Baritone  William  Parker
A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


William Parker, Baritone, Dies; Specialist in Art Songs Was 49

Published in The New York Times March 30, 1993

William Parker, a lyric baritone who was one of his generation's most eloquent interpreters of art songs and a champion of new American music, died yesterday at his home in Manhattan. He was 49.

His press agent, Philip Caggiano, said the cause was AIDS.

Mr. Parker filled his recitals with songs woven around particularly poetic or descriptive texts, and illuminated those works with a warm, flexible timbre and a thoughtful approach to phrasing. In the English, German and French songs with which he was most closely associated, his diction was remarkably clear. And his personality consistently created the illusion that he was sharing a confidence with his listeners.

Although he had been making his way in the music world steadily since the early 1970's, Mr. Parker seemed to burst onto the music scene in 1979, when he won first prize at the Kennedy Center-Rockefeller Foundation International Competition for Excellence in the Performance of American Music. That competition established him as a singer who was not only willing to sing American music, but was enthusiastic about it.

He gave the premieres of many works, including Ned Rorem's "Santa Fe Songs" and Ernest Bacon's "Last Invocation." His recordings of works by Copland, Ives, Griffes and Mr. Rorem convey much of the persuasive spirit one heard in his recitals.

"I've been fortunate, because composers keep bringing me compositions," he recalled in a 1987 interview. "It's important to be open to new things. On the other hand, I don't want to be thought of as a specialist. People tend to pigeonhole us, and we get stuck there."

Actually, by the time he won the Kennedy Center contest Mr. Parker had a wide repertory of traditional opera roles and European art songs. He had also won first prize at the Toulouse International Competition and both first prize and a special Poulenc prize at the Paris International Singing Competition.

Mr. Parker was born on Aug. 5, 1943, in Butler, Pa., near Pittsburgh. He was a boy soprano in a local choir, but his first love was language, not music. He completed high school as an exchange student in Germany, and received a bachelor's degree in German language and literature at Princeton University in 1965. It was not until the late 1960's, after five years in the United States Army Chorus in Washington, that he began to consider a career in music and started to study voice seriously. His teachers included Pierre Bernac and Rosa Ponselle.

Although he was best known for recitals, he appeared with many opera companies in the United States and in Europe. He made his New York City Opera debut as Pandolphe in Massenet's "Cendrillon" in 1984 and gave a highly regarded portrayal of Papageno in Mozart's "Magic Flute" the same season. He sang frequently at the Santa Fe Opera and with companies in Houston, Pittsburgh and Miami. He also performed regularly as a soloist in music by Bach and Handel.

Mr. Parker's last project was putting together "The AIDS Quilt Songbook," a collection of new works about the physical and emotional devastation of AIDS. Inspired by the AIDS Quilt, in which each panel commemorates someone who died of the disease, Mr. Parker asked many of the composers with whom he had worked to write songs to be sung as a cycle. Among those who responded were Mr. Rorem, John Harbison, Lee Hoiby, William Bolcom, Chris deBlasio and David Krakauer. In June, Mr. Parker and the baritones Kurt Ollman, William Sharp and Sanford Sylvan performed the cycle at Alice Tully Hall.

"In Santa Fe last summer," Mr. Parker said in a May interview in The New York Times, "I was thinking about what we sing about all the time in opera and song -- grief, separation, death, fear of death, traumatic events in life -- and I had to ask, 'Why are we not singing about AIDS?' For singers, we are being pretty unvocal about this. Something left me unsatisfied about AIDS benefits where the music is all Mozart and Puccini and the word AIDS never gets said."

Mr. Parker continued to add new works to the collection after the June concert and sang the cycle in several cities. His last public performance was on Jan. 1, at the Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis.

He is survived by a sister, Amy Doty of Rochester, and a brother, John Parker of Del Mar, Calif.

