Tenor / Director  Laurence  Dale

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


Laurence Dale studied singing at London's Guildhall School of Music and Drama with Rudolf Piernay and the Mozarteum in Salzburg, gleaning experiences from such diverse talents as Sir Peter Pears, Sir Colin Davis, Richard Miller, Seth Riggs, Peter Brook, Patrice Chereau, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Herbert Wernicke, Antonio Pappano, Peter Stein, Karl Ernst and Uschi Herrmann, Sir Charles Mackerras, Rudolf Nureyev, Giorgio Strehler, John Eliot Gardiner, Götz Friedrich, Pierre Boulez, Sylvain Cambreling, Christian Thielemann, Daniel Barenboim, and Ruth Berghaus.

Amongst many Mozartian rôles, as well as baroque and romantic, his portrayal of Tamino, with which he opened Mozart year in Salzburg in 1991 was described as 'legendary'. He performed this rôle regularly in Vienna's Staatsoper and Berlin's Deutsche Oper, then in Paris and throughout the world. In 1990 Marcel Prawy, the doyen of Viennese opera, described him as "the best Tamino since Wunderlich".

In 1992, he created the title role of Rodrigue in the premiere of Debussy's Rodrigue et Chimène to open the Nouvel Opéra National de Lyon, recorded for Erato [shown below], under the direction of Kent Nagano.


Following the performances of Monteverdi's Orfeo as celebrations for Herbert Wernicke's Monteverdi year production at the 1993 Salzburg Festival, Dale recorded the title role under the direction of René Jacobs for Harmonia Mundi [shown farther down on this webpage]. For many specialists, it is the recording of reference.

His recital CD of French 19th century repertoire is regarded as an example of style and refinement.

He has shared the stage with artists including Plácido Domingo, Gwyneth Jones, Jon Vickers, Cecilia Bartoli, Catherine Malfitano, Eva Marton, Yvonne Minton, Robert Tear, Ghena Dimitrova, Kiri te Kanawa, Ferruccio Furlanetto, Edita Gruberova, Janet Baker, Thomas Allen, Cecilia Gasdia, Marjana Lipošek, Ben Heppner, Luciana Serra, John Tomlinson, Sumi Jo, Eva Johansson, Boje Skovhus, Margaret Price, Margarita Zimmermann, June Anderson, Håkan Hagegård, Felicity Lott, Ann Murray, Florence Quivar, Barbara Bonney, Jennifer Larmore, Elena Obraztsova, José van Dam, Geoffrey Parsons, Malcolm Martineau, and many more.

He has recorded Gounod's La Messe de Ste Cecilia along side Barbara Hendricks and Jean-Philippe Lafont under the direction of Georges Prêtre, Mozart's C minor mass with Franz Welser-Möst, and the title rôles of Auber's Gustave III and Mehul's Joseph en Egypte.

==  Text of biography from the artist's website, the section about his 'tenor years' (with BD links and photo added).  
==  The section about his most recent activities is reproduced at the bottom of this webpage.
==  Names which are links in this box and below refer to my interviews elsewhere on my website.  BD 


In the fall of 2000, Laurence Dale sang the title role in Orfeo by Claudio Monteverdi, with the Chicago Opera Theater, conducted by Jane Glover.  We met a couple weeks before the opening performance.

As noted in the box above, his career has taken several major changes.  Since this interview is about his singing, that phase is detailed first.  He was in a transition period, so we also discussed his early works as director.

I had known his vocal discs for several years, and had played his recordings on WNIB, Classical 97.  However, we immediately talked of his ventures into other areas, and that is where we pick up the conversation.

Bruce Duffie:   Are you pleased with where you are at this point in your career?

Laurence Dale:   I’m very pleased where I am in this point of my career...
 [Pauses a moment]  ‘Career is such a funny word.  For me it’s an assessment word.  When you talk about careers, it’s what you’ve done.  I don’t see it as a future.

BD:   [Mildly shocked]  You don’t see yourself stopping, do you???

Dale:   [Smiles]  Well, no, except that in the last six or seven months, I’ve made a major career move, which I’m very pleased about.  I’ve already directed three productions of my own this year.

BD:   Did you direct and sing, or just direct?

Dale:   Just direct.  I stopped singing opera for a time, and this Orfeo in Chicago is the first time I’ve sung opera in quite a while.  For this year at least, I’ve sung concerts in places like Salzburg Festival, but I just wanted to do something that I’d always planned to do before being a singer, which was to direct, and then develop more as a conductor as well.

BD:   You’re more of an all-round musician rather than just a singer?

Dale:   It
s rather insulting to say that [both laugh] because people assume the singers are just singers. Often they are just singers, but I’ve certainly always been interested in the whole theatrical process.  I would like to direct plays as much as directing opera.  My interests are very wide.  I don’t think they’re spread in the sense of it being vague.  It’s actually quite specific, but it’s a very broad horizon.

BD:   It’s just more?

Dale:   Yes, maybe.  People ask how I will get time for it, and I don’t have time for it, of course.  Your social life suffers, except that I have a beautiful home with a beautiful dog, and I’m very happy with those.  I also need time to read, and study, and reflect.

BD:   You had this in the back of your mind all the time that you were pursuing your singing career.  Did this idea of someday becoming a director help you when you were on stage?

