Soprano  Lorna  Haywood

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


In October of 1985, soprano Lorna Haywood returned to Chicago for performances of Theodora by Handel, which launched the fifteenth anniversary season of Music of the Baroque.  Over the course of several years, she would also sing other Handel title roles including Athalia and Deborah, as well as appearing in the Missa Solemnis of Beethoven at Orchestra Hall with the Chicago Symphony conducted by Jean Martinon, which closed the orchestra
s seventy-seventh season.  Her staged opera debut in Chicago was in 1966 as Xenia in Boris Godunov at Lyric Opera, as well as one of the ladies in Magic Flute

During the rehearsals for Theodora, she graciously took time to meet with me for an interview, and that encounter is presented here . . . . . . .

Bruce Duffie:    How does a soprano from England wind up singing with Music of the Baroque in Chicago every year or two?

Lorna Haywood:    I’m from a working-class family in Birmingham, which is the industrial Midlands.  I saw my first opera when I was fourteen and really got turned on.  It was Tosca, and I decided there and then I wanted to be an opera singer actually.  How a factory worker’s daughter becomes an opera singer was something I didn’t know anything about.  Anyway, we started in and I finished up at the Royal College of Music in London, and then I won the Kathleen Ferrier Memorial Scholarship in my final year of college.  Instead of going to Europe, as most people did, I went to the Julliard School for a year, ostensibly.  They gave me a full scholarship for a year, and renewed it for a second and third and fourth year, at which point I decided it made more sense to settle there.  I’d started singing somewhat in New York and around, and then followed quite a few years of cross-Atlantic travel.

BD:    Do you like being a wandering minstrel.

LH:    Well, it’s been going on quite a long time now.  Yes, I do like traveling and I like meeting people, and I like seeing new places.  After many visits to Chicago I finally started bringing my car, and I’m really getting to know Chicago.  I getting honked at an awful lot, I must say...  [Both laugh]  My association with Music of the Baroque began five or even six years ago.  I was teaching at the University of Illinois.  It was just a temporary thing.  I was helping out because there was an illness on the faculty, and John Wustman called me to ask if I could possibly go and fill in for nine months or so.  I said if they could fit it all around my singing schedule, then I’d be delighted.  And John is very persuasive.  If I told you exactly how he threatened me, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse.  [Laughs]  Back in Chicago, I got a phone call one evening from a lady called Lucille, who introduced herself as the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Music of the Baroque.  They were doing a performance of Saul, and the soprano, Linda Mabbs
whom you’re familiar with, and a good friend of mine nowhad been scheduled to sing, but there had been some kind of mix-up with the scheduling of the programs.  She thought there were two performances and there were in fact three, and she’d gotten herself involved in something on the third night which had to be honored.  So they needed a soprano fast for that third performance.  So Lucille asked if I knew it and I said I didn’t.  She asked if I could learn it and I said,  “Yes.  When is it? and she said, “The day after tomorrow!  So I said okay and I borrowed a score from one of my colleaguesWilliam Warfield, in factand learned it really fast, as you can imagine.  So I drove up to Chicago and went to the second performance.

BD:    Oh, that was good.

LH:    Actually it was because I found out the score I had didn’t at all resemble the version they were singing!  [Much laughter]  I got more and more anxious as the evening went on because what was in my score as an A-section aria turned out to have a B-section and a reprise A-section with fantastic ornamentation. 
Needless to say, after the performance I went hurtling around and begged [conductor] Thomas Wikman for the real score.

BD:    I would assume that most Handel arias have da capo sections. 

LH:    There are so many editions of Handel, and if you don’t know the piece, when you see it for the first time ever you’re not aware of what cuts there are.  Right now I’m getting ready for Rodelinda in the Kennedy Center next year, and I already have two scores which are entirely different.  I know the conductor is going to produce a third score eventually so I’m going to write him and ask him to send me his version.

BD:    Are there any versions that are Handel’s version?

LH:    Well, they can say they are Handel’s version, but nobody knows anymore.  There are so many autograph copies.  Theodora is the one in question where actually there are so many versions with so many cuts and so many revisions, that it’s difficult to know what the original was.

BD:    Cuts are one thing because you just leave something out, but revisions where they re-orchestrate or re-order things is another matter.

LH:    Yes, and arias written in after the first performance, and more recitatives were written in.  I have two scores of Theodora with me, and then Tom sent some extra pages that he found some place else.  So it’s very fascinating.  Going back to the Saul, I spent a very busy evening and an exceptionally busy following morning learning all this extra music for the performance the next night.

BD:    It sounds like an experience you wouldn’t want to repeat very often!

haywood LH:    Well, it has happened to me quite a bit.  I’m fortunate
— or unfortunatein being a very quick study, and so quite often these things happen to me.  But anyway it went very well actually; there was so much adrenaline in my system by then.  It really went very well, and this marvelous collaboration began.  I have to say I would come and sing with Music of the Baroque anytime because I’m a great, great fan of the group.  It’s absolutely sensational.  I believe that this chorus is today’s equivalent of the Robert Shaw Chorale, which of course was a chorale par excellence.  It doesn’t exist anymore.  Mr. Shaw has the Atlanta Symphony and the Chorus, but the Chorale itself of course doesn’t exist anymore.  This is the closest thing to that; absolute perfection, and I never cease to be amazed.  Each time I come it seems to get better and better and better, and it’s introduced me to a great number of Handel’s works that I otherwise would probably not have heard of, let alone sung.

BD:    Does it make you sing better when you have great colleagues?

LH:    Oh yes.  You can only be as good as what you’re surrounded by in many ways.  For instance, I’ll make an operatic reference here.  When I sing Tosca [shown at left], if I’ve got a really great Scarpia, I can be a much greater Tosca because I have someone of quality to play off of, and sometimes things happen that you didn’t realize you were capable of at all.

BD:    So everything brings the performance up?

LH:    Absolutely!   That’s why being a ‘prima donna’ or being a star, or being just out there performing on your own and not relating to colleagues is nonsense.  If you isolate yourself like that, you cut off so many channels in yourself.

BD:    Losing opportunities then.

LH:    The other thing is that I know perfectly well if I get sick I can’t sing, and every other soprano there can step out and do a perfectly wonderful job.  That keeps you on your toes.  My first ever professional job out of Juilliard was soprano soloist with the Robert Shaw Chorale on tour in Handel’s Messiah.  We did twenty-five performances in twenty-eight days, and spent most of those days on a bus covering two-thirds of the United States.  I really hadn’t been in American all that long
— maybe four yearsand I still hadn’t really realized how big America was.  So when they handed me this list of cities in which we would be performing, I thought, Well, that’s nice.  I didn’t realize they were six or eight hundred miles apart, and that I was going to be on a bus getting between these places.  I regard that as my apprenticeship, my baptism of fire.  I hope I never do that again!  It really was something else!

BD:    Is it important, though, for a young singer to do that, to spend those twenty-eight days doing twenty-five performances?

