Mezzo - Soprano  Cynthia  Munzer

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


Mezzo-soprano Cynthia Munzer has sung over twenty roles in 223 performances with the Metropolitan Opera, both in New York at the Lincoln Center and on tour in the United States and Japan. Audiences across America have come to know her through the weekly Metropolitan Opera Saturday Broadcasts and over 20 Met Opera recordings with Luciano Pavarotti, Sherill Milnes, Placido Domingo, Joan Sutherland, Monserrat Caballé, Alfredo Kraus, Franco Corelli, Birgit Nilsson and Renata Scotto

Broadcast performances have included the Metropolitan Opera Premiere of Alban Berg's Lulu, new productions of Bellini's I Puritani and Verdi's I Vespri Siciliani, and revivals of Strauss' Salome and Ariadne auf Naxos, Gounod's Roméo et Juliette, Faust, and Wagner's Die Walküre. The Metropolitan Opera Gallery of Photos at Lincoln Center displays Ms. Munzer’s stage photo in its permanent collection.

 Ms. Munzer has garnered rave reviews as a leading guest artist with over ninety other opera companies and major symphony orchestras. The Dallas Opera, New York City Opera, Washington Opera, L'Opéra de Montréal, Houston Grand Opera, and Florentine Opera have presented Ms. Munzer in diverse roles such as Carmen, Cenerentola, Azucena, Amneris, Dame Quickly, Octavian, Olga, Maddalena, Augusta, and Herodias. The Philadelphia Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, National Symphony, American Symphony, and Hong Kong Philharmonic are among the forty major symphony orchestras with which she has appeared as guest soloist.

Critically acclaimed concert tours with International Artists Inc. to Southeast Asia have resulted in re-engagements with the company in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Manila, Jakarta, Penang, Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong.  

She has been hailed in reviews for opera and oratorio performances at the renowned Wolftrap Festival, Aspen Music Festival, Carmel Bach Festival, Oregon Bach Festival, Brattleboro Music Festival and the New York Mozart Bicentennial Celebration. Other highlights of Ms. Munzer's career include Live from Lincoln Center broadcasts, vocal concerts at the United Nations, the world premiere of Gian Carlo Menotti's Mass, performances with such masters as Aaron Copland, Leopold Stokowski, James Levine and Zubin Mehta, and a special 9/11 Memorial Tribute CD with other Metropolitan Opera artists.

Ms. Munzer is the recipient of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Audition Shared Top Awards presented on the Met stage in New York City, and also a Metropolitan Opera Contract National Winner. Other awards include the Frederick K. Weyerhaeuser Award, Gramma Fisher Foundation Award, Goeran Gentele Award, a Sullivan Foundation Award and Geraldine Farrar Award. She has received keys to the city of Dallas, Texas, and Binghamton, New York, in honor of her artistry.

Born in Clarksburg, West Virginia, Ms. Munzer is a graduate of the University of Kansas. She continued her postgraduate studies with Roy Henderson of the Royal Academy of Music in London, and with former Metropolitan Opera Mezzo Herta Glaz of the Manhattan School of Music in New York City. Currently an Associate Professor Emerita at the Flora L. Thornton School of Music, the University of Southern California, Ms. Munzer has taught and presented master classes in Italy at the Accademia Italiana di Canto in Toscana and the International Lyric Academy, Tuscia Opera Festival in Lazio. She has founded and directed the International Vocal Institute in Hvar, Croatia and co-directed master classes at the Pacific Vocal Institute, part of Bard To Broadway Theatre, Inc. on Vancouver Island, BC. Her students have been winners of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, among other competitions, and have appeared in several renowned young artist programs: The Santa Fe Opera, Los Angeles Young Artist Program, Chautauqua Opera, Virginia Opera, and San Diego Opera. Other students have made solo debuts with the Berlin Opera, New York City Opera and the Royal Opera House in London.

Sought after as a master clinician Miss Munzer has within the last several years presented master classes for The Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in Tucson, AZ, Salt Lake City, UT, St. Paul, MN, Seattle, WA, Vancouver, BC, as well as the Metropolitan Opera Guild Education Series in New York City, the Manhattan School of Music (NYC), The Schubert Club Song Festival in Minneapolis/St. Paul, the National Association of Teachers of Singing Intern Program, NY and Los Angeles and the Spotlight Awards Master Class at The Dorothy Chandler and Disney Hall, LA.

