A Conversation with Bruce Duffie
Pablo Elvira, 62, Baritone Known To New
York Opera Audiences
By Anthony Tommasini, published in The
New York Times, February 11, 2000 [Correction
Appended] [Text only - photo added for this webpage]
Pablo Elvira, a Puerto Rican-born baritone who became a regular member
of the New York City Opera in the 1970's and 80's and sang frequently
with the Metropolitan Opera, died on Saturday at his home in Bozeman,
Mont. He was 62. A coroner's report said that he died of natural causes.
Born on Sept. 24, 1937, in San Juan, Mr. Elvira was the
son of a dance orchestra leader and began his musical life playing
trumpet in his father's group. Later he formed his own jazz band.
A meeting with the Puerto Rican cellist and conductor Pablo Casals led
to his pursuing a career as an opera singer. In 1960 Casals finished
work on a biblical oratorio, ''El Pessebre,'' one of the cellist's
small body of compositions. Needing five soloists for a recording and
tour of the work, Casals heard Mr. Elvira audition and asked him to
sing the baritone part. One of Mr. Elvira's most memorable
performances of ''El Pessebre'' came in 1969, when Casals, by then 92,
conducted it in Jerusalem before an audience of 3,000.
In 1966, while participating in the Metropolitan Opera Auditions in New
York, Mr. Elvira was heard by the dean of the Indiana University School
of Music in Bloomington, who asked the young baritone to join the voice
faculty. Mr. Elivra remained there for eight years teaching and
performing. In 1972 he sang the title role in the world premiere of
John Eaton's opera ''Heracles,'' which inaugurated the university's
1,460-seat Musical Arts Center.
He left Bloomington in 1974, toured and performed in Europe and then
moved to New York, where he made his debut that year with City Opera as
Germont in Verdi's ''Traviata.'' He performed often with the company,
notably as Enrico in Donizetti's ''Lucia di Lammermoor'' in a
production that starred Beverly Sills. He won praise for his robust
though not large voice, focused tone, solid technique and generally
His Met debut came in 1979 as Tonio. There he was heard as Lescaut in
Puccini's ''Manon Lescaut'' with Renata Scotto and Placido Domingo in
1980 and as Rossini's Figaro opposite Marilyn Horne in 1982, among
other roles. His final Met performance was as Figaro in 1990. His last
appearance at City Opera was in 1989 as the title character in Verdi's
''Rigoletto.'' Mr. Elvira is survived by his wife, Signe; a son, Pablo;
and two brothers.
Correction: February 16, 2000, Wednesday An obituary of the baritone
Pablo Elvira on Friday misstated the nationality of the cellist and
conductor Pablo Casals, who invited him to sing an early Casals
composition. Although Casals lived for many years in Puerto Rico, he
Aside from two performances as Rigoletto in 1979 (with Judith Blegen,
Luciano Pavarotti, Richard T. Gill, Kathleen Kuhlmann,
Donnie Rae Albert, Sharon Graham/Wendy White,
conducted by Riccardo
Chailly), Elvira only appeared at Lyric Opera of Chicago in the
fall of 1985 in Traviata with
Catherine Malfitano, Francisco
Negrini and Donald
Kaasch among the cast, conducted by Bruno Bartoletti. Both
these operas were designed by Pier Luigi Pizzi and lit by Duane Schuler.
It was between performances of Traviata
that I had the pleasure of spending about seventy-five minutes with
him. He was lively and full of tremendous energy, and he was very
pleased to speak of the topics I brought up, especially El Pessebre, the Christmas Oratorio
by Pablo Casals.
Here is what was said that afternoon . . . . . . . . .
Pablo Elvira: I’ve
been flying in and out singing the performances here, plus singing at
the birthday party of the Lyric. So, the last seven days, I’ve
been almost singing every day.
Bruce Duffie: My
goodness. That’s perhaps too much?
PE: Yes, it’s a
little too much. I’m a little hoarse today, but I’ll be fine in a
couple of days, and I don’t have a performance until Tuesday next
week. So I have three days.
BD: Go home and
BD: You’ve been singing
for all these relief benefits. Is this the best way an artist can
help out in disasters?
PE: Yes, especially
if you find out that everybody else was donating their time and their
services. When I went to Washington, the Kennedy Center donated
the room; a limousine service provided limousines for all the artists;
the Vista Intercontinental Hotel provided all the room for the
artists. In other words, we all did it for free so all the money
went directly to Puerto Rico. It was the same for the one I did
here in Chicago for the Mexican Relief Fund. Everybody was
donating their time, and the hall was donated. There are other
cases in which promoters make money out of us, out of our generosity,
by putting together a relief fund where everybody donates their time,
but the producers don’t, nor do the orchestral musicians, nor the stage
crew. Everybody gets paid but the artists. That’s an
exploitation of our kindness, and I don’t like to cooperate if there’s
a small group benefiting from what we’re doing for a noble purpose
— like helping victims of an earthquake or other disaster.
BD: Is this a new
racket — giving concerts for the benefit of
disaster victims and keeping most of the money?
PE: Oh, yes.
Some promoter got the idea with the rock concert for Ethiopia.
Many people are millionaires because of it. That is one example
in which all the television and all the publicity was paid. There
were a lot of people involved that got a lot of money out of it.
I think that was a disgrace to the art, and a disgrace to the American
people that donated money. The relief fund is probably getting
about 30 cents out of every dollar that was put in.
BD: My goodness!
PE: This is very
disquieting and very disturbing to me, to find out that the promoters,
the producers, the musicians, the technicians, everybody got paid
except the artists. It should have been a joint venture into
trying to nobly and honestly try to help these people in
Ethiopia. Many artists probably do not realize that they’re the
only one donating their time, that the rest are getting paid for
it. We should also inquire who is going to distribute the
money. This money for Ethiopia is tied up by the Marxist
government, so many people are starving because they are against the
government. There is no freedom. We should have been a
little more choosey about it, and perhaps drive the goods into the
territory that is struggling for the liberation.
BD: Like the Berlin
Whatever it is, the benefit must go to the people that need it, the
people that are starving to death, and not the government that puts it
in a warehouse and lets it rot, and feeds their friends while letting
the people that are struggling for freedom starve to death. It’s
very sad, but this happens all the time.
BD: But you will
now only do ones where all the money will go to the people.
PE: Oh yes. I
have been approached already for the Columbian disaster, and I will do
it if I think it will be also as noble as the Puerto Rican and the
Mexican relief efforts that I have seen here in Chicago, because the
people that are involved in raising the money are nationals of that
country. There is a difference. When we did the one for
Ethiopia, it was a kid in England with a great, noble idea, and a bunch
of promoters and producers getting together and taking a piece of the
BD: But when it’s
someone working for their homeland, that’s something else.
