Conductor Marek Janowski
Two Conversations with Bruce Duffie
|Born in 1939 in Warsaw and
educated in Germany, Marek Janowski’s artistic path led him from
Assistant positions in Aachen, Cologne, Düsseldorf and Hamburg to
his appointment as General Music Director in Freiburg im Breisgau
(1973-75) and Dortmund (1975-79). Whilst in Dortmund, his reputation
grew rapidly and he was invited to conduct in many of Europe’s leading
opera houses. There is not one world-renowned opera house where he has
not been a regular guest since the late 1970s, from the Metropolitan
Opera New York to the Bayerischer Staatsoper Munich; from Chicago and
San Francisco to Hamburg; from Vienna and Berlin to Paris.
Marek Janowski stepped back from the opera scene in the 1990s in order
to concentrate on the great German symphonic repertoire. He now enjoys
an outstanding reputation amongst the premier orchestras of Europe and
North America and is recognised for his ability to create orchestras of
international standing as well as for his interpretation of the core
Between 1984 and 2000, as Musical Director of the Orchestre
Philharmonique de Radio France, Marek Janowski took the orchestra to a
position of pre-eminence in France, as well as abroad. From 1986 to
1990, in addition to his position in France, Janowski held the title of
Chief Conductor of the Gürzenich-Orchester in Cologne and between
1997 and 1999, he was also First Guest Conductor of the Deutsche
Symphonie-Orchester Berlin. From 2000 to 2005 Janowski served as Music
Director of the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo, and from 2001
to 2003 he also held the position of Chief Conductor with the Dresdner
Marek Janowski has made many recordings over the past 30 years,
including many complete operas and symphonic cycles, many of which have
been awarded international prizes. To this day, his recording of
Richard Wagner’s complete tetralogy the Ring Cycle with the
Staatskapelle Dresden (1980-83) remains one of the most distinguished
and musically interesting recordings that has been made of this work.
His recent Bruckner cycle with the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande,
recorded for Pentatone has also been accorded high praise.
Contained on this webpage are two interviews with Marek
Janowski. Both were held in Chicago while he was conducting at
Lyric Opera. The first one was done in October of 1980, on the
day before the first performance of the new production of Lohengrin, and centered on
Wagner. The second took place a year later, and was mostly about
Material from the first interview was published in two issues of Wagner News early in 1981, and
portions of both were aired several times on WNIB, Classical 97 in
Chicago. This presentation contains the entire conversations.
Being a very articulate man, I have left many of his interesting
choices of words and some of the Germanic style structures he
used. Though helping him slightly here and there, this transcript
accurately reflects the thoughts and enthusiasm which Janowski poured
out during our meetings.
I'm going to give myself a picture of Chicago in the next days
following the first performance. The rehearsal period is very
hard work because it's much less time than in Germany for such a
production. The rehearsals have to be very dense.
How much time do you have here?
MJ: It's more
or less just a fortnight or so. The German system is quite
different from here, of course. The whole thing would take at
least four weeks or so. But German theaters have performances
each evening, so it's completely different from here.
BD: How about
the advance preparations?
very good. Both groups – chorus
and orchestra – made
a big impression. Very professional attitude, very cooperative,
very disciplined. It was a joy to work with them. Really.
BD: So all
the preparation is done before opening night. Is there any more
rehearsal or touch-up after the show has opened?
normally not. It can happen when one of the principal artists
gets sick, but there is nothing planned. It is not
BD: Do you
have much call to replace a singer because of illness or other
[Chuckles] I hope not. It depends on such a lot of
things. Just in the last days here in Chicago, it's sunny but
it's getting colder. We had a few days last week when it was very
cold and such changing of temperatures is a big problem for the
singers, of course. Touch wood [taps table] nothing will
Janowski at Lyric Opera of Chicago
1980 - Lohengrin - with
Johns, Marton, Martin,
Roar, Sotin, Monk;
Oswald (dir & sets)
1981 - Ariadne auf Naxos -
with Meier/Rysanek, Johns,
Schmidt/Minton, Welting, Gordon, Negrini; Neugebauer
(dir), Messel (sets)
1984 - Frau ohne Schatten -
with Marton, Johns, Zschau,
Nimsgern, Dunn, Doss;
Corsaro (dir), Chase (sets)
1985-86 - Miestersinger -
with Stewart, Johns, Patrick,
Johnson/Wells/Griffel, Graham, Kuebler, Kavrakos, Del Carlo,
(dir), O'Hearn (sets), Tallchief
1996-97 - Zauberflöte -
with Lopardo, Norberg-Schultz, Bär, Kodalli, Selig/Moll, Siena/Cangelosi; Everding (dir),
-- Names which are links,
both in this box and in the text below, refer to my interviews
elsewhere on this website. BD
BD: Tell us a
little about Lohengrin.
Is this the first Wagner that you've conducted?
no. It's not the first Wagner that I've conducted. This Lohengrin is my fourth or fifth new
production of this piece. I have conducted it often, but new
productions this year have included one in Orange in southern France
with Everding at the open-air theater with 14,000 people.
BD: How is
the balance in a place with 14,000 people?
MJ: It's one
of the real acoustic miracles of Western Europe. It's an
amphitheater, and you can listen even in the last row upstairs to one
violin playing pianissimo.
The acoustic circumstances are really fantastic!
BD: How are
the acoustics on the stage for the singers? Can they hear the
MJ: It's not
easy, but if you get used to this circumstance it works quite
well. The distances are terrible.
BD: I would
think that in a regular house, where the voice comes back to the
singer, they'd be more confident.
MJ: There it
doesn't come back, but in a very strange way you get used to it.
Everding tried to stage the Swan Chorus – a
very difficult part for the chorus in the first act where Lohengrin
appears – by dividing them into two groups just
standing in front of one another at a distance of maybe 80-100
meters. We thought that would be impossible, that it could not
work acoustically together, but it worked perfectly!
BD: The back
chorus didn't have to anticipate the beat?
Nothing. It was OK. Then I've done Lohengrin quite a few other times,
so I've developed experience with the difficulties of the piece.
Apart from the Dutchman,
which I've only done occasionally, I've done all of the Wagner operas
quite often in the last years.
BD: Even the Ring?
