Bass  Stafford  Dean
Mezzo-Soprano  Anne  Howells

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie

Stafford Dean

Born Surrey, 20 June 1937.

English bass-baritone.

Stafford Dean had a notable international career, particularly singing Mozart roles in the world's major houses. However, his repertoire was far more varied than that suggests. He had a lengthy association with Scottish Opera, as well as with ENO and Glyndebourne.

dean He studied at the Royal College of Music under Gordon Clinton, and continued to work privately with Howell Glynne and Otakar Kraus. He joined Sadler's Wells in 1964, remaining with the company for the next six years, singing a variety of bass roles in London and on tour. His debut was as Zuniga, and he soon added Colline, Truffaldino, Leporello, Sarastro, Sparafucile, Rocco, Padre Guardiano, Daland, and Pluto in Monteverdi's Orfeo. In 1967 he created the role of Samuel Breze in A Penny for a Song by Richard Rodney Bennett. During this period, roles at Glyndebourne included the Magistrate in Werther and Rochefort in Anna Bolena.

His debut at Covent Garden came in 1969, as Masetto, followed by the He-Ancient in The Midsummer Marriage. Major roles he sang at the Royal Opera House in later seasons included Narbal in The Trojans, Leporello, Figaro, Don Alfonso, Rangoni, Gessler in Guillaume Tell, Bottom, and Alfonso d'Este in Lucrezia Borgia (with Joan Sutherland). In 1987 he sang the Prime Minister in the British première of The King Goes Forth to France by Aulis Sallinen. He also sang Don Alfonso at Glyndebourne and Don Pedro in Beatrice and Benedict at ENO. Roles with Welsh National included Sarastro and a notable performance as Philip II in Don Carlos.

His debut with Scottish Opera came in 1970, as Leporello, and he appeared with the company frequently over the next thirty years, in a wide range of parts by a varied list of composers including Monteverdi, Mozart, Beethoven, Donizetti, Tchaikovsky, Dvořák and Strauss. He created the double role of Cardinal Beaton and David Riccio in Mary, Queen of Scots by Thea Musgrave in 1977, and he also created the King of Portugal in Inés de Castro by MacMillan in 1996.

His international work began in 1971 with performances of Leporello in Stuttgart, then at the Munich Festival, both in stagings by Gunther Rennert. He soon afterwards sang in Hamburg, Berlin. Prague and Bordeaux. His career developed rapidly with appearances in most of the major houses, particularly in the roles of Figaro and Leporello, which he sang in Cologne, Hamburg, Munich, Amsterdam, Vienna, Tokyo, San Francisco, Paris and Aix-en-Provence. He also sang Figaro in Chicago (1975) and at the New York Met (1976).

His recordings include Abednego in Britten's own recording of The Burning Fiery Furnace. He also recorded Rochefort in Anna Bolena, Pluto in Il ballo delle ingrate, Trulove in The Rake's Progress, Tiresias in Oedipus Rex, Marti in A Village Romeo and Juliet and Pirro in I Lombardi. While Inés de Castro was televised by the BBC, the tape has never been made available commercially. The TV showing of the Covent Garden Lucrezia Borgia in 1980 was subsequently released, and is seen farther down on this webpage.

Revised 7 April 2012.  [Adapted from the Opera Scotland website]


See my interviews with Thomas Hampson and Sir Charles Mackerras

--  Names which are links anywhere on this page refer to my interviews elsewhere on this website.  BD 

howells Anne Howells made two notable debuts as a mezzo-soprano while still in her mid-20s: as Erisbe in Cavalli’s L’Ormindo at Glyndebourne, and as Flora in the Visconti/Guilini Traviata at the Royal Opera House. She continued to sing regularly at both of these houses throughout a career which took her to almost every major opera house and concert hall in the world. These include the Metropolitan Opera in New York, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Opera houses of both San Francisco and Los Angeles, the four Parisian opera houses, the Grand Opera of Geneva, the Salzburger Festspiele, the Vienna Staatsoper, the Carnegie Hall and the Musikverein of Vienna.

Directors with whom she worked include Peter Hall, Nicholas Hytner, John Schlesinger, Jean-Pierre Ponelle, Gunther Rennert and John Copley. Conductors included Colin Davis, James Levine, Georg Solti, Silvio Varviso and Andre Previn.

She is especially noted for her portrayals of Mozart’s Dorabella in Così fan tutte (Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Chicago, Royal Opera House, Glyndebourne), Melisande (Scottish Opera, Royal Opera House), Conception in Ravel’s L’Heure Espagnole (Amsterdam and Opera Comique, Paris) and Octavian – she sings the title role on the Solti/Schlesinger DVD of Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier by the Royal Opera. Other roles at the Royal Opera have included Giulietta in Tales of Hoffman, Zerlina in Don Giovanni, Despina as well as Dorabella, and Cherubino in Le Nozze di Figaro.

She accompanied the Royal Opera on three tours: As Ascanius in Berlioz’ Benvenuto Cellini and Annius in Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito at La Scala Milan, and Despina in Così fan tutte in Japan. She sang Helen in Tippett’s King Priam in the Royal Opera’s tour to the Herod Atticus Theatre in Athens.

Anne also took part in many other contemporary operas: Cathleen in Nicholas Maw’s Rising of The Moon at Glyndebourne, at the Royal Opera as Lena in Richard Rodney Bennett’s Victory, Ophelia in Searle’s Hamlet, Thea in Michael Tippett’s Knot Garden, and Lady de Hautdesert in Harrison Birtwistle’s Gawain and the Green Knight.

[From the Royal Academy of Music website]


See my interview with Sir John Tomlinson

While it is true that most of my interviews deal with serious musical matters, nearly all of them also have moments
— or even great sections — of laughter.  This particular interview provided several instances where the topic reminded them of heady times, and the three of us simply disintegrated into raucous gales of fun.  There were also moments when my two guests simply discussed things between themselves, completely leaving me out of the mix — not that I minded that at all!  Truly, I was pleased to allow the ideas to flow freely and simply steer the conversation when it was appropriate.  In later years, I would have the same delightful experience with other duos, including Dame Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge, Sir John Pritchard and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Fiorenza Cossotto and Ivo Vinco, John Shirley-Quirk and Sara Watkins, and twice with Léopold Simoneau and Pierrette Alarie!  One other famous duo, Evelyn Lear and Thomas Stewart, were both interviewed, but at separate times.

In December of 1980, Stafford Dean was back in Chicago for Leporello in Don Giovanni.  Anne Howells, who had also been at Lyric in a previous season, accompanied him, though she was not scheduled to appear.  She did, however, lend her artistry to the Italian Earthquake Relief Benefit Concert given a few days after this conversation.

As to the Don Giovanni, the title role was sung by Richard Stilwell, but one evening, James Morris flew in to sing when Stilwell was ill.  I mention this because the situation comes up in our discussion.

I have indicated who of the three of us is speaking, so watch the names because it is not the usual back-and-forth between two.  There was quite a bit of over-talking which has been sorted out, and interruptions and completed thoughts are shown clearly
— I hope!  

howells Here is what was said that delightful afternoon . . . . . . . . .

Bruce Duffie:    I always wonder if Carol Fox knows that ‘so and so’ is here, and if you sing any of the roles currently being performed.  You have done Zerlina...

Anne Howells:    Yes, I have done Zerlina a long, long time ago but I don’t sing it anymore. 

BD:    So if Lyric called you up at five o’clock and asked if you would like to do it tonight...

Anne:    To sing Zerlina?  I don’t think so.

Stafford Dean:    Actually, that very nearly occurred yesterday because the Zerlina was very sick.

Anne:    Yes, she was really ill.

Stafford:    Anne was nursing her the day before and came back to our apartment and said,
I don’t think she’s going to be singing tomorrow.  But somehow...

Anne:    ...due to my ministrations she got better!  [Laughs]

BD:    So you would rather minster to a sick singer than perform the role yourself?  [Anne laughs]

Stafford:    Well, a role that you haven’t sung for ten years!

Anne:    Yes, I would have had trouble remembering the recitatives.  The arias, yes, and the big numbers you can get by with.  I suppose I could have done it, but I’m sure there are other people that Miss Fox would rather choose.

Stafford:    Actually, under the circumstances, if they had known that you’d have sung it, they would rather have press-ganged you into it...

Anne:    [Laughs]  Oh, heavens!

Stafford:    ... because there’s a girl in the studio who is learning the role, but apparently she’s not ready to go on.  So they’d rather have you forgetting bits than her trying to remember them, maybe!

BD:    Of course you’ve proved yourself in this house.  Do you find this a huge house?  When I have stood on the stage, it looks like such a barn to sing in.

Stafford:    In Europe we’re not used to houses as big as this, of course.  We call two and a half thousand a big house in Europe, and this one is, what, three and half?

BD:    About thirty-six hundred.

Stafford:    Yes, so it is by our standards it’s a huge house, quite honestly.

BD:    Does the voice come back to you?

Stafford:    Yes.

howells Anne:    Oh, it’s a very good acoustic.  Everyone says it’s a good acoustic.  I remember when I first saw it...  I was here for Così and we’d been rehearsing in a studio, and the first rehearsal we had on the stage, I took one look at it and nearly got on the plane back.  [All laugh]  It frightened me to death.  It’s like Wembley Stadium that we play football in.  It doesn’t look like it, but it has the same sort of feeling of a tremendous space.

Stafford:    The advantages that we both have is that we’ve been in Ponnelle productions, and he is very much aware of acoustic things.

Anne:    That’s why everything has solid backs...

Stafford:    ...yes, and wood.  Good and solid, and very often there are things above to angle some sound forward.

Anne:    Yes.  It’s very clever.  In fact, it’s essential for Mozart in big houses.

Stafford:    It’s about the only way, quite honestly, that one can do Mozart over here in the big three houses, and get away with it.  I’ve sung in San Francisco and in the Met, and on neither occasion were those as successful because those weren’t Ponnelle productions.  But I did the Figaro here five years ago, and nobody seemed to have any problem seeing or hearing.  People who came to a performance at the Met said
the voices were nice but they couldn’t see very much what was going on on the stage.  There’s this combination of sets and clever lighting that Ponnelle is good at.