PE: Exactly, and
this one is the Colombians that are doing it. I’m sure that the
theater will be donated, the musicians will be donated — like
the Chicago Symphony sent some musicians to this big Mexican relief
concert. The Chicago Lyric sent some of their young singers, and
we donated our time — myself and Francisco
Araiza. It’s a different thing when the people that are actually
hurt are the ones that are putting the concert together.
BD: This is a way
you can help people. Does the world situation and politics enter
into general music performance, or just these special kinds of things?
PE: I would like to
know how much Russian aid has gone to Mexico. I would like very
much to find out how much the Communist society has contributed to
relief in Mexico, and then I will give you an answer. They let
them starve to death because they are enemies, and that’s very
sad. So, until I see the other side cooperate in the way that we
cooperate, I will not cooperate with the other side in any way.
Yes, politics are a great, great influence in me.
BD: So you must be
very careful about everything in your career?
Absolutely. Right now, in order to sing in certain theaters you
have to become a member of the Communist union. I don’t want to
mention exactly the theaters because I will get into personal conflict
with that, but this happens.
BD: Let’s move to
something more pleasant, and talk about your art, about music, and
Pablo Casals. You sang El
Pessebre at Ravinia?
PE: Yes. That
was my first professional engagement in my career, in 1963. It
just happened that the first time that I was in touch with any kind of
music, singing, was when I was very young and I went to a movie theater
in which there were three cowboy movies for ten cents. This was
at the Teatro Delicias in Puerto Rico, and the movie in the middle was Showboat. I remember when I
saw the black bass, William
Warfield singing, Old Man River,
my hair stood on the back of my head. I never forgot that.
Of course, after that the shoot-em-up started again and then we forgot
the whole thing. Later on in my life I came in touch with opera,
but the first time I had my first engagement as a professional singer
was at the Ravinia Festival, and William Warfield was the bass
soloist! So it was quite a coincidence. What a thrill for
me to be playing trumpet two weeks before in San Juan, and all of a
sudden singing with the Chicago Symphony, the Chicago Chorale, Maureen Forrester,
Pablo Casals and William Warfield. That was destiny.
BD: Tell me about
the work, El Pessebre.
PE: Don Pablo
Casals was a very humble man in the sense that he never pretended to be
a great composer. When his oratorio was criticized, he usually
said, “I didn’t write this to be a great masterpiece. I wrote it
in the style of the composers I admire.” So, there’s a little bit
of Brahms, a little bit of Beethoven, a little bit of Mendelssohn,
Dvorak, Ravel, even some Strauss in the type of lines, especially in
one of my big arias, the aria of the Ox. In that aspect, this is
a work of love, and there are magnificent moments in it. There’s
a chorale that I think is exceptional, and there are two of my arias
that I consider exceptional, and the mezzo has an exceptional aria,
too. There is a magnificent trio of the three pages who are
disgusted with their camels. It is really very cute and very
exciting and very well written. The orchestration is
excellent. Casals never intended it to be a masterpiece, even
though it is. He also said, “I wrote this as a work of love, for
the peace of the world.” He was taking it as a crusade for peace,
and that’s how I got into it and became part of his crusade for
peace. The work has absolutely beautiful moments.
BD: Is it more than
just a Christmas piece?
PE: Yes, it’s a
plea for peace. The poetry in Catalan is very beautiful, of
course. It’s a language that only the people in Catalonia know,
because it’s a mixture of almost Latin and French. But the poetry
is really beautiful. In my big aria, the Ox singing to the
darkness of the sky, and then the sky opens and all the stars are in
the sky. I’m singing as the Ox, and it’s like children from
heaven. It has many touching things that are very typical of the
Spanish of the Catalonia.
BD: So it was very
special for you to participate with Casals.
PE: Oh, God,
yes. When I sang it at Ravinia, I was the baritone. The
oratorio is written for bass and four soloists. The bass is the
principal soloist, and you have a tenor, a baritone, a soprano and a
mezzo. The baritone part is the smallest part of the
oratorio. But after I sang it two or three times, he liked me so
much and wanted me to sing the bass part, the lead part. I said, “Maestro,
I can sing it but I cannot sing some of those low E-flats because I
don’t have them. So he said he would change it! He
rearranged it, and interpolated a couple of extra high notes and took
out some of the low notes, and I became the soloists from there
on. I sang it all over the world, including the recording on
BD: How is the
recording different from performances, if at all?
usually lacks the electricity of a live performance. Even though
he conducted almost half of it, because it was late in his life
Alexander Schneider did conduct part of it on the recording. The
electricity and the magnetism that would happen when you performed with
him in a live performance doesn’t happen as much when you’re recording
because you have to stop and repeat things. It’s very hard for
you to get up the same excitement ten times for the same aria. It
wears off. In the performance, that excitement comes naturally
because of the spirituality of the man and the relation we all felt for
him and his giantness. He was a giant, so that would start
immediately from the first little drum playing and the little flute
playing. From there on it would just be like a dream. We
all knew what we were singing about, and to hear the maestro hum with
you... All those things create a higher art because there is the
excitement of the moment, the spirituality of the moment. It is
very difficult to convey that into a recording unless it is a recording
of a live performance.
BD: Might it be
better if they had issued a tape of one of the live concerts?
PE: Yes, but you
like to get away from the coughing of the audience and the sneezes. [Margaret Hillis,
who prepared the chorus at Ravinia, speaks directly about this problem
in my interview with her.] The recording turned out fairly
well, but the Voice of America has a magnificent recording of the
performance that was done the same week. When we were recording
it, the Casals Festival ended with this oratorio. We finished the
recording on Monday, and this concert was Saturday, and that
performance was probably the most electric of all.
BD: It’s a
PE: Oh, yes.
It’s a story of Christ and the three kings, and the gifts and the
animals in the stable.
BD: Has anyone ever
tried to stage it as an opera?
PE: That’s a very
good idea. I never gave it a thought, but that’s a very, very
good idea. I am going to try to put it to the Casals
Festival. After the maestro died, honestly the festival has gone
BD: It needed his
PE: It needed that,
yes. The artists would go there not really for the money, even
though they get very well paid. It was mostly because they wanted
to make music with maestro Casals, and the moment he died, we got into
a little bit of regional conflicts with the musicians and the
patriotism. When you get too nationalistic — which
has happened also in Mexico and in many other countries — and
you start just giving opportunity only to the local people, and refuse
to bring the great artists from the outside — thinking
that yours are as good as any others — what
happens is that you immediately turn into mediocrity because not even
La Scala or the Met can survive on only American or Italian
singers. It is proven fact that in order for the arts to succeed,
we have to have an international, open casting and performing. So
the Casals Festival became a little too provincial, a little too Puerto
Rican. I am sorry to say that, but I am a Puerto Rican and I’m a
very proud one, but the moment the maestro died the festival lost its
glitter because they couldn’t bring too many of the artists that Casals
would have loved to bring. The repertoire changed and so did the
administration. His widow left and married Eugene Istomin.
