Soprano JUNE ANDERSON
A conversation with Bruce Duffie
During my career in radio, I've had the great pleasure of speaking with many of the world's leading opera singers and then putting some of their comments on the air along with recordings and announcements of upcoming performances. Often, these conversations come near the beginning of a stellar career, or when a singer has made a name in Europe and is just embarking on conquest of the US. One such case was June Anderson. When I met her in 1986, her European engagements had placed her in the front-rank of young singers, but her American performances were fewer and had gained somewhat less notice. She had made some recordings and was certainly successful, but her star was still rising and she was anticipating much more, which, fortunately for all of us, she certainly achieved.
Based in London, she was in Chicago for a production of Handel's Orlando when we got together for our chat. She was happy and bubbly and laughed easily about many things that were going on in the world of international opera. Though some of her thoughts were quite serious, she never lost that infectious smile and radiant warmth. After airing portions of this chat several times on WNIB, I'm now pleased to be able to post this on my website. It's nearly twenty years later, and the opera world knows what June Anderson can do and has done and continues to achieve through her artistry.
Here is much of that frolicking conversation . . . . .
Bruce Duffie: Tell me the secret of singing bel canto.
June Anderson: Loving it, I suppose.
BD: How do you decide which roles youíll accept and which roles youíll say no?
JA: I have to love them.
BD: For the music, for the drama, for what?
JA. Both. Both.
BD: When you pick up a role, how long does it take you to get it really into the voice?
JA: I like to start to start working on things a couple of years in advance, and just work on them, put them away, take them out and work on them again, put them away. Over a period of time, your own feelings change about things, your Ė my Ė ability to sing things changes. My voice has changed tremendously over the last few years, and itíll go on changing. Itís just growing up. Iím growing up. Itís maturing; its bigger, fuller, the colors are changing. I have more colors at my disposal, and low notes are a lot easier than they used to be.
BD: Is that good or bad?
JA: Oh itís great!
BD: I would think for a soprano the high notes would be the things to consider.
JA: But I never had trouble with high notes. I work on the problems, and Iíve worked very carefully on the low notes because I didnít want to lose the high notes. Singing the kind of roles that I sing, if youíve got high notes, people want them. But in order to move on in the bel canto repertoire youíve got to have the fullness in your voice, which is whatís been coming in the last couple of years.
BD: You also need flexibility
JA: Flexibility is something Iíve always had, too.
BD: Some of these women that you sing, do they speak to women in the 1980s?
JA: Well, I donít know if they speak to all women, they certainly speak to me. I feel, most times, that Iíve been almost born in the wrong century. I feel very much part of the nineteenth century; but somebody has to sing those ladies today, so I guess it may as well be me! A lot of the tragedies are just timeless characters: Juliet and Lucia, Capuletti (another version of Romeo and Juliet), Traviata. While the reasons for their tragedies maybe would be different today, they still could be. Iím sure there are lots of tragic heroines today. Just the reasons for their tragedies are different.
BD: Do you feel that many of these characters are really Everywoman?
JA: Could be. Yes. Any woman can be a tragic heroine!
BD: Is your life a tragedy?
JA: Oh, sometimes it is!
BD: How do you continue after a tragic spell?
JA: Iíd always wanted to die young, so I could become a tragic heroine.
BD: And deprive the world of your voice???
JA: My teacher, who doesnít take me seriously all the time, said to me a couple of years ago when I turned thirty, ďWell, looks like youíre not going to die young!Ē
BD: My mother used to tell me that the only way to avoid growing old is to die young. But youíre still young.
BD: Are you now at the point in your career where you want to be right now?
JA: Well, itís exciting. While I enjoy doing some Handel works, I'm not that enthusiastic about Orlando. But when Iím finished here, I have nothing to do but things I want to do. I only go to cities that I want to sing in, and do operas that are either being done specially for me, or that I really want to do, and thatís pretty exciting.
BD: Does that include the Lucia that youíll be back for in Chicago?
JA: Yes, of course. Luciaís something that I do regularly, and I like singing her. Itís been frustrating not to be able to do my calling-card roles in America. Iím kind of a big star in Europe, and I come here and itís just pfft! Thatís difficult, I must say.
BD: Is it comforting to know that three years from Tuesday, youíll be at a certain theatre doing a certain role?
JA: Yeah. Thatís the only kind of security in a profession where there IS no security.
BD: You donít feel that puts you in a strait-jacket at all?
JA: No. Itís just that Iíve got to know I want to do that role in three years, and I weigh that over very carefully. There are certain roles that I would do today, and do I really want to do that role in three years? Sometimes the answer is yes and sometimes the answer is no.
BD: How do you decide when itís yes and when itís no?
JA: Well, if itís a role thatís in my repertoire itís easier. If itís a role thatís not already part of the operas that I do regularly, or that I will have done prior to that date, I think how often I would like to do that role.
BD: Youíre still at the point where youíre always adding new roles?
JA: Oh yes, but I can only add two or three operas a year, three maximum.
BD: These are roles youíre adding for performances that are contracted?
JA: Yes, in addition to all the others that I know.
BD: Do you learn roles just because you think you should know them?
JA: No, thereís nothing I should do. I did everything that people thought I should do.
BD: What have they asked you to do that you think is silly?
JA: Everyone wants me to sing Mozart, but I donít find it rewarding. Most of it just does not fit well in my voice, I physically could not sing most of it. There are only two or three roles that I could sing, and there are a lot of other women who can sing those roles. I think Iím better off doing the roles that not so many people can sing, just as sort of a business sense. Iím actually a very good businesswoman, and my whole career has been planned out very carefully in my mind.
BD: Is opera a business?í
JA: A career is a business. Singing is not a business, but a career is a business.
BD: Should they trade career futures on the stock exchange?
JA: The stock exchange is already in enough trouble without having singersí careers. You know, they last for three years and then disappear, never to be heard from again.
