THE  FIRST  DIGITAL  TRISTAN

By Bruce Duffie


A Talk With the Maestro, the Hero and the Boss

[From Wagner News, Vol. IX, No. 1, February 1982]


goodall



A new recording of Tristan and Isolde is a very special happening, and a first-ever set in digital sound is even more spectacular.  Just such a thing has come from a perhaps unlikely source – the Welsh National Opera.  With assistance from Amoco, a production was mounted in the theater and subsequently recorded using the new digital process.  A striking feature of this venture is the lack of star-names in the cast, so the immediate interest rests with the conductor – Reginald Goodall.  In recent years, Maestro Goodall has become something of a cult-figure, leading spectacular accounts of the Ring and Die Meistersinger – or more properly The Mastersingers.  With casts of British singers of moderate renown, these productions of the English National Opera (formerly the Sadler’s Wells) caused a great stir in operatic circles.  Doing the Ring in an international house with established stars is difficult enough, but in translation and with repertory singers?  The skeptics came and were convinced.  The singing was first-rate, the sets were impressive and the playing of the orchestra was inspired.  Inspired by whom?  The man responsible was Reginald Goodall, whose broad tempos gave a scope and sweep to the works that brought comparisons with Knappertsbusch and Furtwängler.  As it happens, Goodall worked with Furtwängler for about three years, but has spent most of his time in England at Covent Gardens and at the Wells.  He has coached numerous singers and conducted performances of many works.  In 1945, he led the world premiere of Peter Grimes.  Though he often complains that he is getting too old for this or that (he was born in 1905), he continues to inspire and lead the largest works of Wagner.  Most recently, he was involved in two different productions of Tristan – one in the new Andrew Porter translation for the ENOC, and another in the original German for the Welsh National Opera.  [See my Interview with Andrew Porter.]

Since Amoco put up much of the money for the Welsh production and the recording, it seemed natural for them to unveil their efforts to America at the corporate headquarters in Chicago.  So, Reginald Goodall, John Mitchinson, Linda Esther Gray and Brian McMaster (the conductor, Tristan, Isolde, and General Administrator of the opera company) came for a couple of days to the Windy City.  We kept them busy – a press conference, several interviews, Fidelio at Lyric Opera and a concert of the Chicago Symphony!  It was my privilege to spend an hour with three of the honored guests – Miss Gray had to leave early, so I chatted with the Maestro, the Hero and the Boss.  Mr. McMaster had to attend to other arrangements, so he made the introductions and then returned midway through our conversation.

In the previous interviews in this series for Wagner News, I have only talked with one guest at a time, so the conversation simply went back and forth.  This time I had three guests, and the conversation was passed around as conversations usually are.  So rather than confuse things in the printed text, just be careful and watch who’s talking.  I wish I could convey on the printed page their cheery voices – the rich ring from the tenor, the wise old voice of the conductor and the calm, patient voice of the administrator.  As always, the discussion ranged far and wide, and here is much of that very interesting hour…


Bruce Duffie:  One of the things that fascinated me about the recording was that it is in German.  Maestro Goodall, you are famous for doing Wagner in English.  How do you feel about translations?

Reginald Goodall: I think the immediacy for people hearing it in their own language and understanding it, has a great effect.  It deepens the whole impact.

BD:  Do you find it brings you closer to the audience?

Goodall:  Yes, especially in works like the Ring with all that repartee, for instance, between Wotan and Mime.

BD:  You’ve done it in both the original German and in Andrew Porter’s translation.  What is the change for you as a conductor?

goodallGoodall:  [Photo at right]  When one does it in English, you feel you’re three people together: the singers, the orchestra, and the public.  We’re all enjoying it together.  At Covent Garden (where it’s done in the original German), I get the feeling that we’re making a performance and the public has come to see it, whereas at the Coliseum (where it’s done in an English translation), they become a part of the performance.

BD:  With this in mind, is there a validity for doing Tristan in German for English-speaking audiences?

Goodall:  There’s this whole problem of sound in Tristan – the vowels fit the notes he wrote and I think you lose something in the English.  Wagner said of Tristan, “It’s a cry, nothing but a cry.  One needs to hear that in the voice all the way through.  She must cry like a woman and not like a hausfrau.  But that’s coming to the “art” end of opera, not the purely musical end.

BD:  Do the acoustics of the various houses play a part in this?  Are some houses not suited to Wagner?

Goodall:  Yes, it can be very poor for Wagner. 

BD:  How do you overcome this – or can you?

Goodall:  I don’t think that you can.  For instance, I think Covent Garden is very dry – at least for Wagner.  The Coliseum, though, is magnificent.

BD:  There, everything is in English so the acoustics have to be better.

Goodall:  Yes.

