Conductor  Eve  Queler

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


The American conductor Eve Queler is the Music Director of the Opera Orchestra of New York who perform mainly rare operas in concert version in Carnegie Hall. In 1995-96 the renowned institution celebrated its 25th anniversary, where Queler has conducted more than 60 operas. The four to five performances each season are broadcast on National Public Radio, some of them were live-recorded, including Massenet's Le Cid with Plácido Domingo, Donizetti's Gemma di Vergy and Verdi's Aroldo with Moserrat Caballé, Puccini's Edgar with Renata Scotto and Carlo Bergonzi. All of them are the only existing CDs of these works. Queler's recording of Janáček's Jenůfa (shown below) with Gabriela Beňačková and Leonie Rysanek belongs to the archive of historically important releases. She has also made studio recordings of opera rarities Guntram by Richard Strauss and Nerone by Arrigo Boito.


Queler also conducts the symphonic repertory, and has worked with the Philadelphia Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra, Montreal Orchestra, San Antonio Orchestra, Orchestra of the Rome Opera, the Edmonton Orchestra and many other American orchestras.

She has guest conducted at the opera of Nice, Teatro Liceu in Barcelona (I Vespri Siciliani with Caballé and Domingo), Austalian National Opera in Sydney (Die Entführung aus dem Serail), New York City Opera (Le Nozze di Figaro with Samuel Ramey), in Las Palmas (Elisir d'Amore with Leo Nucci), at the Marklinski Theater/Kirov Opera in St. Petersburg (Mazeppa), at the National Theater Brno (Jenůfa), the Hamburg Staatoper (Don Pasquale), Der Fliegende Hollander at the Kessel Opera, the Smetana Divaldo in Prague (Carmen and Rigoletto) and at the Bonn opera (Jenůfa, La Traviata and Fidelio). She also conducted concert version performances at the Salle Pleyel in Paris, a gala performance of Bellini's I Puritani with Alfredo Kraus with the Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall in London, and Giordano's Fedora for the French Radio ORTF in Paris.

Queler has conducted at the Pretoria Arts Center for a production of Les Contes d'Hoffmann, and also conducted an opera gala for the South African TV, as well as Orff's Carmina Burana and the Sibelius Violin Concerto. In Canada she led Il Barbiere di Seviglia with Opera Hamilton. Gala Verdi concerts in Mannheim and Wiesbaden in January 1996 were extremely successful. In June of 96, she was a guest at the "Las Palmas Opera Festival" with Fidelio which gained excellent public and critical success.

During the "Silver Jubilee" 95/96 of the Opera Orchestra of New York, Eve Queler conducted Bellini's Norma (with Jane Eaglen), Armida by Rossini (with Renée Fleming) as well as Giovanna d'Arco by Verdi (with June Anderson). In 1997 there were concert opera performances at Carnegie Hall of La Cenerentola, Tristan und Isolde and Ernani.


In May 1997 Queler made her debut at the Frankfurt Opera conducting performances of Rossini's Tancredi.

Eve Queler has worked with many famous singers, the list includes to the already mentioned ones also Behrens, Borodina, Cappuccilli, Chernov, Devia, Dimitrova, Gedda, Hvorostovsky, Leech, Millio, Ricciarelli, Sabbatini and Vaness.

Eve Queler has many distinctions including two honorary doctorates. In March 1995 she was honored by New York University for a Leading  Woman in the Arts while in September of that year, the "Butterfly Award" of the Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation was presented to her for her outstanding work with performances of Puccini's lesser known works.

A native of New York City, Ms. Queler studied at the Mannes College in New York and followed master classes with famous conductors like Igor Merkevich and Walter Suskind. She has made a name for herself also with various publications on rare operas and made critical editions of three of Donizetti operas.

==  Text of biography (slightly edited) from the agent's website  
==  Names which are links in this box and below refer to my interviews elsewhere on my website.  BD  

At the beginning of September of 1980, I had the pleasure of interviewing conductor Eve Queler.  She was in suburban Chicago to conduct a production of Don Pasquale with Opera Midwest.  Ostensibly, we were simply going to promote the performances, but we wound up spending two full hours chatting about all things operatic!

Indeed, I was able to use a few minutes on WNIB, Classical 97 that evening.  The specific segment is at the end of this interview.  I also used other segments on several later occasions when playing her recordings.  Now, I am pleased to present our entire encounter on this webpage.

The transcript begins as we were chit-chatting while setting up to record our conversation . . . . .

Bruce Duffie:   How do you go about selecting the various operas that you’re going to present?

Eve Queler:   It’s what I love the most.

BD:   You’ve done some very interesting works, as opposed to standard works.  You dig things out...

Queler:   ...I dig them out because in New York City we have two opera companies plus a lot of smaller groups, and you have to offer interesting repertoire.  There’s no justification for doing another Traviata.  We have the greatest artists in the world singing at the Met, and we get good productions at the City Opera.  What we’ve done is shown that there is a public for interesting repertoire, because opera companies are now doing, or have done, what I call ‘my repertoire’, because I first introduced these works.  I introduced La Favorita first in New York, and now the City Opera is doing I Lombardi, which I had done, as well as The Pearl Fishers, and the Met is doing Francesca da Rimini by Riccardo Zandonai.

BD:   We had a nice production of The Pearl Fishers here by another small opera company, The Chicago Opera Theater [1979 and 1985].

Queler:   I love The Pearl Fishers.  It’s so inspiring.

BD:   [Settling down to do the interview, parts of which would be broadcast that evening to promote the performances.]  First of all, thank you very much for coming in for this interview.  I do appreciate it.

Queler:   Oh, it’s my pleasure.  This is my first appearance in Chicago.

BD:   How do you like The Windy City?

Queler:   I haven’t seen very much.  I’ve been mostly in Evanston [where the performances will be taking place].  It’s beautiful.  We walked down by the Lake.  I’ve been in Chicago before to attend the Lyric Opera.  I came to be with Monserrat Caballé when she did Maria Stuarda.  Then I also came to talk to Alfredo Kraus because he was going to do La Favorita with me.  I was trying to get him to do an extra duet, which he didn’t want to learn.

BD:   Why didn’t you do it in French?

Queler:   Because I couldn’t get artists to do that.  I can’t just decide I’m going to do La Favorita in French, announce the date, have my office reserve the hall, and then call this artist and that one, and the other one.  It’s New York City, so people just don’t go to hear anybody, and these aren’t operas that anybody can sing.  These operas were written for the greatest artists of the day in their heyday, in the prime of the composer and the prime of the artists.  It really isn’t kind to the opera, or the artists, if you put somebody in an opera that they’re not ready for at this point in his or her career.  This also is about their vocal point and their musical point.  They must have self-confidence.  All of those things go into it.

BD:   There must be a trade-off point between the availability of artists, and the availability of your orchestra, and the repertoire you want to do.

