Tenor  Peter  Dvorský

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


Peter Dvorský (born 25 September 1951 in Horná Ves, then Czechoslovakia, now Slovakia.) is a Slovak operatic tenor. Possessing a lyrical voice with a soft, elastic tone, and warm and melodious timbre, Dvorský's repertoire concentrates on roles from the Italian and Slavic repertories.

Dvorský has four brothers, three of whom are also successful opera singers: Jaroslav Dvorský, Miroslav Dvorský and Pavol Dvorský. His other brother, Vendelín Dvorský, is an economist.

Peter Dvorský studied under Ida Černecká at the Bratislava State Conservatory. There he also enjoyed his first successes at the Slovak National Theatre, making his professional opera debut there in 1972 as Lensky in Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin. He won the national singing contest named after Mikuláš Schneider-Trnavský at Trnava in 1973, and in 1974 he won the first prize at the international Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. In 1975, he won first place in the singing contest at the Geneva International Music Competition which led to a yearlong apprenticeship under Renata Carosia and Giuseppe Lugga at La Scala in Milan.

In the following years, he quickly achieved international fame. He debuted at the Vienna State Opera, where he was particularly successful and popular, in 1976, at the New York Metropolitan Opera in 1977, and one year later at La Scala, Milan. In these years he became one of the leading tenors worldwide. He received several distinctions, among others being a national artist and state prize-winner of the former Czechoslovakia. Since 2006, Dvorský has been the head of the opera house in Košice, then of the opera house of the Slovak National theater (SND) in Bratislava.


See my interviews with Wolfgang Sawallisch, and Armin Jordan

dvorsky Peter Dvorský first appeared with Lyric Opera of Chicago as Lensky in Eugene Onegin which opened the 1984 fall season.  Also in the cast were Wolfgang Brendel, Mirella Freni and Nicolai Ghiaurov, Sandra Walker, and Jean Kraft.  The opera was conducted by Bruno Bartoletti, in the production designed and directed by Pier Luigi Samaritani, lit by Duane Schuler, and the ballet directed by Maria Tallchief.  During that run, he was gracious to spend a few minutes with me discussing his various roles, and other musical topics.

As it happened, immediately after the interview he was called for a costume-fitting for his role as Pinkerton to be given the following season (with Anna Tomowa-Sintow, Sesto Bruscantini, Florindo Andreolli, John Del Carlo, and Mark Doss, conducted by Miguel Gómez-Martínez, in the Harold Prince production).  [Names which are links refer to my interviews elsewhere on my website.]

Since the Puccini part was on his mind, we began there . . . . .

Bruce Duffie:   Let’s start out with Butterfly.  How much of a louse is Pinkerton?

Peter Dvorský:   He’s a bit of a louse because he begins by being really in love with her, but then he forgets all about it.  He only thinks about himself.  While he was in Japan, he was in love with her, but then when he goes to the States, he’s forgotten all about her.

BD:   So, he’s really in love with her when he’s there?

PD:   Yes, because he saw this very beautiful girl, and he was crazy about her.  It was a serious kind of love, but he was sure from the beginning that he wouldn’t take her along with him when he was to leave Japan.  He just fell in love for a brief moment.  At that time, it was hard for a foreigner to have a Japanese girlfriend, so he went through with the marriage just for the purposes of making love to her.

BD:   So, even if he had been stationed in Japan for a few years, he would not have stayed with her?

PD:   No.  If he had been there for a few years he might have stayed with her, but he wouldn’t have taken her away from there, and taken her to his home country.

BD:   Staying a few years would not have changed him, and not made the bond stronger?

PD:   He probably thinks that if he had to be there for a few years, he would have gotten used to that life, and probably stayed with her.

BD:   Do you like the role of Pinkerton?

PD:   He is not nice at the end, but I love the way the music is written.  The first act is so sentimental and so romantic because he’s fallen in love.  Then, at the end he sings that beautiful aria when he already knows that he has really hurt her.  The things that he has to sing are so beautiful that I like the role.  He’s also a very elegant character, he’s dressed in a uniform, and is a very elegant man, and is a very fascinating man.

dvorsky BD:   [With a gentle nudge]  Do you promote yourself in the last act?