Dale:   One way of looking at it is helping.  What I’ve always loved is complete collaboration with the director, and I’ve been extraordinarily lucky in my life to have worked with some of the real greats.  These are not only the famous greats, like Peter Brook, Peter Stein, and Giorgio Strehler, but also some of the lesser-known ones from the public point of view.  For example, from the Romanian School of Directors we know Andrei Serban, who is a famous name, and Liviu Ciulei who is a great director, and Lucian Pintilie.  I just did the first opera production of Marthe Keller, Dialogues of the Carmelites of Poulenc, which won the prize for the best opera production of the year in France.  It was just beautiful and sensational.  Her way of working is so generous, and to me, that’s the way to work.  So I’ve spent the last seven months trying to build up teams of singers who share that desire to work in that way.  Sometimes it works well, and sometimes it back-fires greatly. I just had a production in Vienna, in Eisenstadt at the Esterhazy Palace where there’s a Haydn Festival, and we did his L’incontro Improvviso.  We took it to Expo 2000 in Hannover, representing Austria, and it was a big success.  It went very well, but it showed how difficult it is to get a real team to work together.  They are artists who have the same work ethic and psychological approach to their work, and know just how to sing.

BD:   Would you eventually want to assemble a team, and keep it together for a number of seasons?

Dale:   It’s very difficult nowadays in terms of theater direction to be able to do that.  Economics, especially in Europe, don’t permit you to have the troop, an ensemble, of such a quality.  But what I’m managing to do in the two shows I have had, is to build up a team of people, of collaborators.  What I really want to do quite soon is to take over a theater, and develop a training ground for singers.  I give singing lessons, and coach them, and train French singers to sing in French.  [Laughs]  It’s sometimes very difficult to do that!

BD:   Where are you from originally?

Dale:   I’m British.  I’m from Sussex, near Glyndebourne.

BD:   [Gently protesting]  But all of a sudden you have this tremendous interest in French literature.
Dale:   I’ve lived in France for nineteen years, since Peter Brook took me there when I was twenty-two.  I started singing there in 1981 with La Tragédie de Carmen.  [First produced in Paris in 1983, stage director Peter Brook adapted Bizets opera in collaboration with writer Jean-Claude Carrière and composer Marius Constant.  This 90-minute version focused on the four main characters, eliminated choruses, and reworked the major arias for chamber orchestra.]  That was a huge success.  The piece really changed the face of opera.  That’s when Brian Dickie [Assistant (later General Administrator) at Glyndebourne 1962-1989, and after similar positions in Wexford and Paris, General Director of the Chicago Opera Theater 1999-2012] invited me to do my first major opera in Britain, which was Cenerentola at Glyndebourne.  At the time it was a big dare on his part, but he’s a very pioneering man.  At Glyndebourne he created an ensemble.  Even though it was guests every year, they were regular guests who an audience identified with.  They came to admire each artist’s diversity and generosity, and that’s very important.

BD:   From what you’re saying, it seems that assembling a company is not so much physically being there, but a state of mind.

Dale:   Absolutely!  You don’t have to be there all the time.  That could be boring.  What is important is to have the same psychological approach to work.  When you do assemble singers in a team, you don’t start with a generalized nervousness, and personality conflicts and ego which waste so much energy and time in rehearsals.  You just get on with extremely good work.

BD:   Does it always have to be extremely good work, or are there times when it can dip a little bit to get even better?

Dale:   [Laughs]  My intention is always to do better and better work, but you have to reserve the right to fail like any artists, of course.

BD:   When you’re always striving for more and more, is it your responsibility to top yourself every night, or at least every production?

Dale:   I don’t think it’s a competition.  Like anything in performing, it’s not competitive.  That’s why I think it’s so funny that we have these things about who’s the greatest tenor in the world.  Just look at The Three Tenors.  Each one has his own major qualities, and it’s really quite redundant to say which one is the better.  They’re just fantastic singers, and they do whatever they do best.  I don’t even like the competitiveness that we get for ourselves in between performances.  [Laughs]  In reminiscing about a series of performances about sixteen years ago, a man came to the stage door for me to sign all these massive programs.  I couldn’t believe how many, and then he started telling me that this night I sang quite well, and the previous one I wasn’t quite as good, and the one before that was not good at all!  He went through the whole list, and I just started feeling guilty about performing, and that’s absolutely absurd.

BD:   Would you rather ban him, or people like him, from the theater?

Dale:   No!  But I just find it sad that his analysis of things was what was good or bad.  I’ve heard performances of great, great singers who are past their prime, but bring something so special to each performance that it’s actually irrelevant.  I have heard stories about Bergonzi’s Otello in New York [conducted by Eve Queler in May of 2000, when the tenor was almost 76 years old].  I didn’t witness it unfortunately... or fortunately, but I can say that I first was standing on stage with him holding a spear at Covent Garden in 1976 and 1977.  I remember some performances were fantastic, and some were less good, but every night you saw the art of a great singer.  It was irrelevant, really, as to which was which.  I was extremely privileged.

BD:   Were you taking a lesson each night?

