Mezzo - Soprano  Diane  Curry

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


Diane Curry (February 26, 1938 - November, 2016) was an American operatic mezzo-soprano who was particularly known for her performances of the works of Richard Strauss, Richard Wagner, and Giuseppe Verdi. She was notably the mezzo-soprano soloist on the 1987 recording of Verdi's Requiem by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra & Chorus and conductor Robert Shaw which won the 1988 Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance.


See my interviews with Susan Dunn, Jerry Hadley, and Paul Plishka

The daughter of Frances and Ashton Curry, Diane studied vocal music at Westminster Choir College where she graduated with a B.M. in Music (1960) and a M.M. in Music (1961). She spent the next decade teaching on the voice faculties at Westminster and at the University of Delaware. She sang with the Goldovsky Opera Theater, Chautauqua Opera, Philadelphia Opera and others before joining the roster of artists at the New York City Opera where she performed regularly from 1972 to 1981. Roles she performed with the NYCO included Annina in Der Rosenkavalier, Berta in The Barber of Seville, Emma Jones in Street Scene, Enrichetta in I puritani, Magdalena in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Mamma Lucia in Cavalleria rusticana, Mary in The Flying Dutchman, Neris in Médée, Olga in Eugene Onegin, the Second Lady in The Magic Flute, Suzuki in Madama Butterfly, and the title role in Carmen among others, as well as the NYCO premieres of Henze’s Young Lord (Frau von Hoofnail, 1973), I Puritani (Enrichetta, 1974), Die Tote Stadt (Brigitta, 1975) and ll Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria (La Fortuna, 1976).

In 1976 Curry created the role of Mildred in the world premiere of Gian Carlo Menotti's The Hero at the Opera Company of Philadelphia. She subsequently returned to Philadelphia regularly through 1995, portraying Geneviève in Pelléas et Mélisande, Herodias in Salome, La Frugala in Il Tabarro, Mistress Quickly in Verdi's Falstaff, the Princess in Suor Angelica, and Zita in Gianni Schicchi.

In 1979 Curry made her debuts at the Opera Theater of Saint Louis as The Voice in Ottorino Respighi's Lucrezia, and as Madelon in Andrea Chénier at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. She subsequently returned to Chicago in the roles of Federica in Luisa Miller (1982), Katisha in The Mikado (1983), and La Cieca in La Gioconda (1987). From 1981 to 1986 she performed annually in Seattle Opera's first production of Wagner's The Ring Cycle under director Speight Jenkins, portraying Fricka in Das Rheingold and Die Walküre and Waltraute/Second Norn in Götterdämmerung.  [Performance photos shown below are from the two productions in various years.]

In 1989 Curry made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera as The Nurse in Strauss' Die Frau ohne Schatten under the baton of Christof Perick. She returned to the Met several more times, portraying the Innkeeper in Boris Godunov (1998), the Mother in Lulu (2001), the Housemaid in War and Peace (2002), and the Aunt in Jenůfa (2003). In 1990 she made her debut at the San Francisco Opera as Ulrica in Un ballo in maschera.

Curry has also performed in leading roles internationally, including performances at the Arena di Verona, Bavarian State Opera, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Hamburg State Opera, La Scala, Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, and the Paris Opera among others. In 1976 she made her debut at the Festival dei Due Mondi as Bianca in Benjamin Britten's The Rape of Lucretia. In 1982 she made her debut with the Canadian Opera Company as Mistress Quickly in Verdi's Falstaff.

In 1992 she made guest appearances at the Théâtre Châtelet in Paris as the mother in Dallapiccola's Il Prigioniero, and at the Marseille Opera again as the nurse in Frau ohne Schatten. In 1996 she sang Mère Marie in Poulenc's Dialogues des Carmélites (in a memorial performance for the late conductor Gianandrea Gavazzeni) at the Teatro Filarmonico in Bergamo. Her very extensive repertoire for the stage included roles such as Amneris in Aïda, Meg Page in Falstaff, Cieca and Laura in Ponchielli's La Gioconda, Frugola in Puccini's Il Tabarro, Zita in his Gianni Schicchi, Principessa in Suor Angelica, and Dalila in Samson et Dalila by Saint-Saëns.

==  Names which are links in this box and below refer to my interviews elsewhere on my website.  BD  

We met at the end of January of 1987, between performances of La Gioconda at Lyric Opera.  As we were settling in for our conversation, we spoke of some non-commercial recordings which were making the rounds.

Bruce Duffie:   Does it bother you to know that some of your performances have been pirated?

Diane Curry:   I suppose, but I don’t know that it does.  I never think about it during the performance.  Actually, I have a couple of recordings that somebody in the audience gave me, and I was glad to have them because I never think about having that done.  A lot of my colleagues live by the microphone, in terms of having things played for them.  They can listen to them later and study, but I never have the nerve to listen to it until about three or four years later.

BD:   Do you sing differently if the performance is being broadcast or telecast?

Curry:   No, I don’t think so.

BD:   You just try to ignore it?

Curry:   That’s what you do.  You just put it out of your mind, because if you think about that, you don’t think about what you’re doing, and then you don’t think about your performance.

BD:   Have you been involved in performances that have been telecast?
Curry:   Yes.

BD:   Do you think that opera works well on the tube?
Curry:   I think so, yes.  Opera works best in an opera house with an audience, but it works well enough on the tube to at least entice people to opera houses.  We all look very strange when we’re singing sometimes, and when the camera hones in on us, you see strange pictures.  You think that you don’t do that, but of course you do.  It’s not noticed from the audience.  One nice thing about audiences in theaters is the distance-factor.  But televising operas is a very good idea, especially in America, because it brings an audience to opera that would never go inside the opera house.  We’re not all that culturally adventurous, and if someone says ‘opera’, it seems too highfalutin, and then someone may not go.  But if they hear it or see it, they can get hooked.

BD:   Is opera highfalutin?

Curry:   Oh, I don’t think so! [Both laugh]

BD:   [With a gentle nudge]  Even Wagner?

Curry:   [Laughs]  No, I don’t think so.

BD:   Is there a big difference between Wagner and the Italian school?

Curry:   Opera is opera.  Wagner was a complete innovator, more so than even Verdi or the verismo composers like Mascagni and Giordano.  They had spoken drama set to music, with the music really expressing the turmoil of the text that’s going on.  The Germans are great for the inner feelings that are expressed behind sometimes very placid words, whereas the Italians are the complete opposite of that.  They may say very powerful words, and very powerful emotions are coming out through those words.  But that’s a whole big discussion on musicality.

BD:   Do you get involved in the musicological aspects of the operas you sing?

Curry:   No, not really.  I used to teach musicology on the college level, but I don’t think that has anything to do with performance.  You do all of this advanced work, and study this, or study that, but the main thing is what the text means to you, and how you express the text, as well as what it does to your character.  Anything you can do to enhance your sense of personality as the character is a help.  The only value of musicology to a performer is that musicologists can keep historical things in their minds, and they’re there for you to ask if you need to know.  This could involve things like which way do you do a turn in a Schubert song, if you have an appoggiatura.

BD:   Is there anything that can or should be done musicologically to bring operas of the nineteenth century to audiences in the late twentieth century?

Curry:   I don’t know that there is.  It depends... if people are interested in the structure and history of music, they’re going to find that out on their own, but they’re first brought to the music itself, to the sounds and feelings those sounds produce.  A basic audience maybe wouldn’t be interested in musicology at all.  Perhaps some individuals would, but I really don’t see that as of any great value.

BD:   Do the musicologists get bogged down in details too much?

