Tenor / Administrator  David  Lloyd

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


David Lloyd, Tenor With City Opera, Dies at 92

Published in The New York Times February 12, 2013

David Lloyd, an American tenor who sang leading roles with the New York City Opera in the 1950s, died on Friday in the Bronx. He was 92.  His death, at Calvary Hospital, was confirmed by his son, David Thomas Lloyd.

A lyric tenor, Mr. Lloyd was equally well known as a recitalist and an oratorio singer. He was praised throughout his career for his insightful musicianship, as in a 1961 recital he gave at Judson Hall in New York of works by Purcell, Brahms, Fauré and Tchaikovsky. Reviewing the recital in The New York Times, Raymond Ericson wrote that Mr. Lloyd’s “contributions to the musical life of New York have been as numerous as they have been splendid.”

Mr. Lloyd made his operatic debut with City Opera in 1950, as David in Wagner’s “Meistersinger.” He sang regularly with the company throughout the decade and occasionally thereafter; his roles included Pinkerton in Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly,” the Prince in Rossini’s “Cenerentola,” Alfred in Johann Strauss’s “Fledermaus” and Pedrillo in Mozart’s “Abduction From the Seraglio.”

Notable roles elsewhere include the title part in the United States premiere of Benjamin Britten’s comic opera “Albert Herring,” performed at Tanglewood under Boris Goldovsky in 1949. With the NBC Opera Theater, Mr. Lloyd sang in televised productions of Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel,” Prokofiev’s “War and Peace” and other operas in the 1950s. As a soloist, Mr. Lloyd was heard with some of the country’s leading orchestras. His European engagements included the Glyndebourne and Edinburgh Festivals.

David Lloyd Jenkins was born in Minneapolis on Feb. 29, 1920. (He dropped the “Jenkins” early in his career, at the suggestion of his management.) He earned a bachelor’s degree from the Minneapolis College of Music and later attended the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where he studied with the Metropolitan Opera baritone Richard Bonelli. During World War II, Mr. Lloyd served as a Navy pilot.

Mr. Lloyd had a second career as an arts administrator and teacher. From 1965 until 1980 he was the general director of the Lake George Opera Festival in upstate New York. (The festival is now known as Opera Saratoga.) From 1985 to 1988 he directed the Juilliard American Opera Center.

Mr. Lloyd’s first wife, the former Maria Shefeluk, a violinist, died before him, as did a son, Timothy Cameron Lloyd, a composer. Besides his son, David Thomas, he is survived by his second wife, Barbara Wilson Lloyd, and a grandson.

His recordings include Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion” and Handel’s “Messiah,” both with the New York Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein, and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, with the Boston Symphony under Serge Koussevitzky.



Usually my interviews with performing musicians have taken place in conjunction with their appearances, mostly in Chicago.  I make the distinction of performing musicians because quite a number of the composers have been contacted by telephone for the conversation.  Be that as it may, it came to my attention that David Lloyd would be in Chicago to judge a singing competition for up-and-coming artists.  Though his time here was short and his agenda was packed, he graciously agreed to meet with me for a chat.

His long experience as both singer and impresario gave him a nearly unique perspective on both his task as judge and his responses to my questions.

As we were setting up for the recording, we spoke briefly about his wide-ranging repertoire, and we pick up the discussion as it moved into the realm of newer pieces . . . . . . . . .

Bruce Duffie
:    Have you sung much new music, or did you confine yourself mostly to established repertoire?

David Lloyd:    Oh, I did quite a bit of new music.  I was the first American Albert in Albert Herring.  I did the Spring Symphony of Britten for first time in America.  It was supposed to have been the first time ever, but Britten pleaded with Koussevitzky to let Peter Pears do it in Belgium at the World’s Fair.  I did Christopher Columbus with Mitropoulos [Mack Harrell as Columbus, also Dorothy Dow, John Brownlee, and Norman Scott, New York Philharmonic, November, 1952].  That was by Milhaud.  He redid it after that [1955].  San Francisco finally did the revised version. 
[Lloyd would also be in Elektra, the pirated recording of which is shown farther down on this webpage.]  Another opera I did with the New York Philharmonic and Mitropoulos was Wozzeck.


BD:    You were the Drum Major?

DL:    No, at that time I was Andreas.  I also did Lulu with Sarah Caldwell.  That’s sort of new... or at that time it was.

