Tenor  Vladimir  Galouzine

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


[Note that spellings of names can be slightly different due to transliterations from the Cyrillic alphabet]


Vladimir Galouzine is indisputably one of the world’s leading dramatic tenors, known for his unrivaled stentorious voice, and extremely vivid characterizations of some of the most demanding roles.

He is in much demand internationally, performing regularly during the last two decades as a guest of most of the world’s most prominent opera houses, concert halls and festivals, including New York’s Metropolitan Opera, Chicago’s Lyric Opera, the San Francisco Opera, the Houston Grand Opera, and the Los Angeles Opera in the United States; London’s Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in the United Kingdom; Milan’s Teatro alla Scala; Venice’s La Fenice, the Teatro Verdi in Trieste, the Teatro Comunale in Bologna as well as Florence’s Teatro Comunale; the Vienna State Opera in Austria; the Opéra National (Bastille) and Théâtre de Chatelet, both in Paris, as well as Toulouse’s Théâtre de Capitole and the Marseille Opera in France; Madrid’s Teatro Real and Barcelona’s Grand Teatre del Liceu in Spain; both the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg and the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow, Russia; Amsterdam’s Nederlandse Opera in The Netherlands; the Deutsche Oper Berlin, the Cologne Opera and the Baden-Baden Festspielhaus in Germany; the New National Theater in Tokyo, Japan; the New Israeli Opera; and the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In addition, he has performed at the Salzburg, Bregenz and Edinburgh Festivals and Washington’s Kennedy Center; London’s Royal Albert Hall; the Chorégies d’Orange and the Arena di Verona.

Galouzine has collaborated with many of the world’s most important conductors including Valery Gergiev, Claudio Abbado, Zubin Mehta, Michel Plasson, Gennady Rozhdestvensky, Mstislav Rostropovich, Carlo Rizzi, James Conlon, Dennis Russell Davies, Marcello Viotti, Semyon Bychkov, Donato Renzetti, Miguel Gómez-Martínez, Gary Bertini, Bernard Haitink, Riccardo Muti, Mark Elder, Daniel Barenboim, Jesús López-Cobos, Andrew Davis, Yuri Temirkanov, Bruno Bartoletti, and stage directors such as Franco Zeffirelli, Graham Vick, August Everding, Giancarlo Del Monaco and Elijah Moshinsky.

==  Names which are links in this box and below refer to my interviews elsewhere on my website.  BD  

galouzine It was my pleasure to have a conversation with Vladimir Galouzine on the first of his several visits to Chicago.  Besides his knowledge and understanding of the repertoire, he was charming and witty throughout the chat.  My thanks go to Eva Belavsky for providing the translation for us.

Here is what was said during that wonderful encounter . . . . .

Bruce Duffie:   Is it special for you to bring the Russian repertoire to the rest of the world?

Vladimir Galouzine:   Unfortunately, I don’t do very much of the Russian repertoire other than The Queen of Spades, and sometimes Boris Godunov, and quite rarely, really seldom, Khovanshchina.

BD:   You mostly sing Italian roles?

Galouzine:   Yes, mostly I sing in Italian, and lately I have been really building my dramatic repertoire, so mostly it is Italian, and then Boris Godunov and The Queen of Spades.

BD:   Italian repertoire in Italian, or in Russian?

Galouzine:   Of course, in Italian. [Both laugh]

BD:   Is it easy to impose the Italian words on the Slavic vocal style?

Galouzine:   The Slavic vocal style, and moreover the Russian vocal style, is quite close to the Italian, because the pronunciation and the enunciation is close to the Italian.  It all depends on the style of the composer that one sings, and mostly I don’t see a big difference.

BD:   Is that good thing that all the styles are very similar?

Galouzine:   No, the Russian style is completely different.  This is not what I’m talking about.  Every composer is different, of course, and the Russian is very different from the Italian, but what I’m saying is that the Russian language, the pronunciation of the Russian language, is much closer to Italian than, say, English.  We know that the Italian composers, such as Verdi and Puccini, have different styles.  [Both laugh]

BD:   Of course!  Would you sing more Russian operas if they were offered to you?

Galouzine:   Certainly, I would sing more if the theaters were more interested in the operas by Rimsky-Korsakov and Mussorgsky, the composers that I really love.  [Besides the two large Mussorgsky works, Galouzine appears in recordings of three operas by Rimsky-Korsakov, and they are shown at the bottom of this webpage.]

BD:   From the repertoire, you’re asked to do a lot of things.  How do you decide which ones you will learn?