BD:  Are there times when you do an opera in English and the words don’t come across, and it might have been better to have done it in the original?

Goodall:  Yes, there are, very much so.  I think that happened in our Tristan at the Coliseum – the words didn’t come across.

BD:   Is this the same problem for male singers as with female singers?

Goodall:  It’s much more of a problem with the female singers.

BD:  [To the tenor]  How do you enjoy singing the role of Tristan?

John Mitchinson: I did 16 performances for the Welsh National Opera over a period of 18 months, and it was the most fulfilling two years of my life – learning the part and then performing it.

BD:  How is Maestro Goodall different from other major conductors – or is that an indelicate question?

Mitchinson:  I don’t think it’s an indelicate question at all.  He gets to the root of the matter.  I started by opening the first page of the score with him, and for me it paid great dividends.  We built up this tremendous relationship.


*     *     *     *     *


BD:  How has opera evolved over the last 30 or 40 years – how is Wagner different today?

Goodall:  Well, Wagner wouldn’t be different, would he?  I find the young people are so much more knowledgeable today – more sensible.  They know more about it than does oneself which is terrible! (Note: This remark produced laughter all around.)

BD:  Is this just Wagner, or opera in general?

Goodall:  I think probably all of opera.

Mitchinson:  More people tend to specialize today in one particular period.

BD:  Is this due in part to recordings?

GR:  I think that has a lot to do with it, yes.

BD:  Do you find it satisfying to make recordings?

Goodall:  I didn’t until this time.  Always before I’ve recorded just from live performances, and I like this being able to stop and correct things.  I think we had a very good producer – Andrew Cornell. 

Mitchinson:  He was tremendous – completely unflappable.  We had a bit of trouble because the Isolde was sick for the whole of the first week of recording.

BD:  You did a lot of Act III, then?

Mitchinson:  I did 23 hours of recording in that one week – the whole of Act III, all my scenes in Act I, a lot of the love duet of Act II and even my part of the Act I duet just in case.  There were eight weeks between the two weeks of recording, and I might have taken ill.

BD:  Are you happy with the recording as it now stands?

Goodall:  Yes, I think it’s come out quite well.  There are always things one wants to change…

BD:  If this recording had been set up to be done in English, would that have made a difference to you?

Goodall:  Yes, I think it would.  It was different at the Coliseum.  For instance, take a man like Gwynne Howell who’s sung Marke in German umpteen times all over the continent and at Covent Garden.  Suddenly he realized his full potential by doing it in his own language; he gave an added something.  I think it’s the same thing with the Germans singing in English.  Hotter wouldn’t reach his full potential singing it in English.

BD:  Did you see those performances in the late 40’s of Walküre at Covent Garden?

Goodall:  Yes, yes, and those were in English with Hotter and Flagstad.

BD:  Were those performances successful? 

Goodall:  That’s hard to say.  I don’t think they were as successful as they should have been because the Covent Garden audience is pretty snobby.  Although they didn’t understand a word of German, they expected it to be in that language.

BD:  Was the diction from Flagstad and Hotter acceptable – could you understand it?

Goodall:  Yes.  Some of the singers who were singing in English (I won’t mention names) were very hard to understand, but I thought Hotter and Flagstad were very successful.

BD:  Have you done Parsifal in English?

Goodall:  No.

BD:  You’ve done it in German and I wondered if it would work in translation.

Goodall:  That should be in English.  It’s like Tristan, especially in the first act First Act with all that narration of Gurnemanz.

BD:  Is Wagner fun?

Goodall:  Fun? No!!

BD:  Do you find Wagner fun to sing?

Mitchinson:  I find it a great challenge, and I must say I had possibly more happiness actually during our rehearsals.  I don’t know if that’s fun. We had a lot of laughs and did a lot of singing. 

Goodall:  But in performance… you don’t enjoy it do you?  It’s a responsibility.

Mitchinson:  It’s a tremendous responsibility, but terribly fulfilling.  We did Tristan every Saturday night for about eight weeks, and I always said that Tristan was a week’s work.  It took me until Wednesday at breakfast to get over last Saturday’s performance, and at 10 A.M. Wednesday you started worrying about next Saturday’s performance.  It really is like that.

BD:  Do you find that in operas by other composers?

Mitchinson:  No, I don’t think so.  I’m a Stravinsky man and Janáček man and a kind of early Schoenberg man, but I don’t find the same kind of mental, spiritual challenge that I do with Tristan.  I think Peter Grimes has the same sort of effect on me, but I don’t worry about Grimes.  He is a terribly inward character.

BD:  Is he neurotic?

Mitchinson:  Yes, I think he is neurotic to a certain extent.  That has the same sort of mental effect on me, but of course it’s not in such large proportions.

