Mezzo - Soprano  Jennifer  Larmore

Two Conversations with Bruce Duffie


Jennifer Larmore  is an American mezzo-soprano, with a wide-ranging repertoire, having begun with coloratura roles from the Baroque and bel canto then adding music from the  Romantic and Contemporary periods.

She began her career at Opera de Nice in 1986 with Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito, and went on to sing at virtually every major opera house in the world, including the Metropolitan Opera, La Scala, Paris Opera, Tokyo, Berlin Deutsche Oper, and London Covent Garden. 

She is a two-time Grammy Award winner who has recorded widely for the Teldec, RCA, Harmonia Mundi, Deutsche Grammophon, Arabesque, Opera Rara, Bayer, Naive, Chandos, VAI and Cedille labels in over one hundred CDs to date, as well as DVDs of “Countess Geschwitz” in Lulu, Jennifer Larmore in Performance for VAI, Il Barbiere di Siviglia (Netherlands Opera), L'Italiana in Algeri (Opera de Paris), La Belle Hélène (Hamburg State Opera), Orlando Furioso (Opera de Paris) and Jenůfa (Deutsche Oper Berlin). She has recorded three charming books on tape for Atlantic Crossing Records with stories by Kim Maerkl entitled Mozart's Magical Night with Hélène Grimaud and the Bavarian State Orchestra, Puccini’s Enchanted Journey with story by Kim Maerkl, and The King’s Daughter with story and music for flute and string orchestra by Kim Maerkl with the flute player Natalie Schwaabe. 

With the pianist Antoine Palloc, she has made many International recital tours, including appearances in Amsterdam, Paris, Madrid, Hong Kong, Seoul, Tokyo, Vietnam, Vienna, London, San Juan, Prague, Melbourne, Brussels, Berlin, Rio de Janeiro, Lisbon, São Paolo, Athens and Copenhagen, as well as all the major American venues. Symphonic repertoire has played a large role in this mezzo’s career with the works of Mahler, Schoenberg, Mozart, de Falla, Debussy, Berlioz and Barber featuring prominently. Larmore has enjoyed great collaborations with world orchestras under the direction of Muti, Lopez-Cobos, Bernstein, Runnicles, Sinopoli, Masur, von Dohnányi, Jacobs, Mackerras, Spinosi, Abbado, Barenboim, Bonynge, Maazel, Ozawa and Guidarini. 

Jennifer’s repertoire has expanded to include new roles such as "Marie" in Berg's masterpiece Wozzeck, which she sang to great success at the Grand Théâtre de Genève. Berg is now a specialty, with her having sung “Countess Geschwitz” in Berg's Lulu at Covent Garden in the Christof Loy production with Pappano, then again in Madrid. At Paris Opera Bastille she sang in the Willy Decker production, and she reprised the role yet again in a new production of William Kentridge with Lothar Zagrosek conducting for the Nederlandse Opera, and at the Rome Opera. She has also become well known for "Kostelnička Buryjovka" in Janacek's Jenůfa which she performed with Donald Runnicles at Berlin Deutsche Oper. The DVD of this production was nominated for a Grammy. She reprised her "Kostelnička" in this same production for the New National Theater in Tokyo.  “Lady Macbeth” in Verdi’s opera Macbeth is a role she debuted in a striking new production of Christof Loy at the Grand Théâtre de Genève, then in the Robert Wilson production in Bologna and Reggio Emilia. Her first “Eboli” was in the French version of Don Carlos at the Caramoor Music Festival in New York, with Will Crutchfield conducting, and she sang “Jocasta” in Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex at the Bard Festival. Adding to her growing list of new repertoire, Larmore debuted the role of  "Mère Marie" in Les dialogues des carmélites at the Caramoor Festival, New York.

She went back to her roots with "Ottavia" in Monteverdi's l'Incoronazione di Poppea at the Theater an der Wien in October 2015 and returned there in December 2016 for her debut in the role of "Elvira" in Mozart's Don Giovanni. Debuts for more new roles came in 2017 with the title role of La Belle Hélène at Hamburg State Opera, and then "Anna 1" in Kurt Weill's The Seven Deadly Sins for the Atlanta Opera. In 2018 she debuted the role of "La Dama" in Hindemith's Cardillac for the Maggio Musicale in Firenze, "Fidalma" In Il Matrimonio Segreto for Opera Köln, and "Marcellina" in Le Nozze di Figaro in Tokyo.  Engagements in 2019 included concerts in Grenoble, Olten and Magève with OpusFive, "Marcellina" in Paris at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, and she returned to Opera Köln in the title role of a new production in her on-going collaboration with Doucet/Barbe of La Grand Duchesse de Gérolstein. 2020 was an interesting year because she debuted “Herodias” in Salome for the Atlanta Opera before going into lockdown. Continuing with their collaboration, in 2021, Jennifer sang  "Genevieve" in their new production of Pelléas et Mélisande in Parma, Modena and Piacenza. She will reprise her powerful "Herodias" at the New National Theater in Tokyo in May, 2023.

Larmore, in collaboration with the double bass player Davide Vittone, created an ensemble called Jennifer Larmore and OpusFive. This a string quintet offering programs that are entertaining and varied with Songs and Arias, Cabaret/Operetta and Movies and Broadway. They have given concerts in Seville, Pamplona, Valencia, Las Palmas, Venice, Amiens, Olten, Aix en Provence, Dublin, and Paris. At the Magève Festival in August, 2018 they presented a World Premiere work by composer Scott Eyerly, called Creatures Great and Small on the theme of animals. In July of 2022, Jennifer and OpusFive will perform at the Liestal Festival in a program entitled America!

Throughout her career Jennifer Larmore has garnered awards and recognition. In 1994 Jennifer won the prestigious Richard Tucker Award. In 1996 she sang the Olympic Hymn at the Closing Ceremonies of the Olympics in Atlanta. In 2002, “Madame” Larmore was awarded the Chevalier des arts et des lettres from the French government in recognition of her contributions to the world of music. In 2010 she was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in her home state of Georgia.  In addition, to her many activities, travels, performances and causes, author Jennifer Larmore is working on books that will bring a wider public to the love of opera. Her book "Una Voce" is available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and It explores the world of psychology of the performer.

Larmore is widely known for teaching and giving master classes and in 2018, she went to New York's Manhattan School of Music, Santiago, Chile, Luxembourg, Atlanta, and to the new Teatro Nuovo at SUNY Purchase College, New York. She began the New Year 2019 with master classes for the Atlanta Opera and Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, GA. In March, 2019 Larmore gave master classes and workshops at the École Normale and for the Philippe Jaroussky Academy in Paris. In 2020 she gave classes at the École Normale, Atlanta Opera, Kennesaw State University, Luxembourg, and on ZOOM for the Kiefersfelden Master Classes and Utah Valley University.  In 2022 classes will be in Malta, Tirol, Lausanne, Stockholm, Saluzzo, Martina Franca and Valencia.

