst was! Maar ja, daar moet je eerst voor gevraagd worden, nietwaar?”
Marilyn Horne zingt ‘Somewhere’ uit Bernsteins West Side Story
LET BEAUTY AWAKE
In my opinion Thomas Allen is one of the greatest singers of the past half century. His balmy voice with its warmth, colours and nuances makes me happy every time I hear it. It even feels comforting, like a warm bath. The English have the perfect description for this: “meltingly beautiful singing.” Yes, I am a fan!
This all-around baritone, equally at home in opera, art song, oratorio, musical theatre and even movies is held in high esteem all over the world. Except in the Netherlands, where he is barely known. Small wonder: apart from a few rare visits to the Concertgebouw he never sang here. The reason is simple: he was never asked.
Recording Don Pasquale in Munich. Sir Thomas Allen, Renato Bruson, Eva Mei, Frank Lopardo © Wernard Neumeister
I first met Thomas Allen in December 1993 in London, after his recital in St James’s Church where he sang Die Schöne Müllerin. We never really talked until a few weeks later in the BMG Studios in Munich, where he was recording Malatesta in Donizetti’s Don Pasquale.
I was allowed to attend the recording sessions. In a small corner I looked and listened, deeply admiring this beautiful singer. He sang the hardest coloratura passages in one long breath, and repeated them endlessly. His hands made elegant gestures. Everything about him, in fact, was acting. What a contrast with the recital in London a few weeks earlier, which had moved me to tears. There he stood motionless on stage, focused, acting only with his eyes.
How can he do that?
“How I can do that … “
“When you are recording the visual element is, of course, absent. The only thing you have is your imagination. When I think about Malatesta, I imagine an elegant man in a beautiful suit. My hands then start to move automatically, which helps me find the colours I need to sound convincing.”
“It works somewhat differently with art songs, I think. I cannot stand singers who move around too much on stage. It makes me feel uncomfortable. Art songs need to be done with a certain discipline, with restraint. I do not permit myself more than eye expressions. Now you have to understand, this is how I feel, it fits my personality, but it will not work for everybody.
You know what my secret is when I sing art songs? It starts in your heart and then it rises to the head …. it is a combination of heart and brain. Somewhere in between – through the throat – it comes out….”
“I learned to sing by looking at my older colleagues. I am like a parrot, I imitate everything. My great example was Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. In fact, he was more of an idol than an example. In art song, at least. My God, how have I admired that man!”
“Over the times I have come to think a little more nuanced about him. I have more experience now, which has also influenced my thinking. I still admire his Wolf and his Pfitzner. Much more so than his romantic repertoire like Schubert and Schumann.”
“A couple of years ago I first met him, and believe me, I shook in my boots like a complete novice! That man has been an idol and an example to me for years. And not just to me! For the entire generation of singers of thirty, forty and even fifty years ago he was the ideal. So when critics compared me to him I took that as a huge compliment.”
“In opera I never had a similar role model. I learned the profession, as I said, like a parrot. You start with copying a singer, afterwards you learn to interpret a piece of music. My technique kept improving over the years. There has been a time in my life I was seriously hooked on opera. I hardly sang art songs, never gave recitals. I honestly must say that was the saddest period of my life. It was not healthy for me. Fortunately everything ended well.”
“Singing art songs has in fact helped me with operatic acting. It made me more relaxed and my acting quieter. I used to run from one end of the stage to the other, always moving. Singing art songs gave me greater focus on the opera stage.
“Yes, the director is important. How far do I go? Until it becomes ridiculous or clashes with the text. Then I stop. I am not a difficult person, more cooperative, in fact, but I cannot stand people who ignore the libretto simply because of their own ideas. Or because of what they want to see themselves. “
Thomas Allen as Almaviva in Le Nozze di Figaro
“I will give you an example. A few years ago, in Le Nozze di Figaro, I had to disappear through a trapdoor at the moment I sang ‘Son tutti contenti’. That was ridiculous, so I asked the director why. Almaviva is no Don Giovanni, after all. But he did not know himself. „C’est une idée“, he said. So I refused to do it. A director who cannot explain something is reason enough for me to say no.”
“What really upsets me is they believe singers have nothing to say! And that we are manipulated all the time, either by directors or by conductors. But singers are no idiots. They have learned a lot over the years. They have a lot of experience and are very good at their profession. They can contribute a lot to a production. Directors should listen to singers more often.”
Thomas Allen as Don Giovanni
Over the years Thomas Allen has built up a comprehensive repertoire. He sings Monteverdi, Purcell and Gluck, and contemporary music as well, including world premieres of pieces by Thea Musgrave and John Casken.
He has sung all the great opera roles by Mozart, Strauss, Wagner, Donizetti, Rossini, Verdi and Puccini. His Billy Budd is legendary.
He still is one of the most beautiful Hamlets (Thomas) and
Evgenij Onegins: both in English and Russian.
Thomas Allen has also appeared in Mrs Henderson Presents and other movies.
In 1993 he published his autobiography ‘Foreign Parts – A Singer’s Journal.’
Allen made his professional debut in 1969 at the Welsh National Opera and in October that year he sang his first big role: Figaro in Il Barbiere di Siviglia. In 2009 he celebrated his forty years on stage. For the occasion a fan made a compilation of his greatest roles until then.
