Soprano Kiri Te Kanawa and Conductor Sir
A Conversation with Bruce Duffie
In the course of doing interviews with classical musicians since 1979,
I have had the pleasure of meeting most in person and a few on the
telephone. Usually it is a one-on-one conversation between us,
but occasionally there will be a second person involved. One such
duo-chat is presented here, and they are both British nobility
— soprano Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and conductor Sir John
Besides my quarter-century with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago, I also
worked for another station for about six months, as well as giving my
voice and a few interviews for a year and a half to the Music in the
Air Corporation, which provided the in-flight entertainment package for
various airlines. Delta, Northwest and Eastern were among the
clients, but the major one was United Airlines. Based in Chicago,
the in-flight package given to them was also used aboard Air Force One,
the Presidential Jetliner. My term of employment included a few
months each of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Whether they
actually listened to my programs I do not know, but the shows were
there, ready and playing whenever they were soaring around the world.
In addition to the regular programs, there were some special ones, and
this was the reason for the interview with Te Kanawa and
Pritchard. They were performing Così
Fan Tutte at Lyric Opera of Chicago in the fall of 1987, so we
arranged to meet on an off-day. I had met the conductor twice
before, but this was my first (and only) encounter with the
soprano. Portions were used on the airline program, and segments
also were heard on WNIB. Now I am pleased to present it in
transcript form on my website. [To read my first interview with
Pritchard, dating from 1980, click here.
To read my second interview with the conductor, dating from 1984, which
was published in Wagner
News and deals mostly with his works, click here.]
Like practically all of my interviews, this one was filled with serious
discussion, easy and difficult questions, a few heavy moments and lots
A few times, the conversation was simply between the two
colleagues. Sir John inquired something of Dame Kiri, and I had
the good sense to stay out of the way and let the ideas flow.
Also, while they were speaking to each other, they would nod or voice
their agreement with what was being said. This often happened
during longer stretches of responses, and I have not interrupted the
text with the interjections. They were absolutely compatible, so
the reader may assume that each agreed with the other like an old
happily married couple. Occasionally they reminisce about things
and get deeply personal in their reflections. She even reveals
something she hates about interviewers
— a method which fortunately I never use! But it was
obvious that they both enjoyed the conversation, and even at the end
when I offered a graceful exit, they continued to chat with me until
the tape finally just ran out.
I have left in some distinctly British ways of expression, such as
viewing the group as a plural entity. For example, they will say,
“The audience appreciate it”
rather than appreciates
I have identified the artists as KTK (Kiri Te Kanawa) and SJP (Sir John
Pritchard). She has the title of Dame, but doesn't refer to
herself with it. He, on the other hand, used the title of
Knighthood when identifying himself for the radio, and she also used it
in the conversation. I do not have a middle name, so there was no
temptation to include myself in the tri-initialization. (!)
While setting up the machine and getting everyone settled around a
small table, the conversation ranged from Lulu
— which was also playing at Lyric duirng that time, and
where the conductor was conflicted about getting used to the new third
— to Samson,
where the soprano lamented singing at the beginning and not again until
the end. That is where we begin the transcript . . . . . . .
Bruce Duffie: In
an opera where you sing
early and then late, do you come back and try to re-vocalize,
or do you try to keep the voice warm in the dressing room?
Kiri Te Kanawa:
No, because it’s too long to
keep it warmed up. In Rosenkavalier
there’s almost two hours.
Sir John Pritchard:
The second act of the opera with the
KTK: Yes, two
intermissions, one act and almost half
of the third act.
SJP: And you’ve
got those lovely costumes to get into.
KTK: And a
right. It is a long time
and it’s a very tricky thing. However, the conductor’s slaving
away in the pit there the whole time!
KTK: I always
wondered if they could have a tennis court right next door so I could
hit balls against the walls and keep the
SJP: That might be
bad for your breathing.
BD: I’m surprised
they don’t have athletic facilities at the top
of the Opera House for the singers and the conductors and others in the
SJP: Well, I’d
like a swimming pool, how about that?
BD: That’s my sport…swimming. I
vote for that. [Coming back to the subject at hand] Tell me
the secret of singing Mozart.
KTK: I don’t think
there is a secret ‘cause no one’s
handed me the secret so quickly. It was sheer, hard work.
BD: Is it worth it?
KTK: I think
that’s for the listener and not for the
do-er. In my case, I love it, I enjoy it, but you have a lot of
people out there. In lots of ways I feel that they don’t actually
appreciate Mozart as they should. The film Amadeus has helped promote his
music a lot more than we could do.
yes, more than all the work we’ve done for twenty-five years or
KTK: Certainly Sir
John Prichard and his hard work promoted
it. He’s one of the experts.
SJP: I rather
that film. I thought the music was very well done, and I was
delighted to hear that teenagers were getting in line in
record shops and buying Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
BD: Was this
encouraging a bigger audience or re-encouraging the
SJP: I think it
was a totally fresh audience. I think
they struck on the heap. The visual images of the film were very
good, and the soundtrack, of course, and the choice of music was
very good. It was a little bit solemn here and there, but then
Mozart himself jazzing up one or two little marches out of Figaro at a harpsichord
which is fun.
KTK: The only
thing which grated on my ears,
unfortunately, was the spoken word which was an American accent.
I would have been very happy if Mozart had had an Austrian or
German accent, but not an American accent. It just kept on
bringing me back to the reality of an actor playing the part.
SJP: Yes, and in
the salacious nature which we have always been told of Mozart, that he
loved dirty stories and happy
stories and perhaps suggestive situations. Even with a very good
American actor, as the boy was, nevertheless it came out rather brash
my opinion. It showed another kind of forwardness than I’m sure
was not part of the Eighteenth Century politeness. They were all
educated to a
certain point. What I call the back slapping and, if I may
use the term, fanny tickling, was certainly not part of Mozart’s
BD: It’s as if
Mozart was living in the Twentieth Century.
SJP: I suppose
that was the view, and that is how they put it. But you
were asking Kiri about the secret of singing Mozart. I think it’s
the best thing. I always recommend it even to Verdi
singers. If people with big voices haven’t had a bit of training,
get the discipline of a Mozart aria can be more or less difficult
for their voice, especially if it has a bit of fluid running
about. It’s always good for their
technique, one of the best trainings you can have. The
secret of doing it well is what only comes after a lot of experience
and a lot of searching as Kiri said. You’ve got to look for
it. It’s a refinement level, which is not an ordinary one.
they’ve sung a lot of Verdi/Puccini, many musicians are just not
prepared to put in the sacrifice and
the effort, quite often, to sing Mozart. It is just too
demanding and it is too revealing as to where your downfall is. I
have discovered this quite often going back to Mozart, which I often do
having sung one Verdi role in a year and
two or three Mozart roles in a year. I find that it is very easy
to sing Verdi/Puccini after Mozart.
