Tenor  Graham  Clark
 
A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


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Born in Littleborough in Lancashire, Graham Clark studied with Bruce Boyce and began his operatic career with Scottish Opera in 1975. He was a Company Principal at ENO (1978-85).

He has performed with all of the leading UK opera houses and his extensive international career includes performances in Aix-en-Provence, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin (Deutsche Oper, Deutsche Staatsoper), Bilbao, Biwako, Bonn, Brussels, Catania, Chicago, Dallas, Dublin, Frankfurt, Geneva, Hamamatsu, Hamburg, Los Angeles, Luxembourg, Madrid (Teatro Real, Teatro de la Zarzuela), Matsumoto (Saito Kinen), Milan (La Scala), Munich, Nagoya, Nice, Paris (Opéra Bastille, Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Théâtre du Châtelet, Palais Garnier), Rome, Salzburg, San Francisco, Stockholm, Tokyo, Toronto, Toulouse, Turin, Vancouver, Vienna (Staatsoper), Yokohama, Zurich and in particular at the Bayreuth Festival, where he has performed over a hundred times and at The Metropolitan Opera, where he has performed 82 times.

Graham Clark is especially associated with the works of Wagner and has performed Loge and Mime / Der Ring des Nibelungen over 275 times. His extensive repertoire includes Mephistopheles / Busoni’s Doktor Faust, for which he won an Olivier Award, Bégearss in the world premiere of The Ghosts of Versailles; Captain Vere / Billy Budd, Steva / Jenufa, Herodes / Salome, Hauptmann / Wozzeck, Gregor / The Makropulos Case, Prinz, Kammerdiener and Marquis / Lulu and Tanzmeister / Ariadne auf Naxos. He made his acting début as Socrates in The Trial of Socrates, Plato’s Apology at the Grand Théâtre, Luxembourg in 2011.

In concert, Graham Clark has performed at venues and festivals all over the globe including in Amsterdam, Antwerp, Bamberg, Berlin, Brussels, Canaries, Chicago, Cologne, Copenhagen, Edinburgh, London (Proms), Lucerne, Milan, Paris, Rome, Tel Aviv and Washington.

He has recorded extensively with the BBC, BMG, Challenge Classics, Chandos, Decca, Deutsche Grammophon, EMI, Erato, Etcetera, EuroArts, Oehms Classics, Opera Rara, Opus Arte, Philips, Profil, Sony, Teldec, The Met New York, United Artists, Warner Classics and WizArt.  DVDs include Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Der fliegende Holländer, Der Ring des Nibelungen (Bayreuther Festspiele); The Ghosts of Versailles, Wozzeck (The Metropolitan Opera, New York); Der Ring des Nibelungen, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, Khovanshchina (Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona); Der Ring des Nibelungen (De Nederlandse Opera, Amsterdam); The Makropulos Case (Canadian Opera, Toronto); Wozzeck (Deutsche Staatsoper, Berlin); The Rake’s Progress (Glyndebourne Festival Opera) and The Trial of Socrates (Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg).

Recent and future engagements include Wozzeck and Metanoia / Berlin Staatsoper, Reimann’s Lear and Makropoulos Case / Oper Frankfurt, Schreker’s Der Schatzgräber / De Nederlandse Opera, Hänsel und Gretel / Northern Ireland Opera and Los Angeles Opera Company, Falstaff / G/lyndebourne and Capriccio / Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Graham Clark has received three nominations, including an EMMY, for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Opera.  He was awarded the Sir Laurence Olivier Award for his performance of Mephistopheles at English National Opera in 1986, the Sir Reginald Goodall Memorial Award by the Wagner Society, London in 2001 and the Sherwin Award by The Wagner Society of Southern California in 2009.

-- Note: Names which are links (in this box and below) refer to my interviews elsewhere on this website.  BD 


Clark was in Chicago early in 1992 for staged (!) performances of The Marriage of Figaro with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.  This was part of a cycle of the three Da Ponte operas, staged by David and Christopher Alden, with costumes by Oscar de la Renta.  Daniel Barenboim conducted, and others in the Figaro cast included Ferruccio Furlanetto, Leila Cuberli, Joan Rogers, Cecilia Bartoli, and Michele Pertusi.  The reviews were generally quite good, and mentioned Clark... “Kudos, too, to Graham Clark for his wonderfully spidery Basilio” [Chicago Tribune], and “Graham Clark brought his nasty humor to the Dons Basilio and Curzio” [The New York Times].

During the rehearsal period, I had the opportunity to speak with Clark in an office at Orchestra Hall.  Here is what transpired . . . . . . .



Bruce Duffie:    You’re here in Chicago to sing Mozart, but generally you sing other roles, specifically a lot of Wagner.

Graham Clark:    I sing Wagner because I’ve been in Bayreuth for twelve years, but I started with Wagner only because I was asked to look at the role of David in Meistersinger, and it grew from that.  I didn’t know any Wagner before I saw the Meistersinger.

BD:    Are you pleased that you have the voice that can sing some of these character parts?

GC:    Oh, yes.  It’s been wonderful because I’ve been able to sing all the Wagner parts that I possibly can in Bayreuth, which is wonderful.  These are the sort of roles that are right for me.   I am a Character Tenor, therefore I do those sorts of roles.

BD:    Is that the name you can put on your voice – Character Tenor?

GC:    I think so.  I’m quoted as saying, and it’s true, that I don’t have the wine and the sunshine for Italian repertoire and for the lyrical-types of roles.  I did those a long time ago.  I did several Donizettis and I did some Puccini.  I also did some Verdi, but it was soon apparent that in fact it wasn’t what suited me.

BD:    Was this in London?