Dale:   Absolutely!  It’s not a glorious voice, but it was the professionalism and the stage awareness.  For example, he knew when the baritone, specifically Piero Cappuccilli, was going to turn to the left or to the right.  Bergonzi had spent twenty years watching people’s feet, and on which foot the weight was, and so he knew which way he was going to turn.  Therefore he didn’t let Cappuccilli walk into him.  This professionalism is something that we have forgotten.  People want to be stars very quickly, and it often happens, but being a star is also having that theater-awareness, and I was very privileged to have experienced it very early on.  I sang with Jon Vickers in 1981 for the first time.  I’d seen him for the previous five years in almost every performance I could slip into.  I remember at one rehearsal of Otello, everyone else had gone away except for him and (soprano Teresa) Zylis-Gara.  I was doing Cassio, and just to be in that rehearsal, and hearing Vickers, who had sung it a million times at Covent Garden, explaining to everybody the psychology of that scene... my God, what a privilege!  I was lucky.

BD:   Does it please you now that there are perhaps some people hanging around your performances that are just eating up what you’re saying and doing?

Dale:   [Thinks a moment]  It’s not a question of pleasing me, and it’s not that I’m a walking reference or anything.  When I was the age of many of my colleagues here, who are particularly young and talented singers, I could go through the list of people who have helped me, just a patient word saying that it doesn’t go like that!  Richard Lewis told me to look at the way he doubled the N, and then made a portamento [a slide from one note to another] within that N without it sounding like a portamento.  You just take away this little idea and develop it and work on it, and develop your own artistry.  For the last five years of his life, Peter Pears was a very, very, very dear friend.  He’s somebody I’d adored, and he obviously had a great affection for me.  We didn’t sing that much together, but he guided me more than almost anyone in understanding how to combine all the art forms that were around us.  His first introduction to me was to take me to art galleries.  Then he had a stroke, which made him a little less mobile, but I marvel at the things he taught me!  When there are people who have the patience or the interest, I’m delighted to hand it on.  There is a great tradition of secrets of singers, and if you’re in the right place at the right time with the right mentality, there is a lot to learn, but it’s up to you as to whether you’re ready for it.

BD:   Is there any general advice that you can give to younger singers, or does it have to be specific to each piece of music?

Dale:   The key to everything is one word
humility.  That’s all it takes.  Just sit there and listen.  Be patient!  Somebody may know better than you.

BD:   I assume you still observe that admonition?
Dale:   You bet!  It’s amazing!  One of many wise things that Peter Brook said was to just remember that other people may need more time than you.  I was lucky to have been prepared by people who worked in the same way, or in another way from the routine.  Even though I was zipping on, and coming up with solutions, they were not necessarily the right solution for what I really wanted to do.  But to note that some people need more time means you have to give them that respect, and that time.  The irony is that in seemingly giving them more time, you often find yourself learning much more about other things, because of having to find out what they need to know!

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Now that you’re going to be doing more directing, will you continue the singing career?  [Vis-à-vis the DVD shown at right, see my interviews with Kathleen Kuhlmann, Donato Renzetti, and John Cox.]

Dale:   Maybe.  It’s up in the air.  I get an immense amount of pleasure and satisfaction in directing, putting together a team, and making editions of pieces.  For example, this year, we did Der Zarewitsch in Bad Ischl Operetta Festival.  Bad Ischl is near Salzburg.  It’s where Lehár lived and wrote these famous operettas.  I made my debut in operetta, and this was my first direction of operetta.  It was actually surprisingly-well received because you expect people to be a little conservative.  It wasn’t anything shocking.  It was just that I treated it as a sincere and sensationally great work.  The funny thing is the festival has always been used to rather traditional operetta decor and dance sequences, and I treated it that way because it was written in 1927 and revived in 1937.  That was the time Lehár was writing film music, so I treated it as a consequential film.  They asked me back to do The Land of Smiles, and I spent yesterday and Sunday working on it.  Most of the time I was crying through it, because I just think the potential of the piece is phenomenal.  It’s amazing, and so I’m looking forward to that very much.  The Land of Smiles has worked quite well up to now, but Die Zarewitsch hasn’t been regarded as a great piece.  But now, in Salzburg they seem to think that it’s a major piece.  L’incontro Improvviso had always been regarded as a bit of misfired Haydn, but some very positive things were said about it, and we had a full house every night, with people falling about laughing, and being moved by this unbelievably beautiful music.

BD:   When they wonder why it isn’t done more often, does that indicate a success for you?

Dale:   Yes, but it’s not that I think I’m a  savior of every dud piece.  I spent a year-and-a-half on the Haydn opera trying to think how to make it work.  The irony with the Haydn and with the Lehár is that all the text, every word but one, was original.  There was nothing that wasn’t original, and yet if you organize it in a certain way, it has a dramatic quality which works for a modern audience.

BD:   Usually I ask singers how they choose which roles they will sing, but since you’re getting into the directing area, let me expand it.  How do you decide which projects you will get involved in?  I assume you have more offers and more ideas than you could possibly accomplish.

Dale:   [Laughs]  It’s very nice of you to put it like that.  I can just about deal with the offers!  For example, the festival invited me to do 
Lehár’s Giuditta, so I looked at it, and thought about it.  It’s a real operetta story, although Lehár at that time wasn’t writing operettas.  The operetta fashion had finished nearly twenty-five years earlier, but he still had this operetta-style idea in his mind.  In the end, I didn’t think this was a piece for me, and the way I would treat it wouldn’t be for the audience in Bad Ischl.  So, they came back with The Land of Smiles, which I’m so thrilled about.