Curry:   Maybe they do.  I don’t want to get into hot water here, but musicologists seem to miss the idea that music is something that one has to experience.  It’s there on paper, and no matter what one studies about form, it’s still there.  It exists, and what a performer has to do is breathe life into it, because on paper it’s not alive.  Musicology is like the archives.  It’s the historical reference.  It has nothing to do with breathing the actual life into it.

BD:   I’ve never met a performer who’s actually been on both sides of the musicological fence
teaching it in the classroom situation, and yet performing it in the public arena.  Why did you get out of the one and into the other?

Curry:   I was a college teacher, and that’s what I wanted to do.  I also wanted to sing some oratorios on the side, and I also taught voice.  The voice is my instrument, and I got a chance to sing opera, so I decided to take it, and I liked it.

BD:   Which is more fun
singing or teaching?

Curry:   Singing.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   You’re a mezzo-soprano?

Curry:   Yes.

BD:   I hope you’re not one of these latent sopranos who wants to push up to the higher repertoire.

Curry:   No, no, no, no!  To me, a mezzo is a very interesting voice.  It has numerous possibilities.  Some voices tend to be on the high side, and some land on the low side.  It depends on age, and body-build, and all sorts of things.  There are some people singing mezzo who are really sopranos, and they never got their tops opened up.  When they do get the top opened up, they find enormous possibilities there, and can move on to the soprano repertoire without a great deal of trouble.  Any real mezzo-soprano has high notes, and probably the voice is very similarly structured to the dramatic soprano.  But if a real mezzo has to sing too many high notes, the voice at best starts to get a little bit stringy.  It doesn’t rest in the top as well, whereas a real dramatic soprano can ride a higher tessitura a lot better for a lot longer.  This is just because that higher voice is built to something a little bit higher than some of the others.  A real mezzo will ultimately have to sacrifice beauty of sound, and certainly a certain richness if it’s the right kind of richness and if it’s not a manufactured richness.

BD:   Being in the mezzo range, I trust you’re not trying to push down to contralto either?

Curry:   No, but in this time, because there’s not too many contraltos around, those of us that have strong middle and low voices are encouraged to do a lot of these low things.  I fight that like the dickens every day of my life!  [Both laugh]
BD:   Then how do you decide which roles you will accept and which roles you will decline?

Curry:   Basically by how it feels in my throat.  That’s the bottom line.  I also have to think of what kind of an impact I can make with my voice.  If you sing a part that’s too high, it gets too hard.  If you sing a part that’s too low, it may be fine, but it’s not in the most interesting part of your voice.  A real contralto is at home in the low voice.  That
s where it’s the most beautiful, but a mezzos isn’t.  A mezzo is a mezzo, like a baritone is a baritone.  I always find it a little bit strange, especially in this country, that we’re willing to accept that there are differences between baritones, and even bass-baritones, but a mezzo and contralto are often thought of as the same thing.  It’s the same kind of a difference.  I’m a lady baritone.  I’m not a lady bass, and because if there are no lady basses around, that’s too bad!  [Both laugh]

BD:   I’ve only met a couple of real honest-to-goodness contraltos.  One is Geraldine Decker...  [Two others whom I subsequently met are Maureen Forrester, and Bernadette Manca di Nissa.]

Curry:   Yes, Decker’s the genuine article, absolutely.  There’s also a lady in England, Anne Collins, and a very few others.  Those voices just sit that way.  That’s their natural color.  The problem for any voice that has to live in the middle so much with a great deal of entering into the low, is allowing the voice to have a natural richness of sound.

BD:   Un-natural richness?

Curry:   A natural richness, and not an unnatural richness.  There’s such a fine line between the two when you’re inside of the instrument working on it from the inside out, as it were.

BD:   How you do make sure you don’t cross that line?

Curry:   That’s the problem, and that’s why people need other people to listen.  You have to have that other set of ears.  If you don’t, you can get in serious trouble.

BD:   Your voice range dictates many of the roles that you sing.  Do you like the characters that are imposed on you?

Curry:   For the most part, I do.  Some of them have enormous possibilities.  Some of them you can get in through anger, or the self-pitying ‘poor me’, or even their bitchiness, and just stay with that!  [Laughs]  A lot of the mezzo characters have more of an abendsonne [evening sun] than many of the soprano roles... although, in the hands of a good singing-actor, lots of dimensions can be found in most any role if you’re willing to look inside it.

BD:   Then the
Capriccio question...  Where is the balance between music and drama in opera?

Curry:   I’m in favor of the music.  To me, the music is the thing.  I’m a singer because I can’t play a cello.  I’m a singer because I could never play the piano well enough to do what I do with it.  But if you’re in an opera, I don’t know what the balance is.   We’re in a quandary about that in this day and age, especially in the States.  It’s becoming so important.  It runs the gamut in Europe, but we’re not getting it so much over here.  Which is the more important?  Of course, the drama has to be there, but when the drama gets overbalanced, and the music is forgotten, then that’s a worse balance than if the music is concentrated upon and the drama is forgotten.  That may be a loaded statement, but that’s how I feel because we’re dealing with music.  Our medium is music, and the drama is expressed through music.  Even if you say the drama is expressed through text, the vehicle for that text is pitch and rhythm, and it’s an instrumental idea.

BD:   What do you expect of the audience that comes to opera these days, and does that change from Europe to America, or from city to city?

Curry:   [Thinks a moment]  I don’t know that I expect anything.  Audiences change from country to country because groups of people have personalities.  Even from city to city, or from night to night, an audience will have a different feeling to it.  Maybe a matinee audience will have a different feeling than an evening one, or maybe a Saturday night will have a different feeling to it than a Monday night.  Maybe the Saturday night people are the ones who are out partying, and Monday night the people are more serious about it.  I don’t know.  It depends.

BD:   Do you come to depend that some audiences are a little more involved?

Curry:   No, I don’t think so.  You hope that the audience is there because they want to be there, and they’re willing to accept what you’re trying to do, and are willing to meet you half-way in terms of understanding.  There are always people who are new to it, and they don’t quite understand the medium.  But there are certain members of the audience who have heard many performances of the work.  They are not always open-minded about things, but they know what they want to hear.
BD:   Do you ever feel that you’re competing against the great voices of the past, or the great voices of the present, or the various recordings that people will have heard?

Curry:   No, you can’t.  Those are things you really can’t think about.  First of all, you don’t hear yourself.  Second of all, if you think about everybody who’s gone before you, or who might possibly come after you, or who might possibly be a competitor right now, you’d never get out on the stage.  You’d never be able to do your job, and that turns it into an ego-trip for the artists.  I don’t think being an artist has any room for that kind of ego.
BD:   Is there a competition amongst mezzo-sopranos?

Curry:   I don’t think so.  Maybe there is, but the only competition one can have is with oneself.  You cannot compare yourself to anybody else, so therefore you cannot be in competition with anybody else.

BD:   Is Wagner a big part of your career?

Curry:   It’s a part, but I don’t know that it’s such a great big part.  In terms of repertoire, a mezzo-soprano cannot diversify as much as a soprano can.  A soprano, or a tenor, or a baritone can have a vast repertoire to do.  A mezzo can’t quite do that, because the amount of repertoire is much smaller, and a different kind.  I’m saying Wagner’s probably about a third for me.  I do Verdi, and there are some other things that are not done so often that I still like to keep up with if I can.  Eventually I’ll move into some of the Strauss things, but not just yet.

BD:   [With hopeful anticipation]  The Nurse in Die Frau Ohne Schatten?

Curry:   Yes, I’d love to do that.  It would take me about five years to learn it and be able to sing it without screaming my head off!  [Much laughter]

BD:   Are some of the other roles which are easier, and only take a few months to learn?

Curry:   First of all, you have to get Strauss in your ear, and the Frau is a little bit strange.  The role of the Nurse is not nearly as tuneful and melodic because she’s expressing a very strange personality.  She’s something of a Nemesis character.

