Mezzo - Soprano  Herta  Glaz

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


Born in Austria on September 16, 1910, Herta, Glaz received her musical training at the State Academy of Music. She later studied at the Mozarteum in Salzburg. She made her opera debut at 19 at the State Opera of Breslau as Erda in Wagner's "Das Rheingold." She then toured Austria and Scandinavia as a concert singer. In 1935-1936 she sang at the German Theater in Prague. In 1936 she made North America tour with the Salzburg Opera Guild. While there the national socialists marched into Austria and she could no longer return home, and remained in the USA.

She made her American debut in Los Angeles in 1936, singing Mahler's "Das Lied von der Erde" and Bach's "St. John Passion," with Otto Klemperer and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and gave concerts in Paris. In 1939 and from 1944 to 1951 she could be heard at the Opera of San Francisco in numerous roles. From 1938 to 1942 she sang at the Opera of Chicago. She made her Metropolitan Opera debut on Christmas Day 1942, singing the role of Amneris in Verdi's "Aida." She sang over 300 performances of 25 roles in 14 seasons with the Met.

Glaz became an American citizen in 1943 and retired from performing in 1956. She taught at the Manhattan School of Music and the Aspen Music Festival. After moving to Los Angeles with her third husband in 1977, she became an adjunct professor of voice at USC.  Glaz was married three times: to the conductor Joseph Rosenstock, to Viennese composer Paul August Csonka, and to Frederick Redlich, former Viennese psychiatrist and later Dean of the Yale University School of Medicine, who was her  husband of nearly fifty years. Ms. Glaz is survived by a stepson, Peter Chester, and a grandson.  She died on January 28, 2006..

In February of 1988, I arranged to speak with mezzo-soprano Herta Glaz by telephone.  She was kind a gracious throughout our conversation, and responded to my questions with careful thought.  Being in Chicago, I was a bit envious of her southern California weather that day . . . . . .

Bruce Duffie:    I appreciate your allowing me to speak with you this afternoon.

Herta Glaz:    I am delighted to hear from you, and I hope you have such good weather as we have here in California, where it is very hot like in summer.

BD:    I wish you would send some of that out here to Chicago because we are back in the deep freeze.

HG:    Oh, poor people.

BD:    Let us begin with what you are doing right now.  You have been teaching young singers for about thirty years.

HG:    That’s right.

BD:    Do you feel that the young singers coming along are ready to take their places along the greater singers of the previous generation or two?

HG:    That is a very difficult question to answer.  I would say that they are very good.  Here at USC, where I teach, I am very fortunate to have excellent, excellent young material.  You speak about the great, great singers.  No matter how we train them, there is something in nature which can not be overcome.  In every generation there are just a handful of superstars, but these young people are certainly very good to take their place in the operatic world, as well as in the song literature and field of oratorio.  They are still very young when they come out of here, so how far they go can only be assumed.  I have a few people who have really very, very good voices.  One of them is a 27 year old Chinese baritone, Yu Chen, who has one of the most beautiful voices I have ever taught in these thirty years.  But there are many others, and some are on their way to making a profession
like Gail Dubinbaum, who is at the Met and the Vienna State Opera, or Jacalyn Bower [-Kreitzer] who is also at the Met and sings concerts as well as various other places.  [Photos of Glaz with these two young singers below.]  So there are very talented people around.


BD:    This is a tremendous generalization, but are there any bits of advice that you can give to most young singers coming along?

HG:    Yes.  First of all, even if they have very good voices they should not immediately think of becoming superstars at the Metropolitan.  Because if that was the case, if we would have only superstars, we would have no opera.  As a matter of fact, the bulk of singers in this country are not superstars; they are just very good musicians with good voices.  One also needs comprimario parts, and that is something which I feel one should tell a young singer at a very early time.  They have to put everything in it
— all their energy and enthusiasmand not be disappointed if they don’t make the big league.

BD:    Should they be disappointed if they don’t have any kind of a career at all?

HG:    No, no, that would be terrible.  We, as teachers, have the responsibility to discourage them if we feel that they cannot make a career in the field.

BD:    When you are listening to a young singer for the first time, and helping him or her, what do you look for that will tell you, yes, this singer has the potential for a career, or no, this singer should really go into business or accounting?

HG:    There has to be a certain quality in the voice.  That is understood, that they have good material.  You can’t work without good material, but this is only one item.  Then you should see whether they are in general musical, whether they have a certain intelligence, and one of the key points is whether they are really, really dedicated and willing to put their all into it because it is a very competitive profession.  It needs a great deal of work, and that is something which very young people who come in do not necessarily quite understand.  I remember when I auditioned in Vienna I was very young.  I was only thirteen and a half.  I went to my famous teacher, Rosa Papier-Paumgartner, and my father asked, “Will she make a career?”  She said, “That’s in the stars.”  [Both laugh]  But she also said, “She certainly has the material, and now we will see what other qualities she has that go with it.”  [Note: Glaz also studied with Anna Bahr-Mildenburg at the Salzburg Mozarteum.]  So one can’t say outright.  If the material is not good, one should discourage it and say, “You shouldn’t do it.”  If the material is good, one should say, “Now let’s make a very good and serious try.”