--  Names which are links on this webpage refer to my interviews elsewhere on this website.  BD 



(Additional details from the Bach-Cantatas website)

The American baritone, William K. Parker, saw his first opera when he was a 17-year-old AFS exchange student in West Germany. The experience changed his life. Returning to the USA, he entered Princeton University where he earned a degree in Germanic languages and literature. He was a college senior before he took his first voice lesson. He learned the vocal arts with two master singers, Rosa Ponselle and Pierre Bernac. He won major singing competitions in France, Germany, and Canada, but the turning point in his career came in 1980 when he won first prize in the Kennedy Center- Rockefeller Foundation International Competition for Excellence in the Performance of American Music.

The New York City Opera baritone was one of America’s most versatile singers, equally at home on the opera stage, as soloist with major orchestras, and as a song recitalist. He has appeared in major roles with the New York City Opera and the opera companies of Pittsburgh, Tulsa, Miami, Boston, Washington (D.C.), Baltimore, and Santa Fe. Orchestral engagements have included the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, among others. Widely recognized as one of the finest song recitalist of his generation, William Parker has concertized throughout the USA and brought American Art Song to Canada, England, Portugal, France, Holland, Germany, Iceland, and the former Soviet Union. He was best known for his comedy roles in opera. He performed several times at the Baldwin-Wallace College Bach Festival several times (1987-1988).

Wiiliam Parker was honored by the Butler Rotary Club and the Butler Symphony Association as a "native son." He wore the medal he received on a ribbon around his neck during concert performances.

Though he was not performing onstage, in June of 1987 William Parker was in Chicago (along with Marni Nixon) to judge a group of young singers.  They both graciously took time from their busy schedule to speak with me, and what follows is the chat with the baritone.

In the midst of our discussion, he mentioned singing some Massenet, and since I had been contributing interviews to the semi-annual Massenet Newsletter, we explored some of the works of that composer.  His pertinent remarks were then included in the issue dated January 1989.  Now our entire conversation has been transcribed and is presented here . . . . . . . . .

Bruce Duffie:    You’re here in Chicago judging vocal auditions.  What do you look for, or what do you listen for, as you hear these new voices?

William Parker:    The main thing we want to hear is a clear tone that is not something woofy and wobbly, and most of all, diction.  In the American music that we singers choose to present, our secret weapon is words.  After all, if we were pianists or violinists, we don’t have that big, important element of words.  I recently stuck my nose into a public conversation with Ned Rorem and I said, “Is it true with you and other composers that you tend to be more conservative when you set words because the audience minds are a little busier?  There is another whole track and another set of processes for your mind to go through in digesting these words and what those words mean to you as a listener.  Now, as a composer, do you intentionally be more conservative?”  Most of them are when they set words, but he wasn’t quite willing to admit that those successful vocal composers are more conservative.  But if you look right down the line, most of the successful men and women who set music for a voice adopt a somewhat more conservative musical idiom to allow for this preoccupation of the brain to digest the words and what they mean.  On top of all of that complicated process is how each singer brings the words across.  I think the reason that two baritones won this competition the last two times — myself and Henry Herford of Britain — was because in the middle range it’s the most distinct diction.  When tenors and sopranos get to this thrilling, high tessitura that makes composers write so much music for them, that’s when the diction goes.  Compensating to have good vocal production in the high tessitura of each of the voice categories is common, but for some reason there is sort of a screechy quality in a lot of upper soprano ranges, and this is where we, as judges, have a very tough time.  We know a lot of this music and we know what the words are, or if we don’t, we have the text in front of us, and other than musicality and the sound itself, our most important priority is understanding the singer.

BD:    Does that this wanting to understand the words carry over to opera producers, and the public which goes to see productions?


