Tenor  Francisco  Araiza

Two Conversations with Bruce Duffie


Born October 4, 1950 in Mexico City, Mexico, tenor, (José) Francisco Araiza, was educated there. He studied voice with Irma Gonzalez in the Conservatorio Nacional de Musica (where he sang in its choir) and German repertory with Erika Kubacsek. Araiza made his concert debut in Mexico City in 1969, where he subsequently appeared for the first time in opera in 1970 as Jaquino. He went to Europe and took master-classes with Richard Holm and Erik Werba at the Munich Musikhochschule after having won the Bavarian Broadcasting Voice Competition. He also holds a Business Administration degree from the University of Mexico City.

araiza Following his studies, Francisco Araiza was a member of the Karlsruhe Opera from 1974 to 1977. Since 1977 he has been a permanent member of the Zürich Opera House. He has performed in all the main opera houses of the world and has participated in all great international festivals.

From 1983 on, this most versatile singer who was already known as the best interpreters of Mozart and Rossini became a leading tenor of the Italian lirico-spinto, the French and lighter German repertory with roles like Edgardo, Alfredo, Duke of Mantua, Riccardo, Don Alvaro, Des Grieux, Faust, Hoffmann, Werther, Romeo, and Max. He sang Lohengrin in 1990 at the Teatro La Fenice in Venice and Walter von Stolzing in the Metropolitan Opera's new production in 1993.

Besides his operatic engagement, Araiza is also a highly esteemed concert and Lieder-singer which can be shown by his nomination «Best musical event of the year 1988» for his Tokyo recital. He was named "Kammersänger of the Vienna State Opera" also in 1988.

Francisco Araiza has worked with all the great conductors and stage directors like Karl Böhm, Herbert von Karajan, Carlo Maria Giulini, Sir Colin Davis, Sir Neville Marriner, James Levine, Claudio Abbado, Riccardo Muti, Giuseppe Patane, Wolfgang Sawallisch, Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, Harry Kupfer, August Everding, Otto Schenk, Giorgio Strehler, Franco Zeffirelli and Roman Polanski. His artistry has been documented in almost fifty recordings for labels including Philips, DGG, EMI, RCA, CBS, Teldec, Orfeo and Atlantis, as well as in lots of video productions for which he was awarded with the «Deutscher Schaliplattenpreis» and the «Orphée d'Or».

An illustrated monograph called Voices of the World: Francisco Araiza was published by Atlantis in 1988 as well as his own chapter in the books named Great Interpreters published by Westermann and Divo published by Harper & Row. In 1992 the German television station ZDF presented a personal portrait with the title Francisco Araiza. I am a romantic.

--  Throughout this page, names which are links refer to my interviews elsewhere on this website.  BD 

Francisco Araiza appeared with Lyric Opera of Chicago on several occasions.  In 1984 he sang in Abduction from the Seraglio (with Ruth Welting, Kurt Moll, David Gordon, conducted by Ferdinand Leitner), and Barber of Seville (with J. Patrick Raftery, Kathleen Kuhlmann, Cesare Siepi, Sesto Bruscantini, and Florindo Andreolli, conducted by Bruno Bartoletti, staged by Graziella Sciutti (!) in sets by Sir Peter Hall).  The following season he returned for Traviata (with Catherine Malfitano, Pablo Elvira, Catherine Stoltz, Gualtiero Negrini, and Donald Kaasch, conducted by Bartoletti in the Pier Luigi Pizzi production).  The year after that was Magic Flute (with Judith Blegen, Luciana Serra, Timothy Nolen, Matti Salminen, and Thomas Stewart, conducted by Leonard Slatkin and staged by August Everding), and La Bohème (with Katia Ricciarelli, Barbara Daniels, Alessandro Corbelli, Paolo Washington, Renato Capecchi, conducted by John Mauceri with John Copley directing the Pizzi production).  He returned once more in 1990 for Rigoletto (with Leo Nucci, Patrizia Pace, Kevin Langan, and Elizabeth Futural, with John Fiore conducing and Sandro Sequi staging the Pizzi production, with Maria Tallchief credited as directing the ballet). 

During his visits in 1984 and 1990, he was gracious to allow me to speak with him, and these two lengthy conversations are presented here.  We spoke about various roles and ideas both musical and general.  He was confident in his decisions and with his opinions, and showed a wry sense of humor at various times.  His English was quite good, and while I have corrected small grammatical mistakes here and there, I have left a few of his charming turns of phrase, and a couple of words which do not exist, but convey his thoughts brilliantly!

Here are those encounters . . . . . . . . .

Bruce Duffie:    How was the Barber last night?

Francisco Araiza:    It was a nice opening night.  The public enjoyed themselves very much as we could notice on stage.  The usual jokes we were doing have to be done, and were very much applauded and loved.  So the public had a nice evening.  Musically it was also well.  To have Cesare Siepi as Don Basilio is such a big joy, and also the other incredible Italians of that tradition like Sesto Bruscantini making the part of Bartolo.  He’s always a person who has had special experience to hear these people because they are absolutely masterly.

BD:    Is it special because Bruscantini was a Figaro and now he’s a Bartolo?

FA:    No.  It’s special because Bruscantini is among those Italian people that represent a special culture.  In the case of Cesare Siepi is the big bass tradition, and in the case of Bruscantini, it’s a special school of treating the words, the recitativo.  That’s what makes his appearances so very, very, very exciting, very singular.

BD:    Is this a good tradition to work with?

FA:    That’s a good tradition to work with, and that’s an example because it gives you a classical interpretation with more points of view to use later when you’re going to meet them some day for special parts.  You are able to see the way he projected his whole role and interpretation, and the way he just places his highlights exactly with perfect timing and the right nuance in every sense.   That’s really a good school!

araiza BD:    Are you carrying on that tradition?

FA:    I was always very aware of the importance of the words in the opera and in all vocal music, and that is information I have been trying to achieve.

BD:    Talking about words, most of the audience doesn’t speak Italian.  Would it be better at all to translate the opera, or would that lose too much?

FA:    It is very difficult to make a translation that could really compliment the music and all the characters.  There are some words that have to just be there, and if you change them a little bit because of the translation they lose strength.  So I don’t think that it would be a good idea to translate them.  It’s certain that the public has to do their homework in order to really enjoy the most of the evening.  I have seen in some houses, especially the latest in San Francisco, was there are some performances where they put supertitles in English, and that seems for me not a bad an idea at all.  [Lyric Opera of Chicago would begin using supertitles the following season.]  I must say they would be applicable for every kind of opera.  They did it with Don Pasquale because that’s a funny opera.  All the jokes were coming at the right time, and the people were understanding what’s going on.  But especially they did it in Siegfried as well, which is a very difficult piece to understand and follow.  It demands a very different way of putting these things together because the words just go on.  Most of the parts are conversational.  They don’t stay in the traditional ways of singing an aria that has one phrase and repeats it for the whole aria, so you just put that one in the text and that’s it.  You have to be changing immediately according to the music and according to what’s happening.

BD:    Is that distracting?

FA:    I just saw a general rehearsal, and I didn’t need it.  I just took a look at it for curiosity and then afterwards I didn’t see it any more.  But I can imagine that for people that really read those things, it is so easy because you can read it so fast and the music is most of the time a little bit slower.  Then you can concentrate on the stage, especially because you have only one line to read.  If you have two or three, that would be distracting, but with just one you can see it immediately and then concentrate on what’s going on on stage.  So I think that’s a good, positive way to bring operas towards the people.

BD:    We will get them next season. 

FA:    You will see.  It’s going to be a good experience.

BD:    Good!  Is it better because people have watched television and seen subtitles on television?  Has that made them accept the supertitles in the theater more?

FA:    Maybe, but it’s a question of practice as well.  You have the practice on television, and you don’t lose very much from what’s happening on the pictures by reading the subtitles.  So it might be a sort of discipline to adjust to it in the theater.

araiza BD:    So then you envision this for happening for most operas?

FA:    Why not!  But not always.  When the people know enough of the opera, they should have the complete spectacle without distracting elements. 

BD:    What operas might not work?

FA:    I think everyone would work, but what I want to say is not to do all the performances of one series with supertitles.  Do two or three, and then all the others normally in order to let the people try to pick up spontaneous highlights.  Every opera goer needs a little bit of time in order to develop.

BD:    Would it be too distracting if the opera was in the language of the people anyway?  For instance, Peter Grimes in England or America?

FA:    There are operas where it couldn’t matter that much to make a translation, but especially on the kind of character operas
like Peter Grimes, or Wozzeck, or Aus Einem Totenhaus by Janáčekthese operas could have a big profit if the people would understand the exact word of what’s going on.  They would need a very good translation but an achievement of other operas I am not so sure.  I wouldn’t like to see a Bohème in English, or Turandot in English, or a Traviata in English, or a Mozart opera, no!  I was just at the Amadeus film and they just did all the German operas in English!  The translations of the texts were so awful, SO awful, so that I don’t accept that movie.

BD:    But of course you are such an international person with German and French and Italian and English all at your command!

FA:    Yes, but if it doesn’t improve the quality it is a loss.  In these character operas you couldn’t really lose much because the music is made more as an accompanying affect.  It is not building or spinning a line.  It’s really in the force of the word, so you just have to make sure that you bring the right word and the right mood in a language.  Then you can do that, but other music is impossible because it’s not only the word that has to be well done, but it’s also how to put the word together with another word, and going and building up this phrase that is already built musically.

BD:    When you worked with the supertitles in Don Pasquale, could be more subtle with your acting?

FA:    No, no!  For me not at all.  It was very funny because the people were understanding more of what was going on with the words, but as I appeared to sing my Farewell Aria the people began to laugh.  I wondered why because I had my pants on and everything!  [Laughs]  Why they were laughing?  It happens that in the text it said I’m going very far, far away, so people have read that, and as I came in with my suitcase and cape and everything, they found it funny!  It wasn’t really funny, but that can happen when they shouldn’t laugh.  The next performance had been balanced until I was on the stage and began to sing before the text appeared, so there was more understanding.  But I didn’t really notice a big difference according to my own person in acting.

