Tenor Poul Elming
A Conversation with Bruce Duffie
|Poul Elming (born 21 July 1949, Aalborg) is
a Danish opera singer. He began his career as a baritone, making his professional
debut in 1979 as a member of the Jutland Opera in Århus. He then
pursued studies at the Juilliard School in New York City where his voice
was re-trained in the tenor repertoire. In 1989, he made his debut as a
tenor at the Royal Danish Theatre in the title role in Richard Wagner's
He has since sung leading roles with major opera companies and festivals
throughout the world, including the Bayreuth Festival, the Berlin State
Opera, the Liceu, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Royal Opera, London,
the San Francisco Opera, and the Vienna State Opera among others.
He is also the Founder and Chair of the Lauritz Melchior International
Singing Competition, begun in 2010 in Aalborg, Denmark.
Elming was in Chicago in February-March of 1996 to sing Siegmund
in the first two cycles of the Ring conducted by Zubin Mehta, staged by August Everding, designed
by John Conklin,
and lit by Duane Schuler.
Also in the cast were Eva Marton/Jane Eaglen,
Tina Kiberg, James
Morris, Marjana Lipovšek, and Matti Salminen. [Names which are
links refer to my interviews elsewhere on my website.]
We met during the rehearsal period prior to the
three cycles, and as we were getting settled for the conversation, Elming
was talking about a particular diet regimen he was on . . . . . . . .
Poul Elming: Every other day I eat normally,
so that makes this day (when I eat nothing) bearable.
Bruce Duffie: So you’re looking forward to
enjoying a meal tomorrow?
PE: I’m just looking forward to a normal day
BD: So, it’s not endless days of nothing to
eat? [Vis-à-vis the CD shown at right, see my interviews
with Anja Silja, and
Christoph von Dohnányi.]
PE: No. If you go on a diet and you eat
very little, the body stops burning calories. It thinks you’re
having a problem, that there’s no food around, so you had better save
BD: Back to the primal days when you were scraping
for every nut and berry you could get?
PE: Yes, but if you only stop eating every
second day, that’s not enough time for the body to react. So,
it keeps burning calories.
BD: When Siegmund enters in the first act,
he is cold and tired. Is he also hungry, and do you feel same kinds
of feelings on the days you don’t eat?
PE: I don’t think he’s hungry. At least
I’m not hungry. I would never do this on a day of a serious rehearsal
or a performance.
BD: But you’ve experienced it?
PE: Yes, but Siegmund’s probably tired, thirsty,
hungry, burdened, wounded... He’s just about to give up.
BD: Is he hungry for love, or is that the last
thing in his mind?
PE: I don’t think he’s thinking of love at
all. Actually, when he sees this woman, he finds her very interesting.
He’s interested in her as a woman, but somehow it’s not really
what he wants. He would want this not to have happened because
of his history. He just experienced a similar thing, and he knows
that anytime he gets attached to somebody, he gets into trouble.
BD: So he doesn’t want another complication?
PE: No, this just means more trouble.
BD: Has Siegmund just come from a love affair?
PE: No, not from a love affair, but every time
he gets involved with people in one way or another, it just turns out
that he did the wrong thing. He’s always doing the wrong thing, as
he tells us... There was this girl that was being given away against her
will, and he tried to save her, and he killed all her brothers, and all
of a sudden, the stupid girl was on top of the killed brothers weeping and
crying. So, there he was, looking quite stupid. He knows that
things happen all the time, and he basically wants his life to end because
he’s fed up with it. He doesn’t really want to go on living.
BD: But then he gets interested in Sieglinde,
and wants to live?
PE: Yes. He cannot really help
it if he gets enthusiastic about something, which he does about her.
At least that’s how we see it in this production. He doesn’t
really feel love for this woman, but he feels that she is in trouble, and
she needs help, and who should help her but me? That’s what turns
him on, and when he sees Hunding, this big brutal person, he really knows
that here’s somebody I should help... even if he knows in the back of his
head that it’s probably wrong what I’m doing. He is actually trying
to run away when she says, “Don’t, please don’t
leave. You won’t bring trouble into a house that is already in trouble.”
That is the magical word, “Oh, she needs help,” so
in that case I’d better stay because I cannot leave her, and let terrible
things happen to her.