BD:    Is the material that is coming along today up to the standards of the material of yesterday and the day before?

HG:    I think so.  The musicianship is better and the technical training is better in general better.  It is really very, very good, and they should be able to make up the bulk of opera companies or oratorio societies, or wherever that talent lies.

BD:    So you are encouraged by what you are hearing?

HG:    Yes!  Really.  The very great voices are so rare.  There are just a handful every generation.

BD:    Then let me ask about this little handful.  Are the great voices today as good as the great voices of yesterday?

HG:    In a way they are, but every voice is different; every talent is different.  It’s very hard to make comparisons.  Is Domingo as good as Caruso was?  Just as each of us has a different face and a different body, so each voice has their own thing, their own quality, their own approach toward things.  We do have excellent, very good voices, and a number of them will certainly go down in history as being remembered like Flagstad or Rethberg in my time, or Lotte Lehmann or Schumann.  We do have people... maybe not a Flagstad.  I haven’t heard a Flagstad yet.

BD:    Not even Birgit Nilsson?  [See my Interview with Birgit Nilsson.] 

HG:    Yes, but she is also not upcoming!  I haven’t heard her in a few years, but she certainly was fabulous.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Let me ask about stagecraft.  Do you like the improvements or the directions that have taken place recently?

HG:    I might sound a little old-fashioned as far as that goes.  Anything is permissible if it improves the understanding and the quality of the piece.  If it is contrary to it, if it is just to be novel at any cost and has really nothing to do with the piece itself, I really do not like that.  The other day I heard an otherwise wonderful production, musically excellent, where the direction and the stage setting had absolutely nothing to do with the piece.  It was quite on the contrary.  We have to distinguish between the realistic operas, like La Bohème or Pagliacci, and something where the director can really let his imagination go
let’s say Coronation of Poppea by Monteverdi, where the composer and the librettist don’t give very specific instructions.  While we cannot have the same scenery as they used to have when certain classic pieces were composed, one still has to stay within line.  If something takes place in a big church, you can’t have just a bare wall which looks like more of a cemetery than a church.  [Both laugh]  Basically I am not against contemporary thingsin music certainly not.  Also not in stage direction, but it has to fit the piece and really enhance it.  We had a wonderful production here in Los Angeles of Tristan that was really stirring.  It was contemporary, but it was all within the piece, and it really was fabulous.  So it depends.

glazBD:    Let me ask a balance question.  In opera, where is the balance between the music and the drama?

HG:    It’s equally important, and in certain operas the drama is more difficult.  In a Handel opera, it is certainly more difficult for a contemporary person to portray it, but one should certainly try one’s best.  The diction has to be excellent.  The people have to understand what goes on.  After all, if the composers would have not paid attention to the drama and the libretto, they would probably have composed symphonies.  So I think these people are geared to the text very much.

BD:    How do you feel about the use of translation?

HG:    That depends.  In comedies — let’s say Così fan Tutte or The Marriage of Figaro or Barber of Seville
I think one should have it really in English.  I like, actually, the English titles which appear on top of the stage for some people who are not acquainted with the content.  [Remember, this interview took place in 1988, when the use of supertitles was just beginning to catch on.] 

BD:    So you think this is a good compromise?

HG:    I think it is a good compromise in an Italian opera especially, where the melodic part plays such an enormous role.  The content can be easily translated, while in a comedy or where there are ensembles, this is much more difficult.  There it is very good to do it in English.

BD:    Let me ask one more balance question.  Is opera art, or is opera entertainment?

HG:    I hope it is art.  The arts are here to fulfill a job which is the enhancement of the ordinary person.  It mobilizes feelings and emotions which the ordinary person usually doesn’t have.  That’s why we have theatre; that’s why we have even the movies.  It stimulates the mind and the feelings of the onlooker.  So in this way, if this is what you mean by entertainment, I would say yes.

BD:    Do you feel that opera works well on the television?

HG:    Yes, I think it does.  It has helped a great deal to create an audience which usually was either prejudiced, or never had any opportunity to hear live opera.  I think it is very good.  I think it’s excellent.

BD:    Do you approve of the huge proliferation of recordings?  There are so many recordings available today.  Do you think that it is a good idea that there are simply so many?

HG:    It is a good idea if the audience doesn’t get stuck with it.  For instance, I went to a symphony orchestra and met some friends who are lay people.  One of them said, “Don’t you think the tempo was too fast?”  So, with tongue in cheek I said, “What recording did you listen to?”  [Both laugh]  If people want to just get acquainted and not stuck with certain things, then records are fine.  Young singers shouldn’t listen to lots of recordings.  If you have never heard the work before, you certainly should listen and get a total impact.  But you should certainly never imitate.  That would be a gross error, and you would never be a good musician.  You should always go back to the score.  Even recordings can make mistakes, as we well know.

BD:    Let me ask about the repertoire.  Do you encourage the young singers to learn new operas, brand new operas?

HG:    If they are very musical and if their technique is sufficiently developed, I would say yes.  When I grew up, I sang Schoenberg and Berg and Krenek when they were really avant-garde.  [See my Interview with Ernst Krenek.]  Today they are accepted as classics, but I really started my career with that.  I feel that the young people have to go with their own time, but they have to be vocally ready for it.