LH:    Frankly that’s pushing it a bit because we were on a bus at 8 o’clock every morning, and sometimes we’d get to the town in which we were singing at maybe 6 o’clock, and the concert was going to start at 8!  It was barely time to eat, and if you can’t eat close to a performance, as I can’t, you didn’t have anything to eat.  You had just about time to shower and change.  It’s better to sing on an empty stomach, though, even an uncut Shaw version which was three hours long.  We started at 8 and we would finish at 11.  A lot of the towns where we were performing rolled up their sidewalks at 10, so if you wanted to eat in afterwards there wasn’t really anywhere to go.  People would say,
Do you want to come to my room?  I’ve got a box of cookies!  Of course after the performance you can’t go right to sleep because you have adrenaline pounding round your system.  So you would sit and talk until Midnight, or even after, or lie awake, and then you had to be up again at the crack of dawn and on that bus again by 8!  I must say that towards the end I did learn a lot because my colleagues on that tour were Florence Kopleff, the great American contralto who I called my Mother Superior because she taught me I think about all the etiquette of concert performing.  I should never walk on the stage wearing a watch!  It was so instilled in me I would think, My God, what would Florence say!  She taught me certain decorum on stage, like how one sits, to always have your score in a black folder, and how your arms must be covered in a sacred piece.

kopleff Florence Kopleff (May 2, 1924 in NYC - July 24, 2012 in Atlanta, GA) began her career in 1941 when she was in her senior year of high school. In 1954 The New York Times termed her performance at New York's Town Hall "a debut recital of considerable distinction," and further stated that "Her voice is a large, powerful instrument with a wonderful ringing sonority, evenly produced over a wide range." She was very active as a concert and oratorio singer, appearing and recording with many of the great conductors of her era, particularly as a soloist with the Robert Shaw Chorale. Time magazine once called her the "greatest living alto."

She taught at Georgia State University starting in 1968, when she became a professor and the school's first artist-in-residence. The GSU School of Music's recital hall is named for her.

Her recordings include...

    Bach: Mass in B minor with Robert Shaw, RCA Victor, Grammy winner, 1961.

    Beethoven: 9th Symphony with Chicago Symphony and Fritz Reiner, Phyllis Curtin, John McCollum, Donald Gramm, RCA Victor.

    Berlioz: L'Enfance du Christ, with Boston Symphony and Charles Münch, Cesare Valletti, Giorgio Tozzi, Gerard Souzay, RCA Victor.  Also a 1966 video of a live performance, again with the Boston Symphony conducted by Munch, with John McCollum, Donald Gramm, Theodor Uppman, VAI.

    Mahler: Symphony No. 2 with Utah Symphony and Maurice Abravanel, Beverly Sills, Vanguard.

    Handel: Messiah with Robert Shaw, RCA Victor, Grammy winner, 1967.

BD:    These are all important things that you wouldn’t think of until someone does them wrong!

LH:    Yes, which I did a couple of times and was told off very royally by Florence about it!  [Laughs]  I never did them again!  And the tenor was Seth McCoy, so I had a wonderful company on this tour.

BD:    And Shaw conducted all of the performances?

LH:    Yes, and his wonderful chamber orchestra, which brings us back to the orchestra here in Chicago which is also superb.  The wonderful thing about coming back here is that I know everyone here very well, and it’s really a joyful thing to come back and make music.  We make music together, and it’s great.

BD:    Is that a rare thing today to go some place and really make music?

LH:    I’m afraid so, yes.

BD:    Why?

LH:    Quite often rehearsal time is at a premium.  We’re fortunate in a way.  I don’t know the real ins and outs of this, but it’s very expensive to rehearse, and we do perform in churches as opposed to concert halls.  That might make it a little more viable. 

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    We’re living in the age of recordings.  Is live music going to go the way of the dinosaur?

LH:    No, it can’t because there isn’t any comparison between live music and recorded music.  It’s a pity, really, because so many people are great record addicts, and when they do go to a performance they expect to hear what they hear through their stereo headphones.

haywood BD:    Is that a mistake?

LH:    Yes, it is.  It’s not possible.  There is a lot of twiddling of knobs that goes on in recording studios, and it’s also very detrimental to young singers.  I teach right now at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor, and young singers seem to be decibel-orientated rather than making beautiful sounds.  They consider how loud they can sing.  That is a point, but not an overwhelming one.

BD:    Do they have it in their head that in order to sing in huge halls like the Met or Lyric Opera of Chicago they simply have to have that much power?

LH:    It’s been my experience, in some places, where the opera houses are interested in humungous large voices, period!  And music has gotten louder over the years.  If you look at the singers who sang certain roles in the Golden Age of Singing, there weren’t that many like Birgit Nilsson around.  People like Ljuba Welitsch were singing Salome, and lots of very unlikely people were singing what now seem like very unlikely roles, but that must have been acceptable and normal in those days.  There hasn’t been much development of the vocal cords in fifty or sixty years, but there has been tremendous development in the instruments of the orchestra.  I would venture to say that the orchestras are now putting forth two to three times the sound that they used to, and I’m not sure that a human pair of vocal cords can do the same thing.  So it really lies in the hands of the conductor to keep that well under control.

BD:    Should we try to get the opera houses to dig the pits a bit lower and get the orchestra farther away under the stage?

LH:    They’re performers too.  I don’t like to see them buried, but sections of them are becoming bigger and acoustically things should be done to try and balance a little more.

BD:    Do you change your approach to singing at all from a big house to a small house, or in churches as opposed to theaters?

LH:    No, no.  I tell my students that what we do in the studio is exactly the way they would sing in an opera house.  You get brainwashed when you see a sizable hall.  The temptation is to push.  A wonderful example happened to me right here in Chicago.  I made my debut with Lyric Opera in Boris Godunov with Nicolai Ghiaurov.  What an experience!  I was so thrilled.  I had a very small part, Xenia his daughter.  Anyway, I had never seen the opera house.  We had rehearsed in some hall, and then the first rehearsal on stage was with orchestra.  When I got out on stage, the curtain was down, so I sat in my chair.  It began with a little Russian-folksy thing, so the curtain went up and the orchestra played, and I sang and it was just fine.  Then a short while later, for some reason we had to stop and they turned on the house lights.  I nearly died when I looked out into that enormous place.  I suddenly realized that if the curtain had gone up and the lights had been on, I would have sung it entirely differently.  I would have probably killed myself in six bars.  But the fact that I wasn’t aware of the size of the house and I just sang saved me.

BD:    How can we pound knowledge that into young singers?

LH:    It’s hard.  Look out there.  The Royal Albert Hall is like singing in the Grand Canyon, and if you sing as if you’re in the Grand Canyon, you’re going to be a voiceless wonder in fifteen minutes flat.

BD:    European singers who are mostly used to singing in houses of 1,500 to 2,000.

LH:    Right, little jewel boxes!

BD:    Then they come here and they think they have to scream.

LH:    But they don’t.  It’s a wonderful house here.  I love that house actually.

BD:    Do the acoustics help a lot?

LH:    Hmm, mmm, yes!

BD:    Are there some houses where the acoustics are just dreadful?

LH:    I must have been very lucky in recent years because I can’t think of one just right off like that.  Covent Garden is absolutely perfect. That is the perfect opera house in size and acoustic.  It is one of the smaller ones, but then the Coliseum, which is the home of the English National Opera, with whom I’ve sung quite a lot, is one of the largest theaters in Europe, but again the acoustics are wonderful.  In fact the further back you are, the cheaper the seat, the better the sound, believe it or not.  It’s a very tall building, and the sound just goes straight up there.  Seattle is gorgeous, New Orleans has a wonderful house... I can’t think one that is really the pits, where I say,
Oh, yuck!