BD: Does he become at all confused when he
realizes that she’s not only a beautiful woman, but she is his sister?
[Vis-à-vis the DVD shown at left, see my interviews
with Sir John Tomlinson,
Nadine Secunde, and
PE: That, again, depends on the production,
because when does he actually realize that she’s his sister? Normally
he realizes that at the very end of the first act when she tells him at
the time he pulls the sword from the tree. But by then, he’s so enthusiastic
that I don’t think he is confused. It’s just one more wonderful
thing that is happening to him on this ‘perfect day’, and, of course,
he does not know what’s going to happen to him a little later. He
found his sister, he found the sword that his father promised him, so
this is a wonderful day.
BD: Could the two of them been happy if he
hadn’t killed in Act Two?
PE: Why should we think about that? I don’t
really know. It is an odd couple, brother and sister, twins.
It’s a construction of Wagner’s, because Wotan wants it to stay in the
family, so to speak. I wouldn’t like to think about that, because
if they just stayed together and had a wonderful relation, the whole Ring
would stop! [Both laugh]
BD: I was just wondering if they would have
had a tempestuous relationship.
PE: They probably would, because that’s in their
makeup. They are rebels fighting and struggling. I’ve been
through a lot of different productions of this opera, and basically we
always reach the conclusion that Hunding is actually not a very bad guy.
He’s basically like people were in that time and place. All his neighbors
and all his relatives were the same kind of people.
BD: He’s just an ordinary fellow?
PE: He’s just an ordinary fellow. He
got his wife in a strange way. She was given to him, or he picked
her. He didn’t ask her whether she wanted to marry him, but that
was the way it worked. That was not unusual. So, he’s basically
just an ordinary fellow, but this girl cannot adjust to the conditions.
She’s always fighting him, and for the first time she meets somebody who
is willing to fight with her. That’s what turns her on. In the
production that we are doing in Bayreuth, we have a couple of things that
she does. She touches her hair in a certain way, and all of a sudden
he remembers something. “I’ve seen that before. Where was that?”
Of course, it was his sister many, many years ago. That’s something
that makes his mind work. He wonders what’s going on here. In
that production, when she tells him, “This house
and this wife belong to Hunding,” she’s angry when
she says it.
BD: She’s not just resigned to it?
PE: No, she’s really angry, and he think that’s
thrilling. He likes that kind of woman because she’s not just adjusting
to a stupid circumstance.
BD: How old are they?
PE: That’s a problem because they are somewhat younger
than I am. [Laughs] I would think that they’re about eighteen
years old, which we also try to emphasize in the Bayreuth production.
I have a daughter who is sixteen, and I know that from one minute
to the next, she can change from being a child to a very mature woman.
It just changes from one minute to the next. You never really know
what is going to happen, and it is the same thing with these people (Siegmund
and Sieglinde). We have moment where they are really extremely mature,
talking about deep feelings and all that stuff about nature, and Winterstürme,
and all that. They are talking like grown-ups, and then, in this
production in Bayreuth, all of a sudden they become two kids, on their knees
having a great time, laughing and smiling, which I think is a good thing.
My Sieglinde in Bayreuth is the same as we have here, so some of it is brought
over from that production. Of course, when you have limited time
to rehearse, you have a tendency to bring stuff from other productions.
We don’t have five weeks to do this thoroughly, so we have to bring
things into the production we’ve already done. Unless the producer
says we cannot do something, it’s going to stay. Only a few things
have actually been thrown away, but we’re not trying to do a replica of
the production in Bayreuth. Just bits and pieces because we’re the
same two people singing the same two roles. We cannot, all of a sudden,
do something totally different, unless we’re actually told to.
BD: A few moments ago, when you were talking
about Siegmund, you said “I”. [Elming would do this again later,
when discussing Parsifal.]
BD: When you go out on stage, are you portraying
a character, or do you actually become that character?
PE: Oh, I portray it. I would like to say
the opposite, but no! I’m trying to act, but there are some evenings
when you get carried away. Those are, perhaps, not the best evenings
for the audience, but it’s so much more fun for us. [Laughs]
Actually, they are better evenings for the audience, too. It’s funny
because sometimes you have this feeling like you are standing next to yourself,
looking at yourself and what you’re doing. This is a terrible feeling,
but sometimes you get into it more completely, which is a good feeling.
You never really know how you’re going to react when you go on stage.