Galouzine:   Right now, I have a very happy circumstance when I can decide, and choose what I sing and what I do not sing.  I really try now not to expand my repertoire, but rather to make it more narrow.  The more I work on Gherman’s role, the more I think that at last I can present it.  So, I try more and more to go deeper and deeper into the character, to show it more to the audience, and to open it up more.  Man is not omnipotent, and that is why I try to narrow down my repertoire, to know it better, to present it better, to understand it better.

BD:   Is there any role that you get absolutely everything out of, and get to the bottom of?

Galouzine:   No, it is impossible.  Only a simpleton would say that.  To understand the dramatic person of Pushkin’s Gherman, combined with the dramatic person of Tchaikovsky’s Gherman, to understand it to the end, one has to be a genius of Pushkin and Tchaikovsky combined.  That is almost impossible, and to decode this music, one has to be a great conductor and a great stage producer.

galouzine BD:   [With a gentle nudge]  Should we not ask that of the tenor?

Galouzine:   Being a tenor is a diagnosis!  [Much laughter]

BD:   Do we ask too much of our singers on the stage, or from the audience?

Galouzine:   I don’t know about the audience, but I certainly demand a lot from myself.  Now we are talking a lot about The Queen of Spades, and I’d like to return to it once again.  Every time I sing it, and in every performance, I find something new in this opera for myself.

BD:   Is that true of every opera, that you find something new in every performance?

Galouzine:   It depends on the opera.  Sometimes it is more, sometimes less.  Let’s take Aïda.  I love this music tremendously, but dramatically, from the point of view of staging, it is poorer than Boris Godunov, in my opinion.

BD:   Do you like always being the hero of the evening, rather than the villain?

Galouzine:   I love being in the medium that I love, whether it’s a murderer, or a villain, or a lover, or a hero.  The music dominates for me, and then the dramatic development of the opera.

BD:   Is Gherman a hero or a villain?

Galouzine:   [Laughs]  Gherman is a man who is a victim of his own passions.  He could be a very good case for a psychiatrist.  He could be a patient, but really he is a very wounded person.  His soul is all cut up.  He is very edgy.  Even when the wind blows, for him it is an irritation that is something which will set him off.

BD:   If Lisa had not killed herself, and then he won the money, would they have been happy together?

Galouzine:   Perhaps for some time.  Gherman is a kind of person that cannot stop, and cannot really be happy.  Moreover, if you remember, he’s gone mad, so the happiness could not really continue.  He was mad completely in Pushkin’s version.  As a matter of fact, he ended his days in the madhouse.

BD:   Is it easier or harder for you to play this kind of mad complicated person, as opposed to just a straightforward heroic person?

Galouzine:   It is much easier, because you can always find a tremendous amount of hues and undertones in any performance.  In every performance I find something new for myself.

BD:   So, it’s easier to play the psychotic character?

Galouzine:   Not because he’s psychotic, but because you can always play different lines in every performance.  Sometimes you can make the love line deeper, and sometimes the edginess can better enunciated.  So, every time you can take a different variation of the same character, and play on it.

BD:   Do you also try to find the darker sides of the happier characters?

galouzine Galouzine:   [Laughs]  I can’t recall any happy heroes in my repertoire!  I love tremendously Tchaikovsky’s opera Iolanta, and, by the way, he loved it, too.  He loved it more than his other operas.  That has a happy ending.  Right now, though, I cannot name one of my characters that either did not kill himself or somebody else.  My heroes don’t live very long!

BD:   Are you able to put a little bit of yourself into each of these characters, no matter how light or dark they are?

Galouzine:   Obviously, as any actor works on his own associations, and with God’s help, if I’m able to understand the psychology of another person, then it will help me in my work, and in any situation.  There is the jealousy of Desdemona.  I would be jealous of my wife.  I love her the same way as I would love my wife, and could choke her!

BD:   But would we act the same way?

Galouzine:   My wife feels that!  [Much laughter]  Once, after the performance, one of the managers said he would not like to be my wife!

BD:   When you go on stage, are you portraying a character or do you become that character?

Galouzine:   I portray a character sometimes when I’m very tired.  But it only lasts for about ten minutes, and then I just become the role.  Sometimes I want to say something very strange perhaps, and sometimes I do not feel that it is me.  Sometimes I feel as if something leads me, and it becomes so easy for me, so it is natural then.  It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, then this is a tremendous happiness that I feel.

BD:   You get completely caught up in the role?