Anne:    He’s very good with every aspect of the theater.  He’s very clear.  I’ve been very impressed with all of the things that I’ve seen you do, even the controversial, like the Flying Dutchman with all the drapings and everything.

BD:    I’ve enjoyed them.  They’ve made me think.  This is what the audiences reacted to, also.

Anne:    Ponnelle always makes one think.  Even if you don’t agree with some things, there’s always very strong thought behind it.

BD:    Let’s talk a bit about Mozart.  Do you find it really difficult playing to three or four thousand people, more difficult than playing to, say, seven hundred?

Stafford:    Oh, yes, very much more difficult.  Mozart wrote those operas for really small houses.  I’ve played in one of the houses he wrote for, the Tyl Theater in Prague, which is tiny
seven or eight hundred people.  Obviously he intended that the word and the note were of equal value, so every gesture should be seen.  One shouldn’t have to do a great sweeping gesture in order that the people up in the balcony can see everything.  The nearest approach to the theater that Anne and I have both played in is Glyndebourne where it is, of course, a famous Mozart house.  There you just have to move your little finger and everybody sees it immediately.  It’s a wonderful feeling that, because you don’t have to feel that you are actually ‘projecting’.  You can just be naturalistic, and it works.  That is what is lovely about it.

BD:    Now you say that the words should come across too?

Stafford:    Yes!

BD:    Then this is a good juncture to ask if you would prefer to do it in English for American and English audiences?

howells Stafford:    It is a very difficult question. 

Anne:    I don’t really like singing things in English, I must say.  You get used to the music going with the sound of the language for which it was written.  But there’s no doubt about it, that when they understand what’s going on there’s obviously a very different feeling towards things.  So it must be a good idea.

BD:    Is it that you find it difficult to do, but you find it rewarding when it’s done?

Anne:    Yes.  It’s not so much difficult to do, but one tends to learn one’s roles early as a student in the original language, and to work very hard on the Italian or German, or whatever it happens to be.

BD:    Do you work equally hard on the English?

Anne:    Well, one should, yes.

Stafford:    In singing English, yes.  I sometimes think all this is a crazy idea, but it might be a good idea to be able to perform the recitatives in English and the arias in the Italian!  [All laugh]  Because it’s the actual production of sound in the orchestra that makes it so lovely singing in Italian.  The Italian language is marvelous for the recitatives, but it is, after all, the understanding of what’s going on that’s important in the recitatives.  That’s what they’re there for, to carry the piece along.

BD:    You’ve got to get the banter back and forth.

Stafford:    Yes, yes, yes. 

BD:    Have you played with Italians who have substituted a little bit of their own recitative?

Anne:    No.

Stafford:    No.

Anne:    I came across an Alfonso once
who shall be nameless — a very famous Alfonso, who every time we came across a bit of recitative which he hadn’t bothered to learn, he said, Oh, this is always cut in Italy!  Questo è sempre tagliata in Italia!  Couldn’t be bothered to learn them. 

Stafford:    That’s the drawback with Così.  It is such a long piece, so there are always cuts and they’re always in different places it seems!

Anne:    That is a nuisance.  Even if they send out a list of cuts before you arrive, you invariably get there to find it’s different to what they’ve sent you, and it’s always pandemonium.  And people have their own favorite cuts as well, and they try and foist them off on everybody else.  They suggest that it is such better chord progression because they know it! 

BD:    If someone asked you to sing it uncut, would you?

Stafford:    Well, most of us learn the thing uncut in the first place, unless you’re doing a rushed job and will have to learn something in a hurry.  Normally, the safest way is, of course, to learn the whole thing.

Anne:    There are certain things that are hardly ever performed.

Stafford:    Right.  There is one number in Don Giovanni which I’ve never performed, and I’ve now done about two hundred performances of that opera.  It is a little duet between Zerlina and Leporello.

BD:    It shows up on a recording, and that’s about is it.

Anne:    Yes, but I’ve never heard of it being performed on stage.  I’ve sung it through, I must confess, but it’s the one thing I’ve never learnt from Don Giovanni because I knew in advance that it’s a piece that is never performed.  Unfortunately, it’s not one of Mozart’s greatest pieces, and that’s probably the reason why it was cut. 

BD:    By whose hand was it cut?  Did Mozart leave it out or did somebody else drop it?

Stafford:    I think I’m right in saying it was written for Vienna, which wasn’t the first production, but it was dropped afterwards.  It was just as a try-out piece that Mozart decided himself wasn’t to be included.

BD:    So in a way it was cut out of town!

Anne:    Yes, right!  [Laughs]  It’s not in most scores. 

BD:    You’d have to go to the big library edition to actually look it up?

Stafford:    Yes. 


Mozart (also) supervised the Vienna premiere of the work, which took place on 7 May 1788. For this production, he wrote two new arias with corresponding recitatives – Don Ottavio's aria "Dalla sua pace" (K. 540a, composed on April 24 for the tenor Francesco Morella), Elvira's aria "In quali eccessi ... Mi tradì quell'alma ingrata" (K. 540c, composed on April 30 for the soprano Caterina Cavalieri) – and the duet between Leporello and Zerlina "Per queste tue manine" (K. 540b, composed on 28 April).

The opera's final ensemble was generally omitted until the early-20th century, and does not appear in the Viennese libretto of 1788. Mozart also made a shortened version of the operatic score. Nonetheless, the final ensemble is almost invariably performed in full today.

Another modern approach occasionally encountered is to cut Don Ottavio's most celebrated aria, "Il mio tesoro", in favor of the less demanding "Dalla sua pace", which replaced it in the Viennese premiere in order to suit the tenor Francesco Morella. Most modern productions find a place for both tenor arias, however. In addition, the duet, "Per queste tue manine" and the whole accompanying scene involving Zerlina and Leporello, composed specifically for the Viennese premiere, is usually cut from productions of the opera, although the other Viennese addition, Elvira's "In quali eccessi, o Numi... Mi tradi per l'alma ingrata" is usually retained.

BD:    What if a conductor says he was going to be doing every number whatsoever?

Stafford:    Yes, well, then, I’d be stuck, wouldn’t I?!?!  [Everyone laughs]  I’d really have something to learn after all these years.

Anne:    I think you’d be put under pressure from the whole cast not to, whoever they would happen to be!

BD:    And the performance would go to midnight!

Anne:    Yes, it starts at eight o’clock here!  It’s so late for the audiences.  We don’t understand it because in Europe, Giovanni almost always starts at seven o’clock. 

BD:    I don’t think we start early here for anything other than the Wagner operas.  The musicians have to be out of the pit at 11.30 pm; otherwise it’s overtime.  So we back-time everything, and most of the Wagners have to start at seven, and Götterdämmerung starts at 6:30.

Anne:    Yes, they do that in London too.

Stafford:    But unfortunately 11:30 pm I understand is the time when the local trains stop as well.

Anne:    I’m afraid the trains stop about 11:20 pm.

BD:    Which would explain why we have somewhat thin audiences at the end.  It starts off full, of course, but by the time we get to the final curtain there are about quite a number of empty seats.

Anne:    Actually it starts before.  In the graveyard scene they start filtering out.

Stafford:    Oh, that’s sad.  If the performance is going well, there’s always a big hand at the end of the first half.  We twigged after a couple of performances what was going on, and they all were making quickly for the trains or getting cars out of the carpark.  It’s similar to going to a film in England, called Beating the Queen! 

BD:    [Shocked at the phrase]  Beating the Queen???

Stafford:    After the performance of a film in Britain, they play the National Anthem.  I must confess I’m patriotic and like to stand for it.  You’re meant to stay and stand up to listen, but you do see a rush of people leaving quickly.

Anne:    They haven’t got time to stay standing next to you!

BD:    [With a wink]  I hope Her Highness doesn’t get offended!!!

Stafford:    No.  [Imitates the Queen]  You stay!!!!  [Gales of laughter all around]  She’s not often present, fortunately.

Anne:    Or she’s gone long before the end!

BD:    Why do they play the National Anthem at the end?  Why don’t they play it at the beginning?

Stafford:    It’s just the way they finish things.  In fact, I don’t know that all cinemas do it so much now, but it certainly was done when I was a boy.

Anne:    When we were young, yes. 

Stafford:    When we were great film goers.

Anne:    Yes, long ago.

BD:    Do you not go to films anymore?

Anne:    Yes, I love it.

Stafford:    Not so much.  Anne is a great film-goer.

Anne:    We haven’t been once since we saw Private Benjamin.

Stafford:    That’s right.

Anne:    That was lovely.

Stafford:    We enjoyed that.

BD:    With Goldie Hawn.

Anne:    Oh, she’s fantastic

Stafford:    Yes, she was lovely.

BD:    What do you do on the day off besides coming to radio stations to do interviews?

Stafford:    Well, we had a very exhausting rehearsal period.  We were working up to five hours at a stretch, in fact, which is what we never do in Europe, or rarely.  Then the performances are so scheduled that only on two occasions is there more than two days between.  So normally you have a performance.  The next day you’ve relaxed, to sort of to get over the performance.

Anne:    But we don’t have anything to eat.  Stafford eats about four in the afternoon, and then he doesn’t eat until after the performance, which means we get to bed at about half past one or two in the morning.  So we tend to sleep through until Midday, which gets rid of most of the next day.

Stafford:    So that’s the day after.

BD:    You’ll get no sympathy from me
— that is my normal schedule!  [Laughter all around]

Stafford:    And the next day you’re sort of thinking about the performance tomorrow, and you don’t do anything like rushing out of town or getting too tired because things are building up again.  I’m talking about the heavy roles.  Leporello is a very busy role.  It goes all the way through, and you’ve got to be in condition to do it.

BD:    You feel that the weight of the performance really is on your shoulders?