PD:   Yes, it would only be logical because some time has gone by.  [Both laugh]

BD:   Does his relationship with Butterfly make his life with Kate better or worse?

PD:   There’s no way of telling what the marriage would be like and what his relationship with Kate is going to be because of Cio-Cio-San.  The opera doesn’t say, and the public knows as much as I do.  All we know is that he’s married to Kate, but there’s no idea of what kind of a marriage that is.  The only thing one can say is that he has certainly not understood how much he hurt Cio-Cio-San.  He’s not understood what she stands for, or how deep her feelings are, or how terrifying it all is, or how deeply oriental she is that she has to kill herself because of the dishonor.  I don’t know whether this would imply, therefore, that he probably doesn’t even understand Kate that much.

BD:   I always like to ask about the [unwritten]
fourth act.

PD:   Yes!  [Much laughter]  I, too, would like to know what happens when the curtain finally comes down.  He’s running up hill and getting to see that Butterfly is dead.  I’ve often asked myself what happens in the
fourth act beyond the fact that he just made a horrid mistake of deceiving this woman because he has not understood her, nor her standards of honor that compelled her to die.  He was totally unaware of what he had done, other than just having a very happy young man who took a very beautiful woman.  All these romantic heroes are the same way in Onegin.  The title character first plays with Tatiana, and refuses her, and then at the end he realizes how much he loves her, and it’s too late.  They’re all kind of the same romantic heroes that all tend to be callous.

BD:   Are the romantic heroes like real life?

PD:   A little bit.  I love romantic hero roles, and I myself am very romantically inclined.  I’m married and have a family, but still, deep down, the result is more a yearning for romantic leads and heroes, than for their lives.  I’ve just finished recording Werther, which will also be a movie.  That is the most romantic role of them all.  I’m very happy to have done that, and I’m very happy to do that opera all the time because I love it.

BD:   Do you like other Massenet, or just Werther?

PD:   I have also done Manon, but not so often, just two or three times.  I also sing Gounod’s Faust.

BD:   Does Werther go too far in committing suicide?

PD:   Today, of course, we think differently, but in those days, people having a dual or killing themselves for unhappy love was the thing to be done.  So, in those days it’s not out of place to kill himself.

BD:   Do some of these overly-romantic stories, whether they were suicides or duels, speak to us today?


PD:   [Thinks a moment]  Absolutely.  There is no problem for the audience, because even today there are people who die for love.  It was always true that the composers have looked for the storylines that most impress the public, and if that contained the high tragedy and the killing, it was because the public always identified with that kind of story.  We tend to think that it’s exaggerated, that people kill each other.  Actually, at the moment of taking their life they might have a moment of rethinking, but then it’s too late because they’ve moved things to a point from which there is no return.  It’s the same thing as Lensky, when he’s there and pulled into this dual.  He doesn’t want to kill Onegin.

BD:   He has no choice?

PD:   He has no choice at that point, and the same thing with Werther.  Werther loves life so much, but he was so much in love that he made all the steps up to the final point.  Then there was no return, even though in the last minute he might have had a rethinking.  There was no turning back, so the force of the story and of the passion just moves them to a point from which there is no return.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Is opera art or is opera entertainment?

PD:   It’s art!  [Laughs]  I’m sure about that.

BD:   Why are so few Czech operas known in the west?

PD:   One of my greatest dreams is to sing Krútňava [The Whirlpool] by Eugen Suchoň (1908-1993), a Slovak composer who’s now about seventy-five years old.  [Recording shown in the box below was made in 1988, four years after this interview.]  I would love to do it in West because it’s a wonderful opera, and apparently not recognized.

dvorsky Suchoň was invited in 1940 to write an opera for the Slovak National Theatre. In 1941 he read Urban's novella Beyond the Upper Mill, a story of love and murder set in the Slovak countryside in the years after World War I, which immediately inspired him. Urban himself however refused to collaborate on the libretto, writing in 1958 that the dramatization risked losing some of the ambiguities he had deliberately created in the book (e.g. the paternity of the heroine's baby).