BD:    In America, many of the Italian singers feel that the words are not coming across so their gestures are big and the comedic acting is much more broad.

FA:    Yesterday, for instance, in the Barber the Count disguises himself first as a soldier and then as a music teacher, and it belongs to the figure of the music teacher to draw everything he is saying with his hands.  It is an opposite figure to Don Basilio, who is first of all a bass with a big voice.  The tenor, with his highest voice as possible, instead of trying to relate to Don Basilio is going as far away from him as possible.  Basilio is all spread out, and
Don Alonzo is all closed in speaking everything with the hands because Rosina does not know anything about what is going on.  I play the piano during the lesson, but at the same time I am trying to make Basilio go away because we are in much danger.  [Laughter all around]  Everything is with hand gestures!  At La Scala they understand perfectly every word, so I don’t think an Italian actor really does these kinds of gestures because he wants to be understood by the public.  It’s almost impossible.  You have to create your presentation as accurately as possible, and then you have to bring it everywhere.

BD:    Is the opera public today more sophisticated now than twenty or thirty years ago?

FA:    Yes, especially in Europe.  What I have been missing in very many theaters is the spontaneity of the public, and willingness to accept a special event from anybody.  They are well treated with recordings and TV so they put their level of expectation very, very high in order to judge a live performance.

BD:    Is it right for the public to judge a live performance against the television or against a record?

FA:    No, not at all.  They are taking away from themselves the best of a live performance, which is spontaneity.  It is an easy comparison with the record when he held the note much longer, but they are taking away the magic of the moment.

BD:    Then why do you as an artist continue to make records?

FA:    Because they are documents.  As an artist I try to make recordings only where I’m able to do the part on the stage as well.  So my recordings are true documents of what I am able to do also in live performance.

araiza BD:    So you would not accept to do a role on record that you hadn’t sung?

FA:    Yes, I would, but only if it could be according to my possibilities at the time.  What I mean is that I wouldn’t sing a high note on a record that I don’t sing on the stage.  If I feel like it, because in the moment I think that has to be the right condition, then I do it, but only if I would do it as well on stage.  Sometimes I don’t because I don’t feel like it or because I’m not in the mood to do it.  But if it’s written you have to!  [Laughs]

BD:    How much can you vary from the score?  How many extra notes can you put in?

FA:    Very few, very few.  That was the tradition once.  For instance, as the Count, normally I put a high C at the end, which doesn’t belong because it is so dark.  The high C, as you know, is a symbol of light and is just a most beautiful note for tenors.  But I do it anyway because I like to do that, though yesterday I just didn’t feel the mood of doing it physically, so I didn’t do it. 

BD:    Maybe in another performance in the run you will sing it?

FA:    Oh, yes, when I feel like doing it.  It’s also a question of compliment with the public.  If you feel like carrying the audience you say,
“Okay, now we go.  Perhaps if they are a bit cold, you can bring them along with it.

BD:    How much do you react to the audience?

FA:    Very much.  Every sensitive artist reacts incredibly to the audience.

BD:    Are there any scientific ways of determining it?  For instance, are Saturday night audiences different to Wednesday night audiences?

FA:    They say that, but I want to take the challenge and I try to take all the audiences equally.  You have to spend exactly as much work trying to convince one or the other.  You go out and you accept to your job in this way, but it’s easier if you have a caring audience.

BD:    How long does it take before you know what kind of an audience do you have?

FA:    Immediately!  You’re aware just five seconds on stage.  You know what’s in the air already.

BD:    Are concert audiences different from opera audiences?

FA:    Yes.  First of all, concert audiences are more specialized in music.  They just go there to hear the music, and not to see a whole complete spectacle.  That diminishes the range of criticism, and expands your expectations.  You are more specialized and more concentrated,  and as a matter of fact, I don’t know why but I don’t experience that concert audiences are more spontaneous than opera audiences.  Maybe it has to be with being overwhelmed by so many tendencies and styles of that interpretation.  These are traditional things.  In the opera they are all spread out, and everybody is finding himself with special directions.  A concert is more closed, so you cannot do many different things.  Even in an evening with exactly the same stuff and even a good conductor, without changing anything the chemistry might not be working.

BD:    Does the fact that performances being broadcast change anything for you?

FA:    No.  You just do it.  You have to just do it.  They are scary. 

BD:    Do you ever wish that maybe if a third or fourth performance was so brilliant and everything worked that it had been broadcast instead?

FA:    Of course, but you never know.  This remains a wishful topic, but you get really used to it, and you have to be able to give the best of yourself every night.  As I began to make recordings, I was always scared that they’re going to repeat a mistake, or that maybe the other take was better.  You have to really be able to do your best every time, so it doesn’t matter what they think.  It will be good enough.

BD:    How can you make it so that each one is the best?

FA:    You have to really concentrate.  One of my big personal characteristics is the ability to concentrate.  It is like pressing a button.  I can really come to achieve a very, very good moment in a certain point in recordings or in live concerts.  Song recitals are good for me, but are the most difficult.  It is a challenge in every sense because that’s the discipline that allows you the most to be an artist, to be your whole self.

BD:    Because the whole evening stands or falls on your artistry?

FA:    Yes, and also because the composers gave the artist the greatest freedom of interpretation in this music.  If you open a Lieder book, you will find not ‘adagio’ with the metronome where the quarter note equals 60 or something like that.  No, the composer says ‘not too fast!’  What’s ‘not too fast’?

BD:    Not too fast for you?

FA:    For you, exactly.  The way is to find your own interpretation without any concept of any kind.  That’s what makes this especially interesting because you have the responsibility to work out a concept of where you are going, and when you are staying there, there’s only you and nobody else.

BD:    In the opera house, do you sometimes wish that you could pull the conductor along a little bit, or hold him back a little bit?

FA:    As a matter of fact, I say there are leading artists and there are artists that have to be led!  There are artists that can also lead from the stage, and I think that I belong to the group of leading ones.  With good conductors like Karajan or Muti or Abbado or Giulini, I’ve always felt the best communication and there is never any trouble.  When there is trouble, it has been with one or two mediocres who say that it has to be this way or that way.  So there has to be the flexibility and the understanding for the moment.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    You specialize in Mozart, Donizetti, Bellini, Rossini.  That is your fach.

FA:    Yes. 

BD:    Do you enjoy doing those roles, or do you sing them only because your voice dictates that’s what you should sing?

araiza FA:    Let’s say both of those reasons.  First of all I have never been a tenore leggiero.  I have always had a lyric tenor voice which already does fit this kind of repertoire.  But according to my technique and to my age, all the advice from my teachers and specialists around me said I have to sing Mozart!  I made my début in 1970, and Fritz Wunderlich had died six year before.  For me he isn’t the classical Mozart tenor, because I don’t think that the music of Mozart is sterile.  It is really full of life and of erotic character.  So if you’re going to make a Mozart tenor, he has to be first of all a real tenor, and not this kind of light castrato.  That is the kind of voice you’ve been used until then.  So I understand why the people try to move me immediately to sing Mozart, including my teachers in Mexico.  They brought me the German repertoire, taught me the German roles and tried induce me into that.  But in Mexico, a tenor like me could have sung immediately Rodolfo and Faust and all these roles.  I was lucky enough to go to Europe, and to build up my whole Mozart repertory.  I immediately sang four or five big Mozart opera roles for a young tenor

BD:    The Magic Flute, Abduction, Così, Giovanni...

FA:    ...and Idamante.  These built a very, very strong bond for my career in very many places.  I had the biggest load you can imagine because the way you go to study a Mozart part is very different from the way you go and study an Italian one or a French one.

BD:    Why is that?

FA:    Because of the style, the very, very old and difficult Mozart style.  First of all you have to be able to manage your voice in an absolutely instrumental way.

BD:    Do you feel you are just a clarinet or an oboe?

FA:    No, you learn the principles of what you can do with instrument.  You have to be able to put a note cleanly in place without carrying or letting it fall.  You just place it perfectly.  Also the definition has to be really a beautiful sound, first of all.  Second, you have to be able to put this note in the three main levels of loudness
piano, mezzo-forte, and forte — and you have to be able to go from one to another without any break.  You have to be able to do that with your whole range, and that means to sing instrumentally.  Then you have to attempt some roles.  You cannot do portamentos; you cannot do ritardandos; you cannot do really just what you want.  You have to respect the very strong classical style, but the marvelous thing about that is you have to fill it up to the borders, to every corner, and that’s what makes this a special discipline.

BD:    So it’s different parameters?

FA:    Absolutely.  That is the difference.  When you have achieved a Mozart part properly, you are really one of those steps forward to do the others.

BD:    So then you learned all the Mozart roles and then went on to some of the Italian roles?

FA:    Exactly, and with this discipline the result is going to be a better one.

BD:    Are the Italian operas of the early and mid-1800s a continuation of Mozart, or are they something completely different?

FA:    No, they are completely different, because for me a continuation of Mozart doesn’t really exist.  You don’t really find the style again.  Wagner himself developed a very different personal style.  Mozart was unique and remains unique.  I was trying to analyze if Massenet was also going in the bigger way of melodic line.  After studying Massenet, I put him in between Mozart and Verdi because he joins the classicity of Mozart and goes already into the melodicity of Verdi in a very heavy way.  If you take a look at the development of operas, everybody has taken something from Massenet.  French music is thought to have this very perfumed, very French quality...

BD:    Is that a mistake?

FA:    That’s a very big mistake.  You need to really approach this music with the right aspect and with the right attention.  Then you can see what music it is.  It is very good music.

BD:    What Massenet roles have you sung?

FA:    Des Grieux, and I’ve studied Werther, which is one of my biggest hopes. 