MJ: Yes, even
the Ring lots of times, and
I'm going to record the Ring
in the next four years with the Staatskappelle Dresden. This will
be the first digital Ring
recording, starting with Rheingold,
and during the next three and a half years the rest. I've done Parsifal, and I've done Tristan, Tannhäuser...
BD: Can you
reveal a few details about the Ring
or is it a closely guarded secret?
MJ: No, it's
known to the Western European public. The cast will be Theo Adam
as the Wotans, Schreier will be Loge and the Siegfried Mime, and Kollo as both
Siegfrieds. Hagen is not yet cast because it will be recorded
until '83, and you must first be very careful about casting that role
too soon because of vocal development that you wouldn't like.
Brünnhilde with be Jeannine Altmeyer – her
first. She is coming to this role.
BD: I had an
impression of Altmeyer as being lighter – more
an Elsa, perhaps.
no. In the last two years she's changed in lots of aspects.
She was supposed to sing in this current season her first Isolde at
Stuttgart but she didn't want to do it. She and Eva Marton
possibly will be, in a few years, the two ‘solutions’
to this role. Marton is also thinking about the whole thing very
cautiously, very carefully, but I think she will be one of the
possibilities also. But Altmeyer has decided to accept this Ring.
BD: For the
recording studio only?
after the recordings there will be a concert performance with the cast
in Dresden. Sieglinde will be Jessye Norman, which I think is a
marvelous solution vocally, and Alberich will be Nimsgern.
Rheinmaidens will be Lucia Popp, Hanna Schwarz, and a young unknown
singer from East Germany, so the whole cast could be really something.
BD: It sounds
exciting. Is there a difference in preparing operas for
recordings and for the stage?
it should not be. When you make artistic considerations
concerning general views of interpretation of the piece, it should
not. But then when you know which very specific problems are
connected with a recording, you should have an idea or you should have
a second view on the piece that's not so much concerned with a
production as an opera, but with certain details about appealings of
voices to a tape or not. Then the whole thing gets a second
aspect, which is different from the aspect of interpretation.
That needs a certain experience in operatic recordings. I don't
know if I have enough, but I've done some recordings and that's perhaps
a help. The whole thing is a tremendous task, a very big general
BD: Do you
find recordings satisfying?
MJ: Sometimes yes,
sometimes no. I hope it will be satisfying in the way we are
planning this recording of the Ring.
There are some problems not solved yet in digital recording concerning
edits. Cutting and putting a tape together the normal way is not
possible, so for this production we have worked out another system of
producing it, and I hope it will work. With the complete
technical recording machines at work, I will do quite a lot of
orchestral rehearsals before the sessions. So during these
rehearsals we can find out any balance problems. Apart from a few
places, there are no problems with ensemble singing –
only the Rheinmaidens, the Valkeries, and the chorus in Götterdämmerung.
Otherwise you can put the voice on the balanced orchestra. There
is only one person singing, so the balance can be set up this way.
BD: Will you
be laying down an orchestral ‘track’ and adding
the voices later???
no! We will be preparing
the full orchestra to a nearly perfect standard concerning the tape
with the orchestra. Then we propose that we should produce in one
session of 3 to 3 1/2 hours about half hour of music. One
run-through, perhaps a second one correcting some things, and a third
one and that's it. Not the way of recording in small pieces of 2
minutes or so and putting it together and praying to God that it works,
but having larger parts in the way of more going through it. I
hope very much that this will be a big help to keep the thing alive.
BD: More or
less performing an entire scene?
MJ: More or
should work better for the singers and for the orchestra.
MJ: We hope
will be the recording, then a concert. How will that concert
differ from the recording?
MJ: It will
not differ at all. It's the same cast of course. Perhaps in
the three larger operas there might be just a day of rest or so before
the concert, then just a concert of the piece that has just been
Presenting to the world your full conception?
MJ: Ja, ja, more or less.
BD: Just a
hypothetical question. Suppose that someone goes to the
performance, then later buys the record and says that it's not the same
MJ: Well, I
don't know . . .
BD: What I'm
asking is, how much of the recording is controlled by the engineers and
the producer, and how much say-so do you have?
difficult question; difficult to answer. I hope that this way of
taping – by doing more or less scenes in a
session – it should be and will be as close as
possible to a straight-through performance. I hope that very
much. I can't guarantee it, but hope it will be very close.
BD: What is
the future of operatic recording(s)? If there is a perfect
performance of a work, do you think it sets up an impossible standard
to achieve in the opera house?
the danger; that's the problem. In Europe and in America there is
one basic misunderstanding of what a recording should be. There
is a terrible mixing up of an artificial product to put it in
competition with a live going-on thing.
should be two separate things?
MJ: I think
so. My personal opinion is that even the most perfect recording
cannot give you – and should not give you
– that what you get when you are in an audience with 1,000
or 2,000 other living people observing a living and going-on
performance, and not sitting isolated at home with your quadro and
stereo machines and just one point in the room where it is acoustically
perfect. It's never in a normal performance; there is no place
that is acoustic perfection. You have a surrogate, an artificial
surrogate of a thing that's not alive. Of course recordings have
done a lot, brought a lot of really marvelous development to musical
things. Orchestras have improved fantastically since recordings
exist. We have a tremendous development of precision and control.
BD: So we
strive even more toward this perfection?
can be a bad word, but not always. It is generally a bad
word. It's something, perfection. In my opinion, recordings
should be a means of informing people about a piece. It is not a
piece. I don't want to say a ‘live’
performance, but a living
performance sometimes can be a piece. For me, personally, a
recording never can be a piece.
BD: It loses
something being stamped in plastic?
MJ: Oh, ja! I think so. It's
really terrible that living artists are playing against our
recordings. Our recordings are threatening ourselves, and it's
sometimes not very easy to get around with this. There are some
artists who are super-perfect in recording and much less perfect in
doing things live. The young people who listen – the
‘fans’ – don't really realize how
different these two levels of bringing music to people is.
completely different things.
MJ: Yes, I
BD: And they
should both exist?
MJ: Oh yes,
nothing against it.
about taking the recordings one step farther and putting an opera on
film? Does this bring it closer to the real thing, or is it still
a plastic non-living entity?