Queler:   It’s difficult.  It’s really very difficult to make everybody happy in scheduling a whole season.  For instance, why did I do William Tell in Italian?  I had to.  Why did I do L’Africaine in Italian?  Because I had to.

It was my first season, and it should have been done in French.  But Italian is easier to sing, even for somebody like Nicolai Gedda, who’s the greatest French singer today.  Still, if you give him his choice, especially something like William Tell, which is fiendishly high, he said it was easier in Italian.  Eventually though, he canceled.  He didn’t do it.  Most of the time I’m doing something the artists haven’t done before, and they don’t know how it’s going to come out.  A lot of them are nervous.  You’d be surprised that even very established artists at the top of their careers with big publics are nervous, especially when trying something out.  They’d rather try it out in Catania than to try it out in New York.  I want to make them as comfortable as possible, because then they really do their very best.  And when these people do their best, you’ve got a great evening on your hands.  That’s why I’ve had so many, because I know that it’s important to be considerate of them.  In the end, it’s more important that Monserrat Caballé sings her very best, than do the opera in French.  It’s more important to me, because basically I’m not a historian.  I
m not there to make the music historians happy.

BD:   You’ve got to make the public happy?

Queler:   I’m there to make the public aware of the fact that there’s an opera called Gemma di Vergy [LP shown above-right], and it’s got some splendid music.  We have the very best people that can offer it to you, and they love it.

BD:   I was glad to see that it was subsequently issued on Columbia Records.

Queler:   They also did Le Cid, and Edgar, and Aroldo [all of which are shown farther down on this webpage].

BD:   Aroldo is one of the operas of Verdi that nobody seems to know.

Queler:    It’s the counterpoint of Stiffelio.  There’s a lot of the same music in it with different words.

BD:   Here at the radio station, we’ve done Verdi festivals, and we’ve had to go to the archives of RAI [Italian Radio] to get the ones that we didn’t have.  But each time we’ve done the Verdi series, we’ve had to go to them for fewer and fewer works because more and more of them are available on commercial records.

Queler:   I’ve done my own Verdi series.  I’ve done I Lombardi, I Masnadieri
it’s a beautyand Aroldo, and I’m going to do La Battaglia di Legnano, I Due Foscari, and Oberto.

BD:   Lyric did I Due Foscari here in Chicago.  It opened the 1972 season with Ricciarelli and Cappuccilli, led by Bartoletti.

Queler:   I’ll probably do it with some of the same people, including Katia Ricciarelli.

BD:   She made her American debut with it.

Queler:   Right, and she still loves the role.

BD:   How do singers generally feel about singing something for which there may not be many other opportunities?

Queler:   Some of them don’t want to bother, and they don’t appear with me!  [Both laugh]  Some artists learn roles with great difficulty, and they don’t want to bother to learn a new role unless there are a lot of performances available.  We only offer one performance, and occasionally a recording.  We are not always certain when we originate something whether or not it will be recorded.  I’m going into a lot of the exotic works, like Slavic things, and no company will record them.
BD:   When you do the Slavic works, will you do them in the original language?

Queler:   Definitely!  I’ve already done two Czech operas in Czech, and I’m doing my third in 1982.  I’ve done Smetana’s Dalibor, which is a gorgeous work, and I’ve done Kát’a Kabanová
, both in Czech.  Id like to do Libuše...  [Program of later performance shown at left]

BD:   There seems to be a Janáček
renaissance now.  They’ve been doing some in San Francisco, and the recordings have been coming out.

Queler:   San Francisco did 
Kát’a Kabanová in English.  I did it in Czech, and we had one singer in common, so he learned it in Czech for me.  Now they’re doing Jenůfa in Czech, and they have the same Czech coach that we did.  Soon, City Opera will be doing The Cunning Little Vixen in English, and they probably will keep The Makropulos Affair in and out of the repertoire.

BD:   If you were running a staged-opera company, would you do your operas in English, or would you do them in the original languages?

Queler:   It depends.  If it’s an international city, you can do them in the original language.  If it’s a smaller city, a more provincial city, then we would do them in English.  Personally, I prefer opera in the original, but I understand that especially comedies need to be in the language of the people who are listening.  The tragedies don’t need that, and in tragedies the music frequently suffers, as it certainly does in bel canto singing.  The music suffers greatly by being translated.  We know that because there are so many American singers singing in Germany, and they
re doing Il Trovatore and Carmen in German, and it suffers.  There’s no question about it.  We’re developing a pretty good public for opera now in the U.S., but in the smaller companies, where people don’t travel, and there are third-generation Americans, they have no reason to have heard these languages.  There, it certainly makes sense to do them in English.  Id rather do them in English than not do them.  Ive traveled, and I speak several languages, and I love the music in the sounds that the composer evolved.  Even Janáček, who said that he wanted his operas sung in the language of the people, the sounds of the language are woven into the notes that he wrote.  They’re inseparable, and certainly Janáček doesn’t have a lot of music with line in it.  A lot of it is parlando [speech-like].  Kát’a Kabanová does have some beautiful soaring lines, and I’ve just gotten so that I love all these consonants together.  I’m doing my first Russian opera this year, Khovanshchina.

BD:   In the Shostakovich edition?

Queler:   That’s right.  This is the American premiere of the Shostakovich edition, and it’s quite a chore to put it together because what I’m trying to do really is what Mussorgsky wrote.

BD:   [With a gentle nudge]  You say you’re not an historian, and yet you want to get back to the original as far possible!

Queler:   [Smiles]  I always want to do what the composer wrote.  Sometimes, I make a decision thinking this is what the composer would have wanted.  Composers didn’t write for historians.  Composers write for people to listen, and enjoy, and love.  The whole experience of opera is an expression of joy, and I make a decision that will cause the music to be more attractive.  I think the composer, if he could have his say, would agree.  We can’t really know because we can’t ask them.  Talking specifically about Mussorgsky, he did not orchestrate Khovanshchina.  He died before it was finished, and only two numbers are orchestrated.  Several people have orchestrated the work, and one of the orchestrations is by Stravinsky, which is lost.  Ravel did a version of it for Diaghilev in Paris, but the one that’s commonly done is by Rimsky-Korsakov.  The one that’s not done too often is Shostakovich.  It is more recent, and the reason the Rimsky-Korsakov is done is because it was in the repertory at the Bolshoi.  The materials were more available, and the singers knew it.  As to Rimsky-Korsakov...

BD:   He lushed it up a lot, didn’t he?

Queler:   He lushed it up a lot!  He also changed not only words, not only melodies, not only notes and harmonies and rhythms, but he also left out several roles.  People that were in the opera in the first place are gone, and he also changed the baritone to tenor, and the tenor to baritone.  He transposed those roles.

BD:   He really re-worked the whole thing.

Queler:   The changes are massive, and also the orchestration is not as stark and dramatic as Mussorgsky would have had.  The reason I think I know what Mussorgsky would have had is because I compared the Rimsky-Korsakov version to a critical edition of the piano/vocal score by Pavel Lamm.

BD:   Lamm also did Boris, did he not?