BD:  You conducted the first performance of Grimes.  Was it successful right from the start?

Goodall:  The performance was, yes, but not the rehearsals.

BD:  How did the public receive it in 1945?

Goodall:  Oh very well – we were amazed – not that we thought it wasn’t a great opera, but we thought it was going to be an absolute flop.

BD:  Why?

Goodall:  In those days Sadler’s Wells was all bogged down with the standard repertory kind of operas, but they wanted to re-open with a new opera by an Englishman; very patriotic, you know…

BD:  Are all musicians the servants of the composer?

Goodall:  As a general rule, I would think we ought to be.  I think we ought to be above all, yes.

BD:  Is the composer the servant of mankind?

Goodall:  Yes, I would think that, too.  It’s not his own spirit he’s given us, it’s God-given.  I think we’re all in life to serve mankind in our various ways, whatever one does.


*     *     *     *     *


BD:  How much influence on you are the prose writings of Wagner?

Goodall:  Quite a lot.

BD:  Do those writings alter your judgment about some of the musical pieces?

Goodall:  Perhaps not alter the judgment, but it opens your mind more to what he was getting at.

BD:  Let me ask you about the end of Götterdämmerung – what is the ultimate meaning of the last five minutes?

Goodall:  I think Wagner was under the influence of Cosima and the conditions at that time.  He ended in the spirit of a certain optimism.  But I agree with the original theme where Brünnhilde says, “Again go through this hell of life?  No!”  I think Schopenhauer formed all Wagner’s philosophy.  He was behind it, behind Tristan certainly.  Life is cruel, yes. 

BD:  Do you bring a certain cruelty, then, to the end of the Ring?

Goodall:  Oh, no, not what he’s got now.  Wagner leaves it open – there will be a re-birth again.  But originally, I’m sure Cosima and the conditions at that time, even King Ludwig might not have appreciated it.  They might not have had the strength to face up to the pessimism of Schopenhauer.  A certain happy ending must come…

BD:  There have been times when Don Giovanni has been produced without the happy ending finale – it is left with the death of Giovanni.  Do you agree with that or is that a mistake?

Goodall:  No, I agree with it, but I happen to have a pessimistic outlook.

BD:  Really!  Are you pessimistic about the future of opera?

Goodall:  Yes, I am.

BD:  Why?

Goodall:  I think we’ve come to the end of the road, you see.  People don’t come to all these new operas which are offered, and if people don’t come, what do they perform for?

BD:  Should the public be satisfied to hear the same old operas over and over again?

Goodall:  I think there are millions of people in England who’ve only heard Bohème once, if that.  I suppose it’s quite a small number.  How many people have heard the Ring completely out of the total population?  Or Parsifal?


*     *     *     *     *


BD:  Let’s talk a bit about productions.  It seems now that we’ve gone away from the naturalistic, realistic productions of Wagner and of other works.  Are we pulling the operas out of shape with these kinds of productions?

Goodall:  I don’t think so; I think we’re making them deeper.  We’re getting to the aesthetic.  The inner meaningI wouldn’t say religiousis much more important now.

BD:  Are we making them deeper, or are we finding more depth in them?

Goodall:  We’re finding more depth in them.  The producers are searching for more depth, and I’m all for these new approacheseven if they’re wrong in a wayas long as one’s searching for it.

BD:  How much authority can the conductor have?  Can you say, “This is wrong, we shouldn’t do it.”?

Goodall:  If you engage a producer who’s supposed to have a name and you start altering his conception, aren’t you spoiling it?  What if the producer came to me and said I must take the opera at a certain tempo?  I think you must get the right producer and let him work.

mitchinsonMitchinson:  [Photo at left]  But isn’t it all a question of human relationships – whether one is attuned or on the same wave length with the other person?

BD:  How do the different productions affect you as a singer?

Mitchinson:  Well, you’re talking to one who has not done all that much staged opera.  I was a concert singer for a heck of a long time, and actually Tristan was my seventh major opera on stage.  I’ve done many broadcasts for the BBC archives – in fact having done so many rarely–heard works for the BBC, I think I’ve got the biggest repertoire of useless roles of anybody in the world! 

BD:  Then let me ask this: does your approach change when you do operas in concert form?

Mitchinson:  We did a concert performance of Tristan at Snape, Aldeborough, and it was absolute magic.  We just stood there and made music.

BD:  Do you find, then, that recordings are very much like concert work?

Goodall:  Yes.  One can get into more of the interpretation.  The singers are right there, not at the back of the stage a long way away.  Something surely goes, and that something in music is so important.

BD:  But opera is supposed to be music and drama together – doesn’t concert opera lose a bit of the drama?

