Tenor  Jean  Cox,  and
Mezzo-Soprano  Anna  Reynolds
 
Two Conversations with Bruce Duffie


jean cox




It is perhaps sadly appropriate that the obituary of tenor Jean Cox reproduced above is shown in the original German with no translation.  Having had a substantial international career mostly in Europe, his passing in June of 2012 at age 90 was significant news over there and yet basically ignored here in his native America.  The notice from the Bayreuth Festival is shown next, along with the Google translation which, despite being somewhat clumsy, does illuminate the details of his life and career.


Jean Cox
* 16.01.1922 in Gadsden, USA
† 24.06.2012 in Bayreuth

Er nahm am Zweiten Weltkrieg als Pilot bei der amerikanischen Luftwaffe teil. Gesangstudium an der Alabama University bei William Steven, dann am New England Conservatory Boston bei Marie Sundelius, schließlich bei Wally Kirsamer in Frankfurt a.M., bei Luigi Ricci in Rom und bei Max Lorenz in München. Debüt 1951 an der New England Opera Boston als Lenski im Eugen Onegin. Er sang 1954 beim Festival von Spoleto den Rodolfo in La Bohème und war 1954-55 am Theater von Kiel engagiert. 1955-59 sang er am Staatstheater Braunschweig und war seit 1959 Mitglied des Nationaltheaters Mannheim, wo er 1961 an der Uraufführung von P. Hindemiths Oper Das lange Weihnachtsmahl teilnahm. Bereits 1956 begann seine Karriere bei den Bayreuther Festspielen: 1956 sang er dort den Steuermann, 1969-70 den Erik im Fliegenden Holländer, 1968-70 und 1974-75 den Walther von Stolzing in den Meistersingern, 1968 und 1973 den Parsifal, 1967-68 den Lohengrin, 1970-71, 1973-75 und 1978 den Siegfried. 1983 übernahm er in Bayreuth nochmals den Siegfried in der Götterdämmerung, 1984 den Walther in den Meistersingern. Durch einen Gastspielvertrag war er mit der Wiener Volksoper verbunden; 1958-73 regelmäßige Gastspiele an der Staatsoper von Hamburg. An der Wiener Staatsoper trat er 1963-77, u.a. als Stewa in Janáceks Jenufa und als Sergej in Lady Macbeth von Mzenskz von Schostakowitsch, auf, er gastierte an der Staatsoper von Stuttgart, in München und Frankfurt a.M. Bei den Festspielen von Bregenz sang er u.a. 1961 in Fra Diavolo von Auber und in der Operette Die Trauminsel von Robert Stolz. 1961 Gastspiel am Teatro San Carlos Lissabon, 1966 bei den Festspielen von Aix-en-Provence (als Bacchus in Aradne auf Naxos von R. Strauss), 1974 am Deutschen Opernhaus Berlin. 1964, 1970 und 1973 war er an der Chicago Opera zu hören, 1971 und 1972 an der Grand Opéra Paris als Siegmund in der Walküre. 1975 Debüt an der Covent Garden Oper London als Siegfried, den er auch 1975 an der Mailänder Scala vortrug. Im April 1976 sang er als Antrittsrolle an der Metropolitan Oper New York den Walther von Stolzing in den Meistersingern. Auch Gastspiele an den Opern von San Antonio, New Orleans, Houston (Texas) und Pittsburg, an der Königlichen Oper Stockholm, an den Opernhäusern von Zürich, Genf und Mexiko City, in Barcelona, Brüssel, Bordeaux, Nizza und Genua. Seine Karriere dauerte sehr lange; noch 1989 hörte man ihn in Mannheim als Captain Vere in Billy Budd von Benjamin Britten. Neben den Wagner-Heroen sang er ein heldisches Tenor-Repertoire von großem Umfang (über 75 Rollen) mit Höhepunkten wie dem Alvaro in La forza del destino, dem Herodes in Salome, dem Bacchus in Ariadne auf Naxos, dem Kardinal in Mathis der Maler von Hindemith, dem Max im Freischütz, dem Hermann in Pique Dame von Tschaikowsky und dem Prinzen in Rusalka von Dvorák; er wurde in all diesen Partien als großer Darsteller gerühmt. Als Aegist in der Strauss’schen Oper Elektra verabschiedete er sich 1996 in Mannheim von der Bühne, wo er 1977 zum ersten Mannheimer Kammersänger überhaupt und einige Jahre später zum Ehrenmitglied des Ensembles ernannt worden war. Er starb im Alter von 90 Jahren in Bayreuth.

-- From the website of the Bayreuth Festival 


[Google translation follows]

Jean Cox
* 16.01.1922 in Gadsden, USA
† 24.06.2012 in Bayreuth

He took part in World War II as a pilot in the U.S. Air Force. Vocal studies at the University in Alabama William Steven, then the New England Conservatory in Boston Marie Sundelius, when Wally finally Kirsamer in Frankfurt, with Luigi Ricci in Rome and Max Lorenz in Munich. Debut in 1951 at the New England Opera Boston as Lensky in Eugene Onegin. He sang at the 1954 Spoleto Festival Rodolfo in La Bohème and 1954-55 was engaged at the theater of Kiel. 1955-59, he sang at the Staatstheater Braunschweig since 1959 and was a member of the National Theatre of Mannheim, where he attended the 1961 premiere of P. Hindemith's opera The Long Christmas. As early as 1956 he began his career at the Bayreuth Festival in 1956 he sang the helmsman, 1969-70 to Erik in The Flying Dutchman, 1968-70 and 1974-75 the Walther von Stolzing in Die Meistersinger, Parsifal 1968 and 1973, 1967-68 Lohengrin, 1970-71, 1973-75 and 1978, the Siegfried. In 1983 he took over again in Bayreuth Siegfried in Götterdämmerung, 1984 the Walther in Die Meistersinger. Guest Performance by a contract he was connected with the Vienna Volksoper; 1958-73 regular appearances at the Staatsoper Hamburg. At the Vienna State Opera, he joined 1963-77, including as Stewa in Janácek's Jenufa and as Sergei in Lady Macbeth of Mzenskz by Shostakovich, on, he performed at the State Opera of Stuttgart, Munich and Frankfurt At the Festival of Bregenz he among others sang 1961 in Fra Diavolo by Auber and in the operetta The Dream Island by Robert Stolz. 1961 guest performance at the Teatro San Carlos, Lisbon, 1966. At the Festival of Aix-en-Provence (as Bacchus in Aradne auf Naxos by Richard Strauss), in 1974 at the Deutsche Opera Berlin 1964, 1970 and 1973, he was heard on the Chicago Opera, 1971 and 1972 at the Paris Grand Opera as Siegmund in Die Walküre. 1975 debut at Covent Garden in London, as Siegfried, he performed well in 1975 at La Scala. In April 1976 he sang her first role at the Metropolitan Opera New York, the Walther von Stolzing in Die Meistersinger. Also guest appearances at the opera houses of San Antonio, New Orleans, Houston (Texas) and Pittsburg, at the Royal Opera in Stockholm, at the opera houses of Zurich, Geneva and Mexico City, Barcelona, ​​Brussels, Bordeaux, Nice and Genoa. His career took a long time, in 1989 he was heard in Mannheim as Captain Vere in Billy Budd by Benjamin Britten. In addition to the Wagner-heroes he sang a heroic tenor repertoire of large-scale (over 75 rolls) with highlights such as Alvaro in La forza del destino, Herod in Salome, the Bacchus in Ariadne auf Naxos, the Cardinal in Mathis der Maler by Hindemith, Max in Der Freischütz, the Hermann in The Queen of Spades by Tchaikovsky and the Prince in Rusalka by Dvorak;. he was famous in all of these areas as a great performer. As in the Strauss opera Elektra Aegist he left in 1996 in Mannheim of the stage, where he was in 1977 for the first Mannheim Kammersänger appointed at all and a few years later as an honorary member of the ensemble. He died at age 90 in Bayreuth.


Those of us who had the opportunity to enjoy Cox in the theater were treated to a significant voice with helden mettle, and an artistic flair for the dramatics required by the opera.  Mainly Wagner with a few other heavy Italian roles, the tenor gave the world performances that were memorable.  A few recordings and videos exist that give an indication of the joy and flair he brought to the stage.

In the middle of March of 1988, Cox, along with his wife Anna Reynolds were in New York City to audition young singers for their Master Classes.   I arranged to call them at their hotel, and this is what was said at that time . . . . . . .


Bruce Duffie:    Is this a good time for our chat?

Jean Cox:    Yes.

BD:    Very good.  How was the flight in?

JC:    We came in by Amtrak from Philadelphia.  Very interesting — the first time I’ve been on the train in years, in America at least.

BD:    I assume you take the train all over Europe.

JC:    Well, not always.  I’m not that found of trains.  But this was the first time I’ve been on a train in America, so it was very interesting.

