Tenor William Eichorn
A Conversation with Bruce Duffie
Dr. William J. "Bill" Eichorn has been the Minister of Music and the
Arts for Saint Bartholomew's Episcopal Church in Poway since 1985. He
is also the Director of the Academy of Music and Arts, located on St.
Dr. Eichorn has also served as the Director of the San Diego Choral
Arts Ensemble (SDCAE) since 1996. This group was founded as the
successor organization to The Escondido Chorale.
In 2002, he received a Doctorate in Worship Studies (Theology) from The
Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies in Florida.
Earlier, Dr. Eichorn received a Master's Degree in Music from
Northwestern University and a Bachelor's Degree in Music from Illinois
Dr. Eichorn previously served as the music minister at Trinity
Methodist Church in Wilmette, Illinois before becoming a solo artist at
the New York City Opera. He sang for many opera companies and has
performed concerts around the country. He was the first prize winner in
Metropolitan Opera competitions in Chicago and Philadelphia, and he won
first place at the Francisco Viñas Vocal Competition in
Since coming to San Diego, Dr. Eichorn has sung for the San Diego
Chamber Orchestra, San Diego Master Chorale, St. James Concert Series,
La Jolla Presbyterian Church Concert Series, and many other venues. He
is widely sought as a voice teacher and a worship, vocal, and choral
From May of 1982 until June of 1983, a business partner and I published
a magazine called Opera Scene.
Eleven issues were put out, and to see the list of my contributions to
the venture, click HERE.
Several of my interviews from that year have now been posted on this
website, and they are listed at the bottom of this page.
[Names which are links later on this page refer to other interviews
posted elsewhere on this website.]
One of the features was a series devoted to younger artists, and this
conversation with William Eichorn was the first to appear. Held
in February of 1982 (when the tenor returned to Chicago for the revival
of Mozart's Abduction from the
Seraglio), the topics centered on the tenor's burgeoning career
and the roles he was doing at that time. Even now, in 2015, at a
remove of more than thirty years, it is interesting to see what ideas
have changed and which remain constant after so much time has passed.
I had seen him in productions of The
Mother of Us All by Virgil
Thomson and the premiere of Abduction
given by the Chicago Opera Studio (now the Chicago Opera
Theater), so Mozart was a major item on his agenda . . . . . . . . .
Bruce Duffie: Let's start with Mozart.
You started out singing heavier roles, so when and how did
you decide — get
forced into? — singing Mozart?
[Laughs] Good Lord, how many hours do we
have? There's a long answer to that
question. One direction the answer could take is that every
singer I know goes through a period where they don't know their
voices, and they sing things that are just great music. They're
drawn to them simply because the music is great, whether it's Verdi
or Puccini or even Wagner.
BD: Do you
see yourself as a Siegfried?
WE: No, but
at one point I may have. The problem in this country is
oftentimes the teachers we have may not
know the whole roles, and because someone can negotiate an aria does
necessarily mean that they can negotiate the whole role on a stage
with orchestra in a huge hall. That's a different story
from singing in a studio or a recital. So, because I enjoyed
singing Bizet or Puccini arias and
my voice could negotiate them, for a long time I sang with
an "assumed" voice. I thought of myself as maybe perhaps going
that way. You know, a singer hears his voice from within and I
thought for a long time that what I was hearing was a darker
sound. It took a lot of years of just trial and error to figure
it all out.
BD: How much
of this is the advice of the coach?
strange part of it was that while I was
auditioning, I used to audition with Cavarodossi's aria, Lohengrin's
Abschied, etc. The first
two productions I was in were both
Carmen. I just assumed
that because I was chosen for these
things, it follows that I was right for them. The strange part
was that I was singing these arias on auditions and getting
hired. So that didn't help me, either.
BD: It gave
you a false sense of security?
WE: It gave
me a false sense of who I was, or what I was
maybe becoming. It really wasn't until about three years ago that
I finally quit teaching and decided to make a go of singing
full-time. I got a job with a preparatory company in
California called Hidden Valley. It was a branch of
Seattle Opera and Henry Holt was the music advisor. He was a neat
guy, very musical. He was there and Natalie Lemonick —
at USC and who has been a big part of the building of the Music Academy
the West — started giving me these ideas,
putting these ideas in
my head that maybe I was darkening my sound too much. Maybe the
sound I really had we more lyric.
