Tenor Bruce Ford
A Conversation with Bruce Duffie
American tenor Bruce Ford was born in Texas in 1956 and trained
at the Houston Grand Opera Studio. He relocated to Europe to begin his
professional career in the early 1980s. Mozart figured prominently in his
early years, but it was his portrayals of the high-lying tenor roles in
Rossini’s opera serie (Uberto in La donna de Lago, Oreste
in Ermione, Argirio in Tancredi and the title-role in
Otello) that won him international acclaim.
Ford appeared regularly at the Pesaro and Wexford Festivals throughout
the late 1980s and 90s, and subsequently became a favorite of the British
label Opera Rara, appearing in lead roles on their recordings
of bel canto rarities such as Pacini’s Alessandro nell’Indie,
Donizetti’s Elvida, Francesca di Foix and Rosmonda
d’Inghilterra (opposite Renée Fleming),
and Mercadante’s Zaira.
His discography also includes acclaimed recordings of more mainstream
repertoire, such as English-language recordings of Idomeneo and
The Barber of Seville, Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor
for Sir Charles Mackerras,
and the title-role in Mitridate under Sir Roger Norrington.
Ford retired from singing in in his early sixties and now focuses
on teaching and coaching.
In the Fall of 1995, tenor Bruce Ford appeared at Lyric Opera of
Chicago as Ernesto in Don Pasquale. Others in the cast were
Ruth Ann Swensen as Norina, Timothy Nolen and Victor Benedetti as Malatesta,
and Paul Plishka as
Pasquale. Paolo Olmi
conducted, and Paolo
Montarsolo (himself a famous Pasquale) directed. John Conklin designed the
production, which was lit by Duane Schuler, and Stan Dufford did the
wigs and makeup. The chorus master was Donald Palumbo.
Between performances during the run, I had the pleasure of meeting
with Ford, and portions were used several times when I played his recordings
on WNIB, Classical 97.
Now, the entire conversation is presented on this webpage.
While setting up the tape recorder, we chatted about reviews, and
critical response in general . . . . .
Bruce Duffie: Should the critics not
come to the first performance? Would you rather they come later
Bruce Ford: With the first performance
it’s always the first-night jitters. But then again, there is
that odd performance that you get something magical. There is
really an excitement that you don’t get with any other performances.
Call it nerves, call it stage fright, or whatever you want.
Nevertheless, it can be very exciting, and can turn either way. You
BD: Is it like being a toreador, a bull-fighter?
Ford: Very much so, especially for a tenor
because you never know whether the nerves are going to get you the
high notes or cost you the high notes.
BD: I hope your percentage is good.
Ford: [Laughs] I’m always betting
on the percentages.
BD: In this age of the tenor, is it harder
being a tenor? Would you rather be a baritone with a little less
pressure on you?
Ford: It’s just as dreadfully difficult
for the baritones as it is for the tenors. One reason is that
orchestras tune much higher these days. Back in Verdi’s
time, they tuned almost a half-step lower, and that has a lot to
do with the feel of a part. Now, even with shortening the brass
instruments, and getting ever higher, and having a much brighter timbre,
the tone creeps up higher and it’s really difficult to get those optimum
BD: Yes, but you’ve got more vitamins
Ford: Well... the traveling does away
with all those vitamins! [Both laugh]
BD: Do you like being a wandering minstrel?
Ford: [Sighs] No! That’s another
problem with the modern-day opera singer
— all the traveling. We have to jump on jet
planes and go to far off places and sing. It has its difficult
moments, and we pay a big toll for it. Luckily there are things
coming out, like melatonin, which is giving some help to the jet lag...
at least it tends to help me.
BD: Does this influence which contracts
you will accept? Do you try to make sure they’re
not back and forth, and back and forth, but all in one place, and then
you move to another place?
Ford: I try to do that now, but not every
singer can do that. It is a bit easier once you become more
well-known. I’m known as a Mozart/Rossini tenor, and I’ve become
more of a specialist in the Rossini repertoire. So, now I can
get two or three offers in a time period, and try to make it work where
I can be more at home. My home is in London, and try to make it
to where I’ll have more time at home. But if there’s something really
juicy that comes up over here in the U.S., it’s very difficult to say
no to it, even though it is 3,000 or 4,000 miles away.