BD:    You’re very lucky!

LH:    Yes, I am!

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    How do you make Handel speak to an audience in 1985?

LH:    There are some difficulties there of course, depending on the plot.  To start with, Handel’s music is superb for all time.  Theodora I understand was Handel’s favorite.  I don’t join in those sentiments.  I think it’s wonderful but it’s not my favorite.  I’d be very intrigued to know exactly why this was so special, unless it had something to do with the fact that he lost his sight shortly after, and maybe this was close to him because of that.  It was received very badly initially, hence all these revisions and cuts.  There are so many versions of it, and he obviously went very hard trying to make it work because obviously he was very disappointed by its initial reception.

BD:    Was the public right or wrong in rejecting it?  Is the first version really better than all the revisions?

LH:    I don’t think anybody knows what the first version was.  As we spoke earlier about it, there are so many manuscripts and changes, and what’s supposed to be the autograph and what isn’t, and what was edited out and edited in that there’s quite a bit of confusion as to what the original was exactly like.  Maybe this was his rejected child, and so that it brought it close to his heart.  As for the plot, Theodora is set in Roman times when the first Christians were being persecuted.  That’s what Theodora was, one of the first Christians being persecuted for her involvement in the Christian faith.  Her punishment by the Roman Governor at the time was not to be put to death, but because she was a very renounced lady
renounced for her chastity and purityher fate was to be condemned to a Roman whore house to be used by the soldiers for their pleasure.  That’s when she sings her famous aria, ‘Angels, ever bright and fair’.  The recitative is, ‘O worse than death indeed’.  She would rather be put to death, but it’s more of martyrdom for her to lose her honor in this way.  It doesn’t happen, I’m happy to say, in the oratorio; she is rescued.  That’s where some of the plots are a little archaic.

BD:    How can you convince women today that she is really means that it is a worse fate?

haywood LH:    I saw a production of Measure for Measure this summer, and it’s exactly the same predicament.  The sister goes to plead for the life of her brother, and the person in authority says,
I will spare your brother’s life if you surrender yourself to me.  She refuses, and she says she would rather have her brother lose his life.  You could hear an audible groan from the audience at that point.  It was such a brilliant production that they ultimately pulled it off, but there is that modern reaction to things like that.  At least in Theodora there are many more religious connotations that get people’s sympathies, and allow that to be accepted in some way. 

BD:    You’ve sung both oratorios and operas of Handel.  Are they really two different beasts or are they just the same man writing for similar forces?

LH:    I don’t think they are different at all, no.  I always tell my students that oratorios are operas, which of course they are, and should be sung the same way.  That is no changing of voice.  People also ask if you change your voice when you sing in opera or in oratorio or a  Bach Cantata, and the answer is no!  Your voice is your voice, and that instrument remains the same.  It’s the stylistic thing that changes.

BD:    Do you at least have to change your thinking a bit?

LH:    No!  There are arias and there are recitatives, and there’s a narrative which links it together, and there’s a very dramatic story behind it.  The difference between the operas and oratorios
I’m generalizing here, and it’s not correct but I’ll say it anyway — is that the oratorios could be presented in church because mostly they are sacred topics.  They have things that become dramatic, but anything that uses mythology was frowned upon and was not permitted.  Those were secular, of course.  A lot of secular things — such as Semele and these kinds of thingstalk about Greek mythology and what you call characters, and that was very much frowned on.

BD:    So they became operas?

LH:    Yes, and they were performed in other places, not in church.

BD:    So it’s just a way of getting around the puritanical ideal.

LH:    Yes, it is actually.  I sing with another group out in California, and they wanted to do Hercules, which is marvelous.  That is one of my great favorites, and has fantastic music in there.  It is some kind of Handel you have never heard before.  It’s really phenomenal, and they perform in a beautiful auditorium which is attached to a college.  It’s a religious college, and they refused to allow that to be put on.

BD:    Even today???

LH:    Even today!  Just a year or so ago, in fact.  It got a very authentic Handel reaction.  I was really amazed by that, but it was true, and they were unable to do it.

BD:    Do they react to the other Handel pieces then the way Handel’s audiences would have reacted?

LH:    It’s not the audience reaction, it’s the administration in this particular place.  I don’t see any sense in that at all.  It’s like blind-folding the public or battening down their ears.

BD:    Let me turn that question around.  How can we get more and more people to come to Handel oratorios, or even Janáček operas?

LH:    I think the answer to that is just to get in there the first time.

BD:    You think they’ll be bowled over by any production?

LH:    I think there’s a very good chance, yes, I really do.  I’ve had quite a few friends who live in Chicago say,
I don’t care for Handel, but seeing that it’s you I’ll come anyway and put up with it, and you’ll excuse me if I leave at the first interval.  Anyway, without exception they just loved it, and can’t wait for the next one.

BD:    So then they might go to one where you’re not appearing?

LH:    Yes!  I even stuck my neck out occasionally and would say,
Come, and if you don’t like it I’ll give you your ticket money back!  I’ve been very lucky there so far!  I’ve also done that with Janáček operas.

BD:    Maybe we should get concert managements to do that, give an unconditional money-back guarantee.

LH:    We did that this summer. I was at the Cleveland Blossom Festival doing The Magic Flute, their first ever staged opera.  The shed there seats 5,000, and then they can seat another 10,000 or 12,000 out on the grass.

BD:    That’s like Ravinia.

LH:    Yes, and they had these wonderful television screens.  It was televised in color out onto the lawn, and their amplification is very sophisticated.  It was beautiful, and part of the advertising was,
Come and spend a fun summer evening with us!  If you don’t enjoy yourself, you get your money back!

BD:    I wonder if anyone took them up on that offer...

LH:    I would have to say no because you never saw such enthusiastic audience.  It was quite a knock-out!  The Queen of the Night came up out of the pit in a laser cone!  It was pretty spectacular.  It was a romp

BD:    How much can opera rely on special affects?

LH:    Well, Magic Flute had a lot of special effects originally.  And look at Wagner!  Look at the Handel operas.

BD:    Sure, chariots dancing across the stage!

LH:    Exactly... fiery chariots and horses in the sky.  A lot of mechanics went on in those days.  That’s why they were always burning the theaters down!  A lot of accidents happened, and theaters were being burned down because of some special effects that went wrong!

BD:    Would it be absolutely wrong to stage a Handel opera with the special effects that Handel knew, or should we absolutely only use the modern special effects?

LH:    If we use the special effects that Handel knew, we have a good chance of burning down the theater!  [Both howl with laughter]  I don’t think that’s worth the gamble!  In any case, I don’t think they’d get passed by the Fire Marshal because they’re very sticky about those things these days.  Recently there was big fuss about having a naked candle flame on the stage, so they’re not going to have bonfires and God knows what else that they had in Handel’s day.  I don’t think that’s going to be allowed, so that answers itself.


BD:    Are there any of the Handel operas that you know of that are just dreadful?

LH:    [Pauses a moment]  I don’t think so.  There can be dreadful performances of anything...