BD:   Is she almost evil?

Curry:   Yes, through the opera, and therefore she’s not going to have beautiful melodies to sing that are easy to learn.  But the fact is that the role is just all over the staff, and it’s all over the voice, so you really have to have a role like that under control so you can sing it without shooting your wad, as they say.  Most of the other roles, even the Wagner ones, are very singable, and they sing themselves once you learn them if you have the stamina and the stretch in you naturally to be able to do it.

BD:   You have the stamina and the stretch to sing the Wagner mezzo parts?

Curry:   Yes.  Wagner is very vocal.  We have to understand that Wagner didn’t write for great big mammoth voices.  If you sing enough Wagner, your voice grows.  He wrote for an orchestra to be under the stage to express color not volume.  A lot of times, that is overlooked by certain people who are in the pit.  It’s hard not to allow that to happen because Wagner wrote very difficult things to balance in typical acoustics.  He wanted more texture and color than tremendous volume.  He wanted singers to be heard because they were expressing his text.  The singers he had available to him, and that he knew about, were the more Bellini-type singers.  He was very interested in Bellini and the Italian school of singing, so that’s what he wrote for.

BD:   Even in the soprano and tenor parts, not just the baritone and the mezzo roles?

Curry:   Absolutely.  He expected things to be sung.  A tradition arose, maybe in and around World War Two, where the young Germans were not being trained because of the circumstances of their lives.  A lot of people were going on stage singing that repertoire who didn’t really know how to sing, so they started barking.  The interesting thing about diction is that Germans want the diction, but it’s what Italians know.  If you try so hard for diction, you can actually obliterate diction by trying so hard for it.  When you sing a line, and sing your vowels, then the words fall out. You don’t have to do all that gross exaggeration.  You have to let everything have its value, but you don’t have to [demonstrates spitting out words and consonants].  The great Wagner singers, like Kirsten Flagstad, or Birgit Nilsson, or Helen Traubel, or Lauritz Melchior, or any of those were people who sang Wagner well, used their voices in a healthy way, and sang legato.  They sang expressively, and sang with a good Italian-type of technique.

BD:   It’s interesting you talk about the great Wagner singers, and you mention sopranos and tenors, rather than mezzos such as Karin Branzell or Blanche Thebom.

Curry:   That is because I didn’t hear them.  I grew up in an area in West Virginia where we didn’t have a lot of a classical music.  I heard Kirsten Flagstad because my folks had some of her recordings.  I only know what was on later recordings since about 1960.

BD:   Did you always know you wanted to be an opera singer?

Curry:   No, no, no, not at all.

BD:   But you always knew you wanted to be a musician?

Curry:   Yes, yes, yes.  I always wanted to be a musician, and I knew I liked to sing.  I wasn’t afraid to sing, and when I played the piano, I died a million deaths!  That was because I wasn’t very good!  [Laughs]  You always know that you want to be in a certain field.  I liked to perform, but you don’t know what you can do unless you are able to get into a place where you can see what’s around, and see what is expected, and find out if you do have talent.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Let’s talk about some of the Wagner characters.  You’ll be going back to Seattle this summer for the Ring, and you’ll be both Fricka and Waltraute.  Tell me a bit about Fricka.  How much of a noodge is she?

Curry:   I don’t see her as a noodge.  Wagner apparently had his first wife in mind when he wrote about her, but her character is much, much more than that.  She’s the goddess of order, the goddess of matrimony.  She’s the one person in all those mad people who sees what could happen, not what might happen, in a dreamworld.  She sees the order of the path that’s been taken.  She knows Wotan has flights of fancy, and she knows that he will make life be what he wants it to be, rather than seeing what it really is.  She can clearly see that the end is going to come.  Why she does, or how she does, I’m not quite sure, but I do know that she does.  What she’s trying to do is not spoil Wotan’s happiness, or Brünnhilde’s happiness, even though she doesn’t like Brünnhilde very well.  I don’t think too many women would like the daughters of her husband by ‘that other woman’, but that’s really not the issue there.  The biggest issue is that she sees what Wotan is doing is going to bring destruction on them all, and she feels that her duty is to try and steer him away from this.  Of course, she doesn’t succeed...
BD:   Is she Cassandra-like in seeing into the future, or is she just understanding the circumstance?

Curry:   She could be like Cassandra, I suppose, but I think she just has that kind of understanding.  She has a very logical mind.

BD:   Too logical for a woman?

Curry:   [Somewhat insulted]  Are women not allowed to be logical???

BD:   [Digging himself out of this mistake]  We’re looking at it through Wagner’s eyes.

Curry:   Maybe Wagner saw logic as a male characteristic.  I never really saw it that way.  I’m not even sure that it’s the issue there.  Wagner needed somebody in this whole great saga to see what the truth was going to be, and it happened to be Fricka.  It happened to be good drama to be able to do it in this particular way.  Maybe it just evolved.  People that are highly creative like that don’t always understand their own motives.  They do something that comes from a source that’s deeper than themselves, and it transcends what they are and who they are.  I don’t know that they always understand these things about themselves until they get it out there where they can see it.

BD:   Even then, they might not understand it completely, the way someone else could understand looking at it objectively?

Curry:   Yes.

BD:   Could Wotan and Fricka be really happy, or was there a time when they were really happy?

Curry:   One would assume so in the very beginning.  Wotan is a very strange character, and he’s a very powerful character, but Fricka is also in her own right.  I don’t think she could have married anyone else but Wotan.  She would have overpowered any of the other men.  Fricka was a very strong woman.  If you’re talking about men and women, she was a very, very strong woman, and I don’t think she had a great deal of patience.  One thing she admired about Wotan was his intelligence.  He’s highly intelligent, and highly creative.  Maybe she always knew she’d have to keep a rein on him so that he wouldn’t get out of hand.  She was impressed by the fact that he gave up an eye for her.  She would have been very pleased.  That showed he had something there, so she would deign to allow him to be her husband.

BD:   Do you feel that he did it for her, rather than she demanding it of him?

Curry:   It was both.  It had to be.  That was the price he had to pay to win her.

BD:   Did he pay it gladly?

Curry:   I guess he did, but Fricka also brought to him a great deal of power.  Considering it on an Earthly plane, she brought to him a great deal of money and power, and he felt that it was all worth it.

BD:   There was no offspring from this marriage?

Curry:   No, so maybe that’s why she got so angry with him for all his fooling around.  A lot of what Wotan is, is what she brought to him.  There are all sorts of possibilities.  Nobody knows for sure, but you can make lots of sub-texts about it.  It depends on the point of the view of the production.  These are the things that one thinks about to bring a character to life.  I don’t think it has anything to do with what you’re doing out there on the stage, except that if the person is alive to you as an artist, you’re going to be able to better make them alive to the audience in terms of the production.

BD:   How much of this is either brought out or sublimated by each individual production, or each producer, or each concept?

Curry:   That depends.  If the text says “I’m going over there,” there is not too much you can read into it.  You cannot put into a phrase what is not there.  You are limited by what is on that page.  I once was in a production of Il Trovatore.  It was my first Azucena, and we had a lady director who didn
t know me.  She was ultimately quite good, but she had this idea about Azucena.  The character is really a good old girl, but she has this fixation about her son, Manrico.  This director wanted the character to be played like a nice person with just a little bit of an obsession, but only in this one little area.  Well, by the time we got through with that under her direction, it was the silliest looking thing you ever saw, because it simply did not work.  I disagreed with her all along the way, but it was something that I don’t know, and I hadn’t done it before.  I had my own ideas, and every time I started to do something, I was told not to make it like that.  It was too strong.  She said that I’ve got to make her nice and warm, and comfortable.  When we got to the dress rehearsal, we had a mess!  So, then she decided we were going to work all the next day.  I said, [emphatically] No, no, no, no!  You’re going to stay in your room, and I’m going to stay in mine.  I know what I have to do, because in this character, Azucena is a person obsessed.  Period!  There’s nothing in the score that makes her a good old girl.  You have to have various levels of emotion, and various levels of calculation to get Manrico to do this.  But she’s not a warm, nice, sympathetic person.  She has her moments, and you can express this in certain ways, but you can’t sing the canzone Stride la vampa like a day in May, because it’s not there.  If there were something in the text that would allow this to be brought out and worked with, then you could do it, but you can’t impose something which is not there to be drawn on, on a piece of music, or on a character, or on a text.