BD:    It’s the newer style.  You spent quite a bit of your time, though, doing Baroque and lighter music.

DL:    Yes, lots of Bach.

BD:    Before we go into that, how is it different for someone trained to use the voice very lyrically to then sing new music which is so very angular?

DL:    That’s an interesting question. I never thought of it that way.  I just did it.  [Laughs]  I didn’t turn anything down, I guess.  In the book by Rudolf Kloiber [Handbuch der Oper] where there is a list the Fachs among German opera houses, I found I’ve done things from every Fach.  But I didn’t know about Fach, so you can’t blame me.  In those days, we singers were not typed so much.  We were not put in pigeon holes.  You got a job and you did it.  I did an awful lot of performances of Das Lied von der Erde, The Song of the Earth by Mahler.  I never recorded that, though I wish I had.  I did it with Ormandy, with Koussevitzky, and I did it with Thor Johnson in Cincinnati and I did it in Denver with the Denver Symphony with Vladimir Golschmann.

BD:    Is it better to stick with a Fach, a particular group of roles, or to just simply be a tenor and sing anything that is written in your range?

lloydDL:    Fachs were invented by German impresarios because in the smaller houses, if they got twelve singers, one of each Fach, they can do almost any opera.  We didn’t have enough opera companies here in the U.S., or enough opera going on when I was doing most of my singing to be choosey.  Somebody said to me, “You should do nothing but David,” because I’d had a success with David in Meistersinger at the City Opera.  After my debut in 1950 he said, “You should do nothing but David and Pedrillo in the Abduction from the Seraglio.  Just do those two roles.”  Well, in this country I would have starved to death because nobody was doing either one of those very much.  Meistersinger was a rare item in those days.  I was invited to do it at the Met, but my manager wouldn’t let me do it because they wouldn’t give me the first performance, so they turned it down.  At that time my manager, Arthur Judson, was warring heavily with Rudolph Bing, who was new.

BD:    You eventually changed managers?

DL:    Finally I left, but the thing is, in those days you didn’t say, “Oh, that’s not for me.  That’s not good for my voice.”  First of all, we never did things enough times to have it be bad for your voice.  I remember running into a girl from my home town who said she was just back from Germany where she had done eighteen Marschallins.  I don’t think I ever did eighteen of anything.  I did a lot of Beethoven Ninths, which is not particularly in my type, and Song of the Earth, which is not my type.  I’ve done an awful lot of those.  I’ve done light roles like Pedrillo, but I’ve also done Belmonte in that opera.

BD:    Coming back to my question, then, is it better now that voices are type cast, or is it, perhaps, better to sing all things?

DL:    I don’t know if it’s better or worse, but singers are type cast these days.  As we sit and judge singers in contests, we say, “That, of course, isn’t for him or her.  They shouldn’t be singing that.  That’s the wrong repertoire.”  If they did the wrong repertoire all the time, that probably would be very hard on them.  Or maybe it would suddenly become the right repertoire because they’ve learned how to do it and sound the right way.  I don’t know.  People would say, “Yes, you should stick to a certain type of role.  When you’re a certain age and you have a certain kind of a voice, you should only do that.”  I had a light, lyric, tenor voice, I suppose, although I always thought of myself as more dramatic than my voice was, and I felt more dramatic than my voice was.  I probably had a light, lyric tenor that became more of a lyric tenor.  At City Opera I did all sorts of roles.  I did Butterfly, and Traviata, so they thought of me as somewhat of a lighter tenor than Rodolfo and Walther von Stolzing.  I was David.  That’s how I started out.  It was a big success, and I was type cast. [Laughs]

BD:    Tell me a little bit about David.  What kind of a character is he?

DL:    He’s terrific.  He’s an apprentice to Hans Sachs the cobbler, and he loves his master, works hard for him not only as a cobbler, because that’s the way they did things, but also as a singing student.  As he explains to Walther von Stolzing, he gets them all mixed up sometimes, how to make a shoe and how to sing.  There’s an awful lot of notes in that part.  It’s a long part.  Not as long as Hans Sachs, but David is very substantial, and it’s the plum for comprimario tenors.  If they rise to David, that’s the utmost.

BD:    Is it appropriate that David be promoted to Gesell [journeyman] in the end?

DL:    Yes.  He gets to be a mastersinger eventually, I guess.  He doesn’t get that in the opera, but that’s where he’s heading.