SJP: But isn’t
there a line? You do a lot of Richard Strauss
SJP: There’s a
kind of line between Mozart and Strauss.
BD: Why is that?
if it’s in German, like Pamina in Magic
Flute, the connection is
both verbal and in the line of the soprano voice.
KTK: It involves
the approach of the notes and the cleanliness of being
able to attack.
SJP: Even though
it’s a very rich texture in Strauss,
somehow they’re in the same family. Strauss is a later product of
BD: Is he telling
us in every measure that Mozart was his
SJP: I don’t think
in every measure, but one
couldn’t hear a whole act of Strauss and not notice it, particularly
some of the delicate
music in Rosenkavalier, Capriccio...
SJP: ... Arabella particularly is beautiful
refinements of the orchestration. What we’re really saying here
is that the effect of Mozart on all of us
interpreters or singers is primal. It’s
one of the great influences in your life. You don’t want to get
about it, but it’s something you can’t always feel on this very
KTK: A lot of
great conductors, including yourself, you
have started off with Mozart, gone off to other composers and always
returned. Colin Davis, James Levine, all the great
conductors and the executors even of today return back to Mozart.
He gives the
sort of lubrication for the voice, and I suppose for the mind.
SJP: I was in the
car just yesterday listening to a performance of a Mozart
symphony and we played that game, as collectors of records, of who is
conducting? First of all it was a very good
orchestra, so you file it down to it’s got to be Vienna or
Chicago or London or something like this. So you
weren’t in the sticks in any way. It had such a very clean and
disciplined sound, but a bit hard.
KTK: I think I’m
getting closer to the answer... [Laughter]
SJP: I better
leave it at that, but it is a
fascinating game to find the approach of different musicians and
singers to Mozart.
BD: For either of
you, is your approach to Mozart something you can define, or is just
the way you feel him
KTK: Sir John
should really answer this one
first because I was brought up in his sort of schooling. I was
really taught a lot of Mozart by you by hand.
SJP: Yes, that’s right. I
think Kiri will
agree that the work in the room at the beginning is important.
Sitting at the piano, I’ve always found those little sessions when
you have to go through the arias and the ensembles and discuss
points of phrasing is marvelous. When you
come to Puccini or even Verdi, so much is written already in the score,
so provided the singer is well-prepared and the conductor knows his
job, you don’t have that amount of discussion. But with Mozart
you can discuss and say, “Try it this way, or what about shading this
making it a diminuendo,” and so on. All of these are technical
things which the audience on the receiving end only appreciate because
they hear how fine-tuned the whole thing is. That’s the
collaboration which Kiri and I have enjoyed for a long
time, and it’s absolutely necessary. It is also an ensemble
piece. For example, in the lovely
ensemble trios and quartets, and quintets or sextets of Figaro, it’s no use having
one voice which is going to stick out. In the ensemble pieces,
they’ve got to listen to each other and that’s great.
KTK: We were all
taught this way. For me, ’66 to ’76 was the time when Mozart
reigned in the schools, and the
conductors and the coaching and the repetiteurs drilled us with all
these ideas for at least ten years of my young musical life. I
was drilled in the school, and
when I work with Sir John it’s very important for him to
know, but certainly for me, that I’ve got the same train of
thought, exactly knowing what he wants me to do. Whereas
sometimes I would get with a conductor who I didn’t seem to work with
at that time, or it wasn’t brought up at that time who had completely
different ideas about Mozart. I find that Jimmy Levine is very
much in this sort of way, your sort of way, this sort of mind like
mine, and he has the
same ideas, which is wonderful.
BD: Once you get
through all this technique, then you can
begin working on the music?
KTK: No, we don’t
dissect it so easily. Everyone wants to dissect things these
days. It all
comes as a whole. A phrase is a phrase is a
phrase. You don’t sing it syllable by syllable, sound by sound.
SJP: You have a
feeling that’s instinctive about the
music. She wouldn’t be singing Fiordiligi and I wouldn’t be
conducting Così Fan Tutte
if there wasn’t an instinctive
appreciation of what the whole arc of that music is about.
Therefore we don’t need to discuss that. We must realize that
this leap of an octave here is
something very important in Mozart’s melodic design. You don’t
need to say anything about that because the singer knows this.
mustn’t underestimate the fact that there are Mozart
singers, though there aren’t so many of them in the world. This
sounds like a rather nasty crit of very special
people, but it isn’t. Not at all. It’s the fact that for
as Kiri said, the approach is there. It’s not that we’re
going to discuss how all of us together can get that bottom line effect
which we all instinctively know we want. It’s as
easy as that and as difficult as that.
BD: Does all of
your understanding of Mozart go back to Fritz Busch?
definitely from my first years at the
Glyndebourne Festival, which is famous, or was famous for Mozart, and
perhaps still is. I don’t know since I’m not there now, but I
their performances and I enjoy the fact that it is an ensemble
always remember when I was a young coach there, the famous artists
would arrive and be put in a small room with a very small musician at
KTK: A determined
to see if they had some vestigital knowledge of the part. They
usually come out and say, “Yes, they were well prepared.” But it
was always from the ground up, the building. They had to get the
KTK: Actually I
remember a story about a
producer who is or maybe is not at Glyndebourne now, regarding his
rehearsal period. This particular producer
said, “You pay me for the rehearsals; I give you the
performances.” It’s a bit like that. They work you really
to death, but you come out very educated.
SJP: Very early,
one of the great Don Alfonsos was
Mariano Stabile, and that was the first contact I had with a really
professional Italian bass-baritone who knew his way around every
corner and out of every corner. I always remember him saying,
“Ah, John, La scuola di Glyndebourne.”
The school of Glyndebourne. He didn’t like it.
BD: But he
approved of it?
SJP: He approved
of the facts but he didn’t
like it because he had to go back to school. With Italian
artists, as Kiri knows, Mozart is appreciated and revered and loved in
Italy, but more now in
the past fifteen years than it was in the previous decades. A lot
of Italian singers in the
early days thought that Mozart was really too difficult for them.
thought it was too hard and would rather get on to the big, broad
KTK: Sometimes I
find it difficult
even now. When I sing Così,
“Oh, it amounts to climbing Mount Everest every time.”
But I suppose that is the beauty of being a slightly older
musician. You need the
challenges. You can’t just go in and sing the thing willy-nilly
come out and say, “That was alright. It wasn’t my best but it was
close.” With Mozart it’s a hundred percent. You can’t give
SJP: Yes, it’s got
to be there. There’s no miss-hits really.