BD:    You have a large voice, and yet it is so flexible.  I was wondering why you didn’t get pushed into Faust, or even Siegfried or Tristan!

FA:    Right, due to my age as well as my technical possibilities.  But now my voice is asking for its right, and also my personality.  Although I learned the discipline to interpret the Classical roles, and tried to get to the ground and tried to make them live, I could do those other roles.  Now I have recordings and radio broadcasts of all my roles, including all the Mozart roles.  The only one I haven’t done yet is Don Giovanni, but it’s coming soon.


See my interviews with Karita Mattila, Thomas Allen, and José van Dam



To read my Interviews with Marie McLaughlin and Robert Lloyd


See my interviews with Susanne Mentzer



See my interview with Margaret Price


See my interview with Ann Murray





See my interview with Martti Talvela


BD:    Does that please you to know that all of these have been documented?

FA:    Yes, it does indeed.  It was very funny.  The first experience I had with my first record was made in 1978.  I knew that it wasn’t the definitive interpretation of what I was singing, but it reflected my status at the moment vocally, technically and of the interpretative capability.  The recitatives I still find very exciting because it’s very fresh.  It’s a kind of achievement that a young person who has the whole world open for his eyes is able to do.  When I hear my first recording, I think that’s nice, that’s cute!

BD:    [Surprised]  Cute!?!?!

FA:    Cute, yes!  Now I listen to the other ones, and they really reflect what I have been doing during the years, what I’m trying to achieve now.

BD:    It’ll be interesting twenty years from now and see what you think of those first recordings.

FA:    Exactly, if I manage to sing that long!

BD:    How long do you think you should sing?

FA:    As long as you can really be honest with yourself and know you are really able physically to create a young character.

BD:    Alfredo Kraus is in his mid-fifties and he’s still singing Romeo and Des Grieux.

FA:    You cannot hear in his voice one beat of his elderly years.  The voice is fresh.  He is a wonderful tenor, and he’s perfectly in shape.

BD:    We’re very lucky here in Chicago.  He’s been here many, many times in the last fifteen years.

FA:    He’s such a fantastic, stylish artist, and he looks incredible.  He has this sporty figure, and he takes care of himself.  He’s perfect.

BD:    So you learn from other singers around you?

FA:    Not exactly.  What can you learn from other singers?  Everybody approaches the recitative in a different way, but it can open your eyes for a moment to a certain aspect.  Alfredo is now in his middle-fifties and he’s still able to sing those roles because he’s in shape and technically he has the experience of everything.  That’s a real example, so it’s right to apply the same discipline and go there as well.

BD:    The Bellini and Rossini and Mozart operas were written so long ago.  How do you make them speak to us today?

araiza FA:    Most of the operas deal with the same thematics every time.  They present more extroverted feelings of the human person
love, hate, jealousy, and instinct of any kind.  So they’re characteristics of the human being.  Now, of course, they’re differences used to approach a woman or girl than at that time, but you can move all these things into the main theme.  Love is love, so it doesn’t matter if it is a Prince is falling in love with Cinderella, or it could be Rodolfo with Mimì as well.  It could be maybe not such a tragic love, but you have to find the main thing to carry and develop.  It’s always a magic moment where it will jump out, and then you have the chance to really build it up.

BD:    Did composers back then capture these moods and spirits better than composers of today?

FA:    Better than today, we cannot say. But today’s composers, yes, absolutely are able to capture these moods.  As you know, modern music is now going in different directions, and is trying to build the bridge between traditional music and what supposed to be modern.   Modern music goes no one way, so it’s absolutely experimental.  We are in a typical experimental section, and not all of it is very, very fruitful.

BD:    But wasn’t Mozart experimenting at all, or Wagner?

FA:    No, no, no.  They were following tendencies of each other.

BD:    So they built on top of everything?

FA:    Yes, according to their talents and to their genius they were able to capture this line and take it over into the possibilities.  I don’t know when they really lost it... at the beginning of this century perhaps.

BD:    Schoenberg?

FA:    Schoenberg was one of the innovators, and so was Stravinsky.  Schoenberg wrote some fantastic music in his classical periods, but he was ashamed afterwards.  Why was he ashamed?  I don’t understand this.

BD:    So if you were asked to sing Aron in Moses and Aron, you would turn it down?

FA:    No, no, I think that’s very, very interesting.  That’s a very good part.  But I would hate to sing any of the parts of these composers who are making noises.  [Imitates squawking sounds and odd note-to-note leaps]

BD:    You don’t like that at all?

FA:    No way!  Why should I do that?  I don’t have any kind of contact with it, not at all. 

BD:    Then let’s go backwards.  How far back does the line extend
to Monteverdi, to Heinrich Schütz?

FA:    Yes.  But as funny as it might be, opera is nowadays considered as second-class music.  Opera has been the challenge for everybody, for every composer.

BD:    Is it a challenge for the audience also?

FA:    Of course, but every time they were expecting it.  Why did Brahms not have this breakthrough that his qualities should have?  He didn’t compose any operas with success.  There are these two little hymns that are somewhere in the world that nobody knows about, and there are very few vocal pieces.

BD:    Would the Brahms symphonies have been better if he had written an opera?

FA:    I think so.  Look what Mozart does after composing opera and then the way that he handled the instruments afterwards, after hearing the human voice doing things.  They just wrote new challenges for the clarinet and for the flute.  It’s really amazing, and they treated them better.

BD:    So the songs and the choral works of Brahms don’t quite do it?

FA:    I think I understand why he really didn’t like it that much.  He just didn’t find a librettist that could interest him that much in the subject matter.  He would have had it all to make opera if he had found someone like that.

BD:    Are the librettists of these nineteenth century operas really good, or are they just hacks?

FA:    No, they are fantastic.  The librettists began to base themselves in the classical literature.  There is no question of the quality.  A librettist was literally build up into the art, so he knew what he had to bring to achieve in order to make something valuable.  There are some where the situation is going to have another rhythm which works much slower, and it’s going to carry sometimes for hours, as in Wagner.  The dialogue in Wagner takes hours and it is a very, very big challenge.

BD:    Any librettos you consider poor?

FA:    No.  For me, you have to find out what was trying to be said through this libretto, and then try to solve the problems.  Maybe composers sometimes wrote the music at such a speed that they have the full picture of what they wanted in their heads but didn’t have the time to write everything down, or thought maybe if they wrote this and that, the singers will understand what they mean.  But sometimes something is really missing.

araiza BD:    They leave it to the interpreters to fill in the gaps?

FA:    I don’t think so, at least not that much and at least not on purpose.  They really wanted to have the full control of what they were doing.  They were such at ease, they thought the people also were like that.  The artists will understand if they do it like that, but it is really failing in very much information and through which eyes they were looking at these matters.  For instance, I’m occupying myself now with Rigoletto, which I’m going to sing Germany.  I see the [character of] Rigoletto coming back to his home, fearing for his daughter, finding strangers around his house.  Then he discovers finally that he was blind-folded.  It is silly.  You notice perfectly well if somebody’s trying to blind-fold you.  I’m sure that in those days they had anesthetics to make you sleep.  I’m sure that the courtiers who were going to kidnap Gilda had anesthetics in order to make her sleep and to take her away, but Gilda doesn’t sleep.  She screams for her life as she is carried away, but Rigoletto doesn’t notice anything from these screams.

BD:    Wasn’t he thinking that they were robbing somebody else, not his own house?

FA:    But he knows the voice of his daughter.  He had a big quarrel with Ceprano, and there is a certain moment when they forget about it and make a truce.  This is when they put this anesthetic in Rigoletto’s drink so to make Rigoletto fall asleep.  As he sleeps, they blind-fold him, and then they go and take his daughter.  He wakes up, and they haven’t finished yet.

BD:    That’s interesting you’re studying the opera for your own character of the Duke, and yet you’re studying the character of Rigoletto.

FA:    I study everything when I approach Mozart, so then you approach everything the same way.

BD:    But it’s interesting that you would go into such depth for another character.  It’s almost like a conductor who has to know every detail.

FA:    Yes, absolutely. 

BD:    Then how much do you as an actor divorce yourself from facts that will happen later?

FA:    You have to divorce.  You have to really find the keys.  There are things you’re not supposed to know. 

BD:    How much do you become the character?  Are you the character or are you playing a character?

FA:    It depends on how much the characteristics of the character you find with the ones of yourself.   For instance, when I am playing Des Grieux it’s more me.  When I’m playing Almaviva, I’m playing it absolutely.

BD:    Are there any characters that are really too close to Francisco Araiza?

FA:    Yes, especially the ‘Sturm und Drang’ characters like Werther, Don Carlo, Des Grieux.  One has this typical challenge, the idealization of the world.  That’s what interests me a lot and helps me.  All the other things are for me a question of discipline, which is a learned art.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Does the size of the house matter to you at all?

FA:    Not at all.  My voice carries very well and it’s big enough. 

BD:    Are there houses that are too small, or places where your voice is too big?

FA:    No, I haven’t noticed that.  In Europe you have the problem that the smaller houses have the worst acoustic.  So I don’t really care.  I have enough voice anyway.  My best experiences in the biggest houses were in Salzburg in the Festspielhaus, where I had no problems at all, and in Tokyo in the Bunka Kaikan.  The Metropolitan is the most difficult house to sing in.  The house here in Chicago has a very tricky acoustic. 

BD:    Does the stage-set help or hinder all of this, perhaps when there is very little scenery behind you?

FA:    Yes, that happens.  Sometimes we have a raked stage and that helps a lot.

BD:    If you’re standing in front of a wall, will that help to project the voice forward?

araiza FA:    It depends if the wall is made of projecting material, but it’s other stuff it swallows the voice up.  But there are productions that have the purpose of helping the acoustics, especially the productions of Jean-Pierre Ponnelle.  All of them have very, very friendly acoustic.  Also they are beautiful.

BD:    How do the different directors affect your performance?