BD:    But at the time Sachs promotes him, is David ready for that?

DL:    He promotes him on stage, yes.  There are various categories.  I can’t remember all of them, but he gets promoted up to Gesell, and he gets a slap in the face as a result!

BD:    In the end, though, is he happy getting Magdalena?

DL:    Oh yes.  That’s definitely something he wants, and Magdalena wants him, too.

BD:    So, they’re happy in the fourth act?

DL:    Three acts is long enough!  [Both laugh]  But after the opera, yes.  She’s an older woman, so I’m sure he’s very happy about it.

BD:    Is she an older woman who has had someone, or an older woman who has gotten left out?

DL:    I think she’s just an older woman, period.  She’s the maid of Eva Pogner, who marries Walther.

BD:    So she hasn’t had anybody?

DL:    We don’t hear about it, but they call her Die Alte [the old one] in the opera.  She’s probably a spinster.

BD:    These days we seem to be delving into the characters and their psyches, and all of the ideas behind the people being portrayed on stage.  Is this good, or is this too much work?

lloydDL:    The research is very important, just so it doesn’t interfere with your singing.  It gives color to the singing.  I remember when I did the part of Pierre in War and Peace of Prokofiev.  [The role had been sung by Franco Corelli at the Italian premiere on May 26, 1953, in Florence.]  That was a newer work then, and it was the premiere of that opera in this country on NBC Television [January 13, 1957].  I read the Tolstoy novel, and then I went through it again and underlined everything that was in the opera.  I had such a feeling for that character that I could think his thoughts in case somebody wrote more music for the part!  I felt very happy about that role, and I saw our performance of it recently at the Museum of Television.  It came out pretty well.

BD:    Did Prokofiev write appropriately for that character?

DL:    Oh I think so, yes.  Yes.  He caught the spirit, definitely.

BD:    Are there times when you delve into the character and you realize the composer has made a mistake in carving the character that he does?

DL:    I hadn’t thought about that.  I think Don José is great.  I’ve loved doing that part.  That may be my favorite part.  I did that a lot, and at that time I’m sure it was wrong for my voice.  But I’m not going to give them back a dime.  [Both laugh]  I never really thought about whether a character was wrong.  It becomes something else.  When it’s a combination of somebody’s words and somebody’s music, that’s really 95% of the character, maybe even 99%.  The other thoughts you have are because of research and because of your studies as an actor, and how you think this character would move or walk.  Once I did Dmitri in Boris Godunov, who is described as having one arm shorter than the other, and being red-haired.  I looked at myself in the mirror and realized I had brownish hair at that time, so it was a rather quick decision that I made to do something about that.  This was in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  They didn’t have a make-up artist there that would help you out, so I went to the dime store and got some red hair dye.  It didn’t turn out very well.  It was all over the pillow in the hotel, and I’m sure they’re still looking for me.  [Laughs]  But I wanted to be honest to the character as he is described in the opera.

BD:    Do you expect the audience to know that Dmitri would be a red-haired man?

DL:    Oh, I’m sure today they would.  At that time, in Chattanooga, maybe there wouldn’t be anybody that would have known because they had never done Boris there.  This particular production was in English, so they could hear the description. 

BD:    Who was singing the title role?

DL:    It was Chester Ludgin, who jumped in at the last minute for Ezio Flagello.  Ludgin, who was a baritone primarily, came and did a wonderful Boris Godunov.

BD:    Ludgin was a stalwart of City Opera for many years.

Stalwart is the word.  The first time I met Chester — and we talk about it still to this day — he jumped in doing Frank in Fledermaus.  Nobody had ever seen him in that role on that stage, and it was one of his earliest roles, as a matter of fact.  He was wonderful!  The rest of us really stood around and worried about what he was going to do next.  But he knew what he was going to do!  He had had a rich experience in the Amato Opera Company, so much experience that he was right at home on the stage.

BD:    In opera, where is the balance between the music and the drama?

DL:    I personally feel the music must come first because it gives the mood.  It gives you the clue to everything that you do, really.  Listen to the introduction to an aria, for instance, Fernando
’s in Così fan Tutti.  The introduction, the first notes he sings [demonstrates lovely soft notes].  You can’t come banging in like Tristan when that music says this is a very effete young man.  This is a fancy, lacy-colored music, lacy-sleeve music.  Don’t attack it like you were Florestan.  That’s another role I’ve done a great deal of and should never have done!

lloydBD:    That’s loud and heavy, but short.