She has presented celebrity master classes at the Classical Singer Magazine Convention in New York and Los Angeles. University master classes include Notre Dame University, Indiana University, Brown University, State University of New York, Kent State University, and UCLA. Ms. Munzer has expanded her master classes to several countries and cities: Graz, Austria; Taipei, Taiwan; Singapore; Hong Kong; Shanghai, China; Paris, France; Hvar, Croatia; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Manila, Philippines; Vancouver Island, BC; Monte Carlo and Viterbo, Italy; Guadalajara, Mexico; and Sydney and Melbourne, Australia.

==  Names which are links in this box and below refer to my interviews elsewhere on my website.  BD  

In March of 1980, Cynthia Munzer agreed to sit down with me for an interview.  Since the first portion was being used on WNIB, Classical 97 to promote the production, my on-air introduction should suffice to present the details.  Now, in 2023, with the 50th Anniversary of the Chicago Opera Theater, I am happy to present our conversation on this website.

Bruce Duffie:   I’m speaking this evening with Cynthia Munzer from the Metropolitan Opera who is here in Chicago for performances of L’Italiana in Algeri, or as it’s called here, The Italian Girl in Algiers, and she is the Italian girl, named Isabella.  Tell us a little bit about the role.

Cynthia Munzer:   I think that Isabella was the forerunner of women’s lib.  She is quite a liberated woman.  Even though she is cast onto this island, and is terrified, she has her wits about her and knows exactly what she’s going to do.

BD:   Do you feel she’s liberated before the circumstances of the opera are created, or is she liberated because of the events leading to the search for her lover?

Munzer:   I believe it’s in her personality to have been liberated all along.

BD:   How do you see her in relation to the other characters in this opera?

Munzer:   She’s the strongest character, and it’s very interesting because usually in Rossini operas, there is a caricature to the characters.  This is the first time that I’ve seen Rossini stray from that and actually make Isabella a three-dimensional character.  All the other characters in this opera really are one-dimensional.

BD:   Have you sung the role before?

Munzer:   No, but I covered it at the Met for Marilyn Horne.  It was my first year at the Met, and I begged out of going on tour that year because I was desperately tired from the season.  I got a call at midnight from someone of the management.  At midnight he called and asked how I was.  I said I was just fine, and he asked how my voice was.  I hadn’t vocalized for the last four or five hours, but I assumed it was fine.  So he asked if I would like to come out to Detroit.  I told him I’d made plans, but he said I had better break them because they would like for me to do Isabella in The Italian Girl in Algiers the next night in Detroit.  I told him I was not up on the role, but he said that he knew I had learned it, which was true.  I learned it, but on my own, which was far from being able to do it at the Met.  I hadn’t coached it with anyone, but he said they knew I was a quick study.

BD:   They were doing everything to twist your arm.

Munzer:   Yes.  He said I would have the stage director and everyone at my disposal the next day to help me out.  I said that I really didn’t think that I could do it, but he said they were ordering me to come out.  So, because I was under contract, I did go out to Detroit, and was met by the whole management saying I was saving the day for them, and how wonderful it was to see me.  We sat in a hotel room, and I was very nervous.  If I had known the role just one tenth better than I did, I probably would have been persuaded.  But in the back of my mind it was better not to go on if I didn’t know the role well, especially since I was taking Marilyn Horne’s place.
BD:   Those are big shoes to fill.

Munzer:   They had me in the room for two hours trying to talk me into it.  Finally, at 2:00 p.m. they realized that I would not do it.  They changed the whole opera to Don Giovanni, which meant that they had to get other orchestra members, and a completely different cast, and pay off the other cast.  The stagehands had already set up for The Italian Girl in Algiers, so they had to do double shift.  This was a very expensive mistake on their part, but I must say that I’m here on very good terms with the Met.  We have laughed about it since.

BD:   You learned the role originally in Italian.

Munzer:   Oh yes.  When I told them I couldn’t do it, they immediately sent me to the best Italian coach in the world, Alberta Masiello, and she coached me.  I know the role in Italian backwards and forwards.

BD:   When did you begin learning it in English for this production here in Chicago?

Munzer:   This past year.

BD:   Do you enjoy it more in English or less?  Is it the same or different?

Munzer:   It’s different.  I’m very happy that I learned it in Italian.  I always learn my leading roles in their original language because the flavor and the nuances are there.  Then I know how to interact when I’m singing it in English, and I know what the composer really meant.  We also changed a lot of words.