Queler:   I think he did all of the Mussorgsky works in a critical edition.  But the problems are different between Boris Godunov and Khovanshchina.  We had the Shostakovich edition of Boris Godunov in New York a number of years ago.  Thomas Schippers did it, and it was very interesting.  It is much more stark, and has many lean chords.  Not everything is constantly thick and rich, which doesn’t really fit the work.

BD:   When the public sees an original version of Boris Godunov as opposed to the Rimsky edition, do they feel cheated or let down?

Queler:   We didn’t.  The Met gave it, and it’s a different version.  But if you study Mussorgsky as a composer, he was not compatible with Rimsky-Korsakov’s ideas of orchestration, which are gorgeous.  Mussorgsky’s harmonic musical writing didn’t have a lot of chromaticism, and you could just see that Rimsky
s instrumentation isn’t right for some of it.  The Persian’s Slave Girl’s Dance is right in Rimsky-Korsakov’s vein, but the music of the Old Believers is liturgical.  There’s a lot of liturgical music in Boris, including the People’s Choruses.  I looked at both, and Shostakovich orchestrated the exact notes of Mussorgsky without changing anything.  Rimsky-Korsakov knew Mussorgsky, so it wasn’t like a strangers ideas.  He simply changed keys to fit certain voices, and that sort of thing.  Right or wrong, Shostakovich brought it all back to the original, and I just felt that it would be interesting, since New York hasn’t had Khovanshchina since 1950, and then it was in the Rimsky-Korsakov edition.
BD:   What about being concert versions of these works?  Would you prefer doing this Khovanshchina on stage, or are you happy doing it in concert?

Queler:   I’m not unhappy doing it in concert.  The natural habitat of opera is to be staged.  It’s drama, and it was written with staging in mind.  What I’m doing in New York happens not to be a staged company.  It happens to be an orchestra, and its primary reason is to present the musical side of the opera.  We have had a lot of very successful opera in concert form in New York.  There were organizations that preceded us.  Monserrat Caballé was first presented in an opera in concert, and Joan Sutherland and Marilyn Horne did their famous Semiramide in concert form.  They were really high points.  Not every work can be staged.  It’s a different kind of an expense.  With the Met, and the City Opera, and even if you had a third opera company in the city, they couldn’t stage everything.  There are wonderful pieces of music that ought to be heard, and that are most enjoyable, which is shown by the fact that we have a big following of people that appreciate them very much.  Take a work, like Khovanshchina.  I know it has been under consideration at the Met, and I would have done it sooner except that James Levine told me a few years ago that he was thinking of doing it.

BD:   He
s not been able to solve the practical problems?

Queler:   He hasn’t gotten around to it for whatever reason.  It’s not on the immediate plans anyway.  A work like Khovanshchina might come up every ten years, certainly for hearing if it’s not going to be staged.  Then you take the seventy-two Donizetti operas, of which we are now familiar with about eight.  They’re not all good, but there are certainly another twenty-five worthy of viewing, and of the Bellini operas, we now know I Puritani, and Norma, and I Capuleti e i Montecchi, which I’ve just done last year.  But there are still other wonderful operas by Bellini.  There’s Bianca e Fer
or Bianca e Gernando, depending on which edition you haveand there’s Adelson e Salvini.

BD:   Wasn
t that one done some years ago?

Queler:   It was done in concert in New York about half a dozen years ago.

BD:   I remember reading about some tenor who had to start on a high C and go up...

Queler:   Yes, he’s a specialty singer.  There are just lots of works that could be heard and appreciated.  Many people think that I do them in concert because I don’t think they should be staged.  That’s not true at all!  It
s just one way of presenting them.  We had Solti’s first major success in New York City when he came with Das Rheingold, and we seem to have one Elektra a year from some orchestra.  We always have.

BD:   Next year we will get a lot of presentations of Bluebeard’s Castle because it’s the centenary.

Queler:   Yes, we
ve had that work often.  There’s definitely a public for these in New York City.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Where do recordings fit in with live performances on stage, and live performances in concert?

Queler:   As you know, I’m a big proponent of recording live performances.  The real aficionados, the people that want to be at everything, want to be there, and they buy the live recordings because they couldn’t get there.  It’s different from studio recordings.  Everybody knows that with studio recordings the singers may do the high note first when they’re fresh, and then go back and do the rest.  The work is not done in its natural chronological order.

BD:   If you were asked to record a work, and you could dictate every aspect of it, would you want it to be recording of a concert performance with no insertions, or would you do it piece-meal?

Queler:   If money were no object, and I really could do the thing artistically the way I believe it should be, I would do it from the beginning and let the singer create the role.  Then I would let the engineers patch it, which is what we do when we record.  We record the performance live, and then have patch sessions.  The singers can listen, and I can listen, and when there is something I may not like, we fix those things.  We can patch in... but it’s usually not just one note that a singer doesn’t like.  It could be a whole phrase...

BD:   Do you ever patch as much as a whole number?

Queler:   Oh, sure.  We patch a whole number, but you don’t lose the momentum of the performance the same way as you do when you are in the studio.  I’ve done a studio taping of Fedora with the Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française [RTF, the French radio and television], and we did it in pieces.

BD:   Then they assembled the tape later?

Queler:   They assembled the tape.  You sit and listen, and use the best takes, and try to put them together.  On the recordings of the complete Stravinsky works, there’s a session with him in which the engineer asks him, “Would you please do it again, and would you play it a little bit slower?”  He said, “But I like this tempo now. This is the tempo that I want.  The engineer continued, “If we want to patch it, we can’t do it because it’s a different tempo than the other one.”  Stravinsky says, “Ah yes, I understand.  All right, then I’ll do it!”  So, if we want to patch from the performance to the session later, we have to do it in the same tempo.  So basically your momentum is there because you already have the tempo going.  Also what’s very important to me is the spacing in an opera from one number to another.  When there’s an audience there, you have a certain reaction after a certain kind of a statement
whether it be an aria, or a cabaletta, or an expression of somethingand there is a natural pause and resumption which you cannot recapture when you’re in the studio.  Except when going from side to sidemeaning turning the record, which is not within our controlthere is still the rest of it.  The pacing of the opera is under my control when it’s recorded live, and I like to feel that I’m in control of the pacing because I’m held accountable for it later.  I like to have it my own feeling of pacing.  Sometimes a singer may need time to recover from something, or they may just feel that a pause is important at a particular time, and so we make that pause.  We feel it.  We hardly ever discuss these things.  I’m somebody who works a lot by the feel of working with another person.

BD:   There’s a close communication between you and the performers?