It might be one or the other, and all my colleagues know these feelings.
BD: Obviously, your voice range and quality
dictate which parts you will sing. Do you like the characters that
are imposed on you because of that?
PE: Is there any reason not to like Siegmund?
[Laughs] I like him very much. James Levine once said, “It’s
interesting that in two acts of the Valkyrie, Siegmund gets much
more sympathy than Siegfried gets in two whole operas.”
That’s actually very true. He’s a very sympathetic
guy, and the audience likes him. He’s a good guy, a really a good
guy who just is always getting into bad luck.
BD: So he’s as victim?
PE: Oh, yes! He’s a victim of Wotan’s
stupid plan, and the audience feels that very clearly. He’s trying
to do his very best, but his fate is different.
BD: We don’t usually see men as being victims.
In opera it’s usually the woman who is the victim.
PE: Yes, that’s true. I never thought
of that, but it’s true.
* * *
BD: You started out as a baritone.
Did you have second, or third, or fourth thoughts about moving up to the
PE: I have much more than three or four thoughts,
I tell you! It’s a difficult thing, because I actually had a very
good career as a baritone. It was not an international career, but
I was a baritone with a certain reputation in Denmark. The reason
I decided to make the change was that I felt my voice was ‘tipping’,
so to speak. The top grew constantly stronger, and the bottom
of the voice didn’t, so it became difficult to sing certain roles. This
explains rather well how I felt about it. I had two options
— I could either stop singing, or I could become
a tenor. Those were the two options, and I’m still trying to become
a tenor! [Much laughter]
BD: Do you think that at some point you will feel you’ve
PE: It’s difficult if you have a long career.
I had ten years professionally as a baritone, and I sang lots and
lots of roles, so old habits — even old
vocal habits — never leave you, which doesn’t
make my life as a tenor easier.
BD: Are any of your tenor roles in the same
operas where you sang baritone?
PE: I’ve sung the Herald, in Lohengrin,
and now I sing the title role. They’re on stage together, but they
BD: The world has accepted you as a tenor,
but have you accepted it?
PE: Yes, but I fear that if all of a sudden
I accept myself as a mature tenor, I’m afraid that my development would
stop. Every time I have the opportunity, I take voice lessons.
I really try to become a better singer, and one of the reasons for that
is that I’m not pleased with what I’m doing. It doesn’t mean that
I’m totally displeased with what I’m doing, just that it can always be better.
I hate to listen to myself on records or tapes, and I don’t often
do it. Every time I do, I hear all the terrible mistakes, all the leftovers
from my baritone days. All of sudden I think, “Uh, oh! That
was much too much like a baritone, and that’s why it becomes so difficult
for me to get up on that high note.” I hear it so clearly, and it’s
something that I have to keep working with.
BD: But when you get the great maestros of
the world — like James Levine or Daniel
Barenboim — saying that they approve of
what you’re doing, doesn’t that give you any comfort at all?
PE: Well, they’re only humans! [Both
laugh] It does, of course, but finally I am the one to decide
which of what I’m doing is not good enough, and there are many things
I think that could definitely be better.
BD: Are you glad, though, that your career
has taken on an international stature?
PE: Yes, definitely for many reasons.
The wonderful thing about singing Wagnerian opera is that it’s like a
family. You’re always with the same people, and these people happen
to be very, very nice people. I cannot point out more than two
or three people in the Wagnerian world that I would say, “I don’t really
like that person.” Basically, I really like most of them, and some
of them I really, really appreciate as being very good friends. It’s
probably because there are not so many Wagnerian singers, and they all
tend to be straightforward, sensible people. I have met wonderful
people that I love to work with. That’s one thing. Also, I’m
still a member of the ensemble in Copenhagen, as is Tina Kiberg, my Sieglinde.
I’ve just been in Copenhagen for two and a half months working there, and
I enjoyed it so much to be home, to be with my good old colleagues, and everybody
at home. It was just so much fun, and one of the main reasons, probably,
is that I don’t have to work twelve months a year. But coming back
for two or three months, and then going again, makes it so much more fun
to come home and see those people who you like very much. If you
see them every day, it might not be that much fun... [Laughs]
BD: Do you do the same thing with roles?
Do you make sure you get away from the Wagner a little bit, so it’s fresher
when you come back?