BD: So when you
climb his Mount Everest, it’s got to be the climb
and the view from the
[Laughing] Yes! That’s right.
BD: How is Così or any Mozart going to
be different from Glyndebourne to Covent Garden to Chicago or to any
of the great houses of the world?’
KTK: Don’t read
the crits for a start. That’s a very varied idea. It’s a
very difficult question.
SJP: Part of it is the
size of the auditorium. My debut at the Metropolitan Opera was in
Così Fan Tutte, and I
was just underwhelmed by the difficult
acoustic. To be able to get the ensemble or the right kind of
Covent Garden is much easier. It has very good acoustic.
BD: How are the
acoustics here in Chicago?
SJP: I find them
good. Oh yes, they’re excellent, especially with the
scenery. There are no special spots on
the stage where you have to be sure that you stand to get a good
KTK: I haven’t
felt that, but I’ve sometimes stood at one
particular spot right at the prop box where I heard
a funny echo.
SJP: Yes, it comes
back to you.
KTK: There’s sort
of a hole there. I don’t
know, maybe the audience don’t notice it.
BD: Does that
change with different scenery behind you?
KTK: I have no
idea. I’ve only got the one setting behind me, so
I wouldn’t really know unless I saw every opera and saw it night after
night to try to figure it out.
BD: Was it
different during other operas you’ve sung here?
KTK: Well, I can’t
remember now because having sung in so
many operas and halls in between. You can’t
really recall, but I must say some of the most magnificent acoustics
have been here in America.
SJP: Oh, yes.
KTK: I like the
Auditorium Theatre really very much.
BD: Orchestra Hall
KTK: It’s not as
nice as I would imagine. It’s not as
rewarding, I must say, but there are some great places in America for
sound, and some quite bad ones too. But they’re best left unsaid.
BD: How do the
dramatics change from a very small house like Glyndebourne to a
large one like Chicago?
KTK: That is a
SJP: Do you play a
little broader, do you think? I haven’t noticed
it. If the house is good and the audience
— which I can’t say you always feel
— but if they are concentrated, it’s like
film, meaning you do exactly the same as you would anywhere. You
don’t overplay and make gestures that make
it look like a rather hammy, Verdian performance. It doesn’t
work. I’m sure you have to
think of the size of the house, but in a beautiful acoustic,
a pianissimo carries as far as a fortissimo.
KTK: With the
small gestures or
with the big gestures, as you say, if it’s too big, it looks
hammy. I must say I try very hard never to adjust in any
way. Sometimes someone will say to me they can’t see very
much what I’m doing, so you obviously adjust a little. Sometimes
if you’ve been doing film work or television work, you
tend to really scale right down. You tend to forget.
SJP: Doesn’t it
depend also on the scale of the
lighting? If your face is in shadow, the emotions which you’re
trying to express don’t get across. I’ve noticed that. Kiri
will remember with me whole decades really of stage
directors who love dark and gloomy scenes. The artists have to
run from pinpoint of light A to pinpoint of light
B, and then it’s very bad for them. It is a problem of
someone come out with a miner’s hat with a light
once because it was so dark? [Note: This was Birgit Nilsson at
the Met in Karajan’s production of The Ring. See my Interview with Birgit
BD: Have stage
directors gone far too far, or
just a little too far?
KTK: Well, they’re
a whole other story really, aren’t they?
SJP: I’ll vote for
far too far. [Laughter]
BD: Who gets the
upper hand then, the conductor
or the director?
SJP: That’s rather
difficult. Let me give you a quick
example in my own case. For a new production, it’s always in my
contract that I have the right to see the mockup of the set, the model
and all the designs. That’s really to
prevent a stage director from going too far wrong. For example,
if you’re doing Aïda and
whole chorus is supposed to be playing subterraneously, the triumphal
scene wouldn’t go
down very well. This is a simple and
ridiculous example, but I remember
in Don Carlos of Verdi,
having a problem in the Auto-da
— which is one of the
choral scenes of all opera and terribly dramatic with processions and
so on. I told the director, “We’ve got to have differences of
level on the stage. You’ve just got to do it because
otherwise half the chorus will spend their time saying they
can’t see the conductor, they can’t see the beat.”
purely practical consideration, and usually the intelligent stage
directors think of these problems beforehand. But I’ve always
wondered, Kiri, how you
manage to get up and down thirty-one steps. It is the
syndrome of having steps on the stage. There are always some
balustrades and steps, and for the artists, often in long period
costumes, it’s quite difficult running up and down. And they
usually are made to run up and down when they have something
difficult to sing.
KTK: Having just
experienced it now, doing Otello
at the Met, it’s one of the most
uncomfortable platforms I’ve ever worked. The steps
are irregular and shaped against you or for you. If one step
is straight, the next one is pointing downwards, then the next one you
down is pointing upwards. So your feet are doing a sort of
updown, updown. They’re very strange, plus the costumes are the
heaviest ones around. I actually wanted to weigh them because I
couldn’t lift my arms. By the third act,
you can’t lift your arms because you’re just too tired. I don’t
sweat very much, but these things are so impossible. I don’t even
feel good in them
because you’re struggling against the sheer weight. Placido was
doing one movement which
was very simple, and he tripped and took the whole sole of the
shoe off. When you have to
work against all these things and come up with a good performance, you
sort of think, “Now just a minute, why am I
here? Do I really
BD: Then let me
ask, why are you there
KTK: As a friend
of mine said, it’s not the money. I know
it’s a stupid answer but I suppose somewhere along the line you enjoy
it. I really enjoy my job. I love the people I work with
and I can
say quite honestly I’ve hardly worked with a person I didn’t
like, and that was so few and far between and such a
long time ago it didn’t matter. I really do love it. I
love everything about it. I would like to travel less, of
SJP: It’s painful
traveling. Kiri and I are alike in this,
that we both love our home life. We have too little of it.
We can’t relate to any particular place; we’re always on the
move. We have this dream in the mind where you can put
your feet up and where the books and music are, and a few pets and
whatever you have at home. Really like anybody else,
that’s what we’re working for. We’re working in a very hard
profession with great demands on our stamina and
strength. It really is tough to get through an opera, apart
from the physical considerations. The costumes as we mentioned,
strain of a three-act opera often lasting three and one-half
hours, added to which the principal artists must be there an hour
before to get into makeup and wigs and all these things. Then
there is the
climate of the city you’re in, whether there’s a lot of humidity.
these things are relating to the human throat, the human body, and are
problems that you have before that curtain ever goes
up. The conductor doesn’t have to get
there early for makeup, but we have to
stay there. We haven’t got time to go out for a glass of
KTK: A pit stop or
something... I suddenly thought,
“Goodness, what happens if you do have to leave the pit, and you
can’t. You’re absolutely stuck there.”