BD:   Do you prefer singing in the original or in English?

Munzer:   I prefer singing in the original just because that’s the way it was composed, and that’s the way it was meant.  I love singing in English, but I prefer singing English opera in English.

BD:   You don’t find any problem bringing Italian across to a basically non-Italian speaking public?

Munzer:   I feel that the public who goes to the opera should know enough about the opera before going to get as much as they can out of it.  Opera is such an eclectic art form.

BD:   Is it an acquired taste?

Munzer:   Yes, and there’s so much going into it, so many different art forms coming together to produce opera that if they don’t know something about the story, even if it’s sung in English, they’re going to be exposed to so much all at once that it might present itself as being overwhelming.

BD:   You just want them to be prepared, so they enjoy it?

Munzer:   Yes.

BD:   Tell us about some of your other repertoire.

Munzer:   The repertoire I’m specializing in right now is the coloratura roles of Rossini.  In the German repertoire, I’m specializing now in the Strauss roles.  My favorite is Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier and in the French repertoire, my favorite is Carmen.

BD:   Do you enjoy singing dramatic roles more than coloratura roles?

Munzer:   Yes, and it’s changing, which is terribly exciting for me because singing coloratura keeps my voice in shape.  It’s like doing vocal exercises all day.  They can’t possibly hurt the voice, and they prepare me for the heavier roles that I do.  In fact, whenever I do a heavier role, I only vocalize on a coloratura.  I do love the characters, and I will be going into a more dramatic repertoire a little later.  So I’m very excited about that, and am learning a lot now.

BD:   You’re pacing your career over the long range?

Munzer:   Yes.  I’m still on my first roles, so I must learn them with great care, and take months preparing them so they really are as flawless as I can get them at this particular time in my career.  I can’t jet-set doing that.  I see myself as being on a gradual rise.

BD:   Do you find that the coaching and direction you’ve had has been a big help to you in each production?

Munzer:   Yes, I do.  I have been very fortunate in having wonderful directors and conductors guide my way.  The director here for The Italian in Algiers is Dominic Missimi, and he has given great thought to the opera, which I am very grateful for.  He also knows the music very well.  His direction is of the sort that is not predetermined when we go where.  But we don’t have to wait while he thinks, because he is a very fast thinker, and he sees things immediately as to what would fit his characters best.

BD:   How about the conducting?  Are you happy with Robert Frisbie?

Munzer:   Yes.  I’ve only had two coachings so far with him, and I’m really delighted.  I’m delighted with the whole cast.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Coming back to some of the other roles in your repertoire, have you found that the longer roles in the larger houses are too demanding?

Munzer:   Octavian and Carmen are quite long.

BD:   The whole weight of the opera rests on your shoulders.

Munzer:   Yes, it does.  I feel much better doing them in a large house.

BD:   You don’t feel you lose any intimacy having a larger audience?

Munzer:   That’s very hard to say.  My third professional engagement was the Metropolitan Opera, so that is my home.  Therefore, I learned an awful lot of what I know now from the Met.  That stage is what I compare to every other stage, and is what I feel at home with.  So, I prefer the larger stage and the larger hall.

BD:   But you like also working with smaller halls and smaller audiences?

Munzer:   Yes, I do.

BD:   I would assume that as long as you enjoy what you’re doing in almost any environment, then you can bring the role across.

Munzer:   [Thoughtfully]  Well, it depends on the opera.  With an intimate opera like The Italian in Algiers, really to get all the nuances for the audience, it must be intimate.  Also for the Mozart operas, it really has to be an intimate stage.

BD:   A couple of times now you have said
The Italian in Algiers.  Being a liberated woman, do you think Isabella would have preferred that rather than The Italian Girl in Algiers?

Munzer:   [Laughs]  Oh dear, that was rather Freudian, wasn’t it?  I don’t know.  I don’t think she would have quibbled with it.  Her scope is large.

BD:   What other Rossini have you done?

Munzer:   I just got done performing Cenerentola in Dallas.  What a marvelous role that is.  But then again, Cinderella was a one-dimensional character.  She would be out of character going too far beyond the fairy tale.

BD:   Isabella is much stronger and much more complex?

Munzer:   Yes.  In Cenerentola, I was always at the mercy of the other characters.  Here, the other characters are at the mercy of Isabella.

BD:   Do you think Isabella would have enjoyed living in the 20th century, and be fighting for the E.R.A. [Equal Rights Amendment]?