English translation: Remko Jas
In Dutch: Let Beauty Awake: SIR THOMAS ALLEN
Times have changed. Not that long ago anything in the recording industry seemed possible. The major record companies released one opera after the next. Money was not an issue. Great new stars were introduced, and just as easily dropped. Yet another Aida and Traviata, the hundredth Rigoletto, the two hundredth Tosca or Don Giovanni…..
Smaller labels targeted the niche market of classical music enthusiasts. These collectors were interested in lesser-known works by Donizetti or Bellini, in long forgotten scores and in composers like Meyerbeer, Pacini and Mayr, who enjoyed considerable renown in the past.
One of those labels – fortunately still active today – was Opera Rara. It started out as a small business run by just two men. In their pioneering years their records were issued directly to subscribers. When Opera Rara planned to record an opera, those subscribers had to pay first. After a wait that could take as long as a year, the records were distributed. Highly exclusive! Over the years, Opera Rara became what is probably the largest (and certainly the most important) opera label.
Twenty years ago I visited Opera Rara in London, where I met Patric Schmid* and conductor David Parry. Schmid was one of the founders of Opera Rara and its recording executive. Since the death of his partner Don White he also was the label’s artistic director.
It is raining quite heavily as I step out of Liverpool Street station. I have a few hours to spend and intend to visit a few bookstores. Because I get lost everywhere, it seemed a safer idea to first carefully map out my route. It turns out I am much closer by than I had thought.
Still, when I make my way there fifteen minutes before my appointment I get lost once again. The weather has turned completely, the sun shines and it is hot. Covered in sweat I enter the building on Curtain Road where Opera Rara resides.
I am received by Stephen Revell, the very friendly assistant of Patrick Schmid, who leads me into an enormous room. In the middle a grand piano, covered under a yellow sheet. On the shelves, thousands of scores, books and records.
We sit at a large wooden table. Patric Schmid enters: a handsome man in his fifties, with grey hair. He apologises David Parry has been delayed and will join us later. Coffee and tea are served, and the story behind the most adventurous opera label begins.
Patric Schmid with Nelly Miricioiu © Voix des Arts
The love for belcanto started with Chopin. Schmid, as a young pianist, came under the spell of his enthralling music and went on a search for more. A search that eventually led to belcanto. His fascination with belcanto became so big that he wanted to change the fact that this music was hardly ever performed. To achieve this, he founded an opera company in 1970 with his friend, the musicologist Don White, called Opera Rara.
The search for unknown opera’s was not easy. Schmid himself uses the expression “to dig up.” And since there were no photocopiers at the time, everything had to be produced by hand.
Pirate edition of Il Crociato in Egitto © Hans van Verseveld
In 1972 their first opera was performed: Myerbeer’s Il Crociato in Egitto. Several problems occurred. Shortly before opening night the tenor cancelled. Where on earth do you find a replacement for a highly obscure work on such short notice? Fortunately William McKinney saved the production by taking over the role two days before the premiere.
All the operas performed by Opera Rara were broadcast by the BBC. Afterwards, these performances were issued by various pirate labels. In 1977 Schmid and White decided to record the operas themselves and founded the record label Opera Rara. The money to make the recordings was collected directly from their supporters on a subscription basis. The first recording was Donizetti’s Ugo Conte di Parigi, made in July 1977. The conductor was Allun Francis, who has been one of their two regular conductors since.
Janet Price sings Bianca’s aria “No, che infelice appieno….” from the Donizetti rarity Ugo Conte di Parigi:
The other host, conductor David Parry, meanwhile has arrived and joins our conversation with much animation. This former pupil of, amongst others, Celibidache, started his career as a rehearsal pianist, something he believes to be absolutely indispensable for a conductor. His conducting career began in 1973 in Wexford. In 1975 he worked as a conductor’s assistant there in the first performance in 93 years of Orazi e Curiazi by Mercadente, an opera he would record twenty years later for Opera Rara.
Nelly Miricioiu sings ‘Di quai soavi palpiti’ from Orazi e Curiazi:
Not only conductors remain faithful to Opera Rara, singers as well. No wonder: they get the opportunity to make recordings, learn new repertory and work in a relaxed atmosphere. The greatest and most famous stars have worked (and still work) on their projects: Nelly Miriciou, Annick Massis, Jennifer Larmore, Joyce El-Khoury, Bruce Ford, Alaister Miles, Michael Spyres, Carmen Giannattassio – just to name a few.
Patric Schmid & David Parry © Basia Jaworski for Basia con fuoco
As a farewell I receive a special gift: the yellow sheet is removed from the grand piano, David Parry picks out a score and plays (and sings, helped by Patric Schmid) an aria from Margherita d’Anjou by Meyerbeer** for me.
*Patric Schmid died suddenly on November 6th, 2005. He was only 61 years old
**Margherita d’Anjou was issued in October 2003. It was one of Meyerbeer’s first operas, still from his Italian period. No complete score of the opera was preserved, so a lot was reconstructed, or “dug up” in the words of Patric Schmid. The excellent cast is headed by Annick Massis, Bruce Ford, Daniela Barcellona and Alastair Miles, and the London Philharmonic Orchestra under the inspired direction of David Parry (ORC25).
English traslation: Remko Jas
See also interviews (in English):
JENNIFER LARMORE interview (English translation)
Interview with JOYCE EL-KHOURY (English translation)
CARMEN GIANNATTASSIO interview in English
and in German: