Mezzo - Soprano  Anita  Berry

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


Biography (above) is from the program book for the 1998 Australian production
of Show Boat (the cover of which is shown below)

See my interviews with Lukas Foss, Frank Galati, and Virgil Thomson
(composer of Four Saints in Three Acts)

In early October of 1986, Anita Berry was at the very beginning of her career.  She was in the midst of doing concerts, as well as teaching at the Sherwood School in downtown Chicago, which is where we met.  She was in very good humor, and expressed her ideas in a forthright manner.

Names which are links refer to my interviews elsewhere on my website.

As we were setting up to record our conversation, I asked about her background . . . . .

Anita Berry:   Originally, I’m from Columbus, Ohio
born and raised.  I lived there until about 1976, when I went Ohio State University and got my Bachelor of Music.  Then I came to Chicago to sing in the chorus with the Lyric Opera for a year.  I started studying with Norman Gulbrandsen at Northwestern, and preceded right after that to enroll at Northwestern to work on my Masters Degree.

Bruce Duffie:   This was in performance?

Berry:   In Performance, yes.

BD:   There are all kinds of singers.  There are opera singers, recital singers, Gospel singers, etc.  What combination of one or more do you really wish to be?

Berry:   Concert and opera.  That’s basically what I’d like to have happen.

BD:   In the meantime, you’re doing some teaching here at the Sherwood School?

Berry:   Yes.

BD:   Is that satisfying?
Berry:   I have some things that will excite me, and that fulfill me in that realm, but we have different realms that we live through.  We can’t say that this is all that it’s going to be.  This will suffice for the time being, but there’s more, and we have to venture out for that.

BD:   I understand you won a Pavarotti competition.  What was involved in that whole process?

Berry:   It started about two years ago with the first audition.  A friend of mine sent me the application.  I was not going to audition for it...

BD:   [Surprised]  Why not???

Berry:   I’m not an optimist.  [Laughs]  I should be!  Anyway, she sent me the application and said if I didn’t go ahead and do it, she was going to get after me!  So, I went on and sent in the application.  The very first audition was in Chicago, and afterward they sent me a letter asking me to please come to New York.  I had been invited to the next level of the competition.  Pavarotti was there at that level, which surprised me because I expected only to see the person that I had just previously seen.  So, I did that audition in New York, and got another letter inviting me to the next level.  So I went to Philadelphia and did that level.  It was a week’s worth of tension, wondering when my day was going to come up, and what I was going to do on that day.  He took about fifty people per day, and it was international, so they had people from Europe, South America, and China.  In total, there were 1,000 competition applicants, and then they cut it down to 53.  I was one of the 53, but it took a good year-and-a-half.

BD:   What did you sing for each of the levels?

Berry:   For the first audition here, I sang the Page
s aria from Les Huguenots, Nobles seigneurs, salut!  This is quite a bit different from what I was asked to sing later.  The role they wanted next was Ulrica from The Masked Ball, which is a completely different sound.  Then, at the final audition before they announced the winner, I sang Esser madre e un inferno from LArlesiana by Cilea.

BD:   That’s quite a wide range of styles!  Now you’ve won this competition.  What doors does this open for you?

Berry:   [Thinks a moment]  For one thing, it looks very good on your résumé.   I can say that I’ve had some television experience, and that I’ve worked with some prestigious people.  Other than that, it’s just a matter of getting yourself out there and knocking on doors, saying,
Look at me!  This is what I’m presenting.

BD:   Do you want people to look at you, or listen to you?

Berry:   In essence, they’re one and the same.  If you go to a concert, you don’t just listen.

BD:   No, of course not, but being music, everyone thinks in aural terms rather than visual terms.

Berry:   We go for both!  Go for the gold!

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BD:   You want to sing both opera and concert?

Berry:   Yes.  It’s quite feasible.  When I came back from Philadelphia, I had an engagement with the Milwaukee Symphony to do El Amor Brujo, which is completely different from anything else I had done.  That’s another realm, Andalusian.  I had already been working on it.

BD:   Do you like singing this wide range of repertoire?

Berry:   Sure!  I don’t like to become stagnant.  You always want something that’s varying, and something that can activate the thought process.  You need something that can keep you intensely interested.  This is not to say that people who are into one realm are not interested, but I like variety, and I happen to like Spanish music.

BD:   Have you sung some complete roles?

Berry:   Yes.  Isabella in The Italian Girl in Algiers, and Mamma Lucia in Cavalleria Rusticana.  One day I’d like to sing the main character, Santuzza.  I’ve done a lot of oratorio work, such as the Verdi Requiem, and Rossini’s Stabat Mater, and Messiah.  Everybody does Messiah!