Munzer:   Oh, yes.  I am sure of it.

BD:   Even though she is a strong and liberated woman, she’s still looking for her lover and wants to rescue him.

Munzer:   Being a liberated woman does not necessarily mean that you lack any warmth.  She has character and a lot of spunk, yet she’s truly a warm and gracious person.

BD:   What do you think would have happened if there had been a third act to this opera?  Where do they go from there after they leave Algiers
on a world cruise, or back home to start domestic life again?

Munzer:   Of course, it wasn’t her lover who paid for the cruise, so first of all she would have to get a job because her lover wasn’t that wealthy.  She would be just holding up her end of the partnership that she created with her lover.

BD:   Does she have any relationship at all psychologically or emotionally with the Bey of Algiers?

Munzer:   Yes, I think she does.  At first, she’s just overwhelmed by the idiotic mannerisms and physical features of this guy.  But as the opera goes on, she realizes he is just like any other Western man that she knows in his private feelings.  So she treats him accordingly, and does not slough him off as just another one.
BD:   Are we told in the opera that he has a harem?

Munzer:   He has a harem.

BD:   I assume that Isabella does not want to be a part of that harem.

Munzer:   [Resolutely]  No.  She’s not into that sort of life.  She has one lover, and she is very devoted to one person at a time
if any others would ever be.  There’s no way that she feels any compunction to make love, or be intimate in any other way with the Bey.

BD:   This is a happy-ending opera for all concerned really
even for the Bey who loses the Italian girl, but is really happy at the end to get back to his normal routine.  Do you enjoy singing happy-ending operas, as opposed to tragic operas, and do you approach the roles differently?

Munzer:   Yes, and that’s it.  I have never compared them.  I’m a singer who says that my favorite opera is the opera I am singing.

BD:   Besides opera, do you also do concerts and recitals?

Munzer:   Yes, I do.  I love them.  I enjoy oratorio very, very much.  The concert field is a completely different alternative or addition to the opera field.  Not long ago, I had a wonderful experience with Zubin Mehta.  He was conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and I did the Mahler Third with him.  It was my first Mahler, and I now am addicted to Mahler.  I love it.  I was frightened to death because it was my debut with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and it was the first time I had actually seen him up close.

BD:   Is he as charismatic as he appears to the public?

Munzer:   Oh, he’s wonderful.  He knew that I was just frightened to death.  I tried to put on this terribly mature facade to create the very deep character that the alto has to portray in this work.  As I was fidgeting in my seat, I’m sure he knew that when I stood up to sing, he was going to have to do something with me.

BD:   Did he give you the support that you needed?

Munzer:   Yes.  I stood up to sing, and he looked at me just as if he knew I could do it, and I did.  I didn’t think about anything except the music from that moment on.

BD:   Are you looking forward now to Kindertotenlieder and some of the songs?

Munzer:   I won’t ever do Kindertotenlieder.  There’s too much of a hex on it.  I have a child, and I have not yet been able to get through the songs without crying.  So I will have to either wait until I’m older and my child is older, so that these don’t apply directly, or else I will never do that work.  Perhaps my view will change as the years go by, but right now I don’t dare.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   What is on the near horizon for you?

Munzer:   I
’m doing some concert work right after this.   I go to New York to do a St. Matthew Passion, and then I do a Dvořák Stabat Mater not very far away from here, in Milwaukee.  This summer will be very interesting because I will be working with Helmuth Rilling.  He is a world-renowned choral conductor, and has recorded with Deutsche Grammophon and a couple other labels.  He is an excellent oratorio conductor.

BD:   Do you enjoy the life of a singer?

Munzer:   Let me just say that I couldn’t live without it.  Of course, it has its ups and downs.  I enjoy and love any kind of classical music very much, so all I want to do is be a part of it, and be an instrument through which the composer can work.  When I’m doing that, I feel I’m at my best.

BD:   Has classical music has been a part of your life, all of your life?

Munzer:   Yes.  I started as a pianist when I was five.  My mother put me through the competition circuit, and I entered the university as a piano major.  I was devoting about four or five hours a day practicing piano, and one hour a day practicing voice.  So the next year, I quickly switched my major.

BD:   Do you find you’ve had good coaching all the way along, or have some of the teachers been harmful and you’ve been able to recognize that?