Stafford:    To an extent that’s true.  I certainly felt it on the second night when Morris sang in place of Stilwell.  Although he did a pretty good job with jumping in and learning what he could of the production, it was mainly in the big moments that he was right.  The rest of it I had to sort of steer him round, or make him look right by being in a place which will make him look as if he was right.

Stafford Dean and Anne Howells at Lyric Opera of Chicago

1972 - Così fan tutte (Howells as Dorabella) with Price, Davies, Krause, Evans, Koszut; Dohnányi, Ponnelle

1975 - Marriage of Figaro (Dean as Figaro) with Price, Malfitano, Stewart, Ewing, Voketaitis, Andreolli; Pritchard, Ponnelle

1980 - Don Giovanni (Dean as Leporello) with Stilwell/Morris, Tomowa-Sintow, Neblett, Winkler, Buchanan, Macurdy; Pritchard, Ponnelle
            Italian Earthquake Relief Benefit Concert (Both Dean and Howells sang) with (among others) Battle, Scotto, Pavarotti, Troyanos,
                                        Buchanan, Neblett, Hayashi, Macurdy, Payne, Nucci, Tomowa-Sintow, Voketaitis, Winkler; Favario, Pritchard

1982 - Così fan tutte (Howells as Dorabella) with Yakar, Winbergh/Negrini, Stilwell, Trimarchi, Hynes; Rudel/Schaenen, Sciutti

1989-90 - Fledermaus (Howells as Orlovsky) with Daniels, Bonney, Rosenshein/Lopez-Yanez, Allen/Otey, Nolen,
                                                                                 Adams; Rudel, Chazalettes, Tallchief

BD:    So you altered your own actions? 

Stafford:    Oh yes.  I gave myself to him, but that is normally what we’d be expected to do.  I’m used to doing that because in Europe we do it all the time.  In the German opera houses they rarely do more than three performances with the same cast, unless it’s a new production.  It’s a curious thing, this.  In Germany they do four weeks rehearsal for a new production.  Everything is done note by note, bar by bar.  Everything is worked out.  Then you do maybe three performances and they drop out for six months.  Then it is revived for one or two performances with a day’s rehearsal.

BD:    I guess they expect everyone to remember it?

Stafford:    Yes.  The only drawback is that very often A or B is not available.  He’s singing in Berlin, and this is in Munich, so they get somebody coming in and they’re expected to pick it all up on that day.

dean Anne:    Yes, it is a crazy way to work.

Stafford:    So, one gets used to doing that in Germany.

BD:    Did they show Morris the video-tape of the previous performance?

Anne:    Yes.  You get an idea of geography from that, but I don’t think one picks up a lot of detail from those, do you?

Stafford:    Not unless you work with it regularly, quite honestly.

Anne:    Going through several times, but just to see it once?

Stafford:    You can’t pick it all up.

Anne:    At the heat of the moment you just tend to go on instinct, and other people have to work around it.

Stafford:    Right.  He was a very good colleague, and worked with me, which was nice.  Leporello can be played various ways, as can Don Giovanni.  The least enjoyable performances is when one gets a Don who is determined that Leporello is not going to exist in the performance, and just plays everything out front and ignores him throughout!  I’ve had to put up with that on occasion.

BD:    Leporello is the servant who has to drag behind, and that’s all?

Stafford:    That’s right, but Morris was very good.  It worked very well and he did a good job, I thought.

BD:    What do you do if you’re in a new production with a Don Giovanni who doesn’t really want to work with you, and a director who is supporting that angle?

Anne:    There’s nothing to do!

Stafford:    You just make the most of your own moments, and accept it.

BD:    You can’t go up to him and say,
“I am here, too; remember me? 

Stafford:    Not really.  After a while, with experience one knows where to make one’s performance tell without it necessarily being as big as normal.  That’s what it really comes down to.  The Madamina aria in the first act and the Sextet in the second act are your main moments.  It just depends how the production goes how impressive the other things are for you as well.

BD:    How much do you get involved in the actual stage directions?

Stafford:    Well, you see this rather depends.  If one is working with Ponnelle for instance, as he was your director here, he is a man who has everything thought out bar by bar.  More or less every move he’s decided what he wants, and although he’s polite, and usually will to listen to what you say, nine times out of ten, or ninety-nine out of a hundred...

Anne:    ...he’ll discard it!

Stafford:    He’ll discard it, yes!  [Both roar laughing]

BD:    But at least he will listen?

Stafford:    He makes it look as if he’s listening, and occasionally you’ll make a point and he’ll say,
Yeah!  All right.  In this sense it’s possible, but...

In this sense is his favorite phrase. 

Stafford:    Anne and I have had a basinful of Ponnelle actually because she had a production with him in Salzburg this summer, and then we went to Geneva, and I did a production of Don Giovanni.  Then we came here to do this Don Giovanni of Ponnelle.

Anne:    And we’d just done the film of his Salzburg Titus this year.  Four to six weeks of Ponnelle on location.  All of a sudden we have several of the obscure Mozarts coming back in the repertoire.  We haven’t had Entführung for so long, and now it’s come back; also Titus and Idomeneo.

BD:    Do you think these are really works that should be done a lot? 

Anne:    Actually, Idomeneo is my favorite Mozart opera.

BD:    Do you have any trouble selecting which roles you’re going to sing?  In some operas you have more than one possibility.

howells Anne:    Mezzos only have the Idamante, if you’re a high mezzo.  There isn’t very much in Mozart for mezzos actually.  What you can sing is prescribed for you by limitations of your voice. 

Stafford:    Titus has a couple of roles.

Anne:    Yes, there are two mezzo roles in Titus and the one in Idomeneo, and there’s Dorabella and Cherubino which are very good roles.

BD:    So then you don’t have quite as much flexibility as other singers?

Anne:    No.  I can understand why a lot of mezzos have a go at soprano roles because we don’t have all that much, really.

BD:    Do you feel frustrated in the roles you sing?  Would you rather be singing Tosca or Arabella and things like that?

Anne:    Oh yes, obviously, but I’m not a soprano!

Stafford:    But darling, you have Octavian, which is marvelous. 

Anne:    Yes, I love Octavian.  That’s my favorite role.

Stafford:    And the Composer in Ariadne.  It’s a marvelous role.  

Anne:    Dorabella is the one I do most, and the one really, dare I say, I like the least.  I need to do it in a new production, and rethink it.  I’ve done Jean-Pierre’s a few times, which I’ve enjoyed very much, and I did one at the Garden, which I’ve enjoyed very much.  It’s wonderful music, but there comes a time when you just think you’d love to sing something else because the beauty of the music and the writing begins to be lost on you from sheer boredom.

BD:    When you say you want to do something else, would you like another Mozart, or would you rather do a contemporary opera, or maybe a little Verdi, or something completely different?

Anne:    Just something different to change and refresh.

BD:    Have you both sung contemporary works?

Anne:    Yes.

Stafford:    Yes, a little.  We’re not known as contemporary singers

Anne:    I used to do a lot of modern music because I was a member of a company, and honestly you have to do what you’re told.

BD:    What is the relationship of modern music to romantic music and to Mozart or to Monteverdi?

Stafford:    One would like to think that the modern writers know all about those previous composers, but one sometimes wonders. 

Anne:    They don’t!

Stafford:    Shall we leave it at that?  [Both laugh]  It really is amazing.  Quite honestly, perhaps I’m being naive about this, but one would have thought that first thing to do when one is writing a role for a particular singer
as usually in modern operas one isis to find out the range of that singer and what they can do with that voice, and then see how the earlier composers dealt with that.  Then work it out that way.  Mike Langdon tells a marvelous story about singing a role in Britain.  The composer asked him to tell him his range, and the sort of things he likes to do.  Mike said, “I’d like a really good bass role for a change.  I’m fed up with these things where’s I’m screaming up at the top.”  So the composer wrote the whole thing in the bottom octave of his voice!  [All laugh]  Of course one tires, and it only takes one to look at the low bass roles that Mozart wroteSarastro and Osminto realize that he uses the occasional low notes for effect...

Anne:    ...rather than sitting down there, which is very tiring on the voice. 

Stafford:    That’s just an example.

BD:    How much should the composer be in contact with the singer then?  Should you dictate to the composer what he’s going to do? 

Stafford:    It’s not a question of dictating.  It’s a question of exploiting one’s ability.

Anne:    Some do come to you and make a study of you, and they can come up with something that suits you very well.  But even if they do that, sometimes you are lumbered with something that is far too dramatic.  If you say to a composer you’ve got the occasional top B, going down to A below Middle C, perhaps they’ll use those but make it terribly heavily orchestrated for a light-ish voice, and after three performances you’re voiceless!

Stafford:    Economy of writing is a problem that modern composers don’t seem to have got hold of either.

Anne:    No.  They throw in everything
— six dustbin lids and a vacuum cleaner!

BD:    If they write roles for Anne Howells or Stafford Dean, what happens when it turns out to be singer X and singer Y next season, or forty years from now?

Stafford:    I don’t think that’s necessarily in their mind.  The important thing is when the work is created that it has its best effect.  It’s up to other people to find somebody who can do the work in the manner as I have as much as possible, or as Anne has.

Anne:    Yes, or bring something new to it that the other person didn’t bring.

Stafford:    Yes, that too.  I’m quite sure when Mozart wrote Osmin for Fischer, he wasn’t thinking, “There won’t be many basses like this chap.  I’d better not make it too difficult!”  He thought, “Let’s exploit this chap as much as possible.” 

Anne:    And very effectively he wrote.

BD:    Then we must go and find other people who can do these tricks?

Anne:    Sure.  See who else happens to be around.

BD:    So you’ve got to wait in certain operas for singers who can sing the parts?

Stafford:    That’s right.  This is one reason of course why Seraglio is such a difficult opera to cast.  You have to have two good sopranos, two good tenors and a special bass.

BD:    And no baritone at all.

