Conversation Piece:

By Bruce Duffie

Life can mean working out of problem and situations.  There are times when things work out better than expected.  There are other times when changes mean disaster.  But often, one is lucky despite how the eventual outcome turns out.

Lyric Opera of Chicago is one of the great companies of the world.  Year in and year out they present first class opera to an adoring public clamoring for great stars, spectacular productions and an ever-widening repertoire.  As the 50th season approached, we were all eagerly anticipating Don Giovanni, which had been the "calling card" opera back in 1954 to announce the return of resident opera to the Windy City after several years' absence, a sumptuous Aida with all its pomp and glory, as well as a couple other old favorites and a world premiere, plus three full cycles of the Ring.

But season number 49 had its share of anticipated wonders, too.  Besides the usual items, we were to have had two wonderful rarities: the return of L'Amore dei Tre Re by Italo Montemezzi, which was heard here in several seasons with Mary Garden, and later with Helen Jepson and Grace Moore (the latter with the composer conducting), but which hadn't been seen here since Dorothy Kirsten in 1955; and a true rarity - Benvenuto Cellini as part of the composer's bicentennial celebrations.  In the end, we lost both of these productions due to financial pressures on the company's budget.  They were replaced by Faust in an excellent production with an outstanding cast, and The Pirates of Penzance.  Lyric had produced Gilbert and Sullivan before, but not in the regular season, and certainly not as a substitution.

However, despite the heavy disappointment of the subscribers, this operetta turned out to be a fun evening with frothy performances by the stellar cast, and a good time was had by all.  But the situation was known, and the tradition of inserting current-specific references into the big patter song included an aside about the change in repertoire.  Which leads me to the guest whose interview you are about to read.

I will state for the record that I was among those most disappointed with the loss of the two unusual operas, but I was certainly won over by the distinguished performers who brought it all to life.  Among the happy by-products of this change was my chance to meet a singer whose life and artistry I'd known about but had never experienced in the theater.  Gillian Knight is one of those great personalities who simply go about their business season after season, giving splendid renditions of various roles, and adding luster to their home companies while not going far afield very often and, thus, passing up the opportunity for real world-wide stardom.  These, by the way, are traits which I admire greatly in a musician, and to have her dropped into my lap was a very nice happenstance.

Charming and easy-going, she spoke with me about her life, her roles and her philosophy with the eager brightness of someone still discovering the fun of having such a lovely and successful career.  So, from February of 2004, here is much of that wide-ranging conversation . . . . .

Bruce Duffie: Now you were talking about the fact that we, the public, continue to learn about music.  Even as your career progresses do you continue to learn about music?

Gillian Knight: Absolutely. I do things in this Pirates of Penzance that I’ve never done before and I’ve done hundreds of performances of that opera.  That’s the fascinating thing about the whole business, that you never stop learning and there’s always something new in every character however many times you’ve done it.

BD: So no matter what, you never get it completely right?

GK: Well, “right” is a strange word because “right” is very subjective.  I mean you never get it as a finished thing.  It’s always a developing, evolving process, which I must say, is fascinating.

BD:  Do you find that in all of your roles, or just the larger ones, or the major ones?

GK:  Oh, all of them, all of them. In the same way, if people ask us something on one day we’ll give one response, and then something different on the next day.  Every character is a living, human person when you’re on that stage, and therefore it changes as to who you are performing with, or how you feel on that day, or etcetera.

BD: When you walk out onto the stage on any evening, are you portraying a character or do you become her?

GK: Well, you have to become her as soon as you put on the costume.  It does make a bit difference, that.  You sort of literally get into the jacket of the character, into the skin of the part, and then you start to work differently, you start to behave differently. It is fascinating.  One of the wonderful things about it is that you can be somebody that you really are not offstage.  If you feel a bit shy offstage, which I often do, you then can go onstage and be a great exhibitionist and do whatever you like.  It’s just wonderful from that point of view.

BD: It’s like “performing as psychotherapy.”

GK: Oh, I think so. I definitely think so.  I think all singers have to perform under circumstances where they would rather not.  Perhaps they’ve lost someone they love, or they’re not feeling well.  Things like that.  They have to shut that compartment in their mind, and it’s a tremendous release to literally get into the jacket of someone else and be someone else for that time. It’s a healing process.