BD:    Is that, then, the fault of the performers?

LH:    Partly, yes.  You have to do your homework to find any weaknesses, and try and do something about it before, you arrive.  Tom Wikman spends a lot of time with the orchestra and the orchestral score to get exactly the sounds that he thinks are appropriate to go along with the text and the emotion.

BD:    Appropriate to Handel or appropriate to this hall or appropriate to his players or appropriate to 1985, or all of these?

LH:    All of those things.  The performances are special, and also I see he has a wonderful group of people.

BD:    They play on modern instruments?

LH:    Oh, yes. 

BD:    Is it a mistake for Harnoncourt and people like that to use ‘authentic’ instruments?

LH:    I don’t think it’s a mistake.  If you do that, though, then you really very much have to copy stylistically exactly what happened in the vocal sound, which is not my cup of tea.  I’m not sure I could sing that way.

BD:    And then of course you have to copy the size of the house and the audience and everything else which is way beyond your control.

LH:    Well, that’s going a bit far, even if you could do that, which is not likely.  But as an historical thing it might be fine.  I don’t think it would last.  It would be the historians that wanted to go and listen to that because, quite frankly, that sound does nothing for me particularly from a matter of initial interest.

BD:    So it’s just a document?

LH:    Yes! 

BD:    Is opera art or is it entertainment?

LH:    Both!

BD:    What’s the balance then?

LH:    [Pauses a moment]  If you’re going to just isolate the word ‘entertainment’, it makes it a little more difficult.  But I think Art is entertainment.  It’s an escape from the everyday mundane things, where you can forget all of that stuff and be taken into an entirely other realm, so that when it’s ended it’s like coming down to earth again suddenly.  Hopefully it lasts a little bit longer than immediately after the last chord is sounded.  It’s a refreshment of the soul and a perking of the senses in all ways, both the visual thing and the thing you hear.  There are smells too!  When I told you that at fourteen I saw my first opera and got turned on and said I was going to be an opera singer, it wasn’t actually the music that did that to me.  The second act opened and I was quite close in the audience.  A draft of cold air came off the stage and carried with it the smell of burning wax candles.  That’s when my hair stood on end.  I said that’s what I want to do!  So I think I’m right in saying there are smells.  There are all those things that tease your senses, and this is why live performances will never die, because you can’t get that from gramophone record.

BD:    You can’t get that on television either.

LH:    Well, you get a little bit more.  You get some of the visual things.

BD:    Does opera belong to television?

LH:    It has to be very, very well done indeed.  I’ve seen some bad miscalculations in televised opera.  You have to choose the opera very carefully.  There are some do not do well on television, and others that are fantastic.  We mentioned the Janáček operas earlier.  It’s as if Janáček wrote his operas for television.  He was before his time, and they are a perfect vehicle for that.

BD:    Do they actually work better on television than on stage?

LH:    Yes, they could, but it has to be done very carefully because singing close up isn’t a pretty sight!

BD:    I’ve often wanted to tell the camera men to pull back to a medium shot or even a long shot, rather than looking down the singer
s throat.

LH:    You’ve hit on exactly the point there.  It’s very nice to be able to see a close-up of a character if you’re responding to a situation on the stage.  However, in a theater you’ve got that big picture all the time.  You can choose to focus when you want to focus, or whoever is drawing your attention.

BD:    So the television director has to be almost as clever as the conductor or the stage director?

LH:    Yes, or perhaps even more.   He has to know the music, and he has to know the opera inside out. 

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    How do you balance your career between opera and concert?

LH:    It was strange singing on both sides of the Atlantic.  I was known principally as an opera person for many years in London and in Europe, while in America, because my career here started principally with that exposure of Robert Shaw, I have sung concerts.  Mr. Shaw was very committed to me.  I don’t know what I’d have done without him, actually.  He was very kind and gave me my first chance as a student just out of Juilliard.  He then invited me on numerous occasions to Atlanta because that’s the orchestra that become his, and when he was a guest conductor in other places he asked for me as soloist.  As a result of that, I got to sing with many of the American orchestras all over the country, so on this side of the Atlantic I became much more known as a concert singer.  In fact it still happens now.  A wonderful choral conductor in Cleveland, Robert Page, made me laugh this summer because he came up to me in the middle of The Magic Flute and said,
You are so marvelous.  I would never have dreamed that you could do this.  I always think of oratorio and you as being absolutely hand-in-hand.  That’s after all these years, now!  Also I’ve sung with a lot of orchestras here and the concerts have been broadcast, so a lot of the broadcasts that people have heard of my work has been orchestral and oratorios.

BD:    Is that good that live concerts get broadcast?

LH:    Yes, yes!

BD:    Better than listening to a studio-made record?

LH:    Yes, I think so, because there may be a couple of wrong notes or a couple of blurbs that have not been scratched out or adjusted with the knobs, as we spoke about, but you feel the electricity of a live audience there.  And the singers are certainly more on their metal because there’s a live audience.  You create a thread, a communication, hopefully, and for all those people sitting out there it’s extra special.  That’s like being in the theater too.  It really is tied up from both ends
not just from the audience point of view seeing and being there and feeling that electricity in the hall, but also from the performer’s point of view.  A lot of the recording studios are dismal to work in.

haywood BD:    Do you like making records?

LH:    Well, of course it’s fun, but I haven’t done all that much.  The ones that I have done I’ve enjoyed very much.  This is what I tell my students
don’t take recordings as absolute gospel because it can’t be that in performance because they are taped.  They’re taped a number of times, and they can scratch out a bad note and substitute and that sort of thing... though it has never, ever been my experience!  [Huge laugh]  Actually, I’ve suffered from quite the opposite, and that is a recording with Michael Tilson Thomas and the London Symphony.  It’s a record of some lesser-known Beethoven choral works.  [Record cover shown at right.]  I received a call from London, where I was going to be, asking if I could come over a day earlier to record this.  I never heard of the piece to start with, and I was in Washington at the time, so I searched all the music stores in Washington.  Nobody ever heard of it.  It was called Lobgesang, but then there turned out to be several of those and not just one.  So I didn’t know which one it was.  So I got the music when I got to London.  In fact I had to call them up and tell them it would be nice if they got the music to me before the recording session!  It was quickly delivered by a gentleman on a motorbike, and I was very impressed by that.  So I learned it, and when I got to the studio I said to Michael that it would be nice idea if we ran through it first with piano.  He thought that was a good idea, and so we did that, and then we recorded it, and that was it!  Other times, however, it was not so much fun.  I’ve done quite a lot of recordings for the BBC, including Rienzi.  [The cast included John Mitchinson, Lois McDonald and Michael Langdon.]  We came to the end of a very long day of recording, and we’d never run through my big aria ever.  Edward Downes was the conductor and he said, We’ve got ten minutes.  Let’s just run it and we’ll record it tomorrow.  I said that would be okay.  So we did, and of course tomorrow never came.  I was furious.  They had tapes rolling, and then the next day he said, We don’t have time now but that was fine yesterday!  So I was very cross because it wasn’t fine in my book!  They hadn’t said it was a take.

BD:    Would you have sung it a little differently if you’d know it was a take?