BD: So this
was after your first Belmontes with the Chicago Opera Studio in
WE: Yes, and
I was very perplexed. You just get bits and pieces. We're
so close to our voices that
it's so hard to tell. I would get little bits and pieces that I
would ignore. Someone would say I should do such-and-such, or
why I wasn't doing this or that, but I ignored them. I thought
what do they know? Then I finally realized that enough people
were saying the same things to me that perhaps I'd better reconsider
what direction I was going with my voice.
BD: Do you
enjoy singing Mozart?
WE: Oh gosh,
BD: I ask
about this because Mozart is such a special
category to get into, and it's really very difficult.
WE: I tested
myself. Three years ago I
went to Spain and entered the
Francisco Vigñas National Competition.
BD: Yes, he
was a fine tenor (1863-1933).
WE: I didn't
know at the time who he was, but
there were 90 contestants from 22 countries, and Domingo had given
money as the prize for the best tenor. So I went over and only
things — Mozart, Donizetti, quite a variety
within that range.
It happened that I won first prize, and was called the best Mozart
singer also. The comments I was getting seemed to fit, and then I
the ‘aha’ moment. This is where
I belong. And to have a person with
the knowledge of Giulietta Simionato (who was the judge) say that was
just a real thrill. She handed me the prize, and I sang the final
concert in the Liceo which was another thrill because it's such a
BD: Let me
backtrack a bit. How much of a jolt was
it to give up teaching and to into singing full time? How much
of a panic did this cause for you and your wife?
WE: Not a
real panic because I enjoyed my teaching. I was not only doing
that, but I was director of music at a Trinity
Church of the North Shore, and was teaching at two colleges, and doing
a lot of conducting and private coaching at New Trier. I had all
kinds of jobs. There was an increasing sense that the teaching
was not fulfilling me and singing had been primarily relegated to
BD: But you
were able to sing yourself each day.
WE: Oh yes
and it made me realize what it took to
make the voice happen. So it was all well and good, because it
solidified my knowledge and ideas of technique and
breathing. I realized what it took to make a voice function, to
make a voice go. This was all very important,
and the conducting I was doing gave me that insight.
BD: It makes
you more of a well-rounded musician?
WE: Yes, but
there was also an increasing disturbance
within that said I'm not getting at what I really want to
do. It's holding me back. So when I made that realization
I said it's time to get out, and I had a wife who was 100% for my
making the career. At the time she was running a beauty salon
here in Wilmette. We had gone out on a limb and bought the shop
and had it for maybe three years. That summer I was singing at
Wolf Trap — the first time I had really been out
of this area besides the
California thing — and all the encouragement I
got that summer made me wonder what I was doing in Chicago. If I
wanted a big career rather than
a mini-career, I'd have to get to the East Coast. So my wife and
I talked it over, and she said OK. So we sold the shop and took
that big risk.
BD: It was a
huge risk, and I'm glad things have happened
[Laughs] You're not the only one!
BD: When you
were going into Mozart, did you
learn the roles to have them in your repertoire, or were you getting
offers to sing them before you knew them?
were coming in to sing them. I had
learned a lot of the arias as a student, but until one's technique
allows one to really sing them the way you feel they should be sung,
you feel a frustration.
BD: Have you
done Don Giovanni?
Yes. That's the first thing I did with the
New York City Opera. I had two weeks' notice to learn it.
They heard a tape of me when I did the Met auditions in Philadelphia
years before and won.
BD: For those
auditions you sang Mozart
arias and Donizetti?
Yes. That was the advice I had gotten in
Europe. There's a perspective I didn't get here. When
they heard me sing, they told me by all means to sing the Mozart
first. I'd never done that. I'd been pulling out something
bigger that I thought would be more flashy, but it wasn't my voice.
BD: Is the
art of auditioning especially hard?
named it right there. It is an
art. It's taken me two years, and I'm still not perfect at
it. Boy I've come a long way in two years' time. Like you
say, one needs just the art of knowing what to sing and knowing what
sing. For instance, when Beverly Sills first heard me live, she
asked what Puccini I would like to sing. I knew a lot of Puccini
arias, but something in the back of my mind told me to wait. I've
learned how to say that I would like to sing something else first.
difficult is it for a young singer to say
WE: To a
role? To an offer?
BD: All of
afraid we don't say no at the
beginning. I didn't. We just need experience. I got
an offer six years ago to go to Italy for a summer festival, but they
had hired me for Luigi in Il Tabarro.
goodness is right. When I got there, I
convinced them I should do Rinuccio in Gianni Schicchi instead.