Munzer:   I have had harmful teachers, but my voice is a mezzo.  Of course I do some contralto things, although I’m not a contralto, so it is a lower voice and I will come into my prime later.  I feel that I have the extra time to correct anything that I have misused, or haven’t got proper coaching.  Also, it has kept me fresh so that I have not worn myself out before my time.

BD:   Do you feel the voice is seated correctly now?

Munzer:   Yes, I do.  I feel that I am finally on top of it, which is a wonderful feeling.  It’s a very exciting time for me.  
This year is really a new year for me as far as a new beginning.  Everybody has their off moments, or has had bad training and has to overcome it, and I’m no exception.

BD:   This adds security to your performance?

Munzer:   Yes.

BD:   Alan seems very happy with you, and this is good because he’s got a good ear and he’s very discerning about singers.  This bodes well for your current performances here in Chicago.  [I then enumerated the dates and times of the performances for the radio audience.]  Thank you very much for coming to the studio and talking with me today.

Munzer:   Oh, thank you.  My pleasure.

BD:   [That was the end of the portion from which sections were used on the radio to promote the performances.  We then continued to chat, and here is some of what was said.]  Have you ever done Adalgisa?

Munzer:   No.  I covered Adalgisa at the Met, and it’s a wonderful role for me.  I love the role, I really do.  It’s short, but it is heavy.

BD:   You have the high C without problem?

Munzer:   Yes, but the approach to the high C is so easy that people shouldn’t have trouble with it.  I enjoy that role very much.  It’s just that I’m in a very interesting area of my career right now.  I can be hired as a Cherubino, but I’ve turned it down because I don’t feel like a Cherubino anymore.  The voice is too heavy.

BD:   Do you do any other Mozart?

Munzer:   Mozart is funny.  I do them, but they don’t show the voice off at all.  They call for too slender a mezzo.  You don’t hear very many Mozart mezzos doing Strauss or Verdi.  It’s a different type of voice.  I do it, of course, but not all the color in the voice comes through, so I don’t enjoy doing them except for Clemenza di Tito, which I love.  But that’s different from the other Mozart.

BD:   Do you want to stay a mezzo, or are you looking to add soprano roles to your repertoire?

Munzer:   I will always be a mezzo.  You will see from the performance I’m not an egotist in many ways, but I feel that I’m a true mezzo.  Most mezzos that you hear today are really sopranos, or very high lyric mezzos that could be Zwischenfach [between two vocal categories].  That’s why people call me a contralto because they don’t realize that the other mezzos are not really mezzos.  So I keep saying I’m not a contralto.  I’m a mezzo and they’re sopranos!  I’m emphatic about that, and I have a good top, but I will never be a soprano.  Later on I could try a Zwischenfach role like Santuzza, but I would never go into the soprano repertoire.  My character is different in everything that I play, but I have a mezzo mentality.  I’m not a soprano.  There’s nothing in me that’s a soprano.  I learned that even to a greater extent because someone wanted me to do A Child of Our Time by Tippett, but they didn’t want me to do the mezzo part.  They want me to do the soprano part.

BD:   Have you met Janet Baker?

Munzer:   No, I haven’t, but she’s an idol.  There are very few mezzos that I really key into.

BD:   In the recording of Clemenza, for instance, she sang Vitellia instead of Sextus.

Munzer:   But Vitellia is a very complicated role because so much of it is low.  Much of it is lower than Sextus.  Then, in a couple of key places she soars.  It’s wonderful that she has the top to soar.  I don’t like her as Vitellia, but otherwise I love everything she does.  I can only hope to become the artist she is.

BD:   Do you feel you’re now on the verge of the big career, and you’re working toward big roles in big houses?
Munzer:   Yes.  That was one reason I had to ask the Met to let me go for a while.  Being the third professional engagement I had, I was the youngest person there at that time.  I learned every single role that I did there for the first time.  I did my first high C there.  Then, two years ago, their demand that I do The Italian Girl in Algiers sent me reeling, because I thought how could I possibly?  I didn’t want to go on there and be mediocre, not only for me, but for the Met.  When people are paying those prices, the reputation of the Met deserves the best, and it must have the highest caliber.  I don’t mean people just with reputations.  I mean, people with the goods.  I’m not about to perform leading roles there for the first time, and since I had no experience, I had to go and do them in smaller regional houses, and then perhaps bigger houses.