BD:   Is this is the mistake that directors are making, imposing things that are not there?

Curry:   Too many things are imposed, and they’re trying to do too many things which are out of realm of possibility. The most that can be done is to flesh out the person and the situation for the singer who is doing the performing.  But to make relationships be what they’re not, or to impose other ideas on relationships in operas is ludicrous.  What happens is you have a situation that simply doesn’t work.

BD:   Do you find that you learn something new about each character through each production?
Curry:   Oh, I think so.  Somehow, they become a little more vivid, and more real, and more expressive.  You find more dimensions in yourself of being able to express what’s there on different levels.  What is very boring is something that’s either always happy, or always sad, or always angry, or always anything.  What you have to do is go with the musical idea if it helps a one-dimensional character.  Getting back to Wagner, Fricka can be one-dimensional, being a Madame Schimpf.  She’s always Schimpfing [scolding], but you have to find degrees within this to express it.  If you understand why she does something, you can either soften it or strengthen it, depending on her reason for doing that.  If the music permits it, then you can do it.

BD:   Do you like playing Fricka on the stage?

Curry:   Yes, I like her.  I don’t find her a shrew.  You can get into that if you’re not too careful, but I think Fricka is a very interesting person, and she has many more dimensions offstage.  The Rheingold Fricka is very different from the Valkyrie Fricka.

BD:   How so?

Curry:   She’s younger, she’s softer, and she’s not quite so embittered.  She still thinks that the world’s going to be a nice place if they do things just right, and she still has faith in Wotan.

BD:   Once the castle has been built, does she think that everything will settle down a little bit?

Curry:   That’s her dream.  Maybe it’s a little unrealistic, but I don’t think she realizes until the end of Rheingold how power-mad he really is, and what he is really willing to sacrifice.

BD:   Does she ever have an affair with any of the other gods?

Curry:   Probably not, but I don’t know.  I doubt that she does.  Fricka is not your nice
girl next door.  She’s all for power, but she sees things in Wotan that start to put her off.  There are little things in the end when Wotan really doesn’t want to give up that ring.  We even see that in The Valkyrie.

BD:   Does she stop believing in Wotan at that point?

Curry:   I don’t think she stops at that point, but you can avoid something in your own mind about somebody, and suddenly you’re faced with a feeling that this is it.  Maybe she sees Erda, and wonders about some possibilities there.

BD:   Does she ever stop loving Wotan?

Curry:   Probably not.  That
s one reason she’s so upset in The Valkyrie, because she still loves him.

BD:   Then in the scene Götterdämmerung, where Waltraute describes Wotan sitting at the table, is Fricka right there at his side?

Curry:   I don’t know whether she is or not.  We don’t really know what happens to Fricka.  I would like to think that maybe she was there, but she realizes that she has to do what she can do, and goes on her own way.

BD:   She doesn’t die of a broken heart?

Curry:   No, I don’t think so.  She wouldn’t give into that.  If she had been a man, she would have been the King.  She’s a very, very strong person.

BD:   Is it then that she’s frustrated that Wotan has to be King, and that she is not really even Queen?

Curry:   She could be, because she sees things with a logic that he doesn’t, and lots of times she knows that she’s right.

BD:   What kind of a King would Fricka have made?
Curry:   She might not have been as interesting a King, as she might not have been terribly inspired, but I think she would have been good.  She would have been a benevolent despot.  Things would have been prosperous under her because she would have wanted it to be that way, but she would have maintained control.   Maybe she would have been a little bit like Queen Elizabeth I, or maybe more like Queen Victoria.

BD:   Now if she had been Queen, would she have selected Wotan as consort, or would she have selected someone else?

Curry:   She probably would have gotten Wotan.  He’s not an unattractive person, and Fricka’s no slouch.  She has got a good eye.

BD:   And Wotan has a good eye!
Curry:   Well, certainly!  [Both laugh]

BD:   You have to portray on the stage that there is a love, a real love, a genuine love between them.

Curry:   She probably is the only person that Wotan could have conceivably married.  He may wander around with his eight million consorts or concubines, but Fricka really would be the only one, because she’s the only one who could in any way master him.  It
s a little bit like Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II, because she brought lots of lands and powers to the English King.  They were, at one point, very much in love, and they had all these children, including Richard I and King John.  But Wotans mind went away from Fricka, and he started wandering around with Loge.  She was trying to hold him to her ideas, and he put her in a castle, in the tower!

BD:   Could Fricka have put up with all of this if Wotan had not messed up the big picture?  Could she then have let him have his little affairs?

Curry:   I think so.  Probably on a personal level, it bothered her tremendously, and maybe also because her source of pride was concerned, but overall she had a ruler’s mind, and I don’t think she was petty.  She had a temper, but the reason she steps in is because she sees the Götterdämmerung [twilight of the Gods, not actually referring to the opera] is going to happen, and she’s trying to avoid that.  She doesn’t like the twins, she doesn’t like the Valkyries, but all these other things are just little things in the way.

BD:   What would have happened if Wotan had given the ring back to the Rhine Maidens at the end of Rheingold?

Curry:   [Smiling]  We wouldn’t have the rest of the operas!  [Both have a huge laugh]

BD:   Would their life have copacetic, or would Wotan have gone off and gotten himself into other problems?

Curry:   Knowing Wotan, he probably would have created other problems, but maybe the Götterdämmerung wouldn’t have been so imminent.  He would have new roles to conquer, I suppose.  This whole thing is a story of power and the abuse of power.  Nobody is against power, but when power is misused, then it involves so many things.  It can involve the whole world.  We certainly know a lot about that today.

BD:   Do you think the Ring is a parable for the late 1900s?

Curry:   It could be, and I find it very interesting that the Nazis and Hitler were so interested in it.  He was so interested in Siegfried and he was so interested in The Valkyrie, but obviously he never heard Götterdämmerung!

BD:   Or he just chose to ignore it?

Curry:   Maybe so.  I don’t know.  I’ve never quite understood that.  I’m sure there’s a reason or an explanation, but I just never heard anybody say why, because he was hooked on the Siegfried myth, but Siegfried didn’t work either!  Of that whole business, none of it worked.  It all failed.  Perhaps it’s a matter of realizing that people who have power also have responsibility, and maybe Wotan was trying to avoid his responsibility.

*     *     *     *     *
BD:   You also sing Waltraute in Götterdämmerung?

Curry:   Right, that’s my favorite.  It’s the most beautiful music, with the most possibilities of expression for the mezzo.  That music foreshadows the ‘Immolation Scene’, and everything that is in the Ring is in that piece.  It’s very powerful, and it’s a very moving piece to do.  The music is just so glorious.

BD:   Does Waltraute really have any hopes of convincing Brünnhilde to give up the ring, or is she just coming to make a last-ditch effort that she knows will fail?