[An Administrator of the concert series where Berry was performing had escorted her to the interview, and she spoke up]:   There’s something about Anita.  Every time she appears on our program, we have a big celebration.  When she was here last February, we got a Proclamation from the Mayor.  The concert was at Noon, and it usually is a sleepy audience, but we had a standing ovation.  They were cheering.  Anita imparts some special joy at her concerts.  One on the North Shore was on Valentine’s Day.

Berry:   There was a horrible storm, but the house was still packed.

BD:   What do you expect of an audience that comes to hear your concerts?

Berry:   I expect them to open their minds and acquire what I am giving them.  You must come with an open mind.  I don’t do things that everybody knows.

BD:   Purposely?

Berry:   Not purposely, I just happen to like them!  I do what I like, and I give what I can from what I like to you, and hope that you can receive it.

BD:   How do you decide then which songs or arias you will sing?  Is it just personal taste?
Berry:   It is personal taste, yes.  I decided that I was doing to do Dover Beach [by Samuel Barber] because I personally like the poem.  It’s supposed to be done with a string quartet, and I have done it with a string quartet.  However, it’s not feasible at this concert, so we are going to do it with piano, which loses a little effect.  But you have to listen to the poem.  I try to overdo my enunciation so that people can understand what the poem means.  It’s a wonderful poem, just wonderful.

BD:   Do you work especially hard at your diction with other pieces?

Berry:   Yes, but you can overdo the English so that someone can understand it.  They go to a concert, and they usually hear French or Italian that all the crowd does not know.  They may know a little Italian.  They’ll catch a little bit of that, or they might know a little bit of the French, but they know English.  They know exactly what that person’s supposed to be saying when it is in English.  They don’t want to hear sound entirely, they also want to hear what that word is, and how it goes along with the piece.  That doesn’t function so much with the French, and the German, and the Italian.  Since you are familiar with English, a word might come out as ‘gran’, but I meant ‘grant’.

BD:   Sure!  Hit those last consonants!

Berry:   Right.  If we don’t finish them off, who is going to know what we said?

BD:   Considering all of this, is singing fun?

Berry:   [Enthusiastically]  Sure!  It’s like playing tennis.  You hit that ball and it comes back to you.  When you sing, you give something to someone out there, and they give you something back with the applause.

BD:   Do you study works with recordings, or only at the piano in the studio?
Berry:   Oh, no, no, no!  I may listen to it and say that’s what it sounds like, but I don’t want to emulate or imitate anyone else.  I go for what I can do, not what someone else can do.  That may be their specialty, but it may not be mine.  So I just go for what I can do, and make the best with what I have.  [Both laugh]

BD:   Apparently you do very well at it.

Berry:   I try.  [Both laugh]

BD:   Do you change your vocal production at all if you are singing in a home, or in a concert hall?  [Vis-à-vis the photo shown below-right, see my interview with Donald Kaasch.]

Berry:   Not necessarily, no.  Wherever you go, you learn not to push.  You sing with as much ease as you possibly can, and relax and enjoy it, and don’t worry.  That’s all.

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BD:   You were with the chorus at Lyric Opera.  Is that a good place for a singer to start?  [Note that Margaret Hillis, founder of the Chicago Symphony Chorus, had an interesting answer to that question.]

Berry:   It was a very good experience for me.  The year I was there [1977], they did Die Meistersinger [with Karl Ridderbusch, Pilar Lorengar, William Johns, Geraint Evans, and Gwynne Howell, conducted by Ferdinand Leitner, and directed by Nathaniel Merrill], L’Elisir d’Amore [with Pavarotti, Margherita Rinaldi, and Evans, conducted by Bruno Bartoletti, and directed by Giulio Chazalettes], and Manon Lescaut with Maria Chiara, Giorgio Merighi, Timothy Nolen, Paolo Montarsolo, conducted by Bartoletti and Nino Sanzogno, and directed by Giorgio De Lullo].  These are all wonderful pieces I knew nothing about.  I was fresh out of college, and we did one which was so obscure that it had nothing to do with anything I would use again.  [Berry later recalled that it was Blood Wedding by the Hungarian composer Sandor Szokolay.]  They did it in English.  I knew nothing about it, and I haven’t heard it since.  But the ones at Lyric were things that I knew I was going to hear continuously, so that was good.  I also learned about the aspect of rehearsals.  This involved seeing how a staging rehearsal was going to be run, how much time was involved, how much waiting around was involved, and how many people it took.  That year they also did Peter Grimes [with Jon Vickers], and that was very intense with the number of sets, the number of people, and the amount of time between scenes for changing the sets when they have the Sea Interludes.  To me, that was a sight to behold, because that was phenomenal.  They had timed everything down to the second, and to me it was fascinating.  This did not involve any of the singing.  It had to do with the production, and I had never seen all of that.  It made me appreciate not just the singing, but the total piece.