Galouzine:   Yes, and then there is such a level of improvisation.  Sometimes it seems to me as if I observe myself from the sidelines, and then I am really amazed with myself.  For me, this phenomenon is amazing and interesting.

BD:   Should your colleagues be afraid that you’ll actually commit murder on the stage?

Galouzine:   [Laughs]  No, the control comes from the very person that looks from the sidelines and is amazed.  This person controls everything, so no, there is no danger.

BD:   You walk up to the abyss, and then move back?

Galouzine:   Of course.

BD:   There is no chance you’ll fall in?

Galouzine:   Only if, like Gherman, I go mad, and then yes!  [Much laughter]  In order to go mad, you’ve got to have brains, not lose your brains, and I have brains!  [Continuous laughter all around]

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Do you change your vocal technique at all for the size of the house?

Galouzine:   This is a very difficult question for me, because singing is an energetic process.  My whole body is involved in that, and then if only half of my body is involved, I would not be singing with my own voice.

BD:   Do you have to be an athlete to be a singer?

Galouzine:   Yes, and unfortunately, any physical condition can really influence the singing quite a bit.  I’m always, always like an athlete.  I always have to be in shape.

BD:   Do you work out all the time?

galouzine Galouzine:   [Humorously]  Whenever I work out, I immediately catch a cold, so I’m trying to walk, to move around.  When I run, I catch a cold!  [Laughs]  When I was preparing the role of Otello, I was working out, lifting pillows on myself.  But no, not now.  This is very, very difficult for me, and people question me because you have to remember my schedule is very full.  One day I’m in Japan, and then I have jet-lag, and then I’m in Vienna, and I’m in New York, all the time traveling.  My schedule makes it hard for me to exercise.  I have to work out while I’m in Japan, but if I’m sleeping and with jet-lag I really have to just relax and rest.  There is no systematic way to do it.  It’s very difficult.

BD:   In your career, do you try to make sure that you have time for rest, and for study, and to be home a little bit?

Galouzine:   Right now, no.  If I take at least a month for myself, it means I have to unplug the computer, the telephone, everything.  I have to hide myself so nobody finds me.  On the one hand perhaps, it’s part of my life.  On the other hand, it’s very, very difficult, because practically I get little rest.  For a long time, being at the Mariinsky Theatre was a big burden.  At least now I’m trying to get some time off.  There was a time when I was singing four performances in New York, and in between performances I would be flying on the Concorde back to St. Petersburg to sing The Queen of Spades.  That was madness.  That was crazy, and right now it’s easier in this regard.

BD:   Is it comforting at all to know that you are in such demand all over the world?  [Vis-à-vis the Gala recording shown at left, which was issued in both CD and DVD versions, see my interviews with Grace Bumbry, and Vesselina Kasarova.]

Galouzine:   Certainly it is very pleasant, but I just say that I am very, very tired.  Most of the time my family travels with me, but right now the circumstances are such that for the last three weeks I’m without them.  For me it is impossible.  I’m just not used to that.

BD:   Is the life of a singer too difficult?

Galouzine:   I would not say it’s easy.

BD:   Is home for you in St. Petersburg?

Galouzine:   My home is St. Petersburg and Belgium, and I hope it will be France, too.  My wife is Belgian.

BD:   Is it nice to be home, in your house, and then sing at the theater in your own city night after night?

Galouzine:   Sure, if I continue to live in St. Petersburg.  I love St. Petersburg, and miss both the city and the theater, but right now I have contracts, and I have to fulfill those obligations.  Even though I love the Mariinsky Theatre, and I love singing, I know that I have to take some time off to think about myself for a while.

BD:   I just wondered, though, if it’s easier to be away
even though you’re away from your familyso that you can concentrate on the music, or when you’re home and have the wife making demands, and the children are underfoot?

Galouzine:   You mean, not working at all?

BD:   No, when you’re working, but in your home city.

Galouzine:   I travel with my family, and whenever I travel, this is my home.  My family is always with me.  My youngest daughter is always with me, and I take care of her.  So, it’s easy for me to tolerate them, but for them to tolerate me is much more difficult...

*     *     *     *     *

galouzine BD:   What is it that we in the West need to learn about Russian operas in order to perform them even better than we do?