BD: Then as soon as you come offstage and take the costume off, have you’ve taken the character off too?

GK: Yes! Well, usually. In the rehearsal period I often find that in my everyday life I’m behaving a bit like the character from time to time.

BD: I’m glad you don’t play murderous roles!

GK:  Well I have done, but you can find it creeping in if you’re not really careful.

BD:  What murderous characters have you played?

GK:  Well, not murderous, perhaps, but very cruel characters - Kabanicha in Katya Kabanova was one of them.  She’s a very difficult character to portray.  It’s hard to find something sympathetic about that type of character.

BD:  Do you try to find something sympathetic about her or do you just give her whatever is there in the score?

GK:  I always try to make her as rounded a character as possible, because in real life, people can appear to be one thing on the surface.  They can appear to be a miserable kind of personality, and then when you get to know them better and get to know their circumstances, you realize that there is a reason for this, and that there perhaps is a reason to have sympathy for that character.  I think it’s worth going into those things with even Kabanicha-type characters. I think it is worth looking at that. I mean in the Gilbert and Sullivan world, which is quite removed from that we know, there is Katisha, who, when she first comes on, appears to be an absolute old harridan, but really, when she sings her arias, you realize there’s a rather sad woman in there, and a reason for being sympathetic towards her.

BD: And of course that’s how Gilbert drew her.

GK:  Well, yes, in a way he did draw that.  Certainly he drew her that way to some extent, but the music and the words combined in the arias are very sympathetic.

BD:  You look for the roundness of each character. Are there ever times when you go beyond the text and beyond the music and invent more of the character than is really there?

GK:  One can’t say what's really there until you’ve actually done that.  You have to go past what’s written there in order to make a rounded person.  If you just go by what is written, I don't think you will have a very rounded character.  So you really have to think.  You have to think about what has happened between the acts, during that period of time when you haven’t been on stage. What’s that person been doing?  How does that person re-enter the stage, having had a life in between.  It’s a wonderful, fascinating process.

BD:   So each night you grow a little bit, then the next night you have to step back and grow the same distance again?

GK: Well, you see lots of things happen subconsciously also. I think if you’re going down the road thinking about something and you go to sleep, the next morning something will have happened overnight.  If you want something to happen and if you want things to grow, your mind will accept that that is necessary, and do quite a lot of that for you.

BD:  And yet the character we see on stage must start at the same point, or relatively the same point each night.

GK:  Oh yes, that’s true.  Yes she does.  But when you’ve done a part so many hundreds of times, you won’t start situations from the same point, because you will have lived through those situations before, and you will have found a way of coping with them.

BD:  And you expect all of your colleagues to have grown the same amount?

GK: I don’t know how my colleagues approach it.  I’m sure a lot of them do exactly that, because they give very rounded performances, from my point of view.  But I don’t expect anything of my colleagues.  I just react to what they do.

BD:  And you react to your own self.

GK:  Yes.

BD:  Is there any character that you play that is perilously close to the real you?

GK:  Um…well, I don’t really know what the real me is, quite honestly!  I think you have, perhaps, an idea of what you would like to be.  You’re not quite sure whether other people know you in that way.  Do you feel like this?

BD:  I don’t have to parade anything of me on stage at all, so I never really think about it.

GK:  I’m sure you use things that are you, inevitably, on stage. You have to, I’m sure.

BD:  Well. You’re a mezzo-soprano so your voice dictates you can accept certain roles and must decline other roles, but I’m sure that you get offers for a lot of things that you can decide yes or no. How do you decide yes or no?

GK:  Well one criterion now is that I wouldn’t play a role for which I wasn’t suited physically and age-wise.  I know a lot of people do that, and I don’t approve of that.  I think opera is theatre and it should be believable.  It should be wonderful to hear, but it should be wonderful to watch and you should be able to really believe in what you’re seeing on stage.  Therefore I wouldn’t accept a role that no longer suits me.  I did hundreds of performances of Carmen some years ago, which I loved.  I absolutely felt it in my bones, that sort of part, and I had a wonderful time doing it, but people say, “Will you do a scene from Carmen?” and I say, “No. No, I won’t. I can still sing Carmen but I don’t want to do Carmen.  I’m not right for Carmen. Get somebody who looks right and is the right age for it.”