She’s now in Washington in charge of the Kennedy Center. So, they
keep the Casals name, but it is not the same at all.
BD: Is there any
chance it could get back to what it was if they had a driving force?
PE: Yes. What
you need for cases like this is a dictator from the outside to take
over. You need a brutal person, like Bing at the Met or someone
like that. Somebody that everybody will hate and everybody will
respect. But the moment you put it in the hands of Puerto Ricans,
then if they hire somebody, someone of the other part of Puerto Rico
will say that it’s because it’s his friend and not because it’s
good. Why didn’t they give the opportunity to this other person
that is as talented? All those conflicts happen that do nothing
but erode the principle we’re trying to establish of creating good
art. Even though a lot came out of the Casals Festival and a lot
still comes out of the Casals Festival, it’s a pity that it lost the
quality and the level of excellence. [Remember, this interview took place in
November of 1985. Subsequently, the festival has re-gained much
of its stature. The artistic direction of the festival at various
times has been under Jorge
Mester, Odón Alonso, Mstislav
Penderecki, Elías López Sobá, Justino Diaz and
Maximiano Valdés, and a few others who have participated are Yehudi Menuhin,
Leonard Bernstein, Zubin
Mehta, Eugene Ormandy, and Sir John Barbirolli. The festival,
which is now held at the Luis A. Ferre Performing Arts Center in San
Juan, celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2006 with a performance of the
Philadelphia Orchestra under the musical direction of Christoph Eschenbach.]
BD: The whole world
PE: Exactly, he was
an international man. We cease to be citizens of one country when
we reach a certain point in artistry. We belong to the
BD: Do you enjoy
traveling all over the world, spending a few weeks here and a few weeks
PE: Oh yes. It’s
magnificent! Don’t forget, when I go to Paris or Chile or
Argentina or anyplace, I go there with the merchandise that they have
already bought. I don’t go there to sell something. The
moment I reach the airport I am met by people that love what I
do. I get to know people of all levels, from the president or
prime minister to the shoe shine boy. Anybody that is in touch
with me is somebody that loves what I do, and admires me for what I
am. It makes the life of an artist so much more pleasant.
As a matter of fact, that’s one of the reasons I’m not singing at the
Met for the next two years. I was beginning to feel like a number
at the Met. I consider myself an artist, and when I come to
Chicago or San Francisco or any of these other opera houses, I am
treated as such. At this moment in my career, I have done
everything that anybody can ask at the Met. I did two new
productions, including Barber of
Seville with Marilyn
Horne. I was in the first televised production to the world
via satellite, Manon Lescaut
with Domingo and Scotto.
I was in the first televised broadcast of the centennial, Lucia Lammermoor with Kraus and Sutherland
[caricature shown at left, and DVD
cover shown farther down on this webpage]. I am in the
first video release of this they put out of that performance.
BD: More at the Met
would just be more of the same?
PE: No, I just
wanted to get away from it all for a few years. Also I want to
give myself some opportunity to sing in Italy. They have
requested me so many times. I have lost all of the opportunities
in Florence, Trieste and La Scala because I was signed at the Met or
somewhere else. They plan operas one or two years in advance,
very seldom more than two years, and I was sometimes booked for six and
seven years in advance.
BD: That’s too
much, isn’t it?
PE: It makes you
feel very good because it proves that people have faith in what you’re
doing, that you’re headed in the right direction. But when you
sign a contract, and five years after that you go to the country and
end up by getting half of the fee you expected because the devaluation
of the dollar or devaluation of the mark, then you find yourself in
situations that you’d rather not. Also, when you’re signed to do
a production of an old war horse, like Traviata at the Met, and you get an
opportunity to do a new production of Lucia
in San Francisco, then you must be able to have the flexibility to wait
to the last moment to take the best choice. My friend Placido was
the one who taught me that lesson. He told me you don’t have to
be signed more than a year or two in advance. You don't have to
worry what you’re going to be doing in two years.
BD: You’ll be
He said there are just four or five baritones in the world and I am one
of them. So, I have absolutely nothing to worry about not being
booked in advance. This way you get to choose what you want to do.
BD: Then how do you
choose which roles you will sing?
I am already booked a year and a half already in advance, instead of
one year. But there are roles that you drop after a certain
time. First of all, the fee goes up. We make a lot of
money, and we deserve it. If Muhammad Ali can make six or ten
million dollars in one fight, why can’t Pavarotti make a hundred
thousand dollars in an evening? They are both unique
individuals. We get paid very well because we have a quality of
life that we have to maintain in order to take care of our instrument,
and that costs a lot of money. If my fee is too big for a
Marcello in Bohème, or
for the consul, Sharpless in Butterfly,
or for Lescaut in Manon Lescaut,
if they want me and if they’re willing to pay my fee, I do it because
it’s easy money. But usually with the fee they’re going to pay
me, they can get three guys to sing the part very well, because the
part does not require any special talent. It doesn’t require too
many high notes, doesn’t require too many arias. Sharpless has no
aria and Marcello has no aria. So instead of paying a basic fee
of $8,000, you can get a baritone for $2,000 that will do the same
job... not as well, and not with the artistry that I would do it, but
they can sing it.
BD: It would be
acceptable in that production.
right. Then the one thing they have to really get that is
indispensable is a good Rodolfo who can sing the aria very well, and a
good Mimì. They can do with a mediocre Musetta. But
if you’re doing Butterfly,
you can do with a mediocre Pinkerton and a mediocre Sharpless, but you
need a good Butterfly. So, the priorities are shifted. Now,
when they call me, it is for Traviata,
Rigoletto, Barber of Seville. These are
roles that they cannot get a $2,000 baritone to do as well as I
can. I am doing some Bohèmes
this coming year as a special favor to my friend Anton Guadagno in Palm
Beach. He wants my name on the roster this year because he’s
taking over the company and he wants to have some big names in
it. But the year after I’m doing Barber of Seville. So of
course I’ll do it, but basically that’s the only small or middle role
that I’m doing next year. I’m doing Rigoletto in Bridgeport,
Connecticut, and I’m doing a big gala in Puerto Rico with Domingo and
Teresa Zylis-Gara. We’re doing the first act of Bohème, the second act of Otello, and the third act of Aïda all staged for a big
gala! It’s going to be a lot of fun! Then I’m doing a bunch
of Lucias in San Francisco, Aïda in Denver, more Traviatas, some Trovatores in Argentina, Forza del Destino in Chile, so I’m
doing the roles that I like to sing. I’m also doing the new
revised edition of Zazà,
the opera by Leoncavallo, with the New York City Opera. They did
it two years ago for the first time in Cincinnati, when they did
research and re-checked the score, and did all kinds of improvements in
the orchestration. Last year I just did the revised Rigoletto.