Galouzine:   I think that The Queen of Spades is probably one of the best, if not the best, both musical and dramatic creations, from the standpoint of the music and literature.  You know it’s based on Pushkin.  I speak with experience, because I have sung many roles from Western repertoire, and this great, wonderful music, is not only not well-known in America, it’s not even known in Europe, which is so much closer to Russia.  Italian music is perceived to be much easier in the West, so it’s more popular.  What I think is needed is to present this repertoire more, and in order to understand it better, people have to know the sources better
the literature sourceswhich means Pushkin.  Dostoevsky, by the way, is much better known in the West than Pushkin.

BD:   Is it good, then, that you and the others have made these recordings that help make the music better known in the West, so there’s more clamor for productions?

Galouzine:   The only complaint I have about all recordings is that they should record the Russian operas so much better.

BD:   [Genuinely surprised]  You’re not pleased with your records???

Galouzine:   In fact, my recordings I’m ashamed to speak about them.

BD:   Why???

Galouzine:   Because they are recorded poorly, very badly.  There’s just some kind of a wrong approach.  There is promotion for big stars, very well-known singers who don’t need the promotion anymore, and they record very well.  Those of us who are not as well known, they record so-so.

BD:   But what happens when we hear your recordings, and they sound very good to us, and we come and tell you that they’re wonderful?

Galouzine:   Any recording made live at the performance is much better than any of the studio recordings.  After listening to the The Gambler by Prokofiev that I thought that I recorded very well, when I heard the recording, I was horrified.  [This CD is shown at right.  Presumably, the DVD (shown below), which was made live a few years later, is more to his liking.]

BD:   [Gently protesting]  But the singer is not able to hear his own voice coming back on the record the same way that we hear it.

Galouzine:   [Sighs]  It’s a very complicated and difficult issue, and a very painful one.  Sometimes I listen not only to myself, but I listen to my colleagues whom I know have great voices, and when I hear the recordings, in Russia we call it the ‘cotton’ singers
the cheap fabric singers.  I have offers to record operas, but I refuse to do that, and if I ever agree to record, then it is only if I have the right to approve the recording, and to allow it be issued.

BD:   Just so you will know, most of the singers that I interview
even the great ones who have many recordings that are acclaimed all over the worldinvariably either dislike or absolutely hate their recordings.

Galouzine:   Maybe I’m not the greatest, but I can tell about myself.  I do not wish to hear them.  I don’t even have any of those recordings in my home.

BD:   [Pausing a moment, and then switching subjects]  Do you do any concerts, or just opera?

Galouzine:   I’m going to have my first experience.  After Chicago, I’m going to Marseilles to sing Turandot, and then after that I’m going to have a concert in Paris, a recital.

BD:   A recital with piano?

Galouzine:   No, it will be a concert with orchestra.  I do not know this orchestra.  It’s a Slavic orchestra and they have sent me a recording of the orchestra.  In order to have the courage enough to sing a concert, you have to be popular, and you have to have the audience to come to listen to you.  But I’m not one of those.  I do not have any promotion.  I do not seek it out.  Then what if I have a concert, and three people come and hear me?  What do I need it for?

BD:   [With a gentle nudge]  Not to make those three people happy?

Galouzine:   [Laughs]  I think there will be more than three because I was there in The Queen of Spades.


BD:   Is the music that you sing, for everyone?

Galouzine:   Music and the art of opera, just as any classical music, is really an elite art.  In order to appreciate it, one has to have some kind of background to be prepared to appreciate it.  On the other hand, some time ago, I had nothing to do with classical music, but after seeing my first Boris Godunov in Novosibirsk, I was overwhelmed both by the music and by the dramatic development on stage.  In the Novosibirsk Opera House, they have some great actors, so maybe even without a background, if you’re presented with a great production, you can appreciate it.  So, this is a somewhat debatable point.

galouzine BD:   Should we try to get more of the rock audiences to come to the great productions?

Galouzine:   Of course.  I don’t reject that music.  I love the rock group ‘Queen’ from England, and I love Led Zeppelin.  I love Freddie Mercury.  He’s the number one soloist for me, and Led Zeppelin is probably the best instrumental group for me.

BD:   Would you ever sing rock music?

Galouzine:   No, no, of course not!  I would love to sing so much material, but I just don’t think I have enough time for everything.  Maybe in another life, if God gives it.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Let me ask the really easy question.  What’s the purpose of music?

Galouzine:   [Sighs]  A really easy, easy question!  Some people perceive music as entertainment, and some as education, but when I go to listen to music, I come in a particular mood.  So, my first perception depends on my mood.  Then, the more it goes, the more the music alters the mood, and alters my emotions.  When I listen to classical music, I have a real elated state.  I have an impression as if I’m going up to heaven to be closer to God.  But rock music, that’s something else.  [Pauses slightly]  I hope that you will not ask me any more
easy questions!  [Much laughter]

BD:   [Hoping this next one would be less
‘easy’...]  In the music that you sing, is there a balance between the art and the entertainment?