SJP: If you’re
gone, the orchestra, of course will look a little bit amazed.
BD: You can’t have
a deputy conductor standing by?
BD: Let us change
the subject and go to French
music. You’ve made this recording of the Ravel Scheherazade
and the Duparc Songs. Let’s talk a little bit about the French
style. How is the French style different from the Mozart style or
the Verdi style or the Strauss style?
KTK: [With a
gentle nudge] You tend to ask these questions which I never
think about. I sing a song and I’m not going to suddenly become
French, you know, or think, “Here’s my Mozart
voice and my
Mozart interpretation.” I am executing
SJP: Language, of
course, is really the main handle there
because when you sing French poems you are singing French vowels and
consonants, so the voice tends to take on different colors. It
that it’s going to be different from Mozart.
SJP: No, you don’t
think, “I’m going to sing in French so
here comes my French style.’’
KTK: It’s sort of
dressing up as the French maid and getting
out and saying “Look.” That’s a very hard question to answer
because O.K., I’m a schizophrenic, I suppose. One has to
be, but I’m not that far gone.
SJP: There is perhaps more for the
conductor to think of the
style in French music. That arrives, for example, if you’re
Beethoven symphony and then you come to a Debussy tone poem or
like this. The texture of the writing is so different that you’re
very good artist or conductor unless you take it into account, and
unless you ask the orchestra for this. It’s like the difference
between a water color or an oil painting. There’s a difference in
technique and there’s a
difference of effect on your eyes as you look. It is the
same with your ears when you hear the refinement like in this
beautiful Ravel song cycle that we’ve done together. This is such
tone painting and the poems. I live in France so I can be a bit
rude about the French, but I always say that they are so oriented
towards the spoken word. The French by and large
prefer dramatic theatre to opera or anything else. They are
strides now all over France to catch up. I don’t want to
offend anybody by saying that they need to catch up that much, but
their refinement is first and foremost directed towards spoken words or
plays in the theatre. When their language is sung to them, it
adds another dimension. For those who are not French-speaking,
the actual sound
comes first and they realize that it’s clothing the words in beautiful
sound. But every Frenchman that I know is really listening to
his mother tongue and then to the sound. Do you think that
KTK: I absolutely
BD: Are you, then,
more careful of your diction in French?
KTK: You must
pronounce it correctly. If you become
careful, then you become wrong.
SJP: Stilted, yes.
KTK: You must sing
it as you would sing it, but you must sing
it correctly. I don’t think about that sort of
stuff very much. I’m an executor, I’m not a dissector.
You’re dissecting what I execute. [Good-naturedly] Of
course, you’ve got to ask the
questions, but I got to keep on bumping you back and saying,
“Stop dissecting my music.”
[Reassuringly] Oh, no, I’ve got to ask the right questions.
KTK: That’s right.
BD: Well, do you
enjoy singing French as much as Italian and
KTK: I enjoy
singing. I enjoy music, I enjoy singing.
SJP: Of course,
there’s a vastly different repertoire one has
to consider. Really one must say the French repertoire is
more limited in actual scope. There’s so much German lieder and all the wonderful songs
that you do in your recitals.
KTK: I try to view
the repertoire in visual terms. The French music reminds me
of the ocean...
SJP: La Mer...
KTK: ...it just
keeps rolling, whereas you can sort of see incredible highways and
horizons and things in German lyrics. They are boundless.
SJP: That’s a good
analogy really. There’s a lot of
the air and watery spirit, as it were, in French music.
KTK: It always
seems to be coming into the shore, though, for
me. There is a stop somewhere, whereas in the Mozart and German
music, there’s a tendency to be going the other way. You never
quite reach it, you never quite get there.
SJP: The mountains
are up there.
BD: Is it that way
in the small songs as well as in the long descriptive
SJP: The small
songs are more effective in German lieder.
A Schubert song can be so brief and so
perfect, whereas French writing always needs time to
develop. Even these songs that we recorded, the Duparc and so on
— wonderful poetry and a delicious line for the voice
— but I know the way Kiri works, and I’m sure she takes
this and she gets the sound correct for the words and then she floats
the voice as it’s intended to be. It’s as though a ship would
take off on the water, and as it sails from the harbor it’s poetical,
that’s how it is with French music. Whereas the form is always
very clear in Germanic music. It’s silly to divide up music in
— Italian music, German music, French music
— but since we are trying
to analyze the appeal of this music a bit, otherwise we wouldn’t
be talking about it, it’s perhaps worth talking about. When I
come to a concert program, I like to compose it like
the chef making out the menu. I should have a little French music
here and maybe a
Russian piano concerto, and then a Brahms symphony. That’s how
a very satisfying meal.
BD: Many times,
children are sent to a concert and when they get back to the classroom
the teacher will say, “Paint
what you heard.” I would think that this would be one hundred
percent the wrong way of going about the teaching of music and
inspiring young listeners.
SJP: There’s the
famous story of the little boy who was
asked to describe the symphony concert he went to. He said,
“We had a great time. The hall was full and the orchestra
played great, and then a man come on and tapped his baton and
they made the most horrible noise.” [Laughter all around]
BD: Are we encouraging enough young
audiences to come to
theatre, opera, symphony, plays?
KTK: I think the
encouragement’s a little too slow. I tend
to think that you have to take bigger steps. It’s all very well
having youth concerts and all this sort of thing, but a youth concert
means playing their music as well as what you want them to listen
to. You tempt them with a bit of popular pieces,
and then you make them listen to something that is not so popular to
them but quite popular to musicians, and then tempt them again. I
think that’s the way to do it rather than tempt them with a whole lot
of, as they would think, boring music.
BD: This brings
one of my favorite questions
— where is the
balance between the artistic achievement and the entertainment value?
KTK: You have to
talk to the management because the bottom
line is money, isn’t it? All the way, it means getting those
concerts on and the orchestras kept hard at work. The fine line
is getting seats sold, as far as I can make out.
BD: But for you as
an artist, where is the balance?
KTK: Well, one has
to do what the audience wants, too. You have to keep your ears
and eyes open to this. Look at the recordings and see what people
BD: Is the
audience always right?
KTK: They are
actually paying for the seats, and I sometimes
think that they must be at least fifty percent right.