GC:    Yes, it was in London years ago when I first started.  But it’s not only that.  It’s actually that I don’t feel psychologically in tune with those sorts of characters anyway.  I find lyrical tenor roles tend to be terribly two-dimensional. 

BD:    [With a sly nudge]  You mean you don’t want to get the girl???

GC:    Ummm...  [Both laugh heartilly]  It’s not just that.  There’s much more fun in actually playing around with the personality.  I seem to have a reputation for dealing with the complex psychological problems on the operatic stage in the tenor repertoire.  In fact I love it more.  It’s better for me.  It works.

BD:    Why?

GC:    There’s more depth to the characters; there’s more interest in creation.  I actually love rehearsal.  I love playing around in rehearsal, experimenting and delving and trying things out.

BD:    That’s when you dig into the character?

GC:    Yes, and of course if the character is deep, there’s a lot of opportunities that you can explore. If the characters are shallow, then it’s much more difficult because the time becomes terribly tedious with two or three weeks of you trying to delve into a two-dimensional character.  Characters like the Duke in Rigoletto are terribly two-dimensional. 

BD:    So there’s a great tunes and that’s it?

GC:    Yes.  He starts off as a nasty piece of work, and goes through the opera as a nasty piece of work, and what happens?  Not a lot!  Whereas with some of the character tenor roles, there is tremendous interest in them.  With David not so much, but with Loge and Mime, which I do now, there’s great opportunities to explore.

BD:    Not so much even the first Mime in Rheingold, but the second Mime in Siegfried?

GC:    Siegfried more than the first Mime.  Even so, in the first Mime, although it’s very short, there’s a lot of colors and a lot of interest that one could play.  You clearly see in Rheingold what exactly is going to come in the Siegfried Mime.

BD:    You lay the seeds for what comes later?

GC:    Absolutely, yes.  There’s a lot of color.  The guy’s not very bright!  Mime’s not terribly bright.  He knows how to make the Tarnhelm, but there’s not a lot of intellect there.  He’s a very good technician and he can use his hands, but he doesn’t understand the implications.  He knows that there’s something devious behind it, and if only he could find the answers he would be a winner.

BD:    If you had four questions for the Wanderer instead of just three, might he have been able to come up with the solution?

GC:    He might have got it, yes.  [Again, much laughter]  So the Siegfried Mime is well set up by the Rheingold Mime, although it’s a very short little episode within Niebelheim.  It’s a fascinating little scene, and it’s beautifully written.  It’s so concise and so concentrated.

BD:    So Wagner knew how to write nasties? 

GC:    Yes, oh really, really nasty.  A lot of characters in Wagner are nasty!  [Laughs]

BD:    Is there any way that Mime could have been happy with his lot?

GC:    He would have been happy if he had found the answers
not so much to the Wanderer’s three questions, but if he’d found the answer to the Tarnhelm at the very beginning he would have certainly been a happier person.  But Wagner was quite specific about that.  He said that this man is an evil little piece of work, and he developed knowing Siegfried one day would grow up and be a major problem for him.  One assumes that for the last ten years before you see Siegfried, Mime has been worrying himself to death as to how he’s going to overcome this problem when Siegfried grows up.


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BD:    Has he been worrying, or has he been trying to solve it?

GC:    Oh, he’s been trying to solve it, but he’s desperately concerned about it.  He’s desperately worried about the situation.

BD:    So then he really is incapable of it?

GC:    He’s incapable of finding solutions, and yet he’s devious enough to try to subvert history or the events, as it were, and win a power for himself.

BD:    If Siegfried had not tasted the dragon
’s blood and been enabled to understand Mime’s real thoughts, could Mime have carried out his ideas?

GC:    No, I don’t think so.  Well, that’s hypothetical!  I don’t think so.  I don’t think he’s bright enough to do that.  It would have worked if had been a good enough gangster!

BD:    Could Mime have knocked off Siegfried at some point if Siegfried had not been wary?

GC:    Yes, one assumes that would have happened.  There are lots of things within the Wagner story which one has to take at face value and not ask deep questions.  That’s maybe one of those sort of questions.  One might ask why didn’t Mime do something about it when Siegfried was nine or ten, and get this kid out of the way?  Then he wouldn’t have been a problem for him.  On the other hand, there is the whole point of Nothung.

BD:    Mime had to wait till the sword was fashioned?

GC:    Right.  Once he’s got the sword fashioned, he can win power and he knows that he can win power.  When Siegfried is growing up, he assumes that Siegfried will eventually be able to forge Nothung.  It’s the one fear he has, and yet of course he knows that it’s the answer to all his problems.

BD:    One more hypothetical step...  Suppose he had been able to knock off Siegfried in the forest.  What would he have done then with a corpse of Siegfried and the completed sword?

GC:    Or a broken sword?  If he’s knocked off Siegfried too soon, he would have had a broken sword and not gone anywhere!  

BD:    Let’s assume Siegfried has made the sword; he’s killed the dragon, and then Mime knocks him off – just as he planned.  What happens then?

GC:    Are you saying that the Fafner, the dragon, is also dead?

BD:    He has to be.

clarkGC:    If Fafner is also dead, one presumes that Mime becomes a very dangerous, sort of Mafia boss.

BD:    Does he know that he should take the ring and the Tarnhelm?

GC:    He certainly knows about the ring because he’s seen Alberich use the power of the ring in Rheingold.

BD:    So would Mime have then taken the power from Alberich?

GC:    One assumes that he would have tried to win it back from him!  There would have been a blood bath between two brothers.

BD:    But if Mime has the ring, is Alberich not powerless? 

GC:    Alberich is powerless without the ring, of course, but there would have been a blood bath between the two brothers.  But all that is very hypothetical.   We’re talking about hidden stories within the Wagner trilogy.  It was just an unanswered question.  It’s a very difficult thing to talk about.