WP:    Absolutely.  It’s one of the reasons the surtitles have become such a success in opera houses.  It’s not just lazy diction; it has something to do with orchestral texture that we’re singing through.  Remember, Casals revolutionized string playing by bearing down on the string early in this century, and wind and reed playing has become a denser total texture.  So singers must sing through a denser orchestral texture than ever.  The Wagnerians learned their craft in an earlier age when that texture was not so thick and they didn’t have to sing so loud.  Now, not only is the pitch higher than it was certainly in the Baroque era, but the orchestra texture is denser and thicker, and we have to sing louder in the opera tessitura as well.  So, often the diction is sacrificed for that.

BD:    Is there any reason for the public to be aware of all these difficulties that the singers face?

WP:    No.  The end product is good music and understanding what’s going on.  But the success of the surtitle idea in opera houses is that the plot is finally fully assimilated by people who don’t understand foreign languages, and often when they’re singing in English they have the surtitles as well.  That’s the kicker!

BD:    Are the surtitles going to mean the death of opera in English?

WP:    Not at all.  I think it’s certainly proven that it has increased audiences at New York City Opera dramatically, because now they know all of what’s going on.  And you don’t have to follow it if you don’t want to.  It’s far over the heads of the singers, at the top of the proscenium, and if you don’t want to engage your eye in that particular level you just don’t, and the opera carries right on.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    How do you divide your career between concerts and operas and recitals?

WP:    No two years are ever the same.  This past spring, for instance, I’ve done a lot of oratorios.  It just happened that way, and the last four summers have been at City Opera in New York.  But it’s usually a pretty mixed bag.  I sadly just missed a world premiere of a new opera in Cleveland because of my mother’s death, and I was very sorry not to be involved in that production in Cleveland.

BD:    Which one was this?

WP:    It was called The Legend by Bain Murray at Cleveland State, and I was looking forward to it very much.  But life is wonderful in that way.  It’s never dull; it’s never the same routine.  Traveling to all these different kinds of things gets a little tiresome, but...

BD:    Do you like the life of a wandering minstrel?

WP:    It’s been seventeen years now, and I still love it very much.

BD:    When you’re preparing an operatic role, how far back do you dig into all the research that’s around?

WP:    It depends on how new or how old the role is, to be sure.  We were entertaining a project to record Pergolesi’s La Serva Padrona.  There’s a new working score, which I have in my suitcase, that has been culled from a lot of different copies.  The original of Pergolesi been lost, but there are a number of working copies — bad working copies — that they used in France.  It was a huge hit in France.  This man had spent a lifetime editing Pergolesi’s works, and it’s recently been published in Italy.  So we are using that.  Now the problem is, do we do it in modern pitch or baroque pitch?  Baroque pitch is slightly out of my range.

BD:    Really?  It’s that far down?

WP:    It involves low Fs and a low E at one point.  So we have to decide these things.  Our forces are small, as they were then, and at baroque pitch I have to interpolate up an octave a couple times when I’d just rather not.  But there’s nothing we can do about it.

BD:    Is this not what they would have done in Pergolesi’s time?

WP:    I’m sure they did.

BD:    How many risks and liberties can you take with a score?

WP:    Well, they’re calculated ones, and the Baroque resurgence has shown us how far we can go and far we have yet to go in knowing how they performed them then.  The scrupulous detail that some groups take is at vocal expense sometimes, so I think it’s very much up to the singer and his or her abilities.  Because I’m not a basso profundo, I just don’t take the low note, rather than breathe it into the microphone badly and fake it.  It has to do with the gifts of the artists involved.

BD:    You wouldn’t want to record it, and have them slow it down to the right pitch?

parker WP:    [Laughs]  Nah!  I don’t think so.

BD:    At that point the recording is a fraud?

WP:    I think so.

BD:    How close do we get to the line of becoming a fraud when we make any recording with cutting and pasting and everything?

WP:    The last recording I did was for Centaur Records with a side of Brahms hits and a side of Copland American songs, and it has been very successful.  We have gone through two printings.  None of them was cut or spliced.  They’re all performances. 