Giuditta is an operatic musikalische Komödie (musical comedy) in five scenes, with music by Franz Lehár and a German libretto by Paul Knepler  and Fritz Löhner-Beda. Scored for a large orchestra, it was Lehár's last and most ambitious work, written on a larger scale than his previous operettas. Of all his works it is the one which most approaches true opera, the resemblances between the story and that of Bizet's Carmen and its unhappy ending heightening the resonances. Another strong influence, especially for the North African setting, was the 1930 movie Morocco, starring Marlene Dietrich and Gary Cooper in very similar central roles, she being a singer-dancer, he being a soldier.

The work received its first performance at the Vienna State Opera on 20 January 1934, with Jarmila Novotná and Richard Tauber in the leading roles. The premiere attracted more attention than any of his previous works. It was broadcast live on 120 radio stations across Europe and the United States and ran for 42 performances in its debut season. Despite this initial interest, Giuditta soon faded from the repertoire, and received little attention elsewhere.

BD:   At least they offered you something else.

Dale:   Yes.  Then elsewhere I’m doing Powder Her Face.  This is a Thomas Adès opera, which I saw recently in Vienna, and I also saw it in London with Adès conducting.  It’s a sensational piece.  It’s wonderful!  It’s a cabaret piece, full of witty references, pastiche suggestions.  It’s also a very controversial piece because there’s an aria in which the soprano performs fellatio!  I’m doing that in France for the French premiere, and later in Graz.  I’m sure there will be shockers, and I’m sure people will be very upset about it, but there’s not much I can do about that.

Is it an X-rated opera?

Dale:   It is in the version I’m doing, as far as I’m concerned.  But the point is that the productions I’ve seen of it have been very surreal, or very nice and cozy, and neither is the way I see the piece.
BD:   Are you trying to find a middle ground?

Dale:   No, not at all.  I’m trying to find the right ground.  The opera starts in the 1930s with this famous beauty, who then marries the Duke of Argyll.  It’s based on the story of the Duchess of Argyll, Margaret Campbell, who had a scandalous divorce which featured polaroid photographs of her sexual acts.  It’s a very witty opera, but I have a more allegorical view of the piece than I’ve seen.  I was concerned whether I could do it because I didn’t see it as I had seen it in these former productions, and the irony is that the composer himself said that the piece is more operatic and more allegorical than he’s ever seen it.  So maybe I’m on the right track!  He seems to think so, so we’ll see.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Is it right that a singer attach himself or herself as much as possible to a rising young composer, to keep in touch with what is going on in new music, as well as performing standard works and old works?

Dale:   I’ve not done many new works.  I’ve done all the Britten and things, and Tippett operas...

BD:   ...but they’re not cutting-edge anymore.

Dale:   No, and that’s exactly the point I wanted to make.  Every time I’ve been due to do a creation, which has excited me a lot, either the score has never been finished, or it was simply not for me.  I was supposed to have a premiere on a song recital in Paris, and the music had been commissioned for me.  It turned up the Friday before the Tuesday recital, and had been written for a coloratura bass.  [Both laugh]  It would have been fabulous for Samuel Ramey.  Unfortunately, I am a tenor...

BD:   You couldn’t just transpose it?

Dale:   Don’t imagine that he didn’t suggest it!  I just said that the writing was not for a tenor voice.  So, that is a problem.  The irony is that someone like Caruso had very few pieces in his repertoire which weren’t contemporary.  The majority of Caruso’s work was contemporary music. 

BD:   Sure, all the operas of Giordano, and Puccini, and the late works of Verdi, of course.

Dale:   He didn’t create the late Verdi...

BD:   ...no, but they were recent.

Dale:   Yes, absolutely.  They were first done within living memory.  Toscanini conducted the first performance of La Bohème, and played the cello in the first performance of Otello, so we’re talking about people who were in direct contact with the pulse of new music.  Now, we have much less of it, and it’s sad, frankly.

BD:   Of course, your relationship with Peter Pears goes directly to Britten.

Dale:   Yes.  Peter used to come to recitals that I was doing, and I sang at the last Aldeburgh Festival before he died.  He knew he was going to die.  We were working on Peter Grimes, and I remember saying to him that I’d come the next week.  He said,
No, no, it’ll be too late, and he was right.  He knew exactly what was happening.  He would come to recitals and say, That was not how I would have done it, but it was very lovely!  It was a very elegant way of saying something else might have been better.

BD:   Is this one of the things that makes a piece of music great, that there are several right ways to do it?