MJ: I think
also a film is not essentially living theater. It's the
photography of living theatre. It's very close to it, like a good
photo of your face is very very close to your face and can show you
something that's behind your skin, but it is not your face. But
just as recordings do, films of opera could bring thoughts and
thousands of people closer to that which we call operatic music.
It makes it more popular, more ‘democratic’ – that's
a mis-used word often.
More universally accepted?
Yes! No longer belonging only to the upper classes. It
could always be a help to bring people closer to it, but listening to a
real going-on performance at a distance of 50-100 meters or so is a
completely different thing.
BD: How would
you go about bringing Wagner to someone who has never heard an opera or
never heard a Wagner opera before? What kind of advice would you
MJ: If he is
interested in music but not having heard Wagner, I would tell him very
much not to get his first contact with things like Meistersinger or Tristan or Parsifal or the Ring pieces. I would tell him
to observe the line that starts with middle or later Beethoven
– across Carl Maria von Weber – Freischutz and Euyranthe...
BD: Not Oberon?
– not concerning the quality but only the way of the
development that leads to Wagner. Then try to get a connection
either to Tannhäuser, Holländer or Lohengrin. These are early or
middle pieces, depending on how many sections you put on Wagner's
life. The Dutchman
perhaps as a revolutionary piece is slightly left apart. You can
find a more earlier ‘German’ style in the Tannhäuser and more Italian,
French (Meyerbeer) way of handling the voices in Lohengrin. Of course the very
popular themes in it could give a certain appeal to these pieces to an
interested new music listener.
BD: It's a
way of bridging?
that's it. But Wagner has presented an orchestral-musical
presentation of what he thinks a miracle should be in Lohengrin. It's fantastic;
the Prelude to Act I, for
instance, or other places where Lohengrin appears. The divided
high violins is a fantastic thing. When a person has gotten more
or less familiar with this style, then I would tell him to try
listening to Meistersinger,
or try Tristan – but
that's a masterpiece and it's difficult to hear really. Well, Meistersinger perhaps, or Walküre. That could be
the next step.
BD: So you're
saying to come to it gradually?
MJ: That way,
you're really urging people to come to Wagner the way Wagner came to
MJ: I would
say so, yes. It's very evident and very important that people who
are interested in this sort of music should know Wagner's roots.
The better ones are Beethoven, whom he admired tremendously, and Weber
whose pieces he knew very well. Euryanthe
is just the same subject as Lohengrin,
and musically the bad couple – Friedrich and
Ortrud – has its model in Euryanthe, and Wagner knew it very
well. The things that were important for Wagner were in the
French/Meyerbeer line, and the other line is Beethoven/Weber, helping
Wagner to find his style.
is certainly more grandiose.
MJ: Ja, ja! And these two lines come
together somewhere between Rienzi
and Lohengrin. He found
himself by being concerned with these two lines. I can't say more
BD: Is there
any antecedent from Bellini? I know Wagner worked with Norma.
MJ: As you
know he admired it very much. I've said Meyerbeer line, but that
is very general. If you insist on asking me on Bellini, I think
there are lots of parts in Lohengrin
that demonstrate not the virtuoso line of Bellini lines, but the more
deeply lyric line. There are parts of the great Norma/Adalgisa
duet that are very close to the Lohengrin
Bridal Chamber Scene – not in the musical theme
and not in the basic musical attitude, but in the leading vocal line.
about the early works of Wagner – do they have a
place in the modern repertoire?
wouldn't think so.
BD: If you
were asked to conduct Feen or
Liebesverbot, would you?
MJ: I was
just asked to do a concert performance of Liebesverbot in Berlin in 1984, and
I wouldn't. I would with a very good cast, and I have done Rienzi in a concert performance but
not onstage. There are some places in Rienzi which really show what would
come or could come. The overture and some scenes are
fantastic. Not very skillful handling of the orchestration, but
it shows something that would come in Tannhäuser
and Lohengrin, but not at all
in the way of the later pieces. There is a real transformation in
Wagner's style completely after Lohengrin.
BD: Is there
any point in finishing up Die
Hochzeit, or would that just be a curiosity?
MJ: I would
BD: How much
influence on you as a conductor are the prose writings, the polemical
writings of Wagner?
MJ: There is
some importance in a historical or semi-philosophical view. It
can or could describe a personality that was never at peace with itself
– always thinking and trying to change his mind on some
problems. I know what's behind your question and I want to be
very careful especially for those who study the prose works, not to mix
them up with what he wrote later. It's a very difficult question
and I'm very cautious.
BD: It seems
to me that Wagner contradicts himself occasionally -- especially by the
time you get to Parsifal.
Yes. Not only musical aspects but in philosophical and general
artistic aspects, he's one of the most sparkling figures of the whole
western cultural history.
BD: Do you
regard him as a giant?
MJ: Yes, in a
way, yes, I do so. In Parsifal,
lots of places in the Ring.
The Tristan third act, for
me, belongs to the ten most important musical events we've had in the
last 300 years.
BD: Do you
find this kind of depth in any other composer?
MJ: In other
ways, of course. Mozart's Don
Giovanni is far away from Wagner, but concerning depth there are
some places in Così Fan Tutte,
and in a more popular way of depth in the Magic Flute. Very close to
Wagner are some parts of Fidelio
and the 9th Symphony that's
very close to it. Perhaps in only talking about stage music, it's
BD: Do you
think there's a place for Monteverdi in today's repertoire?
MJ: I think
so, but about Gluck, to be honest, I'm doubting.
replace Gluck with Monteverdi?
MJ: That's a
very personal opinion.
BD: Do you
think Monteverdi can be done in the larger houses such as Chicago?
I wouldn't. You can; you can arrange it but I wouldn't tell
people to do it in such a theater.
BD: But if
they approached you with a workable idea, you might participate?
BD: If you
were doing a Monteverdi work, would you try to get ‘authentic’
instruments, or would you use modern ones?
Both. I would say the authentic ones have a good aspect to show
it as has been done hundreds of years ago, but, for instance, we don't
play Beethoven sonatas on a hammerklavier at this time.
there's a recording of one.
MJ: Of course
sometimes it is done, but generally we play Mozart piano concertos on
normal instruments and we do the St.