Goodall:  I agree in a way, but when you say drama... (Maestro Goodall begins to sing the love music from Tristan) ...when the lights go down and these two are left in a pool and the world has disappeared, that is magic if you can get it, but when do you get it?  It happened at Bayreuth – Wieland Wagner had it with the orchestra out of sight.

BD:  Is that the ideal way to do Wagner – with the orchestra out of sight?

Goodall:  Yes, I think so.  Who wants to see a conductor waving about?  (Note:  I mentioned that some people come just to watch the conductor, and this provoked a gale of laughter from the maestro!)

BD:  Would that way of producing operaswith the orchestra out of sightbe correct for La Boheme?

Goodall:  I’m not sure about that; people have said no.  It’s a different atmosphere, a different world.  I think the true opera-lovers know what they’re going to see.

BD:  How do we get more people to become true opera-lovers?

Mitchinson:  I think the whole world of the arts suffers at the education level in the formative years.  There is not enough attention paid to teaching the youngsters of today the truly basic good things in life.  The way music is taught in schoolsand this is fairly general at the momentthe students laugh at it.  It is not presented in a good way.

BD:  How can you present a course in opera to 12-year-olds?

Mitchinson:  It’s a very difficult question, but I think music and movement would be very valuable.  Start with Hansel and Gretel types and work up and up, doing things in translation where necessary.  Children have got to be educated.  It’s no use for an opera house opening its doors saying this performance is specially for children unless the staff at the school have spent some time preparing the children for what they will experience.  Write out a little scenario and get the kids to act it so that they feel part of the plot.  It seems silly to me that it’s not done, especially since people continue to have more and more leisure times on their hands.

BD:  Is opera really for leisure time?

Mitchinson:  Oh, yes.  I don’t think I’m an educator at all; I think I’m a performer.

BD:  You don’t put opera on a pedestal and say, “This is Great Art?”

Mitchinson:  Why of course it’s great art.

BD:  Is great art also entertainment?

Mitchinson:  Yes, it is indeed. I’m entertained by going to an opera.  Aren’t you?

BD:  I find myself more invigorated than entertained; more stimulated…

Mitchinson:  Aren’t you invigorated or stimulated by going to a baseball game?

BD:  Sometimes.

Mitchinson:  There you are.  We’re all entertainers, really.  We’re no better and no worse than the performing dog at the circus.

BD:  A trained seal?

Mitchinson:  Yes… Sometimes they make better noises than we do… (Laughter all around)

BD:  (to Goodall)  Do you enjoy being a seal-trainer?  (More laughter all around)  Seriously, when you are teaching a role to a singer, what do you look for?

Goodall:  So many things… the meaning of the words, the sound of the music, actual notes, the intonation…

*     *     (At this point, Brian McMaster returned and joined the conversation)     *     *


BD:  You are the General Administrator of the Welsh National Opera.  Does that mean you are responsible for choosing repertoire and singers?

mcmasterBrian McMaster:  [Photo at left]  Yes.

BD:  Then you are the one to ask this question – where is opera going today?

McMaster:  Well, I suppose it’s becoming more and more of a museum.  This is something that worries Reggie.  Opera is getting farther and farther away from audiences.  Obviously that’s platitudinous, and somehow somebody’s got to do something to work it out.  Nobody’s writing popular new operas.

BD:  Should new operas be, necessarily, popular?

McMaster:  There’s no point in creating anything that doesn’t appeal, that doesn’t have an audience.

BD:  Are there any operas that you feel are masterpieces that the audience hates?

Goodall:  No, I think the ones that are masterpieces are produced and mean something to people.   

McMaster:  I think there are works in existence that probably are masterpieces where there still is a gag of acceptability.  Die Soldaten by Zimmermann is probably a case in point.  I think it is a blazing masterpiece, but it’s still difficult.  I gather that the Frankfurt production was a big success with a large and young audience, and that’s important.  But Zimmermann died ten years ago…

BD:  Will the same audience that comes and cheers for Die Soldaten come and cheer for Tristan or Poppea?

McMaster:  Yes, I don’t think that matters particularly.  Opera is a wide art form – it’s like books.  Books cover a multitude of sins; opera covers a multitude of sins.  It’s a major art form and a very wide-ranging one.  You don’t have an audience for Wagner and another for Monteverdi.  I don’t think that matters particularly, as long as there is an audience.  My point is that there seems to be no audience at all for some of the new pieces that are being written.

BD:  Does the audience for Wagner go to Monteverdi?

McMaster:  Oh, some do.  I like both, but it’s worrying that composers are turning away from the opera house and are going more toward the concert halls and chamber ensembles.

BD:  If you could go to a composer and dictate items that you would like in a new opera, would that help make it a great opera?

Mitchinson:  If we did it wouldn’t be his opera. 