Anne:    No baritone, no.  There’s a reason why the Pasha was a speaker rather than a singer.  It’s probably because there wasn’t a baritone around.  One would have thought there would have been another good singer around, but that’s the way it is. 

BD:    A couple of good arias that were never written!

Anne:    Oberon is something that is very rarely done apparently because it’s so difficult to find a tenor to sing the title role.  There must be a few operas like that which are waiting to be done until they find the right singer.


BD:    There are thousands of operas that have been done only once. 

Anne:    Yes, but to what extent casting has prevented them from being performed again, I don’t know.  [Stafford laughs heartily and suggests it might be a different reason!] 

BD:    As singers, if you get an invitation to sing X opera that you’ve never heard of by Y composer that you’ve never heard of, what’s your immediate reaction?

Stafford:    Great suspicion!  [Both laugh] 

Anne:    If your agent is clever, he makes it sound very attractive. 

Stafford:    Yes!  [Laughs]

BD:    I assume he says, “They’ve made a special request that you should do it.  They’re desperate to have you.”

Anne:    Yes, that’s precisely it!  One can be tempted! 

Stafford:    If it’s going to be difficult to learn, it can take you anything between two and four months.

howells Anne:    Depending on your intelligence!  [Laughs]  The intervals are like mathematics.  It’s not like learning Rodgers & Hammerstein!

BD:    Of course, these are new works.  What if you were learning a contemporary of Mozart?

Anne:    Learning a Salieri?  Give time to the opposition!

BD:    There the intervals are not going to be so atrocious like modern opera.

Stafford:    No.  On the other hand, the chances are the opera won’t be very interesting to perform.  This is the trouble
— one is spoilt by Mozart when one hears how far ahead he was of his contemporaries.  Also, he was very lucky with his librettistscertainly in the comic operas, anyway.

BD:    So Mozart does speak to us today?  [Vis-à-vis the video shown at right, see my interviews with Benjamin Luxon, and Robert Lloyd.]

Anne:    Yes.

Stafford:    Oh, yes. 

Anne:    I was just going to repeat something that my teacher said, and I agree with her.  It’s seems to be right that Mozart is about the only composer who stands up to any sort of treatment
to bad student performances, or good student performances, his music always withstands.

Stafford:    Yes, yes, it does, very much so.

BD:    Boris Goldovsky worships at the shrine of Mozart.  He also says that he’s fascinated by Wagner because Wagner is the only composer that makes him forget Mozart.  Are there any composers that make you forget Mozart?

Anne:    [Pauses for a moment]  No.

Stafford:    I think of Monteverdi as the forerunner of Mozart but, otherwise, no. 

Anne:    The Coronation of Poppea is my other non-Mozart favorite opera because it’s the combination of naturalistic acting and singing. 

BD:    Do you think Monteverdi speaks to us today?

Stafford:    Through Poppea, yes.

Anne:    Oh yes, yes. 

BD:    How can you bring the audiences closer to it?

Stafford:    Build smaller houses!

Anne:    I think it needs somebody like Ponnelle.

Stafford:    Yes, to bring it out.  But for people over here to appreciate Mozart, they really got to have the opportunity to see performances in smaller houses, quite honestly.  Inevitably it’s classed as ‘grand opera’ when it comes to America to the big three houses, and everything has to be stepped up.  The voices have to be bigger, and one can’t give the subtlety of performance
either singing or actingthat one would like to be able to do, and which the world deserves.  People see a different thing really, I feel. 

BD:    Do you think there’s any future for this kind of thing on film, on television? 

Anne:    [Agreeing]  Hmmm.

Stafford:    Oh, yes, yes.

*     *     *     *     *

:    Let’s get into that a little bit.  What are the advantages and pitfalls of disc recordings, of television and film recordings?  Do they set up an impossible standard?  Are they good as learning tools, and are they good as entertainment?

Anne:    They just do different things than you can do in a theater.  In fact, in the Titus we filmed on location.  [Video of this film is shown below.]

howells BD:    So this is a ‘film-film’, not just a film of a performance?

Anne:    Yes, it’s for television.  As far as recording, I can’t speak for it as I haven’t done much. 

Stafford:    We’re not recording artists really.  But filming and television film we have done a certain amount of.  I rather like the idea they have at Glyndebourne. 
I’ve done several films there.  They do a new production, and then at the end of the season they’ll spend a week re-rehearsing it slightly for angles for camera shots and things like this.  Then we spend a day filming it, and I think that works.

BD:    So they film one performance?

Stafford:    That’s right.  They do a special performance with an invited audience.  They’ve got the cameras up in the auditorium and they’ve got people round about.  They change certain moves, but they give you a week to rehearse it.  It’s the end of the season, so you don’t have the pressure of performance.  You can
‘mark’ through those days of rehearsal, and you can build up again for the film performances.

Anne:    And they attract big television audiences.  In Britain last year, we had this opera month.  They showed opera on film on television from all over the world.  It was very interesting to compare the various standards.  For instance, one of the things they showed was Boris from the Bolshoi with Nesterenko.  That could have been done fifty years ago.  They haven’t moved forward at all.  It was wonderful singing of course, particularly from Nesterenko, but compare that with something like the Così from Glyndebourne, and they were in different worlds.  It is just incredible.

BD:    Is there no place for the old museum piece?

Stafford:    Sure there is, but let’s bring acting a little up to date and make it more naturalistic.  There’s room for it.

Anne:    And there are also good actors.

Stafford:    Yes, and oddly in opera some very bad ones, some mediocre ones, but some very, very good ones. 

BD:    If the BBC were to come in and just televise a performance of something that you were doing, and then later you re-rehearsed and made the film for television, which would be, in your opinion, the more true performance?

Stafford:    They’d be slightly different but at Glyndebourne actually, there wouldn’t be all that much difference between the two, quite honestly.  Whereas the film of Titus that Anne made was performed in three seasons in Salzburg in a certain way on the set, of course. 

Anne:    Yes.  Then the film was done using the Caricalla Baths and the Villa Adriana outside Rome, so obviously all the moves were different.  You suddenly have to appear from behind a pillar, and you can do things with cameras which you can’t do in the theater. 

Stafford:    It became much more of a film than an opera, in the sense that the scenery was much more important.


[See my interview with James Levine.]

Anne:    Yes, oh yes it did.  It was very curious.  I’d never done anything quite like it before, because the soundtrack was pre-recorded in Vienna, but the recitatives were done there and then on site.  We couldn’t possibly retime them because we all had to mouth to our own voices, which turned out to be far more difficult than I’d ever expected.  I’d never done that before.  We had to have someone to coach us in doing that.  When you’re actually singing full voice, it’s a very different thing than what you do when you are just using a quarter voice, or just
‘marking’, as we call it. 

BD:    I would think that you would want to sing almost full-out, even though perhaps you might be off pitch a little bit.

Anne:    Yes!  We discovered that was the best thing to do
sing as you would, because your face is different.  You can just tell by the facial expression that people aren’t using the body, and it just doesn’t look right.

BD:    There’s no effort from the diaphragm?

Anne:    That’s right, yes.

Stafford:    It’s really irritating to watch that actually.

Anne:    But to be blasting forth an aria in F major at 3 o’clock in the morning, in the fog and pouring rain...

Stafford:    Tell the whole story, darling! 

Anne:    Well, Ponnelle wanted it filmed by night because the Burning of Rome happened at night, when Sextus sets the place on fire.  When we arrived we thought he was joking.  He said, “Go to bed because we start at six, and finish at six in the morning.”  And that happened every night.  It was quite the most horrendous thing I’ve ever had to do in my life.  It was Italy in May, and it poured with rain.  We wore all these beautiful, glamorous costumesfantastic costumes that really must have cost a tremendous amount of moneywith green rubber boots underneath to wade about in the mud.  In fact, an American lady stopped me in the hotel and said, “Can you tell me why everybody in your party is wearing rubber boots?”  So I said, “It’s the nature of our work.  We’re working somewhere very muddy.”  She asked, “Oh, you’re archaeologists?” and I replied, “In a manner of speaking, yes!”  You think it’s going to be so glamorous.  I bought some new little numbers, little dresses and things to go to Italy to be a film star.  It turned out that I lived in Tatiana Troyanos’s anorak and Carol Neblett’s sweater, and a pair of borrowed jeans and these Wellingtons in the pouring rain.  It was horrendous, particularly working all night. 

BD:    How difficult is it to shift time schedules and sleeping habits since you are traveling all over the world?

Stafford:    It seems to change every time we do it. 

Anne:    Yes, and it depends.

Stafford:    We settled down here very quickly, didn’t we?

Anne:    Very quickly, and we didn’t have much time.  We arrived the day before you started rehearsal, which is incredible.  I’ve never done that.  I’ve always allowed three or four days before I start.

Stafford:    This time it worked but sometimes it can be a long time.

BD:    A lot of singers say it’s easier to adjust when going from Europe to America because you just simply lengthen your day, but coming back is when you’re shortening it.

Anne:    I find it easier going the other way, probably because I’m going home!  I think that has something to do with it. 

Stafford:    Yes, that’s my experience too.

Anne:    Arriving in the city you don’t know, and coping with apartments and hotels
some of them you don’t really like, maybe.

BD:    Do you like Chicago?

Anne:    Yes, very much.  But I remember arriving in San Francisco, which I love very much also, and that is a journey of twelve hours or something like that from London.  I’d been booked into a horrible hotel.  I don’t know who’d done it, but my heart sank.  I was very tired and I thought, “Oh no, a couple of months here!”  But I was rescued by a friend, which was nice.  But here we’re in a nice apartment and we like Chicago very much.  We’ve just had a ride on a fantastic taxi that we won’t forget in a hurry!  He was lovely, but it was furnished throughout in bright pink teddy-bear fabric, and with a dish of sweets stuck to the seat in front.  There were candies and skeletons hanging, and baby shoes...

Stafford:    ...and newspapers in the pocket in the door.

Anne:    And there was a mirror for passengers sitting on my side to see themselves, with a sort of graphic notice!  [Laughter all around]  It was worth coming for that!