That was a close call, but at least I got to spend three months in
BD: Do you
enjoy the characters that your voice
dictates you must play?
Sure. I like to bring to them more than
what I have seen in other performers. For instance, Don Ottavio
considered milquetoast, a kind of non-character, and yet I think a lot
of virility can be brought to that character.
BD: How old
WE: He is
very young, maybe 20.
directors feel he should be a bit older, maybe pushing
40 and having a little gray in his hair, and maybe a bit paunchy.
WE: I'm not
talking about the physicalness of
the character, but how he should be sung. Often, what's called a
leggiero tenor is given that
role, and I like to hear a bit more warmth
in the sound, more color.
BD: How much
time is there between the two arias? Does the voice get cold and
you have to re-warm
WE: I always
have to keep singing. Talking
about saying no, I've done Butterfly.
It was one of those chances I
had and I decided to take it, but I convinced them I would be a very
lyric Pinkerton. There's a role where you sing and sing the whole
first act, and then it seems like a year before you come on again in
the last act.
BD: You take
the second intermission to re-vocalize.
BD: How much
time do you spend vocalizing before a
twenty minutes. I do lots of runs and
lots of breathing. It's really important, and yet no matter how
vocalizing you do, there's a sense when you sing your first few phrases
that you have never even sung. It's the feelings of the lights,
heat, nervousness of the first phrase you sing, and it's an interesting
thing. I don't know if I'll ever get over that. I usually
try to sing the first aria at least once before I go out on
stage. Many singers don't, but I think you should not vocalize on
the stage before the audience!
BD: The only
one I know of who was said to get away with that was
that style is not practiced very much — a
lot of head mix qualities, and we're not used to hearing that today.
BD: Are you
bringing some of that back?
WE: I'd like
BD: But not
verismo. That's another extreme. I'm
in the middle there.
about to do Magic Flute at
the New York City Opera.
WE: Yes, in
the Sendak production. You know his
illustrated books, and his work was in Smithsonian Magazine
recently. They're wonderful and I just can't wait to see
them. But before I do that I'm in the concert performance at
Carnagie Hall of Die Feen,
Wagner's first opera. John Alexander
is the big, heroic tenor and I'm just a minor player.
singing opera in concert bother you?
BD: Is it fun?
certainly not as much work! [Both laugh] Anytime I have the
opportunity to walk on a stage and
sing opera, I think it's fun. What a thrill.
BD: I just
wondered because some people miss the
drama with the stage machinery and all.
WE: But if we
didn't have this performance
we might never get to hear this music. It's a great chance, and
some operas, interestingly enough, work better in a concert situation
than on the stage. Maybe some of the opera seria for
instance. Lest they not get performed, let's at least bring them
into the concert hall so we can hear them. There are several
in NY that do that, such as Clarion Concerts, Friends of French Opera,
Opera Orchestra of New York. I coached Belmonte with John
Alexander before I came out here. He's doing the role at the Met
and I learned quite a bit.
BD: If they
offered you Pedrillo at the Met with
Alexander, would you do it?
WE: I don't
think they would. They want totally
different voices for the two tenors.
BD: I like
Alexander very much, having heard him at
Ravinia a few times.
WE: He's an
amazing man. His voice is still
fresh, and I was really pleased that he would take the time. He
was so thrilled that I asked him. I think a lot of the older
singers would make themselves available if we young singers would have
the guts to ring their phone and ask for their input. I plan to
do this as much as I can, because how else are we going to learn what
BD: Can you
learn anything just by sitting and
watching a performance?
[Hesitatingly] Sometimes, perhaps.
BD: You can
learn more in a studio with them?
Sure. There you can see first-hand what
they're doing and how they're doing it, and they can explain why they
do things one way and not another. There's the great
lesson — I learn more what not to do from a bad
performance, or what happens when they get in trouble. When
you're singing well and you're in good voice and everything's
working well, so what? Ho hum. But when you're
not in good voice or if you're tired, then singing takes more energy
and more effort. Those are the lessons we need to learn.
BD: Does it
take more effort to go from singing to
trouble used to be that I didn't carry the
same amount of energy into the spoken lines as I did in the
My speaking voice tends to be a bit lazy, and you have to learn to
speak with the same amount of intensity that you would sing. And
we all need to slow down!