Queler:   Always, yes.  For instance, in this production of Don Pasquale by Opera Midwest, I had never worked with the director, Lou Galterio, although each of us had heard a lot about the other.  We’re really enjoying working together very much, but we have never sat down and had a planning meeting.  We’ve never had a discussion about how this should go here, etc.  We just work.  I conduct the rehearsals while he stages, and I see what he’s getting after.  He came to the first musical rehearsal, so he hears what I look for, and then there’s a blend.  Fortunately, of course, there is also a blend of personalities and ideas, so we’re not at opposite ends of the pole.  I feel very strongly about the drama, and sometimes I even interfere when I shouldn’t in what he’s doing.  He is a person who loves music.  He goes to concerts.  He’s been to my concerts before, and he’s very knowledgeable, and he particularly loves bel canto.  But that’s not usual for a director.  Some do, but Lou really knows the music.  He knows the words, and if you discuss a specific scene, he can tell you what the words are because he loves it so much.  He has studied it, and has seen it.

Lou Galterio
(born in New York, New York, on November 29, 1942; died in St Louis, Missouri, on June 20, 1996 from heart failure following a long illness) was a noted stage director of opera. He studied drama and English at Marquette University.

His productions were seen at the Opera Theatre of St. Louis (including Albert Herring, which was televised in 1978, Così fan tutte, Le nozze di Figaro, Gianni Schicchi, Ariadne auf Naxos, Maddalena), Santa Fe Opera (including Neues vom Tage, Il cappello di paglia di Firenze, and his posthumous production of Don Giovanni), Washington Opera (Anna Bolena and Postcard from Morocco), Opera Pacific (Regina), Dallas Opera (Madama Butterfly), Connecticut Grand Opera (Carmen), and the New Orleans Opera Association (La traviata, Il barbiere di Siviglia, L'elisir d'amore, Lucia di Lammermoor, Macbeth, and La bohème).

From 1977 to 1989, Galterio was director of opera production at the Manhattan School of Music, where he staged The Nose, Sancta Susanna, Eine florentinische Tragödie, The English Cat, Feuersnot, Cendrillon, etc.

In 1980, Galterio made his New York City Opera debut, with an acclaimed production of La Cenerentola (with Susanne Marsee, Rockwell Blake, and Alan Titus), which was televised over PBS. He later staged Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor and Susannah for the company.

See my interviews with Faith Esham, and Rockwell Blake

BD:   So, it’s had time then to seep into his mind and into his psyche, rather than just coming to it new?

Queler:   Oh absolutely, and he had tremendous respect for the music.  He never asks a singer to run around when they have to sing something demanding.  He knows!

BD:   Do you enjoy this production being in English?

Queler:   Yes, I do because I hear people laughing, not only at the obvious site gags, but also at the words.  This is a young company, and it’s a wonderful company.  I’m really very excited about it because I’ve never seen anything quite like this in the other opera companies I’ve conducted.  They’ve either been staid [unadventurous], or they’ve been provincial American companies that couldn’t quite get it all together.  The cast was not assembled by me.  I didn’t know any of the people before, but I’m really delighted to know them.  I’m offering them more contracts to sing with the Opera Orchestra because they really are first-rate, and very strong people.  Several of them have done their role before.  I’m doing the opera almost uncut.  I can’t say completely uncut because there are two spots that still needed to be cut.

BD:   Why would these spots need to be cut?

Queler:   For one, we’re doing the cabaletta for the tenor, and it’s just too taxing.  He felt that once-through was enough, and I can’t disagree.  It
s the same thing in the Serenade.  They’re both sections that he sings, and he sings them very beautifully, so why tire him out?  I’ve done it for many more famous people than he.  I’ve cut for Alfredo Kraus, who didn’t want to sing things twice, and I’ve cut for Plácido Domingo, and I’ve cut for Richard Tucker.  So it’s my pleasure to cut for David Howell if he would like it to be that way, and if he feels he can do a better job.  Then there’s one recitative at the very end that seems to go on too long.  So we made a little snip, not a big one.  But this is unusual in Don Pasquale.  Generally there are many more cuts than we’re making.  The repeats of every cabaletta, and the repeats of every duet are always cut.  I had to tell the orchestra to just ignore all the markings in the books.  Some of the singers are doing things they have never done before, and so they’re really showing their flexibility.



Back by popular demand is Romance on the High Cs, a course on opera’s history, evolution and some of its nonsense, presented by former opera tenor David Howell of Lake Oswego. As part of the experience, the class will attend a Portland Opera matinee performance of “Carmen,” by George Bizet.

(. . .)

Howell has appeared with the Chicago Lyric Opera under the direction of Hal Prince. He has appeared as a guest artist at Aspen Summer Music Festival, sung the tenor solos in Verdi’s “Requiem” with the Tulsa Philharmonic, and was tenor soloist in a performance of Haydn’s “Mass in G,” conducted by Robert Shaw.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in vocal performance from the Oberlin Conservatory, and a Master of Music from Tulsa University.

He was a teaching fellow at the University of Oregon, and interim opera director for the School of Music during his post graduate studies. He has been an adjunct at Linfield College, and manager of the Linfield Chamber Orchestra. Since the late 1990s, he has directed numerous musicals and operas at Linfield, Oregon State University, and Gallery Theater.

He describes himself as a “recovering tenor.”

BD:   Are the singers enthusiastic about this particular production?

Queler:   They seem to be.  We’re working hard with rehearsals day after day.

BD:   It opens tomorrow, and runs for four performances, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday and Tuesday.  All start at 8 PM, except Sunday, which begins one hour earlier, at 7 PM.

Queler:   Yes.  You know, in Spain, matinees on Sunday start at 5 PM, so I could almost consider 7 PM a matinee.  Ordinarily, performances start at 9 PM, and finish around 1 o

BD:   This is something I’ve always wondered about.  Where do they get a public to sit up until 1 o’clock in the morning, and then go to work in the morning?

Queler:   I don’t know how they do it, but they are always there.  It’s very alive, but then the restaurants are not open.  When you come out of a performance, it’s about 1 AM or 1:30, and there are no restaurants open.

BD:   How do you feel about opera performances in the afternoon?  Are those a good thing or a bad thing?  For instance, if the Sunday performance had been in the afternoon, would you have approved of that?

Queler:   Oh sure.  I don’t care what time it plays as long as people come.  If there are people who want to go at a particular time, that’s fine.  Sometimes elderly people prefer to go out in the afternoon.  Perhaps they don’t like to go out after dark.  I don’t have any special feeling.  If there’s something I want to hear, I’m going to go no matter what time that is.  I’ll just be there!

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   What’s your opinion of contemporary opera?
Queler:   Contemporary opera is more dramatic than musical, and that’s why I haven’t done any in concert form.

BD:   Is that a failing, or just simply the way they are?
Queler:   No, I don’t think it’s a failing.  The musical idiom of the present is very much in the experimental stage, and the problems in contemporary vocal music are more serious than in instrumental music.  This is because there is a lot of damage that can be done to the voice by the things that singers have been asked to do in contemporary operas.

BD:   [Gently protesting]  But hasn’t this always been so?  Weren’t they saying this about Verdi and Wagner, as well as other earlier composers?