BD:    Tell me about performing with Ernst Krenek.

HG:    I sang a great many of his compositions for the first time in Vienna with Ernst Krenek at the piano.  Then I travelled with him and sang in London on the BBC.  We also went to Prague and a few other places.  Later he traveled with us, with the Salzburg International Opera Guild.  He made an orchestration for Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea, and traveled with us.  He eventually stayed in this country.  I sang with him in New York and a few other places.  I still see him from time to time, with great pleasure.  He’s really a true intellectual.  When he lectures on something, it is really fascinating.

BD:    Is there any of the music coming along today, which is avant-garde today, which you feel will be classic tomorrow?

HG:    It’s very hard for us to say, really.  We make great mistakes.  If we think of the time of Mozart, then Salieri was the great love, and if you would have asked people, they probably would have said Salieri.  All the great composers have their great trouble.  Bartók practically died of starvation when he was working.  If he would not have had any friends, it would have been disastrous.  Schoenberg had his difficulties, economically.  It is for us really very, very hard to predict.  Very hard.  It depends what else is going on, even on a first hearing.  I remember I sang in Paris at the international competition, some very contemporary things by an Austrian composer, Hans Erich Apostel.  I hadn’t heard his things, unfortunately, very much.  He was a student of Alban Berg. 

apostelHans Erich Apostel (Born January 22, 1901 in Karlsruhe – died November 30, 1972 in Vienna) was a German-born Austrian composer of classical music.

From 1916 to 1919 he studied piano, conducting and music theory in Karlsruhe with Alfred Lorenz. In 1920 he was Kapellmeister and Répétiteur at the Badischen Landestheater in Karlsruhe. He studied in Vienna with Arnold Schoenberg from 1921–1925, and from 1925–35 with Alban Berg, two prominent members of the Second Viennese School. At the same time, he taught piano, composition and music theory privately.

Some of his compositions demonstrate his particular affinity with expressionist painting—he was friends with Emil Nolde, Oskar Kokoschka and Alfred Kubin. During the Nazi period his music was proscribed as "degenerate", but he continued to live in Vienna until his death in 1972.

Apostel was active as a pianist, accompanist, and conductor of contemporary music in Austria, Germany, Switzerland and Italy. After the war, he was prominent in the Austrian branch of the Gesellschaft für Neue Musik, of which he was president from 1947 to 1950.

He was an editor for the Universal Edition, and was responsible for new editions of the operas of Alban Berg, Wozzeck (published in 1955) and Lulu (published in 1963).

Although he won numerous prizes for his compositions (including the Austrian State Prize in 1957), his works were rarely performed. He is buried in the Zentralfriedhof in Vienna, Group 32C, No. 57.

But on that occasion, I heard a Dallapiccola piece, and while I really cannot claim that I understood it, I had definitely feeling that now, here is a master.  Here is a great, great composer.  Unfortunately, he, too, is not heard so much.  So I might have been wrong.

BD:    That might just be the inaccessibility of the music.

HG:    You mean, that he’s not performed enough, so people cannot judge him?

BD:    I think so, because Dallapiccola is a name that is known.

HG:    Yes.  I think certain composers should certainly be performed regularly.

Luigi Dallapiccola (February 3, 1904 – February 19, 1975) was an Italian composer known for his lyrical twelve-tone compositions.  He was born at Pisino d'Istria (currently Pazin, Croatia), to Italian parents.

dallapiccolaUnlike many composers born into highly musical environments, his early musical career was irregular at best. Political disputes over his birthplace of Istria, then part of the Austrian empire, led to instability and frequent moves. His father was headmaster of an Italian-language school – the only one in the city – which was shut down at the start of World War I. The family, considered politically subversive, was placed in internment at Graz, Austria, where the budding composer did not even have access to a piano, though he did attend performances at the local opera house, which cemented his desire to pursue composition as a career. Once back to his hometown Pisino after the war, he travelled frequently.

Dallapiccola took his piano degree at the Florence Conservatory in the 1920s and became professor there in 1931; until his 1967 retirement he spent his career there teaching lessons in piano as a secondary instrument. He also studied composition with Vito Frazzi at the Conservatorio Luigi Cherubini. Dallapiccola's students include Abraham Zalman Walker, Luciano Berio, Bernard Rands, Donald Martino, Halim El-Dabh, Ernesto Rubin de Cervin, Arlene Zallman, Roland Trogan, Noel Da Costa, and Raymond Wilding-White.  [Note: Names which are links refer to Bruce Duffie's interviews elsewhere on this website.

Dallapiccola's early experiences under the fascist regime of Benito Mussolini, who governed Italy from October 1922 to July 1943, colored his outlook and output for the rest of his life. He once supported Mussolini, believing the propaganda, and it was not until the 1930s that he became passionate about his political views, in protest to the Abyssinian campaign and Italy's involvement in the Spanish Civil War. Mussolini's sympathy with Adolf Hitler's views on race, which threatened Dallapiccola's Jewish wife Laura Luzzatto, only hardened his stance. Canti di prigionia and Il prigioniero are reflections of this impassioned concern; the former was his first true protest work.