BD: How are you insuring that your career will not be over in three years?
JA: Iím being very careful about the roles I do, taking vacations, making sure my performances are spaced. I have it in all my contracts that I have to have two days rest with nothing to do between performances. I insist on having some time off in between each engagement. I take my month or six weeks here and there with no performances at all. But Iím a compulsive singer Ė I canít stop singing. At the most I can stop singing maybe for a week.
BD: I was going to ask is there ever a day that you donít even open your mouth?
JA: Oh yes! Every now and then. When Iím in a performance series, I usually wonít sing at all the next day, and then the day after Iíll sing a bit, because I probably have a performance the following day.
BD: When you get to the theatre how much time do you spend warming up?
JA: Some days it takes longer than others. Itís hard to say because I stop and start and stop and start. I find thatís better - to warm up part of the voice and then let it settle and then warm up another part.
BD: At what point do you start putting on the character - when you start putting on the makeup or earlier or later?
JA: Interesting question! It depends on the character, it really does. This year I did Rossiniís Desdemona, for the first time. That character never left! She was always around. And sheís such a poor, morbid thing! I went around crying most of the time. I was in a state for about a month and a half! She really got under my skin. Thatís somebody I couldnít get rid of.
BD: Then are you purposely not going to sing her very often?
JA: Oh no! It was wonderful. In a very strange sense, it was wonderful. It frightened a lot of people because singing her just wiped me out, but I think also it was one of the best things Iíve ever done. I really do, from a vocal standpoint, from a dramatic standpoint, Iím mad for Rossini! Iím a big Rossini addict.
BD: Are you going to champion a lot of these operas that have been sitting on library shelves for over a hundred years?
JA: Absolutely, thatís what Iím doing. Besides doing Otello, and Iím doing Rossiniís Armida at Aix en Provence.
BD: Deutekom did that and had a big success with it.
JA: Did she? I hadnít heard about her doing it. The only one that I know is the one that Callas did ages and ages ago.
BD: As I remember that it was cut up completely differently.
JA: Well, thatís the way people handled things in the fifties.
BD: Do you think itís better now?
JA: Itís different. Itís different. I wonít say itís better, but it was interesting. In Callasís version of the aria near the end she just stopped and did a cadenza, and thatís something that pretty much wouldnít be permitted today especially by Rossini purists.
BD: Letís get into this a little bit, now. How much of a purist are you?
JA: Well, I think Iím pretty much of a purist Iím very interested in the historical aspects of performances, performance practices at the time of the composerís life and other times. But everything has to be also filtered through twentieth-century bifocals, and I disagree very much with certain conductors who donít believe that one should hit high notes, there should be no interpolated high notes. Composers didnít usually feel that way, and thereís written evidence to that effect. Doing performances of Trovatore and not letting the tenor hit high Cs in Di quella pira, the audience hates it! The tenor hates it, unless he doesnít have a high C, in which case he shouldnít be singing in the first place. I feel that people who do Bellini and want it absolutely as written, have got it wrong. It wasnít composed with that in mind and for me thatís dead music. Itís not pure, itís dead because in order for it always to be exciting, it has to be living, and that depends on interpreters.
BD: Opera for you then is living theatre?
BD: Is it a living museum?
JA: Maybe, yes. In a sense it has to be a museum because thereís no new opera thatís being written.
JA: Well, if you ask me!
BD: OK, suppose someone came to you and said ďIíd like to write an opera for you.Ē What would you say?
JA: If someone could write music, I would be delighted. You donít know how much I want to be Giulia Grisi and Isabella Colbran and all these early 19th-century divas that had operas written for them, but thereís nobody writing music today. People write noise. They donít write music. There are some people who can write for instruments. Michael Tippett, for example. I was asked to do The Midsummer Marriage because Joan Sutherland did the first performance of it, and so I had a look and thought ďUH! This is awful!Ē So I listened to a recording of it, and some of the orchestral things are actually interesting, but the vocal lines were horrendous! Awful! The setting of words to music. I thought it was horrendous. I wouldnít sing it.
BD: What about someone like Argento or Menotti? Or Pasatieri?
JA: Just what Iíve heard of it I donít really like. I mean theyíre certainly better than most, thereís a certain melodic line. In those, the libretti are not very good. I think when a composer writes his own libretto usually itís not the best, except in the case of Wagner. Thatís a little different.
BD: But thatís the complaint that they lodge against Rossini - that his librettos were terrible.
JA: He very often took from some very well known plays, stories like Semiramide, The Lady of the Lake (La Donna del Lago), Otello. A lot of people argue that thereís not a lot of Shakespeare to be found there, but it's the basic story. The voice is meant to be used in a certain way, and I can only speak for myself, what I would do and wouldnít do. If thereís modern music somebodyís got to sing it, but it doesnít have to be me, though! I remember someone told me ďHow dare you call yourself a singer if you donít sing music thatís being written today?Ē Well how dare I sing something unless I love it! Basically, I couldnít possibly do justice to something if I really didnít believe in it. Iím just not the right person to be an exponent of modern opera.
BD: Itís a very wise decision to stick with what you can do well.
JA: Yes. Absolutely. There are lots of things I could sing that Iím not singing, a much wider repertoire than Iím doing. There are a lot of other people singing those other things, and I believe in specialization.
BD: Are there any roles though that you kind of wish you had the voice or had the temperament or had the desire to sing?
JA: I donít know. Before I finish Iíll probably sing everything I basically want to sing.
BD: No latent desires to do a Brünnhilde here and there?
BD: I take it then that you would never agree to do an opera that you arenít completely sure of yourself and sure of the circumstances?
JA: I always wait. There are a lot of things Iím adding slowly, certain things that I want to do to develop myself, develop my voice. When I think Iím ready vocally, emotionally, dramatically, then I schedule it for about two years in the future. Iíve got to take care of my voice.