Queler:   At that time that was true, except that what happens is a school of singing must develop for this school of composing.  When Puccini started to write, another kind of singer developed, who in Donizetti’s time wouldn’t have existed.  Wagner started to write in a heavier and heavier vein.  I just did Wagner’s Rienzi, which is a very early work, and the voices that I looked for were more of the Meyerbeer style.  They were more of what Wagner would have heard when he first wrote it.  Then as he developed later and got to Tristan and Isolde, people had to develop their voices for that.  Either he heard people sing that he felt could perform these roles, or he had a vision of singers that would learn how to sing with that kind of body over that kind of orchestra.  Now, the singers that sing Wagner, by and large, cannot sing Italian music.  A lot of them try to because it preserves the voice.  For instance, the goddess of all, Birgit Nilsson, loved to sing Tosca.  She was always happy to sing, but that was not her biggest success, and certainly that would not be considered her greatest role.  It
s just that singers know instinctively that this is going to preserve the voice longer, so they want to do it.  I’m talking about very sharp intervals from the very bottom of the voice to the very top.  Mozart did that, so it’s not impossible for a singer to do, but without mentioning anybody’s name, if you think about the singers that specialize in contemporary music, they are unable to sing bel canto in the style to which we are accustomed.

BD:   They’re trained for one thing, and they aren’t adequate in another?

Queler:   That would seem to be the case.  Of the contemporary operas that I’ve been involved with, and that I’ve seen, it seems to me that the composer is taking a great play, and that the drama weighs more equally with the music than it did in the nineteenth century.

BD:   The whole history of opera seems to be this back and forth, with the balance shifting from one side to the other side and then coming back again.

Queler:   Although composers including Donizetti and Bellini really fought and struggled to get good librettos, it’s basically been the music.  Wagner wrote his own librettos, and Mussorgsky wrote Khovanshchina.  Those were his words.  Still, with the exception of the Shakespeare operas, the memorable part is the music.  It is not the drama.

BD:   There’s been the comment made that perhaps Boito’s refashioning of Otello is even stronger than Shakespeare
s Othello.

Queler:   That’s possible, but Boito is an exception, and probably the only exception of all the librettists where you could say that his work is equal.  Therefore, you won’t see many concert performances of Otello because you can’t do justice to it that way.

BD:   Would you like to do a concert version of [Boito’s] Nerone?  [Cover of recording made in Hungary shown at right]

Queler:   I’m considering it right now.  It would be very difficult, but it would also be difficult to stage.  I was just looking at it a week ago.  It’s strange that you should ask, and I’ve considered it on several occasions.  Nerone is so bloody and disgusting.  It’s so ghoulish that I really don’t even know if I want to do it.  There’s a big gladiator scene which makes the Auto-da-Fé scene of Don Carlo look like a tea party!  In the new Met staging, which you could have seen on television, actually shows people attached to the stake.  They start the fire, and it’s really frightening.  But Nero didn’t have one redeeming feature according to this libretto, and that would be a pretty difficult thing to depict.  There’s hardly anyone to get sympathy for.  You certainly don’t care about Nero, whereas in The Coronation of Poppea [Monteverdi], it’s just one little episode.  Mephistopheles, of course, has been done successfully at the New York City Opera, and I think Nerone is equally good musically.

BD:   Then you should bring it back!

Queler:   I really am thinking about it!  I’m torn... if I could talk Plácido Domingo into doing Nerone, I’d probably do it if I could also cast the rest of the roles.  That work has enormous casting difficulties.  You need a real verista soprano, and we don’t have very many right now.  Maybe we have Renata Scotto, but we don’t have anyone like Tebaldi anymore.

BD:   Is there any way to talk Tebaldi into coming back to do mezzo roles, or character roles?  It seems like such a great loss to have her just in retirement.

Queler:   I don’t know because I don’t know her.  I was at the famous recital in New York in which she stopped after about seven minutes.  She sang one number, and then she just shook her head.  People applauded, and they called out very encouraging things, but you could tell how unhappy she was.  Finally she just shook her head sadly, and she walked off the stage.  Rudolf Bing came out and said, “I thought I was finished with this!”  Then he said, “Madame Tebaldi is overcome to be back in New York.  She’s overwhelmed, and if you would just give her a short time, I think she will come back and finish the concert.”  So, he asked the public to take an intermission, and everybody walked around silently.  Nobody spoke.  Then she came out again, and of course her fans just carried on.  We all carried on, but she sang a few more lines, and then she just shook her head and put her hands up, and she said, “I’m sorry!”, and she walked off.  It was very sad, because she’s not without a voice.

BD:   What is the role of a singer who is beyond the point of singing lead roles, but yet still has some voice, and a lot of experience?

Queler:   The obvious thing is teaching, but not all of them can do that.  It just depends on the career that the singer had.  Imagine the career of so many like Tebaldi.  She was just the adored one, and recorded everything.  Look how Callas suffered.  To be so great, and then to go around and try to do concerts, and not be able to sing, and then go around and do masterclasses.  It was obviously so painful that you ask what should they do.  They can and try to impart their knowledge.  Beverly Sills certainly found a way to share her knowledge, and to use her abilities, and Risë Stevens did for a while, too.  I was with her with the Met National Company, in casting and advising young singers.  There are all of the things that maybe you should have done and didn’t do, and shouldn’t have done, and did do, especially people with similar voices.

BD:   What I have in mind is someone like Paul Schöffler, who sang lead roles for many, many years in Europe, and then as time went on, he wound up singing smaller roles, and apparently was warmly received for that.  They loved seeing this fine singing-actor.

Queler:   It depends on the personality of the individual.  The only way that any of us can put ourselves in that position is if you love what you do, like I love what I do.  Fortunately, as conductors we don’t suffer with age the way singers do, but just as you look towards fifty, and fifty-one, and fifty-two, when you can be your most productive, you could have learned the most about it, and you can be doing your things so well.  Then, to have it cut off when you’re still in good health and have an adoring public, and you’re used to performing, it’s something they all think about, and they all try to plan for.  Some personalities can do smaller roles, others cannot.  Some personalities can teach, others cannot, and they can get bitter...
BD:   There are all kinds of horror stories about finding the wrong teacher.

Queler:   Some of those are teachers who never could teach, and therefore can’t impart, and some are teachers who never could perform, but can impart.

BD:   It’s all personality then?

Queler:   It’s the combination of what God gave you as far as a natural voice is concerned, and not too many bad habits that you’ve gotten into.

BD:   When you’re performing with a major singer like Plácido Domingo, if you see them developing a bad habit, do you tell them about it right away?

Queler:   I do.  I’m not always the most popular person, but I give my opinion.  Remember I’m not a singer.  I hear pitch difficulties occasionally creeping into various major artists, and I certainly will tell them about it.  It’s my responsibility to tell them about it.  They don’t all handle it well.  I’ve said to one great diva, “Let’s do this again, and would you sing this note pianissimo?” and she turned to me and said, “I did sing it pianissimo!”  I can only ask.  I can only suggest.  I certainly can’t tell somebody how to sing.  They have preconceived ideas of how they sound good, some of which are true, and some of which are not true.  Most of them work with conductors who just kowtow to them, who just let them do anything they want because the conductor isn’t as well-known as the singer is.