==  Biography slightly edited from her official website  
==  Names which are links in this box and below refer to my interviews elsewhere on my website.  BD  

Once she embarked on her career, Jennifer Larmore traveled widely, but her home for many years was in suburban Chicago.  I had the good fortune to meet with her socially and professionally several times in the early part of her career.  Twice we included a tape recorder to eavesdrop.  The first interview was in September of 1992, and the second was four years later.  Portions of each were aired on WNIB, Classical 97, and now both are presented complete on this webpage.
Needless to say, she continued to grow and become more widely-known, but these two early conversations show how her career was built, and the ideas which made her into an international favorite both in performance and on recordings.

We began by discussing a few of the necessities needed to get started . . . . .

Bruce Duffie:   When you’re seeking an agent, what do you look for?

Jennifer Larmore:   In an agent you look for someone that’s well placed, someone that has the contacts, and someone that’s powerful.  It
s not necessarily someone who’s going to be a baby-sitter, but someone who will do the job, who will talk to the people for you, take care of the co-ordination, and arrange all of the work you have.

BD:   Agents are often accused of making their artists sing too much.  Is it ultimately your responsibility to say yes or no on each contract?

Larmore:   Oh yes, it most certainly is!

BD:   Do you take advice from the agent as to whether or not you should accept or reject a contract?

Larmore:   That depends on the contract itself.  If it’s something that I’m not real sure of, I will talk to the agent about it.  I’ll also talk to trusted colleagues and friends, but ultimately it’s got to come from my gut feeling.  I’ve got to be the one to make that decision.

BD:   How easy is it to say no?

Larmore:   It’s never easy to say no.  [Much laughter]  You would like to be positive and say yes all the time, but sometimes that doesn’t work.  For example, if someone offers you a role that is simply not suited to your voice, you can’t very well say yes and accept it, because then you defeat your purpose.  You end up singing something that’s not right for you, and when people hear that, it’s not good.  But you learn that early in your career.

BD:   By doing things you really shouldn’t?

Larmore:   Yes, sometimes you do.  Very early on I did Jane Seymour in Anna Bolena.  I adore the role, but in the beginning it stretched me just a little too much.  I learned a lot from that, but I had no business doing it so early.

BD:   Is it something that you would sing ten years from now?

Larmore:   Maybe five years from now I would like to try it again.  [Her recording of the duet (shown at right) was released seven years later, in 1999.]

BD:   You learned that it was something beyond you, but now you’re growing into that kind of depth?

Larmore:   Yes, and in the beginning, there was no way to know that.  It’s supposed to be in your repertoire.  Everyone says it is, so you accept it.  Then during the process of singing it during the rehearsals, you start to find out that maybe this isn’t what I thought it was going to be.  People might ask why I accepted it, and as a young singer you can answer, “I just didn’t know.”  You build up experiences like that the older you get.  The more time you are in the business, you tend to find out exactly what it is that shows your best form, and what you enjoy doing.

BD:   You can’t just sing through a role a few times in a studio, and know whether you can handle it on stage?

Larmore:   That would be difficult to know.  Everybody gets to know their own voice, and what they’re capable of, and what their limits are.  Sometimes when you’re young you push your limits, and that’s okay, too.  You need to challenge yourself, but you do have to be careful, because everybody knows that before the age of thirty-five, you’re not really set.  Your vocal cords aren’t really strong enough to handle all the roles in the repertoire, so you really do have to be careful.

BD:   Do you like being pigeon-holed into a certain fach?

Larmore:   As far as I’m concerned, Jennifer Larmore is a mezzo-soprano.  There are things that I do that I enjoy, and that I’m good on stage with, and there are other things I simply cannot do, or should not do.  So, if that pigeon-holes me, then so be it.  But I think of it as not being pigeon-holed, but being smart.

BD:   When you look at a role, some of them are going to suit your voice, and others might suit your personality.  Do the personality and the vocalism come together most of the time?

Larmore:   For me, the vocalism and the character come together naturally for me.  I should say that when you’re studying it, that’s where you learn how to delve into a character, and then the vocalism comes out of the character
.  I don’t know what it’s like for other singers, but that’s what it’s like for me, especially in the studio.  When you first get a role, and you start studying it, you find so much out about it, and about yourself and your voice.  Then, as you go along, you add to that.  But it all comes together at a certain point, and if you do really like to be that character on stage, then your own personality comes out in it.

BD:   Are there any roles that you sing that are perhaps a little too close to the real Jennifer Larmore?

Larmore:   [Laughs]  Rosina definitely is Jennifer Larmore!  I’ve been very, very lucky to have had great success in that role, and she’s been wonderful for me.  But that has a lot to do with the fact that Jennifer Larmore is Rosina!
BD:   [With a gentle nudge]  You’re a real character in your real life?

Larmore:   Yes, I think I am!  My husband can attest to that fact.

BD:   Does being a singer, and traveling all over the world put strains on a marital relationship?

Larmore:   It always puts strains on it.  We’ve been married for thirteen years, and we’ve been through a lot.  He is also in this business.  William Powers is a bass-baritone, so he knows the business.  He knows how crazy a person has to be, and how serious, and how dedicated.  For me personally, I couldn’t have been married to anybody else.  He understands that I have to be gone for long periods of time.  I have to be really dedicated, and I have to think a lot about my career, including the business side.  I also have to practice a lot, and he understands all that.  If I was with somebody else, they wouldn’t understand it so completely as he does.

BD:   Have you had a chance to sing together, the two of you, in the same performance?

Larmore:   Yes, we have, though not very often because he does the repertoire of Wagner, Verdi, and Strauss, and I do the Rossini and Mozart.  They don’t cross paths very often, but we did Faust (Gounod), where I sang Siébel and he was Méphistophélès.  He got to kick me across the stage, which he loved!  [Much laughter]  That was a part of the stage business which he still talks about.  [Wistfully]  I am still recovering from that!  [More laughter]

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   You sing all over the world.  Do you adjust your technique for the different sized houses?

Larmore:   You must try out the acoustics to see how it feels to you.  The key is to remember how it feels to you, and it’s very important that you feel comfortable where you’re singing.  You might be in a house where the acoustics are not so good.  Maybe they’re really, really dry, and you’re afraid you’re not going to get your sound out to the people, or that your voice is not going to project.  You have to remember that is not necessarily true.  A house like that might be dry, and you might not get the feedback that you want in your ears, but that doesn’t mean the sound’s not going out.  You do have to trust where you project your voice.

BD:   And not push?

Larmore:   Exactly.

BD:   How long does it take you to get to accustomed to a new house?

Larmore:   Oh, not very long.  A couple of rehearsals would be all it would take.  It’s nice when you finally get to run the opera through, and see how you feel on the stage, and know the size of it, and how you feel looking out to the audience.  There are always adjustments to be made.

BD:   Are you conscious of the audience, and do you feed off them?