BD:    You’re in America now to look for new voices?

JC:    We’re here to audition voices for our master class.

BD:    Then let’s start our conversation right there.  What do you look for in young voices?

JC:    We don’t look for things in young voices.  We look for people according to their age and according to what they have done, have the capability to sing Wagner.  Young voices cannot sing Wagner.  It’s too strenuous for them.

BD:    So then you’re specifically looking for potential Wagner voices?

JC:    Yes, that’s right.  We look for potential — persons that we can train to do Wagner without it killing them.

BD:    [With a slight nudge]  Is it possible to do Wagner without killing yourself???

JC:    Oh yes!  I’ve been doing it for years.  I’m still doing it.

BD:    Then what is the secret to doing Wagner without doing bodily harm?

JC:    You sing Wagner as it is written, according to the dynamics and the way it’s written.  You think of Wagner in a long vocal line, and sing it horizontally instead of vertically.  You sing it bel canto.

BD:    You don’t give any concern at all to the depth of the orchestra?

JC:    You don’t worry; the orchestra has to take care of itself.  You take care of yourself.  You sing with your own voice and your own mettle.  Of course we teach the projection.  If you have the projection and the mettle in the voice, it’ll go up through the orchestra.  If you try to push it through, you lose half of it.  So we teach the point of projection and the focus of the voice, so that the voice is projected through the orchestra.

BD:    If someone comes to you and wants to sing Wagner and is able to learn what you have to teach them even if they don’t have the right equipment to start with, can they do it?

JC:     We do teach technically.  We want more people to have their voices more trained; people that are really trained singers.

BD:    So you’ve got to have a certain amount of equipment to start with?

jean coxJC:    That’s right.  You have to have a certain amount.  We’d like everyone to have sung a lot of Italian opera and all the operas along the way.  That gives you the basis for singing Wagner.  We believe that you should have sung all the heavy Italians actually before you start singing Wagner.

BD:    Otello and Radames — things like that?

JC:    As one of the tenors, yes.  Or Strauss; I think specifically Strauss, like the Apollo in Daphne.  If you can sing that you can sing Wagner.

BD:    Should a young tenor be attempting those kinds of roles without your kind of training?

JC:    No, but that’s part of growing up.  You need a basis, a very strong basis.  You’ve got to build; you have to build your pyramid.  If you put your pyramid on the point, it won’t work.  You have to built like a pyramid.

BD:    What age range are you talking about?

JC:    It depends on what they’re singing in Wagner.  You can sing what we call the Italian version or Italian linea of Wagner, which for tenors would be Erik and then of course the smaller roles such as the Steersman.  Then they could do Lohengrin and Walther, but they can only do those if they have the high placement in the voice.  Because of the high middle station, the voice becomes very tired if you don’t have good technique over the passaggio.  You have to stay up there; you have to sustain it without any effort, without any push, or without push from the body.  You have to put it into the body, but not push from the body.  So you want it in the body, but not outside the body.

BD:    Did Wagner understand this when he was writing the parts?

JC:    Most of his singers in the beginning were all Italians.  An Italian has this point in the voice and the focus on the point from nature, from the way they speak.  So they speak in position.  You’ve listened to Italians speak on the street in Italy, haven’t you?

BD:    Yes.

JC:    Do you speak the same way?

BD:    No, I don’t.

JC:    Well, that’s it.  We teach you how to do that.  If you have that in your voice, then it’s much easier to have that projection you need.  You have the mettle you need.  You’re raising the position of the voice.  It’s like if you want to shout to your friend across the street.  You can do that and hurt yourself, or you can project your voice across there and not hurt yourself.  That’s just basic stuff for us.  We do it very simply.  We have no mechanics and we have no crutches.  We want it simple as possible.

BD:    Have you had some successes coming out of your master classes?

JC:    Yes, we have quite a number of them.  A few of them have sung for Bayreuth and gotten a favorable reception.  This is our fourth season actually, our fourth year.  And of course it depends.  We have to wait until the people come to us.  We can’t go to them; they have to come to us.

BD:    You advertise that you’re available and hope that they come?

JC:    Yes, but up to this time we’ve had as many as we’d like to have, which is always around twelve people.  Our maximum is fourteen.

BD:    You and who else are doing the teaching?

JC:    Anna Reynolds.  She’s always with me; she is my better half!  We’re one big team.  We hear alike.  We teach alike.  We think alike.

BD:    Is it good that you’re so much alike?

JC:    Yes, it’s very important.  Otherwise it would be too difficult for the people that we work with.  We work with the people simultaneously every day.  She teaches some of them and I do the same group later on the same day, so you have to have it together so you don’t disturb the technique and disturb the thinking of the people.  If you give people too much to do, they can’t do it because they become confused.

BD:    You’d rather give them just what they can absorb?

JC:    Yes, and in a way that they absorb.  They know that if they come to me, they’re going to hear the same things they hear from Anna.

BD:    Does it take a man to teach a man, and a woman to teach a woman?

JC:    No, it does not.  I never studied with anyone but a woman.  I got a few tips from Max Lorenz along the way, but he supported a different method than I use.  He used the German style, what we call the stile method.  A stile is a dam; it’s when you dam up the air.  I don’t sing that way, and we don’t recommend it if you want to keep your voice.

BD:    So Max had his own particular way of doing it, and it worked for him but it wouldn’t work for many others?

JC:    If you can get the people to use a combination of it, it’s all right.  But if they only use that, what you do with the stile method is you push your larynx up, and you only do that if you do it outward with the body.  You push outward instead of doing it like a baby’s screams.  If you watch a baby scream, then you do it right.

BD:    Because it’s completely natural?

JC:    It’s completely natural.  If the baby screams, his tummy goes in; it doesn’t go out, and he can scream for hours and not become hoarse.  I know... I've had them!  They screamed for hours and never became hoarse.  I was waiting for them to become hoarse and it didn’t happen.  [Both laugh]  That’s the secret of it
look at a child and scream like they do.  If you can scream like they do, then you can sing like they do.  It’s the same sort of thing.  Actually we teach people to scream that have never screamed in their lives.

BD:    Not even when they were infants???

JC:    It’s dangerous to say that, of course.  It’s just if the person is not getting it, you go to a little bit of extremes.  But it is sometimes the scream for a person that they recognize immediately, and for them it works.  It’s not something we use every day.

BD:    You developed this technique which you’ve used in your entire career.  Do you change your technique at all for the different size houses?

JC:    No, you do not.  Your technique is one big basic thing.  You keep the same basic position in the voice with the same basic position in the high palette and the low larynx.  It’s normal.  You keep the larynx down by breathing; as Flagstad said, “By drinking, drinking the audience in.”  If you drank the audience in and have a downward feeling, like you have a big canal through the middle of your body, then the larynx will stay automatically down.  You don’t have to force it down or manipulate it down.  It will stay down naturally because then you’re drinking it in.  Drinking in — it’s like when you’re yawning.  When you yawn, the larynx goes down, stays down, and the high palette automatically goes up.  That’s the position of all singing.  That’s basically all it is.

BD:    So then really you could be a coach for light Italian works as well as Wagner?

JC:    We do everything.  We coach people in everything from the simplest songs to the most difficult arias in any language whatsoever.

BD:    When I think of Wagner, I automatically think of tenors and sopranos.  Do you also coach mezzos and basses and baritones?

JC:    We do; we coach all of them.

BD:    Is it harder for the tenors and the sopranos than the lower voices?

JC:    No, not at all.  Basically it is all one big technique.  It can be done by all of them without any problem.

BD:    Is the difficulty in Wagner more so for the higher voices than the lower voices?

JC:    No.  You have to have just as much projection in the lower voices, which you get the same way.  Because it’s a lower position on the scale, it sounds like it’s lower in your throat.  This type of singing is still done the same way.  You sing the middle notes and the lower notes with just as high a raised palette.  A lot of people don’t realize you have to do that because you have to have the same feeling in the middle voice and low voice as you do in the high voice.  So it works very, very well.  Of course if the mezzos and the altos go into a chest voice, it has to be a mixed chest voice.  That means it has to be in the head and in the chest.  You have to make the transition that you cannot tell where the voice changes.  It’s like a tenor going from falsetto into the natural voice and going back into a mixed sound.  You shouldn’t be able to recognize where he changed.

BD:    It should be seamless up and down?

JC:    That’s right, seamless.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Let’s talk about a few of the roles.  Did you sing all of the Wagner tenor roles?

JC:    I have sung all the tenor roles that he wrote except for the two early things.  He wrote Die Feen and  Liebesverbot which I have not done because they’re never done except on those rare occasions.  But I have done all of the basic Wagner roles including Rienzi.

BD:    Did you enjoy Rienzi?