BD:    Well, let’s change it very slightly.  Suppose Mime kills Siegfried but Fafner still lives?

GC:    Then you have an even bigger problem!  [Both roar with laughter]  I don’t think Mime is winner in any way whatsoever.  I think Mime is always was going to be a sort of lieutenant of the Mafia Ring.

BD:    But he wants to be chief?

GC:    Of course he does.  Every lieutenant wants to be chief!  Every Mafia underling wants to be the kingpin.  Mime’s no different from anybody.  The whole point about the Ring is one of subversion and theft.  The central theme is set by Loge right in the very beginning when he asks,
How are we going to win?  Everybody steals from everybody else at some stage during the course of the Ring.  It’s not really a sympathetic story or a Christian story if you look at it in those terms.  It is about subversion from start to finish.

BD:    Even on the part of Wotan?

GC:    Oh, absolutely.  The torment that Wotan is experiencing in Rheingold is all about whether to follow his conscience, or should he follow what is obviously standing right in front of him.

BD:    So he goes to snatch the ring?

GC:    Sure!  He’s persuaded by Loge to take it, and he behaves in a very, very brutal fashion towards Alberich.  He sees it, and he wants it, and he holds it, and he enjoys it, and he gloats in the fact that he’s got it.  And he doesn’t give a damn about what happens to Alberich.

BD:    So if there would have been something else of equal value to the ring, he would have stolen that?

GC:    Yes, because he is King God and he wants to stay there.  How to do you hold onto power?  This is the eternal question.  People have always been in power.  How do you stay there?  It’s not so difficult to get there but to stay there is always the most difficult thing.

BD:    I thought his power was in the laws carved into the spear.  Can’t he hold onto his power merely with those?

GC:    No, not forever because there is always something else which is going to come around.  There are always subterranean movements, and the history of the family and the history of the saga is that there are constant inter-Nicene battles going on for which he is – to a certain extent – almost powerless to control.

BD:    So let’s look at the end of the Ring.  What happens after the conflagration?

GC:    We can’t talk briefly about the Ring, you know.  [Both laugh]  What happens?  Well, then Christianity starts, doesn’t it?  One assumes so.  When you get that wonderful chord at the end of Götterdämmerung, here ends the reign of the gods and here begins Christianity.  Here begins sense and order of a different sort.

BD:    Is this what Wagner was trying to do?

GC:    I certainly think that the change of key right at the end of Götterdämmerung was intended quite specifically to be indicative of a new order.  It is a most wonderful transition.

BD:    And it ends quietly.

GC:    And it ends very peacefully, and very quietly and very gently.  Sometimes it’s a question of how producers see that and how it’s depicted, but that’s what it reads to me.  Everything, even Valhalla has disintegrated.  Everything has disintegrated and now becomes a new order, an order of sympathy.  The colors in those final chords are full of emotion, but sympathy, warmth, generosity, forgiveness which there never was in the Ring.

BD:    Maybe that’s what’s missing from the Ring.  If there had been forgiveness in the dramas, perhaps it would have ended better.

GC:    Well, it would have ended differently.  Oh, there’s no forgiveness.  It’s a Norse fairytale.

BD:    But we try to make it relevant to real life today.

GC:    Yes, I think that’s very true; that’s very plausible.  I think that all good historical works can be related to any era, providing that you stay true to the main thesis and the main tenet of the piece.  Wagner is no different from Shakespeare in that sense, or from any of the great works – Goethe, German works or Italian works or English works, or whatever.   But if you take the basic thesis, which is a very strong classical thesis, you can relate it to problems in any particular time.  That is perfectly plausible, and it’s quite right that Wagner should be portrayed in different ways.  It is quite right that we should actually ask our classical pieces to be portrayed by producers and singers in different forms so that we can see whether in fact it does relate or it doesn’t relate.  I’m very anti simply procreating the museum, making a repetition of what has always taken place.  The strength of the piece and the strength of the art form demands that there is sometimes an obtuse angle, sometimes a conservative angle, and sometimes a revolutionary angle.  I think that is perfectly acceptable, and that’s what keeps the theater alive.  Our job in the theater, after all, is to stimulate.   It is to stimulate emotionally, physically and intellectually, and intellectually is just important as the emotions.  We have a duty to make our audiences sit up and take notice of what is going on.  Now by siting up and taking notice, we can irritate or we can please.  That’s not the point.  We actually stimulate them.  

BD:    You can do them both at once? 

GC:    You can do them both at once, but the point is we stimulate them.  We stimulate all the senses.  That’s our job in the theater.

BD:    But often times you don’t know if it will work until you get it on the stage.

GC:    Of course not!  And that’s fine.  That’s the excitement of the art form
that we should take risks.  We should be prepared to put ourselves into difficult situations...

BD:    ...and find out in the long run if it is wrong-headed?

GC:    Yes.  The fact that people ask questions, the fact that people are irritated or angry is a perfectly justifiable response to an evening at the theatre, as far as I’m concerned.  I go to the theater to be shown something different, out of the ordinary walk of life; to be stimulated in a way which I would not get in my daily – for want of a better phrase – 9 to 5 existence.  Now, that can make me very angry or it can make me tremendously thoughtful, or it can make me incredibly happy, or it can work in a thousand different ways on my senses.  But the mere fact that it has worked on my senses is the reason I go.   That’s what I want, and I’m sure that’s why people pay their $100 to go to a performance.  They don’t go to the theater to be bored!  They don’t go to the theater to fall asleep!  They do to the theater to be excited, to be stimulated, to be annoyed or whatever.  They don’t simply go there to sit and say,
“Okay, I’m here, I’m going to fall asleep!

BD:    No, but they might go there to relax.