BD:  Not even for a gala or something, just a stand-alone?

GK:  No! No, I’m sorry.  I don’t approve of it. I really don’t. Especially a part that you have really felt was your part, and I did feel that in those days, so I couldn’t go back on that.  Like I said, you want to be able to always progress, not to step back. Not to say, “Can you imagine that I was once good at this role!” I don’t want that.

BD:  You’ve made some recordings of a number of these things and the flat plastic discs keep you young forever.  You don’t disown those at all, do you?

GK:  Oh gosh, no, I don’t disown them, no.  I think everything is valuable if you view it in the context in which it was made.  For instance, my first recording in the Gilbert and Sullivan sphere was as Little Buttercup in HMS Pinafore.  I did that while I was still a student at the Academy in London, and before I had ever performed a Gilbert and Sullivan opera, so although people often play that particular one, I say to myself, "Right, okay, it was alright for a student of the Academy, just leaving.  It didn’t have the experience in the voice and the colors in the voice that I hope it has now."

BD:  Did you subsequently record it with more experience?

GK:  No, I didn’t.  That was the only time I ever recorded that, except for the BBC, so I have that later performance.  People say “We’ve got your recording” and I say “Well, good!” You know, it’s alright, if you take it.

BD:  You shouldn’t pooh-pooh it!

GK:  No, I don’t. No, I don’t. Not really.

BD:  Have you recorded all of the G&S roles that you performed?

GK:  All the ones that I performed, yes.

BD:  Is that good, to leave a standard of performance on this set of roles?

GK:  Well, um, I don’t think I’ve ever been satisfied with a recording.  I haven’t played all my recordings.  Some of them I haven’t heard.  I haven’t seen, for instance, the video that I did of Salome from Covent Garden.  It’s just a bit painful.  I’ll dig it out some time.  I loved doing Herodias. I loved doing that. I love Strauss and Wagner. But for that reason, perhaps when I’m not singing any more, I’ll dig it out and watch it and see if then I can watch it objectively. And it’s the same with the recordings.  I listen and I’ll think, "Yes, but I could have done this or that."  I think most performers are like that, though.

BD:  Oh, absolutely.

GK:  They hear something and they think, "Oh, I could have done that better."

BD:  Should we put a warning label on all of these recordings saying “This is a document from a certain time and I’ve progressed”?

GK:  That would be nice. But then you’d have to prove it, wouldn’t you!

BD:  You can prove it every night!

GK:  Well, as I say, it’s always the next performance which is the one that matters, really.

BD:  Are there some recordings that you feel show off your voice to the best advantage?

GK:  I’ve never been sure which is the best advantage as far as my own voice is concerned.  I did enjoy doing Butterfly with Scotto and Domingo.  I think that shows it up quite well.  Sadly, I didn’t do any solo recitals.  I’d like to have done more recordings, but I didn’t do as many as I would have liked.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:  You seem to flit back and forth between the operettas and the grand operas.  Is it good for the voice to go back and forth between these two different styles?

GK:  I think it’s wonderful for the voice to have as much variety as possible, and I think if young singers could have something each year which stretched them a little bit more, that would be the ideal road to go along.  Gilbert and Sullivan, for instance, is a marvelous background for any sort of singing. That is my theory.  It’s hard to do...

BD:  ...especially, they’re going from the speaking to the singing.

GK:  Exactly, and I spent the first six years of my career just doing Gilbert and Sullivan.  In retrospect, I suppose I would have thought, "Well, four years would have been good."  I was very lucky, of course, to do six years, and very lucky then to go straight into grand opera. But I don’t for one moment regret that time doing Gilbert and Sullivan.  Other artists have said the same thing.  Valerie Masterson also said it was a marvelous background for her career.  Donald Adams, who sang here in Chicago, also said the same thing.  So I would recommend Gilbert and Sullivan.  It’s not easy, as some people seem to think, you know.