LH:    Of course.  Or I would have had a choking spell in the middle so they would have had to stop.  I learned that trick too late.  I’ve seen people in action do that.  If something goes wrong, they have a coughing attack.

BD:    So they can’t possibly use the take?

LH:    Exactly.  There are little tricks and there are instances like that.  But talking about live performances versus recording, it’s just a special thing to actually be there.

BD:    Are recordings, then, a fraud?

LH:    I often think so.  They can splice in notes and whole sections of arias.  It’s so refined today that they can splice a thirty-second note in some place within the texture of the orchestra.  It makes for a perfection that there isn’t.  You cannot be that perfect, and if you listen to it with that knowledge, that’s fine.  But so many people listen without that knowledge, and then expect to hear that same perfection in the concert hall.  They’re very incensed when they don’t hear what they heard through their earphones.  It is not the same as on the recording, and it’s an unfair comparison.

BD:    How do you educate the audience?

LH:    I don’t know because this is all ‘behind the scenes talk’ actually, and I don’t know that people are aware or even want to know that this is the way recordings are put together. 

BD:    How much do you expect out of the audience?

haywood LH:    I expect them to get there in time to read the program notes, and to have done a little bit of homework as to the plot so they have just a skeleton idea of what actually takes place in the opera or in the oratorio.  There’s a lot of criticism of how to get taught singing in English.  There’s a lot of criticism leveled for poor diction while singing in English, their own language.  There’s a lot of snobbery that goes on,
I’d much prefer to hear it in the original language!  Having done a little bit of research on it, it’s my experience that people who prefer to hear it in the original language do not speak that original language at all.  Some of them have a smattering,  but there are very few people who are really fluent in those languages.  They are prepared to sit back and just listen to it in French, Italian, German, whatever, and think that it’s just wonderful.  It’s as if they can hear every single word and understand every single word.  They can’t, and they don’t!  However when the language is English, which they speak and should understand, they feel a sudden irritation because the fact that it is in their own language puts an extra burden on them.  They have to listen carefully in an attempt to get it all.  They can’t help themselves, but they do try to catch every word, and that irritates them.  They can’t just sit back and ‘be entertained’.

BD:    They just listen to beautiful sounds?  [Vis-à-vis the recording shown at left, see my interview with Anthony Rolfe Johnson.]

LH:    Exactly.  The fact is that a lot of people are there to be entertained, which is fair enough, but you put a little responsibility on them by singing it in English, which means they have to listen a bit more carefully.

BD:    Do you work harder at your diction when it’s in English?

LH:    I do, personally, yes.  Because of the things I have just been telling you, I am aware of this and the criticism that’s leveled at English singing singers.  So I really do try to make things as clear as possible without destroying the musical line, which has to be predominant.  If you ask a French person or an Italian person who see operas or works in their own language, they’d all say that they c
ouldn’t understand a word.

BD:    That’s too bad.  Have you seen any of these operas now with the supertitles in the theater?

LH:    When I was in San Francisco I saw it for the first time at a Traviata performance. 

BD:    Is that the ideal compromise?

LH:    I must say it was awfully good.  I was prepared to hate it... like watching a foreign movie with subtitles and you won’t be watching what’s going on the stage.  Whether it was because I really did know what was happening in the opera, I was able to glance occasionally and appreciate that it was the translation and was good.  I don’t know how it would work for someone who, perhaps, hadn’t done their homework or read the plot at all in the program, and was really relying on these surtitles to know what was happening.  I haven’t actually talked to anybody who was in that position, so I’m judging it from my point of view, which is not a particularly good one to judge the success of this.

BD:    But I’m glad you enjoyed it because some singers have said they don’t feel it will be any good.

LH:    I wasn’t involved in that performance.  I was part of the audience, and I liked it.  I feel that anything that makes an opera audience grow is fair game, even Walt Disney’s Fantasia.  People sat there for two hours and watched it, listening exclusively to classical music without knowing it really, and enjoy every second of it.

BD:    Are we going to get a resurgence of Mozart now because of the Amadeus film?

LH:    Wasn’t that wonderful?  You’re talking to an Amadeus nut here.  I was fortunate enough to be over in England, in fact in my home town of Birmingham, when they had the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, which is very fine indeed, put on a production of Amadeus.  Keith Michell was Salieri, and I saw that they were having previews, so I went.  I couldn’t stay away.  I went and saw it seven times until I ran out of money.  It was brilliant, and then I saw it when it was on tour in Detroit, and then I saw the movie four times!  I know the play from memory, just about.  I thought it was absolutely fantastic.  Yes, it has done a lot for Mozart, and a lot of people for whom Mozart was just a name are much more conversant with it now, and I think that’s wonderful.

BD:    Is that enough to get them into the theater, and into the opera houses and concert halls?

LH:    Possibly yes, in many instances.  I have a teenage daughter, and she of course has been brought up with music, so I didn’t have to take her kicking and screaming to see it.  She of her own volition has been to see it at least three or four times without me, and has dragged various friends who were kicking and screaming to see it.  And they’ve been completely bowled over and then gone to see it a second time.  Actually one of her friends went and bought a Mozart symphony, and that was really something.  This is a hard rock person up to this point.  So you see, it does have in-routes.  It’s very important for the younger generation to see a composer portrayed, be it accurate or not.  That’s obviously a bone of contention and the voice of the gods.  A lot of people were outraged by the way Mozart was portrayed, but if they were to read some of his letters, they would see he was pretty scatological.

BD:    He was a smart-ass much of the time.

LH:    Yes, he was, and I don’t think that he was that exaggerated in the movie.  Peter Shaffer used his own brilliant imagination, but a lot of people were horrendously offended by that.  They didn’t want to think of their blue-eyed boy being raunchy.  But to the younger generation, to see a flesh and blood person so that they can relate to that name and to the music, was a tremendous move.  In fact my daughter asked for the soundtrack of Amadeus for her birthday.  She has been surrounded by music, but she’s a big one for all the pop groups, and that was one of her chosen records.

haywood BD:    What really is Rock music?

LH:    I think Rock is rhythm.   I can’t listen to it for very long.  Sometimes I am tied to a chair because my daughter wants me to hear certain pieces.  I manage to escape time and time again, but occasionally I run out of excuses and I have to go and sit and listen.  It’s mostly that she wants me to hear the lyrics of some song, the poetry.  I must say when I did sit down and listen, I couldn’t understand most of the words.  Some of them are printed in the record jackets, so when I sit and read, I was quite impressed by some of the stuff actually!  Not all this stuff has been publicized just recently, but some very deep philosophical points were made, though it wasn’t necessarily expressed in the music.  What annoys me with Rock is the repetitive nature.  The beat just goes on and on and on and on, and enough is enough.  If you’re in another room, all that you can hear is the beat.  I tell my daughter to stop playing that same record over and over again, and she says she played six different records!  It’s the same incessant rhythmic thing that drives you crazy.  I’m concerned about kids’ ears.  The hearing loss that’s going on these days is appalling.

BD:    Does she ever listen to your records?

LH:    Yes!

BD:    Does she like them?