Stafford:     Yes, a real character that taxi driver!  Tell the story of the first night of Don Giovanni.

Anne:    Pavarotti came in just before the lights went down, and there was lots of applause.  Everybody stood up and everything, and this man said to me, “Do you know who that was?”  I said, “Yes.”  He continued, “Oh, you know that that’s Pavarotti.  It was worth coming just for that.”  So in the interval, this fellow got talking about it.  I’ve always found it best to say who I am, that I’m with Stafford Dean, Mrs. Stafford Dean.  So I mentioned this and he said: “Oh, well, there are no great voices in this one.”  If I’d had an umbrella, I would have hit him over the head with it!  He realized I was a bit put out, so he went into his program notes and he said, “You did say you were married to Ponnelle, didn’t you?”  I said, “NO, STAFFORD DEAN!”   He said, “Oh, he was great!”  Then throughout the second act, every time Stafford came on stage he went, “Oh, that’s fabulous!”  [Everyone is laughing throughout the story]  Really, it was the funniest thing

BD:    How do you work around patrons who applaud stars and are not really looking at the artistry that’s on stage?

dean Anne:    We have to put up with that all the time!

BD:    Do you build up some defense mechanisms?

Anne:    You can’t do anything about it.  There are certain people with show-stopping voices, world-stopping voices.

BD:    Do you begin to resent a Pavarotti?

Anne:    No, not really, but I did resent that gentleman, yes.

Stafford:    That gentleman’s attitude towards Don Giovanni we would resent because in fact I feel there is one singer in that cast unparalleled in the world, and that is Anna Tomowa-Sintow.

Anne:    And no one seems to listen to her.

Stafford:    She is such a wonderful Donna Anna. 

Anne:    She must be the best Donna Anna in the world, but audiences don’t seem to realize it.

Stafford:    Somebody said if this production were on in a German house, they wouldn’t let you go at the end.  They’d be applauding and applauding and applauding because this would give them so much satisfaction.

BD:    I found the whole thing was well integrated.  Tomowa-Simtow was excellent, but I felt that everyone else in the cast, all the way down the line, were up to that standard.  She didn’t stick out like a sore thumb, and that would have bothered me if she were the only great one in the cast.

Anne:    We’ve heard a lot of Donna Annas who can hardly make it.  It really is a very, very difficult role.  It stays at the top of the soprano’s voice throughout both those arias, back and back and back.  We’ve heard a few meet their Waterloo up there.

BD:    What about Margaret Price?

Anne:    Oh, she’s fantastic.  Yes, she’s a marvelous singer. 

Stafford:    Actually, Margaret took time off from the role.  I think she’s recorded it now, but I don’t think she’s actually come back into performing it.  But certainly, earlier on, up to about four or five years ago, she was certainly one of the top singers on the role.  But she left it to go and sing more Verdi.

BD:    Are you good audience when you go to other people’s performances?

Anne:    Yes, I think so.

BD:    Do you enjoy going to other people’s performances?

Anne:    Yes.

Stafford:    Yes, but we don’t get so much opportunity.

BD:    This is really a two-edged question
performances for which you have a role, and performances for which you don’t have a role.  In other words, would you rather go to a Così or to Götterdämmerung

Stafford:    I’d go to Così because I’m always fascinated to see how other people perform roles that I assume.  I like going to see Bohème and Butterfly
the Puccinis where there’s nothing for me in any of them.

BD:    Do you steal a little bit from them, an idea that does something that could be adapted to Alfonso, or any of your other parts?

Stafford:    Things are rubbing off the whole time, quite honestly, when we are watching other performances. 

Anne:    I’ve heard other mezzos and thought,
Gosh, I wish I could sound like that.

*     *     *     *     *

dean BD:    Do you enjoy doing broadcasts?  Are you more nervous when the microphones are there?

Anne:    Yes.

Stafford:    I like to know about it a week in advance, and then forget it’s actually being broadcast when it happens.

Anne:    I hate it when people come and say,
It’s the broadcast tonight!

Stafford:    Yes, we do know!  Or, “Toi, toi, toi for tonight!  It’s the broadcast, you know.”  That’s the one thing that unnerves us.  That’s the night we forget our recit or something.  [Note:
Toi, toi, toi is the tradition of spitting three times over the shoulder to bring good luck to the performance.]

Anne:    Cameras I don’t mind.  I like that.  I do enjoy television work, but put a microphone in front of me, and I’m a wreck.

BD:    I would think radio mikes would be less conspicuous.

Stafford:    Well, I don’t know.  We did a television event together earlier this year at Covent Garden of Lucrezia Borgia, and that was cleverly arranged to be on the second night.  [Video of that performance shown at left.]  The first night was a big gala thing.  The Queen Mother and Prince Charles came. 

BD:    Do you think all broadcasts should be the second night rather than first?

Stafford:    It’s not a bad idea.  Certainly NOT the first night!

Anne:    I don’t know, because you get sort of psyched up.

Stafford:    You do, but I find the excitement that one gets on the first night is more to do with the theater than what actually goes out on the radio.

Anne:    Yes, but that is all to the better, really.  If you forget it’s a broadcast, I think it’s much better. 
If I’m aware of it, I just stare at these microphones. 

Stafford:    Oh, forget about it, yes.  I’m all in favor of that.

BD:    Which is more important, the words or the music?

Stafford:    The kind of music that we have performed most
and which I certainly prefer to performis where they are equal.  I think Da Ponte is most certainly, if not the greatest librettist, one of the greatest librettists.  The three Italian comedies that Mozart wrote with Da Ponte are, for me, the three gems of the operatic scene, where the words and music are marvelously married.

BD:    Do you also do Mozart
’s German works?

Stafford:    Yes, I sing Osmin and Sarastro.

BD:    Do you find those as satisfying as the Italian operas?

Stafford:    I haven’t actually sung them very much, to tell you the truth.  I’ve only done about thirty performances of Entführung, and I enjoy that very much because Osmin is a very wonderful part.  But it’s not in the same field as the three Italian comedies.  Those are just masterpieces.

BD:    Going back to the modern works, do you think we have any librettists today who can hold a candle to Da Ponte?

Stafford:    The libretti should be miles and miles ahead.  They very often are because the kind of thing that Verdi was setting to music, for instance, was absolute rubbish.  When you hear some of the English translations that are performed of Verdi, they’re laughable.  I can remember doing umpteen performances of Masked Ball when I was starting off at Sadler’s Wells, which was the first company I sang with in Britain.

BD:    Was it Dent’s translation?

Stafford:    No, it was actually an up-to-date translation, but it is such rubbish, quite honestly.  Such slim pickings, shall we say.  But it’s just a...

Anne:    ...pretence for a few arias, isn’t it?

Stafford:    Yes, that’s what it is
just a vehicle for the composer. 

Anne:    Would you call Pelléas a modern opera?

Stafford:    Compared with Mozart and his period, yes, I suppose.

Anne:    It’s based on the Maeterlinck play, and that’s a marvelous work.

Stafford:    Yes.  We should have added that on, shouldn’t we?  Monteverdi, Mozart, and Pelléas.  Yes, we have performed it, but not together, unfortunately, as yet. 

dean BD:    [With a gentle nudge]  So you’ve cut out nineteenth century completely? 

Stafford:    Well, I’m talking about the peaks now!

BD:    I’ve often wondered about singers who do a lot of Mozart, as you do.  Do you want to get away from Mozart at all? 

Anne:    No, I gripe about Dorabella but it’s a marvelous opera, and I’m very privileged to sing it.

BD:    I enjoyed your Dorabella here in ’72 very much.  I’m really rather surprised you have not been back.

Anne:    I nearly came back for a couple of things but I wasn’t free.  There was talk of a Cherubino...

Stafford:    In that one I did here in

Anne:    Yes.  I don’t know what happened about it.  It just didn’t work out.

Stafford:    I’m sure you know that rarely a performance takes place in opera in which the cast is that one envisaged originally by the management.  It always starts with A, B, C, D, E and F, and it ends up with X, Y, Z.  It must be a terrible job to actually put it all together.  It depends how far on we are with the contracts. 

BD:    How far ahead are your contracts?

Stafford:    Two to three years.

BD:    Do you find that comforting at all to know that on a Thursday in July two years from now you are going to be singing a certain role in a certain place?

Anne:    Oh, yes.

Stafford:     Especially in your early years.  I spent six years as a member of a company and where I was on a monthly or weekly salary, and when I finally broke loose to become a freelance singer, during the first year quite honestly I was thinking I’ve really got to be fit for that next performance, and what happened to that weekly salary?

Anne:    It’s nice to be in work, let’s face it.

Stafford:    Yes, it is nice to be in work, but one wonders if there is a complacency that comes with knowing that things are going to come up.

Anne:    We’ve been told by one of the doormen in our building that there’s going to be a world recession and it’s going to be terrible.

Stafford:    It was crazy.  He said we must clean our apartment to prepare for it!

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Let’s talk a little bit about Wagner.

Anne:    We like it, we just don’t sing it!
  I love listening to it.  I’ve only done a Rhinemaiden, and a Flower Maiden in Parsifal, and that’s it!  I don’t know whether I’ll sing Fricka or Waltraute any time.

BD:    Waltraute is a wonderful role.  That scene always really stops the show. 

Anne:    It does.  Oh, I love listening to Wagner, I really do, but I know so little about it.  I feel unqualified to make any pronouncements.

BD:    [To Stafford]  You’ve done Daland?

Stafford:    Yes.  It was in fact my first major role with Sadler’s Wells.  That was my big chance.  It’s a lovely part.

dean BD:    Tell us about character of Daland.

Stafford:    I played it two ways.  When I was with the Wells, I played it...

Anne:    ...with a false nose!  [Stafford bursts out laughing]

Stafford:    He was just a normal sea captain, but he not only was the ship owner, but he also owned the mill where all the spinning was going on.  I believe Ponnelle twisted it for his production to be the Steersman’s dream. 