JC:    Not particularly.  It was before Wagner really decided what he wanted to do with his music.  He still wrote numbers, and you might say he still wrote recitative.  The rest of his operas have no recitative in them.  They’re seamless, as you say; there’s no numbers like in Verdi or Puccini.  Rienzi didn’t have too many melodies that anybody remembers.  Of course everybody remembers the prayer and the march, but that’s about all you remember when you hear the opera.  It’s the only thing that stays in your head.

BD:    Is that the secret to a great opera that you leave the house remembering some of it?

JC:    It’s a typical Italian way of doing it.  I don’t think it’s quite necessary for Wagner.  It’s enough for Wagner if you can remember all of his leitmotifs, which you can recognize very quickly.  When he uses leitmotifs he has reasons for it.  I found that out from Wolfgang Wagner.  If you listen to the leitmotif you have to figure out why he has put it in a certain place.  Take the god Loge.  When he puts Loge in this position, why did he put this in with the other voices when it doesn’t really belong there?  He’s only in Rheingold, but you’ll hear him being used along the way in Walkure and Siegfried.

BD:    Sure.  His presence is felt.

JC:    Yes.  You’ll hear it.  In Siegfried you hear a lot of Loge used.  You have to figure those out
why he did that — if you know the leitmotifs.

BD:    Where is the balance between the music and the drama?

JC:    I don’t know.  It’s homogenic.  There’s no real difference.  We don’t consider it a balance between the two.  Actually, you know yourself that you can play Wagner
most of Wagner, especially the heavy Wagnerswithout having a voice at all.  Think of all the things that he did with the Tristan melodies just with orchestra without the voices.  You don’t really need the voices.  The drama is not necessarily missed, even though the voices are not singing the text.

BD:    [With a gentle nudge]  But it’s better with the text?

JC:    [Laughs]  I don’t know.  It’s just one of those things.  It’s a moot point.  Nobody knows!  It’s a matter of taste.  Personally, as an opera singer naturally I like the text and I miss the text if it’s not there.  But I can listen to the things that Liszt did with his different melodies of Wagner that he took out of context and used.  I can listen to that.  It’s very interesting, but for me it’s not very fulfilling.

jean coxBD:    Which of the Wagner roles did you sing most often in your career?

JC:    That’s hard to say.  I really don’t know, I never kept a scorecard.  I have done an awful lot of Meistersingers and an awful lot of Parsifals.  In fact I’ve done all of them — a lot of them.  I really don’t really know.  I have no favorite, if that’s what you want to know.

BD:    No, but occasionally a singer will say, “I did an awful lot of one and didn’t get to do enough of another.”

JC:    Probably I’m more famous for doing the Siegfrieds actually.  I went to sing in Bayreuth in 1956 for the first time as the Steersman.  I had just been in Germany two years and I sang that role which I never sang again.  My first debut in the heavier things was in Lohengrin.  I started out in Bayreuth with Lohengrin, Parsifal and Meistersinger, so to speak.  I did The Ring for the first time in Munich.  I finally did Tannhäuser which was the very last new Wagner role I ever did.  It never came along where I could do it.  I had even done Rienzi before that.  [Laughs]  That’s just the way it turned out.  I’m happy it went that way, although I do enjoy doing the Tannhäuser.

BD:    Let’s come back to Dutchman just for a moment.  Is it a good idea to have the same tenor sing both Erik and the Steersman?

JC:    Never.  They’re completely different voices.  It’s a lyric tenor and a spinto tenor.  Eric’s a young helden in himself.  The role is a very negative sort of part.  It’s not a helden role in the characterization of the part, but it doesn’t have to be, as we say, a “Waschlappen,” a wash rag.  [Laughs]  It doesn’t have to be done like that, but you definitely shouldn’t use the same voice, no.  The Steersman is a lyric.  Today a lot of buffos sing it — lyric buffos.

BD:    But even for a dramatic reason, it shouldn’t be done by the same person?

JC:    No...  Well, it can be.

BD:    It has been.

JC:    It shouldn’t be.  I've never heard of it.  It’s never been done in Bayreuth ever.

BD:    It’s either the Ponnelle production or somebody else that has the whole thing being the steersman’s dream, and he snaps out of the steersman to be Erik.

JC:    With the steersman, yes.  That's how they think that might work.  I could still sing the Steuermann.  There's nothing to singing it, but it’s not correct for my way of thinking since they’re two different roles, they’re different characters.  The Steersman is not the character of the hunter.  One’s a sea man, and one’s a hunter.  Erik is the Jäger, and I don’t personally think they should be done with the same voice.

BD:    Do you think that Wagner’s been particularly picked on to stretch productions beyond the limits in terms of dramatic believability?

JC:    They’ve stretched it to where they use different types of scenery that has nothing to do with Wagner, completely ignoring the text and the leitmotifs.  If you don’t use the leitmotifs and the text, then you’re in a great problem as far as I’m concerned.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Let’s deal with The Ring.  Do you think that The Ring is one opera or four?

jean coxJC:    The Ring is one cycle.  [Vis-à-vis the CD cover at right, see my Interview with Wolfgang Sawallisch.]

BD:    But you could sing a couple of different roles in the cycle.

JC:    I sang all four roles.

BD:    In the same cycle?

JC:    In the same cycle.

BD:    Is that a good idea?

JC:    I’ve done it many times.  I’ve sung Loge, and three days later I sang Siegmund, then two days later I sang Siegfried and then usually they used to wait for the whole week for Götterdämmerung.  In Germany, because of the length of the operas they do them on the weekend, but I have sung all four roles together in a cycle.

BD:    You don’t feel that breaks some of the dramatic continuity because it’s the same singer in differing roles?

JC:    No, because the only one out of character would be Loge.  Now Loge can be done beautifully, but you have a different makeup.  You’re playing a different person.  You’re playing a myth, and since everything is a fairytale anyhow, it’s just like a mimic doing his different things with a different mask on.  Siegmund, which is the father of Siegfried, is just an older version, a mature version of a man.  Siegfried is younger.  Siegmund is not that old either, as far as that goes.  So I have no qualms with it whatsoever.  I think it can be done.  Years ago in Bayreuth they used to divide it up.  The Loge sang Siegfried, and the Siegmund sang the Götterdämmerung Siegfried.  That’s how they used to do it with two tenors alternating.

BD:    That’s just to give the singers a rest.

JC:    No.  I don’t know what the reasoning was, but back in those days the singers could not sing both roles in a week.  When I was singing in Bayreuth The Ring had just one day between Siegfried and Götterdämmerung

BD:    Is that too much?

JC:    Not for me!

BD:    [Laughs]  Well, how much stamina did you have?  Could you sing Siegfried every night for a week?

JC:    No, no one’s ever done that, although I’ve done seven Tristans in a row in a matter of a little over a week.  But that happens quite often in Italy.  I did the seven Tristans in Switzerland.  It’s not anything you want to do, it’s just the way some theaters plan things.  It’s not ideal, but he wrote The Ring to be done in one week.  Before Birgit Nilsson came to Bayreuth there was no pause after the Walküre.  They went straight on.  Rheingold goes straight into Walküre the next day, then the next day was the Siegfried, t
hen a day off and it was Götterdämmerung.  That’s how it was done.  Now they put in the extra day between Walküre and Siegfried and they’ve kept that.

BD:    Which is better?

JC:    If the soprano says it’s better, it’s better for her.  Of course it’s just a matter of what you want to do.  Since the Walküre for the soprano is quite a role, it’s just a matter of comfort; not that Birgit could never have done it.  She could have done it if she wanted to, but she wanted a day off and so they put in the day off.  [See my Interview with Birgit Nilsson.]

BD:    Tell me about the character of Siegfried.  Did you like playing this guy?

JC:    Yes, love it.  It’s a dumb bumpkin but I like to play it, yes.  It doesn’t have to be vicious.  It doesn’t have to be mean.  It can be appeasing.  It can be childlike, young, very young, and that’s the way I like to do it.  With some of the productions you have today, you’re doing mostly concert anyhow, where the singer has nothing to do with it.

BD:    [Laughs]  Just stand and sing?

JC:    Yes.  It’s getting worse and worse.  Just heard a brand new production in Nice and there’s absolutely no props in it.  There’s no props and no smithing.

BD:    No hammer at all?

JC:    No hammer.  The sword is picked up in the form of papers or something so it just creates itself.  This is way out which I do not approve of.  I’m sorry.

BD:    Have you ever done any stage directing?

JC:    No, don’t plan to.

BD:    [A bit surprised]  Why not?

JC:    Well, it’s a thankless job for a singer.

BD:    But you have so many ideas to bring to this!

JC:    Yes, of course we do.  Everybody has the impression that singers are dumb, but if a singer did a dozen operas it would not be controversial.  Today that’s all the critics and other people think about.  They want all the controversy and scandal.  That’s what they’re waiting for — the extravaganza.  A singer would definitely go way against his grain to do it in a modern way, with funny costumes or modern costumes
— at least I would, so I just stay away from it.