BD:   I was talking with Boris Goldovsky.  He and I have been working on a couple of projects over the years, and often when he comes into Chicago, I chauffeur him around a little bit.  It’s wonderful because while we’re in the car for a little while, there are no phone calls and no interruptions.  He and I can get a lot of work done just talking.

Munzer:   He’s absolutely wonderful.  My second professional engagement was with him.

BD:   He was saying that he would rather see singers do a large role in a small house than stick around doing small roles in big houses, because they need the experience of the role.  It doesn’t make much difference where they’re singing it because the preparation is going to be nearly the same.

Munzer:   That’s right.  Whenever someone says you can do a big role because it’s a small house, that’s a bunch of bull.  You sing the same no matter what.

BD:   A friend of mine who’s a very fine character tenor was starting to get offers from smaller houses for Siegmund and Tristan and things like that, and he said forget it.

Munzer:   Staying at the Met too long in the roles that I was doing would label me as a wonderful comprimario singer, and I’m not.  I would have stopped singing because it’s too frustrating for me.

BD:   Where does family life come for you now?

Munzer:   My child is my joy.  I’m not getting married again if that’s what you mean.  It’s only been this year that I’ve been talking to men.  [Both laugh]  I hadn’t even thought about it.  I’m liberated in that I’m a family person, so I can see myself in the next five years getting married and maybe having another child.

BD:   It takes a very special kind of person to understand the ins and outs of your career.

Munzer:   That’s right.  It’s temperament more than anything.  People have to understand what you have to go through right before a performance.

BD:   Everybody seems to have a different routine.

Munzer:   Whatever the routine is, it is a routine and it is not to be broken.  That’s why I call the Met my home because it was my family.  As I started out, everybody was going out of their way to be especially nice to me and to help me.  There were only a couple of people that had flawed personalities and really liked to see disaster, but most of the the performers were always rooting for me because they were so secure.  They had already made it.

BD:   Have you been involved on stage in any kind of disaster, such as a piece of scenery falling?

Munzer:   Yes.  There have to be disasters.  Fortunately, except for one occasion, the disaster has not been me.  Things are going to happen.  You strive for perfection, but you rarely get it.  It’s not demeaning to anybody else, at least in my eyes, because it just shows that they’re human.

BD:   Do you read the critics?

Munzer:   I would be a fool to say I don’t.  I hate to because it’s not as though they’re inevitably wrong.  It’s just that sometimes I don’t think they’re human. 

BD:   They’re looking for something that is not possible. 

Munzer:   They’re looking for perfection.  I was in New York two weeks ago and went to see Caballé in her Carnegie Hall recital.  She has her idiosyncrasies, but so what?  She sings like a goddess.  I went away with a joyful, wonderful feeling.  I got the paper the next day because nobody could say anything bad about this performance.  But, they ripped her to shreds.  I thought even a person like Caballé is going to be hurt by this.  Especially when someone makes it to the top, they’re always being bombarded by everybody below and it makes it much harder.  There’s no real solution, but I question it if an artist says they say they never read the critics.

BD:   How do you feel about recordings?

Munzer:   It depends.  A person’s voice records very differently from what is heard live.

BD:   Not necessarily about producing them, but about the impact they have on audiences.  Do you feel that they detract from live performances by setting up an impossible standard?

Munzer:   In most cases they do.

BD:   Do you think they serve a useful purpose?

Munzer:   Yes, since they have broadened the audiences.  Not every community has the pleasure of having their own opera company, or seeing and hearing opera on a very regular basis.  Recordings just broaden their scope, and broadens them as human beings in their enjoyment.

BD:   Do you have enough work to keep you happy?

Munzer:   I don’t know whether I could have played it any other way up until now because of my child.  I’m one of these products of a terribly guilt-ridden society.  Any time away from her I just feel that I’m doing something terribly wrong as a mother.  At the Met that could be accommodated.  It was like having your cake and eating it too.

BD:   Home is New York for you?

Munzer:   No.  Right this minute, it’s Minneapolis.  My whole family moved to Minneapolis a couple of years ago.  That’s another reason I had to let go of the Met then because I just couldn’t do it.

BD:   Are you set now to go back to the Met?