GC:    Yes, but what do you mean by relax?  They go to the theater to do something different, to see something different.  It’s a conscious choice to go to the theater as opposed to sitting down in your armchair at home and switching on the television.

BD:    But are we so used to sitting down and switching on the television, when we come and sit down to the theatre we expect too much?


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GC:    No, I don’t think so.  That’s why our job in the theatre is to be is to stimulate.  That’s what our job is; that’s what we’re there for; that’s what we’re paid for.  I love the idea of risk, you see.  Theater is embodied in that idea that we will take risks!  We will take risks.  You can take a risk in a conservative way just as much as you can take risks in a very obtuse way, and I think that’s we should do.  That’s what is exciting about it, and that’s my job.  That’s the approach that I take.

BD:    So you’re very pleased that your voice dictates you get the kinds of roles where you can really get your teeth into them.

GC:    Yes.  I do actually enjoy the long rehearsal periods where I can delve into character and try things out.  What I love is not to have constraints from day one.  I enjoy working with producers and directors and musical directors who say,
This is basically the problem which we are confronted with, and these are the parameters within which we have to work.  Now how are we going to solve it?  And the solving is a dialogue.

BD:    Do you ever fully solve it?

GC:    I don’t know whether we do or not.  I think we solve it for the moment within which we present that particular run of performances.   But that doesn’t mean to say that one is necessarily 100 per cent satisfied with what you’ve done.  I’ve done several things which are quite – for want of a better word – intimidatingly revolutionary.   One has to believe in the performance.  You have to believe in what you’re doing for the performance’s sake for the run of performances.  But in retrospect, when you sit back and you analyze what you have done, you have the embarrassment of riches where you have time on your side, which you never have during performance.  You can sit back look at things in a different perspective.  You can always think that there is a different angle that you could have put to something.   I don’t mean in the overall interpretation, I mean actually within even small phrases or even small statements.

BD:    Do you remember those for the next time?

GC:    Yes, and you can put a different color on those.  I’ve been doing Loge and Mime now for six or seven years, and I still look at the text and I find that there is a different color that I can put on a particular phrase or a different statement that would, maybe make the point more clear.  Maybe it would focus it more, or it would concentrate the sentiment to a greater extent, or it might put an entirely different slant on it which would help me to realize the point which I want to make later or which I had made earlier.  Everything is relative.  This is an ongoing process, and once one’s finished a performance, I always go away and I’m constantly going through the role almost from start to finish in my mind’s eye, and I think of things that I could have done better.  I think of things I could have made more pointedly, or I could have sung better, or I could have stated them better, or I could have done them with some sort of difference.  There is also the whole point of operatic performance where one is doing a physical performance on stage as well as a musical and an intellectual performance.  Maybe there is something with the body or with my gestures with my hands, with my eyes, with my head, with my legs that I could have done.  Whilst I’m not trying to think in terms of the Method Acting, there are obviously ways in which you can emphasize the point you’re making by a physical motion, and that can alter the whole color of anything you say for the audience.  A mere gesture on stage can totally transform the sound you’re making or the sound that the audience hears.

BD:    So you’re never really happy, never really satisfied?

GC:    I’m never very satisfied, never terribly satisfied because there’s always something more that one can do.  So you go away and think about these things.  That is the great thing about performance
that you can always add and always improve.

BD:    Do you find this in all the operas or just the great operas?

GC:    I find this in all the operas, in every role I do.  It’s not so much an automatic response, it’s something which you simply come to terms with.  The more you perform, the more you realize the greater your limitations, and you have to work harder at it.  You can constantly find greater depth in performance the more you work.    It’s very interesting, actually.  When I’m working back home in England I do some workshops now and again, and I’m constantly trying to make the students tear aside the veil of propriety.  A lot of performers will go so far towards this invisible veil in front of them, and they know if they go beyond it they’re in unknown territory.  They’re in sort of no man’s land, and it’s the no man’s land where you find the answers.  It’s fascinating because that’s the area which is unknown and which you have to experiment.  You have to investigate it, and you have to look deeper, and you have to try things out.  You have to take, and you have to give, and you have to pull back and you have to go on.

BD:    If you go through this veil and explore a little bit, does that automatically move the veil beyond where you were?

GC:    Yes, it can take it further on.  Then you have another one to go through.  It’s like a series of hurdles.  There is a veil of propriety which a lot of performers are scared to go beyond, and one can see it quite clearly, particularly with young performers.

BD:    Is that veil always in relatively the same place?

GC:    It’s an individual thing; it’s a personal thing.  The great secret somehow is to tear that aside and go beyond and grab the audience by the throat, and shake them and say,
I’m here.  Now listen to this.  This is what I have to say!   The audience contact is terribly important.

BD:    You’re conscious of them?

GC:    One has to be.  You have to somehow say to the audience,
This is my story.  This is what I have to say.  You can’t do it in a vulgar way, but there is a way in which you can arrest the audience’s attention.  There are lots of artists who can do it to a much greater extent than others.  Some very great artists have this natural knack of walking on stage, and the audience is immediately riveted to them.  They have charisma.  They have personal charisma which is instantly arresting.  Then there are the rest of us who have to work damned hard to find it!

BD:    When you get on the stage, are you portraying that character or do you actually become that character?


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GC:    I hope that I become the character.   Before I go on the stage, I do very consciously think myself into the personality – for want of a better expression.   It can be a momentary thing or it can be quite a long process, depending on the character one’s playing.  If I’m playing somebody who’s really very scheming or very devious and very nasty, then it can be quite awhile; you need a good hour of preparation to think about what you’re doing and the person you’re going to become, and my wife says that I change!  I become nasty.

BD:    Then how long does it take you to throw it off after the end?