BD: You’ve done the old
version, and the new version published by the University of Chicago and
the House of Ricordi. Tell me about the differences. [See my Interview with Philip Gossett, who
edited the new Verdi Edition.]
there’s not much change. It’s mostly orchestration. Vocally
it stayed almost traditional. Then there are high notes, and even
though they are not written, they were done on the opening night, and I
did them too. Early Verdi was very much a continuation of Bellini
BD: So, you think
the voice should shine?
PE: Yes, and not
only that, but you can add the cadenzas. You can add certain high
notes. It was accepted and expected.
BD: So it’s a
mistake then to stay right with the score?
It’s a big mistake. It’s absolutely ridiculous. Claudio Abbado
admitted it for the first time after he recorded the Barber of Seville. He did the
two verses of the Rosina aria, and the second verse was the same as the
first one without any adornments added. After that he admitted
that it was a mistake, but you can’t do that with later Verdi.
When you are talking about Aïda,
Don Carlo, Falstaff, then all the notes were
written. Verdi was a mature writer, a mature composer. He
knew what he wanted. You don’t add anything. You don't have
BD: Even Rigoletto?
PE: No, Rigoletto you have to add.
Don’t forget, La donna è
mobile wasn’t even rehearsed until right before the
performance. The cadenza was added on the opening night, and
Verdi approved. He never wrote it. So who is a conductor
like Muti to tell me that I cannot sing the high note? If you
don’t sing the high note, that’s the most ungrateful tenor role in the
world. If you take all the high notes away from the Duke, it’s
the most thankless role in the world. [Both laugh] But
there are some like Muti who prefer to do it that way. Fine,
that’s his privilege.
BD: But then, you
don’t sing with him.
PE: I don’t do
that. I would refuse to do it. I would rather do something
else. We all have a particular, special talent, otherwise we
wouldn’t be where we are. In my case, I have an innate musical
talent. I was an instrumentalist before I was a singer. I
played trumpet all my life, so I’m more prepared musically than the
basic singer. I know what is good taste in phrasing, and I know
when a high note is in good taste and when it is just a provincial
outburst, like barking on the stage. Many great singers do that
today, they bark and bark and bark and think that’s singing. I
refuse to do that, and that’s why my career has always been
ascendant. I know, for example, the G in the Cortigiani aria in Rigoletto shouldn’t be a long G
because it stops the motion of the orchestra. I do it, but I do
it like a stentato [labored,
sluggish], so it doesn’t stop everything.
BD: Do you take the
A-flat at the end of Si vendetta?
PE: Oh yes, until
the harmony changes which is after the fifth bar. I can hold it
until the curtain comes on top of my head, but it would be musically
very distasteful and awful. So I cut it, even though other
baritones sustain it now.
BD: Even though the
audience is going applaud and shout bravo?
PE: As a matter of
fact, the audience starts applauding before I cut the note! So,
what’s the point in sustaining it? [Laughs] It is the
difference between a person that knows music, and a person that has
been taught music. I have never coached with anybody. I
have never studied with anybody except my first teacher in Puerto
Rico. I believe that this way I can put my own personality into
the portrayal of what I’m doing artistically and musically.
BD: You are here in
Chicago for Traviata.
Do you ever sing the cabaletta after Di
PE: No, I think
it’s awful. It’s an anticlimax.
[Disappointedly] I’m a minority of one. Everybody else
seems to hate it, but I enjoy it!
PE: The cabaletta
is not ugly because Verdi never wrote anything ugly. That would
be an insult to the integrity of him as a human being. There was
nothing ugly in Verdi’s music, but what happens with the cabaletta is
that it’s an anticlimax. It goes only to an F natural at the top,
and that note is repeated about six times. So by the end, when
you sing the last phrase, you have sung that note so many times, that
unless you sing the first one pianissimo and build it up until the last
one, you let down the audience after you have given them a magnificent Di Provenza.
BD: So, if they ask
you to sing it, you simply won’t sing it?
PE: No, I don’t
sing it. I’d rather not do it. After the aria, what else do
BD: Doesn’t that
spoil the balance? The soprano gets an aria and cabaletta, the
tenor gets an aria and caballeta, then baritone gets just an aria.
So, it’s an uplifting cabaletta, but this [sings]
ta-reeee-ta-reeee-ta-tee-ta-tee-ta-tee, it’s just a little too quiet,
and, as I said, it centers on that F and you repeat that F so you’re
not building any kind of climax. You’re just prolonging something
that you’re going to be hearing five or six times, and you cannot sing
it pianissimo because the cabaletta doesn’t ask for it. The words
don’t ask for it. It’s a pleading. It’s not like in Di Provenza when you say, “God
guided me, and you must come home with me.”
Of all Verdi’s cabalettas, it’s probably the only one that is not as
popular, because all the other cabalettas in all the other operas are
BD: Do you like
being a Verdi baritone?
PE: I like being a
baritone very much.
BD: Did Verdi write
especially well for your voice?
PE: I consider myself
a little more of a bel canto
singer rather than verismo,
even though I adore Andrea Chenier.
That is one of my favorite roles. In Verdi, I would say one of
the roles that really fits me the best is Renato in Ballo in Maschera and Count Di Luna
in Trovatore because of the
arias being such show pieces for bel
canto singing. Amonasro in Aïda is nothing, but I’m
requested to do it because I look good on stage with it. I did a
very successful performance in San Antonio with Nat Merrill, who is
staging the Meistersinger
here in Chicago. He requested me, and they paid my fees, so I did
it. If they pay my fee I’ll sing almost anything, but if I have a
choice I would rather do the Count di Luna.
BD: Let’s talk
about some of the roles you’ve recorded.
PE: El Pessebre was the first
recording. The second recording was L’Amore dei Tre Re by Montemezzi,
with Placido Domingo, Anna Moffo and Cesare Siepi, and Nello Santi
conducting the London Symphony. That’s on RCA. There is
also a pirate recording (which is magnificent) of La Favorita that I did in Carnegie
Hall with Alfredo Kraus, Shirley Verrett, and James Morris. It
was the operatic event of the year, and I am very pleased that somebody
taped it because it would have been a pity to miss that. Only two
or three thousand people got the privilege to hear it. It was an
BD: We’ve had Favorita here two or three times,
all with Kraus, and it’s just been magnificent.