McMaster:  I think that’s right.  You rely on the creator to create and expound with ideas into a new art form.  That is essentially his job.

Mitchinson:  And there are tremendous problems to be met with in every new role, and it’s my job to get over them.  If I stipulated what I wanted, I would possibly get an opera written without any hurdles at all, which wouldn’t be worth singing.

BD:  Is this the spark of the interpreter – to take something that is impossible and bring it off?

Mitchinson:  Yes!  Yes, surely!

BD:  How do you decide which new roles you will sing?

Mitchinson:  I’m not an ambitious man in the sense that I’ve never planned a career.  Others say they will sing certain roles by a certain age and other roles by a later age.  I’ve done a lot of concert operas for the BBC and much concert and recital repertoire.  I tend to take what is offered to me and look at it, and then say yes or no.

BD:  How do you decide when to say “no?”

Mitchinson:  It can be a combination of things – whether one is going to be overworking or not, and whether the actual character suites my particular personality; a combination really.

BD:  Are you going to do more Wagner?

Mitchinson:  I’ve no idea. 

Goodall:  He did Siegmund with me about ten years ago and I would very much like to do more with him.

Mitchinson:  We get on very well together.  We had a joke which shows the relationship we had all through the rehearsals of Tristan:  I used to disappear for a couple of days during rehearsals – it was all planned and Mr. McMaster knew about it, but not Mr. Goodall.  I was accused then of popping up to Huddersfield for a sausage supper! 

McMaster:  It was, of course, completely OK to most people, but to Mr. Goodall it was completely unreasonable.

BD:  Are singers by and large unreasonable?

Goodall:  No, I don’t think so.  They’re like children in a way, but I think the idea that singers, especially tenors, are generally stupid is ridiculous.  Quite frankly, all the tenors I’ve met and had the good fortune to deal with have been very intelligent.

BD:  Are the tenors better today than they were 40 to 50 years ago?

Goodall:  When I read about them they seem to have been very vain years ago…

Mitchinson:  I think we’ve got to work far harder these days then they had to.  My old teacher was Heddle Nash, and he could go around the country for two years with maybe twelve operatic arias, three operatic roles, four oratorios, and one recital program.  That would suffice him for two years, but now you can’t do that.  I’ve got to sing everything from baroque composers to Gurrelieder, and now Wagner and things like Lehar.  I don’t get the opportunity to sing Monteverdi, though I’d like to.  We really have to go through the whole spectrum, and you’ve got to really know it because of the demands.  The jet plane has done a lot to kill off more singers than anything else.  I remember getting a call at my home in Glausteshire and 26 hours later I was rehearsing Beatrice and Benedict with Ozawa in San Francisco.  Five days after that I’d done three performances and was back home.

BD:  Is it too much?

Mitchinson:  Yes, of course it is.  There’s no way you can sing Handel or Bach one night and Berlioz or Wagner the next.

BD:  Whose fault is it that singers have these kinds of schedules?

Mitchinson:  It’s the singer’s fault because the hardestbut most usefulword to say is “no.”

*     *     *     *     *


BD:  What is the ideal way to distribute the Ring operas?

Goodall:  I think what Wagner laid down is quite good – like at Bayreuth.  Monday and Tuesday, then Thursday, then Saturday.  Under these conditions, people are doing nothing else – just resting, rather than coming after a hard day’s work. 

BD:  Is it a mistake for the public to come to the opera after beating their brains out working all day?

Goodall:  That is what happens in London, isn’t it?

BD:  It happens all over the world. 

Goodall:  Yes, but not at Bayreuth.  You can rest in the morning, or read.  That’s how I spend my time. 

Mitchinson:  This is where the “entertainment” value comes in.

Goodall:  Wagner had the Greek idea of the theater, that it is a religious ceremony, and that people devoted their whole life to it.

BD:  For me, personally, it’s such an experience that I take the day off when I’m going to the theater; then the opera becomes the day’s event. 

Goodall:  That’s ideal.  But of course you wouldn’t do that for Cav and Pag would you?  There’s not enough substance in those.  (This provokes laughter all around.)

BD:  Let me ask you about the Flying Dutchman.  Should it be done in one piece or three?

Goodall:  I’ve not done it enough to say.  I rather like it in three, but that’s only because I’ve gotten used to it at Covent Garden.  I heard it in one at Bayreuth, of course, and there’s an obvious reason why they do it that way there – it works well.  But I don’t think I’d like to speak about it musically at the moment. 

BD:  What is the place of Rienzi?