BD: Have you ever gotten there and been disappointed and thought, well, I really shouldnít have done this, and drop it?
JA: I have sometimes in the rehearsal period, and then I get over it. Thereís always a moment of ďOh my God, am I doing the right thing, I never should have gotten myself into this,Ē and then it turns out to be a huge success, and you think ďWell! I was right all along!Ē
BD: How much does the dramatic impact affect the way you produce the vocal sound?
JA: It shouldnít affect the vocal sound at all. But the thing is that the dramatic intention in the head should color the vocal sound. Itís got to be sort of like rubbing your stomach and patting your head at the same time. All the drama should come out without there being a negative effect on the vocalism. That is, great dramatic tension should be able to be conveyed without all that tension going into the throat and therefore hurting it. Sometimes itís very different to pull away from that. Thatís one thing Iíve had to learn, because I have a very delicate throat, and I tend to get over-involved.
BD: I was going to ask if you get too involved in any of these characters.
JA: One can. One can. Itís sort of a pulling away, and Iím trying to balance, because Iím starting now to do more and more dramatic characters, and the drama has to come across, but if I hurt myself, then . . . But I think that itís the right time to be adding some of those characters.
* * * * *
BD: You work a lot in Europe where they have a tendency sometimes to have these far-out productions. Have you been involved in any of those?
JA: No. I try to keep my finger on what's happening.
BD: You donít want to be involved in a Lucia thatís set in a whorehouse, or something like that?
JA: No. I was in a Traviata where they had promised me a new production and it ended up not being a new production. Violetta was supposed to die in a hospital, and I had a little bit to say about that. So she did not die in a hospital, and it got a lot of publicity in Italy! You know, if itís good enough for Dumas fils and itís good enough for Verdi, itís good enough for me. Iím going to do it the way it was written to be done.
BD: You donít feel though that they would be wanting to update it and keep it alive?
JA: I didnít feel that it added anything. Updating is one thing, but changing, having her die in a hospital very much changes the whole story. Sheís got to be in her own little house which had been stripped of all the luxury and is down to nothing. Not in a hospital, not with a nurse. Why is Annina sitting there with her, if sheís got a nurse there?
BD: Have you seen the film? Do you think thatís a good idea, to have the whole thing as a flashback?
JA: Well, in the film, I suppose so. I think Zeffirelliís done that several times. Heís had her start in bed, actually on the stage during the prelude. Violetta was in bed and then to get up and went through all the motions and had to go back to bed to die. It makes sense and I wouldnít argue about that. Itís not changing the story, really, itís just staging a prelude!
BD: Do you believe in staging preludes?
JA: A lot of it is being done. I did a very silly production of The Daughter of the Regiment in Paris, which was recorded, by the way. The recordíll be coming out this fall around Christmas time, I think.
BD: Whoís the tenor, Alfredo Kraus?
BD: Iím glad that youíre getting to sing with him.
JA: Oh yes, a lot. My first European thing after I finish with Chicago is a string of Lucias at Covent Garden with Alfredo.
BD: Well, letís talk a little about the Daughter of the Regiment. Tell me a little bit about the character of Marie.
JA: Marie is another character that Iíve buried.
BD: Youíve buried???
JA: Iíve buried, yes. I did it for the last time in Paris.
BD: What made you decide to abandon her?
JA: I decided to abandon Marie during the entríacte of the very first performance I did of her. That was about two years ago. I said, ďIím never doing this again, never, never, never! I hate it!Ē And then Alfredo asked me if I would do it with him at the Paris Opera. This was in Padua in Italy. In fact Alfredo and I were the first people to sing the The Daughter of the Regiment in the original French in Italy. That was in 1984, believe it or not! The first time it was ever done in French.
BD: It was always La Figlia del Regimento.
JA: Yes. But Alfredo asked me to do it in Paris, I thought about it, and I said, ďOh well, Iíve already learned it, I had a big success with it in Italy, maybe I should do it in Paris and then Iíll just get rid of it.Ē So meanwhile I thought well, he said ďIím doing it in Madrid, are you available to do it there?Ē and I said well, ďOkay, maybe if I do it in Madrid I might like it better.Ē Did it, didnít like it any better, so I have lived through seven performances in Paris but it was a huge success, for both of us. It was televised and recorded, so itís totally documented. Thereís no reason I ever have to do Marie again. Iíve done it with the greatest tenor in the world and itís been totally filmed and recorded, so thatís it.
BD: Even if the public clamors for it? Demands it?
JA: Nope. Nope. They can hear other things. My problem with Marie is the character. The music is not quite French and not quite Italian. It's a mixture, but itís the character more than anything. I donít feel really comfortable being a tomboy. Iím the only one who feels that way. Everyone thought that I was very good at it, but Iím embarrassed! I would be mortified every night! It was very hard to convince people that I hated what I was doing. Iím a perfectionist, so even if I hate what Iím doing Iím going to go out and try to do my best. But itís much better not to hate what youíre doing.
BD: You would rather play more feminine parts?
JA: Yes. Itís much more natural to me. A lot of people think I donít like doing comedy, and thatís not true. Although I donít have any comedies coming up, I actually do like comedy. Iíve done a lot of Rosinas, but I donít do it much now,
BD: Even though youíre stealing the role from the mezzo?
JA: I sing all the mezzo keys, but with some embellishments. There are a few comic parts that I wouldnít mind doing. Originally I was scheduled to do Don Pasquale at Covent Garden, and it was changed to Lucia. I was very, very pleased about that, but I think Norina would have been fun too.
BD: Sheís a strong woman
JA: Yes. She runs the whole show. Itís quite an interesting character.
BD: So you would rather be a strong woman than a tomboy?
JA: Yes. I donít know why, itís very, very strange. I just would always feel very silly, I think, because Rosina and Norina, are in comic operas but theyíre not the comic characters. Theyíre sort of the straight men. Whereas Marie is supposed to be funny, and do funny things, and be silly, and I canít do that. It was very very hard for me to be tomboyish and not very graceful, and to try to do silly shtick to make people laugh.