PE: I hope I can
sing it if they bring it back again. That’s the problem when you
sign yourself so far in advance. You lose an opportunity. I
was called by the Chicago many times, and I could never do it.
The only time I had a chance to come here was an emergency to do two Rigolettos with Pavarotti [in
1979]. This contract [for Traviata]
been signed for five years!
BD: Are you under
contract now to come back again?
PE: We haven’t sat
down to talk about it but they want me back. There’s no question,
and I’m very pleased about it.
BD: You like
singing in this house even though it’s so big?
PE: Yes, yes.
BD: Is it too big?
PE: No, no, it’s
wonderful. It’s a wonderful feeling to sing here. This
house, Carnegie Hall, and some smaller places, are great. There
is a magnificent opera house in Columbus, Ohio, one of those old art
deco places which is magnificent. The symphony orchestra is using
it now. I just sang two performances of Barber of Seville in Columbus a few
months ago. And there’s another old theater, the Palace Theater,
which is very good with great acoustics.
BD: What make them
so good? Is it just the acoustics?
PE: It is because
they were built with wood. They were built the right way. I
wish most of these sound engineers would be musicians. In many
cases they’re not, and they make a hall in which the right part of the
stage (off the orchestra pit) is as live as the left, and it can’t be
because the brass is going to be on the right and the strings are going
to be on the left, and you’re going to have some percussion, as
well. If you know that, then you balance it in a way that you
don’t get the bounce-off from the brass, which happens at the
Met. On the right-hand side of the Met, the orchestra sound from
the brass comes to you about two seconds after because it is playing
toward the left. It hits the side, goes around the theater and it
comes back to you from behind. Then you sing at the Chicago
Lyric, which was built long before the (new) Met, and you could hear a
pin fall on the floor. San Francisco also has very good acoustics.
BD: Have you sung
in the Colón at Buenos Aires? Everybody says that house
has the best acoustics in the world.
PE: No, not
yet. That’s the one I’m really looking forward to. I had to
cancel last year because the Met requested that I sing Manon Lescaut in the park, and it
was in my contract that I would be available for the tour. So I
had to cancel, to my sorrow, because I was looking forward to that.
BD: Tell me about
your role in L’Amore dei Tre Re.
Why do we not know that opera so much?
PE: It’s a
magnificent piece! The problem is that it requires four super
BD: Avito’s the
PE: Yes, Avito’s
the tenor, Manfredo is my role, Fiora is the woman, and Archibaldo is
the blind bass. So it’s unlike Butterfly
where you can get away with a good Butterfly and a mediocre cast.
In L’Amore dei Tre Re, you
can’t. You need a magnificent bass because it’s high, it’s low,
and it needs magnificent acting. He’s a blind man, a blind
king. Siepi did a magnificent job in the recording except for the
extreme top. His age was beginning to take its toll, but the rest
was magnificent. One of the very few basses today that could do
it, and has done it, is Jerome
Hines because even though he is very old, he still has a
magnificent top. For this opera you need a bass that
has a good, low E
flat, and very few have them have that. It would be
better if you have a very tall, imposing figure and Jerome Hines is
tall. After I recorded it, there were four
productions, and they all called me. But I couldn’t do it because
I was signed somewhere else. Providence, Rhode Island did it with
Anna Moffo; City Opera did it; Washington Opera did it, and Miami Opera
did it. They all called me and I couldn’t do any of them.
All of those productions, though, were failures except the one in
Washington. In Providence, Anna Moffo cancelled at the last
moment. In City Opera, the tenor, Jacque Trussell,
had a brain tumor just before the performance and they had to get
another tenor at the last moment that didn’t do a good job. The
soprano was also having vocal troubles. Then Washington did it
with Hines, and I hear it went very well. In Miami, I don’t know
what problem they had but it was also a disaster. But I would
love to sing the role because it’s a very difficult role. It’s a
very high role.
BD: That holds no
terrors for you?
PE: No, of course
not. That’s why I like it because it lies in a place that my
voice shines its very best. I also interpolate it. I took
the liberty of putting an A flat at the end of the opera that is not
written because it feels like the composer would have written it if he
would have felt that the singer had it. Nello Santi agreed, so he
allowed me to do it. It has beautiful legato singing, heroic
singing, but it’s always on the Gs and the Fs and the F sharps.
It’s a wonderful role, and it’s the only sympathetic character in the
opera. He’s so sweet. He’s so dumb in a way, but it’s a
role that I would love to play on the stage and I hope someday to do it.
BD: We had it here
in the ‘30s with Mary Garden.
PE: I’m going to
talk to the Freemans. [Lee
Freeman was a Board Member of Lyric Opera of Chicago, and he and his
wife Brena were major contributors, including sponsorship of the
Composer-in-Residence.] They are very good friends of
mine, and want to do something for me. They have been asking me
if I wanted something special here, and that would be a good thing for
Chicago because it’s an opera that people love when they hear it.
But until they know that it exists, the recording is not enough.
If you can get a good cast it would be magnificent because it’s an
exciting opera. It’s very well written. It dramatically
works. It’s just one of those works that nobody does. It
was successful in the ’20s and ’30s.
When the Met did it, it was a great piece for Ezio Pinza, so I don’t
see any reason why it shouldn’t come back, now.
BD: Are there some
other works that should be revived?
PE: I think L’Amico Fritz should be done more
often. I did the Rabbi in it, and I’m going to do Zazà, which has a wonderful
BD: He’s got that
big aria which several of the old-timers recorded.
PE: Oh yes, and I
hear there are two other arias which are even bigger and more
beautiful. It’s like the tenor in Rigoletto. He sings La donna è mobile, and
that’s the only one people seem to remember, but there are a couple
more, including Questa o quella
and Ella mi fu rapita, but
people know La donna è mobile
and that became the top ten hit.
BD: What can the
audience expect when they come to the opera house?
it comes to singers, there’s a difference between a good artist and a
great artist. That’s why Kraus will survive two thousand years.
BD: We hope
so! [Both laugh]
PE: He knows what
he’s doing and he does it well. He doesn’t have any
mannerisms. He’s very, very secure of his technique. He
doesn’t blink before a high note, or getting panicky, or turn around
and blow his nose. [Laughs] It’s done like that! I’ve
sung with all kinds of singers who do that, and it’s unnecessary.
I did Manon Lescaut with
Domingo and Scotto, and it was such a joy. Scotto asked me if it
was OK if she slapped me. In a duet with her brother, she goes
like this [light slap on his cheek]
and I said, of course it was OK. We were very good friends and
did things for each other in the production.
BD: [With a sly
grin] She didn’t haul off and slug you?