PE: In Copenhagen I do sing Wagnerian roles, but
that is a place where I test roles. I hope this doesn’t make people
in Copenhagen angry. I try to do my best, of course, but sometimes
you say, “This is not my role. I’ve tried it, and it wasn’t any
good for me. I’d rather not do it again.”
BD: But then on the other side is they get
the first shot at roles that become wonderful for you.
PE: Exactly. For instance, one of my
favorite roles is Parsifal, which I did for the first time in Copenhagen.
It was actually my first tenor role at all, and I’ve done it very often
in Copenhagen. I’ve done it in so many other places, too. Actually,
I enjoy singing Parsifal even more than I do singing Siegmund. These,
basically, are the two roles that I sing internationally. There might
be others, but, as I told you, I’m still trying to become a tenor.
* * *
BD: Tell me a bit about Parsifal.
PE: What do you want to know about Parsifal?
It’s difficult to tell just a little about Parsifal. [Laughs]
BD: Is he really human?
PE: Oh, yes, he definitely is. He’s perhaps
the only really human person in that opera. What I find very interesting
about that role is that he goes through a transition. From the beginning
he’s just probably a boy of Siegmund’s age — seventeen
or eighteen years old. Then, in the second act, which is the big scene
with Kundry, things start to happen in his head. Finally, we see
him in the third act, and we don’t know how many years later it is.
I always imagine it’s at least twenty years later, where he’s grown up,
mature, and a reflecting individual who has experienced a lot of terrible
things, but who is really now ready to take over.
BD: Even though it’s twenty years, he’s not
really weary of the journey?
PE: [Thinks a moment] I don’t know.
The funny thing is that when Gurnemanz talks to him and I ask, “What has
happened?”, I have the feeling that’s my idea. [Elming again
moves easily between saying ‘I’
and ‘he’.] The
words come out, but he doesn’t really know what he’s saying because it’s
the first time that he has actually been talking for twenty years.
He’s not been talking to anybody.
BD: He’s been wandering in the desert?
PE: He’s been wondering around because of this curse.
Kundry says to him, “You won’t be able to find your way anyway. This
is a curse I’ve put on you.” So, everything has been confusing.
He thought he knew, and again it wasn’t right. Everything has been
terrible for him, and when he arrives at the Castle of the Grail, he sees
how terrible things have developed. Amfortas is still alive, but he’s
just urging for death to come. Titurel is already dead, and everything
is pretty miserable. Parsifal is a very difficult role to talk about
because the whole opera is so complex. You can work on this opera
for weeks, and still find new layers in it. I don’t think you ever
reach the goal where you can say, “I know exactly what Parsifal is about”
because it’s a weird story. But you asked if he is really human,
and I think he is human.
BD: Being human, then, he’s the odd man out
in the story.
PE: Sure he is! The whole thing is all so
weird. There’s this boy who knows nothing. He’s not stupid,
he’s just ignorant, and his mother deliberately kept him in ignorance because
she didn’t want him to end up like his father, who got killed in war. She
wanted him not to know anything about weapons. She just wanted him
to be ignorant because that would be the safer thing for him. So,
he is totally ignorant, which is a thing we can’t really imagine
— a person of eighteen years who doesn’t know anything
about anything at all. He doesn’t even remember his own name, though
he remembers the name of his mother. He’s very proud when Gurnemanz
says he must know something, and he responds, “I have a mother. That
I know, and I even know her name!’ He’s very proud because that’s
basically all he knows, which is a tricky situation for a young man. Up
until the kiss in the second act, he’s only reacting on his instincts.
From then on, he becomes a thinking individual who really uses his intelligence
— which was there all the time —
but now, all of a sudden, he puts two and two together.
He’s saw things at the end of the first act with Amfortas and the Grail,
and he didn’t understand anything. Then, all of a sudden, he understands
what it was all about. From then on, he just keeps working in his head,
and he realizes what was going on, and what’s going to happen.
BD: Is there any way to convey all of this
growth and maturity to the audience in just the time you have in the
PE: It is a long act, but we’re really going into
some serious business now! [Both laugh] I see the whole opera
as a process of maturing. He’s becoming mature throughout the whole
opera. It starts when he shoots the swan, and Gurnemanz and the other
members of the brotherhood don’t really like this. They tell me,
“You shouldn’t do a thing like that,” which he doesn’t really understand.