BD: Do you have to place the voice differently?

GK:  Well, no, you place the voice the same, but you have to get used to projecting dialogue in the same way as singing and it can be difficult. It can be hard on the voice at first, if you don’t get it right.

BD: Do you ever find, if you’re trying to talk to someone across a crowded room at a party or something, that you’re using your stage voice to project the line?

GK:  Oh, I would do, automatically, yes!  You should hear me calling the dog in the garden.  The neighbors can hear me for miles.

BD:  Have you ever had to be in a performance where it’s been miked?

GK:  I don’t remember having been miked anywhere. I don’t know.  Possibly; it might have happened.  I like not being miked.  I think you have much more control over what’s happening, and if you have a lot of training, it’s nice to be able to use that, rather than rely on an instrument to do it for you. However, there are people who are leading the sort of jet-set lives that people do these days.  I mean they come straight off a plane straight into a recording studio or straight into a television studio, and then, of course, sometimes you have to take advantage of technology to help. It’s not a thing that any singer really likes, I don’t think.

BD:  Is there a completely different audience for Gilbert and Sullivan and for grand opera?

GK:  Well, I’m getting a bit controversial here, but there is a snobbish attitude towards Gilbert and Sullivan in the opera world.  I won’t say it’s general, but it is there, and I think there was a certain amount of opposition here, even, to doing Pirates of Penzance instead of a grand opera.

BD:  I don’t think there would have been nearly the resistance if it had been set on its own, but because it replaced something we were looking forward to, then it has the extra disappointment of being a replacement piece.

GK:  Well, yes, I suppose so, but would there have been the same disappointment if had it been replaced with another grand opera?  Probably not.

BD:  It would have been a different kind of disappointment.

GK. Yes, I suppose. The thing is, I believe in excellence. Now I believe that if Gilbert and Sullivan is done well, in a house like this, with a fine orchestra, fine scenery, good performers, etcetera, and a wonderful conductor, then it is excellent, and it should be, in a house of this kind.  In the same way that I think someone who performs jazz and does it wonderfully well, is great, and somebody who sings pop music wonderfully is also great. I think it’s the excellence of the product that matters more than anything else.  Someone who really is good at their craft, no matter what they are doing, can take you along with it at certain times.  One has to be in the mood for Wagner, for instance.  I adore Wagner, but if I was feeling very tired I probably wouldn’t go and watch the Ring cycle.  You need to be geared up for it, and in the same way I wouldn’t want to hear jazz if I was feeling like grand opera.  But I think it’s a great shame to shut the door on any of these valuable experiences.  To illustrate this, when my daughter was very small, about ten, I suppose, she came to me and said “Oh, I suppose you want me to like opera,” and I said “No, I want you to like as much as you CAN like, because that will make your world bigger. If you like pop, LIKE it.  If you like opera, enjoy that.  Enjoy it all. One doesn’t exclude the other, and she really loves opera, I must say.  I’m sure it wasn’t my saying that, but that door should be open, surely.

BD:  Well, while we’re kind of dancing around it, let me ask the easy question straight out: What is the purpose of music?

GK:  Oh gosh, that’s a big one, isn’t it. Well, it’s to entertain, for one thing, isn’t it.  It’s obviously to entertain you, to take you perhaps out of this world into a world of imagination, where you can grow.  You can be anybody you want to be, you can relax, you can be stimulated.  It has numerous purposes, I think, not just one.  I can’t imagine a world without it, can you? It enriches our life immeasurably. Sometimes perhaps to educate, to entertain…

BD:  All of these things at different times?

GK: Yes, indeed.  Absolutely. Yes.  And to upset, sometimes, too.

BD:  Really!

GK:  Music can really upset you, sometimes, if it has memories for you perhaps, and so on.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:  We were talking a little bit about the vocal technique going from speaking to singing.  Do you change your vocal technique at all for the size of the house- if you’re performing in a very small house, such as Glyndebourne or a very large house, like here in Chicago?

GK:  No, I don’t change it at all. No.  You adapt automatically to the size of the house.  You project more, I think.  There’s more energy required in a bigger house in order to get the words across at the back, perhaps, but I find there’s very little difference, for me.  I seem to feel the same when I’m performing in a big or a small house.  It really doesn’t make much difference.