SJP: Yes, I think
that the experience over the years of
giving concerts in all sorts of localities has proved to me that on the
whole the audience is right. They’re not absolutely fool-proof
because sometimes one is convinced about the value of something and
you know perfectly well on that particular evening, on that day with
that particular audience, it’s not working. As the conductor
standing there, you feel it in your backbone, you know if the audience
is with you. Sometimes in opera they’re so far from
being with you that you hear the gentle snores. I have
that, but I think the importance of what you said about
entertainment is that we must always remember we’re an entertainment
industry. That’s what we’re there to do. They’ve got to
have a good time, and that’s why I’m a little bit against experimental
stage directors sometimes. I’m always trying to
get back to give them a wallop. Their
emphasis on the symbolism, on this means this
— something terribly
high-flowing and how you
must take the symbolism
— is not something which hits
the audience between the eyes and therefore the stage directors have
to underline it by any number of technical effects. They do this
particularly in the German theaters. He’s got his
idee fixe, his fixed idea, and
he’s gonna hammer it home whatever
happens. In that case, the audience is right when
they ignore it, especially if it’s a work of genius. Let’s take Bohème. You can’t
really have a more perfect
opera than Bohème.
It is going to jolt everybody
in their seat if they hear it the first time or if they hear it the two
hundredth time. Therefore, this is what I call audience
rightness. People have appreciated that over the years, and if
somebody comes along with a new concept of Bohème, it’s
are not interested. If you want to know what Puccini wrote, the
humanity of the characters he created, that’s what opera should be
about, and to answer one of your questions, that’s the way we will make
it live for young people, not in stuffy performances when they have to
correct. Formalism is not the answer,
particularly, if I may say so, in America where there are dress nights
for the audience. Mind you, I love to see a well-dressed opera
they’re not a real audience. That’s the
very important because the
patrons and all the sponsors are there and they are very important, but
the thing is, I wish they could share their night out and come on all
sorts of separate nights, so that you actually got a real audience
instead of these people who are brought there by people who don’t
really want to go to the opera. It’s sort of a corporate evening
— fifty seats at the opera
— and they don’t know what they’re
watching. The other side of it is that sometimes operas are
far too long. Producers will not cut operas in order to
and you see people walking out. For
instance, at the Met operas start at 8 o’clock. Now you know,
Rosenkavalier is not down
until sometimes 12:30. They say you’ve got to be
finished by a certain time and they’re pushing us to finish, whereas in
actual fact it should be management who should put the
opera on at 7 or 7:30. Another thing is that subtitles are a must
in opera, especially if it’s in a foreign language. Here in Così, they took out the line
"Che bella giornata".
The audience don’t understand it. They don’t know what I
said, so I had to get the production people to put the translation back
SJP: No, it hasn’t
got one laugh and I was very
surprised. [Explaining the spot in the opera] This is a
moment in Così fan Tutte
when there’s a general embarrassment. The two pairs, the two
ladies and the two officers are pairing up the wrong way and are about
embark on this little flirtation
— innocent or not
— and there’s a
marvelous embarrassing moment when they just all look at each other and
twiddle their thumbs. Fiordiligi
breaks it by saying, “Oh, what a lovely day.”
KTK: [With a tweak
of playfullness] I think I will say it in English tomorrow.
SJP: [With a huge
smile] Oh, why don’t you!
say, “Oh, what a lovely evening!” I will, I will.
BD: That’ll bring
down the house.
SJP: Oh it will
break them up!
KTK: We don’t want
“You don’t understand us, you don’t know what’s going on,” but in
actual fact they don’t understand, and it’s very frustrating. So
really have got a big bridge yet to put over an enormous lake.
SJP: Yes, I agree
completely with you about the translations.
BD: Is the use of
surtitles in the theatre going to mean the death of opera-in-English?
SJP: No, I think
they should be put up in English works as well,
because people get more from that. It’s done in some cases, you
BD: I mean should
opera be sung in translation?
SJP: Oh, that’s a
much bigger question. I think that’s
very difficult. I don’t particularly; it’s not really necessary
now if we have surtitles. The answer is hearing the laughter in
KTK: Also, if you
have got to have a replacement,
you can be absolutely sure, they’re not gonna sing it in
they’re singing it in the original language, your replacement
situation is so much easier.
SJP: Yes, and we
have to cope with that now.
BD: Do you sing
any differently in the recording studio than you
do in the concert hall or opera house?
KTK: It is very difficult now
because everyone knows that you get a more perfect sound and you get a
perfect recording than you do in the concert hall simply because
you can cut in a good note and take out a bad one. I really
don’t think that there is a great comparison. It’s not worlds
apart, but it is at least you can stop and have a drink
of water if you’re not having a great time. But in the theater
to keep going.
BD: Is there any
point where this cut-and-paste
becomes a fraud?
recordings have been the biggest fraud in
the whole world. Now it’s much better, it’s much cleaner. I
think my recordings are much cleaner. Also, I refuse to cut and
stick in note after note
unless you’re in very bad trouble.
SJP: I remember
you very clearly, Kiri, during one of our
recording sessions together. You said to me as we went through
this, “That’s not my voice.” You were very
clear. “That’s not my voice. They haven’t got it, and we’re
going to insist till they do.” I rather
agreed. Now the
artist himself or herself knows whether what we hear on the playback is
what they did in the studio. It’s very relevant to your
question because you can’t always know what’s coming out while
being transcribed. You know the sound you’re producing there
relative to the orchestra, and it’s up to the technicians to get it
right. To get it, they’ve got every technical advantage to be
able to do so.
KTK: The problem
is, as in this particular case, it wasn’t my
voice. I know it very well and I have said it on several
occasions. It was with exactly the same technical engineer.
He had a
problem. He couldn’t hear what I could hear, and so from that
time on I couldn’t work with him because it would take one or two
three-hour sessions to get what I
heard. I even got to a stage where I would
bring in my own recording and say, “That’s the sound I want to
hear! I don’t want to hear anything different.” But
they’ve got something else in their heads, I don’t know what it
is. I know I’m very difficult in a recording studio. I
don’t settle for anything until I know I’ve
gotten exactly what I want.
SJP: I think Kiri
is quite right because that’s what the
public wants, too.
KTK: There is a
difference of how you
sing, but the thing is the recordings are already something away from
the live performance. Starting at the
beginning, normally I would say I will only do this in three
takes to prove to myself that it was as close to a live,
performance as I could get. Quite often now I do that.
SJP: I love long
takes particularly in symphonic music
because even if there’s some little inequality, that you can usually
splice in. But the feeling of the whole line of the thing is
and you need it.
KTK: Sometimes in
Strauss, the horn players do a fluff because their lips have gotten
tired. They just can’t get the tension
that’s needed, so they either have to rest or wait until they come back
the next day... and sometimes you haven’t got the next day, so
they have got to do it. So you’ve got to give them a break, or
the bit that is very necessary to get in. That sometimes is
difficult because some of those guys do three sessions a
day and so their lips finally go.