Dale:   He certainly thought so!  At the time when I was in London studying, Peter was a sort of God in those days, and people used to spend their time imitating him.  He wasn’t flattered by that.  This notion shows what’s so strange about this very old music.  Here we come to Orfeo, for example.  My first contact with it was with John Eliot Gardiner.  The next was with Paul Daniel, who is a fine rising musician.  Next was René Jacobs, with whom I recorded it, which is completely different from John Eliot’s recording.  Then I recently did it in Amsterdam, and I’ve done many things with Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Franz Brüggen, Christopher Hogwood, and William Christie.  Of all these people, can you tell me which one of those has got it right?  [Both laugh]  Which is the one who knows how Baroque music should be?  Not one of them says exactly the same thing as another, with all the same references.  What is wonderful about this is the fact that we’re in an area in need of re-creativity, and it gives us huge choices, whereas when I was young and it came to singing Britten everyone had to do it like Peter.  Now that we have this huge choice and variation on interpretation, it is a very good thing.

BD:   The outstanding example of that was Grimes by Peter Pears and Jon Vickers, who couldn’t be more dissimilar.

Dale:   Absolutely... not that Britten was particularly admiring of Vickers.  It wasn’t because of vocal reasons, it was just that certain dramatic choices that Vickers made, Britten didn’t feel were appropriate.  I must have seen Vickers about twenty times in that piece, maybe more.  I would go to almost every performance I could, and it was phenomenal.  Because the composer didn’t like it, or said he didn’t like it, maybe he was just protecting Peter, and the fact that Peter had a very noble and poetic sort of way.

BD:   In the end, who is right when there are divergent opinions?  Is it the performers, or the composers, or the public?  Is it history?  Is it nobody?  Is it everybody?

Dale:   When I was offered my first directing job, the director of the theater said something which is very wise.  He said,
All composers and all librettists are dead!  [Both laugh]  It’s true.  Somebody creates a work on a piece of paper.  He then hands it to the artist, the interpreter.  Everybody is an interpreter.  The greatness about this is that it leaves all sorts of versions available.  Which would Beethoven have preferredSviatoslav Richter or Wilhelm Kempff?

BD:   Then is it your responsibility as a performer to get inside each conductor and his or her interpretation for this production, and then lose it all and do a different one next time?

Dale:   Yes, but that’s a real privilege.  When I was doing routine performances in places like Vienna and Berlin, you’d be lucky if you met the conductor.  The Staatsoper in Vienna at the time was a factory in which you went in one end and came out the same end!  [Much laughter]  But in between you had an experience which was either nerve-wracking or sensibility-wracking because it was not really satisfactory.  Here, I am working with Jane Glover.  I’ve known Jane since about 1981.  We did a Matthew Passion [Bach] together years and years ago, and it’s a real joy to find ourselves working together again.  This is the first time I have worked with Diane Paulus.  [At the Chicago Opera Theater, besides Orfeo, Paulus has directed the other two Monteverdi operas (L
incoronazione di Poppea, and Il Ritorno DUlisse in Patria), as well as Le Nozze di Figaro and Così Fan Tutte of Mozart, and The Turn of the Screw by Britten.]  Orfeo is a special work because the title role is the majority of the opera.  Therefore, you have a conductor and director who have their concept, but it’s such a combination, a collaboration that doesn’t really exist in many other pieces the same way.  You can’t have such an input from every singer in a normal opera because there are so many roles.  But here it’s a role where your contribution is absolutely essential.  I’ve been very lucky with this piece, working with David Freeman or Herbert Wernicke in Salzburg.  We did an extraordinary production in 1993, and then the last one I did in Holland with the former director of the National Theatre.  I can’t imagine doing a production of this piece if you don’t have a good relationship with the conductor and the director.  Here, it’s an absolute joy!


BD:   Does each combination of singer, conductor, and director bring out different facets of this character?

Dale:   Absolutely!

BD:   Is there no way to bring out all the facets in any one production?

Dale:   Well, you can try!  What is so extraordinary is sometimes you do something, either as a performer or a director, and a member of the audience will tell you all the things they received from it.  Just think how marvelous that they brought half of it.  It’s like when you do a painting, you create something, and have to let it go.  Then your audience has the next part of the contribution.  That’s why I say a musical composition stops at a certain point, and then afterwards the interpreter brings something else, which the audience receives.  But when the art form is painting or sculpture, the interpreter is actually the audience.  I love this ambiguity.  It’s essential, and therefore you don’t become a couch potato.  You aren’t sitting there with a remote control just zapping from channel to channel.  You’re actually having to vitalize your senses and sensibility.
BD:   So, you demand participation and contribution on the part of the audience?

Dale:   [Feigning horror]  Oh, heaven forbid!  [Both laugh]  Yes, of course!  It’s essential.  That’s why I find it so funny when people tell me that they love sleeping through the first act of an opera!  Maybe that’s a contribution... or maybe that’s an essential part of performing, to have somebody sleeping!  [More laughter]

*     *     *     *     *
BD:   How do you see the character of Orfeo?  Is he mad?  Is he a God?  What is he?

Dale:   The problem is that he’s a demi-god.  Pretty early on I learned that the thing not to do is to play being a god.  When people write in a newspaper that the composer is a genius, I don’t suppose the conductor goes into the work feeling he must conduct it the way a genius would conduct it.  It’s for other people to say that he’s a genius, and in the same way, if you’re going to be a demi-god, it’s the other people in the piece who recognize him as such.  You have to give him the material to play with, but you can’t actually impose on them what is a demi-god.  From personal experience, I certainly don’t have any idea what a demi-god is.

BD:   You play him as a god with humility?