BD:   As a public are we too involved in the star system?

Queler:   Yes, I think so, certainly in America.  We are in classical music, certainly.  I’m really enjoying Opera Midwest.  I basically enjoy everything I do, unless the cast is just not up to it.  But with most of the so-called stars with the big-named singers, there’s a reason why they’re big names.  They really are the best.  It’s not just some publicity stunt.  There are just a few really first-rate, wonderful tenors, and they are in demand.  The public wants to hear them because they sing so beautifully.  There really isn’t any other reason, and one gets a certain satisfaction out of conducting them.  Obviously I’m partial to my own casting, but I’ve conducted I Puritani in London with Alfredo Kraus.  To me there isn’t a tenor who could sing it better than Alfredo can.  He has all the notes, he’s very secure, and he has that wonderful bright voice.  I know he comes to Chicago often.

BD:   We are fortunate to have had him at Lyric for many productions over the years.

Queler:   If you ask me if I would rather conduct a big name in a mediocre production than a small name, it really has nothing to do with the name.  It’s just that there’s a certain satisfaction of doing a great work with a great singer, as for example, Alfredo Kraus in I Puritani, or La Favorita.

BD:   Suppose an impresario said, “We’re going to do Lohengrin with Alfredo Kraus.  Will you conduct it?”

Queler:   No, because Alfredo Kraus wouldn’t sing it anyway!  [Both laugh]

BD:   [Continuing the absurd hypothetical situation]  Suppose they had hypnotized him into singing it, and you knew you were going to work with something that he shouldn’t do?

Queler:   I’ve been faced with that type of situation before in the past, and I have not turned it down because I was a young conductor and I couldn’t afford to say no.  We don’t exactly write the ticket.  The only place that I can say who I want in my concerts is Opera Orchestra of New York, because I’m Music Director there.  All of the other conducting that I do is as a guest, and although I might be consulted about the soloists, generally I’m invited to conduct something that’s already set, whether it be a symphony, and they have a particular violinist scheduled, or an opera production with certain singers.  Many times I guest-conduct opera because one of the singers has requested me.  Somebody that likes to work with me has asked for me.  I’ve only been in the position that you just mentioned once
or twice — and certainly not with Alfredo Kraus, who is very careful about what roles he does.  I was invited to conduct a concert of an opera in Europe, and there were some good people in the cast, and there were other people that I knew would not be successful.  Then one other time when I did an opera gala concert, I knew it wouldn’t be successful, and probably any kind of professional intelligence should have told me that I was the dealing with something that would be totally out of control, because the people would not be able to sing the things that had been set out for them.  Therefore, those people wouldn’t be happy, and the public wasn’t going to be happy.

BD:   But you want ahead and did it anyway?

Queler:   I did because it was a debut in a major city, which, as a young conductor, you don’t turn down if you want to make progress.

BD:   Now you would turn it down?

Queler:   Now I would turn it down, yes.  Of course, we all do things in our youth when we’re beginning, and want to get a toe-hold at some place.

BD:   Are there any operas that you won’t do or that you just hate?
Queler:   Hate?  I don’t hate!  No, I can’t think of any opera that I hate.  There are some I love more than others, and I still have many that I’ve never done.

BD:   You’re looking to broaden the repertoire?

Queler:   Yes, because originally my repertoire came from my years as assistant conductor at the New York City Opera Company.  In those years, the company only did very standard French and Italian works.

BD:   In the early years of the City Opera, they did all kinds of contemporary works.  [See my interview with their first Music Director, Laszlo Halasz.]

Queler:   They had total contemporary seasons, and I wasn’t playing in those seasons.  I was busy raising my children in those particular years.  But I did play rehearsals for Der Rosenkavalier, so I learned that work.  They did Ariadne auf Naxos when I wasn’t there.  I have conducted very little Wagner.  I’ve done Tristan and Isolde
not staged, but uncut with a very wonderful opera workshop orchestra that was started at the University of Maryland.  We had twenty-one rehearsals.  It was carefully well-prepared, beautifully played, and professionally sung with Roberta Knie and Jess Thomas.  It was so successful that we repeated in New York in Carnegie Hall on New Year’s Eve of the following year.  It was a wonderful success.  I’ve also conducted Rienzi, so I’ve done the two extremes of Wagner.  I have never conducted any Strauss, though I want to very much.  [Her recording of Guntram is shown below-right.]

BD:   What about Alban Berg?  
[Vis-à-vis the recording shown at right, see my interviews with Grace Bumbry, and Arnold Voketaitis.]

Queler:   I haven’t yet, but I certainly want to.  When there’s something new, you have to grow.  I’d like to conduct Salome.  [Laughing at BD
s facial expression]  I’m calling her sah-LOH-may because I just did Hérodiade by Massenet.  I listened to it in English from a BBC broadcast, and they pronounced it that way.  [For more about Massenet, see my presentation Massenet, Mary Garden, and the Chicago Opera 1910-1932.]

BD:   Even when I’m reading something about Othello, I still call him Otello.

Queler:   Yes!  [Continuing her wish-list]  I’d like very much to do Parsifal.  I really want to be into the Wagner repertoire.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   How do you reconcile family life and children with your career?

Queler:   It’s totally reconciled, so today there isn’t even any question.  I met the wife of an IBM executive, an English couple who moved to a little suburb of New York where IBM has its offices.  It’s comparable to Evanston, so it
s a very nice place to live.  But she was very unhappy because corporate wives who come from foreign countries are not allowed to work in the visiting country.  So many (American) women work that she wasn’t able to establish any friendships.  She didn’t have small children, so she couldn’t meet friends that way, and her husband traveled a lot because of his work.

BD:   So, she was isolated?

Queler:   She was isolated, and I understand that’s a prevalent problem.  More women are working than ever before, and now my children are not babies.  When they were babies, I couldn’t have traveled.  But I did work!  I worked at the New York City Opera a great deal of the time.  I was fortunate in that I’m a native New Yorker, and I’m married to a native New Yorker.  We were already married when he was in law school, and when he graduated, he said, “Where do you want to settle, because once I settle and I take the Bar, I want to stay.  I don’t want to be taking the Bar in every state.”  I said, “Why don’t we just stay right here?  I’ve got the Met and the City Opera, and I could be quite happy here.”  I also worked at the Met Studio, which did performances in schools with young singers.  I was also an auditions-accompanist for the Met.

BD:   You come from a piano background?

Queler:   I’m a pianist, yes.

BD:   When and why did you get into opera?

Queler:   I always loved the voice.  I was just fascinated with it from the time I went to school.  I earned part of my way through school playing in the studio of Martial Singher.  At that time, Louis Quilico and John Reardon were his pupils.  I learned the whole French repertoire.  I’m not talking just about opera, but also the songs of Debussy and Fauré.  I learned them and watched it all being coached by a master.  For a while, I was accompanying and doing Lieder recitals.