Larmore:   Definitely!  You could say I’m a stage animal because I really come alive with an audience.  I happen to be a person that loves what I’m doing.  I really enjoy singing, and I enjoy acting, and when I’m on the stage, if I can look out and see somebody’s space, and see that they’re with me, and that they’re smiling and enjoying it, then I’m really happy, and that fuels me on.  It keeps me going.

BD:   It doesn’t distract you from the character?

Larmore:   Oh no, not at all.  If I see somebody yawning or sleeping or snoring, that’s a different story.  But if they’re smiling and they’re enjoying it, then I’m doing something right.

BD:   Where should the balance be between the musical performance and the dramatic action?

Larmore:   You find the balance naturally as you go along during the rehearsals and performances.  Each performance can be different, and I almost hope that each performance is different.  Then the balance comes naturally as you go along.  I don’t think there is any one point where you realize everything has come together, and there’s the perfect balance.  It’s a gradual thing, and it's a process that happens.

BD:   You sing a lot in Europe.  Have you been involved in any of these productions that we read about with horror?

Larmore:   No!  Luckily, I have not.  I have had very, very good experiences with directors, and conductors, and colleagues.  It may happen one day, but I haven’t had it happen to me yet.

BD:   I was just wondering if there’s a certain point in the action devised by the director where you would say no, you can’t do that, and then you must decide either to stay with the production or to leave it.

Larmore:   If I was tied by my feet, hanging upside down with my head in a bucket of water, then of course, I would say no.  [Both laugh]  But, I would probably lose the battle because today directors have a lot of power.

BD:   Too much power?

Larmore:   That depends.  I really have enjoyed the directors I’ve worked with, and I hope that can continue.  I have yet to come across someone who has asked me to do something so preposterous, but there may come that time.  We should work together, not as a person acting as a dictator or being condescending.  It’s so much more fulfilling when it’s a collaboration, and you can look each other straight in the face, be honest, do your job, enjoy it, and come out with the result that the audience also enjoys.  That’s the main thing you want to get to.


BD:   Is that why people come to the opera, night after night
to enjoy?

Larmore:   We would hope so.  Of course, there are the husbands who are dragged to the opera by their wives, but I would hope that they come because they get a kick out of it.

BD:   How can we get more husbands to enjoy their night at the opera?

Larmore:   Well...  You really either love it or you don’t, and the ones that really do love it are the people that we sing for.  But maybe once someone gets dragged there, they might see something they like, and then they become the other type.  But if it doesn’t hit you in the gut
where it countsthen no matter how many times you go to the opera, and see something wonderful, or if you don’t understand it, or you don’t like it, or it doesn’t touch your heart, then it won’t matter.  You won’t ever be able to communicate with it, or connect with it.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   You’re a mezzo-soprano, so you get to play a bigger variety of characters than the lyric soprano who’s always getting killed, or victimized.  Do you enjoy that?

Larmore:   I enjoy it very much.  For example, I love going from Rosina to Julius Caesar.  They couldn’t be more different.  It’s a completely different way of carrying yourself on stage.  Also, I learned a lot from playing Jane Seymour, which I have taken to other roles.  You think about your character, and then you decide which way you want to carry your body, which way you want to use your hands, how to tilt your head, etc.  I like the variety of going from one character to the next.


:   We are almost to the twenty-first century.  Can it be believable to see a woman playing Julius Caesar?

Larmore:   The music is the believable part.  The music is so incredibly deep and wonderful.  There is so much to hear and so much to glean from it, that after the first few minutes you forget that it’s a woman singing.  There might be people who ask why a woman is singing the role of a man, but if you know the reason, then it works out beautifully, and then you sit there and enjoy it.

BD:   We need to explain that there used to be castrato singers.

Larmore:   When I sing Julius Caesar, I think about Senesino, the famous castrato who created the role.  He was very well loved at Court, and had a wonderful privileged life.


BD:   Tell me the secret of florid bel canto singing.

Larmore:   This is going to be very simple.  I believe you have it naturally, or you don’t have it at all.  I was able to sing floridly, and had the coloratura ability when I was fourteen or fifteen years old, and I still have it.  I know that you can take lessons, and you can try to manipulate it into sounding somewhat natural, but when you hear the real natural sound, it sounds easy, and it sounds fun.  Also, it’s not all the same dynamic, and there’s emotion in it.  When you can do something with it, then you know it’s natural ability.

BD:   Do you try to balance your career so you have some florid singing, some lyrical singing, and some dramatic singing?

Larmore:   [Thinks a moment]  I’ve never thought of balancing it in any way.  I know the roles that I like to do, and when you’re accepting roles, it has a lot to do with logistics
the time period, the place you’re doing it, the people you’re working with, the conductor, the director, and the orchestra.  Those are the things that go into making a decision on what to sing.  You don’t necessarily sit down and think about balancing the career with the different roles.  I could just do Rosina every week, and Julius Caesar, and any of the Mozart any time.  I also adore doing the French repertoire.

BD:   You also make recordings.  Do you sing the same in the recording studio as you do in the concert hall and the opera house?
Larmore:   The minute you start to record something, you learn there is a difference.  There’s no audience, so you’re singing to a bunch of microphones and technicians, and you must create the audience for yourself.  The key to coming out with a successful recording is to enjoy it as much as possible.  It’s very difficult making recordings because you sing the same thing over, and over, and over, and over again many times to get it right.  Or maybe the orchestra or the pianist didn’t play something right, so each time you must feel it, and you must convey that in your voice.  It’s quite a different feeling than being on stage, as it’s completely different doing it for television.  I’m used to projecting and using my eyes and my facial expressions a lot to reach the people at the back of the opera house.  But for television, when the cameras are on you, you can’t do that.

BD:   You have to be much more subtle?

Larmore:   You have to be much more subtle.  You learn basic things, and it’s fun.  When I was making The Barber of Seville for television in Amsterdam [DVD shown at left], I remember coming home and saying, “I’m learning so much!  It’s been so long since I’ve really learned something!”

BD:   Was that just for television, or was there an audience in the theater at the same time?

Larmore:   There was an audience for two performances.

BD:   Does that make you schizophrenic knowing that you have the people far away, and yet the cameras are right on you?

Larmore:   Yes!  Exactly, and the director was telling me constantly, “Don’t make so many expressions with your eyes!  Don’t make so much with your face,” and I said, “But there’s an audience, so I have to!”  But, you learn these things.

BD:   Do you have to forget about the audience?

Larmore:   You can’t.  You can never forget about an audience, no.

BD:   Have you made films or television where there is no audience?

Larmore:   Yes, I have done that, and it was quite an interesting experience.  You don’t feel that you have so much pressure on you.  Maybe
pressure is not the right word, but you don’t feel that you’re performing so much to please people watching you.  But you must remember, of course, that you’re going to have people watching you because you have the television audience.

BD:   You don’t
feel the audience in their living rooms?

Larmore:   Hmmm...  You have to think about that, you really do.  You’re right when you said
schizophrenic.  You do feel that way.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Do you make sure that you take enough off of singing for vacations and days off?