“Why? Why? Why can I not shoot a swan? I’m
good at that, and I shoot anything that moves!” But a seed is planted
in his mind that he’s not supposed to shoot a swan. Then he sees
the whole thing with the Grail, and that’s another seed. When he
comes back in the third act, he’s not quite there yet. Gurnemanz
tells him about nature, and all the animals and the creatures of the
world. He says that they couldn’t see Jesus, but they see an image
of Jesus in this human being that is an entlöster Mensch [lost
man]. At that moment, everything fits together. Parsifal has
all the pieces, but it takes the narration of Gurnemanz and the Karfreitagszauber
[Good Friday Spell] to being the pieces together. That makes him
fit to go heal Amfortas, and to take over. That’s how I feel it.
It might be totally wrong, but that’s how I feel about it.
BD: That’s what you bring to the role.
PE: Yes, that’s what I try to bring, and that’s
why the Karfreitagszauber is not only a beautiful section of music,
it is the most important part of the whole opera, because that’s what
makes Parsifal understand what the whole thing was about.
BD: Is that what makes the audience understand
what the whole opera is about?
PE: It depends on the production. I have done
good productions, and I have done less-good productions. Parsifal
is an opera that you could easily screw up if you’re an opera producer.
There are so many things you could do. You just have to decide what
route you want to take, because if you want to show the whole thing, it’s
just going to be confusing. It’s an opera you should see and listen
to many, many times, perhaps with different approaches. That way you
can try to get new angles to this very, very complicated and complex story.
BD: Is Parsifal a sacred work, or is
it just another opera?
PE: I think it’s an opera. It’s just
another opera. Unfortunately, it’s regarded as something sacred,
but I don’t think that’s the case.
BD: It’s just an opera, but on a sacred subject?
PE: Yes, but there are many such operas. Think
of Samson and Delilah. I just did a role in an opera by the
Danish composer, Carl Nielsen, called Saul and David. That
is another sacred opera. Parsifal deals with a lot of scared
things, but it’s definitely not a work that should be done in a church.
* * *
BD: Speaking of Danish operas, you’ve
recorded a Heise opera, Drot og marsk [King and Marshal] (1878)?
PE: Yes. Heise (1830-1879), to me, is
the best Danish composer, at least if you are talking about vocal music.
I did a lot of Lieder, which are incredibly good, and the only reason why
he’s not known worldwide is that all the poetry is Danish. If he
had written German poetry, he would be just as famous as Schubert. Often,
he’s referred to as the ‘Danish Schubert’, and that’s what he is.
The melodies come so easily. It all seems so uncomplicated, soothing
for your soul. It’s just wonderful to listen to. Writing
an opera is a different thing, and this opera is perhaps not totally well
done, but a lot of it is very good. The story is about the murder
of a king, and it’s based on a true story that took place in 1286. The
murder has never been solved. Nobody really knows what happened.
We just know that the king was killed in a barn, and that the barn was
burned down. There are many theories about what happened, and about
why history decided to give the version which is what we see in the opera.
But the whole thing might have been totally different. We don’t know,
but it’s a wonderful piece. The role of King Eric, which is the role
that I sing on that recording, is a very, very good role. It is interesting
from a psychological point of view, and it’s beautiful music. The
orchestra isn’t the strongest part of the opera... The instrumentation
isn’t Richard Strauss, let’s put it that way. [Laughs]
BD: Does it please you that you’ve recorded
the opera, to give it an international circulation?
PE: Yes, and I’ve done it on stage in two different
productions, which made it even more interesting to do it on record. So
yes, if this means that this piece is going to be somewhat known in foreign
countries, that would please me very much, because I think it’s a good
opera. If somebody would want to do this opera, please don’t do
it in Danish, because Danish is a hopeless language. [Huge laughter]
BD: What language should it be in?
PE: Why not German? German and Danish
are two languages that are somewhat related. They’re totally different,
but still some of the sounds are the same. The libretto is not great
poetry, so why go through the hell of learning it in Danish! [More
laugh] It’s different with Richard Wagner. I really think the
libretto is good poetry, and it should be done only in German. Some
operas have terrible librettists, and some have good librettists.