DL:    Yes, short, right.  I did it with the Boston Symphony in a concert version.  I also did it early on in the history of the Washington opera, in a Nazi version.

BD:    You were the good guy, and Pizzaro was a Nazi?

DL:    That’s right.  They didn’t have swastikas, but that was the idea.  I guess they didn’t have money for the great kind of period costumes, so they updated it.  That’s usually in back of a lot of the updatings of operas, the money.

[Vis-à-vis the (non-commercial) recording shown at right, see my Interview with Blanche Thebom, and my Interview with Giorgio Tozzi.]

BD:    Or lack of money!

DL:    Or lack of it, yes, mostly.

BD:    How do you feel now that we’ve moved into the age of the stage director.  Is this a good thing or a bad thing, or just a thing?

DL:    Boris Goldovsky gave a talk yesterday, and he said that to do it differently is necessary.  To do it well is good enough, but just to be different gets a little tiresome.  I’m not a very good audience member, and sometimes it works just right.  Ted Mann from Circle in the Square came up to the Lake George Opera.  That is Part Two of my life, where I was impresario for eighteen years.  Mann did Gianni Schicchi, and he set it in the Sacco-Venzetti period.  By putting those people somewhat closer to our time, the greed in that opera seemed to become more real than when people are in the period costumes, or even a Commedia dell’arte period, like City Center did at one time.  So to me, that’s when updating an opera worked because the message in the opera was very real.  Somebody dies, and where’s my inheritance?  That’s what that opera is all about
greedand that became more immediate and more intense, I thought.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    You mentioned you were an impresario.  Were you, perhaps, a more benevolent impresario, having been an artist on the stage before?

DL:    I would like to think so.  I had a great deal of sympathy for singers, of course.  On the other hand, they couldn’t fool me, because I’d tried all their tricks.  [Both laugh]  But I understood them, and tried to be compassionate about them.  I tried to create an atmosphere that would make them work the best.  If they had an ability from one to ten, I tried to provide a condition whereby they’d get maybe from eight to ten most of the time.  That was really what I tried to do.  I spent an awful lot of time with my apprentice program because that seems to be what interests me most, and that’s where I am today.  I am the director of a foundation that helps singers.

BD:    What advice do you have for the young singer coming along?

DL:    Sing in tune and be intelligible.  After that we’ll talk about it, but get that first.  Getting the balance of the sound of the word and the sound of the tone you’re singing it on is something I wish more would do.  There seems to be a big desire to want to overpower everybody with the size of voice.  I just auditioned singers for the Met here today in Chicago, last weekend in San Francisco, and the weekend before that in Los Angeles, and I think the majority of singers are out there to impress you with how large a sound they can make.  Music sometimes suffers, and the language and the tempered scale get distorted, when the main object is, “Wow!  Listen to the noise I can make.”

BD:    [Gently protesting]  Don’t you need a huge amount of sound to fill the Met, and Chicago, and San Francisco?

DL:    No.  What is needed is a clear sound in tune, with a very clear word sound that goes along with it.  We have the responsibility as singers to communicate both poetry and melody.  We’re the only ones that can do that.  Clarinets or violins can’t do that.  We can communicate poetry and melody, but when you go out for sound, you neglect the poetry.  Of course, singers are music students, and they’re naturally going to pay more attention to those notes, and try to make them big and round and pear-shaped.  Whether it’s O, Ah, A, E, shape or not just make it big and round and pear shaped.  For us as adjudicators it gets kind of tiring after a while, and then somebody will come along and sing beautifully, sing the language as it should be stressed, with the strong words getting the strong accents and the weak words not getting any stress but flowing between.  It is the same with the strong syllables and the weak syllables, not [stressing all] SYL-LA-BLES.  But when they go for big sound, it’s syl-la-BLE.  It’s just [speaks it naturally] syllable.  Auditions are tiring to listen to, no matter how big and gorgeous and round and beautiful the singers are.  It isn’t the language anymore, especially English, because that has more stress in singing than any of the other sung languages.  They all have a certain amount, but French has probably the least.