Matthew Passion in big halls. The circumstances of these
older centuries is very different; the rooms were much smaller and the
whole thing was not so big as we do them today. The approach of
doing everything very originally is OK in that it demonstrates
something to you, but it's not at all sacrilegious to do a masterpiece
in the instrumental surroundings of your time.
BD: You feel
Monteverdi would approve of using modern instruments and modern stage
yes. I think so.
about versions – for instance right now in
Chicago we have Boris in the
original version. Would you prefer doing that kind of thing or
the Rimski edition or the Shostakovich version?
MJ: That's a
very personal question. I know all three versions. I would
think that now one should not do the Rimsky-Korsakov version. I
wouldn't, but to answer it very personally I would say I prefer doing
the Shostakovich version because he was slightly more skillful in
handling the orchestra. It is very, very close to the original
thoughts that come out of the original score, but were not handled so
skillfully by Mussorgsky.
BD: Is there
a place in the opera house or the concert hall for performance of works
by minor composers?
question. There should be, but they are not often done. But
first you must define a bit more clearly what you mean by ‘minor’
BD: When you
do twenty works in a season, you can't do twenty masterpieces.
You must do works that have not remained in the repertoire and perhaps
new works that may fail. If an opera house asked you to do an
opera by a composer that you don't think is very good, would you do it,
or would you say, “No, I would rather do
MJ: Oh no,
no. If in my personal opinion I would think, “Well,
it's not my special cup of tea,” but it's not
really a bad work, one should give it a chance once again to come
before the public. As history teaches us sometimes, you remember
that for a hundred years, nothing was heard of the works of Bach.
Then when Mendelssohn gave him a new chance, we discovered what it
was. One should be very careful in saying, “No,
I never world . . . ”
BD: Do you
think there are some masterpieces lurking on the shelves someplace?
should be done but very rarely? I think Weber's Oberon and Euryanthe, for instance. For
me personally, the early Verdi is not worth being done, but that is a
personal view. There are all the pieces from the early part of
this twentieth century – not Schoenberg, Berg,
and Webern – but Schrecker, Korngold, and such.
should be done?
MJ: I think
so, to give them a new chance.
about new works – world premieres? And
also, where do you think opera is going?
MJ: To answer
honestly, I don't know. [Pauses a moment to think] I know
Ligeti pieces and Krzysztof
Penderecki, but to be truthful, I am dubious about what is coming
in this special kind of arts.
BD: Just in
opera, or in symphonic works also?
symphonic works it's perhaps easier, but in opera there are lots of
pieces that are going to be written and going to be performed, but the
question is what would remain for twenty or thirty or fifty years or
so. I'm slightly pessimistic, but I would be happy if in ten
years I could tell you I failed in saying what I've just said!
BD: You don't see
any other giant on the horizon?
MJ: I think a
very important person is Lutosławski, a very important one. I
think Ligeti without a doubt a very, very important man.
BD: Have you
done some of his works?
MJ: Not his
stage works, but his concert pieces. To know how Ligeti's
development will go, one has to wait for it to happen. Those are
two... perhaps one or two of the younger Polish generation will become
mentioned Penderecki. Did you see his Paradise Lost which had its world
premiere here in Chicago?
MJ: Yes, in Munich.
BD: Did you
BD: Was it
done in German?
Yes. I would be very interested in the development of
Penderecki. You know I have conducted the recording of the Devils of Loudun! So I know
his different style – very precise very clear.
BD: Is there
any relationship between the Devils
and Paradise Lost?
None at all.
BD: Is it
almost as though it were from the pen of two different composers?
MJ: That I
wouldn't say, but it's a complete changing of style. Perhaps not
a complete changing of musical attitude in its widest sense, but I
don't know where this leads to, or to what end this changing will come.
about chamber works – is there a place today for
chamber operas and smaller works? As we've said, everything today
is so big...
MJ: Well, a ‘place
for’ or a ‘public for’ are two
different questions! It's difficult to answer. There should
be a place for them, and the possibility of having places and small
publics should be fought for.
BD: Is there
anything in music right now that you're unhappy with – performance
styles or trends in composition or something else?
MJ: It may be
a contradiction, but I would say I really have some anxiety concerning
that mound of mechanical perfection that we have achieved in producing
of musical works – not just the recordings, but
the performing. I fear we are not far away from a standard of
perfection that brings to us a certain real collapse of spontaneity and
the human aspect of music. Perhaps I am wrong...
BD: Are we
MJ: We would
never become machines, but we appreciate machines too much, and what is
philosophically behind machines. I hope this development comes to
an end someday.
should we go instead?
point is what makes me doubtful of the development of our whole musical
culture – losing the living aspects of this
BD: Are we
perhaps rounding out an era? Might we need to go to something
completely new that has no relation to what we have been doing?
MJ: Let us
arrange another meeting in twenty years to continue this
discussion! [Both laugh]
back to Wagner once more, people seem to be very passionate either one
way or the other about him in a way that is unique. No other
composer seems to elicit this fierce devotion either for or against.
true. You cannot take a middle ground. It's always either
enthusiastic “Yes!” or terrible “No!”
with nothing in between. That develops a lot of fanatic attitudes
which is always dangerous.
BD: But we
find this in no other composer – not even
Mozart. Mozart certainly was a giant...
MJ: Yes, but
in a way we call ‘divine’. I would
hesitate in calling Wagner a divine giant.
BD: Is he a
MJ: No, not
mad, but divine means ‘God-like’, and Wagner is
less and more!
BD: Can you
account for this? Is it because of what Wagner was, or because of
what we think Wagner was?
MJ: Not in Lohengrin or Tannhäuser so much, but the
two most important philosophical things in human life he brought into
music – love and power. It's involved in
the second half of the last century in philosophy concerned with
Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, but these two things could touch all
people, more or less, or could reach them. In a miraculous way he
brought these into the music; not into the words that he used, but into
the music itself. His Wotan and Alberich portrayals really
demonstrate what musical power can be.
BD: Are Wotan
and Alberich two sides of the same coin?
MJ: [Thinks a
moment] You have asked this and I've never thought about it, but
it couldn't be completely wrong what you said. Perhaps...
[Musing on these ideas] The aspect of power... the aspect of love
in the second act of Tristan
going to the third act, and the first act of Walküre, and even love and
power in the second act of Parsifal...