BD: When you’re doing the Wagner here in Chicago,
do you like having the titles above your head so that the audience can
PE: I have mixed opinions about that. Of course,
I don’t see the supertitles, but I remember when we got them in Copenhagen.
I had done Parsifal in two seasons, and you always have this funny feeling
of having sung trillions of words, and nobody really understands what you
said. They understood the general feeling, and the general context
of what was going on. Then we got the supertitles, and it was obvious
that the audience really understand much, much more of what was going
on, and participated much more of the whole process.
BD: I would think that would make you feel
better as an artist.
PE: Sure, but then we know that because of
those supertitles, about a third of what we’re doing on stage is never
seen because people are busy reading. So, that’s why I say I have
mixed feelings about it, because there are some good things about it,
there are some bad things about it. The best thing would be if everybody
knew the bloody text. As a spectator, I hate the supertitles because
even if I know the opera, I keep reading it. I cannot just enjoy it
as if they’re not there. If you don’t know the opera at all, and if
it’s in French or a language that I don’t speak, and perhaps I didn’t
even buy a program, so it would be a good thing if they’re there.
It’s not all good and it’s not all bad. It’s something in between.
BD: We kind of touching on it, so let me ask the big question.
What is the purpose of opera?
PE: I hope you have a lot of tape! [Much laughter]
It’s of course impossible for me to answer that question, but I
can try to say something about what I think.
BD: Please do.
PE: I think that opera is a sort of drama.
We have to make drama on stage. It has to be dramatic. What
are we doing? We’re trying to tell a story, but because there is
music it’s different from a straight play. Also, because there’s
music, it just takes one much deeper into the soul and the emotions of
people. Because music has this possibility of moving people’s souls,
we have to know that it’s what we’re doing when we are making opera. We
try to give people an experience on a spiritual level. It’s actually
easier for me to say what I don’t think opera is. Opera is not pretty
singing. That does not mean that it can’t be good singing or beautiful
singing, but the voices are just tools. We should use the voices to
express something. We shouldn’t use opera as an opportunity to present
out voices. Do you see the difference?
PE: That’s how I see it, and that’s why I say opera
is drama. It’s not just showing off on high notes, and all that stuff.
That, to me, is totally irrelevant. If that’s what you want, you should
go listen to street singers in Italy. It’s a different thing.
As I say, it doesn’t mean that it cannot be beautiful, or that it cannot
be wonderful to listen to but that is not the main thing. Sometimes
you should perhaps even try to make it sound ugly if that is what you’re
trying to express.
BD: Do that if the drama calls for it?
PE: Yes, if the drama calls for it. You
shouldn’t always think of making beautiful sound. Very often, that
is what you’re doing, and that’s what you should do, but you should consider
the possibility of trying to sing something less than beautiful, because
if you express more clearly what is supposed to be expressed, that’s what
you should do then.
BD: Do you feel that opera is more art than
entertainment, and where’s the balance?
PE: Oh, definitely. It’s art, it’s not
BD: [Surprised] Not at all???
PE: It depends on what kind of opera we are talking
about. If we’re talking about The Barber of Seville, or
Don Pasquale, it’s definitely entertainment, and funny, and it
should be. Then, it’s a different kind of thing. Especially in
my baritone days, I did a lot of these things. I studied Malatesta
(in Don Pasquale), and all those things, and the more people enjoy
themselves, the more they laugh, the better the evening is, and the better
you’ve done it. But then again, there’s an enormous difference between
Don Pasquale and Parsifal, for instance.
BD: Those are almost the two extremes.
PE: Yes. I picked those two extremes
deliberately. [Laughs] When we say ‘opera’, what do we
mean? It could also be entertainment, yes, but the things that I
do are basically not entertainment. It’s art, or least that’s what
I hope it is.
BD: That’s what you strive for?
* * * *
BD: Having gone through the upheaval of making a
career and then re-making the career, are you at the point now that you
want to be at this age?
PE: I think so, in my fach [vocal category],
as we say. By singing the roles that I sing, I think it’s about
time that I start to lie about my age, because I know what has happened to
a few colleagues. Even if they were, perhaps, some of the best in
their roles, when they reached a certain age nobody asked them to do the
roles any more. You don’t want a Siegmund who is sixty-five, or something
like that. It’s as tricky thing. I hate to lie about my age,
but I do see a point doing it. [Laughs] So, I might start lying
about my age pretty soon.