BD: [With a gentle nudge] It’s only
a few hours by jet, so why not?
Ford: There’s the problem! You think
it’s a few hours by jet, but the trip really takes a toll on you and
on your family life if you spend a lot of time away from home.
BD: Do you schedule enough time off?
Ford: Now I do. I schedule vacations
and say these dates are etched in steel. They’re not coming
out. I told my agent he’s not to mess with those. Nevertheless,
he’ll come up with something with such-and-such conductor, and it’s
what I’ve always wanted to do. So I have to just resist that temptation
to do it and say, “No, I’m going to take those
two weeks of vacation and be with my son and my family.”
BD: Is it ever possible to bring your family
and son with you?
Ford: We try to make that work as much
as possible, but it’s hard. It’s very difficult. My son’s
in school in London, and we try every time he has a holiday.
They don’t get as big a holiday as you do here in America. They
get at most six weeks in the summer, but then other vacations
— like Easter and Christmas
— they’ll get a month. Then there’s
mid-term break, and they’ll get three weeks off. So those breaks
are much bigger, and they can come and visit me.
BD: You talk about London, but you’re
Ford: I am originally from Texas, but
forgive me if I don’t talk like one! [Both laugh] I can
put on an accent if you want...
BD: Why London?
Ford: London is a very good centralized
area for me. Most of my work is done in Europe. Mozart
and Rossini are given mostly in Italy and at Covent Garden, where I’ve
sung a lot. I also sing in France. Now I’m slowly getting
more and more work in the States. They’re doing things for me,
except that I’m doing The Barber of Seville everywhere.
I would much rather do something a little bit more interesting, although
Barber is probably one of the greatest things that Rossini wrote.
But there are other things out there that are a lot more interesting.
* * *
BD: Tell me the secret of singing Rossini.
Ford: Flexibility. It also takes
a lot of courage to show off because that was the era of ‘go
out there and show it, honey!’ That
was it. You could write your own variations, you could write your
own cadenzas, you could do basically everything that you wanted to do within
the confines of the style, and that is a lot of fun. You can go
out there and really just show your wares. It’s legato singing and
it’s bel canto singing. You try to sing as beautifully as
BD: Do you find that stage directors
are trying to get away from letting these works just be opportunities
for singers to show off?
Ford: They have their ideas, and often
times they try to steal away something from the vocal pyrotechnics.
But after all, if you’re going to do bel canto, you might as
well put the emphasis on the beautiful singing, because that’s where
the meat is. Time after time after time, people will go and listen
to the singing. That’s not taking away what some of these
fine stage directors can do, but once you start to distract from the
singing, then you’re getting in trouble with opera.
BD: So, it’s really prima la musica?
Ford: I feel that way.
BD: Is the drama standing right next to
it, or several steps behind, or is it down the road a way?
Ford: They can go hand in hand. The
commedia dell’arte style can go absolutely hand in hand with
singing. It can work. I see no reason why not. In Germany,
I’ve done productions where I’ve practically had to stand on my head,
and there are a lot of things that I have said I’m not going to do. When
possible, I’m not going to work with that particular producer, or director,
simply because I don’t agree.
BD: You have turned down contracts because
Ford: I turned down an offer.
BD: What if you’re in the midst of a production,
and they ask you to do something you don’t want to do?
Ford: You can always do like this guy,
who’ll remain nameless... An Italian baritone went to Hamburg
to work with a certain German producer, who’s known to be very outlandish.
The baritone said, “No, I’m not going to do it that way, and
I will pay for another producer out of my fee to come in and take over
the production!” The new producer did come in to do the piece.
BD: Money becomes clout and power?
Ford: Absolutely. It all comes down
to money in the end.
BD: At least for you, where does artistry
come into it?
Ford: Money is very important to me.
When you get a good contract, the money is something very special.