BD:  When you’re on stage, and you’ve become the character, are you conscious of the audience that is out there?

GK:  No, not conscious of the audience as such.  You’re sort of on a subconscious level.  You’re aware that they’re responding to the laughter, perhaps, because that affects your timing and automatically there’s that little adjustment that happens in your subconscious there, but no, I'm not really aware of the audience, no.

BD:  You are aware of course of your colleagues, though.

GK:  Oh yes, of course.

BD:  Are you aware of the guy waving the stick at you?

GK:  Yes.  Andrew [conductor Sir Andrew Davis] may not like this, but it’s almost again on the subconscious level because he is marvelous, and he doesn’t demand that you are glued to him all the time, which I think is a very bad thing.  He knows that we have these televisions which we can refer to, without staring at the conductor, which is not good theatre again.  Sir Andrew is a very theatrical person in that he appreciates that and doesn’t demand that you are glued to him all the time.  You are certainly aware of the tempi, and so on, but it's experience.  I might ask if you're aware of what you’re doing when you’re driving your car, and you’d probably say, "No, not really. It just happens."  And that’s what happens when you’ve been doing performances for a long time.  Some of it happens automatically.

BD:  But you don’t put yourself on automatic pilot, do you?

GK:  Oh God, no. That would be awful. That would be absolutely appalling. No, I’d hate that.

BD:  Coming back to Sir Andrew for a minute, it sounds like he trusts his singers.

GK:  He does. He does. He’s wonderful to watch on the monitor. I was watching him yesterday actually. He knows every word and he loves it, and he communicates that love of what he’s doing to the singers.  Not all conductors do that.

BD:  Would this at all influence your accepting or turning down a contract, knowing what conductor is going to be there?

GK:  No, it wouldn’t actually.  Not now.  I would know that some experience was going to be more pleasurable than another, but because the conductor doesn’t influence me to that extent.  If I knew that I was going to work with a tyrant, I’ve had enough experience now to know what to say to him and how to react to what he says to not let it affect my performance.  Whereas the younger singer might be a bit sort of demolished or upset, that wouldn’t happen with me now.

BD:  It sounds as if you would just go on and do your performance in spite of him.

GK:  In a way, yes, which is a shame, really, because it’s lovely when it’s a partnership, and when you’re both putting things into it and both working towards the same end.

BD:  I hope that most of the time it IS a partnership.

GK:  A lot of the time it is. Yes.

BD;  What about the unseen person, at least unseen by the audience, and that’s the producer or as we call him, the director. Does that influence your choice of yes or no?

GK:  No it doesn’t because again, I think it’s a wonderful challenge to mix with people who have different points of view to give.  I don’t think a performance should ever be set in stone. There are different ways of approaching a person or a character.  You can look at it from another person’s point of view and find things in it that you want to do.  It’s rare that you can’t come together on some level.

BD:  Yes, but especially in Europe, there are complaints from both sides of the footlights that the stage direction has gone too far in a wrongheaded direction.

GK:  Well, that’s true.  Again, too far according to how you look at it and perhaps how I look at it a lot of the time. I think some of them do go too far definitely, for my taste, but then we have a new public coming in and who knows, it may stimulate them.  I don’t know.

BD: Do you feel that the operas, not necessarily the Gilbert and Sullivan but the grand operas you do, are for everyone?

GK:  Yes, but we’re not ever going to please everyone. Again, this might sound bad, but one of my pieces of advice to young singers when they go for auditions or anything like that is, don’t try to please the people in front of you. Do not try to please them, because that’s out of your control. All you need to do is to go there and work as hard as you can, please yourself, do your thing as well as you can do it, and then you’ll come out feeling a sense of satisfaction. You’re not in control of what they’re thinking and you can’t make them like you.  And you can’t make an audience like you.

BD:  But is that something, realistically, that a 23-year-old can do, or do you need to be 33 or 43?

GK:  Well, I think if they can just take it on board from the beginning, if they train themselves to think along those lines, it can work earlier than it did for me. It took me much longer.  I was absolutely petrified at auditions.