BD: But you get the tenor!
JA: True! Yes!
BD: I take it then you donít mind dying on stage, at all.
JA: Oh! Itís my favorite thing in life, dying!
JA: Yes! Iím always disappointed when I donít get to die in the end.
BD: What a paradox!
JA: In fact if some crazy director some day decides that they want some of my other characters to die at the end I think Iíd probably go along with it! Sing the high note and die.
BD: Would you rather die or be killed?
JA: So long as I donít die immediately when Iím killed, if I get to do a nice gasping death scene, like Gilda, itís such a beautiful death.
BD: Youíre not looking forward to your own death, are you?
JA: Oh! No! But itís fun to do it on stage.
BD: When youíre on stage, do you become the character, or do you portray the character?
JA: Well, I think someoneís characterization of any role has to be personal. Thereís always a bit of that person in it. Thatís why Iím so much more comfortable with characters like Lucia and Violetta, because thereís a lot of me in those characters - vulnerability, sensitivity, things like that. But thatís only part of oneís characterization, drawing on oneís own self. I'm also deciding on physical movements that are part of that character as opposed to part of June.
BD: Is there any character thatís perilously close to June?
JA: [sigh] Unfortunately, probably Lucia! Forever the romantic, waiting for her white knight to come charging. Iím much stronger than Lucia, but I suppose of everybody I do sheís the closest.
BD: Your own personal strength doesnít color the way you do her?
JA: No. No, because I think for Lucia thereís only one moment in the opera where she really does try and fight back, and thatís in the duet with the brother and just a tiny bit in the duet with the bass. But Luciaís a victim, which is something Iím not. Iím a survivor. Very much so. Just little personality traits are what I probably share most with Lucia.
* * * * *
BD: Letís talk a little more about recordings. Do you sing differently in the studio than you do in performance?
JA: Yeah! Not that I sing differently, actually. I havenít yet heard the Daughter of the Regiment, so I doní t know how it comes across on the recording. The only recordings of mine that Iíve listened to are the ones made in the studio and I hate them!
JA: Well, unfortunately all the recordings Iíve ever made are things that Iíve never sung on stage. And for that reason, I think thereís a great lack of drama. Always in recordings thereís a lack of continuity, because you record page 33 to 37 and then the next day you do 87 to 93, and you go back and do 1 through 12, and thatís just the way a recording is made.
BD: But isnít that the way you put together an opera for rehearsals?
JA: Not necessarily. But, the problem is that recordings, which youíre making for posterity, are rehearsed much less than an opera thatís going to go on the stage for two performances. You arrive, and ten days after you arrive you finish recording something. Iím looking forward to recording things that I actually know. Once you know something really well and youíve done performances of it, when you're recording page 37 to 43 and then 1 through 12 and 89 through 97, you can draw on the feelings that youíve had in each of those scenes on stage.
BD: You can pick up the thread.
JA: Yes, exactly. I still donít think itís ideal, and I would love someday to do a through recording that maybe wasnít on the stage, because obviously recording onstage isnít the ideal. There are lots of stage noises and pauses that are all right in the theatre that donít work when youíre sitting there with nothing to look at.
BD: So youíd like to record one scene straight through?
JA: No, a whole opera! I donít ask for much!
BD: Just the impossible!
JA: I think that the ideal thing for a recording would be to get together, do a concert performance, and then record it; because at least then it would have had all the rehearsals. Things change so much when you rehearse them, at least for me. I work on my own for months and months and months before I show up for rehearsals, and then itís amazing how things can change. Everything that I thought I had right in my head and I knew exactly how I wanted to do becomes different when I hear the way someone else is doing it. If youíre doing a duet or a trio, the other personalities can change your way of thinking about a theme, the character, the whole opera, and when there are no rehearsals and you just sort of read through something and immediately tape it, it doesnít have time to grow. What youíre seeing is not a developed product, itís just the beginning. Itís just scratching the surface. As much as you work on it by yourself, thereís no way that you can scratch more than the surface, because a lot of those things come from rehearsals.
BD: So you feed off the other people around you.
BD: Do your performances then grow even after opening night?
JA: Oh gosh yes! When things like Traviata and Lucia stop changing then Iíll stop doing them. I keep doing them, waiting to get them right, and when itís perfect, then Iíll stop doing it. Frankly, I think Iíll be singing Lucia and Traviata for awhile! Theyíre wonderful roles because thereís so much in them, and every time you do them you can find something new, whether it be vocal or dramatic. I think Lucia, of all the bel canto heroines, is one of the most well-developed characters. Thereís so much to her, so much in every scene. Thatís why I always hate it when they cut the duet with the bass in the second act, because even though Lucia doesnít sing very much, itís terribly important for her, for character development
BD: Should they do the first scene of the third act, the "wolf's crag" scene?
JA: For me, I love it when they do it because I have a little more rest! Iím always delighted to hear that in the dressing room, because itís the only rest that Lucia really has. Once she enters, she sings all night.
BD: Is that too much?
JA: Itís a long part. Itís a long part. I just found out that in Vienna they only do it with one intermission, and I was not pleased to hear that.
BD: I was just going to ask that. Do you demand that intermissions be a certain length, and that theyíre always the right number?
JA: I always prefer to have the right number of intermissions. I think itís hard for an audience. An audience needs to get up and stretch their legs. I get itchy if Iím sitting for more than an hour and a half someplace.
BD: Would the one intermission be a little longer then than standard?
JA: I donít know. Maybe. But where I really need the intermission is after the first act.
BD: So they put the one intermission after the second act then?
JA: Yes. Then all Lucia has is the Mad Scene! The first act is very high, and then the rest of the opera is a bit lower. I like a rest after the first act.