Munzer:   No.  I’m just starting to come into my own, and I want to be tried and true and then go back.  I’ll sing roles the same anywhere, but I thought that a small house would have no critics.  I tried my first Carmen in what I thought was a nothing house.  It was the smallest you can get, and would be perfect to try it out because no one will see it.  Thank goodness, it was a wonderful production and I got wonderful reviews, but a review was in Opera News, and different newspapers picked it up.  I had no idea that this would happen.  If I had known before the opening night, I don’t know what I would have done.  For this Italian Girl in Algiers, they felt I could come in and just do it because I had covered Horne.  But that’s not the case.  I thought this was a wonderful opportunity, but I didn’t know anything about the company.

BD:   I don’t know if I should tell you this, but the same people will be sitting out front that also write daily about the Chicago Symphony.

Munzer:   [Laughs]  I just learned that not only are there representatives from four different opera companies from around the United States coming just to hear this production, but Ed Curran from the National Endowment is flying in especially to see it.  I had no idea that all this was going to happen.


BD:   [Re-assuringly]  Don’t let it bother you.  If you couldn’t have done what they wanted, they wouldn’t have hired you.

Munzer:   Oh, I realize that, but I just hope people realize it’s my first production in this particular role.

BD:   [Resolutely]  That’s no excuse.  You’ll do well.

Munzer:   Oh, of course, I’ll do well, but I just hope that I see no one out there.

BD:   I hope you enjoy it.

Munzer:   I will just because of the character.  I’m determined to enjoy it, and I hope the audience will have fun.

BD:   I don’t get to see it until Sunday, which is the last performance.

Munzer:   I hope that the critics don’t complain because I don
t sing like Horne.

BD:   No, they tend to judge each performance on its own merits.

Munzer:   That’s wonderful.  That’s all I need to hear.

BD:   Your first performance is a Friday night, and I assume they’ll be there.  Occasionally they have to come to a second performance if there are two or three things on the same evening.

Munzer:   That would be better for me.  The second performance is always better than the first for me.  We never have a time on stage where we’re singing full out and we’re with the orchestra.

BD:   For rehearsals you sing with the orchestra, or you sing out on stage, but not both?

Munzer:   The only time we have is the Thursday night before the opening the next night, and I’m not going to sing out for that rehearsal.  So it’s going to be a novelty on Friday.  This is usually the case.  The first performance is the dress rehearsal.  You can just get all the kinks out in the first performance, and the second performance you feel much better about, and you can have fun.  That’s the mentality of it.  You’re very careful the first night, whereas there’s so much that can be gotten out of the characters we portray that I wish that we had an audience before our first performance.  That would be the ultimate. 

BD:   Some places have a dress rehearsal, but the house is usually filled.

Munzer:   That’s wonderful, because it doesn’t matter whether it’s a performance.  If there is an audience, we perform.

BD:   What about new works?  Do you like new operas, or would you rather stay with Verdi, Rossini, Strauss?  For example, if someone such as Lee Hoiby wrote a role that was perfect for you, would you sing it?

Munzer:   If it was perfect for me, I would sing it, yes.  Just like the old scores, you have to look through them to see if they really do fit you.  I’m very much for contemporary music.  When I did my first 20th century opera at the Met [Lulu], the first week I could not stand it.  My theme was [sings a tone row].  I was getting nauseous, and I thought it was ridiculous.  But by the third week, I loved it.  I just loved it.  For these 20th century pieces, you’re going to be put off at the first hearing, but you should hear it again and again and again.

BD:   If you’re put off as a musician, then think how the audience will be put off.

Munzer:   Absolutely.  I told my mother not to listen to the broadcast.  I said it was a visual opera, and if you’re not there you’re not going to get anything out of it.  The eclectic thing works.  Everything comes together to make it a wonderful opera.  But if you don’t have one segment, meaning the visual by just hearing it on the radio, it will be awful.  But if you’re there to hear great singing and see great acting, it works beautifully.  There’s no alternative but to see it.

BD:   Do you think television is the answer, or is it a stopgap?

Munzer:   I don’t know.  I rather like the television because you have a wonderful seat.

BD:   Do you like it when they have the translation at the bottom?

Munzer:   I don’t mind it at all because it brings more people to the work.  [Remember, this conversation took place in 1980, before supertitles were used in the theater.]  Anything that brings a greater audience is not going to do us any harm.  I’m all for the broadcasting on radio and TV.  I think it does a world of good.

BD:   [Noting that we had been talking together for an hour.]  Thanks again for coming in today.

Munzer:   Oh, thank you very much.

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© 1980 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in in the studios of WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago on March 6, 1980.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB five days later.  This transcription was made in 2023, and posted on this website at that time.

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.