FA:    Very much.  I am a person who depends very much on the colleagues.  First of all I have to have the right colleagues, especially the right woman to be able to act really well.  It would be crazy not to.

BD:    What if you get someone that you don’t care for?

FA:    That’s awful. For me, that’s like punishment!  It really is.

BD:    But then you have to overcome it.  Isn’t it your responsibility to simply deal with the situation?

FA:    Of course you do overcome it, but you will be distracted from so many elements because it’s only okay.  I don’t look at her, or if I look at her, then I think it’s Flicka von Stade there, and not her.  But you can only do that until a certain moment when she does a stupid thing, then you know it’s not Flicka.  So you distract yourself.

BD:    [With a sly nudge]  You don’t do something to irritate her?

FA:    No, never!  That would be silly.  Sometimes I would love to, but...  [Both laugh]

BD:    Do rely on a prompter at all?

FA:    Not at all, especially when there are very penetrating ones that I hate, really.  They are snapping fingers and conducting you and saying you’re always the worst.  Then when you are trying to make the character pause they try to get you to come in.  There have been times when the prompter is pretty awful giving unnecessary prompts in dramatic pauses!  So no, I don’t rely on prompters.  I learn my lines very well.  As a matter of fact, I’m a specialist, so all my parts I have sung over fifty times at least.

BD:    Are there any parts you’ve sung too many times?

FA:    Yes, Barber!

BD:    So how do you then stay fresh?

FA:    You stay fresh because as soon as you have a new public it’s an absolutely new atmosphere.  Also with a new production and new colleagues there is a new challenge.  But this is my last production of Barber.

BD:    Are you retiring the part?

FA:    Yes.  I will sing this series and then the first and second performances at La Scala immediately after that, and that’s it!

BD:    You’ve told your agent not to accept any more Barbers?

FA:    Yes, and Cenerentola will be retiring in June next year in Munich.

BD:    Are you then accepting heavier and heavier parts?

FA:    Yes.  As I told you I sang Des Grieux in Manon, and I sang Leicester in Maria Stuarda.  I’m going to sing Percy in Anna Bolena, also the Duke in Rigoletto, Faust, Rodolfo, Werther, and up to Don Carlos and the ‘zwischen’ German repertory.  So I have a good new field to develop in.  I’m going to sing Hoffmann as well.  That will be as far as I want to go for now.  That’s my main characteristic, my personal voice.

BD:    Is it satisfying for you to know that you’re booked four or five years in advance?

FA:    Yes, it is very satisfying.

BD:    Is it at all scary?

FA:    Scary, no, but it’s a big responsibility especially if it does not happen.  How I’m feeling now tells me to move up in these matters.  It was easier to sing Almaviva or Ramiro in Cenerentola earlier in the career, so I would say no to the heavier parts.  I didn’t see why I should keep trying those very, very difficult parts which would strain my voice, making a violation of it if I could sing the other parts that fit me better.  But as I feel now, I don’t have the flexibility that I used to have years before.  Just going up to the C and down was no problem, but now I have to work to do it. 

BD:    So singing is harder work for you?

FA:    Oh, yes.

BD:    But you enjoy it?

FA:    I do enjoy it, and as I quit these parts, I want to achieve the heavier ones.  But what if I cannot?  That’s the bigger question, but I know that I can.  I sang for the Duke and Duchess of Luxembourg and I got a commendation.  That was very good. 

BD:    So are you taking these parts on one by one very gradually?

FA:    Yes.  They are coming one after the other but really with time, and also time to see the reactions.

BD:    Have you ever come across a part that you sing on the stage and you realize it is not the part for you, so you retire it earlier or immediately?

araiza FA:    Not yet.  Always the more that I have occupied myself with the part that came early, the better.  I say that because I have sung my whole life the tenor part of Verdi Requiem.  I had my first Verdi Requiem ten years ago or so, and while I don’t hate the piece, it is difficult for the breathing and building of the phrases.  The orchestra comes in and I open the voice, so it’s a very tough part.  But year after year it became easier.  Now it’s a part of me and I don’t need so many places to breathe as ten years ago or eight or seven years ago.  I can sing a phrase normally without any breathing.  So you achieve more and can develop into it.

BD:    You started that one very early?

FA:    I thought it was very early.  As a matter of  fact I sang it last year again, and when I was restudying the part I remembered how I used to shake and to fight for breath.  Now that’s all gone!

BD:    Now it’s easy?

FA:    It’s absolutely easy.   It’s now that I am up to it.  I’m able to do it without any problems.  That’s why I think it’s the right moment to add other parts.  The Des Grieux in 1986 was an emergency.  I was offered that a year before, and it was a question should I do it right then or no?   I was waiting for it so I accepted it, and it went well. 

BD:    Are you very careful to not sing too often?

FA:    No!  [Laughs]

BD:    Are you singing too much?

FA:    Too much, no because I’m still vocally alive.  But I have been singing very much.  However I’ve noticed since I sang Des Grieux that I needed a full day after that performance in order to recover physically.  Jumping around from one part to another, I was able to recover very easily from Barber.  But the Des Grieux is another way of being tired.

BD:    Are you emotionally tired?

FA:    Right.  You can only make these parts in a convincing way if you really go into them.  You have to act, you have to try and be this part.  There are parts that you cannot play; you have to be that part and Des Grieux is one of these.  It takes your whole substance, and after a performance you’re really down for a while.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Next Fall you’ll be back in Chicago for Traviata.  Tell me a little bit about Alfredo!

araiza FA:    I find Alfredo very, very exciting part.

BD:    Will you sing the cabaletta?

FA:    Yes, yes, certainly.  It is the problems of getting involved with such a situation as this, accompanied by such beautiful music, and especially a part where you can really live your emotions at the borders.  So that’s what I like to do, and it’s a very thankful part.  So I’m looking forward to doing it in a good production because it has to be well done.  Ardis Krainik was the first American Intendant to give me a long-period contract in the USA, so I shall probably get back here for many years!

BD:    Do you like being a ‘wandering minstrel’?

FA:    I must tell you that you really don’t realize this much traveling around.  The main concentration stays in the music and the parts that you have learned, doing your job and also trying to develop in a certain spiritual way to be able to understand this kind of lifestyle to keep your gifts occupied.  I am always learning new things in new fields.  One of the things I do the most is song recitals because that’s the field that allows you to realize the most as an artist.  If I sing them here, there or anywhere, that’s secondary.  The main thing is the art itself.

[At this point we chatted momentarily about his family and his children who were with him on this trip...]

BD:    Do the kids like to see Daddy on the stage?

FA:    My daughter saw me for the first time onstage here.  She has seen me on television, but on live stage it was the first time.  She was very upset as I was fighting with the Figaro with a sword.  She was so scared.  [Both laugh]

BD:    In your repertory you are not usually killed.   Would that upset her to see you in that kind of situation?

FA:    I think so, so I won’t take her.  My brother took his daughter to see me in Zurich when she was more or less four years old.  He wanted to take her to the opera, so they took her to Otello, and I was Cassio.  She got so upset that my brother had to take her out from the show.  We realized it was wrong to take her to Otello for the first time.  After that he took her to Abduction and she enjoyed it very much.  Although I am a prisoner there too, that was less scary than the big fight!

BD:    And of course you’re then released at the end, and they can see that.

FA:    Right, right.

BD:    I interviewed soprano Valerie Masterson...

FA:    [Interrupting]  Oh, I like her very much!

BD:    ...and she was talking about bringing her children to the opera.   She thought she would take her son to Orpheus in the Underworld because it’s all happy and bright and bubbly, but she forgot that at the end of the first act she disappears and goes to hell!  The kid was on the floor screaming.  They had to bring him to the dressing room to see that Mummy was all right.  [Both laugh]

FA:    Yes, the children have their fantasy in the imagination and it goes very, very far.

BD:    She said her daughter had just seen Mummy as Manon, and they asked the people who took her to the theater asked her if she minded seeing Mummy die on the stage, and she said,
Oh no, I’m used to it now.  [Both laugh]  How can we bring more children to the opera?

araiza FA:    In Zurich and in Vienna and Munich and other cities there is a big program, a Magic Flute for children.

BD:    Is this a film?

FA:    No, it is live.  It is part of the school here for the 4th or 5th class, one day to the theater to see The Magic Flute for children.  It is incredible the way it is done.  The baritone is also a narrator.  He reorganizes the score and brings the old jokes.  He begins by talking about the snake.  Every kid likes the snake, the more dangerous, the more fun!  He tells how Tamino falls in love with Pamina through a picture, and Tamino sings the aria.  Then the narrator says that was in 1785.  How would it be if Tamino could fall in love with Pamina now?   So they have Tamino singing the Beatles song,
I love you, yeah, yeah, yeah. 

BD:    So the kids then make the connection between one love song and another love song!

FA:    Of course, and then the kids are immediately taken.  Papageno stays there and lets the snake come after him.  He says,
They’re not dangerous at all!  Then the children scream, “Watch out behind you!  Behind me???  Waaahhh!!!  [Much laughter]  They have done a very, very good job, and those are kids that will be coming back to the opera for sure.

BD:    That’s the way to catch them
at a young age.

FA:    Yes.  There are so many programs for catching them.  There was The Magic Flute in cartoons.  I don’t know if you saw that, but it was very well done also, beautiful.  Did you see this new film of Hansel and Gretel with Fassbaender?  It’s such a dream.  [The cast also includes Gruberova, Prey, Dernesch, and Jurinac, conducted by Solti and directed by Everding.]  It’s so beautifully done, so spontaneous, so true.  Those are the things that can really grab a new public.  I don’t have any fear about future public for the opera.  Just take a look at all the theaters.  In Europe at least, 30-40% of the audiences are young people.  I see it myself, and my fans are all teenagers.

BD:    Do you ever wish you were a Rock singer?

FA:    No, no!  My experience tells me this is where I belong.

BD:    Could you be a Rock singer if you’d wanted to?