Dale:   I hope I’m playing a human being with humility.  But whatever he has as attributes and talents, should touch people to the point that they would describe him as a demi-god.  It’s not easy as a concept but we’ll see if we make it work.

BD:   I’m sure you will.

Dale:   That’s very nice of you to think so.

BD:   Perhaps different performances will reach different levels?

Dale:   Yes, and that’s the greatness of live theater.

BD:   We’ll be out there keeping score like that fan that you were talking about.  [Much laughter]

Dale:   Oh, goodness me, no, don’t do that!  What a nightmare!

BD:   We’re in the Olympic year, so maybe we should all have big cards with the numbers, and hold them up during the performance so you can tell how you’re doing.

Dale:   What is that thing about Going for Gold?  To somebody sitting there, if you don’t get the gold, you’ve lost.  It would be very sad if we looked on performances and felt if it was not the best one, therefore I had nothing.  No, it’s much more of a combination, and much more of sharing experience.

BD:   When you walk out on stage in this role or any role, are you creating and portraying the character, or do you actually become that character?

Dale:   [Thinks a moment]  I’ve been singing for twenty years in a diversity of roles, and there are roles I have done many times in different productions.  I’ve never actually sung Peter Grimes.  I’ve been waiting for that for years, and years, and years, and I’d like to do it, but I know that if I would, I would be deeply anti-social for that period.  These things do take you over a little bit... a lot, actually.  They take over your entire life.  That’s why everyone should be paid a huge amount of money, because of the suffering they go through.  

BD:   Are there times when you will alternate two roles during the same period?

Dale:   Oh yes, of course.

BD:   Does that make you schizophrenic?

Dale:   Not schizophrenic exactly, but it can be a bit confusing.  There have been times when I look back at my diaries, and that’s one reason why I want to settle down and be more concentrated on directing.  Because in my particular repertoire of Mozart and the lyric roles, you can flit around and do that.  Friends of mine, like Graham Clark, or John Tomlinson are more used to doing serious rehearsal periods, and therefore they don’t have that sort of schizophrenia.  But I feel it’s not a very good way of living.  Maybe you get paid a lot of money, but that really isn’t the most important thing when it comes down to it.

BD:   What is the most important thing?

Dale:   Freedom.  Freedom of choice, freedom of realizing what you perceive of the piece.  For example, this Zarewitsch.  Some people consider that operetta very lightly, when in fact, it’s a deeply moving and thought-provoking piece.  I can’t say in all honesty I was very well paid for it, but I came out of it feeling a more complete human being for having participated with such a wonderful team.  There was a fabulous Russian tenor with a beautiful voice called Valeriy Serkin.  I’m sure very soon he will be a household name.  [Serkin studied choir conducting at the Kharkov Music College in Ukraine, before graduating as a lyric tenor from the Gnessin Academy in Moscow.]  
We also had a wonderful Viennese soprano who has sung a lot of operetta, Charlotte [Lotte] Leitner.  [Among her credits is Papagena on the Magic Flute recording conducted by Solti.]  It’s wonderful to sit in the audience watching your work, and just think they are great!  I just love seeing performers doing their best and giving of their best.  They can’t be paid enough for that.  It’s just extraordinary, and the same thing happened in the Haydn.  For me, the real star performer was tenor Steven Cole, who came over and contributed amazingly to the success of this piece with his style and vocalism.  He was sensational.  Somebody said it was a sort of a male version of Kathleen Battle singing Despina.  [Cole was born in Baltimore, Maryland. He studied sociology and anthropology at Union College and singing at the Peabody Conservatory and at the Royal College of Music, Stockholm. After graduating from Union College in 1971, he was awarded a Watson Fellowship and pursued further vocal training in England. He has sung mostly character roles all over the world.]  Then there was a wonderful baritone called Ivan Ludlow, who I’ve seen in little parts.  I’d engaged him as Escamillo in The Tragedy of Carmen, the Peter Brook piece that I created twenty years ago.  I re-directed it for Peter Brook at the beginning of this year, and he did a wonderful job as Escamillo, a very suave guy, and he played a comic dervish.  I got him turned out a bit like Rasputin, very evil, and he managed to make that very funny as well as evil, and charming too.  It’s fantastic to watch somebody develop in such a way.

ludlow Ivan Ludlow was born in London and attended the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and the National Opera Studio. He makes regular guest appearances at some of Europe’s most prestigious venues including the Opéra Comique, La Monnaie in Brussels, the Salzburg Festival, the Lyon Opera, as well as stages in Lucerne, Moscow, Strasbourg, Naples, Glyndebourne, Hanover, Toulouse, Marseille, Antwerp, Porto, Athens, Spoleto, and Amsterdam.