BD:    Let me as a big philosophical question then
— what is the purpose of opera in society?

JC:    It’s supposed to be entertainment.  That’s what I look on as a singer.  I go out on the stage in order to entertain.  I don’t go out to give people things to think about, like the modern legit theater.  They go on and give people problems and politics and everything else.  I do it, and I will do it straightforward like it’s written, like I think the composer meant it to be.  All the new staging people are out to do their own thing, to make a name for themselves by being scandalous.  Even Ponnelle says the only way they can compete against Wagner is to create a scandal.

BD:    Is that what he’s doing, competing against Wagner?

JC:    Yes, that’s right.  You can only create a scandal.  It’s the only way to compete because you’re working with a genius — one of our last musical geniuses.  So you cannot compete with him because his music will kill you every time.  [Both laugh]

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    We talked a little bit about the young Siegfried.  How is the older Siegfried different from the younger Siegfried?

jean coxJC:   
Actually he’s not old; he’s still the young Siegfried character in many respects.  Wagner’s very smart there.  He has the character do all the bad things because he has taken this drink that makes him forget what he's doing.  So you can blame everything on the drink, on the potion.  If you notice in the Götterdämmerung Siegfried, the first act is the love scene.  It’s nothing but a beautiful love scene in the beginning, which then generates into a lust scene when he sees Gutrune.  This lust was made from nature, but he still doesn’t do anything bad until he gets the drink.  In the last act, after Siegfried has been given the antidote and sings the story of his life, the whole thing picks up at that point.  That's the young Siegfried coming out again.

BD:    So do you view
Siegfried as a tragic figure?

JC:    Yes.  It’s almost like an Otello figure.  He's being manipulated against his will.  He was killed out of meanness.

BD:    What could he have accomplished if he had not run into the Hagen figure?

JC:    He was supposed to save the world; that’s why Wotan made him.  He was the savior of the world, the savior of the gods and the savior for the whole thing.  That’s the reason in
Götterdämmerung that Valhalla burns up when Siegfried dies.

BD:    Could he have done this if he hadn’t run into Hagen?

JC:    No, it’s more like if Wotan hadn’t run into Alberich.  It goes back to that generation.  The figure of Alberich that appears to Hagen in
Götterdämmerung is from the generation before.

BD:    But if Wotan hadn’t run into Alberich, he would not have had to have created Siegmund and Siegfried.

JC:    No, Wotan would have created the Siegmund and Sieglinde.  He went on Earth to create them when he walked the Earth as a human.  He would have done that himself.  Wotan was quite a ballsy young man back in those days.  So when he appeared on the Earth as Wolf, then he created those with a lady.  Alberich did the same thing with the mother of Gunther and Gutrune.  Nobody knows exactly in Wagner’s version exactly how it was done — whether she was paid money or what to do it.

BD:    According to the legend, apparently there was no love involved. 

JC:    No, absolutely none.  Gunther particularly didn’t like Hagen and Hagen certainly didn’t like Gunther, his half-brother.  [Both laugh]

BD:    They tolerated each other, and that was it.

JC:    That was it.

BD:    Do you feel that Wotan really wanted Siegmund to save the world, or did he know that it would have to go another generation?

JC:    He knew that it would have to go another generation.  He knew that because he was having too much controversy with Fricka.  He tried to save Siegmund, but it didn’t work.

BD:    Let’s talk a bit about Parsifal.  Did you enjoy this role also?

JC:    Yes, very much.  Parsifal is a dolt, so to speak, the dumb, ignorant, natural nature boy.

BD:    Right.  He gains wisdom through pity.

JC:    It was because his mother didn’t want to lose him like she lost the father back in the Crusades.  That was the reason the boy was brought up not to know anything.  But from nature, from his own instinct, he made the bow and arrow on his own.  He didn’t even know what he was doing.  He had never seen one before.  He was actually just a nature boy, and that’s the way it should be played as far as I'm concerned.

coxBD:    Is the opera Parsifal a sacred work, or is it just another opera?

JC:    Because of the Grail scenes and of course in the temple and the Grail, it usually ends up as a religious work for many people.  This happens anytime you break bread and drink wine and portray the sacrament.

BD:    But how do you view it?

JC:    I don’t think it’s a religious work at all, personally.  It’s been done very Holy-like, but they’ve gotten away from it.  It’s better now.  At one time they didn’t allow any applause in the opera in Bayreuth.  Everything was played straight through.  There was no applause.  In Mannheim to this day we have only applause after the second act, not in the first act.  At the end of the first act with the Grail scene it’s all very religious.

BD:    What about the end of the opera?

JC:    Then of course there’s always recognition there.  After the Kundry-Parsifal scene is where the applause starts.

BD:    Speaking of applause, do you as a singer enjoy coming out for the curtain call after each act, or would you rather wait ‘til the end of the performance?

JC:    That’s hard to say.  A lot of the time you can break the spell.  I’ve seen singers — not in Wagner but in Italian operas — bow at the end of their arias when they got applause.  They might as well be singing concerts because it does break the atmosphere of what was going on.  You can’t do that in Wagner because they have no numbers.

BD:    But in some productions they don’t let the singers take a curtain call until the end of the last act.

JC:    That’s because most of the German operas are so long.  They try to cut down on the intermission.

BD:    But would you rather appear at the end of each act?

JC:    I think personally I would, yes.

BD:    Do you believe in opera in translation?

JC:    Yes, I do.  Not an English translation, though.  [Both laugh]  When I first went to Germany, in the first two houses that I was in nothing was done except in German.  All operas, no matter what language they were written in, were done in German.  The audiences do like it when they can understand the text.  The only trouble is the sopranos; you never understand them anyhow.  So it got to the point they said, “Why bother?”

BD:    Is that the fault of the composer or the fault of the performer?

JC:    How much text do you get from a soprano when you listen to her singing the high registers?

BD:    When they get above the staff it gets very difficult.

JC:    Exactly!  Unless they’re very, very smart.  I've heard quite a few sopranos that can do it.

BD:    Do you like this new gimmick of the supertitles in the theater?

JC:    Oh, dear.  I've never run into it actually.  I think I sang one once where the text was projected out front.  I don’t remember... I think it was in Spain or someplace.

BD:    Do you think this is a good compromise?

JC:    I think it’s a disconcertion from what’s going on on stage.  If they’re wondering what’s going on on stage with the music, it’s like having a mimic stand in front of you.  He’s describing the text with his motion.  If you’re going to be an opera-goer, you should read the text as far as I'm concerned, or at least know what the story is about.  If you know the general gist of the story, you let the rest of it take care in the beautiful music and the beautiful phrases and the beautiful voices.

BD:    Do you feel that opera is for everyone?

JC:    Yes, very much for everyone.  We have many converts.  We have had many American converts in Europe because I see them all the time.  People come to me, including some of the people who were stationed in the Army headquarters or in the Army in Heidelberg and the Mannheim area.  I ran into one last night.  I’d sung for him twenty years ago.  He went to his first opera there and that started him off.  I have had that happen in many, many cases.  It’s just a matter of whether it entertains or not.  That’s what it amounts to.

BD:    Do you think that opera works well on television?

JC:     Yes I do, if it’s done well.  The Otello that I saw recently with Placido was done very well, I thought.  It was actually a film and I saw it on television.  I’ve seen some of the operas on television.  Actually television and the film give you a dimension which I think enhances what you can do, technically speaking, with effects which you can never get on the stage.

BD:    Is there a competition amongst tenors?

JC:    I never considered myself in competition with any tenors.  We’re competitive, yes, but I don’t think so.  Not every tenor likes another tenor and approves of a lot of things that they do.  That's perfectly normal, but singing and singers are a matter of taste to one person or other.  But I have never set myself or thought of myself as being in competition with another tenor, no.  I have a lot of colleagues is what I say.  It is like people who work in the office with you.  It’s the same sort of thing.

BD:    [With a slight nudge]  You don’t consider singing just a job, do you???

JC:    No.  It’s a very hard job.  A job is much easier in the way of office workers.  It’s much easier to do an office job than it is to be a singer because you put in many more hours performing.  A pianist works many hours a day in order to do a concert that lasts an hour and a half or two hours.  We spend more hours on stage doing rehearsals and learning the music than people realize.  They think that we just walk out on the stage and sing, and it doesn’t happen that way.

BD:    Do you find singing fun?

JC:    I love it!  If it wasn't fun I wouldn’t do it.  I’d stop immediately; best part of it.  You have to enjoy what you’re doing.  When it becomes labor or labored, then it’s not for me.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Let’s talk about another of the roles.  Tell me a bit about Tristan.  Is he a complex figure?

jean coxJC:    Yes, it is a complex figure.  If you’ve read the Tristan saga, you can see that Wagner couldn’t do all the complexities that are necessary.  It leaves a lot to the imagination, with you creating for him all the different things.  It can be played very simply, as Wagner wrote it, but it is deeper in many respects than people give credit to.  I find it a very complex figure.  In fact, if you really look at it from the saga end of it, you really wouldn’t know how to play the role according to the music of Wagner.