LH:    Yes.  I don’t have all that many recordings, and the ones that she likes best of all are the PDQ Bach.  My claim to fame is that I was the soprano on the PDQ Bach records.  Even when I have sung a Verdi Requiem or a Missa Solemnis, someone will bring around a record to be signed and it will be The Stoned Guest!  [Both laugh]  I went way up in my students’ estimation at the university when they realized it was me on those recordings, because they love that.  I was Carmen Ghia in The Stoned Guest [photo of recording below], and then I’m a soprano in The Seasonings and in madrigals, The Triumphs of Thusnelda.

BD:    I remember when I was at college we transcribed the Schleptet for a quick performance.  We had to make up our own notation for the out-of-tune notes!

LH:    Oh, Peter [Schickele, aka PDQ Bach] would love that actually.  He’s a wonderful person.  We were at Juilliard at the same time.  He was teaching at the extension and they started doing those things just for fun on a lunch-break or something.  It was so riotous he decided to put a concert on, and the first one was in the Town Hall, New York.  I was not involved in that.  He did Iphigenia in Brooklyn.  After that we would fill Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center.  It was standing room only, and you’d walk out to sing those concerts, and in the first six rows you’d maybe see Isaac Stern and Leonard Bernstein, wonderful musicians just there to have a good time, which we always did.  It’s not easy to perform that stuff, you know.  You cannot smile or laugh.  That’s the absolute thing.  During the rehearsal time we all had to be carried out of the room paralytic on occasion, but the funny part was not to laugh in the performance.  We had got pretty damned disciplined by then, though there was an occasional moment or two!  The very earliest things were really the greatest.  When Peter started, I don’t suppose he thought for one second it was going to develop into such a big thing.  He tours practically all the year now.  In fact he’s coming to Ann Arbor next February, so I’m planning to have a little party for him.  It would be kind of fun for the students to meet him.  I used to live in Columbia, Ohio, and had a dinner party for him once when he came there.  He is such a wonderful person.  He hasn’t changed at all over the years.  He’s like a naughty little boy actually.  He’s so much fun and so imaginative.  When he came in he said,
Oh my God, you’ve cooked Italian food.  This is terrible!  I’ve been trying to be on a diet.  It’s so hard when you’re on the road to eat properly.  So he went over to the piano and improvised a blues number on the spot about how difficult it was to diet while you’re touring!  [Gales of laughter]  Unfortunately I didn’t have my tape recorder ready as that would have been a gem.  But it must be very difficult to come up with original stuff constantly, and I’m sure he’s bombarded with people saying, Hey, Peter, I thought of a great bit.  It’s very easy to think of isolated bits, but what is absolutely brilliant is Peter’s narration, which I can guarantee, is improvised most of the time.  He had a basic spiel, but very rarely have I heard him stick to it.  He would play it off the audience and whatever happened, happened.  He was one of these people who would just grab it and do something with it right away. 

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Tell me about some of your operatic roles.  Have you a role that’s a particular favorite?

LH:    You’ve already mentioned the Janáček operas.  It sort of happened by accident, but it seems like fate meant it to be.  When I was a student at the Royal College, we were taken to a dress rehearsal of a Janáček opera at what was then Sadler’s Wells Opera, and it was Katya Kabanova.  It just hit me between the eyes like a mallet; bang, wow!  I’d never heard of it and I never heard of it immediately after.  Then in my late years at the Royal College I was over in Europe, in East Berlin.  I was to a record store and one of the records I just picked straight up was Katya Kabanova, so I bought it and The Bartered Bride.  Then when I went to Juilliard, the opera director there announced that he was going to put on Katya Kabanova for me.  That was my first Katya, and maybe that why it’s closest to me.  We also did a wonderful production at the Coliseum in London.

BD:    Have you recorded any of that?

LH:    No, unfortunately.  This is the problem.  The Janáček operas are only available in Czechoslovakia on the old Supraphon recordings.  Charles Mackerras is a very close friend of mine and with whom I’ve been very privileged to sing all of my Janáček.  Outside of Czechoslovakia he is the authority, and so I really count my blessings there.  We’ve always done them in English.   Mr. Janáček was very specific in that he felt the opera should be sung in the language of the people when hearing it.  They are very tight and concise dramas.  There’s not a superfluous note in Janáček scores.  It’s pure drama from beginning to end.  Things happen, but you don’t take time out to rhapsodize in an aria about somebody’s eyes or whatever.  It’s action, action, action, action.


BD:    Too much action?

LH:    No, no.  The operas are comparatively short, but you still feel as if it’s been three hours because the emotional gallop that you run in those operas is fantastic.  In Jenůfa and also Katya you come out of there like a wet dish-rag.  Very exciting!  There was a gentleman in England who paid for the Ring to be recorded in English with Reginald Goodall was very interested at one point of doing recordings of the Janáček operas.  We had tremendous success with them in London, and right at that time Decca has just done all new recordings of Janáček with Mackerras conducting.

BD:    Oh yes, with Elisabeth Söderström.

LH:    She’s a great linguist so they recorded it in Czech.  People were scared to record them in English because they thought it was too chancy.  This one gentleman who was almost ready to take the plunge when this London contract came up for them in Czech, and Charles was conducting them all.  Elisabeth Söderström is a very fine artist, and she is an incredible linguist.  She was involved in languages before she became a singer, and she sings wonderful Russian and of course Swedish.  She is just so proficient with all of those things.  Czech is a very, very difficult language.

BD:    It’s all consonants!

LH:    Well, no, not quite, but it certainly looks like it.  I did sing Jenůfa in Prague, which was a very great honor, as he is their national composer.

BD:    I would think it would be terrifying?

LH:    It was!  But the thing was I wasn’t sure I would have time to learn it in Czech.  They said they didn’t want me to!  I would just sing in English and the rest of the cast will sing in Czech, and they said that’ll be just fine.  I gather they do this quite a bit in Prague, actually.  All operas there are sung in Czech including Verdi and Puccini, so international singers go in and sing in the original languages
French German or Italian.  They’re quite used to that happening.  I was very fortunate in many respects.  For the start, I knew the opera inside out.  I had wonderful colleagues, although we couldn’t converse terribly much, and I had no rehearsal with the other singers at all, which maybe was a good thing.  It was rather like surtitles.  I was on stage singing to people in English, and they were replying in Czech.  [Both laugh]  I had little surtitles running through my head translating what they were saying.  I was just hoping that my responses to them were happening exactly the right time in the sentence.  That is what scared me.  The construction in Czech would be different to the construction in the English, and I was going [gasps in imitation to what might happen] prematurely, and this kind of thing.  However, I realized at that time how superb the English translations are because there was no problem of that type at all.

BD:    They accepted it very well?

LH:    Absolutely.  The other thing was that the audience was full of Americans and Australians, who were just absolutely over the moon that they could understand what I was saying!

BD:    They got half the opera then!

LH:    Yes, and that was really exciting, very exciting.  Hair-raising, of course.  The drama just speaks for itself. 

BD:    Besides the Rienzi, you have also done an ever earlier work by Wagner...

LH:    Once for the BBC, which was Wagner’s first opera called Die Feen.

BD:    Tell me a little bit about the very early Wagner.  How is early Wagner different from late Wagner?


LH:    The seeds are there.  Early Wagner is more lyrical.  It’s not through-composed like the later operas.  It’s stylistically accurate at that period of time, but still there’s a special sound there that is unmistakably Wagner in his use of certain instruments.  Also there’s a certain depth of the music and the chords.