Goodall:  Well, I’ve got a blind spot – Wagner’s music on the whole doesn’t appeal to me until we get to Meistersinger.  Only then do we find his own real personality.  Before that, it’s suffused with Marschner and Bellini.  When he knew his harmony in that masterly way, as in Götterdämmerung, then that’s Wagner.  That’s why he stopped doing the Ring I’m sure – he had to write these other operas and he couldn’t do the end of Siegfried and Götterdämmerung until he had gotten that.  Götterdämmerung is a wonderful opera, and the subtleties of Parsifal are overwhelming.  But he had to practice.  He said to Cosima, “My greatest art is the art of transition” and transition above all is necessary in Götterdämmerung.  There are no false jerks or anything – it just goes in one great sweep.

BD:  Is it too long?

Goodall:  I don’t think so.  Wagner thought Tristan was a shade too long.

BD:  Do you approve of cuts?

Goodall:  No!  Nowhere.  Wieland Wagner put one in a chorus in Lohengrin.  Perhaps that cut is all right, but nowhere else.  There’s a wonderful book by Lawrence – do you know it?  The Secret of Form in Richard Wagner’s Music Dramas.  It’s very detailed and marvelous.  He shows that if you cut out bars it upsets the balance.  In Meistersinger, there’s the first stollen, second stollen, and abgesang, and they balance up the number of bars.

BD:  Is that kind of balance in the other operas, too?

Goodall:  Yes, yes.  Lawrence explains what goes on.  It’s in Götterdämmerung, and Parsifal, and especially in Tristan.  Tristan is precisely balanced.  Wagner used key stages, and he arrives at a certain key at the right time.

BD:  What about cuts in non-Wagner operas?  Would you cut Bellini or Mascagni?

Goodall:  I would…

McMaster:  He’d cut the whole thing and close the door of the theater!  (Much laughter)

Goodall:  Well, it’s the difference between a Beethoven symphony and one by Marschner.  The Beethoven is precisely calculated.  Nowadays, they repeat the exposition before going on to the development section.  What was so wonderful about a conductor like Furtwängler was that his repeat of the first part was different.  It had slightly more intensity leading into the development section, so in a sense it was progressing.  He got it in a spontaneous way; he stated the material he was going to use again with added intensity.  It became more vital. 

BD:  Is there any parallel between that and the prize song in Meistersinger which is heard several times?

Goodall:   Yes, very much.  The tenor always bawls the prize song, but Sachs says to recall the dream.  Wieland Wagner was marvelous in getting his Walther to stand and then slowly start recalling it.  When it started it was dreamy, but in the final scene it’s a great flood that overwhelms the public and everybody else.  That’s why music and production work together with a producer of genius.

BD:  Is if difficult to get the chorus to be what you want?

Goodall:  It is until you work with them.  They also ache for the depth, and it’s one’s job to show them the depths and mysteries of the music.  When a producer comes along who doesn’t show them, then they just collect their pay at the end of the week and that’s it.  But Wieland Wagner used to handle the chorus at Bayreuth, and it was marvelous because they felt his genius.  Then when Walther was singing, there was a look of amazement and understanding as he sang his prize song, and they couldn’t contain themselves. 

BD:  What about rehearsing the orchestra?  How do you get the last chair violin and the third oboe and all the rest to be completely involved?

Goodall:  You have got to ask things from them and not rule them like a dictator.  You’ve got to do it in a certain way and then they realize what’s happened to the heart of the music.  They understand you’re not just doing something to be clever. 

Mitchinson:  It all boils down to respect.

BD:  We’re fortunate that you’ve come to Chicago to share so much of what you have discovered.

Goodall:  I like Chicago.  I thought I was going to hate it, but I’m very impressed with it.  It’s a powerful city.  I like your wonderful waterfront.  And these high buildings, which depress me in London, seem to have an elevating effect on one here.


And with that, we said our good-byes, and I hoped everyone’s trip home would be safe and happy.  Maestro Goodall was going to rest before the evening’s concert, and as I walked with Mr. Mitchinson to the elevator, he reminded me that one of his parts for the BBC had been Rienzi.  He said that he liked the part very much, but hoped he would never have to memorize that one – it was simply too long, he said, longer even than Siegfried!  Another of his BBC roles was Arindal in Die Feen.  He also mentioned that we should change our traffic-pattern to conform with England’s… He then related an incident about a cab ride he and Maestro Goodall had taken earlier in the day.  His driver had been stopped by a policeman, and Mr. Mitchinson gave quite a wonderful impression of a Chicago cop…

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This new recording of Tristan und Isolde is a 5-disc set, London LDR 75001.  The cast includes John Mitchinson (Tristan), Linda Esther Gray (Isolde), Ann Wildens (Brangaene), Philip Joll (Kurwenal), Gwynne Howell (Marke), Nicholas Folwell (Melot), Arthur Davies (Shepherd), Geoffrey Moses (Steersman), and John Harris (Young Sailor).  The orchestra and chorus of the WNO are all under the direction of Reginald Goodall.