Suchoň's original conception was to write the opera using two different styles - a quasi-impressionist style to accompany the thoughts of the characters, and a more realistic, nationalist style to accompany external events. Traces of this dualism remain in the score, although Suchoň realized his original ideas were impractical.

Although the premiere was successful, the governing Slovak Communist Party insisted that the original ending be changed to make it more 'optimistic'. Other serious changes were forced on the composer, involving dismantling the very important 'framework' to the opera which posited the story as the result of a wager between the Poet and his Double (spoken roles), and, inevitably, the toning down of any references to Christianity. At first Suchoň refused to make any alterations; the opera was withdrawn from the repertoire. Pressure from his musical colleagues, who realized the importance of the work, induced him to change his mind, and this 'revised version' was performed in Czechoslovakia and abroad in the 1950s, the original ending only being restored in 1963. Complete reconstruction of the original, including the participation of the Poet and his Double, had to await the composer's centenary in 2008, when Suchoň's work as originally conceived was performed in Banska Bystrica.


dvorsky The reason why the Czech composers are not so well-known is that there are not so many as there were in Italy or France at the time.  Although the three major ones are fairly well-recognized in the West now, many operas are fairly often represented around there.  But managers from the West never go to see what happens in Czechoslovakia, and this might be a reason why things are not exported so much.  Czech artists are now very much in demand, and they could do something with the Czechoslovakian composers.  Then those operas could enter the repertory because they’re beautiful.  One by Ján Cikker (1911-1989), which is called Hra o láske a smrti [Play of Love and Death, after Romain Rolland], is a beautiful, beautiful opera, but there’s only a small tenor role.  It’s very difficult to put on, so nobody sees it, nobody hears it, and nobody knows it, but it’s a wonderful, wonderful work.  People tend to think that nothing important musically really happens there, which is not true, of course.  Also, there are singers that are just wonderful in Czechoslovakia who are not coming very much to the rest of Europe.

BD:   When you’re singing an opera by Dvořák or Smetana, is it very much the same as singing opera by Massenet or Puccini?

PD:   Singing in The Bartered Bride is different than singing Puccini.  For me, this is really Slavic music.  The style is more German or Slavic than Italian.  But to sing 
Dvořák is still a different thing.  It feels very similar to the French Romantic repertory, more or less like Cilea in Italian.  I am speaking now principally of the opera Rusalka, which has a wonderful and very lyrical part for the tenor.  [Back cover of recording is shown above.]  The tenor really has to sing in full voice.  It’s a different style, just like there is a German style, and there is an Italian style, and a French style.

BD:   Does it form a completeness
the German style, the French style and the Czech style?

PD:   It’s closer to the Italian style.  In spirit it’s closer to the Italian style, but the language, of course, is different.

BD:   Did Smetana and 
Dvořák and Janâček know how to write for the voice?

PD:   Yes, they composed very well for the human voice.  I’m doing a recital of Lieder by these three composers, and also Tchaikovsky
.  I really love Tchaikovsky’s songs because they are beautiful, and the most romantic of all songs.  Also, there are some songs by a Czech composer, Mikuláš Schneider-Trnavský (1881-1958), and some songs by Leopold Koželuch (1747-1814) who was a contemporary of Mozart from Czechoslovakia.  The recital lasts about an hour and a half, and includes songs by all of these different composers, and I hope to do it also here at some point in the future.  I have chosen all the songs just on the basis of the beautiful singing that they contain.

BD:   If you were trying to bring some of these operas to the American States, would it be better to do them in Czech or in English translations?

PD:   I would, of course, do them in the original.

BD:   Is that better for you or better for the audience?