BD:    Then how do you play the role?

JC:    You play it as Wagner wrote it, as Wagner wanted it.  You do what he does, what he wanted.

BD:    So Wagner then is painting only certain sides of the figure?

JC:    What librettist doesn’t take liberties?  They all do.  Even the Italians did... look at Othello.  Everybody takes what they can use and what music they can write for it.  Wagner could have put more into Tristan.  I once ran into a stage director and he said that the tag und nacht musik — the day and night music — is mostly instrumental because it’s just repetitive of what’s been going on and what’s going on still, so they cut it.  Another one of the stage directors said, “It’s become like a family quarrel.”  Now how can you use a family quarrel with the music that Wagner wrote for the tag und nacht?  They don’t match.

BD:    He was in the wrong opera.  The family quarrel is in Walküre.  [Both laugh]

JC:    Yes, exactly.  It’s too beautiful.  I never heard a family quarrel that was beautiful.

BD:    How do you feel about cuts in Wagner?

JC:    There are traditional cuts, and of course some of these cuts he did himself.  The cut in Act III of Lohengrin he did himself.  He cut that because it doesn’t add to the dramaturgy.  When I did Lohengrin in Bayreuth, we tried to put back the cut and we found that it didn’t work.  It just does not work.  It’s just holding up the whole works, so we ended up just putting portions of it in.  We could have actually done the original cut as traditionally done.

BD:    What about something like Siegfried?  Do you ever cut just because it’s too long?

JC:    Some countries do, such as Spain.  The only cuts that you usually would have in Siegfried would be in the Wanderer-Siegfried scene.  You can do that because everything’s been said there anyhow.  It’s just repetition.  But I've done it both ways and I’ve done Tristan both ways.  The tendency right now with the new staging directors is they want the whole thing and the kitchen sink!  They want to even stage the overtures.  That’s the general way it is.  I started with Götz Friedrich in Bayreuth staging everything, which makes a singer into a mimic without singing and turns him into a figure running around the stage like a chicken with his head cut off for no reason.  You cannot express like that and it leaves people wondering, “What’s he doing up there?”  Actually he has no business there anyhow.  It wasn’t meant to be that way.

BD:    Tell me a bit about the character of Walther von Stolzing.

JC:    That’s strictly straightforward.  That’s one of the simplest roles of all.  It is traditional even today in Germany that the first son is the one who inherits the position of the father.  The younger sons have to go out and do other things, and that’s what that amounts to.  That he could sing was just a sort of a farce, actually.  He’s just trying to do something.  He’s bluffing, is what it is.  It’s one big bluff from him.  He only does it to play.  He’s trying to bluff in order to win Eva.  It’s the way it’s built, according to the families and so forth.  It’s very basic, and it’s just as basic today in Germany.

BD:    Did Richard Strauss write similarly to the way Wagner wrote in terms of the tenor voice?

JC:    No, he did not.  He did not like tenors.  Strauss never liked a tenor
— look at the things he wrote for a tenor.

BD:    And yet it has to be the same kind of voice that sings both sets of roles.

JC:    Yes.  [In a matter-of-fact tone]  Most of Strauss I’ve sung.

BD:    You don’t sound very happy about that.

JC:    No, I’m not, because it’s a thankless job.  If you look at Bacchus in Ariadne, he sings at the last minute a little bitty ditty duet with Ariadne after everybody’s wiped up the whole audience with Zerbinetta or the Composer.  And look at the Matteo in Arabella — the forgotten man on stage
very difficult stuff to sing but not appreciated at all.  They’re thankless roles.  The best role he wrote was Apollo in Daphne.  That’s the reason I decided to become a Wagner singer, from singing that role.  If you can sing that role as it’s written, without taking the top notes down like some people have to, then you can sing Wagner.  That’s what made me decide to sing Wagner — the role of Apollo.

BD:    Well, if you hadn’t sung the role of Apollo, would you still be singing Don Jose and Otello?

JC:    Yes.  I still do.

BD:    I mean exclusively, without the Wagner?

JC:    I'm talking about the heavy Wagner.  I’m not talking about Lohengrin or Erik or Meistersinger or Parsifal or even Tannhäuser.  I’m talking about the Siegfrieds and Tristan.  Well, even Tannhäuser is in that category, although Tannhäuser is not for a high tenor and is not as difficult Apollo.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Do you have any special recollections of singing here in Chicago?

JC:    Yes.  My last Ring there was in 1974.  Anna Reynolds was there, also Birgit Nilsson and Berit Lindholm.  We had Jeanine Altmeyer on the scene with Gutrune and Donald McIntyre as Gunther
all the nice friends there.  Yes, I remember it very much so.  I enjoyed singing in Chicago.

BD:    You’re married to Anna Reynolds, so was it special to sing performances where she is also performing?

coxJC:    Yes, we sang many times together in Bayreuth when she was Fricka and Waltraute, and I was singing the other roles.  She was also singing Magdalena in Meistersinger when I was singing Stolzing, and she did Brangane when I did Tristan.  We did that in Bordeaux.  So we have sung a little bit together.

BD:    Now it’s nice that you can spend your life together passing your experience along to the next generation.

JC:    Yes, we love it.

BD:    Are you pleased with what you hear coming out of the throats of the younger generation?

JC:    No.

BD:    Not at all???

JC:    Well, some of it, yes.  We’re hearing beautiful voices, but we’re seeing beautiful voices being ruined, too.  Everybody is in too big a hurry.  As Max Lorenz said, “Weniger ist mehr. [Less is more.]”  The less you do, the better you are, and even he believed in that.  So that’s one of our main statements.  I have a colleague in Germany from way back a few years, helden baritone Heinz Imdahl.  We did a lot of operas together.  We started out singing together in Hoffmann and ended up in our later years
he did the Wanderer and Sachs, and I did Siegfried and Stolzing.  He would say that we used to see more singers come over from America who ended up not in a learning position or in a beginning house, but at the very top.  Then all of a sudden they would just disappear.  He said, “Those are the disappearing ones.  They come, they sing and they disappear.  We’ve had many people do that.

BD:    So the training you give the singers encourages a much longer career?

JC:    Yes.  What we do is extend their voices and extend their singing at least ‘til they get ready to quit on their own, not because they have to.  That’s what we do
or at least that’s our goalif they can do it, if they can absorb it and can understand it and translate it into their known need.  A singer can’t be completely stupid.  He’s not just a piece of putty, you know.  He's not just a piece of mud that you can shape into something.  He’s got to have a little brains of his own, and he certainly has to have a character and a charisma of his own.  But if he’s got the charisma and he has the technique and he wants to work and he can do the discipline that’s necessary, then he can do it.  It’s left up to them.

BD:    I hope you have lots of success with the singers that come to you.

JC:    Up to this point we’ve been very happy, and I think we’ve been quite useful.  Everyone we’ve had up to this date has always come back and always kept in touch.  As we say if you can get something from anyone, you can get something from even the worst singers.  From the worst teachers you can get something that you can use
if you’re smart enough to do it or know what you want.

BD:    That’s the thing
the singer has to be smart enough to know what to do with it.

JC:    It’s important; you have to know what you need.  If you don’t know what you want and how you need it and what you need, then you’re in pretty bad shape yourself before you even start.  You’re not just an automaton there; you’re not a robot.   That’s what I say.  That’s one of the prerequisites.  We have people that come to us that don’t absorb what we’d like them to do
at least at the moment that you’re teaching it to them.  They go back and work on it on their own ‘til they find out or try to find out what it is that’s necessary.  Then when they come back, you see the difference immediately.

BD:    That’s encouraging!

JC:    Yes, it is.  It’s very encouraging.  We have some that try our nerves in the sense that they always come back and do the same wrong thing over.

BD:    Do you encourage those people to become accountants and secretaries?

JC:    No, we do not discourage anyone.  We do not discourage any singer.  We don’t play God because in this business you do not play God.  Think of the singers that have made it that have first been turned down by little directors who say, “I’m sorry you’re not the right material and you don’t have the right voices.”  Placido was one of them, and quite a few other singers that have been turned down in houses.  Fritz Wunderlich was fired from Stuttgart because he wasn't considered good enough by the director of the house. 

BD:    [Laughs, very surprised]  Oh my!

JC:    You can laugh, but that’s true.  That’s the reason I say you do not play God in the business.  You encourage as long as the encouragement is appropriate unless, because of certain extraneous conditions, it is not correct
like the age that they start.  You have to keep in mind that because of your age and the position you are at your age and the knowledge that you have at your age, that you probably will not be able to make a career.  We’re very honest about that.

BD:    If you just get started too late?