During World War II he was in the dangerous position of opposing the Nazis; though he tried to go about his career as usual, and did, to a limited extent. On two occasions he was forced to go into hiding for several months. Dallapiccola continued his touring as a recitalist – but only in countries not occupied by the Nazis.

Though it was only after the war that his compositions made it into the public eye (with his opera Il prigioniero sparking his fame), it was then that his life became relatively quiet. He made frequent travels to the United States, including appearances at Tanglewood in the summers of 1951 and 1952 and several semesters of teaching courses in composition at Queens College, New York beginning in 1956. He was a sought-after lecturer throughout Western Europe and the Americas. Dallapiccola's 1968 opera Ulisse would be the peak of his career, after which his compositional output was sparse; his later years were largely spent writing essays rather than music.

He had no more finished compositions after 1972 due to his failing health, and he died in Florence in 1975 of edema of the lungs. There are, however, a very few sketches and fragments of work from this period, including a vocal work left unfinished just hours before his death.

It was Richard Wagner's music that inspired Dallapiccola to start composing in earnest, and Claude Debussy's that caused him to stop: hearing Der fliegende Holländer while exiled to Austria convinced the young man that composition was his calling, but after first hearing Debussy in 1921, at age 17, he stopped composing for three years in order to give this important influence time to sink in. The neoclassical works of Ferruccio Busoni would figure prominently in his later work, but his biggest influence would be the ideas of the Second Viennese School, which he encountered in the 1930s, particularly Alban Berg and Anton Webern. Dallapiccola's works of the 1920s (the period of his adherence to fascism) have been withdrawn, with the instruction that they never be performed, though they still exist under controlled access for study.

dallapiccolaHis works widely use the serialism developed and embraced by his idols; he was, in fact, the first Italian to write in the method, and the primary proponent of it in Italy, and he developed serialist techniques to allow for a more lyrical, tonal style. Throughout the 1930s his style developed from a diatonic style with bursts of chromaticism to a consciously serialist outlook. He went from using twelve-tone rows for melodic material to structuring his works entirely serially. With the adoption of serialism he never lost the feel for melodic line that many of the detractors of the Second Viennese School claimed to be absent in modern dodecaphonic music. His disillusionment with Mussolini's regime effected a change in his style: after the Abyssinian campaign he claimed that his writing would no longer ever be light and carefree as it once was. While there are later exceptions, particularly the Piccolo concerto per Muriel Couvreux, this is largely the case.

Liriche Greche (1942–45), for solo voice with instruments, would be his first work composed entirely in this twelve-tone style, composed concurrently with his last original purely diatonic work, the ballet Marsia (1943). The following decade showed a refinement in his technique and the increasing influence of Webern's work. After this, from the 1950s on, the refined, contemplative style he developed would characterize his output, in contrast to the more raw and passionate works of his youth. Most of his works would be songs for solo voice and instrumental accompaniment. His touch with instrumentation is noted for its impressionistic sensuality and soft textures, heavy on sustained notes by woodwinds and strings (particularly middle-range instruments, such as the clarinet and viola).  [Autograph shown is from the Goethe-Lieder (1953), for mezzo soprano, piccolo clarinet, clarinet, and bass clarinet.]

The politically charged Canti di prigionia for chorus and ensemble was the beginning of a loose triptych on the highly personal themes of imprisonment and injustice; the one-act opera Il prigioniero and the cantata Canti di liberazione completed the trilogy. Of these, Il prigioniero (1944–48) has become Dallapiccola's best-known work. It tells the chilling story of a political prisoner whose jailor, in an apparent gesture of fraternity, allows him to escape from his cell. At the moment of his freedom, however, he finds he has been the victim of a cruel practical joke as he runs straight into the arms of the Grand Inquisitor, who smilingly leads him off to the stake at which he is to be burned alive. The opera's pessimistic outlook reflects Dallapiccola's complete disillusionment with fascism (which he had naïvely supported when Mussolini first came to power) and the music contained therein is both beautifully realized and supremely disquieting.

His final opera Ulisse, with his own libretto after The Odyssey, was the culmination of his life's work. It was composed over 8 years, including and developing themes from his earlier works, and was his last large-scale composition.

BD:    What advice do you have for a young composer today, who says, “I want to write operas”?

HG:    They should not write against the human voice.  You would not write for a trumpet what should be done by a flute, so this is certainly one of the considerations they should have.  Even that is very hard to say, because when Wagner was first performed, people thought nobody can sing it!  Unfortunately, it does need very special singers even to sing Wagner today, but it is certainly nothing that is impossible.  But I would think that the composers should know the human voice basically well.  Bear in mind that if they want to be performed, they will find the right people to do so.  It’s in their interest, as well as the interest of the singers.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    You sang quite a bit of Wagner.  Did you sing all of the Wagner roles that you wanted to sing?

HG:    Yes, because while I sang a great deal of Wagner, I was really not a dramatic mezzo soprano.  The most dramatic roles I sang were Brangäne and Fricka, and those I liked very much.  I did not want to sing an Ortrud, for instance.  That would not have been the right thing for my type of voice.

glazBD:    You also sang Erda?