BD:   Then Martial Singher had really two students in the room at the same time
the voice student, and the pianist.

Queler:   Oh, definitely!  I studied with Paul Ulanowsky when I was at school because I was very interested in accompanying.  I was a very good pianist.  I really don’t practice anymore, so I can’t say that I am one, but in the beginning I was unable to get concerts because I was a woman.  The women didn’t want me because I looked too attractive, and the men didn’t want me because they said the ladies’ clubs wouldn’t like it, and their wives wouldn’t like it.  So there seemed to be nobody that would take me out on a concert tour, which was really what I wanted to do.

BD:   Is that situation different now?

Queler:   I think so.  I don’t know that I would have any problem now.  It’s just one of those early prejudices.

BD:   Do you find anything like that being attached to you because you’re a woman conductor?

Queler:   There’s certainly some.  It’s still a position of authority, and not everybody’s comfortable with it yet.  That’s the only way I can put it.  I don’t have trouble with the orchestra I’m directing.  I don’t have anybody testing me, or anything like that, and if they do, I probably wouldn’t even realize it because I’m very involved in my work.  I’ve had a lot of experiences as a conductor.  I’ve been conducting about twelve years, and I understand the psyche of the orchestra player.  I also feel I am one of them.  I don’t feel myself pushed aside or anything.  Rehearsals are expensive, and there is no time to experiment.  So at rehearsals, everything is planned.  I know exactly what kinds of things I’m going to stop, and when I stop, I know exactly what I’m going to ask, and who I’m going to ask to correct what.  I have a very good ear.  I hear quickly and accurately, and the players respect that.  They’re grateful for it, and we keep to our work, and we have a good time, too.  We enjoy the music, so that I don’t have a problem with players as such.  However, there are still no women Music Directors of major orchestras in America.  We have maybe forty majors, and twelve regionals, and no women!
BD:   If someone asked you to be music director of the Milwaukee Symphony, or St. Louis, would you accept that position?

Queler:   I’d grab it!  I would love it.  That’s my goal.

BD:   Would you say,
“Bye-bye, hubby, or, “Hubby, let’s go!?
Queler:   I spent a year in Fort Wayne, Indiana as Associate Conductor, and it was necessary to do a lot of traveling in order to make that work.  My husband is more than supportive.  Somebody once said to me, “Your husband is so much in your corner, there’s no room for you.  [Laughs]  He’s very interested, and he’s concerned.  He was here with me in Evanston for five days.  I was offered an orchestra in Edmonton in Canada, but that was too far for me to think about because it’s an eight-hour trip from New York.  I guest conducted there recently, and they were interested in me.  A city like Milwaukee or St. Louis is definitely doable.  Most of the conductors of our major symphonies don’t live in the city.  Then, you have more than one home.  Seiji Ozawa doesn’t live in Boston.  His children are growing up in Japan, and that’s a real distance.  But I don’t expect that a number one orchestra is going to offer me a post until I’ve absolutely demonstrated that I’m ready to take it.

BD:   Having heard your work, and seeing you being enthusiastic about it, you seem to know what you want, and how to get it.

Queler:   I hope so, because I have a lot to give.  Of course, there is always more to learn.  You never stop learning, but I have a lot to offer.  I have a lot to say musically, and I seem to have very good communication with the people in the audience as well.  Opera’s situation in this country for conductors is not as interesting as the symphonic arena.  Now, I’m an opera person because my whole history is playing in an opera company, and before that, just gawking at rehearsals, and being allowed to stay backstage.  My first contact with the New York City Opera was when I went to talk to Julius Rudel.  He let me stand backstage, and that was the first thrill.  I love opera, and I have more experience in opera than I do in symphony, but I feel that opera in this country is really not attractive to conductors today... with the exception of what James Levine has managed to do at the Met because he’s Music Director.  If you really want to be responsible as a conductor to the performance, and to the audience for what they know that you know, there needs to be a Music Director of an opera company.  Most of our opera companies do not have Music Directors.  They have General Directors, and the Music Director probably doesn’t do casting.  The Music Director is allowed to choose which opera he wants to conduct each season, and which operas he wants others to conduct.  
I’m not saying that the Met didn’t have a heyday under Rudolf Bing, because it certainly did.  He definitely got the greatest singers, and cajoled them into singing, and did all kinds of really terrific things.  I wasn’t one of the people who complained about the Met under Bing.  I wasn’t tired of it at all.  I just thought it was super.  You can always improve, but the man did a spectacular job for something like twenty-two years.  So I don’t put it down.  You can always take something someone did and go further with it.  But for the most part, our greatest conductors choose not to conduct opera in AmericaGeorg Solti, Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta, James Levine (who only will conduct at the Met, obviously), André Previn, Seiji Ozawa, and Carlo Maria Giulini.  They’re all conducting opera in Europe and they won’t touch it here.  There’s something which is offered in Europe that’s not offered here.

BD:   What is it?  Rehearsal time?

Queler:   Probably, but I can’t really answer it because I don’t know.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Do you look to Sarah Caldwell as a mentor?

Queler:   I was Musician of the Month for Musical America, and they asked me that same question.  Actually, I was conducting outside of my own domain before Caldwell was.  When I first went to Fort Wayne, which was in 1970-71, I had just won a competition.  The St. Louis Symphony had a one-month professional study program, and they auditioned many, many conductors for it, starting with dictation and sight-singing.  They chose eight people.  I may have been the token woman, but they were a very gifted bunch of people.  Thomas Michalak was there.  He’s now got the New Jersey Symphony.  Also, John Covelli, and Jim Paul, who’s Associate Conductor in Milwaukee.  It was a very good group of young conductors, and that was the first symphonic conducting that I did.  It was only ten years ago.  I left the City Opera on the strength of the fact that I had won this.  We conducted concerts there, and then I went to Fort Wayne.  There was a little flurry of interest in me as a woman conductor.  I was the first woman to have been offered a position with a metropolitan orchestra.  I was Associate Conductor.  I was asked how it felt to be the only woman conductor, and I said, “I’m not the only woman conductor.  There is a woman in Boston named Sarah Caldwell, who has an opera company.  She’s a producer, and she conducts her own productions.”

BD:   So, you were branching out then before she was?

Queler:   She’s been conducting longer than I have, but she had not branched out as far as I knew.

BD:   Do you think that the jet is making too many singers too tired?

Queler:   Yes, obviously it is.

BD:   Does it produce ill-effects on specific performances, and on life of the vocal cords?

Queler:   Definitely, it seems to do that.

BD:   Is there any way you can put a stop to it?

Queler:   [Laughs]  I can’t...

BD:   Suppose I’m a young singer and I say, “Miss Queler, give me some advice.  I want to be a star singer.  I have a wonderful voice.  What do I do?”