BD: Can they
come together – love and power?
I don't think they can come really together, but they can be pointed
out in one scene.
BD: But they
will still be two distinct entities?
MJ: I would
BD: Can one
person have both love and power?
[Smiles] What do you think? I don't know.
BD: I don't
know either... I'll write these down for our conversation twenty
years from now.
fascinating. With no other composer can we get this kind of depth.
right. And it's fascinating – all the
other composers, the fellow composers and later ones all knew it!
They knew it! You know how Verdi admired Wagner.
BD: Did they
know they were going to be overshadowed?
BD: Is that
why we are, at times, afraid of Wagner – because
he swamps everything else?
MJ: Partly it
could be. Perhaps.
BD: It's the
kind of discussion that can go on infinitely, and often does so in the
Wagner Society. It must be broken off to be picked up again at
another time, and broken off again for there is no solution.
that's the later Wagner – not so much the Lohengrin and Tannhäuser, but more the later
works, though Lohengrin in
some places shows something of the later ideas. The mystic
aspects of Lohengrin are
kinds of examples which point the way to Wagner's musical future.
BD: If Wagner
had not written anything after Lohengrin
– due to his early death, perhaps – where
would his place be in the firmament of operatic composers? Would
he be just another Weber?
but very famous, that's for sure. Lohengrin is a very popular thing,
as is Tannhäuser, and in
a way Holländer
also. He would be a very popular, very famous composer, but not
at all this man who is the reason for the Wagner Society debates.
There would be no debate, or nearly nothing.
another major figure?
BD: Can you
project anything beyond Parsifal
– if he had lived another 10 years or so and had written
MJ: Can you
project another piece after the Magic
Flute if Mozart would have been alive?
BD: I'd love
to have more from either of these two composers!
Right. Some people die physically when perhaps there's nothing to
come. I can't imagine something behind Parsifal concerned Wagner.
BD: He knew
this was his last work?
MJ: Oh no,
but it appeared to be that way, and it was not wrong. Of course
it's a real pity that Mozart died at thirty-six.
BD: Is it my
greed to want more from Mozart and more from Wagner?
Verdi was writing, he seemed to project a finality with Aïda, and later came up with Otello and Fastaff, both master-strokes.
MJ: Ja, perhaps, as he himself thought,
his only masterpieces. Verdi was very important for operatic
development and for developing a musical-dramatic aspect to bring into
music, particularly some scenes in Rigoletto
and Traviata, and also Ballo in Maschera; parts of these,
but not the whole things. But I'm not a great admirer of Aïda. It has a marvelous
third and fourth act, but for me, one and two are too...
Slightly. Not the scenery, but yes, ‘showy’
would be right. But I agree with you that the other two, Otello and Falstaff, are tremendous
masterpieces. But in Germany at least, Falstaff is never popular. We
have The Merry Wives of Windsor
by Nicolai, with very touching music, very elegant music. It's a
nice piece, of course, but this piece beats the masterwork of Verdi
very much. Falstaff has
not a chance in Germany.
BD: I have
periods of sadness when I lament the fact that Verdi never composed his
BD: If he
could have done Otello, then Lear, then Falstaff...
MJ: Right, I
agree. Verdi recognized that he couldn't do it. Not for weakness,
but he couldn't face this Shakespearian attitude. That's
something. He was involved in it, but he felt he was not capable
of doing it. That closes the door on it.
BD: Have you
seen Lear by Reimann?
Yes. Not bad at all. Perhaps that is one opera which could
have a chance.
I appreciate your taking the time to discuss all of this today.
MJ: It was a
BD: I hope
you will come back to Chicago.
MJ: If there
is something interesting. Then we can continue . . . . . . . . .
===== ===== =====
One year later, Janowski was back in Chicago for Ariadne auf Naxos. While
setting up for the second conversation, we chatted about his following
appearance in Chicago (three years hence, in 1984) which would be Die Frau ohne Schatten.
I mentioned that I had been waiting for a long time to see this work in
the theater, and was particularly looking forward to seeing it . . . .
. . . .
MJ: It’s well
worth the wait, without any question. The second act of Die Frau ohne Schatten is the best
act Strauss has ever written, even
taking into account the different parts and the different periods of
his slightly changed style of composing where he has reached such depth
in his musical inventions. It’s always all over the earlier pieces
– not only in opera but in the orchestra pieces until the
last ones – this tremendous capability of just
having found a musical idea then transforming it in all these different
ways – motive, abbreviation, prolongation,
things like that. He’s the most experienced man in this
this is not a real criticism on Strauss – but as a matter of fact,
sometimes there’s certain lack of depth in it. It’s so
brilliant in all the handling of the ideas and the really dramatic
things on stage that one sometimes would like to have the same amount
of depths in the musical thought. It’s like this to me and
to a lot
of experienced Strauss conductors too. But in Frau ohne Schatten,
particularly in the second act, there is his real heart written in
It is tremendously orchestrated and it’s great. The problem is
it’s too philosophical in the basic thoughts that made it, until the
last fifteen or twenty years, even in Western Europe, impossible for
that piece to get a real popular success. This wall doesn’t exist
anymore. It’s a big hit.
BD: Has the
wall gone, or have we gone over the wall?
for a moment] I think we have gone over the wall. I would
BD: It’s us,
the public, that has grown?
Does the rest of the opera approach the level of the second act?
MJ: Let me
explain that from our normal estimated point of view of our West
European experience with Strauss. I have my doubts
about it, but it is said that the third act should be slightly
weaker. They all say it, but I doubt it. The whole
hymn-like finale is perhaps a bit too, as we say, standing with both
the earth! But there are things before
in the third act which are really great music, without any
question. The first act possibly doesn’t have the same stringent
attack, because to many things have to be
explained. The first act is about sixty or sixty-five minutes,
takes forty minutes not to explain but to try to explain the
background of the whole thing! The last scene of the first act,
instance, when Barak comes back with the guards watching the town at
the end of it, is great without any question.
technical demands of this work are also huge.
MJ: In every
and any aspect really. Not
stage directing, but arranging a stage for that piece means really the
whole technical possibilities of a bigger opera house are needed.