BD: You will sing as long as you can deliver
PE: That’s true, but that seems not always
to be enough. If people know that this guy tries to look as if
he were seventeen when he’s actually nearly sixty, it could have a certain
significance. It’s different from one country to another, but I might
take on some other roles then. A role like Loge doesn’t have any age
at all. He could be a hundred, he could be twenty, he could be any
BD: Is singing fun?
PE: It should be! [Much laughter]
It should be basically fun, and up until now I’ve mostly had fun
singing. But, of course, it’s a question of the roles that you sing.
You have to make it be fun. You have to be sure that you can actually
sing these roles fairly easily. If it’s complicated, if it’s difficult,
if you really don’t know whether you’re going to make it or not, I don’t
think it would be that much fun.
BD: [I then asked Elming about his recordings,
and he lamented that even though his part (Siegmund) was due for release,
the ‘Cleveland Ring’ would not be completed. CD back-cover is shown
near the top of this webpage.] Are there other recordings, either
done or coming soon?
PE: There’s a video of Parsifal,
but it’s not on CD. Then I’ve done a couple of smaller Danish things
with the Danish radio on Chandos. There’s a beautiful piece by composer
Niels Wilhelm Gade [he pronounced it as non-Danes do, Gah-duh], but
we pronounce it Gay-the. It means actually ‘street’. It’s a
beautiful piece called Elverskud. It’s a very, very good
piece, and I’m so pleased that I got the opportunity to do that on CD
[shown below], because I’ve done it so many times. It’s with
three soloists, and a symphony orchestra and chorus, and it’s great Danish
music. It might only be great to Danes, I don’t know, but it is so Danish
and, forgive me, I love the things that are Danish.
BD: Of course!
PE: [With a wink] Many people love ‘danish’,
don’t they? That’s something you eat.
BD: [Patting his ample stomach] That’s
right, exactly. Are there any records extant with you as a baritone?
PE: There actually is one. It’s a
contemporary piece called The History of Jonah by a Danish composer
called Karl Aage Rasmussen [shown at right]. It’s
a one-man opera, basically. There’s only one role, and that’s Jonah,
who, at a certain time, is in the belly of the whale. It was done
as a radio work, and they were fooling around with all the sound possibilities
that you can do on radio... or that you could do fifteen years ago. It
was issued on as a long-playing record, but it is not on CD. It was
an interesting piece to do. There’s chorus, too, and a few solo
lines from members of the chorus, but basically there’s only the one role.
I haven’t listened to it for years, and I’m not too crazy about it, but
I did it. It was great fun, and it meant that I made money, which
was very important back then. [Laughs]
BD: Do you like being a wandering minstrel?
PE: [Sighs] I don’t mind it. At the beginning
it was difficult. I felt lonely sometimes. I never feel lonely
now when I’m in a hotel room. Here in Chicago I have my family,
which is a great luxury. I was in San Francisco for almost two
months in the Fall of ’95, and that was a little difficult. It
meant that I got a tremendously big phone bill! [Both laugh] We
have a daughter who’s turning three now, and if you leave her for two
months, you come back and find a totally different child, which is scary.
But, as I told you, when I’m out, I meet people almost always that I know.
For instance, at Bayreuth, when we’ve been together for two and a half
months, we say good-bye to each other, and then we go wherever we belong,
and two weeks later we meet some of the same people again. Throughout
the year we basically meet everybody.
BD: Will you be coming back to Chicago?
PE: There are no plans, but I wouldn’t mind. It’s
a very nice opera house. People are very kind, as they were in
San Francisco. That seems to happen in America.
BD: We try...
PE: Well, you do a good job! I’ve studied
in New York, and I know this country very well, and I like this country.
Sometimes I feel that if I should have to move to another country,
it would be to the United States of America. I like the people.
People are friendly in America, basically.
BD: I’m glad we’ve made you feel welcome.
PE: Oh, I feel terrific.
BD: Good. Thank you for coming to Chicago
for our Ring, and thank you for chatting with me. I appreciate
PE: I appreciate it, too. Thanks a lot.
I hope I didn’t make too many linguistic errors.
© 1996 Bruce Duffie
This conversation was recorded in Chicago on February 26, 1996.
Portions were broadcast on WNIB five days later. This transcription
was made in 2019, 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.
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.
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.
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