FA:    Yes, yes.  In Mexico I worked a lot in entertainment, singing Rock songs in shows and anything I could, but I don’t like it.

BD:    Is Rock music? 

FA:    It is, yes.  What does music do?  It awakes some special feelings; it finds the chemistry in you; it moves you to special emotions.  Rock does that.  Just take a look at the thousands of people.  Michael Jackson, The Rolling Stones, they give a concert and the crowds are really out of their minds.  They are there not because they think they have to be like that, it’s because they’re really feel it.  It might be the rhythm or whatever, but there is something in it that works.

BD:    Isn’t much of it just peer pressure?

FA:    It is the will of the public to be captured by this atmosphere.  If the concert doesn’t begin on time, you can feel the electricity there.  There is another kind of expectation of sitting there and seeing what’s going on and all of that.  They want to participate.  I think that’s the biggest difference.

BD:    So they go to a Rock concert wanting to have fun?

FA:    Yes, exactly.

BD:    Do people go to opera wanting to have fun?

FA:    Not always.  That’s our big problem.  Some of them really go only to criticize.  The opera singer has a big problem trying to make up his mind, or maybe seeing himself in the right position.  Is the opera singer an entertainer or is he an artist?  Most of them don’t even think about the question.  They think as a matter of course that they’re going to be in a place to be paid for doing something, and they’re going to try to convince an audience of something.  Those are the facts, so I am an entertainer.  But that’s too easy and too wrong because the way I see it is you have a commitment, first of all, and if we accept to do it at a special place, open for the person who buys a ticket, they have the right to be a part of this artistry.  To do your own interpretation of a certain piece under certain circumstances shouldn’t keep you away from being an artist and trying to do an artistic kind of treatment in the very moment.  I speak with younger singers and also with older singers, and they are getting tired of the job and all the traveling around. 

BD:    It should be the burning desire inside.

FA:    Yes, it must be a burning desire inside.  You’re not even to expect the approval of the audience.  They have to be happy to be there, to be able to take part in this moment.  That’s the way I see it.  Of course the public is paying to be able to be there, but they are paying you to make something artistic.  It’s complex, but it is true and it is the only way.

BD:    Do you try to give the public more than its money’s worth?

FA:    You do, absolutely.  That’s the difference between a technician and scientist, but there are really very few that feel like that, who think like that, or react like that.  This tradition shouldn’t quit.  It should improve.

BD:    Do you feel secure about the future of opera?

FA:    Yes, absolutely.  Just have a look here or there, and there are plans to make a new opera house.  In Houston they’re making a new opera house, and in Los Angeles they want a full opera company for themselves.  Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, they all have their traditions too.  It’s due to their economic problems and political problems that they cannot give the opera the place it should have.  But they have great tradition and they have had the biggest singers and interpreters of the time. 


BD:    Are there any great Mexican operas?

FA:    No!

BD:    Why?

FA:    I don’t know.  There are no composers, first of all.

BD:    Why don’t Mexican composers write operas?

FA:    I think it’s got to be with the loss of tradition.  To become an American opera singer, you have to have a Master of Arts from some university.  You have to have a really, really good background.  In Mexico, even in Italy and Spain you only need to have the voice to become a great singer.

BD:    Thank you for being not only a singer, but also an artist! 

FA:    I’m thankful too.

BD:    When you come back again can we talk about Massenet?

FA:    Fine!  Yes, yes, certainly.

BD:    Thank you.

FA:    It’s a pleasure.

[During the course of doing interviews for many years, there have been several times when mention was made of getting together again at a later date.  Sometimes it worked out, but often it did not.  Happily, this was an instance when a second conversation did happen, specifically six years later.....]

BD:    You started out singing Mozart and Rossini and now you’re moving into the Verdi and French repertoire, and I understand even some Wagner.  Is this a comfortable move for you?

araiza FA:    Yes, it is indeed.  Lohengrin was my actual goal of the vocal development, and I have put my concentration and my energies in arriving there without damage in the voice by going too far into heavy parts too soon or too much.  It was the final test to see how the development was working, and the Lohengrin last June in Venice I was really very, very excited.  But I was so lucky that I was part of a great, great production from Pier Luigi Pizzi [shown in a video-capture at right], and I was working with a conductor that for me is one of the geniuses of the younger generation, a German named Christian Thielemann.  From the very first rehearsal we had this understanding that we were going to do new things, and to treat the whole opera as we could do a Lied, given the great, great importance to every word and the phrasing of the part and the different moods and situations, the differentiation in attacks, etc., etc.  It was for me an incredible surprise to see how it worked.

BD:    Was the conductor very careful to make sure that he didn’t over-blow the orchestra because you have a different kind of voice than the normal Lohengrin?

FA:    That’s what I told him.  Certainly we chose a very nice theater in Venice to make this production.  It has one of the best acoustics of theaters of this size.  It’s very well constructed.  It’s very intimate, and I told him that I didn’t want any special attention in that matter.  You cannot really count too much on the dynamics of Wagner.  Certainly you have to understand that once you give these operas on a normal stage outside of Bayreuth, you have to lower your dynamics anyway, generally speaking.  So one knows that, and by applying this rule you are never wrong because it is an opera that is lyrical-heroic, and it is very well written.  When Wagner puts a certain amount of sound with orchestra and chorus together
for instance, in the second act when Lohengrin thanks the whole populace and the warriors for their confidence in himWagner really trumpets on the high range of the tenor, which is easy to cut through all this amount of sound that’s coming out of the orchestra and chorus.

BD:    All those high As lie well in your voice?

FA:    It lies well so you don’t have to really push the voice in order to get through.  Other than that, all the constructing of the orchestration is very much in accordance to the voice and to the dramatic situation.  I can say I never found a spot where I thought I was covered.  Even when Lohengrin wins the battle against Telramund, there the orchestra is very strong and you have the freedom to make your attack just after the orchestra has been cut off by the conductor.  You’re going again to high A, which is a very, very powerful tone.  I don’t think that it is a question of size of the voice, but that the voice is well placed and it will carry.

BD:    And of course it needs a lot of stamina

FA:    That’s another point.  It is not only vocal stamina but also physical stamina which you have to have.  Certainly in the Brautgemach in the third act I have never had an opera where I sang so much together.  So certainly it was a challenge.  It was something to see how it could work, but already from the beginning of my studies with this part, I noticed that it sat well in my throat.  So if I was careful at the beginning I would not have any problems later, and that was the way it happened.

BD:    Did you build yourself up over time to sing longer and longer parts and more taxing roles?

FA:    Exactly.  According to my development I was taking parts that were working into this region.  For instance, the French parts for tenor are usually longer than the Italian ones.  Des Grieux lasts one hour and twenty minutes of tenor music alone, and then we have Roméo which lasts one hour and thirty-five to forty minutes of tenor music.  Lohengrin also lasts one and half hours music, which is not any longer, but the third act is very, very compact, and you are there the whole time singing heavy stuff.  Another point is that in the French operas you can somehow rely on your technique and your way of taking back the voice a little bit to make a little phrase and then come out of it again.  With Lohengrin, with Wagner, you can do that to a certain point you, but you have to be aware that you have to be using your voice at full power for ninety percent of the time.  This attitude can be a barrier
what you have heard from the orchestra at the rehearsalbut when you get to know the opera and when you get to know the weight of the voices of your colleagues on stage, you can adapt that as well.

araiza BD:    For this production did they pick other voices which were similar in weight to yours?

FA:    No.  That was the great thing that they were all Wagner singers including Nadine Secunde as Elsa, Gudrun Volkert as Ortrud, Bent Norup as Telramund, Heinz Klaus Ecker as Henry and Eike Wilm Schulte as the Herald.  They didn
’t hire a Tamino and then try to match the other voices to mine.

BD:    Were they apprehensive of you at any point?

FA:    Yes, I noticed that.  They knew they’re going to sing with Francisco Araiza, and he was making a development which is very controversial anyhow.

BD:    So they were aware of your move from Mozart through Verdi to the French....

FA:    Exactly, and then they saw I was going to sing Wagner!  How is that going to be okay?   They have the name who has made a career in the Mozart-Donizetti-Rossini repertory who is struggling into the new repertory to convince people that it’s the right thing to do for him.  Here he is doing his first Wagner, so they couldn’t show that to me during the early rehearsals, but at the very first rehearsal with orchestra, it was a Sitzprobe, and it was very funny because we had a stage that had a certain incline.  This raked stage was quite high, so they constructed a platform to make it flat, but only in the middle and they put a couple of chairs on this platform.  The chorus had the loges, so there was no problem for them.  I wasn’t there for the beginning.  I was warming up and drinking my water, and I heard them coming to my entrance so I went on the stage and I saw that none of the other soloists were on the platform.  They were standing on the sides, very bravely waiting for Francisco Araiza to go there.  So I did it, and I was shaking a lot.  My breath was up to here [points to his head], and my diaphragm and my throat, so it was a nice excitement because it was like the first times that I had begun to sing.  I had to take care of everything
my breathing, my support, my voice, my placement, and my nerves.  Then I began to sing and began to realize that the voice was working the way I wanted it to, and I was feeling the room the way I wanted to do it.  After the first break I was absolutely confident, and I finished the rehearsal and everybody was cheering and a new Lohengrin was born.  It was fantastic.  Certainly the approach I do is very, very special.  It is an approach that explores all the possibilities.  It didn’t leave one possibility open.  I am thankful to the conductor who supported me in absolutely every aspect, giving me the time to shape the voice, time to re-attack, to make the diminuendos, to make different colors in between phrases, and all these things, and especially giving me the time to breathe. 

BD:    As the rehearsals progressed, did you find yourself getting stronger and more confident?

FA:    Always, yes.  Every one of the final rehearsals was a kind of affirmation that what I was doing was right.  I must say that when I arrived to the general rehearsal, which was open, that was the final test. 

BD:    Was there was an audience for that?