No, I said it’s just a wonderful idea! I saw what she was looking
for, and it is in the video.
BD: Does opera
belong on television?
PE: Oh, yes,
because we can reach people who would never be able to see us on
BD: It’s not
restricting being on a little screen?
PE: It is, but it’s
one way of reaching more people, and anything we can do to reach more
people will be beneficial to the arts. If I wouldn’t have seen Showboat, if I wouldn’t have seen The Great Caruso, perhaps I
wouldn’t be here today.
BD: You’d be
playing trumpet someplace?
PE: Yes, I would be
playing trumpet because there was no opera in those days in Puerto
Rico. Those films were the only way I could in get in touch with
opera, and that’s what triggered my curiosity. We have had opera
every year in Puerto Rico since the mid-’50s, and
I was in the chorus, as was bass Justino Diaz. We both came out
of that. So perhaps if I would have not been exposed before by
those films, by the time the opera came to Puerto Rico I would have
already been a little too old and too burdened with perhaps five kids
and a couple of mortgages, and perhaps I would not be here today!
So I think that television is bringing opera to so many corners of the
world in which they will not ever have the opportunity to come and see
me at the Met or Carnegie Hall or any of the places I perform.
This way I can reach them and perhaps light the candle inside of
them. As a matter of fact, I have an opera company in Bozeman,
Montana. I live in Bozeman, up in the Rocky Mountains. My
wife is from there, and as soon as I moved there I decided to have an
opera company there. They have a symphony orchestra and they have
a music school, and now we have a very successful opera company.
Each year we do two performances of one production.
BD: Do you sing in
PE: Yes. I
take about eight weeks every year that I do not sing, so during those
eight weeks I take about ten days for the opera, and it was
incredible. We perform in a little auditorium that seats only a
thousand in the high school where the famous actor Gary Cooper went to
school. The first opera I did there as a matter of fact, was Traviata, and cowboys, farmers,
doctors, lawyers, all kinds of people who live there came.
BD: Did they
PE: Oh, God, they
did! At the end of my aria, instead of bravos I hear a lot of, “Yahoo!”
[Laughs] It was wonderful, and for the last seven years we have
been performing to full houses. We are one of the very few
companies in the world in the black. Because what we have there
is limited, whenever I need a tenor or a soprano that we cannot supply
there, I bring one of my friends from New York. They come and
stay as guests at my house, and they sing for very little money.
So, we’ve been able to keep money in the bank. We give
scholarships to the school, and sponsor some summer programs for
kids. We give back to the community.
BD: Another opera
that you recorded is Cavalleria
Rusticana, again with Domingo and Scotto...
PE: ...and maestro
Levine. That was very difficult because in this place where we
record in England, the conductor is about a mile away from us. We
are on the stage, and the orchestra is where the audience would be, and
at the back of the audience, at the entrance of the theater, is where
the conductor is. So, you’re singing on the stage, there is the
London Symphony Orchestra between you and the conductor, and it was
very hard to sing on time. We recorded several times my aria, Il cavallo scalpita, because for
some unexplainable reason, Mascagni wrote it in oddest tempo [sings to demonstrate]. So
imagine Levine way over there, and also the sound that you’re getting
is late. You see the beat going down, but the music is not
getting to you. We had to record about two or three times, but
finally, we got it.
BD: Did you have a
television monitor to watch him?
PE: No, no.
We’re watching him across the whole place, but it’s easy to see.
It’s just at a distance, so it creates a tremendous burden. Also
the orchestra is projecting towards the doors, not projecting towards
the stage. All the musicians are facing away from us, so the
sound we are getting is being produced in front of us but it’s being
bounced back from the back of the hall to the stage after. So it
was very difficult.
BD: It would be
very hard to coordinate.
especially when you have loud passages because you just cannot feel the
inner beat. You stay within it, and with maestro Levine it’s a
magnificent thing to sing. He’s a wonderful conductor.
Whenever a singer is having trouble, you look at him and he’s smiling
back at you. It’s just the most rewarding experience.
BD: He’s a singers’
PE: He’s a
magnificent man! I just love him very dearly and I can hardly
wait to sing with him again.
BD: Are there some
conductors that just ignore the singers?
PE: There are some
conductors that will kill you with their looks because you did a 16th
note instead of a 32nd note, or something like that. In my case
that never happened because I’m a very, very good musician and I stay
with it to the point that I have had conductors encourage me to take a
little more liberty. Julius Rudel, in Puritani, told me to do rubato wherever I feel it. He
said he’ll follow me! Then I let my own artistry grow and it was
wonderful. I did that with Beverly Sills at the New York City
Opera. There was a radio broadcast...
BD: Are there more
PE: There were
three more supposedly coming immediately after I recorded L’Amore dei Tre Re, but that was
when the recording industry went into a big slump. They had
over-recorded so much, and everything was cancelled. Now they’re
only recording one or two operas every year. I would like very
much to record because I think it’s the best way for me to reach many
people that I will not reach in person.
BD: You don’t find
it too sterile when they cut and piece everything?
PE: No, no. I
think it’s necessary. It has to be done. I prefer for them
to tape live performances like the Lucia
I did with Sutherland and Kraus which is on video disc. It’s
magnificent in both the sound and the color, and that was
electric. That was unique.
BD: What would have
happened if that performance had fallen apart completely?
PE: They took two
performances, and if anything would have happened they would have used
some of the other. It is just like here when we did the radio
broadcast of Traviata.
They taped two. The first one was broadcast live here to Chicago,
and they taped another one for the syndication just in case there’s
some improvement from one to the other. I felt better on the
opening night than on the second one. I was a little tired, so I
expect my act, the second act, to be from the opening
performance. But perhaps Miss Malfitano would prefer the second
performance. The people at the radio station are intelligent
enough to hear any differences.
BD: Who makes those
decisions as to what goes into the version that is aired?
PE: The singers
have something to say, because, after all, we don’t do this for
money. This is for free, so we want the best part of our face to
be shown and not the bad part. Of course, there is also the
technical aspect. If there was a big hum or something like that,
then, of course, it had to be gone, but if they’re both good, then we
get to choose what we want.
BD: Do you ever get
rattled on stage if a piece of scenery falls down or a stage hand is
clomping in the wings?
PE: Things like
that happen and it’s very disturbing. I was doing The Barber of Seville with the Met
on tour in Cleveland, and there was a bat flying on the stage all
night! We thought it was a pigeon or a little bird or something,
but when he flew low and I saw those little horns, I knew it was a
bat! The mezzo almost just jumped off the stage and started
running, but we had some fun with it. The poor thing was just
disoriented with so many people and so much sound. I love
animals. I don’t kill anything...
thought the performance was Fledermaus.