Naturally, this new digital recording has been getting lots of attention in the press, but one item appeared in the New York Times on Sunday, January 24, which merits special acclaim not so much for what it says – it is a favorable review, calls the recording “superb,” and has a picture of the maestro – but because of the article below the review on the same page.  That piece is about a “neglected jazzman” named Lenny Tristano!

One final note:  I am aware of the aversion that many people have to the music of Richard Wagner.  In fact, some people have commented that it would be a very cold day before they would listen to one of his works.  Well, those people got their wish, for the broadcast of this new Tristan recording on WNIB was on January 10, the day of our record-breaking cold of -26 degrees.

In the next issue of Wagner News, a chat with Baritone Thomas Stewart.



goodall, britten, etc.Reginald Goodall was one of the most revered Wagner conductors of the twentieth century. When he died in 1990  aged 88 he had achieved cult status but it was only during his last twenty years that he became well known. Yet in 1945 he had conducted the première of Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes when the Sadler’s Wells Theatre reopened after the war. [Photo at right]  His performances were considered by the first Grimes, Peter Pears, to be better than those conducted by the composer himself.

Goodall was born in 1901 in Lincoln and studied conducting and piano at the Royal College of Music. He travelled throughout Germany and Austria to observe the premier conductors of the day whilst supporting himself as a piano accompanist. His first appointment was as choirmaster and organist at St Alban’s, Holborn, in London were he gave a number of important first UK performances of music by Bruckner and Britten amongst others. In the late 1930s he started work as an assistant to Albert Coates at Covent Garden and with the Royal Choral Society under Malcolm Sargent. The war was a miserable time for anyone pro-German and therefore for the regrettably pro-fascist Goodall yet within a short time of Germany surrendering, he was surprisingly asked to conduct Peter Grimes written by the pacifist Britten and with Pears, another pacifist, in the title role. The following year in Glyndebourne’s first post-war season,  Goodall shared the baton with Ernest Ansermet for the first performances of The Rape of Lucretia.

Goodall soon joined the music staff of the Royal Opera at Covent Garden and in 1953 after replacing Britten as conductor of Peter Grimes there - and because of the excellent reviews he received – he was given four performance of Die Walküre on tour. The first in Croydon on 5 March 1954 was given a glowing appreciation by a young Andrew Porter in Opera magazine. Porter was later to translate the Ring for Sadler’s Wells and Goodall was on the path to becoming recognised as a Wagner specialist. However his time at Royal Opera was to be one of relative obscurity and although he conducted a wide repertoire from Il trovatore to Troilus and Cressida, his opportunities became less frequent for various reasons. He continued however to coach singers in ‘Valhalla’ - the nickname given to the small, sparsely equipped room (used by cleaners at night for their mops and buckets and as a changing room for front-of-house staff) under the roof of the Royal Opera House. There, during the 1960s he coached singers such as Amy Shuard, Otakar Kraus, Ronald Lewis, Gwyneth Jones, Donald McIntyre, Gwynne Howell, Ronald Lewis, Michael Langdon – to name a few. He continued to coach singers in ‘Valhalla’ even when preparing performances for the other companies he worked with. In the opera house refurbishment I believe this room became a toilet and so presumably not the best place for a plaque!

He was given few further opportunities to conduct the operas by Wagner, the composer he most admired, but he was invited by Sadler’s Wells Opera to conduct a new production of The Mastersingers to mark the opera’s centenary in 1968. Those performances have become the stuff of legend as has his Ring cycle built up between 1970 and 1973 and the first to be given in English for some years. He also conducted Das Rheingold and Die Walküre for The Royal Opera, Tristan und Isolde for Welsh National Opera and Tristan and Parsifal for English National Opera, which Sadler’s Wells Opera later morphed into becoming. He was awarded a CBE in 1975 and knighted in 1985.

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John Mitchinson was born in Lancashire and received his musical education at the Royal Manchester College of Music. His prizes and scholarships included the Sarah Andrews Scholarship, the Imperial League of Opera Prize, the Ricordi Prize, the Curtis Gold Medal, the Royal Philharmonic Kathleen Ferrier Prize and the Queens Prize. He studied vocal technique with Frederic Cox and Heddle Nash and latterly with Boriska Gereb who assisted Professor Fuchs at the Vienna Conservatoire.