FA:    There was an audience there, and I knew that all the critics were also there.  They weren’t supposed to be, but they were there.  They couldn’t wait to see the premiere because they thought that I might cancel.  So if they got the chance to go the rehearsal, which I was supposed to sing, they went in!  But I felt confident, and I was enjoying this part so much because of the whole environment that went around me.  I had really fun doing it, and you could feel the expectation that they were positively disposed to this debut.  And after the Gralserzählung they applauded!  They shouted bravo!  In Wagner this is impossible.  The conductor was looking around because this never happens.  It never happened before.  He was happy and having fun as well!  So we had a great, great time together doing a series of five performances.

BD:    Did you have enough time to rest in between each performance?

FA:    In between I had usually two days, but one time I had only one day in between.  They wondered if I could do it in this manner, but I got to finish this series and I tell you I think that changed a lot in me.

BD:    How did you feel after the last performance?

FA:    It was a combination of fulfillment and being empty.  I was happy that I have done it, that I reached my goal.  I will never forget this production and the experience of constructing it every time new.  But at the same time the excitement was so big that I was absolutely empty.  I didn’t have any strength to go ahead.  It would have been wiser for me to take a couple of weeks off and really digest this whole experience, which was really one of the highlights of my career.

BD:    I was going to ask had you foresight to make sure that the next couple of weeks were empty.

FA:    In fact I went on to Munich to sing a series of Rigoletto.  You cannot put further extremes together, which was not wise at all because I wasn’t in the mood.  I was really still feeling in the Grail, and still enjoying my remembrances of this experience.

araiza BD:    Were you able to readjust the voice for Verdi?

FA:    I wasn’t.  That was the problem, because as I told you before, I was using my full voice ninety percent of the time in this range that goes up to A natural.  Then I had to cope with this very, very difficult range of the Duke, so it was quite a trouble for me.  I had to reduce the voice, and I was just putting the voice very thin in the mask, and it was not nice at all.

BD:    Were the people there in Munich saying that you had just sung Lohengrin?

FA:    Exactly.  They were expecting a Lohengrin sound in this range, which is absolutely impossible.  Nobody can carry that amount of sound up there.  I needed at least two weeks to readjust to this range, which I didn’t have, so these performances weren’t very good, I must say.  But it’s my fault and I feel guilty about it.

BD:    As you reorganize your schedule for future performances, are you leaving more time after each production?

FA:    I’m not going to undertake more such experiences like that because I’m not going any further into the development.  That was my goal.

BD:    [With a gentle nudge]  No Siegfried?

FA:    No Siegfried!  [Both roar with laughter]  That was my goal, and as I achieved it I am really very lucky.  I’m not pursuing something further, but what I want to do is to fill up what I have done.  I just closed what I have to learn in my French repertory by singing Roméo.  I have the five important French parts
Roméo, Werther, Hoffmann, Faust and Des Grieux.  I have been skipping Carmen because I think that’s also a more dramatic role.

BD:    Will you be coming back to Lohengrin eventually?

FA:    Oh yes, as a matter of fact, you’ll never imagine but I have had since June three invitations.  I’m doing productions in Zürich, and certainly for what I have seen in this part, I have found a key of interpretation that works very well if I have the right environment.  I’m very worried if I’m going to step into some productions that already exist.  I just don’t think I can always fit in.  So that’s a problem I will have to see for future commitments for Lohengrin.  But I’m going to widen up this border by going into Walter from Meistersinger, which I will be doing at the Metropolitan in a new production in 1992/93.  And I’ve been running after Loge for a certain amount of years, but it hasn’t come through yet.

BD:    You sang a small part at Bayreuth years ago?

FA:    Exactly.  It was the Steersman in Flying Dutchman.

BD:    Even though you were singing a small, light part that fit your voice, did that give you a bit of the Wagner feel to hear the big orchestra and be there for all the rehearsals?

FA:    Yes.  What happens in Bayreuth is a very special phenomenon.  First of all you hear the orchestra as you will never hear an orchestra again, because all of the orchestra sound comes towards you when you are on the stage.  The orchestra sounds in all of the other houses goes first up and then it gets onto the audience.  The luckier ones are the ones always upstairs, as you well know.  So at Bayreuth you have the orchestra coming exactly at you onstage, as if you were suspended up in this hall but coming directly at you.  You get to hear an incredible amount of sound.

BD:    Do you feel that you’re swamped?

FA:    You feel overwhelmed.  You feel just like you have been taken by a cyclone and blown away because in Bayreuth the dynamics of the score are respected.  If they have five Fs [forte
— loud], they blow five Fs!  They should and they do since they are not being afraid of covering the artists.  What happens then is that you have to get acquainted with that, and to realize that you don’t have to push your voice in order to get through because while this orchestra sound is coming towards you, your voice is cutting directly through.  It’s not like cutting a wall, like in the normal theaters, but you are just going through without problems.  What happens later is this sound comes through and carries with the voice, which is an incredible phenomenon.  Once you get that, you can sing the lightest pianissimo in Bayreuth, and they will be carried through the orchestra.  So for a lyrical voice like mine, being there and putting the voice in the right place was the best thing to do.  I remember the other voices that were heavy and lacked the focal point which I have, were pushing more.  By sitting in the hall and listening to these voices and listening to the voices that were projected easily, it was as if you were in such a chamber room.  The other ones develop more than the ones that were being pushed, because by that you were shortening the range of emission by giving so much powerwhich was not needed at all.  So what was carried was what you were producing, and if you’re producing a round, healthy sound, that was what came through.  So it was a very, very good experience for me to do that because I could put my voice in the right focal point, and then give the full power, which was a great experience.  To develop this focus into the greatest possible amount of volume by not widening the throat is the important thing.  Besides that, I have always been a Wagner fan.  The first opera that I heard that really struck me was The Flying Dutchman in the recording with George London.  It was George London who has brought me, but by hearing it so often I learned to love the opera as well, and learned to love Wagner in that manner.

BD:    The Steersman on that recording is Richard Lewis, who is a fine Mozart tenor!

FA:    Yes, exactly!  So I began to think about a development into certain Wagner roles, and I began to think which parts those might be.  So by reading the parts, I realized Lohengrin could be in the possible range and Walter von Stolzing as well, and Loge certainly, but then that’s it.  Erik is definitely too heavy.  Tannhäuser is definitely too heavy, and of course the heroic tenors in the Ring have other ranges.  They are very low.  The young Siegfried has an incredible range of two octaves, and he moves the whole time for an amount of two hours and forty-five minutes.  It is the longest part ever written in the singing literature, even longer than Elektra and Hans Sachs.  And Siegmund is like a high baritone voice.  So if I was interested in singing those parts, then I would have to let my voice go down.  But I am interested in singing more the French and the Italian repertory, which requires you to have a healthy high C.  That’s why I wouldn’t go into these other parts.  Even Parsifal is very, very questionable for me because of the range.

araiza BD:    Even though it’s very short by comparison?

FA:    Certainly, but it’s a question of feeling the range easily.  At the beginning of this year I did a recording Freischütz, and I was invited to do a production as well at the same time in London.  But before that I had a series of Faust in Vienna and after that again.  So I said it’s not going to work because I don’t have the time to let the voice really come down to the range of Max and then to pull it up again to the range of Faust.  So I canceled the series of performances in London, but I did the recording,  and I tell you I was having trouble achieving the low notes.  It was wise for me to cancel this series because I didn’t have the time to let the voice go down.  I knew that I could do it because when I do Liederabende I’m singing always in this range.  But you are not giving full power of the voice there.  It is a different way of singing when you sing Liederabende.  You sing as though it is in the middle of the dramatic general repertory.  So I decided to take care and to decide how far to go, and then I said Lohengrin will be the piece to decide whether I can achieve this development or not.  I’m glad I did it. 

BD:    Can we assume you enjoyed the Mozart and Rossini repertoire when you were doing it?

FA:    I enjoyed it very much, but I knew after ten years of singing my 255th Tamino and my 240th Don Ottavio, I realized that I was in danger to come to what you call a routine, and that I cannot accept.  I was lucky because I was not only singing opera, I was also singing concerts and recitals, and I was keeping up my studies, learning new parts and going further in the repertory.  As you know, concert repertory and recital repertory have high ranges as well.  There are more lyrical programs and there are more dramatic ones, and I was also making my experiments with these programs.  So I knew that I could go on, but going on had its advantages and its disadvantages.  Here I was at a certain point in my career, and some people would say,
He has achieved a worthy career, with the most important recordings and most important videos, and most important productions in the best houses of the world with the best producers and the best conductors... so he is going to throw that all away to go where there are lots of tenors???  That was the idea, and I had to not listen to that, but I had to listen to what my voice and my soul were really requiring from me as an artist.

BD:    Was this also the advice you were getting from teachers and accompanists?

FA:    Yes, certainly from my voice teacher.  She knew that my staying in most of the Mozart repertory and the light repertory was only going to be a question of time.  As long as I was young, the technique would allow me to do that.  But the voice, which nature tends to push down, was going to widen with the years and ask for heavier parts in a certain time.  And it happened that way.

BD:    Are you losing a little bit of the flexibility, too?

FA:    Yes, that happens.  The dramatic laws of flexibility say that I’ve done something wrong because I can still sing coloratura.  I can still do a pianissimo high note in the right place without preparing specially or pushing.  But certainly I have to change a little bit of my technique.  I notice now that the voice is not as easy and as agile as it was  before.  Also when I am listening to my recordings, I think that was not bad, but now I couldn’t do it.  It’s not that I’ve lost the flexibility and the coloratura, but they become a bit heavy.  I noticed it the last time I sang Cenerentola in Salzburg, which I did recently to show that I can still do it, that I was still able to do this repertory.

BD:    I don’t know of another tenor who sings both Lohengrin and Cenerentola in the same season!

FA:    Yes, that’s weird!  It shouldn’t happen, but it can happen as a matter of fact because I did it this year.  But you are right!