* * * * *
BD: Are you conscious of the audience when you sing?
JA: Yes! Very much so! If an audience is a boring audience, Iíll probably give a boring performance! Iím very sensitive to Ė I hate the word, but Iíll use it anyway Ė the "vibrations" that come from an audience. Thatís why often opening nights are some of the best performances that youíll see, because thereís so much tension and electricity in the air that people will be buoyed up by all that energy.
BD: Thereís this idea that you donít know if itís going to go well.
JA: That too! Iím always a basket case on opening night, especially something Iíve never done before.
BD: But you always get through them well, don't you?
JA: Yeah. [She knocks on the table.] Knock on plastic, does that count? Do you think itís real wood? Well, itís got maybe a few grains in it. In Italy they say "poca ferra," touch iron.
BD: Are you very superstitious?
JA: I have my own superstitions. In Italy the color purple is a no-no in Italian opera houses, because purple represents death, so itís really bad. I love the color purple and I wear it a lot. The first time I went to Italy I left all my purple clothes at home, then I noticed that only in certain theatres is it really taken seriously. I have my own superstitions. I have all my little animals that I bring to the dressing room. I have a collection of little cats that people have given me, and I touch all of them before I go on stage. And the night before a performance I have to have a little ice cream. Mostly thatís sort of a silly superstition that developed out of all the ďNo, no. no, no, you canít go to parties, you canít drink, you canít do this, you canít do that." Youíre full of ďyou-canít -doĒ things, before a performance, so I decided, well, this is terrible. Iím going to make a ďyou-have-to-doĒ something that you like. I love ice cream so I decided that Iím going to have to have an ice cream the night before a performance, and it has just turned into a ridiculous superstition. Now I go out of my way if I canít find an ice cream, going off looking for an ice cream at midnight because I forgot about it. I couldnít possibly sing unless I had an ice cream . . .
BD: Youíre keeping your girlish figure, though. Not like me. Iím, afraid Iím a victim of gluttony.
JA: I always gain weight when I come to America.
BD: Why? Is the food better?
JA: No! Itís worse! The foodís much, much better in Europe. It has much less chemicals and additives. And also they donít have the terrible junk food. Americaís best food is junk food, and it tastes great, but itís so bad for you! Come here and fill up on Doritos. Nothing but chemicals. I canít sing for three days after I eat them.
BD: When youíre taking one of your vacations in between series of performances, do you do all the things that are bad for you, or do you try to keep a little bit of training?
JA: Well, I donít do much of anything. The only thing I do when Iím not actually performing is Iíll have some wine. I like wine but I basically donít drink when Iím working. Iím allergic to certain alcohols, so I just basically steer clear. Itís not a discipline, but I donít feel that Iíve made any sacrifices. Iím just doing what I have to do. Itís not very hard for me to say ďNo, I donít want any wine,Ē or ďNo, I canít go to a party tonight because I have a performance tomorrow.Ē Itís just the way my life is. My friends accept that. People know you donít ask June to do anything the night before a performance.
BD: Do you feel that youíre an athlete?
JA: Well, yes, singers are athletes in the sense that they have to keep at it all the time. Athletes work on their bodies all the time and a singer has to work on the voice all the time. You have to keep the whole body in reasonably good health because the voice is going to suffer otherwise, unfortunately. Iíd love to be a violinist and have an instrument that I could put in a case and put in the closet but unfortunately I canít! Violinists can eat Doritos and they can play the next day, assuming they wash their hands! I eat a bag of Doritos, and forget it!
BD: Is an opera an athletic contest?
JA: Ah. I used to think so, sort of me against the audience Ė a war Ė but thereís becoming less and less combat. I donít know. Itís taken me a long time, but Iím starting to come to terms with my career and I actually enjoy what Iím doing sometimes. I call it the Red Shoes syndrome. Do you know the ballet The Red Shoes, where the girl wanted the red shoes so badly, and when she finally got them she put them on and couldnít stop dancing? I felt that for the longest time that I was singing because I had to and I really didnít have any choice in the matter, but I do.
BD: So you have no latent desires to settle down and be a housewife and raise ten kids?
JA: No. Iíll just stick with my robot cats. I would like to have a real cat, but I guess Iím going to have to wait until I retire.
BD: Some singers have traveled with poodles.
JA: But I live in England. My European base is there, and they have quarantine laws. You canít bring animals in and out of the country, so I couldnít even have a little something to travel with. Traveling gets to be a bit of a bore some of the time.
BD: Do you like being a wandering minstrel?
JA: Iím a bit of a gypsy. I donít like to stay put for very long. Although, now that I finally have a place thatís mine, I like being home. I bought an apartment and I love it! And I never want to leave it! So Iím delighted whenever I can work at Covent Garden because Iím working at home. I just get on the subway and go to work! Itís great!
BD: Get on the subway rather than taking a cab?
JA: Oh, itís quicker for rehearsals. The trafficís bad. I take cabs to the performances. There were times in Rome that I just couldnít find a cab so I would arrive to sing Traviata or Semiramide in the Metro! Big fancy diva here!
* * * * *
BD: Youíve recorded Maometto II. Was that good for the voice to sing?
JA: Oh, yeah. I want to do that. Thatís one that I will do on stage. I love it. Itís a fabulous part. I only wish I could have done it on stage before recording it, because I would have been able to bring so much more to it.
BD: That version rather than The Siege of Corinth?
JA: Yes. Itís a tighter opera, itís a better part for the soprano. Itís interesting, because when he did The Siege of Corinth he simplified Maometto II . There were other changes, too. Thatís a simplification on my part to say thatís the only thing he did because the mezzo part was changed to be a tenor part, and he was changing for the necessities of the Parisian theatre. But Maometto II is fabulous. I think itís really wonderful music.
BD: Then why is it not better known?