BD: Have you
seen the production at the Met? They use the stage elevators and
I did it in Dortmund, and it was really an incredible task
each performance for the technical people to get the thing all done
with these elevators up and down and under the stage. So it’s
BD: Is the
technical facility backstage here in Chicago good enough?
MJ: I don’t
know, but if they want to do it, they have to do it and
to find a way. As a matter of fact, the technical staff, the
who do their job there, are very, very good and very clever, very fast
in solving problems and things like that. The rehearsal situation
the orchestra will not be so easy. Either you do it with a
possibility to bring the whole thing to a really first-class
performance, or you shouldn’t dare it. But of course that’s not
question. If there would be enough rehearsals for the orchestra,
would do it very well, but it’s just the amount of extra time for the
BD: By that
time the orchestra will have played Rosenkavalier,
Ariadne, several Wagner
pieces, etc. Will all of this help in the orchestra’s development
of grasping the styles?
MJ: Yes and
no. The orchestra here is really experienced. It is
very tricky in handling Italian style, and they do that very
When they are well rehearsed, then they can play very well, but the
Strauss and Wagner style in general is not so close to the general
American orchestra’s attitude of playing. What we have with the
European orchestras is the combination of a tremendous demand of
precision with a certain relaxed attitude to that precision, and they
don’t have here yet. They want to make it very precise and they
to push a thing just in the right direction.
BD: So with a
bit more experience they’ll become more relaxed?
nowadays is extraordinary example for this. They have played all
performances really very, very good without any question. They
done a marvelous opening night, and were very precise in every small
detail. That was very, very good. They worked hard and with
and rehearsed with a lot of energy and had a fine result. We have
just had the fifth performance and it’s always growing. They
and with each performance I am conducting them less, less, less.
makes it more risky for them to play, and that leads now, after a
couple of performances when they know what the other people are doing
around them – which
for such a chamber music piece is very important – they are much more
relaxed. At the last two performances – last Saturday and Tuesday
they come closer and closer to that way of being not to terribly
precise. You know what I mean? It has to remain precise but
[pauses to think a moment]
BD: So it’s
it! The tradition here is much more concerned about and
with Italian opera. If they would do during each year at least
productions of German opera, they would possibly build this up.
Mrs. Fox, very much the first, the most important thing has been the
Italian opera style. If it changes a bit like this, it would help
much to improve the basic preparation for German opera.
BD: Do you
see the repertoire being a little more adventurous now under Ardis Krainik?
be. I hope very much that the two papers here of the
town, with their official comments on repertoire and how to build up a
season, would encourage her very much to take these steps
could be possible.
BD: Is the
Lyric in a position to do things like Lulu?
[Lyric would present its first production of Lulu during the 1987-88 season with
Catherine Malfitano, Jacque
Trussel, Victor Braun, and Evelyn Lear as
Countess Geschwitz (!), conducted by Dennis Russell Davies.]
any question, without any question.
BD: I just
wonder if the public in Chicago ready for Lulu?
let’s come back again to Ariadne,
which, apart from Munich and even in Vienna, as we say, is not a
box-office thriller, and has its problems. It’s a big success
The people who come really like it. They love it.
BD: We’ve had
Rosenkavalier twice, and it
did very well both times. We’ve had Salome and Elektra, of course, and now
you’re looking at Frau ohne Schatten.
What are some of the other Strauss works that should be done here?
MJ: If you’ve
had Salome and Elektra, and if you’ve had Rosenkavalier for the second time,
the next step is precisely right in trying to get something like Frau ohne Schatten. I agree
to you without any question that should be the next step. It
should not be Arabella, which
is much weaker than Rosenkavalier
and very close stylistic to it. Then if you have done Frau ohne Schatten, you should
really risk one of the very late things ...
BD: Like Die Schweigsame Frau?
should come to this later. We are not talking about comedy
pieces, just important pieces of Strauss. Think about Daphne and Capriccio, these two things.
It’s very demanding for the public but they are both great
BD: If you
were to do Capriccio, would
you say that it should be done in English?
MJ: Yes, I
would say so, and I would say so also to the comedy part of Strauss’s
operas. You should do a Schweigsame
Frau in English. With such a girl as Ruth Welting, for
instance, she must do that.
make a great Aminta!
BD: Where do
we find a bass for Sir Morosus?
could be very difficult, it could be really very difficult. For
it to be first-class, around Europe it’s only Kurt Moll and Matti
Salminen who do it.
BD: Who is on
Adam. He wouldn’t do it anymore now. These three are
really the leading people. There might be others... Could be from
quality of the voice, I don’t know. I must find out about that;
type I can judge, but I like the quality of the voice of your American
Paul Plishka. He is a great bass with a wonderful warm timbre,
have no idea how he is as a comedian really.
BD: You need
a comedian but you can’t just pluck out any old Don Pasquale.
MJ: Nichts, nichts! It’s a
real, very, very heavy vocal role. It needs a first-class bass
‘comic-buffo’, or something like that. You’d need to have voice
BD: So you’re
making a distinction between a comedian and a buffo?
MJ: Yes, in
the aspect of Fach. A
buffo very often is the bass with a small, weaker voice.
back to this problem of doing things in English, why was the decision
made not to do the Prologue of Ariadne
in English here in Chicago?
MJ: As a
matter of fact, I think it hadn’t been really discussed.
When I signed this contract, it was just last year when I was here in Lohengrin.
There were all these troubles fixing the season and talking about the
cast and that’s it. Then the change in the management came, and
casting was more or less really done. While I was in Europe I
about that, and with most of the cast it would not have been a
problem. If I would do it abroad again somewhere, I really would
to talk with the management very early about making the Prologue in the
local language. It would mean, though, that you lose some of
beautiful untranslatable things that have Hofmannsthal-style rhythm,
which can exist only in German, of course. You cannot really do
well. I’ve thought about that and it would be very tricky.
be a real loss of high-developed German literature. It’s very
and very uncommon, even to Germans. The duet of Zerbinetta and
Composer at the end of the Vorspiel
is just an artificial play with words that you cannot understand as a
BD: I was
talking to Timothy Nolan [who was singing the role of
Harlequin] and he said he was going into a production where the
Prologue was going to be in English, and also in the comedians’
the opera. Do you think that’s too much?