But now at this point in my career, I’m starting to look for those
artistic merits, and am trying to do those roles I haven’t done. So,
I’m willing to take a little less in order to do a role that I’ve never
BD: You’re offered various roles.
How do you decide which ones you’ll accept and which ones you’ll turn
Ford: You have to be a businessman these
days. You have to look at your calendar and realize that first
you’ve got to eat and live, and pay your kid’s school. So, you
look at what contracts are going to be very nice, and which are going
to get me some money, and decide if they’re going to really hold me for
the whole year. Usually, the Italian contracts pay really, really
well, so you do one of those, and you’re set for the whole year.
You’ve got enough money to pay the mortgage and everything, and then you
can do the things that you want to do.
BD: For all the others then, how do you
Ford: First of all, I decide basically
on the repertoire. I don’t take anything out of my repertoire.
I’m a Mozart/Rossini singer who is going into Donizetti and Bellini,
and that’s as far as I go. Next is the theater. Do I like
the theater, or if it is it a theater I’ve never sung in before, would
I really like to try that out? I’ve never sung in Spain, and I would
love to sing there, so we’re working on that at the moment.
BD: Especially with some of these parts
that you do, they’re sung in different size houses. Many of
the houses in Europe are very small, but now you’re in Chicago, and
it’s a huge house. Do you adjust your vocal technique at all from
a small house to a big house?
Ford: No. If you try to manipulate
your technique, you can get yourself into big trouble. You have
to stay basically with one technique. You need to put as much focus
on the voice as possible. Twelve years ago I went off to Europe
simply because my voice is not big enough to sing Puccini and Verdi,
and that’s what everybody in the U.S. wants to hear. People told
me that I sang well, and I knew that if I was going to make a career, and
do what I wanted to do, or what I felt I did well, I would have to go to
Europe. This was not necessarily just to get a job, but also to finish
my studies as an artist. Because I wanted to study Mozart, I went
over to Germany, and studied German. I hung out with the Germans.
I went to all the beer taverns. I sat down and listened to
the people, and learned their culture. In a sense, I wanted to become
like them for a year or two, just to learn where they come from, and why
they wrote this music. The Magic Flute is something so special
to them. They pack the performances of it, and they love that
piece so much. We go because we love Mozart, and we love The Magic
Flute, but they go because it is something holy to them.
BD: More so than Don Giovanni or
Così Fan Tutte?
Ford: Yes. They love The Magic
Flute. It’s something mystical for them.
BD: Do they have the same feeling for
Ford: Not so much as The Magic Flute.
I’ve sung Entführung a lot in Germany, and it has
magical moments. At the same time, it’s real show-off music.
Konstanze has incredibly high coloratura things, but The Magic Flute
is not really like that so much. With the exception
of the Queen of the Night, it’s mostly very beautiful legato singing, but
it is also something very, very, very special to them.
BD: Tell me about Tamino. Can you
play him so he is too good?
Ford: [Thinks a moment] Yes,
absolutely. I haven’t sung Tamino in a long time. I shelved
that role for a while.
Ford: Because in the German-speaking countries,
they really feel that that’s almost a Heldentenor role now, and they
cast it with heavier voices. I got an offer from Eberhart Wächter,
who was going to take over the Vienna State Opera. I was doing
Così Fan Tutte at the Volksoper, and he asked me if I
would do a new production of The Magic Flute. He said “I
want you to do it,” and I said, “I’m sorry. I will sing it gladly,
but I don’t feel the Viennese public wants a light lyric voice like mine
singing it at this point. Maybe years back when Fritz Wunderlich
was singing it, but not now.”
BD: You really take in the audience’s
expectation into consideration?
Ford: You have to. It’s like the
audience’s expectation of Norma now.
Pollione is cast with a quasi-dramatic tenor. Back in his time,
he cast a much lighter voice. So, when Corelli came along and started
singing Bellini, it was over for the rest of us lyric tenors. He
set this heavy dramatic style, and everyone wants to hear that now.