HG:    Oh yes.  I sang Erda, I sang the Norns and I sang Flosshilde, one of the Rhinemaidens.  I sang all kinds of things other than these two roles, but these are the two major roles which I really love to sing.

BD:    Were you a real contralto or were you a mezzo soprano?

HG:    I was a mezzo soprano, but I had a very good lower range
not a chesty voice like many of my Italian colleagues, but certainly more in the German vein.  So Erda was no difficulty for me, and some of the Mahler was no difficulty for me.  For instance, the Kindertotenlieder I could easily sing.  Sometimes I was called a mezzo soprano, sometimes a contralto, dependent actually on the piece.  It didn’t matter to me, really, what people called me.

BD:    When you were presented with a role and asked to sing it, how did you decide if you would or would not do it?

HG:    It is about the same thing which I advised young composers to do.  It had to fit my voice, you see.  Just because somebody offered something to me, I would not say “Okay, I have to do it.”  For instance, several people wanted me to sing in Cavalleria Rusticana.  I sing Lola, which was fine, but they wanted me to sing Santuzza.  Yes, I could sing it.  There was no range that I couldn’t sing, but it was certainly too dramatic.  I always said, “I want to keep my voice intact.”

BD:    Do you encourage your students, then, to be able to say no to some of these parts?

HG:    Yes.  Absolutely.

BD:    Is it very difficult to say no?

HG:    In life situations, you had better say no than yes!

BD:    [Laughs]  Absolutely.  Let us talk a little bit about some of these roles.  You particularly liked Fricka and Brangäne?

HG:    I also liked Octavian, which unfortunately I never had the opportunity to sing at the Met.  I sing Marina and I loved Cherubino, so there are actually a wide range.  I had really the ability to adjust to the styles.  People probably think of me as a Wagnerian singer.  I never considered myself as a Wagnerian singer.  I considered myself a singer who sang what I could.  I loved Mozart and I loved to sing Dorabella in Così fan tutte.  We are too much inclined to put ourselves into cubby holes and feel that a mezzo soprano is to sing this and this and can’t bridge that line of thought.

BD:    So placing a singer into a Fach is not a good idea?

HG:    I don’t think so.  We find that the singers who have really arrived could choose what they wanted to sing.  For instance, Callas sang all kinds of things, and so do the other people.  I don’t think one has to just sing one particular Fach, as it is called in Germany.  In Germany it’s difficult because they have an ongoing theatre, and they have to have people who sing certain roles and then have then people who sing other roles.  But in general, I think one can sing all kinds of things.

BD:    Did you enjoy playing a boy on stage?

glazHG:    When I was from my fourth to my thirteenth year, I wanted to be an actress.  So anything which created a challenge to be like a chameleon, to change my colors, intrigued me.  I also would like to say something to the young people.  I never thought that there are small roles.  I thought that every role, if properly done, is important and essential to the opera.  For instance, I went to a famous performance of Fidelio a few years ago, which was excellent, except that one singer who came out as a prisoner had one large sentence to sing, and it was god-awful.  It spoiled the whole evening for me.  People should not think they should sing only the major roles.

BD:    Whatever they do, they should do it to the best of their ability?

HG:    They should do it well, and should really involve themselves from every point of view.  When I sang the Page in Salome at the Met, I loved it.  I really thought it is a few beautiful phrases to sing.  If you analyze what this role is, then it becomes practically an important part.  I had many letters about it, and it’s really what people consider a small role.

BD:    Did you change your vocal technique at all when you sang in the large houses, as opposed to the smaller houses?

HG:    No, you can’t.  You shouldn’t do that.  This is really one of the dangers, that if you sing at a big house you have to sing with an enormous voice.  That’s how voices, obviously, get ruined.  No, a good technique means a resonant voice and a well-supported voice, and that should carry.  Some of my colleagues, famous colleagues, had not the biggest voices, but they were the greatest artists.  So no, I don’t think you should change your technique.

BD:    Is there a secret to singing Mozart?

HG:    First of all you have to understand the style very, very much.  You can’t approach a Mozart role as you approach Puccini or Verdi or Wagner.  It has a specific style, and you have to have the technique and ability to sing both.  Many of my colleagues did, for instance Eleanor Steber.  She sang Mozart and she sang Verdi both very well.  She did not basically change her technique, but she certainly was able to change the style.

BD:    You also sang some Verdi roles, did you not?

HG:    Yes.  Not very dramatic ones, but I sang Maddalena in Rigoletto.

BD:    [Gently protesting]  Did you not sing Amneris???

HG:    Yes, I made my debut as Amneris, now that you remind me of it!  I think I sang it well and I think I acted it well, but people were really accustomed
and I think rightfully, in a wayto hear very lush and big voices for it.  I sang it afterwards a number of times at smaller houses but not at the Metropolitan.  Speaking of singing the same way in small or big houses — which you just asked meit depends, really, on the roles.  I thought that I did not have the right voice for Amneris in a big house like the Metropolitan.  I had the right understanding of the music.  For instance, I sang the Verdi Requiem a number of times.  That’s a very different story.  I really loved and I think I could do that very well.  The audiences were also accustomed at that time, when I made my debut, to hearing the big Italian mezzo sopranos such as Stignani and Elmo, to name just a few.  These people had really enormous voices, which I did not have.