JC:    If you got started too late.  But it depends.  If you have a huge big voice, the later you start the better you are.  So that’s the reason you can’t play God in this business.  You encourage and you say, “It’s up to you if you think you can do it and you have the means and you want to work and you insist on doing it.”  If you don’t have the material — if you don’t have the voice you don’t have any drive we say, “Ten percent talent and ninety percent work is what’s necessary.”  In many cases it works beautifully, but you’ve got to really want it.  There are people who want to be singers, but wanting is not doing it.  You've got to work at it.

BD:    Then the work will eventually pay off?

JC:    Yes, if it’s well directed.

BD:    This has been absolutely fascinating speaking with you.  I really appreciate your taking the time from a busy schedule.

JC:    Well, it’s my pleasure.  We just arrived today from Philadelphia where I got the award from the AVA there.

BD:    The Academy of Vocal Arts, yes.

JC:    I entered into their Hall of Fame for recognition as an American singer who has accomplished what I accomplished, and for singing so much in Bayreuth.

BD:    It’s certainly well deserved.

JC:    A lot more American singers deserve it too, when I think about how many American colleagues I have over there.  Jimmy King was there last night also.  [See my Interview with James King.] 

[At this point they had to leave for a dinner engagement, but I did speak very briefly with with Anna Reynolds and arranged for a full interview the following night.


BD:    Might it be possible for me to have a chat with Miss Reynolds whilst she’s there?

JC:    I’d have to check, but just a minute...  [Asks her about it]  Yes, she’d love to. 

BD:    Perhaps I could call tomorrow or later in the week to do a full interview? 

JC:    Why don’t you ask her directly!  [Gives her the phone]

Anna Reynolds:    Hello?  You must be Mr. Duffie, right?

BD:    That’s right. 

AR:    I’ve been listening to one half of the conversation and was somewhat consternated by one or two things Jean said.  I must put you right on this ‘screaming bit’, for if you quote him on that, I think we will never get any more students to come to us!  You know what I mean with a baby?  Jean and I talked about this.  It’s not so much the shouting; that’s a very different matter.   A baby screams sometimes from crossness, but just as often in a sort of squeal of delight.  That’s what I’m really getting at, this going back to the primitive quality of the voice, which after all goes back thousands and thousands of years.  We often refine it too much in the sense that we put the cart before the horse.  We put an awful lot of ‘art’ and ‘Kunst’ and everything else without getting the voice itself really established.

[We then quickly negotiated back and forth to find a mutually convenient time for the second phone call.  She was concerned about the cost I would bear, but I assured her that the time we selected was comparatively inexpensive for me.  She also cautioned me that her responses might be a bit repetitive because she and Jean think so much alike.  What follows is that conversation.


Mezzo-Soprano Anna Reynolds

Born:  June 5, 1930  [Other dates listed elsewhere are incorrect] - Canterbury, England
Died: February 24, 2014 - Peesten, Markt-Kasendorf, Bavaria, Germany

reynoldsThe English mezzo-soprano, Anna (born as Ann) Reynolds, studied piano as a girl. It was to train as a pianist that she went to London to attend the Royal Academy of Music. While she was there, her vocal talent became clear, and she changed her area of study to voice. She went to Rome to continue her voice studies with Debora Fambri and Re Koster. It was at this time that she adopted the name Anna.

Reynolds made her operatic debut in Parma in 1960 as Suzuki in Puccini's Madama Butterfly. Subsequently she sang in Vicenza (1961), Rome (1964), Spoleto (1966), Trieste (1967), and Venice (1969), and at La Scala in Milan (1967).

Reynolds' British debut was in Glyndebourne in 1962 as Geneviève in Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande [photo at right in production at La Scala in 1976]. She scored another major success in her home country in 1963, when she sang the part of the Angel in Edward Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius in London under the direction of Sir John Barbirolli in 1963. She made her first appearance at Covent Garden in London in 1967 as Adelaide in Strauss' Arabella. Another major Covent Garden success was her portrayal of Andromache in Tippett's King Priam.

Anna Reynolds’ Italian career continued to develop. In it she showed a great range of technique and style. Among her roles were Charlotte in Massenet's Werther, Elizabeth I in Donizetti's Maria Stuarda, Rossini's Tancredi, Adelaide in Strauss' Arabella, and Dido in Purcell's Dido and Aeneas. She made her Metropolitan debut in New York in November 1968 as Flosshilde in Das Rheingold, and returned there in 1975. She made her first appearance at Bayreuth in 1970 as Fricka in Die Walküre. She continued to sing annually at Bayreuth through 1976. Also in 1970 she made her first appearance in the Salzburg Festival, and there she sang in the famous Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen conducted by Herbert von Karajan. She also sang widely as a concert artist and recitalist.

Some of Reynolds' most important recordings document her effectiveness in the concert and recital repertory, including Bach cantatas, Schumann songs, participation in Leonard Bernstein's pioneering traversal of the complete Gustav Mahler symphonies, and, especially, Das Lied von de Erde and other G. Mahler songs. She participated in the premiere performances of the debut work by young British composer John Tavener, The Whale, and sang on its commercial LP release, the only classical release on The Beatles' own label, Apple Records.


BD:    You made it clear yesterday that you were not pleased about the word ‘screaming’.

AR:    Let me try and put this right.  There is a teacher called Oren Brown.  He’s a great man.  He’s an old man now, in his late seventies, and he purports that the singing voice comes, as it were, from the cry of a child.  I’ve heard this on more than one instance from people and have seen it in some books.  If you imitate the cry of a child, refine upon it, develop it – that is your singing voice, rather than all this shouting that goes on.  A scream is not necessarily loud.  I’d do it better if I could see you!  I can’t really start screaming at you over the phone.

BD:    Am I correct in thinking that when you talk about screaming, though, you are talking more about breath support than about the actual tone production?

reynoldsAR:    Well, they go together; they hang in there.  Take, for example, the scream that Kundry gives when she wakes up in the second act of Parsifal.  That can be an ear-shattering experience because it is a primitive scream that she gives. The other one is the Brünnhilde scream when Siegfried takes the ring off her finger.  I’ve heard Brünnhildes and Kundrys give better sounds on those two screams than they did in the whole rest of the opera.  It’s an interesting thought because then when they start to sing they get the wobble.  They get the push and the drive instead of just a normal, natural sound.  We teach people how to do this correctly.  This does not happen with everybody obviously, because some people don’t need it.  You have to develop your teaching for the person you are teaching.  You can’t use a ‘method’ as such.  That’s what we feel.  You adapt for every single person you teach psychologically, vocally, in every way.

BD:    So you look for what each person can bring to it, and then develop that?

AR:    We look, more than anything, for what that person needs.  I look for what each person needs from me and I try to give that.  Some people need rougher treatment than others; some need to be coaxed along; some need to be slightly ‘bullied’ psychologically!  We have to be psychologists as well as singing teachers!  [Both laugh]  We really do!  I’m not kidding!  There are some teachers who treat everybody alike, with the result that they just don’t get on with everybody.  So far I have managed, with two exceptions, to help everybody I’ve taught.  And the two that didn’t, I was bothered about for while but then I thought to myself it’s not possible for every person to be successful with every singer that you have.

BD:    How is it that a young singer knows he or she has the right teacher?

AR:    It sort of clicks within the first lesson or two.  If the person likes you and gets on with you and there’s a rapport – because a lot of it depends on the personal rapport between two people.  I’m fortunate in being a Gemini.  That means I get on with just about anybody.  [Laughs]  I’m a very adaptable person.  I’m also a person who believes strongly in encouragement as well as criticism.  I do not like the people who only criticize and tell everybody what’s wrong!  I also like to tell them what’s right.  I think it’s terribly important for them.  People get that feel of, ‘Right, I didn’t something good for a change’!  It’s not always wrong.  The teacher should not just be there to criticize.  You have so many teachers here in the United States.  You can go from one to the other and just sort out which one you’d like to be with.  Over in Germany it is very hard to find a good teacher.  I don’t like to blow my own trumpet, but I am swamped with people because they do not find what they want.  I could teach all night if I had the energy, but I don’t.  I try to limit my time as I’d wear myself out otherwise.  In the Hochschule, in the conservatories in Germany, it really is catastrophic what goes on.  I have students who come to me from the conservatories.  They get it for free in the conservatories over there, and yet they come and pay good money to me because they are simply not getting what they want.  So it’s a really rather bad situation for the Germans, which is why the Americans walk in
because they are better prepared.  Often they have better voices.  They have a little bit more savoir-faire.   They come in and take the jobs!  And who can blame the theaters for taking them?  They are very well trained, the Americans.  I like it a lot what goes on over here.  You’re very lucky that you have such talent and you have such good teachers over here.

BD:    There’s a multitude of teachers but there not all very good teachers.