BD:    You’ve sung and experienced voices for many years.  How are the current and near-future voices coming along?  Do they compare favorably or unfavorably with those of today and yesterday?

lloydDL:    I think favorably, certainly potentially.  We didn’t hear Caruso today nor did we hear Ponselle, but we heard some people that with the right care and feeding can probably go very far in that direction.  There is an enormous amount of singing talent.  Certainly, there’s an awful lot more people today trying to be singers, and in order to be a singer today you can’t do what I did and go out on community concerts.  I sang 75 one year.  There aren’t that many concerts to be sung, and not many people want to hear full recitals anymore.  Oratorios are still going on, but there seemed to be a lot more when I was singing.  In my time I sang about 70 times with the Boston Symphony, doing orchestral things for voices including Bach cantatas in their Bach-Mozart Series at Tanglewood.  I also sang about 50 times with the Philadelphia Orchestra, and about the same number of times with the New York Philharmonic because there were so many things for singers to do.  Mitropoulos got there and did a lot of operas.  I did a lot of concert versions with him.

BD:    Does opera work in concert?

DL:    Sure, because the words and the notes are the most powerful thing in the opera.  So you miss the scenery and the costumes and the stage direction, but, gee whiz, Eve Queler packs the house in New York, and one of our judges for the Sullivan Awards today has the same thing in Toronto, Canada.  He says it’s 30-some years he’s been doing concert opera.  He does unusual things, which also attracts people.  He doesn’t try to do Traviata in concert.  I don’t see any point in doing concert opera that’s being done very well in stage versions, but it works, definitely.

BD:    Are you pleased with the recordings that are available of your voice?

DL:    I’ve never been pleased with my own recordings.  I’m just getting around to hearing most of them.  I remember when I recorded the St. Matthew with Bernstein, I’d had the flu and I’ve never been able to listen to it.  My wife says it’s fine. [Laughs]

BD:    Maybe that’s what you should do
trust other ears.

DL:    I probably should.  I was so uncomfortable making that recording, and of course they couldn’t wait for me to get over the flu.  Nobody else had gotten it.  There weren’t that many people around that could have jumped in at that time.  I listen occasionally now to the Britten Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings.  I enjoy very much a tape that was taken of Arlecchino of Busoni that Mitropoulos did in concert.  He staged it, and we were making entrances in back in Carnegie Hall through all sorts of doors.  So we sort of acted that one out.  That, I liked.  I liked my singing there.  It was very Italianate.

BD:    Did you sing differently for microphone than you did in concert?

DL:    No.  I never became a good microphone singer.  I just sang what I did usually.  For instance, in Philadelphia we did Joan of Arc and a few other things.  We would do it three or four times in Philadelphia, then take it to Washington and Baltimore and Carnegie Hall, and then go down and have a recording session.  All the people on the recording sang exactly the same.

BD:    Did you adjust your voice at all for a small house or a big house?

DL:    Not consciously.  I was still just trying to sing words and notes.  Sometimes I would get a feedback from a house that would give me a false sense of security, and I might relax a little bit and the intonation would sag.  The same thing would be true in the operas in the sense that if the house was dead, then I might force a bit.  I think that was a tendency.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    You say that you just accepted all kinds of roles.  Were there any roles at all that you said, “I just can’t do it, and won’t do it?”

DL:    There was one that came at me in the last minute.  I was told, “You’ve got a week to learn Gottfried von Einem’s The Trial.”  I remember there was a 10/8 section in it, and I was doing several other things at the same time, and I felt like I was letting down the City Opera and Joseph Rosenstock.  I said, “I just can’t do it.  I’m sorry but I can’t do it.”  I hated to turn it down, and I may have turned down a couple more things like that because I just didn’t have time.  They came about at the last minute because somebody conked out or something.  On the other hand, I’ve jumped in a couple of times, too!

lloydBD:    Are there any roles that you wish you had gotten the opportunity to learn and sing a few times?

DL:    I haven’t thought of it, but I’m sure there are.  Some operas have come along recently.  I haven’t sung much for a while.  Since I became an impresario there hasn’t been much time.  I have begun to hear operas and think I wish I could have done that one.  I would like to have done Chenier, and I’d like to have done Manon Lescaut.  I did Manon.  Yes, I think there are lots of them.

BD:    Tell me about des Grieux.