BD: If some small theater cast Mozart
singers in those roles, would you do it? [Vis-à-vis
the recording shown at right, see my interview with Ryland Davies.]
Ford: If they cast it as Bellini used to
in his time period, and used original instruments and a Bellini-size
orchestra, then yes, I’d be glad to, absolutely. I’ll sing in the
Teatro Bellini anytime. It’s about half the size of the Civic
Opera House here in Chicago. This is not to say that I don’t enjoy
singing in this theater. It’s a lovely theater to sing in, but the
Teatro Massimo in Catania is... [pauses] well, Gigli said it was acoustically
the finest theater in which he’d ever sung in his life. It’s perfect
for singing. I just adore it.
BD: Have you sung in the Colón
in Buenos Aires? Everybody says that it is wonderful.
Ford: No, never have.
* * *
BD: Let’s come back to Rossini. You
seem to be concentrating on those roles quite a bit. Is there
any sameness to those roles, or was Rossini creating each character differently
in each opera?
Ford: [Smiles] As you know, Rossini
plagiarized himself quite a lot. He would do a piece in one theater,
and then go off to another theater for another opera, and use a lot of
that stuff that he used before. Then, if he would come back and
try to do the second opera in the first theater, he would have to sit
down and write new music for it.
BD: How much of it is just mix and match?
Ford: A lot of it. Sometimes other
composers were also involved. For Matilde de Shabran, Pacini
wrote about a third of it. But for the Naples version, which Rossini
had to go back to, he wrote all the new music for that. So it’s all
BD: Do you go to people like Philip Gossett and the
new edition of Rossini to make sure you’re doing the right material?
Ford: He just called me tonight and said,
“We’ve got to get together and meet!” We’re going to get together
and go over Matilde de Shabran, which he’s working on at the
moment, and which I’ll be doing in the Pesaro Festival next summer.
BD: Is it pleasing to sing all of these
unknown Rossini operas, so that we know more than just Barber
Ford: They’re little gems. They’re
little diamonds. You put them together. Look at a piece
like Zelmira, which is just a gem of an opera, or La Donna
del Lago, which is a lovely, lovely piece. Some of them are
really difficult, staging-wise to put on, but the music gorgeous.
The Otello that you did here in Chicago has beautiful, beautiful
music. [That production by Pier Luigi Pizzi opened the 1992-93
season, with Chris Merritt,
Lella Cuberli, Rockwell Blake, and Richard
Croft, conducted by Donato Renzetti. The
recording featuring Ford in the title role is shown below.] There
are so many of them. I’ve done about fifty per cent of what Rossini’s
BD: That’s quite
a lot considering there are thirty-six operas.
Ford: Yes, and it’s a real joy to sing
BD: Each ‘new’
Rossini is another notch in your belt!
BD: Do you want to get through them all?
Ford: No. There are so many rewrites,
re-runs of what Rossini already did. I could do without those.
For instance, you have Count Ory, and then you have Il Viaggio
a Rheims, and some of that is exactly the same music... although
I understudied Viaggio for Vienna once.
BD: You have this huge experience with Lindoro
[in The Italian Girl in Algiers], and Ramiro [in La Cenerentola],
to say nothing of Almaviva [in The Barber]. Does
that then translate to the Rossini operas that are unknown?
Ford: Oh, absolutely. When you start
doing more of these things, you find out that in the Rossini opere
serie oftentimes you have to do a lot of your own expounding of the
role, and making the role your own, which a lot of those singers did.
[Giovanni] David and [Andrea] Nozzari sat down with the composers, and
wrote the variations, and the cadenzas to fit their voices. Now
it’s our task to make those roles fit our voices, and to do the variations
that will fit us. It’s extra work that you have to do, to sit
down and rewrite these items yourself, or sit down with a musicologist
and work on those things.