BD:    So then you chose not only the roles carefully, but considered where you would sing each role?

HG:    Yes, that’s right.  I sang with delight many roles at the San Francisco Opera which I would not have wanted to sing at the Met, because the house is smaller.  The acoustics are excellent, so this was perfectly fine.

BD:    Is the audience different from city to city?

HG:    Probably not anymore today because they are accustomed to listening so much to performers whom everybody hears now.  I don’t think there’s anybody who doesn’t hear a Pavarotti or a Domingo or a Battle.  Those who are interested are maybe more sophisticated.  In New York and in Los Angeles and San Francisco or Chicago, the audience is maybe more sophisticated.

BD:    Tell me about your recollections of singing here in Chicago. 

HG:    Ah, very fine recollections.  It was actually the beginning of my career.  I had sung in the States before.  My very first performance was in Los Angeles with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Otto Klemperer, when I sang Das Lied von der Erde of Mahler, but I had no management at that time.  Then I came back to the United States with a group, the Salzburg International Opera.  We were a group of young people; none of us was over thirty, and we all made careers.  Alberto Erede was the musical director, a young, inexperienced man, but a marvelous musician already.


Alberto Erede (8 November 1909 – 12 April 2001) was an Italian conductor, particularly associated with operatic work.

Born in Genoa, Erede studied there before studying in Milan, then with Felix Weingartner at Basle, and after this with Fritz Busch at Dresden. He made his debut in Turin in 1935, conducting Der Ring des Nibelungen. He also conducted at the Salzburg Festival. Fritz Busch invited him to Glyndebourne in England, where he conducted several performances before the war. He went back to England after the war, in 1946, to become music director of the New London Opera Company. From 1950 to 1955 he conducted at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York. From 1956 he was at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein and was the musical director there from 1958 to 1962. He conducted Wagner's Lohengrin at Bayreuth in 1968, being the first Italian to appear there since Arturo Toscanini. In 1985 he made guest appearances in Sydney with the Australian Opera. 

Erede conducted the earlier series of Italian opera on long-playing Decca Records featuring Renata Tebaldi and the Accademia di Santa Cecilia (Rome) Orchestra and Chorus, during the 1950s.

We started very thoroughly and we made a wonderful tour of 80 cities here and in Canada.  When I was stranded in the United States after our last performance, the German army had moved into Austria, so I stayed here.  Then I had no management.  My first opportunity was because another singer called off a season in which she had to sing Brangäne and Fricka in Chicago with Flagstad, Melchior, Marjorie Lawrence, Kipnis.  So that was something.  I got such wonderful response, and to sing next to the greatest artists was marvelous encouragement for me!  Then I got a manager, and from there on it went very well.  I sang a great deal of lieder recitals
— not only lieder, but French repertoire.  These were just song recitals.  I also sang a great deal of oratorio.  I sang with all of the great conductors in this country.  So I did not only have an opera career, and that is also something which I try to make my young singers understand.  The field is a bigger one than just operaif you are a good musician, and if you really have the understanding of what you sing.

BD:    Do we still have the opportunities for these Liederabend?

HG:    Gail Dubinbaum is now on a tour, and sings twenty recitals.  These are through organizations such as the Community Concerts.  They still have concerts, but in the big cities it’s really only for the big names, and unfortunately some of them don’t present sophisticated programs people want to hear.  They only sing arias and this and that.  Songs are a little bit out of style.  I think you should keep to a certain idea and form, and not mix them up.  I’m giving classes on Hugo Wolf, Mahler, and Richard Strauss for our graduate students, and we’re trying to involve the public as well.  I really hope that people would then gain more understanding of the enjoyment they can have with these miniature dramas.  Each song tells a whole story, a whole feeling.  Throughout the evening you travel through the world.  You travel through nature; you travel through disappointments and joyful events.  It shows all the human aspects, the whole feelings and experiences we all can have.  I think it’s wonderful!

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Are you pleased with the recordings that you made?

HG:    Yes, I am pleased with the recordings.  Of course compared to today, they were very pure, I would say.  There was no amplification.  There was no echo added to it.  We didn’t have the chance to cut things out.  It was really like a performance.

BD:    Is that a better way of making them?

HG:    I think it is a better way than the concocted things which are so perfect now, which in reality doesn’t exist.  There is nobody who wouldn’t say after a live performance, “Well, it was very good, but here and there and there!  Next time I’ll do that and that.”  It adds the spontaneity.  But yes, I am pleased with what I did on records.  One of the difficulties, actually, with contemporary recording is that they are too perfect in every way.  Then if the person goes to a performance of the same piece, it just can’t be the same thing!  From an acoustic point of view it’s not the same, and certainly not from the perfection.  It just doesn’t exist.  Also it depends where you sit in the hall.  It depends on all kinds of things like your own mood and on your participation.  I hear many people who say, “Oh, I don’t go to performances.  I take the recordings and sit at home.”  I think they are missing a great deal.

BD:    Were you involved in any complete-opera recordings?