AR:    No, that’s true too, they’re not all good.  Some of them are big names, and the big names don’t necessarily teach well.  Unfortunately a young student doesn’t know any better, and they think [name redacted at Miss Reynolds
’ request] must be great with a fabulous name.  I just mention this one.  I’ve never met the lady but I’ve heard from one or two people she is, well, let us say, a little disastrous sometimes.  But I really do think that American singers are well prepared   Not only that, they know what they’re doing when they come to auditions.  They have their brochures all ready.  They have their print-outs.  They have their repertoire set down. Everything is well organized.  The Germans don’t do that.  I have to ‘bully’ them into it sometimes.

reynoldsBD:    Is there any chance that we’re putting too much emphasis on the PR aspect, and not enough on the artistic aspect?

AR:    Ah, no!  Today, I’m afraid, the PR aspect is what gets you places.  You have only to look around at who is singing places.  Look for one thing
and you can quote me on this – the disastrous singing of Peter Hofmann.  You probably feel the same way about it as I do

BD:    He was sort of the great, blonde hope.

AR:    Twelve or thirteen years ago he was the great, blonde hope of Germany, but then he went rapidly down the drain, accentuated by his idiotic rock singing.  It is a travesty of the artist’s singing.

BD:    Then why does he still getting hired?

AR:    He doesn’t keep getting hired.  He’s on the way down now.  He’s on the way out, fortunately, but why did he get where he was?  Because of the PR work!   His brother is a fantastic PR man.  His name and his picture are in every woman’s magazine all over in Germany.  He is big name, and that’s the sort of thing he does.   [Pauses a moment]  You asked me about kids and whether they have on too much emphasis on PR, and I say, no!  I think it’s right.  It is, after all, part of their job, being prepared and having the right PR treatment.  I don’t say you must neglect the artistic side!  Heavens above, no!!  But the PR stuff, the commercial aspect of it cannot be ignored because we’re in a commercial society.  Unfortunately it’s a throw-away society too, and in Germany they hire singers, wear them out and throw them out and then they get more.  There’s plenty more.  There’s always plenty more!  It’s like a cattle market over there.  In the fall, round about September it starts.  Auditions go on from September till Christmas, usually, and sometimes even longer for the following season.  The agents are all there, all auditioning; theaters are all auditioning; everybody’s calling out which bull or cow they will take for the following season.  It’s really rather horrid in a way.   These kids go for these auditions; crowds of people, not enough time to warm up.  You sit around for an hour or two hours with your voice getting cold.  It’s the sort of thing where the Americans show up well because they are totally prepared for this.

BD:    ‘The show must go on’ syndrome?

AR:    Yes.  You’ve got to have a certain amount of sangfroid as well as the savoir-faire, to use a little more French!

BD:    Is there any hope that the great singers will come to the top and yet not be abused, or not let themselves be abused?

AR:    That is another thing that bothers me considerably.  I recently just heard a very, very beautiful mezzo-soprano who’s twenty-four years old, and I would worry very much if I didn’t think she had a certain inner strength.  If you’ve got that, if you have what some people may say is a religious faith or an inner strength or a poise that will not be swayed by too much adulation, then you might get to the top without being ruined.  But there’s so many who have gone under.  Do you know the name, Sylvia Sass?

BD:    Yes, of course.

AR:    She was a great hope, and she went rapidly down the drain.  Some people do this through their own fault.  Some people live it up rather a lot, and go to parties and smoke and do things like that.  They’re not going to get very far.

BD:    So what is the secret to the long career?

AR:    Take it step by step; make it slowly.  Don’t be tempted to do the things too quickly, to do the heavier parts too soon.  Don’t be tempted to jet over to Europe and sing the next night, or vice versa, or over to America and sing the next night.  I did that once myself, mind you, but that was a concert and it was not an opera, and it wasn’t so bad.

BD:    Presumably anyone can get away with it once in awhile?

AR:    Oh yes, and when you’re young!  But there comes a time, usually around the middle-thirties, when something else goes wrong.  You haven’t any longer quite got the resilience you once had, and you may not have the technique perfect.  Nobody has a perfect technique, let’s face it.   Not even the greatest people have a perfect technique.  They couldn’t.  Nothing is perfect in art.  We’re all striving for perfection, but something starts to go wrong, and then all of a sudden your technique deserts you and you start to wonder, ‘O God, what am I doing?’  You get a cold and you’re tired, and you’re voice doesn’t respond anymore.  That’s when the people start coming to me!  [Both laugh]  I’m a more of a repairer of voices than a builder.  I don’t take beginners. 

BD:    So then you put it right?

AR:    Well, I try to, and I have helped a lot of people to get back on the right, the ‘straight and narrow’, as you might say, which is really rather nice!

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Let us talk of a few roles.  Earlier you mentioned Kundry, so I assume that you’ve sung the role?

reynoldsAR:    I never did.  No, I was not a dramatic mezzo.  I was, in a way, a little more sensible than some of my colleagues who rushed like a Gadarene swine into the dramatic fach and thereby ruined their voices.  There is one particular example, Agnes Baltsa.  She is a wonderful lyric mezzo-soprano, but she’s gone into the heavy stuff and the voice is not what it was.  I don’t know what age she is, but that’s only one example.  No, I only did the Frickas, the Waltraute in Götterdämmerung and the Second Norn, and I did Magdalene in Meistersinger.  Oh, and I did Brangäne.

BD:    Tell me a bit about Fricka.

AR:    She can be a fishwife, but I try to make her not!  I try to give her dignity.  After all, she is a goddess of a sort, and has the basic sadness of a woman scorned, a woman neglected.  It’s a wonderful role.  It’s rather fun to do in a way because you’re there on the stage for twenty-minutes and then you’re off home!  [Laughs]

BD:    That’s the Walküre Fricka.

AR:    That’s right.  The Rhinegold Fricka leaves you less opportunity really because you sit around or stand around for a couple of hours, and you have one sentence to sing every twenty minutes.  You don’t really ever get very warmed up.  It’s a little awkward that part, and a lot of people don’t like to do it.  I didn’t mind.  I rather enjoyed it, I must say.  I particularly enjoyed the time I had to take over here in New York at the Met.  I was doing Third Rhinemaiden in the famous Karajan production of 1968 for my first visit to America.  Josephine Veasey was sick one evening and I was her cover as Fricka.   I was going to go on and that was fine, but Karajan also insisted that I sing not only Fricka, but my Rhine Maiden as well.  If you know your Rhinegold, you will know there’s precisely thirty seconds between the one scene and the next.  So while we were in our cavern still singing, I was getting out of my costume and wig and getting into the Fricka costume.  My heart was pounding, or so I thought.  It was a Saturday broadcast incidentally, and I became very slightly famous over night.  A lot of people remember that occasion, which was rather fun.

BD:    How did you handle the final scene when you’re still on stage as Fricka and you have to sing also as a Rheinmaiden?

AR:    [Laughs]  Well, I couldn’t do that.  They did get someone else to sing that, but it was off-stage and it didn’t matter so much.  Then I did the Ring proper as Fricka in 1975 when Leinsdorf took over the same production.   [See my Interviews with Erich Leinsdorf.]  Then I did the Frickas and the Waltrautes.  I alternated them with Mignon Dunn at that time.  That was the only two times I appeared here at the Met, but they were fun.  They were really fun.  The first time of course was under Bing.  I remember very well being so impressed, because the first afternoon I arrived for a rehearsal on stage, I was standing around not knowing anybody and wondering where I was meant to be.  A very tall distinguished gentleman came up to me and said, ‘Good afternoon, Miss Reynolds.  Welcome to the Met.  My name is Rudolf Bing’.  Now that impressed me!  All the years I sang at Covent Garden – I did quite a lot of things there – I never for once even met David Webster, much less did he say to me, ‘Welcome to Covent Garden!’  Ha!  I thought that was good of Bing.  A lot of nasty things have been said about Bing, but I think he was a great man, I really do.  He was a fabulous impresario, he knew his stuff.  Coming back to the characters, Waltraute was my favorite.

BD:    Favorite of everything or favorite Wagner?

AR:    No, favorite.  The music is so beautiful; you can’t go wrong with Waltraute – at least I don’t think you can.  It is such a sympathetic role.  It’s a little bit like Sieglinde.  You can’t go wrong there either.  People always would applaud Sieglindes and always applaud Waltrautes, and even always applaud Mimes too because everybody likes the under-dog, you know!  I love Waltraute.  Again, a despairing character in a way, but full of warmth, full of dignity.

BD:    Does she really think that she can talk Brünnhilde into giving back the ring?

AR:    Obviously she must.  She wouldn’t have braved all that fire and brimstone and whatever else!

BD:    She doesn’t think it’s a forlorn hope?

reynoldsAR:    I wouldn’t think so, no!  She begs her to give it up, and she has no conception of human love, remember.  This human love is, to the Valkyries, completely unknown, and when Brünnhilde prattles on about being in love with Siegfried, she’s just completely puzzled.   She doesn’t understand that somebody would put this love before the duty to Wotan and the Gods.  So I think she did hope that she’d get it back.  But of course, if only she had, we’d have been spared a lot of trouble, wouldn’t we?  [Both laugh]

BD:    And we all could have gone home at the end of that scene!