BD:    So he was trying his hand?

LH:    Yes, I think so.

BD:    What was your character in Die Feen?

LH:    I was Lora, and in Rienzi I was hired to sing the part of Irena.  There was another young woman to sing Adriana, and she got ill just a few days before the recording was to start and had to pull out.  Geoffrey Tate was the repetiteur for that production, and he is now onto great glories.  He is wonderful, a stupendous musician.  Anyhow, Edward Downes was very concerned and said,
We can easily get another Irena.  It’s much harder to get an Adriano.  So why don’t we let Lorna learn the Adriano and replace her as Irena.  This was with two days to go before the first day of taping.  I said, What??? and Jeffrey Tate said, “Shut up Lorna!  I will teach it to you.  That’s all settled!  And blow me, he did, he did!  He was pretty close to the wire, I must say, because we’d be learning the notes a couple of hours, then I’d go and work it with a German coach, and then we’d walk into the studio and tape it!  Bang, bang, bang, bang like that.  So I know both the roles in that opera.

BD:    Under normal conditions, how much do you delve into the character?  How much do you really get under the skin of these people who you’re singing?

LH:    When you’re playing one character in an opera, I think you should know an awful lot about the other characters.  I know an opera from page 1 to the last page dot.

BD:    You learn the whole thing?

LH:    The whole score, and the whole orchestral score.  I learned earlier that people are only human, and they can make mistakes.  On occasion I have had erroneous cues from a conductor or two, and have been able to come in at the right place, regardless, because I knew the orchestral score.  I’m very interested in the acting side of opera, which is where opera has suffered in the past by not being a viable drama on the stage.  The day of ‘the fat lady singing in the middle of the stage’ is over, because if opera is going to survive, we are competing with television and movies and live theater, and it better look good!  People want to see action on the stage, not people just standing there singing arias, and I think they’re getting much more of that now.  That’s obviously what the composer had in mind because what inspired him to write the opera in the first place was the drama and the situation.

BD:    Not the musical sound?

LH:    Well, both.  This is why opera is so wonderful.  I would like to have been an actress, but I also love music and love to sing.  This way I have the best of both worlds so I’m very lucky indeed.  I probably wouldn’t have been good enough to be an actress, but I am interested in the theater very much.  I spend my summer going to Stratford, Ontario, to see all the Shakespeare and enough plays.  I am very interested in that aspect, and if you are worrying about cues and having to keep your eye on the conductor constantly, you can’t really be involved in the action and the drama on stage.  If you really know what’s happening in your orchestra, there’s a lot of clues to your character.  A lot of clues to your mood and all the emotions that are going on often are very graphically portrayed in the orchestra.  If you’re not aware of that, you’re missing the boat, or just getting fifty per cent of what you could have.  I was very lucky in my early years as a student.  I studied with some incredible people both at the Royal College and at the Juilliard School of Music.  I was shown how to study, which is something that doesn’t happen these days very much.

BD:    Now you’re just shown what to do?

LH:    Yes.  Students say they learned this aria.  Okay, where does it come in the opera?  What’s she singing about?  It hadn’t occurred to them to check any of those things out, and so I’m trying to show my students this wonderful thing that was shown to me as a student.  I had a wonderful director, Christopher West, who was one of these people in my life who taught me how to study, and with that comes a wonderful independence of being able to study yourself.  You don’t have to depend on a coach all the time.  You do the basic ground work yourself...

BD:    And then go and polish?

haywood LH:    Yes, right!  It’s insulting anyway to expect people to spoon-feed you these things.  If it’s you that’s going to be out there, it’s you that should do the basic work.  Then you gather from other people’s expertise.  He taught me that when the curtain goes up it is at a certain moment in time.  It just happens to go up at that moment in time.  Before the curtain goes up, things have already been going on, and when the curtain comes down, life continues.  It just happens to go up and down at those two moments.  So there is a flow of action that starts before the curtain goes up and continues after the curtain is down.  You need to learn big things about your own character before you appear.  You listen to what people say about you for big clues.  For instance, you learn a lot about Tosca before she ever shows her face.  You learn a lot about Butterfly by listening to the conversation between Pinkerton and Sharpless.  Those are big clues, and so to learn only your part is pretty stupid.  The only way you can get a complete round character is by eavesdropping.  You might think that if you’re that person you wouldn’t be there to hear that conversation, but the point is that you are two people.  You are the character that you are portraying but you’re also the artist doing the portraying.  So you have to know these things.  

BD:    Do you then become the character on stage?

LH:    Yes, yes.  It’s really a case of having a split personality in a way, because you do have to become the person but you also have to be on the outside watching a lot of the time.  That’s where technique comes in.  Vocal technique should be taken care of before you get on the stage.  Those things should be worked out.  Stage technique involves maybe the pair of eyes of the director who says that’s not looking right, but if you’ve been in the business for a long time, you get to know the effect you are having by standing a certain way.  That is stage technique.  Also you have to be in complete control of things.  How else can you be spontaneously portraying that character?  For instance, if you are singing Butterfly, you have wept buckets at home and in the studio, going through all those terrible moments that have rained upon this girl.  But if you really are experiencing that on the stage, you’re not going to be able to sing because it interferes with the vocal mechanism.  So you cry at home and in the studio, and the audience cries in the theater.  It doesn’t mean there aren’t real tears on the stage.  There are, often, but they’re the kind of tears that do not interfere with what’s happening in the throat.  Also, quite often you’re called upon to portray people you do not like very much.  For instance, Athalia, the one we did earlier this year with Music with the Baroque.  You’re hell on wheels, but you have to find something in that character that justifies her in her own eyes.  You have to believe that what you’re doing is right, even if she murdering people and chopping heads off.  You might wonder what kind of person is this!  I would never do anything like that.  Well, that’s not quite true.  If you really dig deep inside you’ll find some little streak of something there.   Maybe you won’t chop somebody’s head off but you might occasionally wish that you could!  [Both laugh]  So you take that seed, and that’s what the characterization grows from.  In the Pagliacci that we did, Nedda was a very belligerent and brassy kind of woman, and the sympathies were very much with Tonio, not with Nedda at all.  It was an updated modern dress performance, and it was very like one of those raw Italian films like La Strada, updated in that way.  She was so awful, wow, what a bitch!  I wondered how I can play this, but the thing is that it isn’t you.  You have to really look at the situations, look at this girl’s background, or if there isn’t one you make one up.  This is the other thing this teacher taught me, and that is this person was born and lived for number of years before the curtain went up.  You have to decide what had happened to her in that life span to make her the person she was when that curtain went up.

BD:    In some cases the character would have lived all those years and known those others and how they think and react to her.

LH:    But what you’re hearing from them when you eavesdrop is their opinion.  Sharpless says Butterfly’s such a delicate little thing, and she spoke with such a soft voice, and she’s just so frail, and Pinkerton must be careful the way he treats this girl.  Those things are all true, but beneath that is this resilient, strong, volatile character that Sharpless didn’t see on the occasions when she visited him at the Consulate.  This is the person who can grab a knife and say she’ll kill you and mean it!  Several times Butterfly grabs a knife and threatens other people.  She threatens Suzuki, she threatens Goro with violence.