Curry:   I don’t think she knows it’s going to fail.  Maybe that’s not occurred to her, because she is still in awe and afraid of Wotan.  Wotan has been Big Daddy for so long, and they never did anything without his approval.  Maybe for the first time in her life she went against him, and did something on her own.  It is really big for her to do that.  It’s an effort of a very desperate person.  Partly the desperation is that she sees Wotan is failing, and she believes he’s going to die.  She finally sees that the end is going to come, and she understands that.  Being the one Valkyrie that Brünnhilde was the closest to, she thought she could reason with her.  I don’t think she understands what truly has happened to Brünnhilde.  She doesn’t realize that Brünnhilde is in an entirely different place.  Brünnhilde hardly even remembers any of that, because in that scene Brünnhilde says,
“What has this got to do with me?  I’m a woman, and I love a man.  What are you talking about?  Greet Wotan for me  Neither of them can understand what the other is saying.  I’m sure Waltraute thought that if she had a chance to talk to Brünnhilde, she could make her see reason, but she doesn’t understand that Brünnhilde is not the same person that she was.
BD:   Should there be any foresight of Götterdämmerung by Waltraute in the Valkyrie, or is she just one of the girls?

Curry:   That’s a perfect example of what someone could say,
“We have to make this Waltraute foretell what’s going to happen.  But there is no way that it can be done, because the Ride of the Valkyries is all that this music is about.  The Waltraute character is one of them, and she has more to do than some of the others, but there is nothing that she can do or say that’s going to make you know that she’s coming back because Wagner didn’t write it that way.  Unless you put a red ribbon around her each time she comes on stage, you’re not going to be able to show that.  [Both laugh]

BD:   Could it have been Ortlinde, or Siegrune, or any of the others?

Curry:   It could have been any of the girls because there is nothing in the relationship that you can do.  In the Seattle Ring, she’s the last one off the stage on her horse, and she holds her hand out to Brünnhilde in a sympathetic gesture, which has nothing to do with the music.  But that’s about all you can do with that idea.

BD:   [Letting the imagination wander]  You wouldn’t want to have a scene where the eight girls are drawing straws to see who will go out and give Brünnhilde the pep talk?

Curry:   [Laughs]  No, because nobody in the audience would know why they were doing it.  It would make absolutely no sense, because there is no way that can be shown and explained.  You would have to have copious program notes, written in four languages, telling the audience what this is all about, so they’ll know what these girls back there are doing.  If Wagner had wanted that, he would have written something.  At least at some point, Brünnhilde and Waltraute could have had three or four lines to say to each other that might have indicated something like this.  But to put that in part of the music, whether or not there was any singing, doesn’t make any sense at all.  It simply wouldn’t read.

BD:   So, Waltraute is speaking for herself, but she’s not speaking for eight?

Curry:   She’s speaking for eight, but maybe she is the one who has the foresight or the strength of mind to be able to do that.  She’s just a desperate person.  She sees the end is coming, and finally believes it, and she’s making this one last-ditch effort to try to go reach Brünnhilde.  Perhaps she’s the only one who had the courage to go after Brünnhilde, not understanding what she would find.  I don’t think any of them could understand what it’s like to be mortal, and I don’t think they understood that Wotan was making Brünnhilde mortal.  Emotionally they really don’t know what that means.  She knows she’s mortal, but suddenly she’s faced with this person who has no idea and no interest in what you’re talking about.
BD:   She can’t comprehend what she sees?

Curry:   She can’t comprehend that.  It’s a complete change of a mindset.  Brünnhilde is not the same person that went to sleep on that rock.  She wakes a human.

BD:   Is it more than just having experienced sex with Siegfried?

Curry:   That has nothing to do with it... well, it may have something to do with it, except maybe it’s a dream.  It’s a part of her that’s in her subconscious.  From what she says, she doesn’t have that much of a recollection of what being a Valkyrie was.  That’s all past now.  How much do you remember of a time when you were four years old?  Maybe some of that is with you, but you don’t carry that around with you all of the time.  It’s not vivid in your mind.

BD:   Where does Waltraute go at the end of that scene?

Curry:   I assume she goes back to Valhalla, because I don’t think there’s anywhere else for her to go.  They have their world at Valhalla, and that’s all that has existed for them.  She’d probably be by herself, anyway.  I don’t think these girls were individual thinkers.  The real individual thinker was Fricka.  She is the one who really thinks for herself.  The girls don’t.  They are like Wotan
s alter egos.  They think what he thinks, and he tells them what to think.  When Fricka is talking about Siegmund and Sieglinde, she says that Wotan’s creating this whole new master race, and that’s the big argument.  They think what you tell them to think, and they feel what you tell them to feel, and they react the way you tell them to react.  How can they be separate from you?  They’re not separate from you.  They‘re part of yourself.  They’re what he made them be, and he doesn’t want to hear that.

BD:   How old is Fricka, or can we ascribe an age to her?

Curry:   She’s sort of ageless.  It is all sort of away from time.  You might say she could be 733 and Wotan’s probably about 740!  That’s a good age.

BD:   How old are the Valkyries?

Curry:   They’re probably something like maybe two hundred something.

BD:   When Brünnhilde loses her immortality, does she then begin to age?

Curry:   I don’t think she stays alive long enough to be able to do that.  But in the end, these things are timeless.  It’s hard to say if there is a time limit.  I don’t know.  I would assume that she grows, but I don’t think she particularly ages, because it all happens rather rapidly.  It’s an evening at the opera, so it could be another couple of hundred years.  [Laughs]  We’re sitting here aging by the minute, but nobody can see it.

BD:   [Feigning sadness and resignation]  I
ll go out of here with a long gray beard.

Curry:   [Smiles]  You came in a brunette, and you still are!  [Much laughter]

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Is opera art or is opera entertainment?

Curry:   It’s both.

BD:   Then where’s the balance between the two?
Curry:   It depends on whoever is doing it.  You have to define what is art and what is entertainment, and I
m really not prepared to do that because it doesn’t interest me.  [Much laughter from both]  Maybe I shouldn’t say that...

BD:   That’s all right.  What does interest Diane Curry?

Curry:   All sorts of things, but my big interest is music.  To me it’s one of the greatest things.  It’s such a great thing it almost bears not talking about.  Other people feel that way about science.  I don’t, but I benefit from science.  Other people think about that benefit from music too, but maybe they don’t realize it.  Art has certain standards of growth, and maybe entertainment has too, but I don’t see that it has to the same degree.  There are actors who are real actors, and there are actors who are entertainers, and I have more respect for those who are actor-actors.  Entertainment is a craft, too, as an artist, you try to take something that already exists and work with it the absolute best you can.  In the process, you’re trying to grow, and you’re opening yourself to great possibilities of expression far beyond what you may be capable of on a normal basis.  But you have to do this.  You have to draw on these things in yourself just like a composer does, or a writer does.  The art of composition, or the art of writing, transcends the individual, because it comes from a source inside yourself that is far greater than you are.  You’re merely an expression for this.  It’s interesting to see down through the ages that sometimes the greatest composers, or the greatest writers, have been very troubled personalities on a conscious level.  But somehow, they had this connecting link through the subconscious, and the really great performers are those who are able to link up with this part of themselves in the process.  Maybe entertainers do that too, I don’t know, but the medium that Art works with is of vaster possibilities, and greater intellectual possibilities.  A Beethoven symphony is far more interesting, and has far more elements, and far more possibilities, and far more harmonics than a rock song.  It has far more harmonic developments, and changes, and sounds, and chord combinations, and pitches, and rhythms, and all those things.
BD:   And yet there are so many thousands who will watch and listen to the rock song, and so few that will listen to the Beethoven symphony.