DL:    Oh, I like him very much.  The role is wonderful to sing.  “Ah!  Fuyez” is just marvelous, and the Dream is so beautiful.  I sang a contest here in Chicago.  They gave me the choice of either the Dream or Celeste Aïda for my number.  I had been the winner of a previous contest that had been started by the Philadelphia Inquirer.  They did it in a small place, the Philadelphia Football Stadium, which was only 97,000 seats!  [Both laugh]  But they filled it.  There I sang “Vesti la giubba”.  I shouldn’t have sung that.  I still have this thought about being a bit of a heroic tenor, or at least a spinto.  Anyway, the contest here in Chicago was at Soldier Field!  One hundred thousand people and I was doing the Dream from Manon???  That just didn’t seem right.  So I chose to do “Celeste Aïda”.  Another tenor also sang it, and he won.  There were three judges, I remember.  John Charles Thomas liked me.  The other two were Helen Traubel and Edith Mason, and they said, “He shouldn’t be singing that repertoire.”  [Both have a huge laugh]  So it caught up with me!  But back then I thought they were crazy.  I started off wrong.  I auditioned for the Met auditions when I was eighteen or maybe nineteen.  I told Wilfred Pelletier later on about this.  He was the judge.  It was at KSTP Minneapolis/St. Paul, my home town, and he was sitting in the booth, because at that time the Met auditions were primarily radio.  He said, “What are you going to sing?” and I said, “Siegmund
’s love song from Die Walküre.”  “Oh, all right,” he said.  Then he said, “Do you have anything lighter?” and I said, “Yes, I have ‘Vesti La giubba.’”  He said, “Oh, my God!”  I heard this over the radio, over the speaker.  So he said, “All right.  Go ahead.”  So I sang it, and he said, “You must go home and learn Mozart, and get a high C, and come back.”  [Laughs]  I thought to myself that fellow doesn’t really know.  I’ve listened to Melchior and he went on for many, many years after that.  [Laughs]  That’s why I got started off on the wrong track.  I just wanted to get into that dramatic stuff.  I thought if it has to be opera, Wagner is the only music really worth singing because there just wasn’t much else around.

BD:    This was in 1940 or so?

DL:    This was 1937 or ’38, yes.

BD:    You had Wagner many Saturdays from the Met.

DL:    That’s right.  That’s right.

BD:    Year after year after year with Melchior and Flagstad.

DL:    Traubel came later.

BD:    So you sang David.  Did you sing any other Wagner roles?

DL:    I did a Walther [Meistersinger] in a concert version with the Kansas City Symphony.  George London was Sachs.  His widow, Nora, was at the contest today.  We’re still giving a London Award as well as the Sullivan Awards.  That’s the foundation that I’m the director of, the William Matheus Sullivan Foundation, Inc.  We just call it Sullivan because there is no other foundation called Sullivan.


To read my Interview with Edward Downes, click HERE.

To read my Interview with Theodor Uppman, click HERE.

BD:    [With a gentle nudge]  You will have to make sure there’s also a Gilbert Foundation!

DL:    Well, yes.  As a matter of fact, the Gilbert and Sullivan Society came to me, quite naturally, asking for help.

BD:    Is that something that an opera singer should sing?

DL:    Gilbert and Sullivan?  Sure.  “A Wandering Minstrel, I” is beautiful for tenor, and a lot of other roles, too.  I didn’t do them, but during my years as a teacher in the Opera Department at the University of Illinois, I couldn’t find anybody to do the Major General.  I had my eye on it, so I did it with my kids.  That worked out all right.  I didn’t have to age.  I just naturally looked the right age.  [Laughs]

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Is singing fun?

lloydDL:    When it works, there’s nothing better.  It is a wonderful experience!  All the nerve endings light up when you see a singer who is singing well.  They become much better looking than when they’re in repose.  They glow.  They really do, and even if they may be a little bit on the ugly side as just ordinary people, when they’re singing well they become beautiful to look at as well as listen to.  It’s strange.  I’ve noticed that.

BD:    That means that they’re generating energy.

DL:    Yes, and it’s working.  It’s functional energy, and when a singer’s in trouble, they’re fighting themselves in a way and there’s combat going on inside.

BD:    Should a singer become the character, or should a singer simply portray the character?