GC:    Oh, it can take some time!   It depends how the performance went
– if one was totally immersed in the character and you felt that you were really working hard.  It’s very interesting because sometimes you do feel you are carried along by the thing, and you can really focus 110 per cent in concentration into the person you are playing.  Then on another occasion, even though you’re working damned hard to get there, you never quite achieve it.  Then you go away thoroughly frustrated and irritated with yourself because you haven’t quite achieved it.  That happens often with me. 

BD:    I would hope that more often you’re at least somewhat satisfied.

GC:    One’s satisfied, but you’re never totally satisfied because there is always more you can do.  It’s very interesting for some reason or other.  Sometimes it works; more often than not it doesn’t quite work.  Six out of seven it doesn’t work as well as it should.  Something goes wrong.  Something... it’s a personal thing.

BD:    You’re talking about your own performance?

GC:    I’m talking about the way I feel, my own personal feeling.

BD:    How do you take this performance that you have fashioned and drop it into the midst of everything that’s going on around you?

GC:    You obviously can’t be totally oblivious to what’s going on on stage.  What I’m talking about is a performance within the context of the piece.

BD:    It must be completely integrated?

GC:    Yes, totally integrated.  You have to be one hundred per cent immersed in the character you are doing, but one is part of a team effort.  Every performance is a team show, particularly in an opera where you have a conductor who is conducting an orchestra.  Therefore there is the musical dimension to it as well.  There’s a lot of parameters.

BD:    If you become so totally the immersed in the character, do you not then lose bits of technical knowledge you have to have in order to present it?

GC:    No, one has to totally focus in.  Whilst you are completely the character, you’re totally concentrated in what is going on around you and what you have to do, and that takes into account everybody else.  The great thing about a performance is frisson, the electricity between you and the other people on the stage.  That’s one of the dimensions of performance which is extraordinary.

BD:    But you also have the prompter in the box screaming at you and the conductor waiving the stick...

GC:    Sometimes you can shut the prompter out, but the conductor is there to conduct the performance.  He’s in charge; he’s in control so you’re obviously 100 per cent aware of him.  But allowing for that, there has to be this extraordinary concentrated rapport with everyone else around you.  It’s not difficult actually.  The piece is written in such a way that the dialogues work that way.  I’m not talking about something that is outrageously difficult.  This is exactly what performance is about.  Performance is about dialogue between people on stage, or a soliloquy of one person is saying to the audience their innermost thoughts.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Let’s come back to Loge just a little bit.  We talked a bit about Mime, tell me more about Loge.  Where does Wotan find him, and how does he fit into community of gods?

GC:    Loge is a man who knows everything.  Loge is a god of fire, and, if you like, Wotan’s handle.  He’s his coat peg!  He’s his subconscious.  He’s the person whom Wotan turns to for moral and intellectual support.   But Loge, being the god of fire, is not really of the same type of god.  He is here, he’s there; he’s sometimes with them, he’s sometimes away from him. 

BD:    He’s aware that he’s an outsider?

GC:    He’s aware very much he’s an outsider, and he plays on the fact that he’s an outsider.  The very last thing he says in Rheingold is,
Do I follow these people or do I not?  Do I go back to what I did before or do I not?  That’s stupid, they’re idiots.  But the point about Loge is that he knows exactly what is going to take place.  He sets up the whole situation for the Ring.

BD:    So why doesn’t he do something to prevent the downfall?

GC:    Because he enjoys watching the way these people
these idiots, these gods, these stupid peoplefool around and act so stupidly.  He enjoys it.

BD:    Does he survive the conflagration?

GC:    Oh, absolutely.  He’s always there.  Fire is always there.

BD:    So then it doesn’t matter.  He just wants to get on with it and get rid of them.


clark


GC
:    He sets up the situation knowing full well what the implications are and what’s going to happen.  That’s what’s so wonderful about the character that you can play.  And don’t forget there are millions of different ways in which you can play fire.   Think of all the different fires that you can think of...  There’s the flickering fire of a small bonfire, and then you throw a log in it and suddenly sparks fly and the flames shoot high.  There is the very controlled fire of a cooker – a gas fire, which is always the same shape.  If you turn it up, it looks the same shape, but you turn it down.  There is also the fire of a Bunsen burner, which is a perfect cone.  If you get it right, it looks blue at times, icy cold, and of course if you stick your finger in it and you burn!  So there’s a great danger there.  There are a thousand different ways you can play fire, and this is the great point about the character of Loge
that he is never the same person twice.  Every time I’ve played the character, I’ve tried to find a different way of portraying fire.  Sometimes it might be skittish, like a bonfire; sometimes it might be very controlled, like a Bunsen burner firewhich is like the one I’m doing at Bayreuth at the moment.  I played him as Charlie Chaplin once in Paris where he is a dangerous man, and suddenly all the answers come out of jokes out of his pocket.  Suddenly he picks out the jokes and these are the answers.  Or he sets up the problems; he asks the questions.

BD:    Is Wotan really too stupid to realize what Loge is up to?

GC:    He’s not so much stupid, he’s gullible. 

BD:    Trusting?

GC:    Yes.  He trusts him.  He calls on Loge,
Loge, Loge, where are you?  Loge, tell me.  Come to my help! and Loge comes.  But then as soon as he arrives, he mocks them all.  He absolutely mocks them as soon as he gets there!  He treats them like dirt.  He mocks about Valhalla; he mocks the Giants; he mocks the job that the Giants have done in building of Valhalla.  He wants to see that justice is done.

BD:    Is Loge afraid of anyone or anything?

GC:    I don’t think Loge really is afraid of anything at all.

BD:    [With a sly nudge]  Not even the fire brigade?  

GC:    [Roars laughing]  In fact, he’s very friendly towards the Rhine Maidens because he is actually quite sympathetic to the fact that they’re gold was stolen by Alberich in the first place. 