Larmore:   That’s a very good question.  In the first five years of my career, I worked basically like a little fiend, because it’s like any new business where you’re getting established.  You have so many opportunities, and you don’t want to say no.  My mother always said to say that little word because it’s so important, and she was right.  When you’re young and you’re starting out on your career, you want to be able to accept everything that comes along.  But you get to a point where you don’t need jobs anymore.  Rather, you need really good opportunities.  So, you have to weigh which ones are the most important for you as an artist, and for your career to grow, because in order to make it in this business, you have to really build a career very intelligently.  Now I am starting to take a little time for myself, meaning two weeks here, and a month there.  That is very important, if for no other reason than just to see your family, to digest what you have just done, and to learn new music.  During the first five years, I was learning ten new roles a year, so that’s almost a role a month.  I was very, very hard on myself, but it was very good.  It takes an enormous amount of discipline, and it really makes a good basis for the rest of your career to learn all your roles in the beginning.  [Laughs]

BD:   Did you learn them correctly in the beginning?

Larmore:   I’ve had a lot of good coaches, and a lot of very, very good people around me to help.  I’ve also been lucky to have good productions and good conductors, so it’s been very good for me.

BD:   When you’re offered a new role, and you decide that you’re going to accept it, about how long do you give yourself to learn the part and get it into the voice?

Larmore:   That depends on how long you have!  [Much laughter]  Maybe I shouldn’t admit this, but there was a point where I was learning every role by the skin of my teeth.  I was learning the next role a month before I was starting to sing it.  But that happens at some point in everybody’s career.  If they have a good thriving career, then that does happen.  Ideally you would like to have as much time as possible.  I studied with Regina Resnik, and she told me, “In our day, we used to take a boat over, and we work with the maestro.  We would work with him, and not an assistant conductor or anything like that, but the maestro himself.  We would work with him for a month before we ever even started rehearsals.”  Now, in the jet-set age of singing, we don’t have the luxury of doing that anymore.  It would be very nice...

BD:   Do you then find it easier or comforting to come back to a role for a second, or third, or fourth time?

Larmore:   Oh, very much so.  It’s wonderful to be able to do a role that you’ve done before.  It becomes an old friend, and each time you do it, you add more to it, of course.  Take Rosina, for example.  I’ve sung it over 200 times, and each time has been a delight for me because I’ve learned more about the character.  I’ve matured personally, and brought something different to her.  If you really love what you’re doing, you do that.  You bring something different to your character each time you have the opportunity of singing it.

BD:   Let’s talk a little bit about Rosina.  Are you conscious of the fact that people know the second drama – The Marriage of Figaro?

Larmore:   Yes, you do think about that, especially in the recitative where Bartolo tells her that he has proof that the man she loves is going to give her to somebody else.  She asks, “How can this be?  How can this happen?”  She also says, “I’ll show him who Rosina is,” and right there she takes on the personality of the Countess.

BD:   Are you at all conscious of the fact that nobody knows the third drama, where she has a child with Cherubino?

Larmore:   No.  I don’t think people think that far ahead.  They get caught up in the love story... at least I hope they do, and that they’re entertained by it. 

BD:   Did Rossini really know how to write for the voice, especially Rosina?

Larmore:   Oh, I think he definitely did.  Rossini had to know the voice.  He also had an incredible sense of humor, which you hear in the music.  That makes it so much more fun to sing.  He really did have an idea for my kind of voice because he wrote so many things for it.

BD:   His wife was Isabella Colbran.  [See box below for a brief biography and picture of Colbran.]

Larmore:   Exactly, so there’s a lot to say on that.


Isabella Angela Colbran
(2 February 1785 – 7 October 1845) was a Spanish opera singer known in her native country as Isabel Colbrandt .  Many sources note her as a dramatic coloratura soprano but some believe that she was a mezzo-soprano with a high extension, a soprano sfogato.  She collaborated with opera composer Gioachino Rossini in the creation of a number of roles that remain in the repertory to this day.  They were married on 22 March 1822.

All his life Rossini credited Colbran as being the greatest interpreter of his music.  Descriptions of Colbran's voice characterise the timbre as "sweet, mellow" with a rich middle register.  Rossini's music for her suggests perfect mastery of trills, half-trills, staccato, legato, ascending and descending scales, and octave leaps.  Her vocal range extended from F-sharp below the staff to E above, with a high F sometimes available.

BD:   Can all this florid singing still be put across to an audience that has heard Wagner, Hindemith and Schoenberg?

Larmore:   I believe so.  It depends on what frame of mind the people are in, how they feel that night, and even what they’ve eaten for dinner.  That
s what they’re thinking about.  If they’re ready be entertained, that florid singing done well, and with style, and flare, and fun, will entertain them.  It will be different, of course, than Wagner.  It might have a whole different depth of feeling, but it will be entertaining.

BD:   Do you find it easier to put it across when you’re singing in a language that the audience understands, as opposed to when they have to translate it, either with the supertitles, or with a singing translation?

Larmore:   If the translation is very, very good, then you have no problems.  If the audience doesn’t know what you’re singing about, they’re out in left-field and you have a problem.  But there is a difference, especially if you’re singing in Italian for Italian audiences.  You see them laughing at jokes, or subtexts that they might hear.  That’s the difference.  It’s very enjoyable to sing Italian for the Italians, and French for the French, and English for the English-speaking world.  [Note that in the recordings shown below, Larmore sings Hansel in the original German, and in an English translation.  She also sings L
Italiana in Algeri in the original Italian on CD and DVD, and has recorded excerpts in English as shown at the bottom of this webpage.]


BD:   Have you used this new gimmick of the supertitles?

Larmore:   Yes, very often.

BD:   Do you like it?  [Vis-à-vis the recording shown at left, see my interview with Dawn Upshaw.]

Larmore:   It doesn’t bother me at all.  I’m not going to be a snob and say it
s terrible, because I’m not a purist that way.  Whatever the audience enjoys, and if it helps them, then it’s worth it.

BD:   In opera, how much is art, and how much is entertainment?

Larmore:   [Laughs]  They are very much intertwined... at least I hope they are.  If you go to an opera and you come off in the end and all you can be is cerebral about it, then I don’t think you’ve really been entertained.  I really believe that if you come off and feel something about it, as well as thinking about it, then the two have met.  They’ve fused, and it’s been a perfect evening.  But I think it’s not such a good thing to separate the two.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Some of your roles are comic, and then you have the serious roles.

Larmore:   Oh yes.  I love to suffer!

BD:   [Surprised]  You do????  Then you should have been the lyric soprano, where you’d be killed off every time!  [Both laugh]

Larmore:   Yes, I should have been.  Suffering can be very much fun, and that can be very entertaining for the singer as well.  No, but of course, each time you do a role, you’re going to be thinking about the character.  Hopefully, you’re going to become the character for that period of time, and do the best that you can with that for the audience’s sake, and for yourself.  It also makes a difference in how you sing.  For Rosina and Cenerentola and other Rossini heroines, you put the sunlight in your voice.  The sunny side of it comes out in the flare.  There’s the spunk, the fun.  For Julius Caesar, there must be authority.  With other roles, such as Mélisande, for example, you have to change the style.