John Mitchinson’s operatic roles include Tristan in Tristan und Isolde (Reginald Goodall, Welsh National Opera, subsequently recorded by Decca), Benedict in Beatrice et Benedict (subsequently recorded by Oiseau Lyre with Sir Colin Davis), title role in Peter Grimes (WNO, Basle Opera and at the National Opera in Prague), Luca in Janacek’s From the House of the Dead (Richard Armstrong, WNO), Manolios in Martinu’s The Greek Passion (subsequently recorded by Supraphon, Sir Charles Mackerras, WNO), the Author in Janacek’s Mr Bruceks Adventures (Mackerras, English National Opera), title role in Smetana’s Dalibor (Mackerras, ENO), title role in Mozart’s Idomeneo (Mackerras, ENO), and Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex (Mackerras, ENO). Opera broadcasts include Boccacio, Faust (Busoni), The Fiery Angel (Prokofiev), The Barber of Baghdad, Die Feen (Wagner), Friedenstag (Strauss) and many others for the BBC. Concert performances include Sigmund (Die Walkure), Radames (Aida), and Wagner’s Rienzi for the BBC.

Recordings include Mahler’s Lied von der Erde (Gibson, Leppard and Horenstein) and 8th Symphony (Bernstein and Morris), Berlioz’s Lelio (Boulez), Stravinsky’s Les Noces (Bernstein), Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius (Rattle), Janacek’s Missa Glagolskaja (Rattle and Masur), Stravinsky’s Renard (Ansermet), Panufnik’s Universal Prayer (Stokowski), Delius’ Ermaline and The Magic Fountain (del Mar), Rossini’s Messe di Quatri Voce (Handt), Alwyn’s Miss Julie (Tausky), and Beethoven’s 9th Symphony (Laughran).

Mr Mitchinson has undertaken concert tours to every European country, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico. Concerts in the USA include Los Angeles Symphony, Denver Symphony, Boston Symphony, Los Angeles Master Chorale, San Francisco Symphony, Washington Symphony, and Cleveland Symphony. Canadian orchestras he has worked with include Toronto, Ottowa, and Vancouver. Conductors with whom he has performed include Sir Malcolm Sargent, Sir Adrian Boult, Sir Alexander Gibson, Sir Charles Mackerras, Sir Colin Davies, Sir John Pritchard, Leonard Bernstein, Jascha Horenstein, Carlo Maria Gulini, Sir Simon Rattle, Sir Andrew Davis, Antal Dorati, Otto Klemperer, Seiji Osawa, Paul Klecki, Rosdjesvenski, Kurt Masur, Fruhbeck de Burghos, Bernard Herman, Joseph Krips, Libor Pesek, Zubin Mehta, Kurt Sanderling, and Pablo Cassals.

During recent seasons, Mr Mitchinson has appeared as Menelaus in La Belle Helene with Scottish Opera, in concerts including Gurrelieder (Waldemar) with Rattle and CBSO, Mahler’s 8th Symphony with CBSO and Mark Elder, Lied von der Erde with CBSO conducted by Rattle in Paris, London and Birmingham, Dream of Gerontius, Missa Solemnis, Verdi’s Requiem, Wagner and other operatic arias, recitals of English song and other British music, and string quartet recitals, including On Wenlock Edge.

Teaching and vocal coaching have become increasingly important as he retired from his post as Head of Vocal Studies at the Welsh College of Music and Drama five years ago. Hobbies include cooking and driving. He was made a Chevalier de la Confrerie des Chevaliers du Tastevin in 1991 and makes regular visits to the Clos de Vougeot in Nuits-St Georges near Dijon.

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Brian McMaster was born in Hitchin in Hertfordshire, England. He read law at Bristol University, comparative law at Strasbourg University and qualified as a solicitor.

In 1967 he studied on the first Arts Council of Great Britain's course in arts administration and subsequently joined EMI Records for five years as a member of their International Classical Division.

In 1973 he went to English National Opera as controller of opera planning and three years later joined Welsh National Opera as managing director, where he remained until 1991. During the period 1984-89 he also served as artistic director to Vancouver Opera.

Brian McMaster was appointed director of the Edinburgh International Festival in October 1991 - a post which he held until October 2006.  He is currently chairman of the National Opera Studio, and a member of the Arts Council of England.

Brian McMaster was awarded the CBE in 1987 and a knighthood in the 2003 New Year honours. He has received honorary doctorates from Bristol University (1989), University of Edinburgh (1995), Heriot-Watt University (2000), University of Glasgow (2001), Napier University (2002), RSAMD (2003) and University of Westminster (2005).

2007 saw Sir Brian McMaster's 13th appearance on the jury for the Cardiff Singer of the World - an unbroken record since the competition's inception. He sits on the main prize jury.



© 1981 Bruce Duffie

This interview was recorded in Chicago on November 18, 1981.  Portions were used (along with recordings) on WNIB in 1991, 1993 and 1996.  This transcription was made and published in Wagner News in February, 1982; it was slightly re-edited and posted on this website in 2009.

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.