BD:    Is Loge happy that the gold will eventually get back to the Rhine?

clarkGC:    Ahhhhhhhhhh!   He assumes that’s what will happen.  At the end of Rheingold he asks Wotan to talk to the Rhine Maidens.  There they are, crying for their gold.  Loge says,
Come on, talk to them.  What are you going to say to them? and Wotan says, Oh, dismiss them.  Tell them to go to hell!  Loge knows that these are the responses.  He sets the situation up and he knows the responses that he’s going to make.  When Wotan says, How am I going to get the ring? Loge says, “It’s quite simple.  There’s no great difficulty in this, just steal it!

BD:    And there’s no remorse involved!

GC:    And there’s no remorse.  It’s a thing which has happened throughout history.  If you want it, take it!  But be aware of the consequences.

BD:    Should Loge have advised Wotan to try and get the ring back to the Rhine Maidens? 

GC:    No, I don’t think that wouldn’t have placated the situation.  By stealing it from Alberich who then cursed Wotan, the situation had already started which needed to be carried through to its end.  There’s a series of events which can’t be stopped, and Loge has set this all up!  Loge gave the ring to Fasolt and said,
“Don’t take any notice of your brother.  Take the ring!  Fafner sees that Fasolt’s got the ring.  He sees Loge give Fasolt the ring, and Fafner kills Fasolt!

BD:    And takes it.

GC:    And takes it!

BD:    Is there any reason for Loge to suggest to Wotan that he then go and kill Fafner to get the ring back?

GC:    Well, he does.  In Siegfried, Wotan is outside Fafner’s cave.

BD:    To watch or to get?

GC:    Principally to see how Siegfried manages, but also if anything should go wrong, to intervene.

BD:    Is there anything good about Loge?

GC:    No, I think he’s a despicable character.  He’s a perfectly despicable character, but he’s a very fascinating character.  He’s despicable in a totally different way from Mime.  Mime is purely a devilish schemer.  Loge is much more interesting because he’s intellectually more demanding.  The way the text that is used for Loge is much more of a higher intellectual level than that of Mime.

BD:    Why doesn’t Loge want the ring for himself?

GC:    What would he do with it?  There’s nothing he would do with it.  Why would he want it?  He’s a person who is constantly omnipresent.  He has his own power.  Fire has his own power.  He is a basic element, don’t forget.  At the end of Götterdämmerung, water actually sets the scene for the new generation, the new kingdom, if you like.  So the basic elements are always there.  We could talk for h-o-u-r-s about Wagner’s Ring!  It’s a fascinating story.  You can find lots and lots of implications, and everybody has their own interpretation about these things.  About a lot of the things I said now, people are going to be screaming, raving and tearing their hair out!  Everybody has their own interpretations of this.

BD:    One last question then about the Ring.  Do you find it difficult at all to play Loge one night and then Mime another?

GC:    No.  What happens is that I play Loge in Rheingold, therefore I don’t play Mime in Rheingold.  Then I play Mime in Siegfried.  What is fascinating from a technically theatrical point of view is that I have two entirely different characters to portray.  In the Bayreuth production, we decided that we would play Loge as the gas fire image.  I decided that we would play the blue flame – in other words, it’s a perfect shape.  It’s terribly, terribly elegant.  It looks beautiful and I have a wonderful white punk David Bowie-type wig and black.  There is no clichéd red of fire anywhere.  It’s all black and frightfully elegant, and very precise.  All the stage movements and hand gestures and everything are quick and clean and sculptured.  There is no extraneous movement whatsoever.  Whatever happens, it takes place for a specific purpose.  If you turn the flame up it suddenly flares, and there are moments when Loge is irritated and he does flare.  He flares with Wotan and he flares with Alberich.  Then, of course, you turn the flame down and it goes back into this perfect shape again.  Now the contrast is between doing somebody who is precise and clean, and then going to the Mime in Siegfried where you have this older man, this old decrepit man who has been searching for years to find the answer to the Tarnhelm.  He is scared to death of what’s going to happen when Nothung is forged.  We play him as an old, technical technician; a professor technician who has gone quite bats.  We show that with a lot of the mannerisms in the first act.  Mime has brought up Siegfried as both mother and father, and therefore he’s like a Hausfrau at certain times.  He lays the table and he prepares meals, and then suddenly he becomes the idiotic and an aggressive sort of step-father who tries to teach this upstart young lad of eighteen or nineteen to behave himself. 

BD:    All the while frustrated by it?

GC:    All the while frustrated by the situation, so he’s a schizophrenic sort of person.  Therefore there’s an entirely different characterization, and so the challenge for me was to be able to portray two entirely different characters within a very short space of time, and yet maintain the sympathy of the overall picture of the Ring cycle.  That was a wonderful challenge.

BD:    I’m glad you’ve come back to do it each year for several years.

GC:    Yes, this is now my fifth year for it in Bayreuth, and it will be the final year.  Last year we filmed Rheingold and Götterdämmerung, and this year we film Siegfried and Walküre.

BD:    Will there also be audio recordings, or just films?

GC:    That I don’t know.  I think at the moment the idea is that it will be videoed.

BD:    Have you made some commercial recordings?

GC:    Well, yes, but I’m not a recording-type voice.  Being a character tenor
to go back to what we started off at the beginning – because it’s not a lyrical sound, it’s a harder metallic sound and doesn’t really work well on straight recordings.  Oddly enough, I’m here in Chicago to do Figaro, and I did record Basilio with Barenboim and the Berlin Philharmonic two years ago.  But that’s very much out of the ordinary run of the mill for me.  Normally, if it’s a video, then the sound of course is actually sympathetic to what you see on the screen, so you’re not simply listening to purity of sound.  Therefore that works.  So things like Hollander and Meistersinger from Bayreuth, which have been videoed, are okay.  Those are available.  The Hollander was also put onto audio record as well.  Meistersinger was going to be, but I don’t think it ever was. 