BD: How do you
decide which roles to accept and which roles not
KTK: Well, I’m
running short of roles at the moment.
Actually, some roles have been chosen for me. Someone says, “You
must sing this,” so I go and listen to it very carefully
with the score. If there was a recording by a
singer that I liked doing the part, I was very
happy to listen to it. That’s how I choose quite often, but
it takes a lot of recordings, a lot of hours for listening.
BD: How do you
choose which ones you will conduct? Of
course, you’re in a little different position because you’re Music
Director in a couple of different places.
SJP: You have the
kind of things
that you’re going to enjoy recording, and that does impose an
invitation. But young singers are
very much in the hands in their opera houses or their managers to take
suggestions. If I may take Kiri Te Kanawa’s case, she had
the direction of her voice, and her vocal task was obvious from the
start. We knew that she would be going through Pamina and the
Countess in Figaro, and then
the Marschallin and all the roles
which you enjoyed doing from Mozart and Strauss. This
Mozart/Strauss line was established clearly with her. With some
singers it’s not quite so clear, particularly baritones. You can
heroic baritone or you can have a baritone that sings Papageno, and
people are not always put into the best roles by the opera houses,
frankly. We all know opera houses where singers’
have actually been distorted and eventually spoiled by too early
projection in roles that they shouldn’t sing in that particular
house, or even any house. I hate to see that happen. It’s a
responsibility on the house, and not every singer is frankly
as bright and as choosy as Kiri has managed to be. They are
very easily influenced. You can say, “Oh, you would enjoy this
role, or that’s the role for you,” and it’s very good time to think it
over. There’s a good case in
point, which I won’t go now into, where we’re discussing a very
role and I’m very interested for Kiri to look at it. She’s
interested, too, but the decision will come eventually from her when
she looks at the whole picture, she sees the score and goes through it
and thinks, “Well,
it’s beautiful but perhaps not for me.” With conductors, it’s a
bit different because a conductor has to have an enormous
repertoire, and he has to try many things. There are some
frankly, that I have executed in my younger years which I will
mercifully spare the public from hearing now. On the other hand,
the composers that you enjoy performing usually mean that you’ve got a
special affinity and you’re on the right track.
BD: This stable of
composers you enjoying performing, is it
expanding little by little or is it closing down little by little?
SJP: In my case,
it’s closing down rather remarkably.
BD: Are you
slamming doors behind you?
SJP: It’s just
particularly because conductors are
often asked to conduct contemporary music and that was one of my
duties. I had a big
series called Musica Viva in the old days in
Liverpool. I presented modern scores of every type and stable,
as you used that descriptive word. Gradually as I get more seen
in the profession, I’ve been able to let some younger guy
look at this because I did all that. Now, if I like the work of
so and so, I’d be
happy to do this particular piece.
BD: Are we getting
a young Strauss or a young Verdi or a young
SJP: I very much
doubt that because
the operatic form is not actually developing. I think of opera
like a Stradivarius violin which has reached the perfection
of form in instrument making. Now, nothing can develop for the
violin. It’s going to remain as a violin for all eternity as far
can see. You’re not going to have a super violin or something
else which gives you better effect.
KTK: There is an
electric one out right now, but it’s not in our particular
SJP: I think that
means that the form of the thing is
perfect in itself. Opera has reached a peak of attainment and of
perhaps perfection with all its inbuilt difficulties, which means that
we’re at the end of a chapter. I don’t see the young
performers and composers around who are going to extend this art
form. I think we can have Twentieth Century opera. I think
are some great ones. You could say The Rake’s Progress
of Stravinsky is, but it is really a kind of
prestige which throws back to the eighteenth century. I
don’t want to sound reactionary about it because I’d like to think
there is some new wonderful growth which will come, but I’m not
BD: I want to be
sure to ask you about the National Opera of
Belgium. How did you choose this location to do the French disc?
SJP: This was
really an accident.
BD: A good
accident or a bad accident?
KTK: You had a
nice time there.
SJP: It was a
happy accident. I was there as music director of the Belgian
Theatre, and we wanted to find a location with a bright, youngish
orchestra which we were able to form there. It was a good
opportunity for them to do it, and Belgium is so geographically central
to the whole movement of artists, it was no
problem to bring Kiri there. She was happy to come.
KTK: But you must
see him in all his glory there. He is
really the Gentleman, the Squire, or whatever you call it. He
goes around to all these wonderful cities eating beautiful meals
in glorious restaurants...
SJP: Too many,
sometimes I’m afraid!
KTK: ...and living
in beautiful houses. The picture of John Prichard is amazing
because by accident he found a beautiful house
there or a particular restaurant or a nice art gallery or something
which has attracted him there, and
suddenly they’ve got him there for a while. Then he moves on to
the next beautiful site,
whatever it is, like a house in the mountains and things like
that. I think that is your escape from our
SJP: Yes, very
definitely. It comes back to the love of
domesticity in a way.
KTK: But given it,
I doubt you’d stay in one
place. It would be the same with me. We’ve moved so much
for so many
years that we’d long for it, but I think we’d run a
mile if someone said right now, “Domesticity is yours for the rest of
your life.” No, no, no, no, I’m very happy.
SJP: Lord make me
less sinful, but not yet!
BD: You’ve made
the French songs together and the Puccini
together. Are there any others coming along?
KTK: Actually, we
haven’t got together on this much. We’ve got to since there are
all sorts of things out there. John Prichard needs to find out
what he wants
to do first and then I’ve got to find if I want to learn it and if
I have got the time to learn it. You see, I have to learn these
It’s all very well for him since it’s already in his repertoire.
I did my very first Four Last Songs
with Sir John, which
was a wonderful experience. I’ve never been so nervous in my life.
SJP: It’s very
early, but I played the cassette the other
day and it’s very beautiful. That’s what I mean by
a voice naturally fitting the output of a great composer for the
voice. Strauss was a great composer for the voice,
particularly for female voices.
KTK: That was seventeen years ago.
dear. I always have an agreement now...
KTK: Never to
SJP: No. I
say, “I’ve known you for at least ten years,” which is enough.
KTK: But you were
in bed with fever at that time, so it was
five years lost. I remember that very clearly because I
was in Lyon with Annie Howells, and my mother died while I was learning
it. So it remains very indelibly imprinted on my mind. And
just three years ago, I was singing it in
New York and my father died. So the Strauss Four Last Songs to me means
death, which I don’t like... He talks about it I guess, but it
does really mean
death to me,
associated with it, yes.