BD:    Does that give you satisfaction?

WP:    Yes.  It took eighteen takes to do Feldeinsamkeit, and is a beautiful, beautiful piece.  I’m very proud of it.

BD:    So you simply used number eighteen?

WP:    Finally, yes.  It is one of the hardest songs there is, so that’s one way to do it.  In the EMI recording I did ten years ago of Poulenc’s songs, there were a couple of high notes that I belted out at the beginning of subsequent sessions that they spliced in.  I don’t see it’s any problem at all then in the overall output of my work.

BD:    Does that not set up an impossible standard if you sing those songs in recital?

WP:    Perhaps.  I’m  a much more mature artist now, and can sustain them better than I did ten years ago, so I don’t know.  I’d have to take them back in the studio and give them a try.  I’d love to do it all over again ten years later.  I think every singer would.  We listen to the final tapes and hold our ears and run out of the room and want to wash it all away.  We’re never really very satisfied.

BD:    Are there any records that you have that you’re really pleased with, that you’re willing say, “This is good”?

WP:    They’re all good.  I don’t think I’d let them be released if they weren’t good, but they’re not live and that’s where our most satisfying work is done, at least for me.  I’m hoping that the American public agrees.  They are going through a lot of changes right now in the kinds of entertainment they want to hear.  I see pop artists who are, indeed, live on the stage of big theaters, being miked and filtered and processed, but they’re still standing there live.  I find that the listening public is far too accustomed to canned sound, and that once they hear the excitement of live music, they might learn to prefer it.   Now this is dangerous territory for a radio station, because you obviously can’t have live music all the time if you don’t have a studio.  But I think the most rewarding music I hear and have heard is live, and not recorded.  So, these recordings are fabulous documents, and the detail can be enormous, but they are still not as exciting as live music.

BD:    It’s two different things.

WP:    It’s a compromise.  Unfortunately, people are substituting too much of the canned performance and not going to concerts.  They’re staying home.  They’re buying it or renting it and not hearing live performances, and that’s hurting the business greatly.  It also hurts the evolution, the maturation of young artists who go without the forum to stand up and get better.  You don’t do this by theory; you have to get up and do it and learn and get better.

BD:    You are always progressing in your career?

WP:    Oh yes.  Thank God.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Let me ask a balance question.  In an opera or a song recital, where is the balance between the artistic endeavor and the entertainment value?

WP:    That’s not an easy answer.  It depends on the role, the singer, and certainly the language.  I remember Maureen Forester singing the role of my wife, Madame de la Haltière, in Cendrillon at City Opera.  She told me that she had participated in the original production in Ottawa, and when that production traveled to Washington, Paris, San Francisco, and subsequently to New York.  French is the tongue of Paris, and this opera is in French, and yet, with the surtitles at New York City Opera they followed all the lines and all of the humor better than they did in Paris.

BD:    That proves the value of the surtitles!

WP:    The plot of that Cinderella story is just a little different than the others.  In this story, Cinderella’s mum has died, and in order to make ends meet the father has married this shrew of a woman with two shrewish daughters, and they’re picking on Cendrillon/Cinderella terribly.  He’s stuck in this rut and just longs to get out, but is very much stuck, and very hen-pecked.

BD:    Did Massenet know how to write well for the voice?

WP:    Oh, very.  It’s a beautiful role.  Absolutely beautiful.

BD:    Have you sung any other Massenet?

WP:    Yes.  I’ve done Albert in Werther and Leacaut in Manon.  Just those three roles, all at City Opera.

BD:    Let’s talk about the French style.  How is the French style different from, say, Ned Rorem or Brahms?