MJ: Let me
just think about it. [Thinks for a moment] No, that
How do you feel about the original version of Ariadne? Does it stand up as
a piece itself?
MJ: No, no,
no, no. They try it from time to time in Germany, but
it’s always a flop. Who could sing that Zerbinetta then?
thing is one tone higher and the work itself is ten minutes longer.
BD: They did
a concert performance with the Boston Symphony for Beverly Sills a
number of years ago. Erich Leinsdorf
Well, okay yes.
BD: So it
then becomes sort of an occasional piece for a star soprano?
MJ: Yes, I
would say so.
BD: I assume
you have done Salome and Elektra?
BD: I have
this impossible dream of seeing a double-bill of those two
together. Am I crazy?
long pause to think] Not from the question of time for the
BD: But from
the question of intensity?
MJ: It’s the
intensity, or better to say the tension of both pieces could be
possibly too much.
BD: Would you
ever get involved in a production where you did something else with Salome, like Gianni Schicchi or something
MJ: That I
wouldn’t do. You could think about a real contrast along a
double-bill evening. For instance, Bluebeard of Bartók.
It just takes an hour or so and is a mystery. But if you do Elektra, without any question that
must be the second piece of that performance, and that could possibly
kill all the Bluebeard in
BD: So really
they should just stand alone?
that’d be better. Daphne
is just the same thing. It is one hour-forty.
BD: When you
do Capriccio, do you do it in
one piece or two.
depends. Very often the management are the people who want
it to be performed. As a connoisseur of that piece, I would
prefer to do it without a break. As a matter of fact, it’s the
that Strauss wanted the break. When it could be first performed
the War years, and it was always dangerous to keep people very long in
the night in the theatre. That’s the real reason. Very few
know that. I know that from the first stage ‘chef’ of Capriccio,
Rudolf Hartmann, who did all these Strauss first performances.
the truth about that, not having a break in the score was to shorten
the whole for half an hour to let the people get home earlier.
this reason, nothing else.
BD: So then
it’s two and a half hours, and they go home?
it. I’ve done it without break and I’ve done it with
break. With break is much more relaxing for the people, the
people. It’s basically a without-break piece. It’s very
but Rheingold is the same
thing. It’s two-twenty and people stay there also without a break.
BD: I guess
the people who go to Rheingold
are used to sitting through Wagner performances. They think of Götterdämmerung and Parsifal, whereas the Strauss
people are more accustomed to even the longest being Rosenkavalier. When you do Rosenkavalier, do you put any cuts
in it at all?
MJ: There are
lots of so-called traditional cuts, and all these
vocal things have to be handled with care really. I’m very
wouldn’t like at all the cuts around the final scene of the second
act. I would very much prefer to have all this uncut.
You have to
have some cuts in the third act without any question, really for
dramatic reasons. But I never do all the so-called traditional
sometimes very provincial cuts that they have. It would be
to have it really once without any cuts, but that would demonstrate
some weaker points in the third act – not from
Strauss but from Hofmannsthal.
BD: Let me
ask about Die Liebe der Danae.
Where does that fit into the canon? It was taken up to the dress
rehearsal in ’44, so it really dates from that period, even though it
didn’t get a premiere until ’52.
MJ: Yes, that
is right. Until now I’ve never conducted it, but I’m
going to conduct it in a concert performance next February in Paris
with the Orchestre National. It’s the first performance in France
all of that piece. It has weaker parts in it, and then it’s
splendid things. It’s not really scheduled now, but we possibly
record the whole thing in ’83 in Berlin. It’s just been talked
for a very long time, really years ago. It was an idea of EMI,
nowadays in terrible financial problems. When you record such
as Schweigsame Frau and Capriccio,
that’s not a sure bet to sell. It is a must for all the ‘knowing
people’ but you can’t really earn money with it. They hesitated
very long time, and I think it’s just in these months they are coming
back to that idea to do that. It would be possibly done in Berlin
the early summer of ’83 with the Berlin Symphony Orchestra.
performance and the recording altogether?
BD: Is there
any point ever in doing Friedenstag
could be but not me. That’s not my cup of tea!
about the very early ones?
MJ: Feuersnot? No. I
don’t know Guntram, only
excerpts of it, but I know Feuersnot.
It shows the footsteps to develop his experience in how to handle an
BD: One other
piece of Strauss has always fascinated me – Des Esels Schatten (The
Donkey’s Shadow). Do you know that work at all?
MJ: No, I
don’t know it. There are quite a number of things that
Strauss has written for vocal with piano which are really never done.
BD: Oh, like Enoch Arden. There is a
recording of that with Claude Rains and Glenn Gould.
indeed, yes, which is very strange. There’re lots of undiscovered
Chicago Symphony Chorus did Tageszeiten
MJ: Yes, was
BD: Yes, it
was a nice piece I thought. Strauss is fascinating. Did he
live too long? Did he live beyond his imagination?
You can say yes but I love Strauss. I feel very close to
him. I admire the general handling of the orchestral material in
early days and in his last days really. In such things
as Metamorphosen for the
twenty-three string players or the Oboe
Concerto, all the last pieces and the Four Last Songs demonstrate for me
that he didn’t live too long.
One of the early pieces that I love is the Serenade in Eb.
MJ: Very nice
BD: I played
contrabassoon in that one time, and it’s just marvelous.
Wonderful, it’s marvelous. The Serenade
is a very good piece, incredibly, fantastically written piece.
is a piece of half an hour or so, written as a result of when he saw
Munich destroyed. That was the reason for writing it. At
the end of
the Second World War, he saw the broken opera house and all the
important buildings destroyed by the War. He was so depressed so
wrote this piece. It’s not a thing for just normal music
There’s so much depth in it and so much experience and skillfulness in
handling the counterpoint. It’s great music, it’s marvelous.
BD: What is
the relationship of the tone poems to the operas?
for a moment] It’s dangerous to say, but I really think all the
world’s successes of Don Juan
and Till Eulenspiegel
were only preparation. Opera was his job, you know. The
best parts of
the tone poems were very talented preparation to what’s coming with the
your Ring coming along?