He has performed under the baton of numerous conductors including Adam Fischer, Ludovic Morlot, Christophe Rousset, Rino Alessandrini, Jean-Yves Ossonce, Premil Petrovic, and Gustav Kuhn, and has worked with directors like Macha Makaïeff, Olivier Py, Alvis Hermanis, Peter Sellars, and Krzysztof Warlikowski. He has sung the title roles in Don Giovanni and Eugene Onegin, and played Guglielmo (Così fan tutte), Count Almaviva (Le Nozze di Figaro), Nick Shadow (The Rake’s Progress), Danilo (Die Lustige Witwe), Iarbas (Didone), Escamillo (Carmen), Nevers (Les Huguenots), the Count (Capriccio), Marcello (La Bohème), Aeneas (Dido and Aeneas), Demetrius (A Midsummer Night’s Dream), Tarquinius (The Rape of Lucretia), the Husband (Les Mamelles de Tirésias), and Wotan /the Wanderer in the version of Wagner’s Ring adapted by Graham Vick and Jonathan Dove. More recently, Ludlow appeared in Purcell’s King Arthur (title role) at the Barbican Hall with the Academy of Ancient Music, Heinz Holliger’s Lunea (Anton Schurz) at the Zurich Opera, Lulu (the Animal Tamer/the Athlete) at the Hamburg Staatsoper, and The Cunning Little Vixen (the Forester) at the Helsinki Festival.

He also performs in recital and in concert. He was invited by Macha Makeïeff to take part in her original production of Trissotin ou les femmes savantes. He has participated in world premiere productions by Isidora Zebeljan and Francesco Filidei (Giordano Bruno) and also recorded Henrik Hellstenius’s Ophelia in Norway. His discography includes songs by Schumann, Fauré, Poulenc and Bridge with pianists Graham Johnson and Daniel Tong and, on DVD, Les Mamelles de Tirésias and Die Lustige Witwe at the Lyon Opera as well as a version of Lulu recorded in Brussels.

==  From the website of Opéra National de Paris  

[Dale continues]:   Then there’s a wonderful soprano who has won numerous prizes called Eteri Lamoris.  She had a big success in I Puritani in Washington.  She really is top quality, and adores performing.  She came out with some hilarious routines, added to the beauty of her singing.  [Of Georgian descent and now a Spanish citizen, Lamoris initially studied with her mother in Tbilisi and later in Madrid. She made her operatic debut as Desdemona at the Tbilisi Opera and Ballet Theatre where she later sang Violetta and Gilda. She made her international debut as Musetta in Franco Zeffirelli's production of La bohème at La Scala and went on to perform leading roles in both European and North American opera houses. Lamoris teaches voice at the Academy of Belcanto in Graz (Austria). In 2012, she received the Stockholm Culture Foundation's award for Cultural Personality of the Year. At the event, Princess Christina Magnuson presented her a gold medal with title the “Greatest Singer of Our Time".
]  But to see these things taking form and sweeping up an audience in the rush of enthusiasm is what I love doing.  In Orfeo, which is the ultimate theater piece in music, if you manage to catch the emotions of the piece, and carry the audience with you, then that’s the principle of the thing.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   One last question.  Is singing fun?

Dale:   It can be!  The moments when it is fun, I find rarer and rarer.  It happens to be fun here, to be honest.  As soon as it becomes a commercial machine. or as soon as it becomes routine, I won’t see it as fun.  As long as it remains creative, and inventive, and thought-provoking, and on the basis of somebody coming to hear because they want to hear what happens in that music with that artist, it will remain fun.  As soon as you impose preconceived ideas on what music is, and what performing is, it is dead, and there is no fun in death.  There is nothing deadlier than judgments before you’ve even started the performance.

BD:   I always come to the performances thinking that I will enjoy the performance, and I will learn from it, and get something out of it.  That, though, is a good pre-judgment.

Dale:   Absolutely, but can you imagine an audience going to the cinema, and sitting there thinking they know how this should be?  I can’t imagine anyone wanting to go out in the rain to sit down in a cinema, pay for a ticket, and then tell them what you expect.  I tend to watch the thing, and try to follow the thought process of the direction of the performance.  At the end of it, you could say you thought he treated his subject very lightly, but I don’t see a person saying they thought somebody did it much better in another film, and therefore make a cross-reference.  For example, how many people go to a performance and compare it to a recording of 1952?  I find all that so stifling, and we don’t need that.

BD:   I hope we have more enlightened audiences.

Dale:   Gradually we are getting them.  If you manage to get people into the opera house to start with, often they are coming for the first time, and there is an element which is positive as they are discovering the art form.

BD:   It’s a clean slate.

Dale:   Absolutely, so that is positive, and a very good thing to be encouraged.  But when they’ve had a bit of experience, it would be deadly for them to say they know how it should be because they’ve seen it before!  Then we’re going around in the same old circle, and we don’t need that.  Opera singing is very complicated, and is an art form which developed over years.  When you listen to Caruso’s recordings of the same aria, they’re completely different each time.

BD:   I assume that’s a good thing?

Dale:   Fantastic!

BD:   I’m glad you are keeping up the standard.

Dale:   [Modestly]  Well, I don’t know about that, but I see my job as trying to develop ways of dealing with this art form, for which we are badly equipped nowadays.  I’m not saying that I’m better than anyone else.  I’m just saying the whole system seems to have forgotten that.

BD:   Thank you for speaking with me today.

Dale:   My pleasure.  Thank you.


See my interview with Sylvia McNair



After gaining a considerable international reputation as a lyric tenor, which took him to many of the world's most important theatres, collaborating with many of the most prestigious conductors and stage directors, with the new century, Laurence Dale decided to turn his attention to his ambition of directing operas.