WP:    Certainly it is much more different than Brahms.  Rorem is very much a Francophile, having studied and lived in France for a long time, and he reads and writes French very well.  He is a very literate man.  It’s sort of a fluid notion of lines.  Two ideas came together in a concert with Jean-Philippe Collard, once.  Collard is a fantastic young pianist in France.  I had heard his Rachmaninoff recording and couldn’t believe the technique of this young man!  Finally I met him, and we decided to do Schumann.  Schumann is a very barline-oriented composer in the German style.  I had done Dichterliebe maybe fifty times before I met Jean-Philippe, and suddenly it was a new piece, transcending a lot of bar lines, phrases that were not [sings in a rigid style].  It has to do with language and the sound in the ear.  To me, as a teacher of French art songs — I’ve been sort of Dr. Fix-it in a lot of master class situations over the years — it’s the undulation, the entering, the tapering off of French lines that makes it so very different from German music.  The fluidity of the nature of the musical line, and naturally the word line, is so very different from German music.  That, to me, is the most basic different characteristic.

BD:    Is it easier to sing, or just different?

WP:    Just different.  I can’t say that one is more difficult than the other, and I’ve sung in impossibly difficult languages.

BD:    Amongst the French composers, where does Massenet sit, as far as writing for the voice?

WP:    He’s criticized a lot because he was so popular, and once he got a formula for a kind of a plot that was successful, he, just like Puccini, plugged right away and stamped them out.  But if you look carefully at Massenet’s output, the operas are very different.  They’re showy for the voice; they are very theatrical situations; there’s nothing demure.  But then again, this is big-time theater, and as the middle class emerged to be the not only the phenom, the finance of the third empire and the aspirations of this rising French middle class, so did the glamour and the scope of the stories they wanted to set.  All of this took on great scale, and Massenet was not immune to this at all.  Esclarmonde and Thaïs are very glitzy subjects.  Cendrillon is one of his more through-composed ideas, much more balletic, much more dance with lots of ballet music in it and less stentorian orchestration.  It has beautiful tunes and melodies, almost like Berlioz, rather than big blockbuster sounds that we get later on in Massenet’s career. 

BD:    What I’m trying to get from you is a feeling of singing Massenet, and how he wrote for the baritone voice.  He’s the third character in Werther...

WP:    [Interrupting]  He always is.  This is general.

BD:    But he’s the second character, in Thaïs.  Have you done Athanaël?

WP:    I have not.

BD:    Will you?

WP:    I doubt it.  The orchestra’s awfully big, but if we go back to those recordings of the turn of the century and shortly thereafter, there are excerpts and arias from Thaïs that French singers recorded early on, and they were very lyric singers.  [See my article Massent, Mary Garden, and the Chicago Opera 1910-1932.]  For the kind of sound the orchestra is putting out now, what we must do is to penetrate that sound and be viable in ever increasing sized opera houses.  The Met is four-thousand seats almost, and it looks a block long.  I don’t know if it really is, but it’s a huge performing space, so they need and must have big voices, very big voices.

BD:    Freak voices?

WP:    I would hesitate to say freak voices because there are certain voices that penetrate very well in that house.  The rosewood that covers a lot of the walls in the new Met is very good for conducting the sound, once it gets moving out there, but you have to get it out there first.  Intrinsically the acoustic is good once you’ve got it over the pit.  I remember Ileana Cotrubaş coming from Europe, and I hesitate to use the word, but she has a pretty well focused voice.  Anyway, she got out on the stage and said, “Dear God, how am I going to be heard?”  So she pushed and screeched and went sharp during her entire debut because she was so preoccupied with the size of the house.

BD:    Whereas if she had just relied on her technique it would have been fine?

WP:    It would have been just fine.

BD:    Is this the advice you have for young singers, to have a solid technique and rely on it?