BD:   You got to see all the parts of the production put together.

Berry:   Every part, yes.

BD:   There would be six or seven performances of each opera.  Was each one of those performances different?

Berry:   Yes.  There’s nothing that’s going to be the same in life.  Once you’re through with something, it’s in the past, and you go on to a new one.  It’s the same in opera where different things happen on different nights.  Some things were kind of strange, but all in all, each one was wonderful in itself.  It had its good moments, and it had its bad moments.  They may have been different, but it had good and bad.  You could appreciate each one in its difference and in its sameness.

BD:   When you’re teaching and giving someone a lesson, do you find that you also learn things yourself?

Berry:   Yes.  The students teach you things that you never knew.  You might not have chosen to do it that way.  They teach you things that you thought you had down pat, but you might not have had it quite as pat as you thought, and they teach you another way to achieve what you want.  Everybody’s different, and everybody has their own wants and needs, and I cannot approach this person the same as I approach another person.

BD:   Now you’ve studied with Gulbrandsen.  Have you also studied with a female singer?

Berry:   No, never.

BD:   You don’t feel it takes a female to teach a female?

Berry:   No, I’ve had three male teachers.  My first teacher was John Muschick [pronounced mew-shick] at Ohio State.  I worked with him for four years.  Then I studied with Norman Gulbrandsen for four years, and I’ve presently been studying with Walter Kirchner for two years.  But I’ve never had a female teacher.

muschick John Muschick [pronounced mew-shick] served as a vocal instructor at Ohio State University for thirty years. A fellow professor said that he was, "Quite a character, and a very effective teacher with some students." In January of 1980 he joined Beckenhorst Press, a publisher of choral, band, and orchestra music in Columbus, Ohio. He served as executive secretary and layout editor and retired in 1987. He then continued to serve as consultant and layout editor on a part-time basis from his new home in Pensacola, Florida, before he passed away on January 26, 2000.

[What follows is from the minutes of the OSU Board of Trustees meeting of October 5, 2001]

Resolution in Memorium

The Board of Trustees of The Ohio State University expresses its sorrow upon the death on January 26, 2000, of John H. Muschick, Associate Professor Emeritus in the School of Music.

John Muschick was born in State Center, Iowa, on March 22, 1923. In 1941, he began formal training in music at Parsons College, Farifield, Iowa. His studies were interrupted by three years of service in the United States Army, for which he was awarded several medals, including the Purple Heart. After World War II, he attended Drake University, where he received the degrees B.Mus. (1948) and M.Mus. (1949). He pursued advanced training at the Conservatoire National de Musique, Paris, where in 1950 he earned a certificate in voice and vocal repertoire.

His teaching career began in 1948 at Carthage College, Carthage, Illinois. In 1950, he came to The Ohio State University as instructor of voice and in 1967 attained the rank of associate professor, a position he held until his retirement in 1979. During his 30-year tenure on the faculty of the School of Music, he was active as bass-baritone recitalist, studio teacher, and director of the Women’s Glee Club – an ensemble that attained musical excellence under his dynamic leadership. Professor Muschick also had the honor of teaching at the Interlochen National Music Camp during the summers of 1951-1955.

Professor Muschick’s special interest in church and choral music was manifested by various contributions to the Columbus community. From 1951-1955, he served as baritone soloist at First Community Church. Thereafter, he served as minister of music at Overbrook Presbyterian Church until his move to Pensacola in 1987. In addition, he served for seven years as director of choral activities for Nationwide Insurance Company, and for 20 years as a consultant to Beckenhorst Music Publishers.

Professor Muschick was active in professional organizations, such as the National Association of Teachers of Singing and the Music Teachers National Association, and in honorary societies such as Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia. He was especially active as a member of Pi Kappa Lambda music fraternity and was instrumental in inaugurating an OSU chapter of that honorary society.

He is remembered by his OSU colleagues and students for his love of music, his artistry, his devotion to teaching, and for his marvelous collegiality.

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Norman Gulbrandsen (October 3, 1918 - August 2, 2010).  Norman's love for music was unprecedented. He graduated from the University of Utah in 1943 with a Bachelor Degree in Music. He earned a Master Degree at Northwestern University, and the University of Southern California between 1945 and 1949. In 1961 Norman returned to Northwestern University where he earned additional Degrees in Musicology and Vocal Performance. He excelled in his academic pursuits and received multiple Honor Awards including Phi Delta Kappa, Pi Kappa Lambda, and Phi Mu Alpha.