Giovanni David (15 September 1790 in Naples – 1864 in Saint
Petersburg) was an Italian tenor particularly known for his roles in
David (also known as Davide) was the son of the tenor Giacomo
David, with whom he studied. He made his operatic début in Siena
in 1808 in Adelaide de Guesclino by Johann Simon Mayr. He
is notable for the principal roles written for him by Gioachino Rossini,
mostly for Domenico Barbaia's theatres in Naples:
- Narciso in Il turco in Italia (1814)
- Rodrigo in Otello (1816)
- Ricciardo in Ricciardo e Zoraide (1818)
- Oreste in Ermione (1819)
- Uberto (James IV of Scotland) in La donna del
- Ilo in Zelmira (1822)
He also created the roles of Fernando in the revised version of
Bellini's Bianca e Fernando (1828) and Leicester in Donizetti's
Il castello di Kenilworth (1829).
David was noted for his vocal range of almost 3 octaves in performance
(up to b♭′). However, according to Italian
sources, David was certainly able to reach up only to F5
(and possibly to G5 or even to A5), but not higher.
He was also famous for his ability to sing extremely florid music, although
compared with his contemporary, Andrea Nozzari, his acting ability
He retired from the stage in 1839, and subsequently managed an opera
company in Saint Petersburg, Russia.
Andrea Nozzari (27 February 1776 – 12 December 1832) was
born in Vertova and studied in Bergamo and Rome. He is notable for
the principal roles written for him by Gioachino Rossini and mostly
premiered in Domenico Barbaia's theatres in Naples. These were:
- Leicester in Elisabetta, regina d'Inghilterra
- Otello in Otello (1816)
- Rinaldo in Armida (1817)
- Osiride in Mosè in Egitto (1818)
- Agorante in Ricciardo e Zoraide (1818)
- Pirro in Ermione (1819)
- Rodrigo in La donna del lago (1819)
- Paolo Erisso in Maometto II (1820)
- Antenore in Zelmira (1822)
He also premièred the title roles in Giovanni Pacini's Alessandro
nelle Indie (1824) and Donizetti's Alfredo il grande, and
roles in operas by Michele Carafa, Manuel García, Johann Simon
Mayr, Saverio Mercadante, Nicola Antonio Manfroce and Stefano Pavesi.
Nozzari's voice had a baritonal quality, and his intense acting
was much valued by composers and the public. Stendhal thought him one of
the finest singers in Europe. Among his pupils were Antonio Poggi and Giovanni
BD: Does doing the unknown Rossini help
you when you come back to his well-known pieces?
Ford: Absolutely! When I did The
Barber of Seville in Pesaro, you take duets apart, and you write
your own little variations within the duet between the tenor and
the baritone. There are vast things you can rewrite to make
it for your own voice. Then, if you get to sing the last act aria,
that’s the cherry on top of the sundae.
BD: I was going to ask if you made sure to
get all the arias put back into the performance, as they’re often cut.
Ford: It’s a very long opera if you do
it in its entirety, but that last act aria is a lot of fun to sing if
they give you the chance, and I’ve enjoyed singing it.
BD: Having a son who is seven years
old, has this made you more particular about making opera for everyone,
especially the young people?
Ford: [Thinks a moment] Yes, I believe
so. There is a big advocacy for bringing opera in the languages
which people can understand, and when I was in Germany, I sang lots
and lots of operas in German.
BD: When you do those, are you very
careful of the diction to make sure it all comes out?
Ford: Oh, I had to be. Even when
you sing their operas in Italy, you have to be extremely careful with
the diction. But, yes, here I feel that these operas should be
sung in English. A lot of operas should be sung in English.
BD: Even with the gimmick of the
Ford: I think it could be used, certainly,
especially for students when they want to understand the words. It
makes it more accessible to them. The purist would probably enjoy
hearing it the original language. All my life I have studied German
and Italian, as well as their cultures and nuances to try to make it exactly
correct, and to sing it correctly. On the other hand, when you go
out there on stage, you want to communicate with people, and it’s very
difficult to communicate to them in a language they don’t understand.
You can do as much enunciating, and as many graphic things with your body
to try to get them to understand, but really, the spoken word
— or in this case the sung word
— is going to really make it so much clearer,
and I think it should be done more in English.