MJ: Walküre was done in Dresden
just before I came here, and Rheingold
has been released here. Walküre is going to be released some
month early autumn next year or so. We will start Siegfried in February and March of
Is the recording going the way you had planned?
wood [knocks on the table] exactly. Until now it has gone
exactly as it was planned, really. Everything on time, no
cancellation, no sick singer and all these things that could
Nothing like this until now but we will wait and see! We’ve
pieces from four but in quantity, we’ve done, let’s say a third of it
From your point of view as the
conductor, is it working out the way you want it? Have the
been made the way you envisioned?
although it’s very hard for the conductor, that way of
performing. I would really appreciate to record only and forever
such circumstances – doing all the orchestral rehearsals in the
recording studio, never another place, always there. The whole
technique is with the rehearsals. We just rehearse this or that,
then I have them tape it. Then there’s taken lot of time after
rehearsals just to discuss the different things and then adjusting
things with the orchestra in the next rehearsal. It’s all
the technical side, and that’s a tremendous help, without any
question. For instance, in the final duet of Act I of Walküre,
from when Sieglinde re-enters the stage it’s twenty-two minutes.
have rehearsed it with the orchestra and we have rehearsed it with the
singers – a rehearsal, not a tape recording – for
some balance things for the technicians for about an hour or so.
we had a break and I discussed it with the two singers. After the
break I told the orchestra to correct a few things in balance, and then
we did it. One run through [hitting the table with joy] and
the tape. There’s no correction, nothing! You
have to be lucky of course. It can happen that
there is one or other thing you have to correct, but there was nothing
to correct. That was it.
Here is another example. We did the Fricka scene of the second
with Minton and Adam. The whole thing is twenty-five minutes or
which is not so difficult for the orchestra as the finale of Act
For that I had with her a piano rehearsal in the afternoon. It
evening session, and of course again it was prepared with the
orchestra. We rehearsed some things – transitions
we did it once through. There was something to correct and we had
break, and after the break we did a second version, and that was
After the second version we corrected one note only. It was
fantastic really, but it cannot always be like that.
BD: Were you
lucky with the opening of the third act, with all of the Valkyries?
MJ: We knew
which sort of problems there would be for the technical
people, so we arranged this. We had all these girls who were all
well prepared. It was going to be recorded on a Saturday, and we
really planned for it two sessions – which is
very much for such a thing, but with all the acoustic problems with
eight voices, it’s ooooooooooooooooh, it’s very...
BD: It is as
many voices at one time as you have in the whole thing except for the
chorus in Götterdämmerung.
MJ: Yes, and
my assistant coached them all together on the Friday
afternoon for a couple of hours to make all the musical things, the
lengths of the notes right. Then I worked with them again with
in the studio. The whole time during this piano rehearsal they
placed on the stands where they had to sing it later in order to find
the right balance of the voices. So the technique really trained
this rehearsal their abilities and possibilities. On the
side, we found that one engineer couldn’t really do it.
BD: Did he
run out of fingers to use on the control board?
MJ: It’s too
much, so they made a real co-production of that. The
engineer of the East German firm, who did the whole thing normally and
the producer of the West German firm was a very experienced engineer
also, both stood like organ players on the console. They learned
and we had a very short morning session. Not three hours, not at
and then we said it’s better to relax and we would do it in the
evening. There was just one run through and it was finished!
BD: That was
yes! [Both laugh] We have been very, very careful with
that in planning the right circumstances, and that worked out, yes.
BD: I hope
that the rest of the cycle gets done in single takes!
MJ: [With a
broad smile] Well, no one could predict this, but it
was for me a really exciting experience. We really fight for
to this way of preparing the orchestra and having all the technical
possibilities around you. This is a very good way of producing
This is so important because these pieces are so long. You could
sub-divide the thing into many shorter takes, but it could happen that
you lose the contact with the stringendo
of the whole thing. If we do the Danae, I will insist on having the
BD: What other
recordings are in the planning stages now?
MJ: Danae is probably the next one
after the Ring.
There is some discussion of doing with the Royal Philharmonic in
Liverpool a whole disc of Korngold things that have not yet been
recorded. I have done his Violanta,
and they are thinking of very much about his late works like the Symphony in F#. There exists
also a very, very tricky piano concerto.
BD: Will you
do Der Ring des Polykrates?
no opera nowadays in the talks.
BD: Did you
enjoy recording Violanta?
MJ: Yes, very
worked well with George Korngold?
BD: Did he
have any suggestions for you about the music?
MJ: He always
tells me things for the interpretation of the pieces,
yes. He had the one or another suggestion to bring into it
Germany he liked the way that it was done, but he remembered the one or
another place his father had said, “That’s more
important. Watch out for this or that.” But
he’s a nice man and he’s always trying to push me to do some other of
his father’s pieces.
BD: Will you
record a disc of his films scores?
no. I didn’t know all of them, but not really. The F# Symphony was a very, very
difficult and really good piece; very modern; not really contemporary
but not that late romanticism of Tote
Stadt or Violanta.
It was written much later.
BD: Do you
think these works – Tote Stadt
and Violanta – could
be done on the stage today successfully?
MJ: Tote Stadt without any
question would be a big success, but it really depends on stage
directors. If there’s a good staging, I cannot imagine that it is
a success. Violanta, I
MJ: The basic
dramatic display is very weak. It’s just an
opportunity to show two singers who are in very good command of their
BD: Is it a
more introverted drama, or is there no drama there?
MJ: No, it’s
not introverted, it’s just cheap. It’s a cheap, new
verismo blood and love story. That’s it! Remember, it was
a seventeen year old boy.
BD: Thank you
so very much for talking with me again. It was a great pleasure.
MJ: And for
--- --- --- ---
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===== ===== =====
© 1980 & 1981 Bruce Duffie
The first conversation was recorded at the studios of WNIB,
Chicago, on October 9, 1980. The second conversation was recorded
at Janowski's apartment in Chicago on October 29, 1981. Portions
of both were broadcast on WNIB in 1989, 1990, 1994 and 1999.
The Wagner sections of the first conversation were transcribed and
published in Wagner News in
the issues of January and March of 1981. The transcript of that
first interview was completed and re-edited in 2014, along with a
transcript of the second interview, and it was all posted on this
at that time.
To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been
transcribed and posted on this website, click here.
Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975
its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001. His
interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since
and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well
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
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.