BD: Tell me
about singing in translation. Do you enjoy it?
WE: There are
so many bad translations. There needs to be
newer translations with current usage, not "thee" and
"prey tell". We just don't say that today, so it's hard for
me to sing. Also English is harder than Italian because there are
sounds, more vowels, more diphthongs, more combinations of
sounds. So to be understood takes a lot of work in
English, but I feel strongly that the comedies should be done in
English in America. Not so much the dramas. There the music
the words are so wedded that you can't really change them.
Putting another sound changes the music and changes the color.
BD: Have you
sung some really excellent translations?
Yes. I did Falstaff
with Sarah Caldwell.
BD: Was that Andrew Porter's
WE: I think
it was mostly hers. She gets involved
in every part of it including the conducting and staging. Donald Gramm
was Falstaff and he was a real joy. They're using a new
translation for the Flute at NYCO that I'll be doing.
BD: When you
sing a line in English and you know the
audience gets it, does that make a better feeling for you than singing
a line in Italian and knowing that maybe some of it has gotten through?
bet. You sing a
performance of Don Giovanni
in Italian, and it's so doggone funny, and
you don't even get a titter. Then you go to a smaller
production where it's in translation and they're getting all of these
little jokes. There's your answer.
BD: Do you
find you can be
more subtle when it's in English?
Yes. The jokes don't have to be so visible.
BD: Is it
more work, then, when you have to act the
it's always work, so it's a different kind
of working. Every time you go out there's an awful lot of work to
be done to try to be successful, to get energy across the
footlights. The big thing is energy. You have to have lots
of energy and presence, and then somehow the audience
can pick up on that. They're involved with you that way. If
they just come and only want to listen, it doesn't work.
there's a good audience, do you feel the
energy coming back to you?
WE: I've read
interviews where other singers say
this, but I'll tell you the reverse is true. If the audience is
just sitting there you do feel that. You feel their lethargy, but
I don't know if I really do feel the extra when they are enjoying
BD: Do you
know ahead of time certain audience are
better than others? Are Saturday night audiences, for instance,
something to that.
Week-night audiences are more difficult because they have to go to work
the next day, so they can't relax as much as weekend crowds. In
the theaters that serve alcoholic beverages, you can tell a difference
between act one and two. They've had a drink or two at the
intermission and you can tell a difference. I don't know if
others notice this, but I do. Of course, there are days when it
takes a while for an opera to get going.
BD: Have you
sung some lesser-known Mozart works?
WE: I've been
asked to learn Idomeneo.
BD: I assume
you would do it differently than Pavarotti. Do we need big names
to fill the house?
WE: I don't
know. Talk to the impresarios.
This country has had a complex for years about its artists. It's
finally turning around now to where we young singers don't have to go
Europe. That used to be the standard thing — get
experience and exposure there and maybe you'll be recognized
here. Now there are enough opera producing entities here that we
are given a chance. But still and all, names are important.
The box office suffered when Sills retired from the New York City Opera.
BD: Are we
conditioned by recordings?
WE: Sure we
are, for good and for bad. I'm sure that a lot
of the public and critics alike learn their music from listening to a
polished recording. They don't go to the piano and play through a
score to learn the music and then go to the performance. I
can understand a singer wanting to have their recordings as perfect as
possible for posterity, but then we go into the live theater and
expect that perfection. It's rare to hear that perfect
performance. I don't know too many people who give them, so
the standards are set high — which is all
right. We should strive
BD: If a
producer came to you and wanted to make
a series of Mozart opera recordings with you, would you,
knowing that you'd be up against the heritage of recordings from years
WE: I'd be a
fool not to try. The good thing is
that recordings reach more people. Opera is on a big upswing
in America. All you have to do is look at that survey that comes
out every year in Opera News.
The number of companies, the number
of performances, the number of new works, the attendance, it's
BD: Do you
sing any contemporary works?
WE: I did Floyd's Susannah. That's about as
contemporary as I want to get. When I was in school, I got into
all the craziness.
BD: Is there
a point to singing crazy works?
To be exposed to it in a
learning situation it's good, but...
like you should get contemporary music you
like you should get the measles just to be through with it!
everyone should be exposed to contemporary
music once. [Laughs] It's just not for me. I
suppose there are voices that can handle it, but I don't enjoy it at
BD: What if
you were offered Alwa in Lulu?
WE: Nope, it
just doesn't interest me at all.