HG:    I made recordings of songs and chamber music things.  I was involved in opera recordings at the Metropolitan, and in some of these broadcasts which they brought out.  I also made the second-act recording of Tristan with Traubel and Torsten Ralf, [see photo above] but I didn’t make the big recordings as they are today, unfortunately.  But I will in my next life!  [Both laugh]

BD:    So you are going to come back as another singer?

HG:    Oh, there is no question about it.

BD:    Will you come back as the same kind of singer, or a different voice type?

HG:    I haven’t decided.  I think still I have a little time to decide on that.  [Laughs]

BD:    You mentioned the Tristan, so let us stay with the Wagner roles a little bit.  You sang Fricka in both Rheingold and Walküre?

HG:    Yes, but mainly in the Walküre.

BD:    How is she different from one opera to the next?

HG:    In the Rheingold there is much more what you might call a recitative style.  It is not such a continuous piece as Fricka has in the Walküre, where she really has a dramatic role.  It is not an aria, obviously, because Wagner didn’t write arias at that period.  He had arias in Tannhäuser and Lohengrin.  So it is different, but the character is no different.  The character is a continuation.  In Rheingold she wants to have that beautiful house, first of all.  She wants to live in a beautiful house, and then she hopes that her husband will stay home.  In Walküre things turn out very differently.  The husband roamed around in spite of the house, and she reproached him terribly.  Also he has children with other people than her.  I don’t even know whether Fricka had any children; it is never said.  Maybe he left her because she didn’t have children.  I never thought about that and I don’t know whether Wagner did.

BD:    All of these characters are from legends or from myths.  Is it easier to portray characters who are taken from real life, rather than mythological characters?

HG:    I don’t see these as mythological characters.  They were put into the clothes of goddesses.  Actually, I think the characters can be understood from our modern time as well, from a philosophical point and from an economic point.  A lot has been said about Wagner and the injustices
— when he talks about the dwarves and they all labor and labor and labor, and the giants who build something and keep it.  What he really proved is that these are undoings; they’re not holding contracts.  That’s how it kicks back, how it really ruins a society.  The gods eventually have a Götterdämmerung.  They disappear; they have to — they are gone.  They didn’t live up to morality and ethics.  From a philosophical point, this can be translated into any time.  This is actually something some of the directors today try to do, such as in the Chéreau Ring from Bayruethexcept my feeling is one doesn’t have to put somebody into an evening gown in order to make it contemporary.  This is something which I don’t believe in.  I don’t think that the Rhinemaidens have to be under a bridge.  It doesn’t make it clearer.  Why Wagner chose mythological stories is probably because this is exactly what he did not want.

BD:    So, you feel that updating the staging doesn’t help the musical line at all?

HG:    I think updating is good to a certain point, because we certainly can’t have scenery the way Wagner had it.  This would be ludicrous.  Who would want to see Aïda the way it was done in Cairo at the first performance?  Certain tastes have changed, but basically it’s not really necessary to update it, to bring it in our time because I don’t think it helps.  What Wieland Wagner did after the war was really superb, I thought.  He took all of the false dreamings away and brought the characters out, but he didn’t change the time, necessarily.  I thought it was wonderful, what he did.

BD:    Did you sing at Bayreuth at all?

HG:    No, unfortunately not.  My career was really more or less during a time when Europe was inaccessible for me and for many others.  I had started a career in Europe, and then I moved here and I didn’t go back.

BD:    You were very fortunate that you were here during the war, so that you could continue singing.

HG:    That was just one of the most fortunate things, really, in every respect.  I love this country, and I am totally dedicated to it.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Tell me a little bit about Brangäne.  She is somewhat of a complex character, is she not?

HG:    She is like so many characters in opera; she devotes herself to one person.  She’s totally devoted to Isolde without any concern about herself, and being so devoted, she makes mistakes.  She is told to put a certain drug into the goblet, and she on her own is frightened and she does something else.

glazBD:    Does she really believe that she is doing the right thing in making the substitution?

HG:    I think, maybe.  Consciously or unconsciously, she might have known that they really love each other.  But it’s hard to say that because Isolde later says, “Oh you are just ridiculous to say that it was your drought.  It was our love which brought us together, no matter what you would put into it.  If you would have put poison into it, we would have died.”

BD:    You say that Brangäne is devoted to one person.  Would she have been devoted to a husband if that had been the situation?

HG:    That I don’t know.  We have people now who devote themselves to a certain person.  For instance, the woman who worked with Helen Keller; she devoted her whole life to one human being.  There are people who feel that their help is more important than their own individual happiness derived from their own marriage.

BD:    Did Brangäne, then, get her own happiness vicariously through the happiness of Isolde?

HG:    Actually she lived Isolde’s life in a certain way.  She lived through every phase of her troubles and turbulent feelings.  She lived with her and through her.

BD:    You also sang a couple of Norns?

HG:    Yes, the second Norn.  I sang it, not very often, but I did sing it.

BD:    Is that a satisfying part to sing?

HG:    As I told you before, it’s only if you can’t do well that it is not gratifying.  It’s a part of a big picture.  You can’t take one corner of a masterpiece out and block it off!  It all belongs together.

BD:    Did you ever sing Waltraute?