AR:    That’s right!  [Laughs]  The other part I adored was Magdalene in Meistersinger.  Oh, sheer heaven!  I had a ball from beginning to end! 

BD:    How old is she?

AR:    Difficult to say.  I’d put her at sort of late twenties.

BD:    So she’s older than David?

AR:    Yes, she’s older than David.  He’s only about eighteen!  But she can’t be that old or he wouldn’t be in love with her.  Very often they take these aging altos who come along with their boomy voices, and it’s so unlikely that David would be in love with her!

BD:    So what does Magdalena see in David?

AR:    [Hesitates slightly]  Well, I daren’t ask you that, but often older women like young men!  She’s not that old; she’s maybe ten years older than he is.  Maybe she’s a little on the shelf; after all, she didn’t get a husband, and now this David comes along and he’s fallen in love with her.  So all’s fine and dandy!   But it’s such a sympathetic part.  It’s such fun to do that it is really my favorite opera I think.  I just love it!  You have a wonderful time all evening!   Another part I adored was, strangely enough, another Meg, in Falstaff of Verdi.  Then you have a complete ball the whole evening

BD:    [Laughs and starts singing
Reverenza!’, which is the wrong part!]

AR:    No, no, that’s Quickly!

BD:    [Mildly embarassed]  Oh, that’s right!  I’m sorry! 

AR:    I didn’t sing Quickly.  I didn’t have the deep voice for that.  I sang the part of Meg, which was a spit and a cough, really, as she didn’t have much to do.  But it was such fun.  I did it in Aix-en-Provence years ago.

BD:    Coming back to Magdalene then, have she and David been roaming around in the hay a lot?

AR:    [Thinks a moment]  To be honest, I never really got that far in my thoughts about it.  I don’t think so.  No, I don’t think so.  I think it’s rather pure.

BD:    That’s too bad!  [Both laugh]

AR:    Yes, I never really thought of it as any kind of pornographic stuff, no, no!

BD:    No, not really pornographic...  It might have been just having fun and not really worrying about consequences.

AR:    Well, I don’t know.  They were awfully pleased when he got made a Geselle [journeyman].  That meant they really could begin to court each other properly.  There was some hope that they might get married within the next few years.  [Both chuckle]  Even in those days people did wait a long time to get married.  It’s a bit of Jacob and Rebecca stuff; wait a long time.  You waited until you could afford to have a wife.  Now you don’t anymore!

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    L
et’s go on to Brangäne.  Tell me about her.

AR:    Well, I love that role too, I must say.  I really loved it.  It took me three years to learn it.  The first time I tried it out was in 1971 in Bayreuth with one of the coaches.  I couldn’t even get to the end of the first act without running out of voice and everything else.  So I said, ‘I can’t do it – it’s too high, too difficult.’  However, the second year I was in Bayreuth, in ’73, I tried it again and it was a little bit easier.  Finally I said, ‘Okay, I will do it!’  I was asked to do it in Bordeaux, and I did.  It was the one and only time because after that I was never asked to do it again.  I don’t know, just one of these things.  So I really cherished that time.  It’s a beautiful part, although we have a horrible production in Mannheim where Jean is engaged.  It is a perfectly horrid production where Brangäne is made to pan a lesbian relationship with Isolde, if you please.  She has a hump; she has her hair tied back in a horrid knot; she wears an old man’s overcoat.  It really is dreadful.

BD:    So she’s rather butch?

AR:    She’s sort of butch, and she goes round hugging Isolde’s cloak.  It is really sort of sick.  I hate it when those... [pauses]  We have such dreadful producers over there.  The productions are crazy.  They go mad!

BD:    Did they do the same kind of thing with Kurwenal
– make him sort of a homosexual with Tristan?

AR:    No, no.  Thank goodness he didn’t go that far, no.    He could well have, but I suppose he stopped short of that.  He thought it might be little bit too ridiculous, possibly.  It was really rather unpleasant.  I didn’t like it at all. 

BD:    Should there, perhaps in a good production, be any kind of relationship between Brangäne and Kurwenal? 

AR:    No!

BD:    None whatsoever?

AR:    No, because Kurwenal didn’t like Brangäne.  He didn’t like anybody who got in the way of his master.  At the end of the last act he sort of bars her way to get to Isolde, but she does get to Isolde.

BD:    What happens to Brangäne after Isolde has gone?

AR:    The original story was that she went and slept with King Marke so that the absence wasn’t noticed.  The old man was rather blind, I suppose, and that’s what the story was in the old saga.  Wagner doesn’t touch on that.  So maybe she went and consoled him, very likely.  I don’t know whether she would have become his queen but perhaps she was his concubine.

BD:    Did you enjoy being a mezzo, or did you ever have any wish that you were a soprano?

AR:    No, not really.  I always wanted to be a mezzo; never wanted to be a soprano.  In fact, once I went to a teacher in Italy who said, ‘You’re not a mezzo, you’re a soprano!’  So I said, ‘Thank you very much’ and went out!  There were certain things I would loved to have sung – things like Strauss’ Four Last Songs, which no mezzo can do.  Those are beautiful, beautiful songs.  And then I think of the part of Traviata, for example.  I’d loved to have done Traviata.  It’s such gorgeous role.  There are one or two things like that, but mostly no, because there is such a wonderful, rich repertoire of music for the mezzo.  All the Mahler is much better sung by a mezzo, and Brahms, too.

BD:    Do you sing some contemporary works?

AR:    Oh sure!  Yes, I did quite a bit.  I did some Henze; I even recorded some Henze!  [See my Interview with Hans Werner Henze.]  And I did some idiotic thing called The Whale by John Taverner
did a recording of that too!  I did some Schoenberg including the Gurrelieder – that’s recorded.

BD:    Are you pleased with the recordings you made?

AR:    Yes, for most part, particularly of the Bach that I did.

BD:    Tell me the secret to singing Bach!

reynoldsAR:    The secret to singing Bach?  [Pauses a moment]  Simplicity; fidelity to the texts and the phrase.  But simplicity, not trying to be ‘artsy-fartsy’, as we say.  You know what I mean?  In those days they did sing. They did make music with the utmost simplicity, and I like that.  There’s a trend today with Bach to make it terribly ‘baroque’ and rather dancey and sort of jolly, and tripping along and a bit four-squared
this is Germany, at any rate.  I’m doing a Bach course in a couple of weeks’ time after Easter in Stuttgart with Helmut Rilling.  He’s asked me to do a course there on Bach and CPE Bach, of whom I know absolutely nothing!  I’m going to have to mull it up a bit!  [Laughs]  No, I love, love Bach.  I think my most happy occasions were with Karl Richter.  We had a wonderful rapport.  We never needed to rehearse hardly.  Just by a look or a gesture I knew, in fact, what he wanted.   We knew each other musically so well.  It was a wonderful time when I worked with him.  I came over here with him too in ’72.  We did all the Bach stuff.  It was lovely.  Now I think they were my most successful recordings, although that Gurrelieder one was rather good. That was with David Atherton.  It’s a record of all the chamber works of Schoenberg.  He made a chamber music version of the Waldtaube’s song [Song of the Wood Dove] from the Gurrelieder.  It was one of my last recordings.  It was quite a good one, I must say!  There’s one lieder recording of mine, and there’s a Dvořák Requiem and there’s Monteverdi disc.

BD:    Quite a range of things!

AR:    Yes.  I was fortunate that I was never ‘fest-engagiert’ [firmly committed] in an opera house.  I was sort of all over the place doing all kinds of different music from very early to very late, going through the whole of the romantic stuff as well, and Italian opera to a certain extent.  I sang Amneris once, but I never did Eboli.  I’m very happy with what I did.   There were a couple of parts I didn’t do which I would like to have done.  One’s Octavian in the Rosenkavalier, and the other one is the Orpheus of Gluck.  It never came.  I never had an offer for them.  So, just one of those things.

BD:    [Noticing the time, which has gone by too quickly]  It’s a been lovely talking with you!  I’m so glad we were able to get together at least a little bit.

AR:    Well, I am too.  That’s very nice.



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© 1988 Bruce Duffie

The interview with Jean Cox was recorded on the telephone on March 13, 1988.  It was transcribed and published in Wagner News in January, 1992.  Portions were also used (with recordings) on WNIB in 1990 and 1997.  The transcription was re-edited, photos and links were added, and it was posted on this website on the first day of 2013.

The interview with Anna Reynolds was recorded on the telephone on March 14, 1988.  Portions were used on WNIB in 1990 and 1996.  The transcription was made and added to this page in March of 2014.  My thanks to the British soprano Una Barry, a student and close friend of Miss Reynolds, for her help in this part of the 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.