PD:   Perhaps for the American public it would be better to do them in English, but it’s the same thing when Rigoletto goes to Czechoslovakia, and it is done in Czech.  When they do Jenůfa in Vienna, they do it in German, even though they do all the other operas
in the original — even Russian operas are done in Russian.  I don’t understand why.  If they do Russian operas in Russian, I feel that they should also do Czech operas in Czech.  I’m hoping the new Intendant will do the next Czech opera in Czech.  It is no problem for me, as I can sing it in German very easily.  The Werther recording was in German and in French!  Because the movie is going to be widely distributed, they would like to hear it in German.  So, we recorded it in German as well as the original French.  [Front cover of recording is shown above.]

BD:   Two separate takes?

PD:   Two takes.  The movie was recorded twice and the CD was recorded twice
once in German and once in French.  I have no problem in those two languages, but if you do an opera on the stage in a great theater, then you should do it in the original language.  I did The Bartered Bride in Iran, and they did it in Czech.  The people there all learned it in Czech.

BD:   Did the audience like it?

PD:   They liked it very, very much.

BD:   To get the Czech operas more well-known here in America, are recordings a stop-gap answer?

PD:   Records are the first step, but then one should also have good productions with very good casts in a good theater.  I do understand that implies many risks for the General Managers of various opera houses to do that, but it would be a worthy risk.

*     *     *     *     *

dvorsky BD:   Do you enjoy singing?

PD:   Yes!  I couldn’t live without it.  I’ve been singing since I was a very small boy.  I always had it in my dreams to be a singer, and nobody ever gave me the push, telling me that
s what I should be.  I started off singing for my own pleasure with popular songs, and, of course, I didn’t know opera for a long time.  I heard of the big names of opera on the radio.  Then, when my father saw that I was so crazy over singing music, he started teaching me a few things to prepare.  Although he was not a professional musician, he started giving me some instruction, and sent me to some competitions.  Then I studied the piano from when I was twelve years old, which was late for somebody who wants to do piano as a career.  They bought me a very nice piano, so I was playing every day.  I will tell you a lovely story about how I started singing seriously.  I was taking piano lessons, and my piano teacher asked what I was going to do after I’d finished school.  I said I was going the Conservatory, but was told I didn’t play well enough to be admitted.  But I said I was not going to the Conservatory to play the piano.  I was going to sing!  So my piano teacher wanted to hear something, and I started singing an aria.  He screamed, Why didn’t you tell me this before?  [Much laughter]  So, two days later he took me to Bratislava to the Conservatory, to the person who would become my voice teacher.  She was immediately terribly interested, and she started preparing me to be admitted to the Conservatory.  I have been singing ever since.  I actually entered the Conservatory for voice and ear training a year earlier than other boys.

BD:   Do you now go to performances of operas you’re not singing in?

PD:   Yes.  I don’t have that much time, but I usually go to see premieres of things that I haven’t heard before, or just to see other operas if I have time.  My wife and I try to go when we can.  I’m interested in all aspects of the opera
not only the singers but also in the physical production.  But, of course, I don’t go now as much as I used to when I was a student.  Then, I used to go all the time.  When I was a student, I was going to the opera every daywithout any ticket, without paying anything!

BD:   You just sneaked in?

PD:   Exactly.  [Much laughter]

BD:   Are you trying to instill this love of music for your children?

PD:   No, I don’t teach them because they already love music.  They’re passionate about it.  They also like popular and light music.  They seem to respond to all kinds of music right away.  They ask me to show them some video tapes of operas that I was in.  They like to see Mirella Freni die when we did Bohème!  [Much laughter]  They also want to see when Lucia went crazy!  For them to see those video tapes of operas is like other children look at movies or read fairy tales.  They have the same relationship.  When I ask, they always choose concerts and operas on TV.

BD:   Your whole family is very lucky.  I know you must go, so thank you very much for this conversation.

PD:   Thank you.  It was a pleasure.


See my interviews with Elisabeth Söderström, Wieslav Ochman, and Sir Charles Mackerras

© 1984 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in Chicago on October 14, 1984.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB the following year, and again in 1996.  This transcription was made in 2018, 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.

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.