BD: But it doesn’t
mean that you’ve kept it out of your repertoire?
KTK: No, not at
all. It really reminds me of my
parents, and I want to keep it there because I never want to forget
them. There are reasons why I was given them and they were given
me, and one has to keep singing his music because they enforced it on
me and I took over from that. I think it’s very
important to know that somehow your destiny is written.
SJP: It’s very
funny because that reminds me of an
association of a word with something unpleasant. I love the
Bartok Concerto for Orchestra,
a great show piece, but with me it’s
always associated with the fact that I conducted it in a memorable
concert with the BBC Symphony Orchestra in London. I was
acute and growing pains, and was admitted with a suppurative appendix
into the hospital about twenty-five minutes after the end of it.
So whenever I have this familiar little tremor, it’s
associated with the physical discomfort of that time.
KTK: Yes, it was
SJP: It was a very
one, and I don’t know if the performance was that bad.
BD: Have you ever
had any scenery fall over, or something goofy that
you look back and laugh about?
KTK: No, not
SJP: We have a lot
of fun discussing things that go on.
There are many more funny things in rehearsals, really.
KTK: Yes, but one
doesn’t find them funny
later on because it’s how you’re living. I find more funny things
in taxi cabs. I went out not so long ago in a taxi ride with a
clarinetist who played his clarinet all the way to my tennis
lesson. He said, “Do you like the flute?”
I said that I love the flute, and he pulled
out a flute from his sun shade thing and he played the flute!
[Shocked] So this was the driver that was playing???
KTK: The driver,
yes. Now try to imagine how he was driving the car, which I
thought was amazing.
SJP: Funny things
do happen to opera artists, you know.
There’s no doubt about it. We’re in the line, which is helpful
because then we can write amusing books about it someday.
BD: Are you in a
special section because you’re regarded as a
KTK: Me, a super
star??? My children don’t think I’m a
super star. Sir John doesn’t think I’m a super star because he’s
my friend. I like being what I am, whatever they might
be, but I don’t think it’s a super star. I think I’ve a
certain place in the musical world today and have put a certain input,
but when you’re dead and gone and the recordings aren’t
you’re gone. At least I leave a lot of recordings
behind... if anyone will buy them.
SJP: Go into the
BD: But you strive
KTK: Oh, yes,
SJP: Kiri’s very
instinctive with music and always has
been, and if there is a little inaccuracy, she’s aware
of it. It’s rather like the princess with
the pea under the mattress. She can feel the discomfort about
something which has gone a
little bit wrong rhythmically or otherwise. It’s more that than
the pedantic. I often feel that listeners to music think that
all very pedantic and mechanical about trying to get everything
absolutely right. It’s like getting a total figure right when you
cast them out by hand, but it isn’t somehow like
that. Error in any field of art causes a kind of feeling of
unease. It’s imbalance when it isn’t right. Somehow
for example, compose their own little phrases. I’ve often
conducted and thought I must tell them about it because
they’re singing different shapes; the same melody but slightly
different. This can happen and it
can become a habit. Therefore, there’s no discomfort in
there because it’s a musical instinct taking over from the
actual mechanics of learning something. I think instinct’s very
important in music.
KTK: I think I’ve
relied on mine for so long
that to sit down and analyze what one does almost seems like
an intrusion because I don’t want anybody to know what I was thinking
or what I was doing. It’s a bit like a comedian
— they’re not
going to give out all their best jokes until the lights are on and the
camera’s are working. We’re all a little bit like that; instinct
works that way. When I first began singing and having
interviews, the interviewer would ask me all the questions, and I’d
answer them thinking that the tape was running. Then she’d say,
we’re ready to start.” I thought that was it, so all of
the interview was absolutely wasted. Then I was instinctively
trying to be different, but
the next time nothing worked. Instinct has always been my great
friend and I hope I
will always keep it like that.
BD: That’s one
thing I have learned, to turn the machine on first. Occasionally
someone will say, “Oh, you’ve been rolling all
KTK: Very wise.
BD: I must let you
go. We could go on for hours and hours...
you. Do you think you have enough?
KTK: We should do
this every day ’til we get it right.
[Laughter all around]
talking and she has to sing tomorrow afternoon.
BD: Yes. I
was almost afraid to do it today. When I’m setting
up interviews, I took at their
calendar and my calendar and I try to pick the best time for them.
worry. No, I’m fine.
SJP: She’ll be
KTK: [Testing her
voice in a loud and sing-songy way] It’s still there, oh, yes.
BD: [With a bit of
sadness] Are you going to know when it’s no longer there?
SJP: I think
she’ll be ahead of it.
KTK: I’ll be well
ahead of it, yes.
BD: I hope that’s
many years from now.
KTK: If it were
too late, then I would have wronged myself. I have a limit.
SJP: It’s like my
definite feeling of... [looking down at the machine] Is
your tape still running?
KTK:(!) It’s not
stopped, it’s still running.
SJP: Well, I’ll
say it anyway. I saw a very great
Italian conductor, a marvelous old master named Vittorio Gui. He
dispensed with because he got a bit old. He did a very slow
figure and all
that sort of thing, but he still loved his music. But he was
pushed out! He was not invited back and I thought (in those days)
quite young but I’m never going to be put in
that position. I resigned and they didn’t like it.
KTK: Of course,
they didn’t. The other day I said to a lovely
colleague who I really like, “In
this business they want you either dead or voiceless.” A lot of
singers, when they’re old and retired, people tend to not take any
notice of them or be nice to them or pleasant or anything. A
great old singer! I love these old stars, and when they are
and retired, they still come to the operas to say hello. A lot of
people say, “Oh, that silly old fool,” and
they’re very cruel, very, very cruel.
BD: I’ve had a lot
of fun finding some of them and getting to interview them, and
then playing their records on the radio.
KTK: There’s still
a lot they have to offer and to talk about, but a lot of young people
have no time
for the older singers. They feel they’re stilly and old and
they’re past it and they can’t sing anymore. They say "ha ha,"
and it’s very sad.
BD: There’s a
tradition in Germany
— which I wish we had in England
and in America
— of having the singers who are really too old to do the
lead parts start singing secondary roles. There’s an immense
artistry and understanding for the smaller parts, and they’re
there to nudge the young singers around and to give them little
pointers. Plus it is fun to just have this great old star in the
cast along with the new stars.
SJP: Yes, there
have been such singers, and I have experienced a
couple who tend to get in the way of a production, I must say.