BD:   Have you sung Mélisande?

Larmore:   Yes, I sang Mélisande in Marseilles for the French audience, which is a very, very difficult thing to do.  It was the acid test.  There was an interesting review which said that even the creator of the role, Mary Garden, had a slight accent.  So it was nice.

BD:   That’s right.  She was born in Scotland.

Mary Garden
, (born Feb. 20, 1874, Aberdeen, Scotland—died Jan. 3, 1967, Aberdeen), soprano famous for her vivid operatic portrayals. She was noted for her acting as well as her singing and was an important figure in American opera.

Garden went to the United States from Scotland with her parents when she was seven and began studying violin and piano and receiving voice lessons at an early age. In 1897 she traveled to Paris to continue her voice training. A soprano, she made her public debut there in April 1900 in Gustave Charpentier’s Louise at the Opéra-Comique when, as understudy, she filled in for the stricken regular soprano. She was an immediate success and subsequently sang in La traviata and other operas. In April 1902 she was chosen by Claude Debussy to sing the female lead in the premiere of his Pelléas et Mélisande at the Opéra-Comique, and her interpretation of that role became her most famous.

Among Garden’s other major roles were those in Le Jongleur de Notre-Dame (Jules Massenet rewrote the tenor part for her); Massenet’s Thaïs, in which she made her American debut at the Manhattan Opera House in November 1907; Richard Strauss’s Salomé, in which she created a sensation; Henri Février’s Monna Vanna; and Italo Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre re. She was acclaimed not only for her brilliant and highly individual singing but also for her remarkable dramatic ability. She joined the Chicago Civic Opera in 1910 and starred with it until 1931, serving also as general director of the Chicago Opera Association in 1921–22. She retired from the operatic stage in 1931 but remained active for 20 years more in musical circles, making numerous national lecture and recital tours. Her autobiography, Mary Garden’s Story, written with Louis Biancolli, appeared in 1951.

==  Text from  

Larmore:   Yes.  But with Mélisande you have a completely different emotion coming out.  She’s very troubled, a femme fatale I believe.  She knows what she’s doing most of the time.

BD:   Does she know that she’s not going to survive for very long?

Larmore:   Oh, yes.  I definitely believe she knows that.  I don’t think she ever expected to live very long, and I don’t think that I will ever be the French ideal of Mélisande, which is someone who goes around in a dream-like world.  I’m much more flesh-and-blood, and that’s how I play Mélisande, which is a role I absolutely adore.  The music is out of this world.  It is never fair to poor Pelléas, though, because he goes on for pages and pages, and then Mélisande comes in with a “Oui!
or Non!” and then he goes on again for pages and pages.  [Both laugh]  There’s so much for you to delve into.  It’s a joy.
BD:   Would she have been happier if it had been Pelléas who had stumbled upon her in the forest, instead of Golaud?

Larmore:   Definitely!

BD:   Could she then have been really happy?

Larmore:   Maybe she could have been happy with Pelléas because he was a kindred spirit.  He was also nearer her age.  He was someone she could be a friend with and have fun with.  Maybe she could have blossomed into something a lot better, but with Golaud there was no way to do that.

BD:   She was completely swamped by him?

Larmore:   Yes, I believe she was.  That is my concept of the relationship, because he’s very strong and his music is very strong.  He doesn’t trust her right from the beginning.  He asks too many questions.  He grills her about where she was and what’s going on.  Pelléas is there to love, to have fun with.

BD:   He’s more accepting?

Larmore:   Yes.  He’s a completely different personality than Golaud.

BD:   Where does she come from?  Where has she been when Golaud finds her at the beginning of the opera?

Larmore:   Very lointaine, very far away.  You never know.  There she is.  It’s almost as if she’s sprouted from the head of Zeus!  All of a sudden, there she is, and no one knows where this woman came from.  You could cast the role with so many different people, so many different kinds of singers.

BD:   There’s one theory that she’s one of the wives of Bluebeard that has gotten out of his castle.

Larmore:   Yes, I know that one.  Why not?  I’ll buy any theory about it because it’s quite interesting to think about, and if I have the pleasure to sing Mélisande many more times, each time I would like to try a different theory in my own mind.

BD:   [Gently protesting]  But each one has to work out the same way in the end.

Larmore:   Yes, and also it depends on the production.  If you have a very dreamlike ethereal production, then you have to fit into that somehow.  But if you have a flesh and blood Mélisande, with a flesh and blood set, and the décor is heavy, or you have bricks on the stage...

BD:   Lots of gloom?

Larmore:   Yes, lots of gloom and doom.  When the lights are a certain way it all comes together, and you create your character out of that.  I always have to wait until I see the lights and the colors because they have everything to do with it.  When I first started out, I would look for pictures to inspire me, or to give me ideas, or to enhance the ideas already I had of colors, and things like that.  I don’t know if other people do that, but I’ve always been a school girl.  I’ve always enjoyed the research part, the rehearsal part, and the studying.  For me, that’s fun, and I would enjoy using a different concept each time.  But you have to wait and see what the production is.

BD:   Would you then, perhaps, find one production that you felt was the right one, and keep those ideas?

Larmore:   Yes, you might do that.  With Mélisande, you can discuss it forever because everybody has a different theory.  Everybody has their own idea of what she should be, and how she should act, and where she came from, or what would have happened to her if...  Everybody has their own ideas, and that’s exciting.

BD:   Has she been sexually intimate with Pelléas?

Larmore:   [Thinks a moment]  She could have been, especially in the tower scene.  That is as erotic and special as it will ever get on stage.  You have Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District where you know what’s going on because the music tells you, and the staging may be explicit.  The production they just had at La Scala could tell you exactly what you’re seeing, but with Pelléas and Mélisande, you never quite know.  When I do it, I prefer to think that it hasn’t happened.  The big kiss outside of the gates at night is the ultimate, the climax, and that almost foretells her death at that moment.

BD:   She and Pelléas have been close, heart to heart, but not necessarily physically?

Larmore:   They are soul-mates, yes.  Sometimes that’s more important, and I think that is where they’ve been.  That is the most important aspect of their life.  For her, nothing has ever been physical.  It’s always been where her torment lies, whether it’s in her mind against the people that hurt her before Golaud found her there in the forest, or it’s in her heart.  It depends on the moment how you feel it, how you play it, and how you sing it.  Also, it depends on how your Pelléas reacts to you.  That’s very, very important.

BD:   You have to have someone who is sympathetic?

Larmore:   Definitely, and somebody who is very passionate.  It’s a fabulous role, and fabulous opera.  There are many, many different opportunities within that opera.

BD:   I hope you get to sing it a lot more.

Larmore:   Thank you.  I hope so, too!  [Both laugh]

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   What other French roles do you sing?