* * *
BD: Your voice type imposes a number of
characters upon you. Do you like the characters that you wind
up singing because of this? You’re not going to be able to sing
Radamès or Siegfried...
Ford: [Laughs] No, I’m very happy being
a lirico-leggiero, as the Italians call me, doing the light
lyric repertoire. There’s so much out there still to sing.
I’ve had colleagues say, “Don’t get bored! Don’t get hung up in
one repertoire,” but I feel that there is so much more for me to do in
this repertoire. I’ve specialized in it, and a good specialist
should stay in that field.
BD: Explore all the corners of that specialty?
Ford: Absolutely, because there are so many
facets to bel canto. There are so many things out there.
That’s one nice thing about getting involved with a company called Opera
Rara in London, which do early nineteenth-century works.
BD: Most of these performances are the
first ones in a 100, or 150, or 200 years.
Ford: Exactly. Nobody’s
heard of Meyerbeer’s Il Crociato in Egitto, and it’s
a beautiful piece. We recorded the whole thing, and it’s
three-and-three-quarter hours long. I sing Adriano in that. [CD
shown at right.]
BD: In this work, are you really
moving out of your Fach?
Ford: It’s early Meyerbeer
(1824). At that point, he was one of the people in Paris, where
Rossini was at the time he was about to stop writing. Meyerbeer
was listening to Rossini, so these early works are nothing like Les
Huguenots (1836) or L’Africaine (his last opera from 1865).
It’s a totally different style, and showed you how really talented Meyerbeer
was, and how much he grew. Il Crociato sounds like glorified
Rossini, and in many ways it’s even greater. When he was in Paris,
they asked Rossini about Meyerbeer, and he said, “Ah, il grande Rossini!
This man is really trying to out-do me,” and in many ways he
did. He really tried to make his operas into a grand spectacle.
At one point in the Meyerbeer, there is a full orchestra, full chorus,
all the singers singing, a huge percussion ensemble, and two stage bands
playing at once! [Both laugh] It is an enormous amount of
sound, and I’m sure there are a few cracks in the foundation of the recording
studio when we got through with that. We also did Mayr’s
Medea in Corinto, and Donizetti’s Rosmonda d’Inghilterra,
which is a tour de force for two sopranos. The recording that’s
coming out features Renée Fleming and Nelly Miricioiu, two
exquisite voices. I love listening to those sopranos ‘dual’ in
the fireworks. It is incredible. [CD shown below-left.]
BD: Is it especially pleasing to you to bring
something back to the States that is not a world premiere, but nobody
living has ever seen it?
Ford: Yes, and I don’t know if anyone
will ever see it. It will just be on recording. It means
a lot just to do things like this, to pull them out, dust them off and
ask people to listen. They’ve never heard this before, but it’s
something you should hear. There are so many things out there,
and luckily there are people like Patric Schmid, who co-founded and
runs Opera Rara, will dust that stuff off, and make it work. [To
read more about Schmid, and his co-founder Don White, click HERE.]
BD: Do you sing differently for the microphone
than you do for the live audience?
Ford: Oftentimes in recordings, you sort
of back off and let the voice carry into the microphone. You don’t
really give as much. Optimally, you want to use the same voice,
but you have to save because a recording schedule can be incredibly
strenuous. The microphone is such a wonderful instrument, and
it will pick you up so well that really giving everything you have is
not necessary. You can just let the voice just lightly lilt, and
it will pick up all the qualities, and accentuate them.
BD: Can you be more subtle?
Ford: Yes, I feel you can, absolutely.
But we use the microphone unlike a rock or pop singer, who will have
it in their hand and do subtle effects. But an engineer can do
all sorts of subtle effects with the mixing and re-mixing.
BD: Are you pleased with the recordings
that are out so far?
Ford: I’m very pleased with my recordings.
I just had a couple of new ones come out
— The Barber of Seville in English, that was
just released in England [CD shown above], and it’ll be over
here sometime soon, and Le Domino Noir by Auber, which is an
operetta, and just came out from Decca. It’s in all the French-speaking
countries right now, and will be released here later.