JA: Well none of the Rossini tragedies are very well known. The one thatís really sort of entered into a lot of opera houses now is Semiramide which has been done a lot, mostly in concert. But Rossini's comedies are pretty well known. Everybody knows The Barber of Seville, certainly, and Cenerentola, and Italiana, but the tragedies are just not so well known, and Iím not sure why. I suppose because nobody actually decided, okay, Iím going to resurrect the Rossini tragedies. Now Marilyn Horne has done a lot for the ones with big mezzo parts. She has done Semiramide with Caballe and Sutherland, and she calls me her third generation Semiramide! I would like to do for the Rossini soprano heroines what Marilyn has done for the mezzo-contralto heroines. But the sopranos are mostly in the tragic operas that he wrote for his wife Isabella Colbran in Naples. Otello was written for her, and they suit my voice very, very well. Rossini is incredibly healthy music. You basically canít hurt yourself singing Rossini.
BD: He knew how to write for the voice.
JA: Yes. Incredible! He knew how to sing. There are some vocalises and there are some little hints. I was out in San Diego about four years ago and wandering through a book store, and all of a sudden I found this book that was a translation of a meeting with Rossini that was done by a Belgian musicologist. It was in English, and it actually had little vocal exercises that Rossini had given to certain people, and at that point I was having trouble in a certain area of my voice, and I started doing these vocalises and it helped! It was amazing!
BD: So youíve had help from the old master!
JA: Oh absolutely! Heís my sort of spiritual father, I suppose. Heís very much the main one, he really is. I did a Rossini concert in Pesaro this summer, with all Rossini arias. Itís interesting. Itís something that Iíve started to do. Iíve never done a lot of concerts, but having found something thatís really cohesive, like doing an evening of all Rossini. Heís one of the few composers that you can do all in one program and itís so incredibly varied, itís amazing. Itís amazing. I did arias from Maometto II, Ermione, Armida, Guillaume Tell, Otello, Semiramide, and all of them were very different. And the orchestra did overtures and things. Iíve been madly in love with Rossini since I discovered Mosè in Egitto five years ago. Itís funny, because we were talking about my recordings, it was my accidental recording of Mosè in Egitto that got me interested in Rossini. I didnít know anything more than The Barber of Seville and Cenerentola before I got a telephone call to do it.
BD: What did you plan to sing, then, for the rest of your life?
JA: I was interested in bel canto.
BD: Bellini and Donizetti?
JA: Yes. But I didnít know much about Rossini. And out of the blue, in the summer of 1981, a phone call saying, ďDo you think you could come to London yesterday and record?Ē I wasnít doing anything else and I asked someone, ďDoes anybody know this opera?Ē I couldnít get a score, and someone said, ďWell, yeah, I think you could sing it,Ē and so I got on the Concorde, went over to London and they presented me with this music, and I just fell in love with it. Itís beautiful, beautiful music. I learned it in two days and recorded it. So of all my recordings, thatís one of my least favorites, but itís been one of the most important things that ever happened to me.
BD: Thatís another one that exists in several versions.
JA: Yes, Moise, Mosè, but again I think the Mosè in Egitto is probably the best version.
BD: How will you decide which version you will do, if thereís a choice?
JA: Well, I had nothing to do with that choice.
BD: No, but I mean if they say weíre going to mount it, which version would you prefer?
JA: Well, it would depend on what changes were made, why they were made, and if I decided the changes were better than the original product. In the case of most of those operas, I think Iíd always go back to the original, partly because the original was written for Colbran, and so it's usually more interesting vocally. Unless the changes would really help the drama a lot, I prefer the Italian versions to the French ones.
BD: What about Guillaume Tell?
JA: Well, that was written in French. That wasnít a re-hashing. Also Le Comte Ory, but that was, again, written in French. I think I would probably always go back to the old versions.
BD: Do you want to be known, then, as a Rossini soprano?
JA: Mmm! I am, in Europe! I'm very much identified with bel canto, and I do feel that Handel was the precursor of the bel canto, so there are certain Handel roles that I do like singing. I always enjoyed singing Giulio Cesare. Cleopatraís a wonderful part.
BD: What about the aria "Let the Bright Seraphim"?
JA: I did that last year. It was the first major contract in an American house after singing in Europe and being ignored by America.
BD: Did you get any sense of historical perspective though, knowing that Sutherland sang "Let the Bright Seraphim" and then had her big success with Lucia, and that you sang "Let the Bright Seraphim" and then did Lucia?
JA: Iím very grateful to be compared with Sutherland as opposed to being compared to somebody that I donít have a lot of respect for, because Sutherland is a great singer.
BD: But you want to be your own singer.
JA: I do. I donít want to be the new Joan Sutherland, I want to be June Anderson. And while I look like her and I sing a lot of the same repertoire and we both have large voices, there are many fewer people in that category than the lighter sopranos singing a lot of the bel canto except for the dramatic roles. I always had a fantasy of going up to Joan and saying, ďMother!Ē
BD: Is there any opera with two sopranos, a mother-daughter scene, so you could do that ?
JA: Theyíre not mother and daughter, but my little pet project, and I donít know whether Iíll ever get to do it, but I would love to do Norma with Joan and I would sing Adalgisa.
BD: A soprano Adalgisa!
JA: Yes. It was written for Grisi.
BD: Are your voices enough different
JA: My voice is lower. I donít even know if sheís still singing Norma. I hadnít come up with this brilliant idea the last time I saw Ricky [Richard Bonynge]. But coming back to what we were saying, she didnít sing much Rossini. Her voice wasnít quite right for it. My voice, being very different in the middle, is more right for Rossini than her voice was, but Iím not doing it only to be different! Iím doing it because I love it, and I think it suits me.
* * * * *
BD: Do you like doing French opera?
JA: I was a French major in college, and yes, itís a sort of a secondary specialty of mine. With the French opera, I seem to specialize in only doing operas that people donít know! Looking at my discography, Carmina Burana is the only known thing on it!