Curry:   This is because people in general do not want to grow, and do not want to stretch themselves.  I really think that we’re here in this plain to be the best we can be, and that takes a lot of work and courage, and it takes opening yourself up and stretching your mind to all the possibilities inside of you.  If you want to just accept the status quo, you’ll read books that don’t take any effort to read.  You can sit there mindlessly going through them.  Or you can watch TV while somebody else gets up there and does something.  You don’t have to respond to it at all.  You don’t have to be a part of it.  Going to see a great play, or hear a great piece of music takes a certain involvement of the intellect as well as the senses that maybe going to a rock concert doesn’t.  That’s pure emotion, and you’re realizing the mind is as much as it is the feelings.  Really great art takes all of that.

BD:   Are you optimistic about the future of opera?

Curry:   I’m not sure.  I’m not a great fan of music written since 1950.  I don’t know that we’ve had any great pieces.  After Alban Berg and Richard Strauss, and some others, I’m not sure what the answer is, and I don’t know whether all the possibilities of composition have been used up.  It’s interesting in this point in time, when we’re surrounded by so much violence.  I’m not hooked on that.  It
s not a big thing with me, but it’s interesting even to watch the kids dance.  Everything is very sharp and jerky.  There’s no real beauty of line.  There’s no smoothness to things.  Maybe that’s indicative of how we feel about things today, or the state the world is in, and maybe that’s taking music in a certain direction, but I feel that pop music, if that is where we’re going to go, is regressing greatly.  It’s going back to almost a primitive state.

BD:   But not re-trenching?

Curry:   Not re-trenching, no.  I don’t know, but I will hope that we haven’t used up all the possibilities.  I’m enough of an optimist to think that we haven’t.  Maybe opera as a form we know today, will not be in existence in another hundred years.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Do you sing any other Wagner roles beside Fricka and Waltraute?

Curry:   Brangäne.

BD:   Tell me about her.  She seems like a lovely woman.

Curry:   She’s a nice person.  She’s a servant and a companion.  She doesn’t think for herself too much, except the time she puts in the love potion instead of the death potion, and then look what happens!  [Both laugh]  She’s extremely fond of Isolde.  Felix Popper was at the New York City Opera when I went there.  He was in control over the rehearsal department, and I used to do a lot of coaching with him.  

Felix Popper, a conductor who was for many years the music administrator at the New York City Opera, died on Sunday at his home in Manhattan. He was 92.

Mr. Popper was born in Vienna in 1908 and earned a doctorate in law and political science from the University of Vienna while also studying music at the Vienna State Academy of Music and privately with the conductor Hugo Reichenberger. He immigrated to the United States in 1940, and was decorated for his service in the United States Army in Europe during World War II.  [He was a master sergeant United States Army, 1942-1945, European Theatre of Operations.]

He joined the New York City Opera in 1949 as an assistant conductor and vocal coach. When he was appointed music administrator in 1958, he joined Julius Rudel, the company's general director, and John S. White, its managing director, in a triumvirate that guided the company through an important period in which it established itself firmly as a house giving important opportunities to American singers. The company credited him with discovering several important Americans, including Johanna Meier, Tatiana Troyanos, Gianna Rolandi, Faith Esham and Jane Shaulis.

Mr. Popper retired in 1980 but continued to work at the City Opera as a consultant and vocal coach.

He was also the general director of the City Center Gilbert and Sullivan Company and taught at the Henry Street Settlement Music School and the Mannes College of Music in New York City. He was the director of the opera department at the Aspen Music Festival for many years.  [He was also assistant conductor of the NBC-television Opera, New York City, 1953-1957, and was at the Curtis Institute, Philadelphia, and Academy Vocal Arts, Philadelphia.]

He is survived by his wife, Doris; a son, Richard, of Dallas; and a sister, Steffi Schuler of New York.

[Born: December 12, 1908, Vienna, Austria; Died: December 17, 2000, New York, NY]

He is a European, and he said there’s something about the idea of an old family retainer.  These people were fond of the families that they worked for.  They were their families, and there was a great love, a great bond between them.  In the old days, it was not unusual that, in case of strife or something calamitous, a retainer would die for the master of the house.  There’s a little bit of that in Brangäne.  The Queen sent her there to look after Isolde, and maybe she and Isolde had been childhood friends.  She’s a little older than Isolde, but not much.  She’s not an old lady.  Isolde is maybe sixteen, and 
Brangäne may be twenty-eight or thirty.  But she has this responsibility to take care of Isolde, and she’s very fond of her.  Maybe Isolde has been in her charge since she was a little girl.  There is that sense of responsibility that she feels towards her.

BD:   How does Brangäne feel about Tristan and Isolde getting together?
Curry:   I think she secretly likes that, even though she realizes that this is going to cause a great deal of problems.  Probably Brangäne has been in love herself is at some point or other.  Maybe she had to leave somebody behind to cross this Irish Sea, or if she hadn’t, maybe she knows what that is like, or maybe she just dreams about it.  Anyway, she thinks that someday she’ll get Isolde taken care of, and then she’ll find a nice little fellow, and they’ll get married, and have their kids.  But she’ll still look after Isolde.

BD:   If Tristan and Isolde could get together, would Brangäne and Kurwenal get together?

Curry:   Maybe, although Kurwenal is such a rough sort of a person, so I don’t know if it’s a possibility.  Maybe Brangäne would like somebody else.  Kurwenal is too much the tough soldier.  He’s very much a friend of Tristan, so he’s almost of the same status.  Tristan is royalty but Kurwenal is more than just a companion.

BD:   Is Brangäne a virgin?

Curry:   Probably!  Well, I don’t know, maybe not.  It depends on how old she is, and how many haystacks there were in the palace.  [Both laugh]  She’s Irish, so she has to be spirited!

BD:   Is it a good role to play?

Curry:   Yes, it’s a sympathetic character, and the nice thing about it is you get a chance to sing.  People find out that you do have a voice in a high range.  You’re still second place to Isolde, and Fricka’s second place to Brünnhilde, but she does have her scene.  Brangäne doesn’t have any of that.  She’s always on stage with the others, but it’s a very sympathetic role.

BD:   She has the big
warning in the second act where the voice is floating out, and it’s obvious the other two are not singing.

Curry:   Yes, and that’s beautiful, but by the time you get there, you cross yourself and do everything else you can!  [Laughs]

BD:   [Surprised]  It’s not terrifying, is it???

Curry:   No, but it’s just after you’ve done all that singing, and then suddenly you have to turn round and have those long phrases.

BD:   Have you ever been put in a strange place, like backstage or in the pit?

Curry:   You always have that, but not in the pit, no.  Johanna Meier had the funniest thing when she was in Bayreuth.  They wanted her to sing the ‘Liebestod’ from the pit, and she just refused.  [Both laugh]  The Met production has Brangäne up in a tower that’s about thirty feet off the floor.  I covered the role there, but I didn’t have to do it, thank goodness, because the tower would sway as you climbed up.  It wouldn’t fall down, or at least it hasn’t yet, but it can be very terrifying when your head’s just underneath the highest fly.

BD:   Do you ever wonder if the voice actually goes out even when you’re up in the wings, or near the back of the stage?

Curry:   Any time you walk out on stage, you wonder if the voice is going out because you don’t hear very well.

BD:   Do you like working with a scrim?

Curry:   No!  Because, oddly enough, that little piece of material puts a great distance between you and the orchestra pit.  Oddly enough, whenever the orchestra is screaming much too loudly, nobody can hear us on stage, and very often we can’t hear the orchestra because the sound goes up and out, and it doesn’t come back to us.  Any time I work with a scrim, it’s like having an extra distance between you and the sound that you have to have.  It also feels like having film over your eyes.

BD:   Janis Martin says it’s like singing into a paper bag.  Be you glad you weren’t here for Lohengrin.  In the first act there were two scrims!  There was a general scrim for the whole thing, and then there was a second scrim for the Swan.

Curry:   Oh, my goodness!

BD:   In the second and third acts, they got rid of Swan scrim so there was just one scrim left.