BD:  You obviously passed many of them!

GK:  Well, I don’t know about “passed many,” because my first job lasted me six years, and then after that there was an audition for English National Opera which I was lucky enough to get, and then not really an audition for Covent Garden because they saw my Carmen at English National and took me on from that.  So I’ve been lucky, you see, very lucky in the audition field, that I haven’t done very many auditions. It’s just as well, because I probably wouldn’t have got through them!

BD:  I’d think it would be heartwarming for you that they see you in one thing and then ask for you in something more.

GK:  Well that happens all the time, I think.  People like to be safe with people they know, and sometimes it’s a bit difficult for young people coming up to get in on that first rung for that reason.

BD:  Do you like singing in English, especially operas which are not originally in English?

GK: Well, I like singing operas that are written in English, and I don’t mind if it’s a wonderful translation, but sometimes the translations are not good.  Generally if the librettist is good, the operas are better in their own language, because the written-in nuances, all the inflections are right for their languages.

BD:  How about this new gimmick of supertitles. Do you like that?

GK;  Well I think it works in some things.  I don’t think it should be there for everything.  It’s something of course that the public should judge rather than me, because they’re the ones who are watching it.  When I have been in a performance where there are sub- or surtitles, I have been distracted by them.  But not everyone is, and I think if it’s a Wagnerian piece for instance, or a piece in Czech or something like that, or Russian, it’s very handy to have them as a point of reference.

BD:  But if you’re performing in Czech though, I assume that you try to get your diction so that a Czech speaker in the audience would understand it.

GK:  Well of course we try. We try as hard as possible to do that. How much we succeed, I don’t know.  We have coaching with Czech speakers and Russian speakers et cetera, and we do the very best we can.

BD:  I would think you would know how well you do, though, when you’re doing it in English for an English-speaking audience.

GK:  Well yes.  It’s more accessible to us immediately. It’s less hard work because not only do you have to know your own part but you have to know everybody else’s in order to act the part properly. You have to know exactly what is being said to you and exactly what that means, and that requires much more work, of course, with a foreign language.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:  Have you done any contemporary music?

GK:  Yes, I have recently done a small role in Sophie’s Choice by Nicholas Maw, which is at the Opera House Covent Garden.  It was very interesting, and I have done other things in the past.

BD:  Does that stand up in comparison to the movie?

GK:  Well, I’ve seen both.  It’s very hard to compare the two.  I think it’s a very powerful theatrical piece and I liked it.  I enjoyed it very much.

BD:  That’s what I’m trying to get at. If the general audience that has seen the movie then comes to the opera house, would they be able to get past the conventions of staging and not wait for the special effects and the immediate shifts from scene to scene?

GK:  Oh yes, I think so.  I think they would.

BD:  You do mostly operas and operettas.  Do you do any concerts as well?

GK:  Yes, yes, I love concerts. With Sir Andrew I’ve done several of Prom Concerts, first and last nights and so on in between.  I do some lieder, I do English songs and oratorio, various things really.  Whatever is required. I like concerts.

BD:  Oh, but you must make some decisions somehow.  You can’t just accept every offer that comes your way.

GK:  Throughout my career, I virtually have accepted everything that’s come my way that I’ve been free to do, because where do you draw the barrier, really? I mean the only barriers are in your own mind, so why do you make barriers?  Why not sing Gilbert and Sullivan, Wagner and anything else?

BD:  But you don’t want to sing four hundred nights a year!

GK:  No, but I wouldn’t get that many offers. Let’s face it!

BD:  You’re being modest.

GK:  No, I’m being honest.

BD:  But you’ve had enough to fill your diary.

GK:  Well, I’ve been singing now for a very long time, forty five years this year, so I’ve kept going rather well, yes!

BD:  Are you pleased with where your career has taken you?

GK:  Yes, I am.  There are always some things which escape you, certain roles which you would have liked to do, but I think I’ve been exceptionally fortunate in the range of parts that I’ve had to do. And also, now, of course, I’m at a time in my career where I’m doing less roles than I used to do, because, again, the age thing. I will only do those which I can make credible on stage.  I also love teaching and coaching.  That I absolutely adore doing.