BD: Do you feel that the public now is ready for more than just the old familiar repertoire?
JA: I think so. I think people are tired of hearing the forty-seventh Bohème. They want to hear something new, if itís well done, if it deserves to be done, and I think thereís a lot of music thatís still out there to be rediscovered. Iím sad that nobodyís writing good music today, so I go back and look for the other music that suits me. Iím not looking into old Mascagni thatís buried because thatís not the music thatís for me. But Iíll try and find some interesting or more interesting Rossini parts. Thereís a lot of Donizetti that hasnít been done. A lot of it deserves to stay hidden, you know. Some things are hidden for good reason.
BD: What about some Mercadante?
JA: Iíve been looking into some of that, but I think probably only for an aria album. A lot of the operas as a total pieces wouldnít work, but there are some stunning arias that could be excerpted for aria albums.
BD: Is there more of a joy doing an opera that is not known than one that is?
JA: Itís a different kind of joy, because, as I said, I would give anything to have been creating the roles I sing back in the 1800s.
BD: But some of these you are creating for modern performances.
JA: I am! I am! Actually I have done the American
premiere of two operas Verdi operas Iíll have you know! I thought
that was fairly amazing. In 1982 I sang the American premiere of
Il Corsaro in San Diego, and in 1984 I did La Battaglia di
Legnano in Pittsburgh. Itís just sort of amazing to think of, and itís exciting for the public to discover something that they didnít know about and that they like. Unfortunately the American opera houses Ė not the public, but the opera houses Ė are afraid of titles that they donít know; and I understand why. Itís very different. Thatís why I sing more in Europe than I do here. Theyíll mount things like Rossiniís Otello and Armida, and Bellini's Beatrice di Tenda for me, whereas over here, the government doesnít sponsor the opera, so someoneís got to pay for it, and itís harder to get a patron to give money for Beatrice di Tenda than to give money for a new Bohème. Theyíre always afraid people arenít going to buy tickets to see Beatrice di Tenda whereas in Europe, theyíre not afraid and those things sell out anyway.
BD: Do you want the public to come see Beatrice di Tenda or do you want them to come to see June Anderson?
JA: Both! Thatís what theyíre doing, in Europe, and also because Iím much better known in Europe. Itís got to be both sides, because itís June Anderson singing it thatíll make the people want to come, but then they wonít just like it because Iím singing it, theyíll like it because the musicís great.
BD: Will they like it the following season when Sally Smith comes and sings it?
JA: Well, depending on how good Sally Smith is, you know! Thatís another problem with these things. Because there are only a handful of people that can sing them, American opera houses just donít want the expense of mounting a production that they probably wonít use again.
BD: Are you optimistic about the future of opera?
JA: Yes. I think right now thereís a bigger public for opera than ever before. Iím only upset that the standards are lower today. Career life expectancy is very, very short, and I think the singers, and anyone around them have to sit down and try and figure out what theyíre doing wrong. Thereís an awful lot of bad singing going on, and itís not because there arenít great voices in 1986. Itís because people want instant opera - you just add water and itís there. It takes a long time to develop a voice, a career, an artist, and it doesnít happen overnight. There are no overnight successes, and if there are overnight successes theyíre going to be gone! Itís true! There have been a lot of flash-in-the-pans, people in my own generation that were racing past me, becoming big stars five and six years ago, and where are they today? And itís a shame because a lot of these people were really talented. I was terribly frustrated at the time, saying ďLookit! Itís happening to her and itís not happening to me! Why? Why?Ē The tortoise and the hare.
BD: Whose fault is it, the agent, the management, the singer themselves, the teacher, who?
JA: Well you can blame it on a lot of people. I always blame the singer in the end. Itís just as easy to say no as it is to say yes. Itís easier, in fact! Itís TWO letters! But it takes a lot of confidence to say no. It takes more confidence to say no than say yes, because once you say no, youíre opening yourself to the possibility that you wonít be asked again. But I must say I have never found that saying no made people less interested. I said no to Covent Garden several times, before they came up with a debut. If youíre meant to sing in those places, youíll be asked for the right thing, if you wait long enough. Youíve just got to know whatís right, have a strong feeling within yourself whatís right and whatís wrong for you personally. Whatís right for Sally Smith may not be right for June Anderson and vice versa.
* * * * *
BD: Do you sing differently in different size houses?
JA: No. Thatís something that drives me mad when people say ďOh, well, you could sing Norma in a small house, couldnít you? I mean maybe you donít want to sing at the Met, but if you sang it in a small house. . .Ē Itís ridiculous! Singing Norma takes the same amount out of you if you sing it in a 300-seat house as if you sing it at Lyric Opera. You have to have the voice to sing the role, not the house! I sing the same whether Iím singing at Lyric Opera, or at La Fenice, La Scala, Covent Garden. All these different houses are different sizes, and I donít change the way I sing. You canít! My voice may sound different in all those theatres, because of different acoustics, but you canít change the way you produce the voice or sing bigger because youíre in a bigger house. If the voice is produced right, it will fill the house, no matter what size it is.
BD: Weíve had a lot of the Europeans who are used to singing in the small houses over there. When they come to Lyric and they see the big house, they get scared, and then they start to push, and then thatís a problem.
JA: Yes. Well, there are a lot of Americans used to singing in big houses that do the same thing. I suppose its partly the fault of conductors who just play loud all the time, and so a lot of singers, especially singing a repertoire that has a heavy orchestration, start thinking ďOh, Iíd better sing louder or they wonít hear me.Ē What they donít realize is that (this gets into a very technical kind of thing) when you push a voice, it loses certain overtones and itís that which will make the voice carry. A voice like Krausís is not a big voice, but itís very pointed and itís not pushed. Itíll cut through any orchestra. Very light sopranos like Ruth Welting with her tiny, tiny crystalline voice, but you always hear her, because the voice is produced with focus. When you push a voice, then it loses the ringing-ness. "Ringing-ness," is that a word?