* * *
BD: Let me ask the big question. What
is the purpose of opera?
Ford: To enhance drama with music. Why
else would an audience come and see people get up and scream as loud
as they can on the stage? Basically, what we’re doing is sophisticated
screaming. It’s something special to hear music and drama melded
together like that. For me it is very, very magical to sing these
beautiful bel canto phrases that these composers have written.
It’s certainly magical for me, and I hope it is for the listener.
BD: Is it really for everyone?
Ford: It can be. There are all sorts
of things that people can enjoy. Some consider Sweeney Todd
almost an opera. It has a lot of spoken dialogue, but then a lot
of operas have spoken dialogue, such as Bizet’s Carmen, and The
Magic Flute, as well as a lot of operettas.
BD: Is there any opera being written today
that could use your voice?
Ford: Oh, yes! I would mention The
Ghosts of Versailles [by John Corigliano, which
happened to be running at Lyric during the same time as Don Pasquale].
I was immensely impressed at the amount of lyric writing that’s in
there. The reason why I have gone toward the bel canto
area is that it fits my voice very well, and I hear that same style in
The Ghosts of Versailles. Some of it is very, very
high and taxing, but at the same time it’s very beautiful writing.
I’ve just never gotten myself into that.
BD: Would you encourage composers
today to write for bel canto voices?
Ford: Absolutely. I feel like they’re
already writing for those voices, and I certainly have heard it.
BD: Do you do any song recitals?
Ford: Yes. My first recital in Washington
is coming up right after this Chicago engagement. I’ve gotten
involved with The Marilyn Horne Foundation,
doing masterclasses along with the recital. I’ve enjoyed doing masterclasses
in England, and I think I’m really going to enjoy this.
BD: What advice do you have for younger
singers coming along?
Ford: Learn how to say no! [Laughs]
The first thing I learned was that oftentimes you’re tempted to do
something that’s going to very possibly hurt you, and you have to have
the courage and the money to say, “No, I will
not do that. It’s going to harm me.”
Second, stick with your repertoire. Stick with what’s good in your
voice. Don’t let anyone talk you into going out of your repertoire.
BD: What about when the voice gets bigger
and heavier and darker as they get older?
Ford: Yes, it does get darker, but at the same
time you don’t want to take on too much. Look at the singers
who have stayed in their Fach , such as Alfredo Kraus. Luciano
Pavarotti has done some heavier things, but he waited a long time
to do them. Mirella
Freni only recently did Butterfly. She always said she could
not do that role, and a couple of years back she did her first performance.
She waited because she never felt she could vocally sustain the
emotion that the role would create.
BD: It’s always difficult to put an experienced
head on young shoulders.
BD: Singers should listen to their coaches?
Ford: Yes, and the musicologists.
I have a very good one whom I mentioned, Patric Schmid. I work
with him very, very closely in London.
* * *
BD: How are the audiences different from Italy
to Germany to England to America?
Ford: Greatly! German audiences tend to
be very conservative but warm. French audiences can range anywhere
from very cold to extremely rambunctious! If they like something,
they love it. If they don’t, they let you know. The Italians
are the same. There’s not a moment that I walk out onto the Italian
stage that I’m not a bit nervous, or even afraid because I’m a straniero,
a foreigner singing their repertoire.
BD: Each night you have to prove yourself?
Ford: Right, each night you’re going out
and proving yourself, absolutely.
BD: [With mock horror] You don’t
have any kind of reputation that precedes you???
Ford: [Smiles] Yes, I do have a reputation,
but that doesn’t matter to an Italian public. If you make a
slip, they’re going to let you know it. I remember one production
I did at La Scala, where every night they crucified one of their own
singers. I was on stage with her, and it was painful. It’s
like someone sticking a knife in your heart, and it felt that way for
me, just standing there watching her face. That can be extremely
hard, but she had so much courage and so much intestinal fortitude,
that she just stood there with her head held high, and took it. She
came back every night and did her job, and I admired her greatly for that.
BD: I assume she will not be asked back?