DL:    When you become, let’s say, Rodolfo, you are going to sing those notes and those words, and that is Rodolfo’s character, primarily.  Rodolfo does certain things either because Puccini says so, or the librettist says so, or the director says so.  What you add to it is your own personality.  Singing Rodolfo’s words, singing Rodolfo’s notes, you’re almost all the way there, if indeed you’re doing that.  Doing what the director says, and what goes with the music according to the composer’s wishes, that’s getting you much closer.  Then there is every little thought you can have, so that you can work up a sub-text for Rodolfo.  What was he doing before this scene started?  There’s already something going on, something that’ll get you away from portraying general emotions, portraying general sadness, not something specific but general joy.

BD:    Does it make him human?

DL:    I don’t know as I’ve answered your question very well, but the primary consideration is to communicate those notes and words by lending your own humanity to it; by taking a big breath and then thinking those thoughts that you’ve well established in your mind.  Along with those thoughts, you can color that a lot by delving into who Rodolfo was.  Read the various stories which give you hints, and then develop your own story about Rodolfo, which is justified by everything he does, and even everything that Puccini writes while he’s on stage.  This brings out his character.  There’s a lot given in the opera about Rodolfo.  Mimì complains quite a bit about him in the third act.  She says this, and this, and this, and this, and then Marcello says you’re this, and this, and this, and this... so you write those things down.  These are things that have been said about you, and you can then work it all up together.  It’s a big pot that you throw these things into to make a stew.

BD:    So then it won’t really be a huge surprise when Mimì articulates some of these things, or Rodolfo articulates them?

DL:    That’s right.  You can’t be just a nice tenor.  You’ve got to really take these things into consideration, and it is unusual, sometimes, to find a tenor who’s willing to do that.  He just wants to be a hero, no matter if he’s sometimes a lousy guy and is mean to Mimì, and jealous, and all these things that are said about him.  It’s got to come out.

BD:    Thank you for being a musician.

DL:    Oh, well thank you, Mr. Duffie.  I don’t know if I had much choice.  I had it all around me as a youth.  My mother was an accompanist in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  She played for a lot of the singers there, and those that came through.  I kind of got attached to it, and I said I wanted to be a singer.  You can do that if you’re interested.  Even if you don’t have a great natural voice you can become a singer.  I’ve known several people who have had pretty long careers doing that, and there are those with the natural voices who have short careers because they sing themselves out.  But don’t be discouraged if your voice isn’t as big as someone else.  I never got the lead in the operettas.  There was one kid who had this big, booming voice, and he always got the leads because he had that beautiful voice.  I envied him and I wanted to sing so badly that I finally sang.  Now I want to help other singers.

lloydBD:    It’s great that you’re sharing your knowledge and enthusiasm.

DL:    Yes.  I enjoy that very much.  We have awards.  Last year here in Chicago, 22 Sullivan awards were given at $5,000 each to the winners.  Then they sang for all the opera managers at the Lyric on the main stage.  Then this year they will not only get awards at the National Convention of Opera America in San Diego, but  besides that they will get role preparation grants.  They’ll get $5,000 to begin with, and whenever they get a contract, they submit a copy of it and they get money to help prepare the role.  That can go on for several years.

BD:    Great!  That’s kind of replacing the system in Europe where you’re taken on by a house, and the house provides all of this.

DL:    Yes.  We have wonderful things in this country now that have developed, like the Lyric Opera Center for American Artists, and the San Francisco Opera Center, and the Houston Opera Center, and programs of that kind where they take people in and pay them when they sing.  They teach them as they sing, they prepare them, they coach them and they give them languages.  They have special performances with just these young artists, and these programs are doing very well.  Ardis Krainik told me herself that she’s so thankful, and that she’s leaning on them more and more.  If somebody gets sick, one of them goes in and suddenly a new star is born.  In San Francisco they have the Merola Opera that they start them in.  They do the Western Opera Tour, they do the Brown Bag Operas, and finally they get to be Adler Fellows.  That’s sort of like the ones here, and by the time they get on the main stage in a role, they’ve got a lot of fans in that area that have heard them.

BD:    And perhaps more important, some experience.

DL:    And lots of experience.  That’s one of the big values of it
they get on stage with the big fellows, the big cheeses, and watch them and see what they do rightand sometimes wrongand they learn that way.

BD:    So you’re optimistic about the future of opera?

DL:    Yup.  Definitely.

BD:    Thank you for chatting with me today.  I appreciate it.

DL:    It’s a pleasure, Mr. Duffie.  Thank you.






© 1991 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in Chicago on November 15, 1991.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB in 1995 and 2000.  This transcription was made in 2015, and posted on this website at that time.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.

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

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