BD:    She could carry it out?

LH:    Well, she does.  She does it on herself in the end.  She does carry through with violence, perpetrated on herself finally because even though others see her as delicate, she’s not that delicate.  She’s very violent spasmodically through the opera, and so it’s not so strange that she stabs herself in the throat at the end.  I like to have lots of blood at the end.  It should not a pretty sight!  There’s the ‘bloody lady’ at the Coliseum.  They’re big on stage blood sweeping down tablecloths and things.  As long as I don’t get it on the costume, they don’t mind what I do.

BD:    Is it washable?

LH:    It’s supposed to be washable, but some of it stains.

BD:    Are there any characters that are perhaps a little too close to the real Lorna Haywood?

LH:    Tosca is kind of like me!  [Huge laugh]  There’s not a knife in sight so you can relax!  [Much more laughter] 

BD:    I just wondered if that posed any problems on stage.  Do you catch yourself and make sure you’re doing Tosca and not the real you? 

LH:    Oh no, never that.  It’s just that all your experiences as a person can be used in some way.  You can call upon all the emotions you’ve experienced, and if it calls upon an emotion that you haven’t experienced in your life time, then you have to use your imagination.  I will do that or go and talk to somebody who has gone through that.  When I did my first Trovatore Leonara, I was puzzled by the last scene when she was dying slowly of poisoning.  It gets very violent towards the end, but there’s the long period when the poison is taking effect.  Having never been poisoned that I was aware of, I went and talked to a nurse friend of mine, and asked her about the long, slow acting poisons, and what the effects would be.  The same goes for Manon Lescaut who is dying of dehydration in the desert.  There’s no water, there’s no nothing, and the tongue would start to swell in a certain amount of time.  When I study the scores, it’s astounding actually to try to collate these details with what’s written in the music, and I see how accurate the composers usually are.  There is a place where the words become not as important anymore.  So if her tongue is swelling up, it doesn’t matter.  Then the words become unintelligible or blurred, and it’s a point in the scene where it is perfectly valid.

BD:    Was that a conscious thing on Puccini’s part?

LH:    Puccini was a man of the theater, and Verdi was, too.  They knew those scenes.  There were people dying of consumption in those days, so they could have seen or known about it.

BD:    Was Handel a man of the theater?

LH:    Yes he was in many respects.  This has been the tercentenary of Handel and Bach and Scarlatti.  I did a Bach-Handel concert, one half Bach and one half Handel, and there was a description in the program that Bach was the ultimate musician and was inspired by religious fervor, whereas Handel was more a man of the flesh, inspired by dramatic situation.  The sacred versus the profane in a way, and that’s very clear.  It was particularly clear in this program to put it like that, having one half of one and one half of the other.  Both were geniuses in their own way.  Handel was the fleshly man, but it was Bach who had the twenty-five children!

BD:    [At this point we stopped for a moment so that my guest could record a station break for WNIB.]

LH:    That’s a nice idea.  I love radio.

BD:    I like radio because the pictures are better!

LH:    It’s true.  Just think how wonderful we appear in people’s imagination.  I did quite a lot of radio work in Columbus when I lived there.  Sometimes I would introduce the opera evening.  I learned a lot about that, and I did a program of Christmas music which was picked up by National Public Radio and used for three years at Christmas time.  That was exciting and fun.  I’d like to do more of that stuff.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Now you’re teaching in Ann Arbor, and yet you’re singing here and there...

LH:    Right, right.  I’m never bored!  I have a wonderful Dean at the University Music School, and when I was asked to go to the University of Michigan, we had a very long serious talk as to the commitment and everything, and he was very insistent they wanted a performing artist.

BD:    So there will be voice lessons missed because Lorna is out performing in some place?

LH:    Yes.  I have big chart on my studio wall which tells the students when I’ll go away, where I am, and what I’m singing, and who with, so they don’t think I’m having some vacation in the Caribbean!  I have almost exclusively a graduate studio because that’s mostly where my expertise is valuable.

BD:    Like a masterclass instead of teaching basic technique?

LH:    Well, there’s a lot of technique that goes on too, let me tell you.  But for a lot of people who are really have aspirations to a career, and it’s a very good experience for them to see and hear about the real nitty-gritty logistics of having a career.  A lot of people come in there all dreamy-eyed, thinking it’s standing up on stage in a beautiful costume and people falling all over you afterwards, and rushing off to champagne receptions.  I get back looking more like what the cat brought in, and they tell me with great amazement that I look so tired.  I tell them I rehearsed for two and a half weeks solid from nine o’clock in the morning until twelve o’clock at night, and we thought we were going to get a day off before the performance but something went wrong with the theater so we had to the dress rehearsal the day before.  Then they canceled my plane and I had to sit in the airport overnight and catch the first plane out the next morning instead, so I slept on a bench.  It’s not quite what they thought.

BD:    Do you ever purposely discourage them to get them out of the theater?

LH:    Yes.  Some of my great success stories are now lawyers and computer scientists, and things like that.  When people come to me we’ll work for a while.  It’s really sad because so often there are people with the big vocal talent, and I think they have what it takes but they’re not so sure they want to sing.  They’re not sure that they want to be away from home for that length of time, and there it is.  The decision is made as far as I’m concerned.  Then there is the person who is going to die if they can’t sing, are they quite often are the ones with very minimum talent.  It’s not just as vocal equipment either.  Of course vocal equipment is needed, but also a personality, a flare that you know is going to speak on the stage; a persona that has something to say and has that zip to it.  Then on top of that, it’s having the strength and the resilience and the courage.  Very, very rarely do I actively encourage someone and say I really think they should consider a career.  I’m not sure that I’ve ever said it yet.  Maybe a couple of times perhaps, but not ever without big reservations because it’s a hard life.

BD:    Too hard?

LH:    Sometimes one thinks so, yes.  There are a lot of things that go out the window because you really have to be very, very dedicated.  It really takes a tremendous amount of strength just to stay healthy.  That sounds like a thing you take for granted but I say to my students that you are your instrument.  The pianist can play with a headache or maybe even with a toothache and the piano doesn’t go out of tune because of that.  But you are your own instrument, and you’ve got to be as strong as a horse.  They might come bounding in, enthusiastic to sing one day, and then the next day they say this might not be a very good lesson because they’re really tired and had to do this or that last night.  I ask them,
What if you were singing tonight, and the fee from that performance was going to pay your rent or you’d be out on the street?  How do you feel about it now?  You better pull yourself up by your boot straps.  Let’s go!  Those are the times when you remind them of what we’re talking aboutthat you have got to get up some mornings even when the last thing you want to do is sing.  You have a performance tonight but you want to burrow back into those covers and phone in and say you’re sick.  It doesn’t happen. 

BD:    Thank you for being a singer. 

LH:    Actually it’s a great privilege and a great joy for me personally.  It’s true it takes a lot of dedication, and it’s cruel on occasions, but the rewards are so wonderful that I’ll keep on doing it for a while.  This has been very good.  You
’re very nice to talk to.


Photos in costume from website

© 1985 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in Chicago on October 13, 1985.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB two days later.  This transcription was made in 2015, and posted on this website at that time.  My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.

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

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.