Anne:    I’ve never seen that production, but I’ve heard it’s quite something.  Carol Neblett says she wears a refrigerator!

Stafford:    It’s an enormous costume.  It’s just hideous.

Anne:    A big white costume and she says she stands there like a refrigerator all night!  [Vis-à-vis the recording shown at right, see my interviews with Cristina Deutekom, and Ruggero Raimondi.]

Stafford:    Exactly, exactly.  But as you say, it’s the Steersman’s dream, and then the Steersman steps out of his part and also plays Erik.  So you have the same man, yet this is his dream.  He’s watching it in a way, I guess.  There’s a little bit of pushing around and the whole thing is strange.  It looks like the ship has been sunk in the ocean for a thousand years.  There’s seaweed all over it and the people are like barnacles.  In the end, though, I’m very fond of Flying Dutchman.  It’s lovely music, lovely music, but it’s not regarded as his true form, is it?  It’s an early piece and regarded as his first hand in opera, isn’t it?

BD:    It’s his first music drama.  It’s the first one when he actually got away from the usual opera style.  It comes after Rienzi, which is a rather big number-opera.  The Flying Dutchman is the first thing by Wagner that is through-composed.  Wagner wrote it as one act without a break, but many productions tend to have two intervals.  Which do you prefer?

Stafford:    It would seem to need the intervals.  Certainly, when we performed at the Wells it had them.  [Note: at this point there was a brief but detailed discussion of the length of Wagner operas and individual acts, with references to tempo, etc.]  The other major Wagnerian role that I’ve sung is the Night Watchman in Meistersinger, and I did it first with Reggie Goodall.  At the end of the act when the Watchman comes back, it felt like about three pages of music to sing at the speed he did it.  But then the following season I did it at Covent Garden in German with Krips conducting.  I wasn’t actually called to perform with him for some reason until the dress rehearsal, as it was such a small part, I suppose.  I was standing in the wings and waiting for my moment to come after the fighting and all this business.  I suddenly heard this music that sounded very familiar, and a voice rang out,
Where the hell is the Night Watchman?  I had missed it!  I didn’t recognize the music!  I couldn’t say I didn’t recognize the music, but there was such a discrepancy of speed!

BD:    Do you like doing smaller roles, or would you sing the larger ones?

Stafford:    That’s a difficult one.  Basses actually do get caught for cameo roles to an extent.  I’ve recently sung Gremin for the first time.  Of course it is a beautiful aria, and I do enjoy singing the aria, but the business of going into the theater and getting yourself all made-up just to sing one aria, somehow I find very unsatisfying.
Anne:    But people remember it.

Stafford:    I know people remember it, darling but it’s something about starting the evening and finishing, as one does in my Mozart roles, which is very satisfying.  One feels as if one is given the whole thing and it’s worked, but to come and just sing one aria, you feel as if perhaps you’ve strayed into a piece!

BD:    But you’ve got to stray into the story, so how much do you think about that when you’re coming in just for this one scene late in the opera?  Do you think what has happened in the first two acts?

Stafford:    Oh yes.  Admittedly it is just an excuse for a beautiful aria, but one has got to make a character of it.  That’s most important, and you have to think what’s come before, and your relationship with Tatiana and Onegin.  One has a chance to make that point.

Anne:    I think you’re exceptional.  I don’t think a lot of people get themselves into something.  They come in, bring their Thermos flasks, sit down, make-up, sing it and go home!

Stafford:    Normally the role isn’t sung by a
‘singing actor’, as I would like to think of myself.  It’s usually sung by what the Germans refer to as Stehbass.  He’s the senior bass who has been with the company a long time, and plays the uncles and high priests and father figures.  He just stands there and delivers with a nice rolling G-flat at the end.  That’s fine, but the production I did was a very well-thought-out dramatic production, and the producer wanted somebody who would integrate with that.

BD:    Was it in Russian or in English?

Stafford:    It was in English.  It was the Scottish Opera Company for the Edinburgh Festival. 

BD:    Do you like singing in English?

Stafford:    I go through stages.  Anne and I both started out our careers with a company called
Opera For All in England, which in those days was run by the Arts Council.  It was principally designed to give opera to outlying districts in Britain where it just wasn’t possible for people to get into towns to hear opera.  It started, I think, in the late ‘40s.

dean Anne:    It goes out in the Autumn and the season finishes in the Spring.

Stafford:    But it’s sort of a shoe-string of people.  It is seven singers, a pianist and no orchestra and no chorus, and everything was in English.

BD:    Are there any stage decorations?

Stafford:    Works are done in costume and in make-up with lighting.  They choose chamber operas, mainly, where it is possible to condense the chorus sections so that either they could be handed to the principals or be cut out. 

Anne:    I was the women of the chorus of Bohème!

Stafford:    Yes.  That was Anne’s chorus night because you were also singing Cenerentola...

Anne:    ...and the Mezzo part in Dr. Miracle by Bizet.  It was character roles and one good role, generally.  On the Bohème nights I was a character created by our director called ‘Tartine du Boeuf’!  She was a street walker and sang a few key chorus lines.  You can imagine what it was to reduce the second act of La Bohème to seven singers.  It was quite a thing! 

Stafford:    The curious thing is that I actually was in that production
not at the same time as Anne, but a little beforehand.  I sang Colline in all those performances with Opera for All, and it was always well-accepted by the audience.  I was looking forward so much to seeing it in the opera house, and when that opportunity came it didn’t have the same effect, somehow.  The audiences liked it because Bohème is one of the great operas.  We know that, but somehow I think it was because the young singers were really young students, and the audience took them to heart.  Normally in the opera house, the kind of voices that are required to get over a Puccini orchestra tend to be rather mature, rather than mature students!  One does get the realism about it — this is the point I’m trying to make.  Singers tend to be divided into those that record and those who don’t.  There’s a singer in our cast, for instance, who appears in all the German opera houses and sings around Europe.  He’s very well known, but he’s not a recording artist.

BD:    This is Hermann Winkler?

Stafford:    Yes.

BD:    I’m set to interview him next week.

Stafford:    Good.  He is a very nice man and a very fine singer, too.  I hope I have as much voice at his age, quite honestly.

Anne:    Me too!

Stafford:    It’s a very fine technique.

BD:    I enjoyed him very much.

Anne:    Yes, I thought he sang beautifully.

Stafford:    And he has a very wide repertoire of roles, which few tenors can boast of.  [In a tone of amazement]  To sing Ottavio and Lohengrin???

Anne:    He’s singing the right way.  I thought he was super on the first night.

Stafford:    Yes.  Unfortunately, the critics didn’t seem to pick up that Ponnelle intentionally asked for Winkler because he is an older man.  He wanted the idea of him being more a father-figure than the young lover for Anna.  This was intentionally done.  One had the impression that they thought perhaps if we’d seen him fifteen years ago, he would have been more like what we like to think of as Don Ottavio!

BD:    Is Ottavio supposed to be an old man? 

Stafford:    One of the stories on which the legend is based is that he is a friend of the Commendatore.  He is the older man taking a younger bride.

BD:    Is this why Anna is waiting?  She really doesn’t want him, so that’s why she pushes him off? 

Stafford:    It could be an interpretation, yes.

Anne:    This used to happen a lot, didn’t it?  Girls used to marry men a lot older.

Stafford:    Yes.  It is a Spanish thing. 

BD:    And then be young widows?

Anne:    Yes!

BD:    How old is Leporello and how old is Don Giovanni?

Stafford:    He’s a reasonably young man, but how young, I don’t know.  It depends whether you believe the ‘catalogue’, I suppose, for it to be physically possible, shall we say.  [Much laughter]

BD:    If you start counting the occasional off-night...

Stafford:    ....yes, and how many times a day and all that, as it were!  I think they’re both young men.  I don’t think it’s so nice when they’re old, quite honestly.  There’s something nasty about dirty old men conniving to have young women!

BD:    But a dirty young man is all right?

Stafford:    Yes.  The world loves a lover but, you know...

BD:    ...for a while!

Stafford:    For a while, yes!  I think they’re both probably in their 30s. 

BD:    Do you think Leporello is older than Giovanni?

Stafford:    Possibly.  Yes, I think probably he might be slightly his senior.  There’s a rough relationship between them as there is between Figaro and the Count.  Figaro is older than the Count, and perhaps Leporello is a little older than the Don, as long as they’re seen as both youthful to a certain extent.


See my interview with Felicity Palmer

BD:    I like the banter between Leporello and Don Giovanni.  It’s almost as though it’s a different side of Don Giovanni.  Here’s his moment out with the boys, but he can never have a night out with the boys because he’s always having a night in with the girls!

Stafford:    [Laughs]  Yes! 

BD:    So he would have this punch-him-in-the-shoulder relationship with Leporello.

Stafford:    Yes, yes, yes! 

BD:    What would you do if you had a director that wanted Don Giovanni to make it with all the women, but also to make it with Leporello on his off nights? 

Stafford:    It has been suggested.  I’ve managed to climb out of that one so far.

Anne:    What a strange idea.  I don’t go for that.  I don’t see that.

BD:    Going back to Bohème, in the last scene, one producer suggested that the six on stage be turned into three couples
Rodolfo and Mimì, Marcello and Musetta, and then Colline and Shaunard!  Each turns to their partner for comfort.

Anne:    I feel that’s going too far.

Stafford:    I’m quite sure Puccini didn’t have this mind, and this is almost always my defense when a producer asks me to do something. 

BD:    How far should you go toward this end?

Stafford:    Unfortunately, as freelance artist one is obliged to an extent to do what one is told to do.  But if you’ve got a good enough reason for not doing it, a producer has to push you very hard to go against it.

BD:    Many people think that Ponnelle pushes too far; that he asks the unreasonable.  Many people do not; they think he’s bending it just the right amount, or even not enough.