Larmore:   I’m looking forward to doing Charlotte in Werther.

[From a performance review nearly twenty years later...]

As Charlotte, Jennifer Larmore sang (and looked) like a mezzo half her age. If there’s a more focused edge to the sound now than there used to be, it was effective in emphasizing the character’s backbone. And the voice is still a beautiful one, with plenty of velvet in the lower register to fill out the phrases of her emotionally complex music in Act Three, writing that brought out her skills as a fine, word-sensitive singing-actress as well.  

== Joe Banno, Washington Post, May 23, 2011

BD:   You’ve learned the part, but you haven’t sung it yet on stage?

Larmore:   Exactly, so I’m chomping at the bit to sing that.  I did Urbain, the Page in Les Huguenots at Covent Garden, and that was a very interesting production of John Dew, with the Queen [sung by Judith Howarth] in a bikini!  [Gales of laughter]  That was the role which Joan Sutherland was so successful in may years ago.  Of course, she’s been successful in every role...

BD:   ...but she didn’t have to come out in a bikini!

Larmore:   No, she did not, no, no.  [Laughter continues]

BD:   Was Raoul [sung by Richard Leech] all in leather?

Larmore:   Basically, yes!  It was a wonderful cast and a fun production.  [Others in the cast included Amanda Thane, Gwynne Howell, Richard Van Allan, and Robin Leggate, conducted by David Atherton.]  That production was very interesting for me.  Another French role that I did in the beginning was Siébel in Faust.  But now my French repertoire is mostly Massenet, including Dulcinée in Don Quichotte, which I absolutely adore.  I don’t understand why it’s not done more often.

BD:   We’ve had it here in Chicago a couple of times.  It’s been wonderful.

Larmore:   It was just done in Monte Carlo, but other than that, I have not seen it done.  I did it in Toulouse [conducted by Michel Plasson], and I hope to do it again.  The French repertoire is a whole different story because you don’t have a lot of people that want to produce a Werther.

BD:   Why not?

Larmore:   People leave the theater very depressed.  When people come to the theater to be entertained, and they leave with tears running down their face, then the box office has a problem.

BD:   [Gently protesting]  They presumably leave with tears at the end of La Traviata, and at the end of Butterfly...

Larmore:   Yes, but those tears are different.  You don’t leave depressed!  You leave saying, “Oh, wasn’t that lovely,” but with Werther, it’s a different story.  The other wonderful role that I look forward to doing one of these days in the future is Carmen.

BD:   How fiery a Carmen do you want to be?

Larmore:   Very fiery, very fiery.  Not vulgar, but very fiery.

BD:   What have you learned so far about Carmen?

Larmore:   I’ve learned that the Carmen I want to play will not be vulgar.  She will not be an ugly cigarette girl, or anything like that, or a vulgar gypsy.  I’ve learned that Carmen must be someone who can use her language very well.

BD:   Both the vocal language and the body language?

Larmore:   Yes, exactly.  The body language is very, very important.  Just like we’ve talked about earlier – the tilt of the head, or the slant of the eyes.  That’s very important in playing a role like Carmen.  Everyone thinks of Carmen as being able to pick up her dress with her teeth during the Seguidilla, or play the castanets, or dance, and all that would be fun, and everybody expects it, so you do it.  But also there’s a depth there.  She’s a woman who knows what she wants.  She’s selfish, as we all are in a way.  If we’re honest with ourselves, we always want what we want.  She knows what she wants, and she knows how to go about getting it.  She makes a fatal mistake about that, but that’s just part of the opera.

BD:   She obviously enjoys having men, and having them on her own terms.

Larmore:   Yes, exactly.  I don’t think she really knows what love is.

BD:   Has she had a lot of men, or does she just have a few good men?

Larmore:   You can play it either way.  It depends on yourself, and how you feel about the opera.  As to the character, it really depends on the production.  Every character you do depends on the production that you are asked to be in.

BD:   In going through all the research, how much of your Carmen is going to be the Bizet, and how much is going to go back to the novella by Prosper Mérimée, which is much more violent?

Larmore:   If you’re going to do the research, you might as well do it the right way.  So, you want to go back to as much as you can, and you want to read as much as you can.  For example, when I did Julius Caesar, I read many, many things on him.  When you do roles like that, you want to have as much knowledge as possible.  You can glean what you need from that to make up the kind of character that you want.  Each Carmen you see is going to be different.  There’s going to be things you recognize
like the dancing, the castanets, and the rosebut you must glean what you need, and you’re going to put your own personality in there, too.

BD:   Do you want to do the dialogue version, or the recitative version?

Larmore:   I don’t know, yet.  I’ll wait for that time to come.

BD:   Have you done other roles that have spoken dialogue in them?

Larmore:   No, I haven’t.

*     *     *     *     *
BD:   Let’s talk a little bit about Charlotte.  You’ve not done her yet?

Larmore:   No...

BD:   But you’ve learned the role?

Larmore:   Yes.

BD:   How can you balance her strength with the fact that she is a victim of her circumstance?

Larmore:   [Thinks a moment]  That also has to do with the people around her, who have made her a victim, and the circumstances which have made her a victim.  I’ve always wondered why she never just went to Werther so they could run away together and get it all over with.  You always want them to.  You always wished that they would, but there’s all the children, and Albert, and all the other people involved.

BD:   It
s all the children that are not even her children!

Larmore:   Exactly.  It’s very, very French in that way.

BD:   Let me ask the same question I asked about Mélisande.  If she had run into Werther first, and not promised her mother to marry Albert, would Charlotte and Werther have been happy?

Larmore:   They both seem to have natures that are really too poetic to be happy.  This applies to Werther especially, but then we wouldn’t have had a story like that happen.  But I do think that Werther could have been a lot happier if the circumstances had been different.  He’s a bit neurotic, that’s for sure.

BD:   If he had obtained love with Charlotte, would he have then found some way of destroying it?

Larmore:   Perhaps he would have, because that character seems to have a self-destructive attitude from the very beginning.  Charlotte has a little bit of that as well.  Think about the letter scene.  She cannot seem to find a solution to her problems.  She cannot seem to pick herself up and get out of the victimization box that she’s in.

BD:   You’re looking forward to singing her?

Larmore:   Very much so, because then I will have a chance to delve into these complex personalities, and do the research, and enjoy suffering along with this character.  The music is very beautiful, but very heart-wrenching.

BD:   You’ve done Dulcinée.  Is that role satisfying?

Larmore:   For me it was.  [Don Quichotte was given in Chicago in 1913-14 with Mary Garden as Dulcinée.  Vanni-Marcoux (originally Jean-Émile Diogène Marcoux) sang the title role, which he would repeat in 1929-30 along with Coe Glade.  The opera would return to Chicago in 1974 with Viorica Cortez, and 1981 with Lucia Valentini-Terrani, both times with Nicolai Ghiaurov as Quichotte, conducted by Jean Fournet.  Later, Susanne Mentzer sang it in 1993-94 with Samuel Ramey, conducted by John Nelson.]