Norman was world renowned for his ability to teach music and voice. He taught at the University of Montana, Brigham Young University, Lake Forest College, Northwestern University, and De Paul University. Norman was extremely beloved by his students, and had a remarkable ability to hear in each voice he encountered the potential for greatness. The majority of his students achieved high success during their vocal careers, many performing Operas throughout Europe and America. Many stayed in contact with Professor Gulbrandsen throughout his lifetime.

Norman especially loved conducting Oratorios of Verdi, Mozart, Rossini, and Handel. As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, some of Norman's choicest life experiences included the opportunity to sing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir at the age of 18. He was one of the youngest members ever to be accepted into the renowned Choir. He was a director of multiple university, church, and community choirs over a span of 50 years.

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Walter Kirchner (January 9, 1924 - January 17, 2022) graduated from Parker High School in June 1942 and served in the WWII Army Signal Corps from January 1943-April 1946. He attended American Conservatory of Music, where he graduated in June 1950, with additional training at Juilliard School of Music.

After singing with Amato Opera and performing Off-Broadway in concerts and recitals, he returned to Chicago and joined the faculty of American Conservatory of Music in 1960, where he taught singing for 20 years. In 1980, he began teaching singing at Sherwood Conservatory of Music, where he retired in July 2016.


BD:   You don’t feel you’ve missed anything?

Berry:   No!  None in the least.

BD:   Does your teaching of students vary from male to female?

Berry:   No!

BD:   I assume it varies from individual to individual.

Berry:   Right.  That’s the point.  They are always individuals.  There are many different aspects of the female voice, just as there are many different aspects of the male voice.  You can’t just have one way to teach females, and another way to teach males.  It doesn’t work that way at all, because it’s not a factory.  It’s not an assembly line.  We’re talking about the human aspect, not a mechanical aspect.

BD:   Do you sing some contemporary music?

Berry:   I thought the Barber was contemporary.

BD:   I meant atonal music.
Berry:   [Choosing her words carefully]  I am a romanticist at heart, so I like to hear things that will pull little cords inside of this little heart.  When one note is up here, and one’s down there, it makes it harder to put the two together.  [Both laugh]  I like to stay with things that my ear can hang on to.  I like to have something where I can hum a tune when I’m through.  It’s nothing against atonal music, it’s just my personal taste.

BD:   Is there any way we can get more young people to come to opera and concerts and recitals?

Berry:   [Thinks a moment]  In the past few years, when it comes to TV, if people flick the channels, the younger set will hear a little bit and maybe something will click on the inside.  They might feel that it sounds kind of neat, and maybe they will listen to a little more.  I hate to say this, but the commercialism of it needs to be not just for the elite, not just for people who can afford a $100 ticket.  Here in Chicago, it’s much more accessible to the general public.  I’m not saying it’s all that backward, but when I came up I had never heard an opera!  Classical music?  Are you kidding?  What is that?  My mother made me take piano lessons, so from that sense I knew about the classics.  But I knew nothing about anything that had to do with singing, just piano.  Other than that, there was nothing at home that was going to urge me into opera until I got into college.

BD:   It was college that turned you around a little bit?

Berry:   It turned me around.  I saw my first opera in 1975, The Sicilian Vespers, and the second was Carmen, which was a big jump one to the other.  But I didn’t know enough!  I wasn’t in it enough to really have anything to hang onto.  Then it got better, and it got better, and it got better, but it took time.  If I threw some hard rock music at you, I don’t think you would want to hang onto it for days.  [Both laugh]  It would take you a little while to warm up to it.  But kids are getting a little more than they had before.

BD:   Is rock, music?

Berry:   Oh, of course!  You’ve got it on every station.  How many classical stations are there in Chicago?

BD:   Just of the two now.

Berry:   Then think of how many rock stations there are.

BD:   But is it music?

Berry:   I think it’s music in its own realm.  I’m not going to exclude anybody.  Everybody has their own form.  I saw a show last night that had to do with drummers from Africa, but that’s a form of music in itself.  Hand clapping is a form of musical emotion which comes from within and then goes out.  It has different forms, and comes out in different ways, so who am I to say that’s no good?  I’m not going to impose my preference on someone else.  I can try to help you understand it, but for me to say that it’s wrong would be wrong for me to do, because I wouldn’t want anybody else to come to me and say they don’t want me to hear that stuff.  If they don’t want to hear it, they may leave.  It’s your option, that’s all.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Which opera roles do you look forward to singing?