BD:    So it’s a natural progression for you voice and for your career?

FA:    Yes, yes.  The question of course was how far to go, and as I had settled my limits already from the beginning, it was no problem selecting which parts to approach.  I was lucky because as, you mentioned before, I was working towards this Lohengrin, and maybe the first dramatic step that I took was the Ballo in Maschera, which for the Italian repertory was the absolutely border.  I felt very comfortable with this part.  It’s a long part, one of the longest tenor parts in the Italian repertory and very strong in dramatic ways, and I enjoyed it very much.  Then the second step was the Roméo, which is a lyrical part.  But when you see the music, you see the orchestra and the whole environment, then you realize that it’s more of a lyrical-spinto tenor which is required to do this part.  I enjoyed these phrases very much where I could put the big load, and then put this high note there and take out weight.  So it’s very taxing, especially because of the length of the part, but it is put together very, very well.  It’s a very well-constructed opera, which doesn’t need or lack one single note.  It’s  a perfectly dramatic and developed subject, and the music is just beautiful.  So it was a real preparation for the Lohengrin, and I felt that when I approached the Lohengrin it was at the right moment.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Let’s talk a little bit now about the French roles.  You’ve sort of mastered, as you say, the big five roles.  Are they similar all in weight and in style?

FA:    They’re similar, though every one of them has their difficulties.  From the five, I think everybody could agree that Hoffmann is the most difficult of all of them.

BD:    Just because of the range?

FA:    I don’t think that’s only the range, but he keeps you really singing thoroughly in the break, and then from there up to the top. 

BD:    The E, F, F#, G?

araiza FA:    Exactly.  It is always there and always ascending, and uses all the dynamics.  It’s always this way and all in this range.  It becomes very, very tough, so for that reason this part is very difficult.  As you well know, when a tenor achieves a good management of his break range, then he can sing.  When he has a good top, then he really manages every part, but that’s the most difficult thing to learn.

BD:    Now in the Hoffmann, do you sing the version with the recitatives or the version with the spoken dialogue?

FA:    I have sung the Guiraud version which is the recitatives, and I have recorded the newest version, which is  by Michael Kaye, for Philips.  [Vis-à-vis that recording (shown at right), Jeffrey Tate is the conductor, and Felicity Palmer is the voice of Antonia
s mother.]

BD:    Have you done it with spoken dialogue?

FA:    No, not on the stage.  That’s the trouble, but I’m used to it by doing Mozart operas where you have to  go back and forth.  However, you don’t have to do real speeches, but they do put you into some problems, demanding from you to have a special speaking voice.  Then you have to move out from your singing voice.

BD:    So Hoffmann is the most difficult of your five French roles
— not necessarily the longest but the most difficult?

FA:    I would say so, yes.  It’s the most tricky because of this matter.

BD:    Roméo is the longest?

FA:    Roméo is the longest, which makes it also on the difficult side of the five.

BD:    What lands in the middle then?

FA:    There is no middle.  I would say Werther is difficult as well because of the second act, which is endless, and very dramatic.

BD:    [Being optimistic]  Endless in a good way?

FA:    Oh, it is beautiful, certainly.  Those are maybe the points of these five roles, that they are all beautiful.  We are talking about what we call ‘soul dramas’.  You can, as an artist, discover lots of characteristics that maybe are existent in your nature, so you can put a whole amount of yourself into the interpretation of these parts and enjoy them quite a lot.

BD:    Do you ever put too much of yourself into them?

FA:    I really try to put the most I can into them, to see the music as an art of you that you have, like a painter has, and then digest this view and bring back what you have understood from it.  Of course, this is a very personal result that comes out, and then you can say in this part it’s ninety per cent myself.  That’s exactly the same way that I would react, exactly the same way I would feel, exactly the same way I would suffer if I am in such a situation.  You find yourself really enjoying it all because you are moving into very well-known territory.  This is maybe a real common denominator for all of these French parts.

BD:    So then Des Grieux and Faust are a little easier, perhaps?

FA:    I would say so.  They have all the elements that the other three have, but in a more compact way.  You have the dramatic outbursts of Faust and of Des Grieux as well if we talk about the scene in the Hôtel Transylvanie in Manon, or the final terzetto in Faust, and the Prologue which is very dramatic.  Then these two parts move more into what we call the lyrical repertory which is very attached to bel canto with a French style, which is very, very special.


BD:    What is it about the French style that really attracts you and your vocalism?

FA:    Every style attracts me because from the moment that I put my foot in Germany, I was told to learn the correct Mozart style.  This question awoke in me a very big curiosity.  What’s that about the style?  What are styles?  How do they apply to music?  How can you find them?  How can you define them?  How can you make them work?  And by working hard in this Mozart style I finally understood what was meant
that a certain thing can be taught if you move around with the right people.  Either that or you go where this music was born, and you breathe it in, which I did.  I also asked who can teach me the Mozart style, and being quite a number of specialists there, I found Professor Richard Holm and studied with him.  He was a former lyrical tenor who also moved into heavier parts, singing Max, Loge, and Don José as well.  So I understood what it was about.  I could define it.  I could make a clear point of what was meant, and then I could use it and see that I could reach my dramatic expression without going out of this style.  So that was good, and in this manner I was very interested in discovering styles.  I noticed that for singing recitals, for singing Lieder, it requires also a special style, but that style is wider because of the nature of the compositions and of the messages of the composer who allows you the most amount of freedom that you can ever get as an interpreter, as an artist.  He composes a Lied and says ‘not too fast’, or ‘lovely’ or whatever.  He doesn’t tell you ‘allegretto’ or ‘quarter note = 60’.  He gives you lots of freedom in the tempo and in the dynamics.  Almost no composer wrote dynamics for the voice, and for the accompaniment he’s seeing that it’s a guide of what I want to be told.  You get that as advice, and you carry on digging in and discovering.  Why is it like that?  How can you enrich that?  How can you compliment that?  Do you think you are certain?  Does it have to be forte there?  If you feel more a mezzo forte, you are free to do it that way.


BD:    This is for Lieder.  Does this also apply to the Chansons?

FA:    Yes, I think so.  I think so absolutely.  You have the same freedom, though we come again in the French style, so you have to be aware that there are certain laws that you have to obey.  It’s this French flavor you have to get, and certainly the language gives you a great help in doing it, in modulating it correctly.  You are already a step forward, but certainly there are more tiny differences that come from really working hard into every note and every syllable and every word.  Then there is the connection with the phrase and what it means.  Why didn’t he put it at the end?  Why here?  Is it meant as a higher tone or not?  Even after asking all these kinds of questions you have to find your own key.  Once you find your own key, you have to prove to yourself if it is right in the style.  Maybe you are too dramatic in a certain way, and it just happens that you go further as the style would permit.  Then you have to contain yourself to try and achieve the same relationship without going out of pitch.  There is a French style and there is a Wagner style, and finding out these secrets you finally realize that it’s easier to do this music if you put them in a normal pattern and sing everything as you want, or as you think it should be sung without all this advice, but you might get in big trouble doing that, both technically and stylistically.

BD:    So how do you avoid the trouble?

FA:    By knowing the style!  [Both burst out laughing]  By knowing that there is a style, by knowing the style, and by knowing how to produce it.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    In the very early years of opera in Chicago, we had a great deal of Massenet  [See my article Massenet, Mary Garden, and the Chicago Opera 1910-1932.]  Are the two operas of Massenet which you sing particularly well written for the voice?

FA:    Yes, very much.  Certainly for some voices they will present different difficulties.

BD:    Do you feel they were written for your voice?

FA:    I think that Des Grieux is more written for my voice than Werther.   Werther needs either a heavier voice that covers up in the break range sooner
as I door a lighter voice that doesn’t need to cover at all therelike Kraus’s voice, for instance.  I have to work a lot to sing a good Werther.

araiza BD:    But you still do it.

FA:    Oh yes, I love it.  That’s why I love my art. 

BD:    You enjoy singing French language?

FA:    Yes, I like it very much.  It is a technical language.  It’s not as easy as Italian, but being accustomed to German, maybe it’s the same way to approach it.

BD:    Is Werther a French opera because it is Massenet, or is it a German opera because it is Goethe?

FA:    It is a good question.  It’s a very good question.  As a matter of fact, you would tend to say that it is a combination of two autobiographies
the one of Goethe, and the other from his friend who killed himself.  He made this a true story, told in a Romantic manner that you wouldn’t think of being typical German.  You wouldn’t think by reading it that’s it’s a German story.  It is a typical Romantic Sturm und Drang, and then we translate it into music.  Here we find the French composer that has taken this task and put it into music.  Goethe is talking to his Werther about the simple melody that he finds in the relationship between him and Charlotte, and this simple melody is the one that Massenet found.  It was this incredible combination of two notes with ever-changing harmonies, a microcosm that’s endless.  And at the same time he achieves what was supposed to be therethe simplicity, the easiness, and the depth as well.  He really found the essence of the characters.  There is not one moment when I would say, Ah, this is French!  This is perfumed.  Not one moment.  It’s a dramatic romantic situation, and he situates it like that.  So I couldn’t say it is French, because it is not Pelléas, it is not a chanson-style.  It is a dramatic work, and I put it in a category with a lack of nationality.  It’s a very well-constructed romantic piece.

BD:    So then it moves across borders very easily?

FA:    I would say so, yes.

BD:    Is there any chance that Werther and Charlotte could have been happy if Albert hadn’t been in the picture?

FA:    No, and here we come to the grounds of the philosophy of the dark soul, which says yes, you have a soul, and you’re allowed on Earth to look for it.  If you are lucky, you are allowed to find it, to acknowledge it, but you are not allowed to live happily with it.  So you are not going to be together to reach unity, even if both of you know that’s the only real consequence of being there.

BD:    So it’s an impossibility from the beginning?