BD:   Dulcinée is the third character in the billing after Quichotte and Sancho Panza.

Larmore:   Yes, that’s true, but for me she was very, very satisfying.  I say she
s a whore with the golden heart.  You see that in her duet with Don Quichotte.  This woman is not all business.  She does have a heart, and that comes out.

BD:   Does she really love Quichotte?

Larmore:   A bit, yes, when he’s in town and not chasing windmills!  [Both laugh]

BD:   I was just wondering if he would be too chivalrous to be with someone like her?

Larmore:   I don’t think they would be physical.  He has a love for her, an ideal of her that she’s something she really isn’t.  It’s more on that plane.

BD:   Does she ever get physical with Sancho?

Larmore:   I would not [screams of laughter].  One could do a little more research on that, but I don’t think that she would... maybe for the right amount of money.  Who knows?

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Do you sing any modern music?

Larmore:   I have sung modern music.

BD:   Do you like it?

Larmore:   There is very good modern music, and then there is some bad modern music.  I like the good modern music very much.  I have to say that I enjoy more the old standards, but for the right modern music, yes, I would enjoy it.  It’s always a challenge.

BD:   Without mentioning names, do you feel that there are living or up-and-coming composers who know how to write for the voice?

Larmore:   Yes, there definitely are, and I really do commend them for their perseverance in an age when people may not be so responsive.  There are also a lot of young people becoming more interested it.  I just recorded The Barber of Seville with Jesús López-Cobos
, a wonderful, wonderful conductor.  He told me that they have a competition in Cincinnati for young composers, and that the youngest one with the best composition was fifteen years old.  So, we have young people showing a lot of promise in that area, and that’s nice to hear.

BD:   Do you have any advice for composers who want to write for a voice, or your voice?

Larmore:   If they want to write for my voice, then they would have to know my voice very well.  I would say not to keep it in one tessitura too long, because it’s not nice to have to sustain something up in the stratosphere, or down in the lower depths.  The advice I would give would be to write something with a lot of passion, a lot of feeling, or whatever they felt would suit my personality, or the person that they’re writing for.  It’s interesting because we have a lot of good composers today.  I really believe that.  Here in Chicago we have Lora Aborn, who has written many beautiful, beautiful songs.  I adore her.  [Three of her songs are included in the CD shown below.]  I’m sure there are many more that just have not been recognized, and we should have more opportunities for them to be recognized.


BD:   Do you sing concerts as well as opera?

Larmore:   Yes, and I enjoy doing them.

BD:   Do you make sure you put a couple of these new songs on each program?

Larmore:   If it’s possible, then I will do that.  It depends on how much time I have for preparation, and if the composer and the accompanist or the orchestra have agreed.  Recitals, of course, are much harder than singing an opera, because it’s only you up there, and there’s a lot of preparation that goes into it.
BD:   Is each song a little opera?

Larmore:   It could be, yes!  Each little song has its drama, and it’s important that you bring that out.  It either has a central thought, or maybe it has a lot of thoughts.  It depends on the song.  Whether you’re singing Lieder [German songs] or Mélodie [French art song], or a Kurt Weill song, they’re all different, and they all have different drama to it.

BD:   One last question.  Is singing fun?

Larmore:   Singing is very fun!  It’s a pleasure, it’s a delight, it’s a joy, it’s a privilege.

BD:   Thank you for being a singer.

Larmore:   Thank you, Bruce.

Four years later, in 1996, we met once more, and spoke of her continuing successes . . . . .

BD:   It is Labor Day, and we’ve just come back from having a pizza.  Should an opera singer really enjoy pizza, or must you stay away from it most of the time?

Larmore:   [With a hearty laugh]  We never stay away from good pizza, that’s for sure!

BD:   You’ve just come back from singing at the Closing Ceremonies at the Olympic Games in Atlanta.  Tell me a little bit about that.

Larmore:   It was exhilarating.  It was two years of planning, and working towards.  I was nervous for the two years, but when I got there I wasn’t nervous at all.  Walking out into that stadium was exhilarating.  There were 90,000 people there, and the joy and the excitement was fabulous.

BD:   Were you aware of just the people in the stadium, or also the world-wide television audience?

Larmore:   I was aware of it all.  Things would pass through my head about a TV audience being out there, and my mother and dad, and Bill and everybody, but mostly I was just enjoying the moment.  I was trying to fix it all in my head.  I do that sometimes.  If I’ve made a record or had a special series of performances, I’ll just stand on some steps and look back at where I was, and try to memorize it, because those moments never come again.

BD:   [With a gentle nudge]  You mean, you’re not going to be asked back for the games in 2000???

Larmore:   Probably not! [Much laughter]

BD:   You’re from Atlanta.  Was it special singing in the Games in your home city?

Larmore:   It was fabulous.  I did sing the Mahler Resurrection Symphony with the Atlanta Symphony and Yoel Levi

BD:   As you travel all around the world, do you try to carry these memories with you wherever you go?

Larmore:   Of course, I do.  I know that a lot of these are very precious times, and that’s why I try to remember to enjoy them as I go along.  Like times with my family, I try to memorize those and keep them close to me to call up whenever I need them.  But there’s one little problem in the kind of the career I have, and that is you don’t have time to digest what you’ve just done.  You don’t have time to sit down and just think and revel in it, and say, “Yes! This wonderful experience happened to me,” because my career is going so well right now, that once I’ve finished something, I’m already late for the next.  That’s the only complaint I would have, because it’s been great otherwise, and this whole Olympic Experience was profound.

BD:   Did you meet with some of the American athletes?

Larmore:   Actually, no.  I saw a lot of them walking around, but I wonder if anybody had any time to meet with anyone.  The crowds were incredible, and everyone was being whisked from one place to the next, and I’m not really sure if they had a chance to meet anyone.

BD:   Maybe after their event was over?

Larmore:   Perhaps...

BD:   But your event wasn’t over till the very end!

Larmore:   Exactly!  [Laughs]  One of the people in the orchestra said that they felt the Cultural Olympiad, the Mahler Resurrection Symphony was the culmination of all the other things that had come before, which was a really nice thing to say.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   You say everything is moving too fast.  Are you trying to make sure that you schedule a little time off here and there?

Larmore:   Yes.  Actually, I have wanted it to move the way it has, and I’ve been really lucky.  I’ve also worked really, really hard the first ten years.  I’m going into the tenth year of my career now, so I did it like anyone would if they were starting a new business.  You work really, really hard, and get it to a certain place, and then you have to keep working harder, but at some point you can decide you’d like to take a little time off.  I do have a beautiful house, and a wonderful husband, and a little dog, so I’d like to stay home and be with them a little while, and have some luxury time to think about what’s been going on.  In the beginning, you like it.  It’s fun, and I still do enjoy it.  I wouldn’t complain at all about my career, but if I were to stay home for longer than two weeks, I’d probably get bored, and want to get back on the road.  But there does come a time when you think, “I’ve worked hard, so maybe I can take just a little time to rest.”
BD:   Schedule two weeks here and two weeks there?