Berry:   Carmen would be one, Santuzza, and Delilah.

BD:   You’re looking at the very dramatic repertoire!

Berry:   Not necessarily.  It’s all in the way you approach it.  There are things that I would like to do but...  [Both laugh]

BD:   They will come!  You have a long career ahead of you, so you have plenty of time to do them.

Berry:   Right, but those are things I look forward to a little later on. 

BD:   Let’s talk about this concert that is coming up.  You’ll be doing an aria from Atalanta by Handel.

Berry:   Yes.   

BD:   The whole program is
A Salute to the Wonderful World of Opera, and yet you’ve got some songs as well.

Berry:   Since the time we were setting up to do this, I got sick, and there’s no way I could have sung a whole concert of arias.  I was not sure whether I would be up to it, so rather than cancel, I wanted to sing songs, and things people could still hang on to.  Some of them are pretty dramatic in themselves.

Administrator:   Anita has a voice of operatic caliber, and she will be singing some opera arias, but it’s very taxing on her voice to have one aria after another, and they would be all out of context when there’s just one singer.

BD:   [Looking at the program]  Bellini is basically an opera composer, so I assume his songs are going to be more operatic than the ones of Chausson.

Berry:   No, it’s the opposite!  The last piece, Le Temps de Lilas by Chausson, is more aria-caliber, so it’s kind of deceiving.

BD:   Then you’ve also got Dover Beach as well as some Gershwin from Porgy and Bess.

Berry:   The Gershwin is for piano solo.

BD:   Why would you not sing one or two of the numbers?

Berry:   I did Summertime last time, and you don’t want to do the same things over and over again.

BD:   I wish you lots of luck with this concert, and with everything that’s coming up.

Berry:   We’ll see... it does take time, and it does take knowing who to contact at the right time for the right thing.  If everybody only does La Bohème, I’ll never get to do anything!  [Both laugh]

Administrator:   [Giving a bit of the background and history of this chamber music series]  There’s a larger audience and easier set-up at the mansion.  We’ve had music for thirty-two years.  We started in 1973, and this year, I noticed everybody was taking our concerts for granted.  There is so much music around, that I decided it was about time we make a little party.  It’s going to be very festive.  It’s amazing how these things catch on.   We’ve got a very full house, and it’ll be a delight.  As to chamber music in Hyde Park, it’s an interesting story.  The homes there were built in the early 1900s.  Hyde Park-Kenwood was then not part of the city of Chicago.  It was a little suburb, with people like Marshall Field, the Adlers (of the Adler Planetarium), and the Swifts.  By the time the 1940s or
50s had come around, many of those people had had their fill of these particular homes, and they moved up to the North Shore suburbs.  A lot of young families bought these beautiful large homes.  Some of us had heard chamber music at the museum, and some of the Chicago Symphony players were desirous of playing a longer season.  At that time, the season was much shorter than it is now, and the wage scales were terribly low.  So some of the members of the Symphony organized a string trio.  Sheppard Lehnhoff played the viola, with cellist Janos Starker, and Sam Magad, Victor Aitay, and Francis Akos rotated as the first violin.  When I was a young bride, we moved to Hyde Park, and I was invited to this series.  It was just elegant.  After the music, there was always a beautiful reception in the drawing room.  The music was wonderful, but to hear it in a living room, sitting in comfort, you really felt very special.  Then afterwards, there was a lovely reception with magnificent pastries made by the hosts.  It was lovely, and we got to meet the musicians and talk with them.  I did not know as much chamber music as I know now, and it was very interesting.  Sheppard Lehnhoff researched the pieces, and did not want to do things that everybody always hears.  So he would be introducing Haydn, and Mozart that was new to us.  That tradition continued a long time, and when it ended for a few years, I was rather desolate.  A few of us got together and that’s how the chamber music series began again.  We’ve had voices from the Lyric Opera School, and Isola Jones has sung for us, as has Jeff Mansey, who toured with Pavarotti.  What a charmer, absolutely!  But Anita hasn’t sung in Hyde Park, so we thought that she would be very nice in our series.

BD:   Thank you for arranging this series.

Administrator:   Thank you.  It is certainly my pleasure.

BD:   [To the singer]  Thank you for your artistry, and for this conversation.

Berry:   Thank you.  This was very nice.

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© 1986 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in Chicago on October 4, 1986.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB six weeks later (along with the taped broadcast of this concert).  This transcription was made in 2023, and posted on this website at that time.  My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.  To read my thoughts on editing these interviews for print, as well as a few other interesting observations, click here.

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Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.