BD:  Are you pleased with the sounds you hear coming out of the throats of the young singers?

GK:  Well, some of them. Generally, I’m very pleased with the enthusiasm of the people that I meet, and they’re interested in learning everything, and not being satisfied with just having a voice, which is only the first step. What really aggravates me is when you get someone with a glorious voice who comes in and thinks that’s it, they’re the cat’s whiskers, and I say you’ve got the instrument, that’s all. Now you’ve got to make it speak, you’ve got to make it mean something, you’ve got to communicate with it.

BD:  You mean you’re asking for an intelligence?

GK:  Now, now! That’s a very leading remark!

BD:  Well, do you find that singers are perhaps using more of their brain these days than they were, perhaps, in the “Golden Age?”

GK:  I really don’t know. I don’t like to make these definitions.  For instance, it’s amused me recently to hear some young singer say, “Oh, we’re actually bringing sex onto the stage and making this sexy for the first time.”  I thought, "Good God, didn't they see so and so a few years ago doing this?  They were sex personified!"  We can hear recordings, which perhaps don’t always do them justice, but which nevertheless give some wonderful results sometimes, how great these people were.  Just to qualify that a bit, I think more is required in the acting field these days because of the various media that we have. We have television and film which brings up the expectation.  Standards are expected to be a bit higher, a bit more realistic, perhaps, these days.  Stylized is the word, perhaps, but I think it would be wrong to generalize totally like that.  There must have been some performances which were very realistic in those days.

BD:  Does it please you that there is more demanded of the stagecraft in the productions you’re in?

GK:  Absolutely. Oh, absolutely. It’s so much more rewarding. And there’s always that sense of dissatisfaction if you feel that you haven’t gone to the ultimate in preparing for something.

BD:  Then where’s the balance between the music and the drama?

GK:  I don’t know. I don’t know the answer to that.  Music IS drama in one way, you see. How can you see music as not drama?  It is. If you color it, it is drama itself. So they are almost indistinguishable, I think.

BD:  Are you optimistic about the future of opera performance?

GK:  Yes I am, except I hope we don’t go down the road of making it more microphoned with more amplification and all.  I wouldn’t like to go down that road, really.

BD:  You see, you are a purist at heart.

GK:  Maybe.

BD:  What advice do you have for audiences that come to the opera?

GK:  Be open-minded.  That is the best advice I think I can give.  Be open-minded. Do a bit of homework, if you have time, on what you’re going to see but if not, just accept what you hear for what it is.  Don’t close your mind to anything because somebody has said, "Oh, this is Gilbert and Sullivan," or, "This is modern music."  Just keep an open mind and you may be surprised at how much you get out of it. That’s what I think.

BD:  Have you done any directing?

GK:  Only one thing I did, and that was a few years ago, and I directed an amateur performance of Carmen, which I’d done so often that I really felt at home with all of the characters, and Oh! it was wonderful. I really enjoyed it.

BD:  Do you want to get into more directing?

GK:  It’s a possibility. It has recently sort of crossed my mind, so I will be thinking along those lines.

BD:  You should make the right noises to the right people about it.

GK:  Well, when I have solidified some of the ideas I have, then I might well do that.

BD:  Thank you for bringing your artistry to Chicago. It’s been a great pleasure for us to hear you.

GK:  Well, it’s been marvelous. I’m so grateful that I was asked to come here. It’s been a wonderful experience. I think you’ve got an exceptional company here, and the audiences! My God! Where can you go eleven performances sold out like that!  I think they’d be very happy to do that in London. So you have a wonderful audience as well.

BD:  How are our acoustics here?

GK:  I like the acoustics here very much. I do.

BD:  Most singers tell me that they hear the voice come back to them, which they like to have.

GK;  Yes, you do, and also in the audience I heard very clearly. I went to the tier, for instance, and it was great. I loved it.

BD   Good.  I hope you’ll come back.

GK:  I hope very much so too.

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©2004 Bruce Duffie

For more information about Bruce Duffie, including a full list of his interview guests and links to those which have been posted on this website, visit his personal website and send him e-mail .