Galouzine:   Luckily, in this music there is no entertainment.

BD:   [Surprised]  None at all???

Galouzine:   Let’s take Aïda.  I think Aïda can be very entertaining, and a lot of times it is presented like a show.  Maybe the Triumphal Scene is not the most ingenious that Verdi has ever written, but everybody is waiting for it.  Everybody’s waiting for the huge hoard of people descending on the stage.  [Laughs]  Maybe the elephants will come!  Maybe somebody else will come!  I was singing it in Cairo and they had real pyramids.  They had one thousand soldiers participating, and they had two huge opera choruses, one from Cairo and one from Verona.  In the Triumphal Scene, from one end of the stage to the Proscenium I had to walk for ten minutes!  This is not an exaggeration.  That’s how it was.  Then everybody’s waiting for this particular moment when all of the triumphant crowds will descend.  But for me, that’s not Aïda.  Unfortunately, in many places like this one in Cairo, and in Verona, a lot of people are waiting for this kind of scene, but for me, Aïda is a chamber opera.

BD:   The last scene, of course, is chamber music, but the Triumphal Scene is why the Italians call it lo spettacolo [the spectacle]!  Do you try to bring the chamber aspects out of any scene that you are in?

Galouzine:   It really depends on the stage.  In Cairo when I was singing, we all had to wear microphones because there was no acoustic.  It was in the open-air.  In Verona, there were 16,000 spectators in the audience.  There were no microphones, no amplification, and the orchestra was maybe 200 people.

BD:   But in Verona, it’s the natural acoustic.

Galouzine:   Yes, of course, natural acoustics which are wonderful.  But you feel yourself so small, and then the chamber aspects somehow disappeared.  Certainly, when you sing the Tomb Scene in the theater, there are very many intimate aspects for me.  There are also intimate things in the third act with the Nile and Aïda.

BD:   Are you at the point in your career that you want to be?

Galouzine:   Yes, right now, absolutely.  I’m totally content with my status right now.  I just have a little tiny wish, that if I could, only I would choose a conductor and a stage director for my work, and if I could have just little less work.  But right now, I just can’t afford it.

BD:   Are there some conductors who are very good and very supportive, and you like working with them?

Galouzine:   Yes.  This year I was really lucky, and I have known producer Graham Vick for the last six years.  We always work very well together, and could always find a common language.  In the summer I met a very interesting stage director in a performance of Tosca, which for me is not such a role that you can play out really, but it was very interesting.  [Unfortunately, I did not follow up and ask the name of this director.]


BD:   Are you coming back to Chicago?

Galouzine:   I hope, of course.  [The full list of his appearances in Chicago is shown in the box below.]  I already have an offer, but it is for the year 2005/06 because that’s how the timetable is.

Vladimir Galouzine at Lyric Opera of Chicago

2000/01  [Opening Night]  Queen of Spades (Gherman) with Dalayman, Putilin, Skovhus, Palmer, Maultsby; Davis, Vick, D. Palumbo, Tallchief

2005/06  Manon Lescaut (Des Grieux) with Mattila, Feigum, Cangelosi; Bartoletti, Tambosi, Schuler, D. Palumbo

2006/07  [Opening Night]  Turandot  (Calaf) with Gruber, Racette, Tian; Bartoletti, Hockney

2008/09  Pagliacci (Canio) with Martínez, Delavan, Feigum, Jameson; R. Palumbo, Grayson, Moshinsky, Schuler

2009/10  [Opening Night]  Tosca (Cavaradossi) with Voigt, Morris, Travis, Irvin; Davis, Zeffirelli,

BD:   Do you like being booked so far in advance?

Galouzine:   On the one hand, yes, but on the other, no, because sometimes there are better offers that come along.

BD:   One last question.  Is singing fun?

Galouzine:   Only if you are vocally healthy.  Then yes, it is huge fun, and a tremendous pleasure.

BD:   I hope you are vocally healthy for many years.

Galouzine:   Thank you very much.


© 2000 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in Chicago on October 23, 2000.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB three months later.  This transcription was made in 2020, and posted on this website at that time.  My thanks to Eva Belavsky for providing the translation for us during the interview, and to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.  To read my thoughts on editing these interviews for print, as well as a few other interesting observations, click here.

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Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as 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 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.