BD:    Are there some other commercial audio recordings, or just the videos?

GC:    Basically I would say look at the videos.  [Laughs]

BD:    Speaking of the Mozart you are doing here in Chicago, is there a secret for singing Mozart?

GC:    [Laughs]  Accuracy!  Cleanliness and accuracy, and purity of tone.  Absolutely.  It’s an extraordinary discipline; it’s a wonderful discipline.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Let’s talk a little bit about David.  He’s a much more sympathetic character.

clarkGC:    Yes.  He is young, cheerful, bright, full of enthusiasm, full of ideology.

BD:    Is it right that he gets promoted at the end?

GC:    Oh, absolutely.  He does everything right.

BD:    Is he ready for it?

GC:    Yes, he’s ready for it.  He’s ready to be a journeyman.  It’s a lovely character, a beautiful way to start my Wagner roles.  Meistersinger is a glorious opera.  It has every sort of emotion in it.  It’s just wonderful.  It’s beautiful music and the characters are about real people.  It’s about a situation which actually took place in the Middle Ages, and it’s a wonderful story.  David is a very, very sympathetic character.  The great problem for me, being English, was that when I went to Bayreuth I was told I would be very lucky if I lasted more than one year because two of the roles that the Germans coveted most are Beckmesser and David!  David, after all, is explaining all the nuances of the German language to a wondering Knight!  And here’s an English man doing it in Bayreuth, which of course was treading dangerous ground!   But I managed to survive, and I loved it.  It was a great experience.  It was a wonderful production – a very naturalistic production, and the sets were taken from real situations.  The third act Festwiese set was taken from a tree.  We had this beautiful tree in the middle of the stage, which was an exact replica of a Linden tree which exists in a village not far from Bayreuth.  Every year the village has a fête, and in the tree there is a platform where they have a band, and people dance in the tree.  I actually went and danced in the tree with a friend of mine in the village fête.  So the sets were taken of Nuremberg.  The first act set was an exact replica of a church in Nuremberg that existed at the time of the guild of Meisters.  It was a beautiful production. 

BD:    Is David happy with Magdalena?

GC:    Oh, I think so!  After all, we’re talking tiny, tiny, little village life.  We’re talking small town village life as Nuremberg was in those days.

BD:    Isn
’t Magdalena a little older than David?

GC:    Oh yes, she’s older than David.  She mothers him a bit, and he doesn’t mind that!  Any guy likes to be mothered occasionally!  [Both laugh]

BD:    Is he eventually going to be a Master?

GC:    Ahhhhh...  I don’t know.  He could.  He knows the rules, he knows the colors, he knows all the implications of Meister singing.  He might become one.  It depends whether his voice developed in the right way.

BD:    Is Meister singing the same after Walther has come through?

GC:    No.  The interesting thing about Walther is that he is a wondering knight.  He comes into the village, he disturbs the peace of the village, and the unwritten story at the end is that although he marries Eva, he might just as well wonder on afterwords.

BD:    Does he wander with Eva, or does he leave her behind?

GC:    With Eva, yes.  After all he’s very unsympathetic to all these petty rules which he encounters, and the unwritten story is what happens to Walther.  It could well be that he wanders off and takes Eva, and the situation goes back to square one. 
Alternatively, what probably does happen is that he has stirred up the situation so much that the Meisters sit back and look again at their rules, and decide whether in fact they are the correct rules that they need for the contest.

BD:    Is Walther the music of the future?

GC:    Yes, exactly.  This is the whole point.  Certainly Walther has disturbed the equilibrium of the village.

BD:    Is Meistersinger at all too long?

GC:    No, not at all, but then I suppose, I don’t know.  I have a very positive feelings about Meistersinger.  I certainly don’t find any longueurs.  The third act is long, physically long...

BD:    Yes, it
’s about two hours! 

GC:    ...but there are two distinct scenes within it.  The first scene is not so long that you become bored by the people who are coming and going.  After all, people are actually explaining their situations, and it develops beautifully towards the festwiese.  And the role of Sachs is just a stunning character.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    I do want to ask you about the John Corigliano opera [The Ghosts of Versailles].  I understand you’re in that?

GC:    It’s just finished and it was a great, great success.

BD:    Will you be in it when it comes to Chicago?



Graham Clark at Lyric Opera of Chicago

1992-93 - Bartered Bride (Vašek) with Daniels, Rosenshein, Rose, Kraft; Bartoletti

1993-94 - Wozzeck (Captain) with Grundheber, Harries, Kaasch, Svendén, Bailey; R. Buckley (cond), D. Alden (dir)

1994-95 - Siegfried (Mime) with Jerusalem, Morris, Marton/Eaglen, Maultsby, Wlaschiha, Halfvarson; Mehta, Everding, Conklin (sets)

1995-96 - Ghosts of Versailles (Bégearss) with Greenawald, Hagegård, Croft, McNair, White, Jones; Slatkin, Graham, Conklin, Tallchief (ballet)
                 Ring
(complete) Rheingold (Loge) with Morris, Wlaschiha, Lipovšek, Maultsby; Mehta, Everding, Conklin
                                          Siegfried (Mime) with same cast as above except Salminen for Halfvarson