Larmore:   Yes.  Also, there has been quite an evolution in my voice, so I need to take some time to decide and work on new things, and research different roles that are coming up.

BD:   How has this change manifested itself?  Is your voice getting bigger and darker?

Larmore:   Yes, it has through the years.  When I began my career, I had a certain kind of voice that was just perfect for Mozart, and Rossini, and the Baroque, and some of the French repertoire.  As time went on, and as I got older, and became a woman, my voice tended to go with me, which was very nice.  It started out very refined, and very pure, and now it’s gotten deeper, warmer, and bigger.  It lends itself now to other roles, which is extremely exciting.

BD:   One of your new roles is Carmen.  Tell me about her.

Larmore:   There’s a lot to say about Carmen.  It’s every mezzo-soprano’s dream to be able to do that role.  The recording that I made [shown at right] was with Giuseppe Sinopoli, Thomas Moser, Angela Gheorghiu, and Samuel Ramey.  [Janine Reiss did the dialogue adaptation, as well as being the Language Coach and Music Assistant.]  It was just the right time for me to do it.  When I came out of the recording studio, I felt I had done exactly what I wanted to do.  How many times can somebody say that they really accomplished what they wanted to accomplish?  I don’t know if people are going to like it.  I hope they will, but I felt like I really did what I wanted to.  I used a lot of vocal colors that I wanted to use, and I made the character that I wanted to make.  I felt that character just fit me like a glove.

BD:   How is your Carmen different from the typical Carmen?

Larmore:   Everybody’s got some Carmen in them, so there’s a lot of Carmens out there.  My Carmen is Jennifer Larmore’s Carmen.  It’s not going to be anyone else’s Carmen.  We do have a tradition of verismo Carmen, the kind you hear when big dramatic mezzos sing it.  I’m not a big dramatic mezzo, so I come from the approach of French art song.  I sing it in a much more subtle way, because to me the character is much more faceted than we are sometimes used to seeing.  Thinking about Don José, for example, what would make a man give up everything that he believed in?  He is a military man, someone who would take a vulgar woman to a hotel for a few hours and that would be it.  She might be one who was in your face, a pick-up-your-skirt-with-your-teeth kind of person, a gypsy with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth.  But what kind of woman would make him become obsessed, or give up his military career?  It’s a kind of woman that knows how to whisper just the right thing in his ear, and who knows how to be magnetic and take him in the palm of her hand.  She is the kind of woman that oozes this sensuality, this sexuality, but can grab his attention through a whisper and just the right inflection in her voice.  She has just the right color, just the right little look, just the right tilt of her shoulder.  That kind of woman can completely destroy a man, and when I did the recording, it became very natural somehow.  I didn’t really decide to do this, but it began coming out of me the way I would sing to Don José.  The voice I would use with Don José was not the voice I was using with Mercedes or Frasquita.

BD:   Were you very cold and calculated with your subtlety?

Larmore:   Yes, and I didn’t realize it.  But when I was listening to the tape afterwards, when we got the first edit, it had been a little while since I’d sung it, and I thought she’s mean!  [Both laugh]  When I heard the Seguidilla, for example, it’s very measured, and it’s very slow, and it’s very subtle.  I thought this is not a nice woman to do it this way, and yet it was me that had done it.

BD:   I’m glad you can keep yourself separate from your character.

Larmore:   Yes.  [Has a huge laugh]

BD:   So, you’re pleased with the result?

Larmore:   I personally am, yes.

BD:   Have you done the role on stage yet?

Larmore:   No, but I’m looking forward to it.

BD:   Are you going to be able to keep the subtlety that you were able to present on the record, in a big stage production?

Larmore:   I have no idea.  When it comes to the actress part of me, I’m a reactor to whatever my colleagues are doing.  Some people have been a little bothered by the fact that I recorded it before I did it on stage, but people who know me know what kind of an actress I am.  They know what kind of a singer I am, and they know they’re never going to get it the same way twice.  That doesn’t mean I’m inconsistent, but it does mean that when I’m on stage, you’re going to see a spontaneous performance.  So, I don’t think it makes that much difference.

BD:   Ironically, your recording is sort of a virgin Carmen.

Larmore:   You could say that!  [Laughter all around]

BD:   What other recordings can we look forward to?

Larmore:   There’s one coming out which I really like.  It’s kind of unusual that I am so enthusiastic about a recording, because I’m such a perfectionist about things.  But the Carmen I like, and this new one is called Call Me Mister [shown below].  It’s all mezzo trouser roles, and it was so much fun to do.  Once you see the cover, you’ll see why.


BD:   Is it good for you to be able to perform both the female seductress and the trouser roles in the same career?

Larmore:   Oh, I think so.  I love the challenge.  Sometimes it’s almost easier to play a man than a woman on stage because you can use so many vocal colors.  When I’m listening to a singer, if it’s all the same I get bored and go to sleep after five minutes.  But if there’s some vocal color that’s different, that can hold my attention, and give me goose-pimples.  With this new recording of Call Me Mister, that’s what I try to do.  Each character is different, and what’s fun about that is that it goes from Gluck to Mozart, and Rossini, and Meyerbeer, and Tchaikovsky, and Strauss, and Bellini, and Donizetti.  There are so many different composers, different styles, and different male characters.

BD:   Do you like these guys that you play?

Larmore:   Oh, very much.  You always get to like something about them, even if you don’t like the whole character.  To do it well, you’ve really got to find something to love about each character.

BD:   You would never be able to play a really despicable character?

Larmore:   Actually, that would be a lot of fun, but I’d have to find something to like about that despicable character.  It would have to have some saving grace.

BD:   [Thinking a moment]  There aren’t any real female devils.

Larmore:   No, we don’t have any Joan Collins from Dynasty ladies like that.

BD:   If someone came and wanted to write that role around you, would you agree to it?

Larmore:   Sure, I would!  That would be a lot of fun, but I’d have to see what they wrote first.  Don’t make me too mean!  [Laughs]  My fans wouldn’t like that.

BD:   You’ve been at your career now for ten years.  Is singing still fun?

Larmore:   Oh, yes!  Golly, I wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t because really this is a fabulous life.  It is glamorous.  It’s exciting.  It has the other side, too, but I never wanted to do anything else.  I’m lucky, and I don’t forget that.

BD:   I hope you can continue doing it for a long time.

Larmore:   Thank you, Bruce.  I hope so too!


See my interview with Bruce Ford


See my interview with John Del Carlo

© 1992 & 1996 Bruce Duffie

These conversations were recorded in Chicago on September 25, 1992, and September 2, 1996.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB in 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, and 1998.  This transcription was made in 2022, and posted on this website at that time.  My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.  To read my thoughts on editing these interviews for print, as well as a few other interesting observations, click here.

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Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.