Curry:   [Sarcastically]  How nice for them!  [Laughs]  Scrims can work if you want a misty effect, like the production of Pelléas at the New York City Opera that Frank Corsaro did.  It has a scrim in one scene that would give a misty flavor.  It can be put up with because it enhanced things, but no, I don’t like scrims.

BD:   Do you ever rely on the prompter?

Curry:   No,  If you’ve grown up in this country, you don’t learn to use a prompter, so when you come to a prompter, it becomes interference.  They confuse me more than they help, and then any time I ever thought it would be nice to be able to hear them, I don’t hear them anyway.  I’m just used to watching the conductor.

BD:   So, you’re very conscious of the guy out there in the pit?

Curry:   Absolutely.  Some conductors are not used to having to control the stage.  They’re used to the prompter controlling the stage, so they don’t want to do a lot of cueing.  But still, I learned to do that.  That’s just how I grew up.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Are there any other Wagner parts on the horizon?

Curry:   No, not for the moment.  I have my eye on Ortrud.  It’s a wonderful role, and I would like to do it, but I have to wait and see if I can sing the two curses easily without screaming.  It’s a similar problem to Amneris in the
‘Judgment Scene in Aïda.  She’s at her highest in her voice when she’s at her most intense acting-wise.  She’s at her most angry.  It’s easy to sing all that as long as you are staying cool.  But the minute you wind up and start [demonstrates anger at the top of her voice] with your larynx up in your nose, you can’t do it.  So I’ll have to see, but not just yet.  I always thought I would love to do Kundry, but that’s really a soprano piece which has a lot of middle voice.  There are some pages that are real soprano writing, and a couple of my mezzo colleagues can do it very well.  But I’m going to have to look that one over.  It breaks my heart, but I think I will not do her.

Diane Curry at Lyric Opera of Chicago

1979 - Andrea Chénier (Madelon) -- with Domingo, Marton, Bruson, Sharon Graham/White, Kuhlmann, Voketaitis, Gordon; Bartoletti, Gobbi, Samaritani

1982 - Luisa Miller (Federica) -- with Shade, Ciannella, Brendel, Sharon Graham, Kavrakos, Washington; Gómez-Martínez, Merrill

1983 - Mikado (Katisha) -- with Harman-Gulick, Rosenshein, Wildermann, Adams; Smith, Sellars

1986-87 - La Gioconda (Cieca) -- with Dimitrova, Ciannella, Milcheva, Welker, Plishka; Bartoletti, Crivelli

BD:   Your role here in Chicago this time in Gioconda as La Cieca.

Curry:   It’s the old blind woman.  She’s a very sympathetic character, and it’s a challenge to be able to make her work, because she can be one-dimensional, poor thing.  But she has a lot of possibilities.
BD:   Are the possibilities what you look for when you consider a role?

Curry:   Oh, sure.  First of all, I see if I like the music, and see if I can sing it, and is it something I will enjoy working on and singing.

BD:   What’s the role you’ve sung the most?

Curry:   Fricka and Azucena.

BD:   Are you mad at Verdi for changing the title of Il Trovatore [The Troubadour, which refers to the tenor, Manrico]?  He was originally going to call it La Zingara [The Gypsy, being about Azucena].

Curry:   Yes, he should have left his first thought, but if you have a good night, it doesn’t matter.  You’ve still got the show.

BD:   Tell me about singing Verdi.  Is there a special secret to singing the long Verdi line?

Curry:   [Thinks a moment]  If you can sing Verdi, you can sing Wagner.

BD:   Not the other way around?

Curry:   Not necessarily.  Verdi operas are in Italian.  When you come to opera from English, you have to learn all these things about vowels that an Italian already has.  English is sort of a guttural language, and we tend to hold the diphthongs, especially if you’re from the southern part of the States.  It gives you a nice relaxed jaw, a relaxed tongue, so there’s not much interference that way.  But you end up putting fourteen vowels, whereas an Italian has just one vowel, period.  So, it’s less complicated.  When a French or German singer learns Italian, they do very well because they don’t have all the diphthongs, whereas an American has to learn how to sing one vowel, and then sing another vowel, and then sing another vowel, and not sing all three vowels at once.  You have to learn how to do that, so it is an acquired thing.  It’s a learning process, and that’s one trick that an Italian really doesn’t learn, because they’re born doing it right.  We have to acquire that, but then once you have that, it is also applicable to all the other languages, no matter what they are.  You have your vowel, and you’re controlling your breath with those vowel sounds, and as a result the resonance factors begin to take care of themselves.  This is unless there are great problems, and there are always things one can learn.  You need to know more.  For example, I come from West Virginia, from a family in a region where people tend to talk very much in their nose in a high pitch.  So I don’t have to pay too much attention to resonance because I have that by nature.  In fact, I have to work the other way to not have too much, in order to get a rounder sound.  Whereas somebody else from another part of the country, or a different ethnic background has to work for what I was born with, and I have to work for what they were born with.  But the trick to singing Verdi is just knowing how to sing!  [Both laugh]

BD:   Do you sing Mozart, too?

Curry:   I used to.

BD:   Is that a whole different kettle of fish?

Curry:   No.  Singing is singing, and singing is correct singing.  You approach singing with one voice and one technique.  The music and text and the sounds in your mouth create differences.  You may have to acknowledge those differences in your mind, but you don’t create differences.  You don’t have a German technique, and an Italian technique, and a French technique all in the same voice.  You don’t have your Bach voice, and your Schubert voice, and your Verdi voice.  It’s the same voice, so if you’re singing Mozart, you’re singing the same as you do if you sing Rossini.  If you’re older and you’re fatter, and your voice is older and fatter, it’s not going to handle the coloratura with quite the spark that it once had, because the sound is bigger.  You’re trying to move a table instead of a little piece of wood.  You’re moving a great big elastic band instead of a little rubber band, so the sound is in the individual.  Most people who are Mozart singers develop into the heavier possibilities, which are always there, but learning how to sing Mozart teaches them how to sing the other.  It all just happens because you’re constantly working on your breath, and working on the voice, and it grows.  If you don’t have that kind of voice, ultimately it’s not going to grow into a Verdi voice.  A Mozart voice is not going to grow into a Verdi voice unless it’s a Verdi voice to begin with.

BD:   Do you sing differently for the microphone than you do on the stage?
Curry:   I don’t think you should.  I just did a concert recording for the Bayerischer Rundfunk [Bavarian Radio], which was one of those ‘sing every aria you’ve done in the last ten years.’  That was an interesting experience because there was no audience in the hall.  We were on the stage in the theater, and the microphone was right there in front of us.  My first impulse was to hold back so I didn’t over-blast it.  However, they have engineers to control that, and after a while you just get used to it.  It took me maybe about an hour to forget the microphone was there.  The thing I find frustrating about recordings is that I’m so used to giving performances, and the orchestra is used to doing lots of recording.  So, the first two or three times through a piece, they don’t really play.  They were just feeling their way around.  I would give my performance the second time through, and then we had about four more to go.  Usually on the best one I did, there was a horn that was out of tune, or something like that.  [Both laugh]  So, you have to learn to adjust, because it’s a whole different world.  As they say in Italian, Un altro paio di pantaloni, it’s just another pair of pants.
BD:   Do you like doing concerts as well as opera?

Curry:   Yes.

BD:   More so?

Curry:   In a way, yes.  To be a good performer you have a bend in both directions.  You should do both because you need that kind of a balance.  Opera brings out different things.  It can bring out a gregariousness in you that concerts can benefit from, and concerts give a discipline and a tension to musical and textual things that the opera can benefit from.  If you’ve only done concert work
and that’s all I did for a long timeyou can try so hard for subtlety that you put a lid on things, or you limit yourself.  But when you get into opera, that expands your possibilities.  It expands what you can do, and gives you freedom.  But I love the concerts.  The concert literature is really written for a mezzo... all those Mahler things, and the recital literature is just wonderful.  So, when I get tired of screaming my head off on stage, I’m going to start doing recitals all the time.