Stafford:    I have to confess that although I can see the reason for him doing it, I don’t personally like that heart attack business, because it just means that Leporello has to sing gibberish from that moment onwards.  You really have to twist the text in order to make that acceptable.  All this business about seeing the statue has to go out the window.  To an extent we are hiding behind the fact that we’re singing in Italian and the text isn’t known to the audience.

BD:    There’s a scream written for Elvira when she is supposed to go off and see the statue.  But she sees him having the heart attack and that makes her scream.

Anne:    Oh, I think that’s crazy.  I don’t go for that. 

BD:    If you were singing Elvira, would you object to that?  Would you say you can’t do that?

Stafford:    I think she has less reason for objecting than Leporello, quite honestly, because I have to sing all that business about the man of stone standing outside.  Instead, I am pointing at him, saying he’s about to have a heart attack!!!  It doesn’t really make much sense!  But Ponnelle said this is also psychologically mixed up, and when you don’t speak English perfectly, you can get away with certain things as he does.

BD:    What would you do if this production was being sung in English, or if you were in Milan where they understand the Italian?

Stafford:    You wouldn’t dare do it in English!  Fortunately there isn’t very much Mozart performed in Italy!

Anne:    I don’t think they’d know a lot about Don Giovanni?

Stafford:    No, they don’t know a lot about Mozart, full stop!

Anne:    Eliot Gardiner took Titus to La Scala, and they were baffled by it. 

BD:    [Genuinely surprised]  Really???  Why?

Anne:    It’s hardly ever done.  They like the noisy stuff. 

BD:    Big Verdi and Puccini?

Stafford:    Yes, it’s not typical Italian opera.  There’s not enough top-noting for them, quite honestly, which is what that chap was talking about, coming back to your experience on the first night when he said there are no great voices.  He didn’t mean there were no great voices; he meant there are no big voices that can belt out Pavarotti top B-flats.

Anne:    To knock him off his chair.

BD:    I guess he didn’t really understand voices could do that, but they’re not in this opera.  There are no opportunities for the big gesture.

Stafford:    No, and quite honestly I wouldn’t really want to hear Pavarotti sing Ottavio.

Anne:    I heard him sing the Twelve Days of Christmas and that was enough!  Five Golden Rings was his big number.

Stafford:    But it’s each to his own.  Fine!  Big voices are required for certain operas where big top notes are involved and you’ve got to come over the orchestra.  But don’t say because Mozart doesn’t demand that kind of singing or that the great voices in their own way aren’t demanded for that also, because they are.  It’s a different kind of idea; it’s a different feel. 

BD:    It’s a different style of singing.  Perhaps it’s too subtle?

Stafford:    When you perform in a 3,500-seat house, subtlety isn’t very high on the list, I’m afraid.

Anne:    No, it isn’t.

Stafford:    It’s not really appreciated in that sense.

Anne:    To be honest, the acoustical thing isn’t so important for Mozart.  It’s lovely to sing in a grand opera house, where you can feel the voice ringing.  That house here in Chicago is lovely, and it is a nice acoustic here. 

Stafford:    You can’t get away from that.  In smaller houses, like Glyndebourne, one doesn’t get that acoustic.  It’s a much drier acoustic when one sings there.  

Anne:    Oh, it’s more difficult to sing in Glyndebourne.


Stafford:    It’s more difficult, yes, but for all that, the actual contact with the audience is such that one gets more pleasure from the actual performing in that sense, because you know that everything has been seen and appreciated.

BD:    You like being appreciated?

Stafford:    Yes, I think so!

Anne:    We all do!

BD:    How much of that appreciation comes at the moment you’re singing, how much waits until the curtain calls, and how much waits for the fan mail the next day and the reviews?

Stafford:    When you’re singing character roles
and I call Giovanni, Leporello, Figaro, the Count, Susanna, these are all characters rolesit’s a question of feeling the audience with you.  It’s the same way in Così.  One can feel the audience following the drama.  They’re not necessarily laughing or even commenting on it in any way.  You just have that feeling that the audience is with you and watching what’s going on.

BD:    When Leporello comes with that huge book all the time, the audience loves it.  I got the feeling that they were watching, especially when Don Giovanni was first looking at Zerlina.  Leporello looks at Giovanni and sees Giovanni look at Zerlina, and then he begins to scribble again.  The whole audience loved it. 

Stafford:    They did.  That’s not a very subtle moment, let’s face it.  It’s very heavily underlined!  But I get a kick out of doing that, of course, because that’s the style one has to perform in this house.  It’s the only way.

BD:    You wouldn’t get away with that at Glyndebourne? 

Stafford:    One wouldn’t need to do it!

Anne:    Or you could, but in a smaller ways.

Stafford:    Normally the catalogue isn’t as huge as that.  I seem to remember at Glyndebourne I had actually a pocket book that I could fit in the back [shown in photo below], and at that moment I just turned to him and swiped my book.  It was enough.  But here, one has to do the big thing.  Actually, that illustrates my point very well.


BD:    I am glad you enjoy singing it.  You both radiate joy when you’re singing.  It comes across! 

Anne:    Does it?

BD:    Yes, it does. 

Anne:    [Sound of relief]  Oh, good.

BD:    There are quite a number of singers that you know they’re thinking about technique, and you know they’re worried if they’re going to be in the right place.  They lose the line, they lose the projection. 

Stafford:    If one were that kind of singer trying to sing Leporello, you wouldn’t be asked to do it very often because it is the characterization that the audience is looking for.  They want to hear it sung as well, and there’s a lot to be sung, but it’s the all-over thing that the audience gets involved with.

Anne:    The natural performer puts everything into the right perspective at the right moment.  You can’t throw technique through the window, but it should be so ingrained that it comes naturally.

:    That’s right.

BD:    Perhaps that’s the thing you worry about during a rehearsal?

Anne:    Yes.

Stafford:    Well, even before you come to the rehearsal, you’ve got all your technical problems out of the way if possible.  When you’re learning, you’re sorting out what you’re doing with it.

BD:    But I mean the technical adjustments for each house or for each production.  If you’ve got a certain line to sing when you’re running up the stairs, you
’re going to have to know where to hit the stairs and how fast to run up the stairs.

Stafford:    Yes, yes. 

dean Anne:    Of course, it does vary from night to night, all that.  Hardly two performance are the same.  That’s part of being a performer.  If you’re really going through the performance, then things are bound to be different.  We’re not machines. 

Stafford:    Not only with us, but with the audiences as well.  Your comedy timing from night to night changes so much.  You play the audience, as it were, like an instrument.

Anne:    Yes.  If the audience laughed at something one night and then they don’t laugh so much the next night, the chances are that it’s you that’s at fault.

Stafford:    We always blame ourselves first.  That’s not always the case, of course, because some audiences are more sleepy than others.  But the chances are, as you say, that maybe timing may not have hit the spot at that point.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    How many operas do you sing are music dramas, or do you make every opera you sing a music drama?

Stafford:    It’s conceited to say that one does that, but one approaches it from that point of view, certainly.  There’s not so much one can do with Sarastro, but I would like to think that I gave as much care and attention to giving a character to it and meaning to it, as I do to Leporello or Figaro.

BD:    What about moving things to modern dress?  For instance, would you approve of The Magic Flute in which the characters came dressed as we are right now?

Anne:    I haven’t done much of that.  We had a Così that was fairly updated.  We wore modern dress.

BD:    There was a Così written up in Opera News where they placed it into the mid-sixties.  There were anti-war things all over the place and it was on a college campus.

Anne:    That is a political statement, and no, I don’t go for that.

Stafford:    I have this self-righteous attitude that we are the servants of the composer and the librettist.  I am talking about the conductor, the singer and the director.  Anything that we add to that is pure imposition.  One could say, that just means you’re going to perform one boring production the whole time, but that’s not true.  Figaro, Don Giovanni, Così can be performed in many, many different ways, apart from the fact that every time it has a new cast of singers so you have a different kind of performance.

BD:    You all bring your own ideas?

Stafford:    That’s right. 

BD:    When you sing a role in production one year and then you come back again a year later, I assume they expect you to do mostly the same direction?

Anne:    Oh, yes.

BD:    How much more can you bring to it?  What new ideas can you bring, or is it just a refinement of a subtlety? 

Anne:    You have got to be careful with new ideas because they don’t go down very well sometimes if it’s a production you’ve done before.  John Copley used to say to me,
What were you doing then? and I’d say, I have an idea, and he’d say, Forget it!  [Everyone laughs]  I’d say, Well I thought I’d try something new!” and he would always say, Well, don’t!

BD:    Do you think we’ve come into the age of the thinking singer? 

Anne:    Yes. 

Stafford:    Oh, yes. 

BD:    Do the producers find this dangerous?

Stafford:    Yes, in general!  I’m afraid that’s it because we are, at the moment, still in the age of the producer.  We started off with the age of the singers, and we made a mess of it.  Then the conductors took over, and eventually power came through to the producers.

BD:    Who will be next?

dean Stafford:    Well, I’d like to think it was possible for us all to get together, but of course so much has gone along.  Honestly, the director has got to have the overall conception, as has the conductor as far as music is concerned.  But I’d like a few more important directors to take their singers into consideration.

Anne:    Yes, and to give them credit for having talent sometimes.  Very often they’re treated poorly, and everything’s prescribed down to the last image.

Stafford:    Yes, yes.  Now some of the directors have come in from the straight theater.  I think of Sir Peter Hall.  Anne and I both worked with him at Glyndebourne.  People who come in from the straight theater view opera from a different angle because they’re used to building a performance on the actors and what they have to offer.  It was a breath of fresh air when I came to work there and do Leporello with this fellow, because he wanted to see what you do first.

BD:    And he would work around that?

Stafford:    Yes.  He’d say,
Now how about ‘so and so’?  Try that! and we’d try that.  Then he’d say, No, that doesn’t work so well.  Try ‘so and so’!  This was fascinating, rather than coming into the theater and being told, Now at this moment Leporello does ‘so and so’.  Come on there, there and there.