WP:    Oh, yes.  We recently did a panel discussion in New York for the National Association of Teachers of Singing.  It had New York teachers, a manager from the Met, me from City Opera, as well as a recitalist and a booker from Merkin Hall.  The panel was chaired by Will Crutchfield, distinguished man at the Times, and he really knows voices.  He’s the most vocal-oriented critic they’ve had in New York since Virgil Thomson, and a very fine writer of the English Language as well.  We were trying to pinpoint why voices are burning out so fast now, whereas thirty years ago and more, voices did not burn out so fast.  There were less impediments to the sound.  That’s not the right word, but there seemed to be healthier voices around.  By the end of this harangue of several hours, the consensus of opinion was that voice teachers are letting their singers go too early now, right into careers that go round the calendar, twelve months a year.  We don’t rest anymore.  We don’t do our daily dozen with our professor, with our maestro at the piano, to warm us up thoroughly, to go through those very basic set of exercises just like the Air Force does every morning.  Our PT (physical training) keeps us in good technical shape.  We don’t do that much, and I’m as guilty as anybody else.

BD:    I was going to ask if you fell into the trap.

WP:    Yes.  I do it... maybe not every day, but certainly as often as I can, and we are not forced.  No one is forcing us to work twelve months a year, but most of our schedules do range around the calendar.

BD:    It must by ungodly tempting, though, to have all of these offers.

WP:    Of course.

BD:    How can you say no?

WP:    If you do, and if you keep saying no, they don’t ask again.

BD:    Is that really true?

WP:    It certainly is true.  You won’t have any work unless we’re in a critical voice category.  I’m a lyric baritone that’s now getting deeper and lower, happily, as I get older, and we’re a very overpopulated voice category.  High sopranos and low basses and hot-shot tenors, this is territory where they will ask again.  But lyric sopranos and lyric baritones, we dare not say “no” very often.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Coming back to Massenet, let’s talk a little bit about the three characters you’ve done.  Tell me about Albert.  How weak or strong is he?

WP:    Albert is a weak character in the novella of Goethe, but you have a little more sympathy for Albert because he’s more present.  In the opera setting of the story, Albert comes and goes and never really confronts Werther until that one scene.  He’s sort of the absent man that they’re talking about, and is never quite around to defend himself or state his opinion or watch them together and see that nothing really has gone on.  Therefore he is in a very weak position theatrically.

BD:    Does he trust Charlotte at all?

WP:    Certainly not at the end.

BD:    Does he feel that she has committed adultery?

WP:    Oh, sure.  When he slams that door in the opera, that’s the end and they never speak again.  In the novella, after Werther is interred in an unsanctified grave, which she visits nearly daily, it says the two of them, Albert and Charlotte, never speak again.  They’re in the same house, chained in marriage, but they never speak again.

BD:    That’s very sad.

WP:    That’s very sad and it’s very tragic, but that’s not in the opera.

BD:    Well, project ahead.  Does Albert then take some lovers and leave Charlotte?

WP:    I don’t know.  Goethe doesn’t tell us that, but it would be fun to carry on with the story and follow up with it.  [Laughs]

BD:    I always ask what happens in the unwritten next act.

WP:    Yes!

BD:    Then it’s very pointed when Albert hands Charlotte the pistols to give to Werther.

WP:    He says yes, let him do it!  Get rid of him.  He’s had it up to the teeth at that point!

BD:    Would he have been happy if Charlotte had simply gone to Werther and stayed with him?

WP:    No!  He loves her desperately, and is just frantic for some weapon to fight this love of Werther.  There’s nothing he can put his finger on that is the cause of her emotional infidelity to him, but he knows that he can’t hold her.

BD:    Does he think that she will come back to him once Werther is gone?

WP:    Yes, I think so.

BD:    But then she doesn’t.

WP:    Correct.  So when she takes the pistols and asks, “Should I give them to him?” he says, “Sans doute!”  As angrily as he can he says, “Without a doubt, give them to him,” knowing what he’ll do with them, hoping he’ll do just that.  Get rid of him.

BD:    In today’s society, would some hotshot lawyer charge Albert with murder?