BD:   Tell your management that.

Curry:   I do tell them, and they say they would rather have me be an opera singer, because recitals nowadays are harder to sell.  But I love symphony concerts.  You can just stand still, put on a pretty dress, sing some gorgeous music, do your best, and not have to worry about whether you’re sitting down, or walking across a stage, or what that madman director is asking you to do... like stand on your head.

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BD:   Do you still do some teaching?

Curry:   No, I don’t.  Some of my colleagues do, but if I teach, it throws me into a whole different mentality.  My voice works better if I don’t work with other people’s problems and development.

BD:   Are you pleased with some of the young voices you hear coming along today?

Curry:   Yes.  There are some wonderful voices, and wonderful American voices.  The possibilities coming out of this country are really enormous if they get the right kind of training.

BD:   Are there enough opportunities?

Curry:   That’s always a problem.  There’ll be enough opportunities for the people who should have them, but we’ll see.  For a while it looked like we were going to have many, many, many opportunities, but the unfortunate thing for the arts in the United States is we don’t have government subsidy.  I know that’s a double-edged sword, and has lots of controversy, but now it all has to come from private donors, and that creates great problems for the arts all over.  I don’t know what the answer is, but it’s too bad, especially for the young singers coming along.

BD:   I assume that you admire talented colleagues.

Curry:   Oh, absolutely.  Why not?  We’re here to do something, and if you’re willing to work, and develop yourself, you don’t have to worry about what somebody else is doing.  It’ll come to you.  You don’t have to do it, and if you worry about what they’re doing, and your whole life is about what somebody else has, that will hurt you.  Because somebody else is up on the stage doing something, doesn’t mean that you can’t do it, or that you’re not going to do it.  So, why not admire your talented colleague?  In fact, when everybody is good, you’re even better than you are on a night surrounded by a bunch of slouches.  A bunch of wonderful concert artists all playing together in a string quartet can be the best string quartet you ever heard in your life, because each one is aiding the other one.  But if you get a bunch of egos who are all competing, you haven’t got anything.
BD:   Do you like being a wandering minstrel?

Curry:   [Thinks a moment]  Yes and no.  I would be terribly bored if I had a nine-to-five job doing the same thing every day.  If that’s what I had to do, then I would do it, of course, but I like being in different places.  On the other hand, it gets very tiresome always living in hotel rooms and other apartments.  Every three weeks or so you’re always having to contend with five or six suitcases, because the more I travel, the more stuff I carry with me.  I like to read, and if all the books I want to read are at home in my apartment in New York, I’m never there.  I’ve been there maybe two and a half or three weeks since August all together [it is now January], so you bring these things with you so you can have a part of yourself there.  That gets a little tiresome, and it’s a difficulty about being an opera singer today.  In the days before World War II, a person was Fest in a theater as part of the company.  Nowadays, if you’re in demand by a lot of theaters, then you’re going to have to travel.  If you’re only in one theater, then people maybe tend to take you for granted.  [Laughs]  That
s an exaggeration, but you have better control over your repertoire, and over your life by being in lots of different places.  But then that makes it hard on you because you’re always tired, and you never know what time it is because your body is on a different time.

BD:   Where do you go from here?

Curry:   I go back to New York for a few days, and then to Europe for a couple of weeks.  Then I come back to Minneapolis, and after that I have a couple of weeks off before I go to Atlanta.  In April I have some time off...

BD:   That’s when you have to work on new roles?

Curry:   Yes, that’s true, but that’s all right.  One of these days I want to take a vacation!  [Laughs]

BD:   Can’t you talk to your agent and have him not schedule anything for a certain period?

Curry:   You can do that, and then sometimes if you do, that’s great.  Other times if you do, then the job of your life that you always wanted to do, comes up in that time-period, or the conductor is somebody you want to work with, so you do it.  The trouble with singers is that when you’re starting out, you do have a lot of time on your hands.  It’s time you’re not working, and you can’t afford to go anywhere because you don’t have any income.  So you have to go somewhere to have a job, and then when you’re back, when you’re ‘resting’, as they say, you don’t have any income.  Then, when you get to the point where you can afford to have a vacation, you don’t always have the time to do it.  All of us feel that we’re working on something of a time-limit.

BD:   You think you can only sing so many years?

Curry:   So many years, or to whatever age, but that is sort of negative.  People like John Alexander just go on and on.  He’s wonderful.  He’s just terrific, God bless him!  He’s a singer
s-singer, and that can be underrated, because he makes it look so easy.  Alfredo Kraus is the same way.  He makes it look so easy that people who don’t understand singing really don’t understand what they’re hearing, because they don’t hear any tension.  They don’t hear any problems.  They don’t see someone gasping for breath, seeming to say, “Look how hard I’m working.  They just do it.

BD:   Can one consciously try to make it look easy?

Curry:   I don’t think you try to make it look easy.  Singing is a very simple process that takes about twenty years to learn how to do!  [Both laugh]  The better you become and the better you can do it, the less effort shows on the outside.  There are extraneous things, superfluous things which actually get in the way.  If you want to take a breath and you’re doing great heaving breaths where the audience can see that you’re breathing and see how hard you’re working, that’s actually working against your cords.  You’re doing the wrong thing if they see tension in the face, and it
s all red, and they can see those veins standing out in the neck.  Those are things that are actually working against the voice.  So, when a voice is really working at its best, at its maximum ultimate best potential, you don’t see any of those things.  It just looks like somebody is standing there very erect with good attention and vitality...

BD:   ... and with the mouth open!

Curry:   With the mouth open, but you don’t see the great effort.


Roger Roloff (seen in the photos above-left) was Wotan in the first three operas of this cycle.
Also see my interviews with Manuel Rosenthal, François Rochaix and Robert Israel (which also includes Armin Jordan, who had
conducted the previous year), John Del Carlo (who also sang Donner), John Macurdy (who also sang Hunding), and Julian Patrick.
A few other guests from various years of the Seattle Ring include producer/impressario Glynn Ross, conductor Henry Holt, translator
Andrew Porter, as well as singers Thomas Stewart, Ragnar Ulfung, Émile Belcourt, Linda Kelm, Leonie Rysanek, Gabor Andrassy, and Toni Krämer.

:   In the end, is singing fun?

Curry:   Sometimes it’s not fun at all because it
s a lot of work.  It takes a lot of concentration, a lot of discipline, and a lot of effort in maintaining yourself so that you can do this.  I hate exercise.  I can’t tell you how much I hate to exercise.  Not only do I hate to move, but it’s just so boring.  But if I don’t do a certain amount, then when I go to sing, I pay for it.  So I find that hard.  The fact is that you have to do this every day whether you want to or not.  You have to do it!  Some of my colleagues don’t have to do it as much, but I have a voice that has to be used every day, and I have a body that has to be used in a singing mechanism every day.  If I don’t do it, then I’m huffing and puffing like some old crow because it doesn’t want to work.  So, you have to keep going.  You have to keep at it.

BD:   You’re really an athlete.

Curry:   Yes, absolutely.  You’re an athlete, and the older you get, the more you have to stay with it to maintain your muscle tone, and keep your stamina up.  You really have to go at it.  You don’t just open your mouth and have it happen!

BD:   I wish you lots of continued success, and I hope you will come back again.

Curry:   Thank you.

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© 1987 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in Chicago on January 28, 1987.  This transcription was made in 2022, and posted on this website at that time.  My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.

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

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

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