GC:    We don’t know what’s going to happen.  There have been no times or dates fixed.  [Note: As can be seen in the chart above, he did return to Lyric Opera for this work, as well as other seasons following the CSO Figaro.]  But it was a wonderful piece; it was a great time, it was a wonderful time actually.  We had a wonderful long rehearsal period, and the great thing about being involved in a world premiere is that there is no track record.  So you can start from the very beginning and develop and create and build.  We had nine weeks of rehearsal, which was extraordinarily long, and yet it was never in any way tiresome.   The piece was fascinating.  It’s in three-dimensions.  There is a world of limbo, the ghosts; there’s a real world; and there’s a theatre within the real world – an historical real world, and a theatre within the real world.  It was very difficult, of course, for the producer to actually create this three-dimensional approach.  Colin Graham did a fabulous job, and it absolutely worked superbly.  The sets were wonderfully evocative by John Conklin, and I think the piece is an extraordinarily interesting one, I really do!  We had an incredibly good cast, which was so well balanced that it was beautifully sung by everybody.  The great thing about it was the team effort.  That was the great, great thing about it.   There were lots and lots of roles.  There were a lot of people making their Met débuts, and everybody entered into the spirit of the thing right from the very beginning.  It was done with fun; it was done with gusto; it was done with panache, and it was done with determination.  Everybody willed it to be a success right from the beginning.  And from the Met’s point of view, it was a great thing because the technical crew were 100 per cent involved.  A number of them were actually dressed in costume and moved this fragmented set around the stage.  The set was fragmented because it was a dream world of ghosts and history, and therefore there were fragmented steps, a fragmented staircase, fragmented lights, fragmented chandeliers, and these were moved during the course of the opera by the Met’s technical crew who were dressed in costume.  They were, therefore, totally involved in the piece and loved every second of being involved on the stage.  They were crucial to the development of the opera.  If they didn’t move the pieces, it would not get done.  So the nice thing was that at the end of the piece they took a curtain call.  The technical crew came on stage and they took a curtain call. 

BD:    Both those who were dressed and those who were not dressed?

GC:    Both dressed and not dressed.  It was a massive team effort and it was a wonderful experience.  It really was.  It was a very, very happy time, and I’m glad that’s the way it was seen by everybody.  It wasn’t a ‘star piece’.  There were some wonderful individual performances by Teresa Stratas, Håkan Hagegård, and Marilyn Horne.  They were absolutely stunning, but the piece was basically about twenty to thirty principal singers.

BD:    Did the audience seem to grasp what was being tried on stage?

GC:    Yes, I think so.  It was done in English, of course, and we made a great effort to make the text understood and clear.  There were long sessions in making sure our diction was clear in the hall.   People were sitting in different places of the auditorium to make sure that we could be understood, and balances were constantly checked between orchestra and stage, etc.   So people apparently did understand.  They did actually grasp it, and it’ll be interesting to see if there’s any changes made for the next performances.  Obviously one can always prune things and perhaps develop things to make them more focused and make them more concentrated.  The great thing about it was that John Corigliano was there most of the time.  It was wonderful to have a living composer working with you, because if you found there was any particular problem with anything, he was prepared to rewrite it.  Certain things were rewritten as we rehearsed.   Certain orchestral parts were rewritten, certain vocal parts were rewritten where we found that there was perhaps not the greatest impact that could be made.  It could be made better with something different.

BD:    So he didn’t rewrite it just to make it easier?

GC:    No, no, no.   The rewriting was made to focus the piece more, and to focus the sound in one case.

BD:    I assume it’s not the first world premiere you’ve been involved in?

GC:    It’s the first absolute world premiere I was involved in, yes.  I have been involved in other new pieces but they had been done before in other parts of the world, but that was the first world premiere.  It was Colin Graham’s forty-third, by the way in passing!   Just a staggering, staggering statistic.  Absolutely incredible! 

BD:    What advice do you have for other composers who want to write operas?

GC:    Do it!  Quite simply do it, and don’t be constrained by anything you’ve seen or anything that you’ve heard about.  Do it your way and let’s see it.  Let’s do it and let’s play it and see what happens.   My great fear about operatic theatre is that we are concerned with conservative and traditional methods considerably, particularly, I have to say, in this country.  In Europe there is a greater demand for experimentation.  Okay, it’s an art form which has been around longer there than it has been over here, and people are prepared to take more chances and more risks.  My concern is that we do not become bogged down in museum or just pure repetition.   You don’t go to see Hamlet and constantly expect to see Elsinore every time.  You actually go to Hamlet to get the intellectual message as much as you want the visual message, and that’s exactly what we should be doing in opera.  My hope is that people will take risks in operatic presentation, and that singers will take risks in operatic presentation, and the composers will take risks.  That is the only way the art form will develop.  We need to allow it to breathe; we need to allow to expand; we need to allow it to move forward in exactly the same way as all the other art forms move forward.  After all, this country developed the whole of cinematic technique, and that has moved forward and developed incredibly in the last fifty years!  Now let’s allow opera to breathe and develop in the same way! 

BD:    Are you optimistic about it?

GC:    Absolutely, absolutely, yes.  There’s lots of wonderful performers out there and there are a lot of people who are excited by the prospects of operatic performance, and there’s a lot of people who are wanting to challenge operatic convention.  I think that’s great.  I’m not saying we don’t do the classics, the masterpieces, and do them as well in a traditional, conservative way, and make sure that they’re done beautifully that way.  But the art form should have the opportunity to maneuver itself, and move forward with new generations. 

BD:    Thank you for spending some time with me today.  I appreciate it.

GC:    My pleasure, my pleasure.  [Getting up from his chair]  Is that okay for you?

BD:    [Starting to gather up the recording equipment]  Yes... well it’s never enough...  [Both laugh]

GC:    We can talk for ever about the Ring!  [Much laughter]




clark



© 1992 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in an office at Orchestra Hall in Chicago on January 23, 1992.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB the following year, and again in 2000.  This transcription was made in 2014, 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.