FA:    Yes.  That’s why it’s impossible to do it, and if it could be the perfection of something, I don’t know if that’s beautiful.  That’s also a philosophy to think about.  We are here to work towards perfection for ourselves, and we could achieve perfection, but finding what’s missing in us is not easy.  Could it be the thing to achieve?  Could it be the realization of the human being, of the human soul?  I don’t know.  That’s a question to be discussed.

BD:    It almost seems like if you got both halves together it would explode or catch fire or have nuclear fission.

FA:    Yes, but I don’t know if that could be reached.  It’s like saying the way that you take into reaching that point is what’s worth it, and not to reach it.

BD:    So the journey is the point, and when you get there you can’t stay?

FA:    You can’t stay.  Even though you know if you don’t get a cure you are going to die, you are going to accept that you are not going to be fulfilled for the rest of your life.

BD:    So it really is the journey, and not the achievement?

FA:    Yes.

BD:    Do you believe this, or is this just something that is there?

FA:    No, I believe it myself.

BD:    That’s why Werther is so very close to you?

FA:    Maybe, yes.

BD:    What about the other Des Grieux.  Have you looked at the Puccini opera?

FA:    Yes.

BD:    Have you sung it?

FA:    No.  It’s not for my voice.

BD:    How do those two settings of the same man compare?

FA:    Not too well.  Not at all.  As a matter of fact, I don’t consider the Puccini opera to be a great dramatic piece.  It has lots of elements that I don’t like in expressionism, such as the weakness of human beings, acknowledging the situation and screaming,
I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die!  You can do it in a certain way, but the way Puccini has done it, it is too superficial.  Certainly there are natures that are so moved by this scene, and maybe that’s why Puccini did it.  He was a very intelligent man and at that time he knew exactly the formulas to achieve what he wanted.  But let me mention to you my experience with the original version of Butterfly, which I sang, and I found the original version was superior.  It is a thriller.  It is a very, very subtly conceived arrangement.  Psychologically it perfectly developed the story and is well done.  As you well know, though, it wasn’t a success.  So he had to shape it and to move it, and to put it more into the understanding of the people, to do this more likable version that we know as traditional now.

BD:    I wonder if now we could accept the original version?

FA:    Yes, absolutely.  No question about that.  My experience was that all the people asked,
How is it possible we haven’t heard that?   It’s so much better than the traditional one.  The dramatic relationships finally make sense by putting the Butterfly not to the point of just being pretty and being betrayed.  In the original version she knew perfectly well what she was going onto and what could happen.  She had rejected the offerings of Goro before.  This time he said, Here’s an American officer.  Would you like to meet him?  Would you like to marry him?  She tells him, I have rejected quite a few, but as I saw him, let’s give it a try and see what happens!  The only guilt that remains is the lack of total honesty from Pinkerton.  But he does tell her all about America, and what everybody does in America, and that women have rights in America, and all these things.  So then we have in his Manon Lescaut more the traditional version of Butterfly, which is not deep enough.  It is constructed.  It has lots of empty spots.  You take the first two arias of Des Grieux away, and then the second act doesn’t have any logic at all.  He comes to the room in the Palace to tell her that he doesn’t love her!  It’s silly!  It’s stupid, it’s constructed, it’s not well done.  Okay, you have the big duet, but that is all.

BD:    In the Massenet it’s all set up and it works out very logically.

FA:    That’s a dramatic piece.  That’s a dramatic development, and you see the steps of the novel of Prévost perfectly clearly.  You see how Massenet follows it, how he puts it together, and how they work, how they develop.  You have the right chronology of situations and feelings, which is the biggest lack in the Puccini version.

araiza BD:    Do you enjoy singing the Massenet?

FA:    Yes, very much.  Besides being the first step into the heavier repertory, I have still very nice thoughts about it.  I would love to sing in a new production at this point.  These parts that I am singing now, I’m not singing them as often as the Mozart parts I used to sing in my first few years of my career.  I’m always hungry for these parts, and by singing other parts I’m complimenting the ones I have not sung for a certain amount of time because I find similarities.  I couldn’t reach them, so I was putting some expression into certain situations.  I was not very well focused, and I had to find explanations.  Doubts that I had before are now resolved.  For instance, why does Des Grieux have to run away from the dead Manon?  In the novel it says that he stays.  He puts his clothes into his hand and stays naked for five days, just lying there almost dead.  Why does he have to move away from her?  Okay, we interpret it because he stays alive.  So it’s these two levels.  He has to be away from her at the end, for the last second.  These are the kinds of things that keep you thinking, keep you going.  I’m going to sing this part again in February and March in Vienna, and this is a production that I love very much.  I’ve also been offered to do a new production in France and in Spain.

BD:    You’re getting a lot of offers for a lot of different parts.  How do you sort them out?  How do you decide which ones you’ll say yes, and the others you’ll turn aside?

FA:    I try to accept the parts that I enjoy the most.  I’m not going to sing in Rigoletto anymore because I had this bad experience in Munich, and it’s a part where you really have to work a lot.  It’s a very unsympathetic personality.

BD:    Does that mean when you came here to Chicago to sing it, it’s not really as exciting as it could be?

FA:    No, because when I sang it the first time I felt very good with this part, and I felt that I worked out the character very well.  I have put him into an environment where I could give this part all that it should have without hiding anything of his negative side.  But maybe to give the public the possibility to think why a nature like his acts the way he does, if he’s moved or pushed or forced by certain elements to do what he does, it’s his philosophy.  Verdi speaks about it very clearly in his letters. He says this guy has zero character.  He’s a nothing, a jerk!  But then when you sing this part, you don’t have the environment where you can really put everything in it and still make it a figure.  You have to be very careful not to make this unsympathetic figure more unsympathetic than it already is because you are going to get really in trouble from the audience with this approach, with the cutting of the message for them.

BD:    So then he’s really a wonderful jerk?

FA:    He’s a wonderful jerk, yes, who has the power to seduce if he wants to.  But as a matter of fact, he’s a very, very tragic figure, which you don’t notice very much in the traditional settings as we have here.  You don’t have the possibility to show that he’s really searching for something that he will never find.  In the case of Gilda he has a feeling, but he asks all these questions about virtue.

BD:    So he couldn’t have been happy with her then?

FA:    Well, he was happy for one month or so...  [Both roar laughing together]  But although Gilda is still being faithful to him, we see him going to look for a prostitute in order to experiment what’s really the animal in himself.  We have in this opera three clearly divided love situations of the Duke.  First in the Court he approaches Countess Ceprano, and he approaches her in a proper manner, educated, subtle, and with a certain amount of flavoring in his words.  Then we have Gilda, whom he approaches with a kind of first love, a student love in an innocent way.

BD:    Is he trying to recapture his youth?

FA:    He’s always searching.  He says he can notice things very well by which situations he finds himself.  When these elements are here, and by this amount of thought, he knows perfectly well he’s doing.  Of course he enjoys doing it, and then he enjoys seeing what results he gets.  So he is almost pushed into virtue.  He thought he would see himself through this relationship, so let’s see what’s there!  He dives in and experiments, and he was happy for one month.  But then we have this other element, the animal element in him.

BD:    That’s why he goes to Maddelena?

FA:    Right.  He goes to Maddelena, and that’s the way he treats her as well.  He tells Sparafucile he wants two things
your sister and some wine!  So if you do these three colors together, then you can make this figure work in a certain manner, although he remains a jerk!  He’s very unpopular character, although everybody knows La donna è mobile.  When you put this aria in concerts, everybody cheers!  They’re happy to hear that, but in the opera it doesn’t happen at all because people are more aware of the character.  Then they maybe get more aware of that he’s saying terrible things about women!  So he has to fight against this personality, and the key is not to over-do this mean side of him.

BD:    Now have you retired this part?  You’re not going to accept engagements for him anymore?

FA:    It’s not a farewell forever, but I will try not to accept it anymore.  I’m going to accept parts that I enjoy more, and parts to widen my way.  I’ve been thinking about Don José for a certain amount of time, and I might give it a try.  But into the Italian repertory I’m going further.  I want to go to Forza del Destino and Don Carlo and Andrea Chénier.   Those are the three goals I want to achieve in the next years.  I have been running after Trovatore for a couple of years, and I have had three engagements already.  But for some reason, all of the three have been postponed, and I look at that as an omen that the part too hard!   [Both laugh]

BD:    After all the planning and thinking and rehearsing, is singing fun?

FA:    When you are in shape, yes.  When you’re not in shape, you better avoid doing it.

BD:    So you make sure you’re in shape as much as possible?

FA:    Yes.  One of the themes is by changing the repertory and leaving the relaxed life that I would have had this last eight years as a Mozart, Rossini, and Donizetti singer.  Because I have to learn my repertory again, I have to throw away the work of ten years.

BD:    But surely you’ve built on that work?

FA:    Certainly it was not a definite break that I said now no more Mozart or Rossini or Donizetti parts from here on.  But I was putting a year of work to five new roles, which means that all of the time that I could have had to let my voice recover from singing performances I was using to learn.  So it was really a challenge for me.  I noticed that I was weaker and was more susceptible to get ill, and I wasn’t getting enough rest vocally.  So that was a big danger I didn’t count on and I didn’t plan for because I was singing very much, up to 125 performances a year... besides recordings, besides rehearsals and all these other things.  It was very, very much, but it was a lot of repertory.  As to what would have happened if I don’t move on, I could have kept relying on my old repertory, singing the parts, learning maybe a new part and enlarging my concert repertory.  That could have been it, but I feel I did the right thing, and I’m happy with it.  And by achieving my goal it showed I did the right thing and I went the right way.

BD:    Good.  I wish you lots of continued success!

FA:    Thank you very much. 


© 1984 & 1990 Bruce Duffie

These conversations were recorded in Chicago on November 24, 1984, and December 6, 1990.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB in 1987, 1990, 1992, 1995, 1998, and 2000.  A part of the first interview was transcribed and published in Nit & Wit Magazine in September, 1986.  This full transcription was made in 2015, 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.

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.