BD: It is now!
JA: It is now, right! Anderson and Dante, great for inventing words. But when the breath is relaxed under a note, and the note is not pushed up against something, and it has room to open up, thatís when it carries, and thatís when it sounds larger. One other problem is that there arenít a lot of great voice teachers around, either.
BD: So it's hard to find a good one.
BD: Do you work hard at your diction when you know the audiences donít understand much of it?
JA: I work hard even when they donít understand. I work hard even at Lyric Opera, where people donít understand the Italian. I speak Italian and French fluently, so theyíre languages that Iím very comfortable in.
BD: Do you like this gimmick with the supertitles?
JA: I think itís a very good idea. I think they donít get in the way. You either look at them or you donít. You can probably go through a whole performance and not ever look at supertitles. Iíve only seen it once, in New York, for the Love of Three Oranges at the New York City Opera, and I thought it was good, except I thought it made it very difficult in comic opera because people would laugh either before or after the line was actually said. I was listening to the French and also sort of looking up and down. As a performer, especially in a comic opera, I would find it really unnerving to have the laughs come in the wrong places. Here in Orlando, I had an instance where something happened onstage, and I was singing the next line and people were laughing at the text that had just flashed on the screen. That was a bit unnerving for me.
BD: Do you think opera works well on television?
JA: I think it can. It doesnít always. Itís got to be thoughtfully and carefully filmed. You donít want a close-up on the soprano when sheís singing a high E-flat, but I think itís helped a lot of people to be introduced to opera. To be able to sit in your own living room and see opera and have the little sub-titles underneath, and actually realize whatís going on, and say ďOh! Gosh! Thatís not nearly as boring as I thought it was!Ē
BD: Should opera be something for the masses?
JA: No! Not necessarily. I believe in bringing the masses to the opera rather than bringing opera down to the masses. I think one of the problems of making opera accessible to the masses is the lowering of standards. When something is done well, people like it. There have been people who come to performances of I Puritani, which is not the most well-known opera in the world, and if itís a good performance, people are going to like it. You donít have to play down to an audience. But I donít think itís for everybody. Football isnít for everyone either! Itís a specialized artform.
BD: Is opera art, or is opera entertainment, and where is the balance?
JA: Itís both. You were talking earlier about a living museum. Itís got to be both. I think one should be faithful to the original intention, but because we are in the twentieth century, we interpret it through those eyes and ears. If particular singers are acrobatic and can do odd things that are entertaining for the public, it doesnít take away from the art. But I donít think that an opera should be a musical comedy, for example. Even a comic opera. I donít know any comic operas that were written to be slapstick. Thereís always a certain elegance that should be there. Itís when it sinks to that level that I become annoyed with it. Opera can be the greatest of all art forms because itís got everything; and it can be the worst. Iím terrible, and Iím considered very difficult because I get myself involved in everything; the sets, the costumes, the orchestra. Iím a good coach.
BD: Do you want to do that after your singing career is over, be a coach?
JA: I might do some of that. Or maybe Iíll be like Placido and Iíll start conducting! I donít know. You heard it first, fellows, in Chicago! News flash! Opera houses, watch out! Youíd better keep her singing, if not, she may pick up the baton!
[Note: At this point, we stopped for a moment and I asked her to record a Station Break for us. She was glad to oblige, but noticed that she spoke it differently than the chatty conversation we'd been having.]
JA: Hello. This is June Anderson, and you're listening to WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago.
BD: Thank you! You do speak differently when youíre thinking about it. Your conversation is much more relaxed.
JA: I donít like talking. I get very nervous when I have to speak. When I was doing The Daughter of the Regiment, I think I ended up saying about three words. I kept cutting them. The director kept saying, ďBut you speak French fluently! Why are you cutting them!Ē I donít want to talk! I donít want to talk in English, French, Italian. . .
BD: Is that the only opera that you sing which has dialogue in it?
JA: Yes. I may do Fledermaus some day. I like Rosalinda, having nothing to do with my bel canto specialization! There are a few things outside of the bel canto that interest me.
BD: What about something like Melisande?
JA: Iíve been asked about that, not specifically, but in general. People are always mentioning something like that because of my French. Iím not sort of known for vocalism. I get angry, and part of me would like to do something like Melisande because thereís nothing flashy about it. Itís all about being simple and expressive and an artist. But Iím not sure whether itís me or what Iím imposing on the fans, that they expect me to do these outrageous parts. Iíve been thinking about doing something thatís not at all demanding vocally, thatís just an interpretive kind of part. I was thinking about something like Poppea, but I donít know. Sometimes Iíd like to just sing Bohème or something thatís easy to sing, and I just play with all the words.
BD: Well, maybe ten years from now youíll use that as a vacation.
JA: Yes! Every soprano has to sing Mimi once before she dies!
BD: But not Tosca.
JA: No, I think my voice teacher would kill me. I like Butterfly, though.
BD: Oh oh, thereís another one, and a long evening.
JA: A very long evening. One of the most demanding parts. Normaís the one. Thatís my goal. And as Marilyn Horne said to me this year at Covent Garden, when we were doing Semiramide, "Semiramide is a part and a half. I know youíre going to sing Norma some day, and tonight youíve just sung her little sister!Ē
BD: Thank you so much. Itís been lovely.
JA: Thank you. You ask some very interesting questions. Iím used to people asking boring questions about all the same nonsense, and I donít actually have to think about anything.
BD: Iím glad you enjoyed it
JA: I am tickled that finally I am getting some attention
©1986 Bruce Duffie, and first posted on the internet in June, 2005.
For a full list of his interview guests, as well as links to those transcripts
which appear on his site,
be sure to visit Bruce Duffie's personal website , and send him e-mail .
For more details and photos of June Anderson, visit her internet