They produce it and then they become very boring. That is a
nuisance, and you become frightened of them because you think
they’re all powerful and you can lose jobs from it, but they’re not
BD: Speaking of
jobs, you have two or three different positions
at the moment. Is this at all a
left-handed non-compliment to other conductors meaning that you must
take two or three jobs because there are not enough others around to
fill the posts?
SJP: Well, that’s
a difficult question, isn’t it?
KTK: It’s a
straight up-front question I must say, and
I’ve be very interested in your answer.
SJP: Well, I’m
going to answer it in a very diplomatic way.
KTK: As a knight
of the realm...
SJP: As a knight
of the realm, I’m going to say that for my
fulfillment I have to do symphony and opera, and I’m not satisfied with
either one to the exclusion of the other. I feel a better artist
when I do this. I love going back to the BBC Symphony Orchestra
doing my concerts and then coming again into the jungle world of the
opera. That I like. Therefore we’re really talking of
a dual kind of arrangement. You must remember
that in Europe the resident conductor picture is not at all so normal
as it has been in the United States. One thinks of the
Philadelphia Orchestra and Ormandy almost to the exclusion or anybody
else; the same with Zubin Metha and the New York Philharmonic and so
on. [See my Interviews
with Zubin Mehta.] But in Europe the Principal Conductor is
one of a series because it’s
such a big volatile audience in all the cities, and another city
is not far away. If we want to go to Amsterdam to hear the
Concertgebouw and you’re not far really from the Berlin
Philharmonic, all this means that the little circus of conductors going
around is more moveable. Therefore it is possible and indeed
preferable for conductors not to over-expose
themselves in any one particular city. I found that this works
very well. I think it’s been slightly exaggerated in my case in
the last few years, but I’m taking the steps to, shall we say, climb
KTK: Conductors do
have a lot of energy, they can travel a
[Note: At this point the tape simply ran out. We all continued to
chat for a few more minutes and then we said our good-byes.]
Te Kanawa (Soprano)
Born: March 6, 1944 - Gisborne, on the east coast of New Zealand’s
The Maori soprano, Kiri Te Kanawa, is the adopted daughter of an Irish
mother and Maori father. After winning the John Court Aria Prize and
the Mobil Song Quest, Kiri shot to stardom in New Zealand and was
accepted without audition to study at the London Opera Centre in 1965.
After appearing in little known operas such as Delibes’ Le Roi l’a dit and Wolf-Ferrari’s The Inquisitive Woman, Kiri Te
Kanawa received critical praise as Idamantes in Mozart's Idomeneo. Soon after, Kiri was
granted a three-year contract as a junior principal at Covent Garden.
Kiri Te Kanawa came to international attention singing the role of
Xenia in Boris Godunov and
the Countess in Le Nozze di Figaro.
After achieving world-wide celebrity status, Kiri was made an Officer
of the Civil Division of the Most Excellent Order of the British
Empire, an honor that was later sold at a police auction for £500
to raise money for the Mitchum Amateur Boxing Association.
After her successes at Covent Garden, Kiri Te Kanawa performed her
Metropolitan Opera debut as Desdemona in Otello (replacing an ill Theresa
Stratas). Her other performances include Fiordiligi in Così fan tutte, Arabella in Arabella, Rosalinde in Die Fledermaus, Violetta in La Traviata, Tosca in Tosca, Pamina in Die Zauberflöte and, most
notably, her numerous performances as Donna Elvira in Mozart’s Don Giovanni.
In 1981, Kiri Te Kanawa was chosen to sing "Let the Bright Seraphim" at
St. Paul's cathedral at the marriage of HRH the Prince of Wales [shown in photo below] to the Lady
Diana Spencer. The following year she was created a Dame of the British
Empire by HM Queen Elizabeth II.
Kiri Te Kanawa married Desmond Park, whom she met on a blind date, in
Auckland the 30th of August 1967. The couple adopted two children,
Antonia and Thomas, in 1976 and 1979 respectively. The pair divorced in
early 1997. Most recently, on March 10, 1994, Kiri performed in concert
celebrating her 50th birthday at The Royal Albert Hall.
John Pritchard, Music Director, Is Dead at 68
The New York Times
December 6, 1989
Sir John Pritchard, the music director of the San Francisco Opera and,
until early this year, of the BBC Symphony and the Cologne Opera, died
of lung cancer yesterday at the Seton Medical Center in Daly City,
Calif. He was 68 years old.
An expert in the music of Mozart and Rossini as well as of contemporary
composers, Sir John made his last public appearances in October in six
performances of Mozart's ''Idomeneo'' in San Francisco. He was to have
conducted Handel's ''Orlando Furioso'' there starting Nov. 19, but was
unable to do so.
John Michael Pritchard was born in London in 1921. He was taught music
by his father, a violinist in the London Symphony Orchestra, and later
studied viola and piano in Italy and conducting with Sir Henry Wood.
In 1947 he joined the staff of the Glyndebourne Festival, becoming an
assistant to Fritz Busch, and stepped in during a 1949 performance of
Mozart's ''Don Giovanni'' when Busch fell ill. He made his formal
conducting debut there in 1951, and his longtime association with the
festival continued as a conductor, adviser and music director
(1969-78). He is to be buried near the site of the festival.
In an interview, he once recalled Busch telling him: ''John, you have a
natural sense of tempo. You were born with it. It's the most priceless
gift for conductors.''
Sir John's career was divided between concerts and opera. He made his
debut with the Vienna State Opera and with the Royal Opera, Covent
Garden, in 1952 and his American debut with the Pittsburgh Symphony in
1953. Although he freelanced throughout his life, his permanent
engagements included music director of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic
(1957-63), the London Philharmonic (1962-66), the Theatre de la Monnaie
in Brussels (1981-86), the Cologne Opera (1978 until this summer) and
the BBC Symphony (1982 until October). In Liverpool, he was active in
the Musica Viva concerts, subsequently repeated in London.
He was knighted in 1983 for his service to English contemporary music.
Among his important operatic premieres were Britten's ''Gloriana'' and
Sir Michael Tippett's ''Midsummer Marriage'' and ''King Priam.''
In September he realized a longtime ambition by leading the final night
of the Proms, the BBC's popular summer concert series at the Royal
Albert Hall in London, although illness forced him to sit while
Sir John's longtime companion was Terrence MacInnes. No family members
survive. The funeral is to be in London late next week. The San
Francisco Opera is to hold a memorial service on Monday at 11 A.M. at
Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.
© 1987 Bruce Duffie
This interview was recorded in her apartment in Chicago on
December 19, 1987. It was used as part of the
in-flight entertainment package aboard United Airlines and Air Force
One in 1988, and several times on WNIB. The
transcription was posted on this
website in 2013.
To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been
transcribed and posted on this website, click here.
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
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.