Ford: She possibly will! I honestly
don’t know. At that time it was during the big elections, the
Forza Italia, the new party was coming up, and there was a lot
of discourse going on in Italy. Oftentimes the Italians will bring
that right into the theater with them, and the loggionisti, the ones
the sitting up in the top balcony, will really let you know it. It’s
never dull. Singing in the Italian opera houses is always exciting.
BD: [Noting that he was nearly forty] Are
you at the point in your career that you want to be at this age?
Ford: Yes! There are other
things I’d like to do. I would like to do more recordings because
I feel my voice records well, but I’m sure every singer says that. [Laughs]
BD: I’m glad you’re pleased with your
recordings. A lot of singers are never pleased with them.
They may be quite good, but some singers are not pleased.
Ford: There are things that I listen to and go,
“Ugh! I hate that. Take it off!”
But on the whole I’m very pleased with a lot of the work that I’ve done,
and I’d like to do more recordings. I haven’t sung here in America
a lot, which is sad as I’m an American.
BD: But now you’re coming back more often?
Ford: Yes, I’m coming back now when I
should. I felt for my own good and for my own artistic need,
I had to go to where opera originated, to become a European opera singer
at that point, and learn the culture and the language. It was very
important for me to become part of the lineage.
BD: Are you optimistic about the whole
future of opera?
Ford: [Thinks a moment] As long
as there’s money to go towards opera, yes. I see where a lot
of countries have the need to commercialize it more. In the UK, they
have this thing called Classic FM, which has caught on enormously. It’s
a very commercialized classical radio station. Within the first six
months, it took something like 21% of the listening audience in Britain,
which is phenomenal.
BD: Do they still have BBC Radio 3?
Ford: Yes, and they’re fighting tooth and nail
to try to win some of that audience back. Can you imagine going
and taking 21% of the listening audience throughout the UK in just in
six months’ time?
BD: Has Radio 3 dumbed itself down?
Ford: Ever so slightly. They’re
still doing very interesting twentieth century operas. I’ve
done a lot things for Radio 3, but they’re trying to go more commercial
to really sell classical music, rather than be just on the high-brow
bit of it all. It seems to be working. Opera has really become
popular in Britain at the moment.
BD: That’s good. One last question.
Is singing fun?
Ford: Absolutely! I am doing something that
I love, and making a living at it. So what else do you want
in life, except for your health and happiness? Singing brings
my happiness, and it keeps me healthy because I’m a happy person.
BD: Are you coming back to Chicago?
Ford: I hope so. I have no offers
yet, but the problem is that my repertoire is so limited with Mozart,
and Rossini, and Donizetti.
BD: Do you like being booked two, or three,
or four years in advance?
Ford: That can have its advantages and its disadvantages.
Here in America, they like to book highly in advance. La Scala
contacted me with about six months warning.
BD: I would think that would be almost
Ford: It could have been, but we worked
it out, and I got the chance to do a wonderful Rossini opera that I always
wanted to do. That is one thing about a European artist
— you sometimes want to leave holes,
knowing that there is something good that can be fitted in, and it comes.
BD: I hope it keeps coming for you. Thank
you for chatting with me today. I appreciate it.
Ford: I’ve enjoyed it.
© 1995 Bruce Duffie
This conversation was recorded in Chicago on November 9, 1995.
Portions were broadcast on WNIB the following year, and again
in 1998 and twice in
1999. This transcription was made
in 2022, and posted on this website at
that time. My thanks to British
Barry for her help in preparing this website
To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed
on this website, click here. To
read my thoughts on editing these interviews for print, as well
as a few other interesting observations, click here.
* * * *
Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical
97 in Chicago from 1975
until its final moment as a classical station
in February of 2001. His interviews have
also appeared in various magazines and journals since
1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as
well as on Contemporary
Classical Internet Radio.
invited to visit his website for more information
about his work, including selected transcripts
of other interviews, plus a full list of his
guests. He would also like to call your attention
to the photos and information about his grandfather,
who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.
You may also send him E-Mail with comments,
questions and suggestions.