HG:    Yes.  Unfortunately, not often enough.  I really loved that part!  It’s a wonderful, wonderful role!  Very beautiful.

BD:    On the night that you would sing Waltraute, did you also sing a Norn?

HG:    No.

BD:    Just one or the other, but not both?

HG:    One or the other, yes.

BD:    Tell me about Waltraute.  Does she really have any hope for Brünnhilde?  Does she think that she can persuade Brünnhilde when she comes to her?

HG:    I think so.  She is devoted very much to her father.  She implores, “Come back, come back and sit with us around at his feet, and don’t go your own way.”

BD:    Which role in the whole repertoire did you sing the most?

HG:    In my whole repertoire?  Oh God, that is hard to say.  I didn’t count.  I had no time to count.  I was too busy!  [Laughs]  If you ask me which role I feel I did very well, it was certainly Brangäne.  I also liked to sing Carmen, which I unfortunately had no opportunity to sing at the Met.  But there are many roles.  As I stipulated before, I was really happy with what I could do well.  If I couldn’t do something well, then obviously I didn’t like it.  I didn’t mind at all to sing Mrs. Sedley in Peter Grimes.  I wanted to be a part of it; I wanted to be in the drama.  Whatever was assigned to me, I tried to really justify the role and create as much as possible.  I went back and I read a great deal about it.  I didn’t take these things lightly.  Whatever I sang, I really studied it from every angle, from the musical as well as the dramatic.

glazBD:    And that’s what you encourage you students to do now?

HG:    Absolutely!  They have to deal with the content; they have to deal with the text; they have to read the words and understand why the composer composed it that way and not another way.  They have to know exactly why they should take a breath here.  What does it mean?  Is it important to the piece?  If the composer wanted it, then certainly it’s important, but you have to have the ability to interpret it. 

BD:    Is there ever a case where a role can be overanalyzed?

HG:    My response to learning something was that I got, at first, an impact and an impression.  I got a basic impression of the text as well as the music.  Then I really tried to be exact with both, and when I understood both, I went back to that first feeling and was able to really do a good job without being pedantic.  I had incorporated the details.

BD:    Let me ask a big philosophical question.  What do you feel is the ultimate purpose of music in society?

HG:    As far as music goes, it is really an international language.  I am completely amazed at my two Chinese singers, how they understand western music.  It’s just unbelievable!  They are both young.  They both went through the cultural revolution, had no education there, heard a little bit of music.  Both played the piano.  They were very soon geared to western music, but how they understand it is just incredible!  I think this is true, actually, all over the world.  This bridges nationalities and colors.  This is one thing which I think is marvelous.  The other thing, in general, the arts are really somewhat a salvation of this crazy world of ours.  For instance, Schubert, Mozart, Hugo Wolf, Haydn and all of the great masters of Austria represent Austria infinitely more than their history, where so much foolishness and cruelty was committed.  Not only Austria, but I speak in general, that nations go to war and they are destructive and they are very much materialistic-minded.  But the arts really survive.  They carry things on and over, and that, I think, is very good.  That’s the purpose of it today.  It lifts the people above their ordinary life.

BD:    Really, it’s a philosophy of life, is it not?

HG:    I feel so.  There are two things which really make my life meaningful, and that is the arts in general and nature.  Music is special, but I am interested in creative art of other sorts including the theatre.  I am  also very, very geared to the outdoors.  I love the outdoors.  It enriches me; it strengthens me.  So these are really the two things which are meaningful.  I am happy that I live comfortably, but this was never my aim.  I was never geared toward possessions as such.

BD:    I am glad that you are still able to bring these thoughts and these ideas to the young people today in the master classes.

HG:    With my students, I have a very, very good relationship.  We are all good friends, and they are good friends among each other.  There is no mean rivalry, as one very often finds.  They feel like a family.  They can come to me, and we have evenings together where we talk about things other than music, and how we relate the arts and their future careers.  A teacher should be more than just a technical teacher; you should also be really a mentor.

BD:    I want to thank you for spending the time with me this afternoon chatting about all of this.  I have learned a great deal, and have gotten a great deal of insight into your ideas.

HG:    Oh, I am so happy that you called.  I really appreciate it.  I hope we will meet one of these days.

BD:    That would be lovely.  That would be absolutely lovely.

HG:    So if you come this way, don’t forget to call on me.

BD:    I certainly will, but I’m afraid when we get to the west coast we head north.  We have been to Seattle and then up to Alaska.

HG:    Ah, isn’t that gorgeous?

BD:    That it is.  It is absolutely beautiful up there.

HG:    We made an extensive trip there with a small group of people.  We went up quite high to Mount McKinley.  We were inland, but we went quite far.  We were just a small group.

BD:    It is absolutely beautiful up there!  We have been there twice, and we hope that we can go back again and again.

HG:    Oh, it is fabulous.  Just fabulous country!


© 1988 Bruce Duffie

This interview was recorded on the telephone on February 7, 1988.  Segments were used (with recordings) on WNIB later that year, and again in 1993 and 1998.  A copy was also provided for use by Schoemaker's Opera Group in New York City.  The transcription was made and posted on this website in 2013.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.

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.