I'm a real romantic at heart. Maybe in another life I was
there. I love long legatos; I love long lyric lines. It's
just in my nature, and it just goes against me to have to sing things
that are so angular. I've tried it and I simply couldn't talk for
two days after that.
BD: Are you a
good audience for Mozart operas?
BD: Do you
breathe with the singers and sweat with
WE: Yes, I
do. I'm really critical, and I guess
there's a side of me which says, “Damn, I'd
rather be up there!” But I
do force myself. I listen as much as I can. I have to know
what's being done. I worked with Anna Moffo one summer, and she
maintains that she's never gone to a performance of a role she sings to
watch another colleague do it. Now that's a little extreme I
think. I did the Taming of the
Shrew by Giannini with her. That
was contemporary with huge intervals and all.
BD: Have you
done some Handel?
WE: Some of
the oratorios, yes. I love Handel. Handel,
Bach and Mozart are just really good for me. I can negotiate the
BD: How do
you balance your career between opera and
WE: I would
love to balance it 50-50. It will
take time, but I will. I'm doing the Wagner this month, then next
month the Bach St. Matthew Passion.
I love to be able to
juxtapose those kinds of things. It's healthy; they complement
BD: Let me
ask you about stage directors. Do you
find that some of them are reaching for things that really aren't in
certainly know the right questions... Most people agree that
we're coming through a period of the stage director. I'm
sure that's why you ask this question, and sure I've seen it where the
staging is the most important thing — it's not
Mozart's opera, but
so-and-so's production. And, yes, you're right, they do impose a
lot of their own feelings and get away from where the music really
is. It's even more so in Europe, judging from reviews I
read — if reviews can be
believed! I don't know why we
have to change something or move something 200 years from where it's
set and put it in a whorehouse to make it accessible to the audience.
wouldn't do Così in
WE: I don't
know. As long as it was musically
sound with a good cast, and as long as it's not changed just for its
That particular opera is possible if it doesn't take away
from the music and the characters. They are wonderful characters.
Mozart characters still speak to us today?
WE: Sure they
do. Strudel is still as good
today as it was 200 years ago, isn't it? [Both laugh]
obviously enjoy singing.
Yes. I was just asked how long I'd been
singing, and I don't ever remember not singing. When I was a
little boy, I can remember just singing at the top of my lungs when I
was growing up on a farm. There's never been a doubt in my mind
that I would be a singer. I just have to sing.
BD: Do you
ever feel enslaved by it?
WE: There are
times I feel I can't do anything
else or that I can't allow myself to do anything else. I have to
pushing this talent and this voice to make it do what I think it can
do. I can't just accept where I am right now. There's so
much more I have to do to make my voice more flexible, more pliable,
more this, more that. You can't ever take just the talent you've
been given and be content with it. You'll never get
anywhere. I went through a period when I thought I had everything
one needed to sing, but that's silly. The growth in these two
years has been unbelievable. Others hear it and I feel it.
When you're able to do more with your own singing voice, it changes you
because your voice is you. Everything that affects me affects my
BD: How do
you counteract getting accidentally kicked
just as you go out for your big aria?
WE: If I
could analyze how and why I do the things
required to go out on that stage, I don't think I would do it.
You just go. Can you imagine why you'd walk out in front of
thousands of people? No one in their right mind would do
it! Really! You'd have to be daft to want to do that, yet
there is a part of you that does want to do it. It's really a
challenge, but yet there is nothing else that fulfills me as much as
BD: [With a
gentle nudge] So it's not just the applause?
[Smiles] No. I can't deny it's important to be
liked, but I challenge myself and I sing for myself because I know how
it should be presented. Then I set that goal and attempt to reach
each time I walk out there.
BD: Do you
ever reach it?
WE: No, but I
come close sometimes. No
matter what I've just sung, I think about how it could be better next
time. Every time I walk out it's a challenge for me to
overcome my human-ness and my limits, and try to go beyond.
That's a real challenge. I do it in auditioning and I do it in
BD: I hope it
continues to work for you.
Thanks. I do too.
-- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
© 1982 Bruce Duffie
This conversation was recorded in Wilmette, Illinois (suburban
Chicago) on February 9, 1982. It was transcribed and published in
Opera Scene magazine in July
of that year. The transcription was slightly re-edited and posted
website in 2015.
To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been
transcribed and posted on this website, click here.
Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975
its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001. His
interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since
and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well
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
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.