WP:    [Laughs]  I don’t know... maybe contributing to a murder.  Interesting.  On the other hand, Lescaut is such a rat in comparison, selling his country cousin without batting an eyelash.  He’s a real, true cad.

BD:    Is this not something that was done at the time?

WP:    Yes, of course it was done, and he’s a cad in that sense.

BD:    But it was not out of the ordinary?

WP:    I think real strict Catholic families didn’t do that, but then again, there were enough that did.

BD:    Is there any redeeming quality in Lescaut?

WP:    He gets very concerned in the casino scene, finally trying to keep Des Grieux from making a complete fool of himself, seeing how his cousin has worked him.  At this quarrel over the gambling table he really wants to keep Des Grieux away from the old man so that he doesn’t get shot, or involve them in further scandal.  He’s getting really alarmed, and then the police come and who’s the first out the window?  Lescaut, of course, saving his own hide.  [Both laugh]  But at the end there is a shred of good feeling for Des Grieux when he says, “All right, I’ll scout the train and I’ll see that you do get to see her again.”  In the Puccini version there are also some redeeming qualities to this cad at this point.

BD:    Have you sung the Puccini also?

WP:    I have.  Sometimes the hiring of singers is a little complicated to audience members.  They don’t understand that they need an understudy for the major roles, and that it’s not very glamorous to be an understudy.  So if they assure us a single performance it helps.  In Miami they do two languages, so the understudies are allowed the English-translated performance if we will cover the other singer in Italian, which is how we did it then.  I was the cover.

BD:    It’s really a double responsibility, then?

WP:    Yes, it’s an awful lot of work, but it was fun.  I enjoyed it. 

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    You’ve recorded a couple of discs of American songs.  Do the American composers who are still living know how to write for the voice?

parker WP:    Some do and some don’t, but that’s always the case.

BD:    Do you ever feel like you’re being used as a clarinet?

WP:    I generally don’t sing that music.  I just don’t sing it.  I remember doing the American premiere of a piece by Henri Pousseur, a Belgian composer.  I got wangled into doing it, and found that this man was unvocal.  I was being used as an instrument, and not well at all.  On the other hand, there are people like Argento, Rorem, Hoiby, Hundley, who write exceedingly well for the voice and continue to write well.  I hate to get into the category of those composers that I don’t like, whose vocal works I don’t like, but these are certainly men that do write well.

BD:    Do you like Jack Beeson?

WP:    Yes, Ellen Zwilich and Beeson, and a young man named Paulus who’s doing some songs in Minneapolis.  Respect for words and respect for the voice is quite different from an instrument.  An instrument you push or pull something for what must be in the composer’s mind.  To write songs, they must love the voice.  Some composers don’t.  [At this point I asked the singer to do a station-break for the radio station, which he did.  I then mentioned that all of my guests had done so, and he continued...]  Oh, that’s lovely.  I remember for Doráti’s birthday he was sent congratulations from all the people that had worked with him.  That was on WGMS in Washington, and it was fun. 

BD:    I did a phone interview with him some months before his eightieth birthday, and then we made a big deal about it by playing his recordings throughout the whole month.  It was just great.

WP:    Lovely.  My first recording was in France and not in America.  That was the EMI set of Poulenc songs.

BD:    Have you made any complete operas?

WP:    No.

BD:    Are you going to?

WP:    I’d love to.  I think a lot of the opera impresarios feel that I am a recitalist.  They make recordings from existing casts over which the conductor usually has the control, and I rarely get into those casts.

BD:    Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today.  I appreciate it.

WP:    I hope I didn’t make an idiot out of myself.

BD:    No, no, it was just fine.  I wish you lots of continued success.

WP:    Thank you.


See my Interviews with Robert Ward.

See my Interview with Norman Dello Joio.

© 1987 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in Chicago on June 10, 1987.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB in 1993 and again in 1998.  A section was transcribed and published in the Massenet Newsletter in January, 1989.  This full transcription was made in 2015, 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.

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.