Anne:    But it only works if you’ve got intelligent singers.  If you’ve got someone with a wonderful voice who isn’t necessarily terribly bright, the whole thing falls apart because they don’t know what the director’s talking about when they suggest things rather than force you to do something.

BD:    How much of this is innate sense, and how much is just experience on the part of the singer?

Anne:    You can have a lot of experience and still not understand someone like Peter Hall; not be able to grasp that sort of subtlety.

BD:    Do you find a special pleasure when the two of you sing together?

Anne:    Well, we haven’t done much yet, have we?

Stafford:    Except Lucrezia.  In fact, we were both in the same opera but had no scenes together!  [They laugh]  We haven’t actually appeared on the stage together since we did Zerlina and Masetto at Covent Garden.

Anne:    That was years and years ago.  I thought that he thought I was absolutely terrible because of the look on his face during Batti, batti, when I was going through hell trying to get that top B-flat.  He was all contorted... as if saying,
How awful can this be!  How much worse can this get?”  And he was making strange gestures with his hands.

Stafford:    [Protesting]  Oh, it’s not true!!!  I’d like to think that I was radiating sympathy!

Anne:    No, you didn’t say anything until one night you told me,
It was good tonight!  [Lots of laughing]

Stafford:    Oh, that’s awful, damning me like that!  We had hoped to do some recital work together.  We thought about it but it’s a question of finding time to do it, because it takes a long time.

Anne:    But there isn’t an awful lot we can do in the way of opera...  Così, Poppea...

Stafford:    Pelléas ...

BD:    Do you sing Arkel?

Stafford:    Yes. 

BD:    Have you got any inclination to sing Golaud?

Anne:    Oh, it’s too high for him.

Stafford:    It probably would be too high for me because, as I understand it, if I can do Osmin and Sarastro and have the lower register for that, one would be unable to sustain Golaud in the upper register.  Figaro is my highest role.

Anne:    It’s the wrong voice color for Golaud.  And you were such a good Arkel!

Stafford:    So why choose another role when you’ve got a role?  People say to me,
Why don’t you sing Don Giovanni?  Leporello is such a wonderful role.  I could sing Don Giovanni, but I’d rather not.

Anne:    Oh, I think you’d look elegant as Don Giovanni!

BD:    You’re just thinking of him as Don Giovanni!  [More laughter all around]  Thank you for being singers!

Stafford:    We get a great kick out of it because there’s a lot to give. That’s what it really comes down to, and the kind of roles that we sing the most are the roles that give us opportunity to use all our gifts.

howells BD:    You were speaking of peaks, and you mentioned Monteverdi and Mozart and completely left out the nineteenth century, and then went onto Debussy.  But then later you said that La Bohème is a great opera.  Why is that not a peak, or is it peak perhaps in a different mountain range?

Stafford:    Yes, perhaps it’s in a different mountain range.  Consciously or unconsciously, one tends to judge operas by the things that you do the most and you feel best identified with.  I did sing Colline in my early days but it’s not a very large role and it’s not what we call a guest role.  So it’s not really in my repertoire now.  I wouldn’t sing it in Germany, for instance.  A house bass would do that.  So for some people it is an important opera, and we know that it is one of the world’s popular operas, certainly.

BD:    Does popular mean great?

Stafford:    [Imitating an all-knowing sage]  Like that gentleman told you,
There are no great singers in this cast!  That’s what he said and that was his attitude. 

Anne:    The great works stand up.  Those are some of the great works and they’re done over and over again because people come back to hear them.  [Vis-à-vis the recording shown at left, see my interviews with Nicholas Maw, and David Atherton.]

Stafford:    Yes.  I’m not a great believer that there are many undiscovered masterpieces lying around.  I think they happen to find their level.

BD:    There must be a few things that are sitting on the shelf that, when they are revived we wonder why they languish.

Anne:    Well, there’s always a good reason!

Stafford:    There’s always a good reason!  We’ve got a few societies in England who seem to spend a lot of time uncovering these ‘masterpieces’.  Usually there are interesting scenes, but as an overall piece, there’s the good reason why it has floundered, I’m afraid.

Anne:    Yes.  Take something like Benvenuto Cellini.  There are marvelous moments in it, and there are other moments which are so puzzling that they’re a load of tripe.  You can understand why they’ve been collecting dust.

BD:    Same for Trojans?

Anne:    Yes.  Oh, there are some lovely things in The Trojans, some beautiful things.

BD:    I’ve only seen The Trojans in concert performance.  They did it at Ravinia with the Chicago Symphony and brought in a wonderful cast.  I remember thinking it was such an exciting work, but I wondered how it work in the theater on stage.  [At Ravinia it was done over two successive nights.  It would later be done again by the CSO, downtown at Orchestra Hall, one part concluding each of two succeeding seasons.]

:    We’ve both been in The Trojans at Covent Garden at various times.

BD:    Does it work on the stage?

Stafford:    Well, it’s two operas on the same night, for a start...

Anne:    ...and it’s absolute hell to rehearse.  We had a Greek producer, who shall be nameless, and he wanted to make it as authentic as possible.  We spent ages and ages and ages doing it, and in the end, I didn’t think much of it at all.  All I remember was the enormous boat at the back.  Did you have anything to do with that production?

Stafford:    I did the revival with Copley.

Anne:    That’s right, the same production. 

Stafford:    Yes.  Copley revived it, and of course he wasn’t having any of that rubbish at all.

Anne:    Oh, so it was different!

Stafford:    He ‘streamlined’ it, as we say!

Anne:    The horse was good!  It was just four gigantic legs that went across the stage.  It’s so tall; the rest of the horse was supposed to be imagined up there.  They had a famous Greek actress to play Andromache, which is mute role.  She just walked across the front of the stage with the child of Hector.  She came over all the way from Athens or somewhere to do that! 

Stafford:    She excited the Greek producer! 

BD:    It’s so obvious that you both find singing exciting!

Stafford:    Oh, yes.

Anne:    Yes.  I haven’t been singing for a while since I’ve been here.  I realize now how much I do enjoy singing... which isn’t to say I’m bored or anything...

BD:    Don’t you miss it a little while he is performing?

Anne:    Yes, and I didn’t think I would.

BD:    [To Stafford]  Do you spend five or six weeks going where she’s singing?

Anne:    Yes, he has done.

Stafford:    Yes.

BD:    It’s nice that you’re able to do that.

Anne:    That’s what we’d like to do a lot...

Stafford:    ...if we could make it work like that.  We’re going to try for the future because our diaries are worked out well in advance, but it’s coincidences that’s allowed us to do it so far.

BD:    Have you twisted your agent’s arm to try and get you together?

Anne:    We’re in the process of twisting it, yes!

howells Stafford:    Yes.  It’s a lonely life, I can tell you. 

Anne:    It is like being a concert pianist or even a conductor.  Ponnelle can go home after the first night, but we’re here until the last night of the run.

Stafford:    You do a lot of reading, watch a lot of television, passing time.

BD:    Does the singing compensate for that?

Anne:    Not entirely.

Stafford:    Not entirely, no.  I would say not.

Anne:    Once the performances are on, one tends to think that we’ll soon be going home.  But in some places, like the Met, they space their performances out.  I don’t know if they still do, but sometimes there are ten days in between.  It is nice if you come over here from Europe and combine a few concerts or a recital or two during the engagement.

BD:    Would you ever accept a contract where you were singing in two places at the same time, back and forth constantly?

Anne:    I have done it.

Stafford:    Occasionally, yes, we’ve done it.  We don’t like doing it but occasionally something comes up which is important, and your manager leans on you and says,
“Just this once? and you agree.  But at times it’s agony because you’re terrified you’re going to get sick, either doing it or as a result of it by pushing yourself.  Quite honestly, we just don’t like doing it unless we really have to.

Anne:    When you’re young it’s great fun to do all this rushing about, but the novelty does wear off.

Stafford:    Yes, it wears a bit thin, quite frankly.  That is for when you’re young and making your career.  Let’s face it, Anne and I have sung in most of the places where we want to sing, and we’re just in enjoying capitalizing on that career; keeping it going, you know.  But when you’re young and there’s a first chance...  In the early days it was very exciting getting those first engagements when you first went to Salzburg and when I got the chance to go to the Met.

Anne:    I remember getting into Covent Garden.  I was thrilled about that.  My cousin said,
In the chorus, isn’t it? and I said, “No, it is a solo part!

BD:    Now you can show family and friends the new edition of Grove’s Dictionary.  You are both listed!  [See my Interview with Stanlie Sadie, Editor of The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.] 

Stafford:    Oh yes?  How many volumes is it this time?

BD:    Twenty.

Anne:    Because I had one agent in England and I’ve another agent there, I did a stupid thing.  My singing teacher said to me that no one tells their age, so on one inquiry I knocked about five years off.  I sent it back to somewhere, and then of course I got into terrible trouble through Equity.  I got two cards and was two different people.  That’s the kind of thing that sends people scurrying to see which is accurate.  But I will not say which!

Stafford:    But we’ve both been very fortunate with our careers in the sense we have done the things that we wanted to do, and that’s what a career is really about.  We’ve sung the kind of roles that we’ve enjoyed singing.  That doesn’t mean there aren’t things we’d like to do, and that is all behind.  It isn’t.  There are new roles to do as one matures.  The voice can take more.  I never thought that I would sing Verdi roles, for instance.  I’ve done one or two recently, and I’m looking at others a little bit
the lyrical ones anyhow.


BD:    Perhaps in ten or fifteen years you’ll put Verdi as another peak?

Anne:    Maybe!

Stafford:    Who knows?

Anne:    Have us back in a few years!

Stafford:    Yes!

BD:    I do hope you’ll both be back in Chicago.

Anne:    Thank you.

Stafford:    Good, yes, thank you for asking us!

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© 1980 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded at the studios of WNIB, Chicago on December 2, 1980.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB in 1997.  A copy of the unedited audio was given to the Archive of Contemporary Music at Northwestern University.  This transcription was made in 2014, and posted on this website at that time.  My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.

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

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

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