Yes! We should have sung something from that operetta, but we
just sang our parts, and whenever the bat would cross we would
stop. Then the bat would just come back again, and in one case I
put my cape and went, “Olé!”
as the bat just flew by. It was really a lot of fun because the
opera was a comedy and it was OK. But when I did Rigoletto in New Jersey, all of a
sudden, in the middle of the scene when I’m blindfolded and I’m
supposed not to see anything, boom! A big bright light comes on
the stage, like they turned on 500 watts of power. I’m supposed
to say, “It’s so dark here I can’t
see,” and this bright light was on the
stage. I just let it go for a few seconds and after that I just
screamed, “Turn that damn light off!”
The guy backstage didn’t realize it. He was just pressing
buttons. Somebody had to notice that the whole stage was
illuminated and it was supposed to be dark! They came to me to
apologize after, so I didn’t make a fuss because I like to have friends
and not enemies. But that was a disturbing moment because you’re
acting and have all this concentration. They were taking my
daughter in the darkness, and I had to do this under a bright light.
BD: When you are on
the stage, do you become the character or are you portraying a
PE: I become the
character. Oh, yes, you have to. You have to believe it
yourself in order for the others to believe it. Otherwise, you’re
a taught singer, a scholar, an educated actor. I never studied
acting in my entire life.
BD: So your
motivation doesn’t come from the mind it comes from the heart?
PE: It comes from
the heart. As a matter of fact, when I do Rigoletto, most of the
time the sopranos tell me to please move a little farther down at the
end because I cry so much the tears fall in their eyes and they
burn. At the end I get very emotionally carried away. I’m
losing my daughter, and if I’m on top of her, tears start dropping with
make-up, and they burn. It takes a great emotional toll.
BD: After the
performance, how long does it take to get back to being Pablo?
PE: Oh, at least
three to four hours. That’s why we don’t go to bed
immediately. It’s impossible. The amount of adrenaline that
the body generates takes hours to assimilate, especially if you’re
successful as I have been. So we go out, have a couple of drinks,
have something to eat, and then by 3 o’clock we’re ready to go to
sleep. Many times I tried to go to bed because I had to leave the
next day, and I didn’t sleep at all. So I decided that if I have
to travel, I’d rather leave immediately after the performance or very
late in the afternoon the next day, but not early in the morning
because I will not get any sleep at all.
something you learn just by doing it.
But other people are different. I think Scotto is one that
finishes and can go to sleep. I know Sutherland doesn’t.
She goes home but she doesn’t go to sleep. Even maestro
Bartoletti goes home because he has the heart condition, but he just
drinks a little beer or eats something, and he sits and reads a book
but he doesn’t go to bed immediately. He can’t do it. Some
of us party, and some of us go home, but it’s very difficult to go to
bed immediately after a successful performance. [Laughs] It
would be easier if you were a failure.
BD: Then you’d be
beating yourself that it should have been better?
I hope I never learn that.
BD: Should opera be
done in translation?
The comedies yes. Comedy should be in English because it loses a
lot of the funniness if you do it in the original language and the
people do not understand it. Subtitles are helping
tremendously. [Remember, this
conversation was held in 1985, when supertitles in the theater were
just getting started.]
BD: Have you been
involved with them when they’ve been in the theater?
PE: Yes! San
Francisco and now Columbus, Ohio for the Barber.
BD: We get them
here for Rondine later this
year, and then if they work they’ll be done more. [They were such a success that they are now
used for every production.]
PE: I think they do
work. They just have to be done tactfully, so there’s a phrase
and you see the phrase, and then you can take your eyes from it.
In Columbus they did too much, had too much detail, and sometimes you
could be looking at the subtitles and forgetting about the
performance. I told them they don’t need to repeat the
phrase. You do it once, and then if the aria repeats the same
phrase, don’t repeat it again. Take it off so that people can
watch the stage and enjoy the music. Otherwise it’s the same
phrase again and again. The technique is still in its infancy,
but it is a solution. Of course, when you go to see La Traviata or Rigoletto, you should at least read
the synopsis so that you know what you’re going to watch. But it
helps to know what they’re singing about, so the subtitles are
fine. But translating serious opera into any other language is
just like translating Shakespeare into Spanish or into any other
language. The great master is still there, but the beauty of the
music of the words is lost. [Illustrates
by speaking the text of Di Provenza in Italian and then German] Di Provenza il mar, il suol, chi dal cor
ti cancelo? becomes Sie die
Sehnsucht dich nicht mehr, keinen Reiz für deinen Sinn?
Come on! It loses all the beauty.
BD: Have you done
some opera in translation?
PE: Yes, I’ve done Traviata in German, and Don Pasquale in German. That
was really difficult when getting to the duet at the finale.
These are the things that you lose in English, which is probably the
worst language to sing because of the lack of purity in the
vowels. You have so many different colors. That makes it
very difficult to sing. Besides, when you sing it in English,
half of the people don’t understand what you’re singing about.
BD: Is that your
fault or our fault?
PE: No, I think
it’s the fault of the singers. See, I have very good diction
…extremely good diction. I know that because people understand my
mistakes. I was in Indiana University for eight years teaching
voice, and I performed in the operas there. When I would
mispronounce a word, they would say so. That means I have good
diction. Diction has to be measured by the amount that the people
can understand you, even when you make a mistake.
BD: What’s the role
of the critic?
PE: Oh boy, that’s
a very difficult question to ask. A critic should be called a
reporter of the arts and not a critic, because who gave him the right
to criticize my artistry if he doesn’t know how to sing himself?
How am I going to criticize a writer if I don’t know how to write
BD: Do they have
too much power?
Fortunately, once you reach a certain level of artistry and
acknowledgement around the world, it doesn’t matter what they
say. It’s not important to me anymore, but for a young artist it
can be devastating. Instead of being constructive, sometimes they
get in the destructive side because they enjoy it more, or it’s perhaps
a little more sensational. They allow their personal feeling to
get in the way. If they don’t like the particular personality of
the individual, they won’t like his singing, and they should be
objective. They’re there to report to the audience that are not
there what happened that night, not to say it was a disaster when the
people were standing on their feet screaming bravo! Here in
Chicago it is wonderful because your two critics are sometimes
We used to have four daily newspapers, and often I was wondering if
they sat in the same theater that same night!
PE: I have been
fortunate because some critics have noticed that particular extra that
I have. I have gotten wonderful reviews from Harold Schonberg in The New York Times, from Paul Hume
in the Washington Post, and
from Martin Bernheimer in the Los
Angeles Times. Then I have also gotten criticized...