Having created the rôle of Don José in Peter Brook's famous La Tragédie de Carmen in 1981 at the Bouffes du Nord, Paris, and played the rôle through three seasons, including New York, that Peter Brook turned to him to re-direct the production for the Opera de Bordeaux and further performances on tour.

Immediately afterwards he directed Lehar's Der Zarewitsch for the Operette Festival, Bad Ischl and literally the next day, Haydn's L'Incontro Improvviso for the Haydn Festival Eisenstadt and EXPO 2000, Hannover.

These productions received unanimous praise from the Viennese press, which led to Laurence Dale being re-invited at Bad Ischl, in coproduction with Salzburg to mount Lehar's Das Land des Lächelns (designed by Hartmut Schörghofer).

In 2001, he conceived and prepared the New York Off Broadway Salsa musical ¡MUSICA!, which alas, following the disaster of 11th September had to be abandoned.

However, his production, the French première at Nantes, of Thomas Adès' Powder Her Face, (designed by Tom Schenk)  was as controversial as its subject matter! Opera Magazine said 'it proved a lot of fun, much more than many of the contemporary creations I have seen recently.'

In 2002, he mounted two operas for New York's Gotham Chamber Opera, Les Malheurs d'Orphée by Milhaud and Purcell's Dido and Aeneas (designed by Dipu Gupta and Fabio Toblini and conducted by Neal Goren) which played to sold out houses, as did Land of Smiles in Salzburg for 34 performances!

In 2003 a third Lehar operetta was presented in Bad Ischl, The Count of Luxemburg, having originally opened in Innsbruck.

His work of re-conceiving the 1769 farcical opera L'Opera Seria (Gassmann) with the Dutch Reisopera was a huge success, as was Les Contes d'Hoffmann, for which he made his own performing edition. Both were designed by Yannis Thavoris (sets) and Fabio Toblini (costumes), lit by Dominique Borrini et Declan Randall.  

Hoffmann was received by the Dutch press as 'historic' and the UK Opera magazine's correspondent Michael Davidson described it as 'the best (Hoffman) I have ever attended anywhere' adding 'this glorious production: opéra fantastique indeed.'

Opera Seria is to be revived in October 2012. Meanwhile he mounted the double bill Poulenc's La Voix Humaine and Ravel's l'Heure Espagnole in January 2011 with Gary McCann designing sets and Fabio Toblini costumes. Poulenc's Elle was sung by Maria Ewing, making her comeback to the stage while Marie-Ange Todorovich led the wonderful cast of the Ravel which included baritone Craig Verm as Ramiro and Erik Slik as Gonzalve.

In 2011 he made a performing edition of, and directed Rossini's La Pietra del Paragone for Opera Trionfo designed by Gary McCann, who also collaborated with him for FLAGGERMUSEN (Die Fledermaus) at the Oslo Norwegian National Opera, conducted by Alexander Joel in 2012.

Other recent projects have included a new production of the double bill Venus & Adonis, Blow and Purcell's Dido & Aeneas for the Innsbruck Altemusikfestspiele 2013, designed by Gabriella Ingram, and a new production of Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia for the Nationale Reisopera, designed by Gary McCann and conducted by Maestro Antonino Fogliani. 

As the Artistic Director of l'Opéra Théâtre de Metz he staged Britten's Turn of the Screw, Thomas Adès' Powder Her Face and Lehar's Land of Smiles. For the opening of the season Les Jeux de Pouvoir, he mounted the twin productions of Auber's Gustave III (the modern stage premiere) and Verdi's Gustavo III (the French premiere of the original version of Un Ballo in Maschera), this thought-provoking project attracted praise from national as well as international commentators. He completed this unique season with Meyerbeer's Les Huguenots (starring Rockwell Blake as Raoul) for which the last performance was accorded a standing ovation of at least 30 minutes!

For two and a half years Laurence Dale committed himself to raising the visibility and appreciation of opera in South Africa as Artistic consultant to Opera Africa in Gauteng. His contribution transformed the fortunes of that company with a production of Bellini's I Capuleti et i Montecchi which was named the cultural event of 2006 and the most significant production in South Africa in the last ten years. 

Dale then created Opera Extravaganza expressly to showcase new SA singers whom he formed, trained and coached. The show played to full houses with standing ovations from a cross-section audience … a historic first in Gauteng for opera … The same phenomen occurred with his next production, that of Aida in 2008 (designed by Dipu Gupta, sets, and renowned South Africa painter Andrew Verster for costumes. It was lit by award winning designer Declan Randall). Dale later conducted the Johannesburg Philharmonic in Aida in that series of performances.  

He recently redirected his 2006 Opéra de Monte Carlo production of Ariadne auf Naxos (costumes and sets by Bruno Schwengl) for l'Opéra Royal de Wallonie, Liège with a completely new cast including Monique McDonald, Janez Lotric and Daniela Fally. He returned to the Tirolerlanderstheater Innsbruck at the invitation of Kammersängerin Brigitte Fassbaender where he conceived and directed a new production of Lortzing's Zar und Zimmermann designed by Hartmut Schörghofer and Fabio Toblini.

==  Section about his 'recent activities' from the artist's website (with BD links added)  

© 2000 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in Chicago on September 25, 2000.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB a few days later.  This transcription was made in 2023, and posted on this website at that time.  My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.

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

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

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