Stupidity is what makes me very angry. When a piece is successful
and the artist is successful and the critic is completely negative, it
is a disservice to what they are supposed to be doing. They can
say they did not like the interpretation or the phrasing. That is
his opinion, but to say the phrasing was wrong... There is a
difference, and that is what all critics do. They write from a
big pulpit. But there are some good critics. I’m not saying
that they are all bad critics, but the majority are a bunch of
quacks. I like to say that a critic is like a hunter. Even
though he can kill a bird, he will never fly like one. There I
leave it, because I do have respect for the man that has to put himself
in that spot of being hated by some people and loved by others.
It’s better not to pay attention to the critics, to be honest.
The best practice for any singer is not to pay attention. You can
read them to see what the perception was of what you did, but you
should be your best judge. You should record everything you do
and listen to it immediately after the performance. You should
see what you felt that was good and how it projected. Perhaps it
didn’t project a certain point, and what you thought wasn’t too good
might have projected well. Make sure you have a wife or a friend
in the audience recording your performance.
BD: To have another
set of ears?
Absolutely. You can learn so much by just listening to yourself,
especially immediately after the performance when everything is still
very vivid. You know how much you were sweating. You know
if your costume was too tight. You know if you took a bigger
breath than usual when that particular phrase happened. If you
wait two or three weeks, you will forget all of that.
BD: Does it
surprise you sometimes that some things worked when you didn’t expect
them to work so well?
PE: I am always
surprised when I do not feel well and I have to sing with restriction
that what came to the audience was clean, even though I was having a
rumbling in my chest. On the stage the projection of the voice is
a complete miracle. You’re singing and you have a rough,
constricted vocalization, and then you hear the recording and you hear
only the pure note. You don’t hear the rough, scratchy
vocalization because that doesn’t project. That doesn’t even get
to the first row. Then there are certain times when the voice is
not placed right, and it sounds terrible in the audience. Even
though it would sound clear to you on the stage, it’s not sounding
clear there because it’s not focused properly. I have been
surprised at what I have been able to hear from a recording of a
performance in which I did not feel as well. When I really don’t
feel well, I cancel. I refuse to go on the stage and defraud the
audience. I’d rather cancel. Get the cover and give the
other kid a chance. But there are moments... When I sang
the four villains in The Tales of
Hoffmann with Placido Domingo in New Jersey, I got terribly
sick. I sang the Thursday rehearsal and Friday for the
performance I had no voice. I had an infection, but if I
cancelled, they would have to cancel the performance and lose a lot of
money. So, I went to the doctor. I didn’t get
cortisone. The doctor was a singer in New York, too, and blessed
be his soul. I hope he lives for another hundred years. He
knew my technique and he got me some antibiotics and a couple of
injections, but no cortisone. He said I would be able to survive
the performance if I am careful, but at the end I won’t have any voice
left. And that’s exactly what happened. I sang it, and The New York Times review was
excellent. “It was so wonderful to hear a
beautiful voice and not a growly voice singing.”
BD: What does the
cortisone do? Does it dry you up?
PE: I don’t
know what cortisone does. I never use it. I think it
prevents swelling. When you have an infection, your vocal cords
get swollen because they’re infected, and the cortisone simply brings
them back to normal. But it’s an artificial way of doing
BD: Is there any
competition amongst baritones?
PE: Milnes and I
are very good friends, but I don’t have any competition because I’m a bel canto singer. Nucci’s not
a bel canto singer. I
admire Cappuccilli. His recording of Trovatore is magnificent! It
is, to me, one of the most wonderful, exquisite things I’ve heard for
many, many years.
BD: Are you happy
with your recordings?
PE: I wish I could
do them again because I’m older now. But yes, I’m happy.
The sound you’ll hear is a beautiful sound. It’s very well
placed, all the high notes came out beautifully, and the expression
came out well. So I’m pleased with them, but of course I wish I
could do them again because you grow every year, and you know that you
can do things better.
BD: It’s good that
you continue to grow.
PE: Oh, yes.
You have to. If you are today the same as yesterday, you’re not
living. You have to know more today than yesterday and less than
BD: When you sing,
do you feel that you’re competing with recordings of you or of others?
PE: No, no. I
do everything that I feel on instinct. It would be very
hypocritical to say that I do not listen and learn, because you can
learn from the good, the bad, and the ugly. You can learn from a
good singer, and also from a bad singer. So I do listen a great
deal. I read very little. I’m learn by retention. I
have almost a photographic memory, so when I study something I can
learn an opera in eight days or ten days if I have to. I don’t do
that too often, but once I did, and I regretted it because it was too
much. It was the Count in Marriage
of Figaro. I thought it would be a shorter piece, and it
was so long! I finally got it learned about two days before the
dress rehearsal, but since then I have not done that. I did learn
L’Amore dei Tre Re in about
two weeks on my own because they called me at the last moment. I
think Milnes was supposed to do that recording and he cancelled for
some reason. Then they called me and that’s how I got the
recording. So I did that on my own for two weeks even though I
don’t recommend it. That’s why I would like to record it again
because now that I have grown more as an artist, and if I sing the role
two or three or four times, there are phrases I can do better.
Even though what is there pleases me, I know I can do better.
It’s the search for perfection, and every day trying to do
better. I definitely do want to record more, but in order to do
that, I have to sing more in Europe. That’s one of the reasons I
told the Met no for at least two or three years. When they do a
production in Covent Garden, then they record it, and most of the
singers live in Europe. Domingo can be in Barcelona with his
family, then fly in the morning to arrive in London at 11, record from
2 to 4 in London, fly that same evening to Paris and sing Otello that night, and the next day
be back to Barcelona for two days with his family because the distances
are so short. Here if I want to go from New York to my home in
Montana, it takes six hours to get there. So it’s important that
you sing in Europe, and I have been requested so many times. I’ve
sung in Paris, Hamburg, and Frankfurt, and they all have asked me back
because I had big success in Paris with Pagliacci, but I had to say no
because I was signed somewhere else. So they called me two or
three times, but after they call you three times they don’t call again
because they figure I’m busy, and I don’t want that to happen. I
want to be able to do more, to have more access to the European market.
BD: I hope you have
lots of success with that, and I hope you will give Chicago more time,
PE: I would love to
come back. I love this city. When I was in Indiana
University, teaching voice in Bloomington, this was my weekend
place. I used to drive here just to spend the weekends because I
love the city. It’s so beautiful even though it gets very
cold. I’m accustomed to the cold... I live in Montana!
BD: Thank you so
much for the conversation.
PE: My pleasure.
--- --- --- --- ---
© 1985 Bruce Duffie
This conversation was recorded in Chicago on November 23,
1985. Portions were broadcast on WNIB three weeks later, and
again the following
year, and in 1987,
and again in 1993 and 1998.
This transcription was made in 2017, and posted on this
at that time.
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.