Queler:   [Sighs]  Today there’s a lot of help for the young singers.  Their plight has finally been noticed.  I had the privilege of serving on the panel of the National Endowment for the Arts.  I served on the orchestra panel for four years, and then one year I also served on the opera panel.  I sat in for Carol Fox, who was sick.  It was last-minute, and I flew down to Santa Fe, and sat in on the opera panel.  There were several people on that panel, including Judith Raskin who was very concerned about the young American singer and their needs.
BD:   Of course, she had been a young American singer.  [Vis-à-vis the competition announcement shown at left, see my interviews with Catherine Malfitano, and Neil Shicoff.]
Queler:   Yes, and Beverly Sills has done a lot for them by drawing attention to the fact of what it’s like to be young, unemployed, having to go from audition to audition, hoping to get another job which doesn’t pay very well.  Quite a few of the companies now have national programs.  There are at least eight of them that I can think of.  Seattle was the first that had a national company of young singers.  Singers are there in residence for the entire year, or maybe nine months of the year, but they’re offered an annual salary.  They sing small roles in the international performances, and major roles in the national series.  Glynn Ross very generously offered me a conductor position there, but this was when my children were too small, so I couldn’t go.  It would have been my first post as conductor.

BD:   If he would ask you to do the Ring, would you do it?  [Henry Holt was Music Director of the Seattle Opera from 1966-84, and conducted Ring cycles there for ten consecutive years.]

Queler:   I sure would.  I’d make time for that!  [Both laugh]  

BD:   What would happen if they asked you now to go and live there?

Queler:   I wouldn’t go to live in Seattle now.  A residence in a far away city, I do say and have said no.  Things in Australia, or things that are really far, I wouldn’t go.  However, I would guest almost anywhere in the world.  I would go as a guest, which means a few weeks, and I have gone.  As far as being Music Director is concerned
which is not what Glynn offered me, it was just a staff conductor positionthere’s a lot of responsibility, and you really have to be there a lot, or be available on the telephone a lot to help get these big seasons set.  For example, there are certain decisions that can only be made in the tech department.  Levine was very wise to do that at the Met because he wasn’t that knowledgeable in the technical department.

BD:   Do you think he’s too young to be Music Director of the Met?  [Levine was 37 at the time of this interview (1980), and had been made Principal Conductor in 1973, and Music Director in 1976.]

Queler:   No!  I don’t think talent has anything to do with age.  It’s hard to say.  He’s a very mature young man.  I would think that anybody who can handle the Chicago Symphony is not too young.  [Levine was Music Director of the Ravinia Festival from 1973-93.]

BD:   Do you think he’s doing too much repertoire in too short a time?

Queler:   No! Everybody loves it.  Think of the life of Mahler, and what he conducted in his early years.  In his twenties, he was conducting The Capulets and Montagues, and The Pearl Fishers, and The Huguenots in these little theaters where he must have had to have umpteen rehearsals, and he insisted on coaching all the singers himself.  Talent doesn’t have to stop because it’s twenty-five.  He was probably better when he was conducting Wagner at that time than somebody with less talent at twice the age.  Supposedly conductors do mature.  If we accept the fact that one can always learn, we mature more.  Perhaps Jimmy hasn’t experienced everything in life yet, and he can’t be quite that mature about personal things, but musically speaking it’s just a matter of opinion.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   I asked you before about perhaps looking to Sarah Caldwell as a mentor.  Let me turn the question around.  How do you feel about yourself being placed in the role of mentor to a twenty-five-year-old woman who is just coming out of a master’s program in piano, and wants to get into opera, etc.?

Queler:   That’s happened quite a bit.  It doesn’t necessarily mean it would have to be a woman role model, because I have found that there aren’t any women role models for me.  I had to do my own role modeling because whatever Sarah’s problems are up in Boston, she has not got a husband, she has not got children, so she’s not living in a family situation where she has to consider other people.  She does have a mother, and I understand she is a very good daughter.  She does take care of her mother, and I can certainly sympathize with that.
BD:   But you do conducting, and she also does producing.

Queler:   She also does producing, so she has to know a lot of things that I don’t have to concern myself with.

BD:   Do you want to do any producing?

Queler:   No.  I’m a conductor.  I don’t really do anything else.  I play the piano, but I’m a totally musical person, and if I do conduct, I need all of the stage and technical people to do that end of it.  I don’t have the talent for stage production.  I’m very interested in what goes on on the stage, and sometimes I make suggestions that may be out of place because I’m the conductor.  If I don’t like someone’s costume or somebody’s wig, it’s just me saying I think this girl is prettier the way she looks on the street than the way she looks in this wig.  Isn’t there anything we can do with her?  I almost had a fight when I was with the Met National Company.  I was very involved in the Cenerentola.  Günther Rennert was staging, and I loved him.  He was a wonderful, wonderful man.  I played the harpsichord, and I actually rewrote the recitatives because they didn’t have enough music in them.  He would stage something, like somebody running up a staircase, and I would just play to amuse myself.  He’d say,
I like zat!  Vee keep zat!  Can you write zat down?”  So, I was busy writing all of these little pieces down.  I pasted up the score, and played the opening week.  I also wrote cadenzas for the singers.  I wasn’t a conductor then.  I was the harpsichord and rehearsal pianist for the show.  Samuel Krachmalnick conducted, and I thought one of the two girls who sang Cenerentola looked awful in the wig.  I was very close to her at rehearsals, and wrote all these cadenzas, so I just felt I had to tell her that they should redo this wig because it made her face look very wide.  It had all kinds of curls, and maybe it looked good on the model, but didn’t look good on her.  This was a little bit stepping out of line in an opera company for the rehearsal pianist to criticize the wig maker.

BD:   But you were there, and you would have the same reaction that the audience would have.

Queler:   Yes, but not everybody wants to test John Q. Public, and ask people what they think.  I do like to do that.  My husband is not a musician, but he’s gone to many things that I’ve conducted, and many things that other people did.  So he’s developed a very fine taste, and I value his taste very much.  He can’t always talk about musical details, but general things.  I know perfectly well if he’s offended at something as being tacky or brash, and that he represents the non-musician, what I call John Q. Public.  So I listen to him because what he has to say is valid to the person who buys the ticket.  He will make very specific comments which are right on the button.  He generally arrives for the dress rehearsal.  I like to be by myself when I’m rehearsing something, because I need to think, and I’m so deep into what I’m doing that I don’t even hear people that will talk to me.  I don’t even want to be bothered about meals or anything.  [Laughs]

BD:   Really, you’re just a single woman when you’re doing the preparation work.

Queler:   That’s a very interesting comment.  I never thought about that.  I’m a single woman when I go out on a guest date, and he usually tries to arrive for the dress rehearsal so that he can see something.

BD:   By then, most of the work should be done.

Queler:   The work should be done, yes, but he’ll make really astute comments about a section in an orchestra, and he’ll always put the nail on whatever it is I’ve been concerned about.  A lot of times he watches the players
not in an opera situation, but in an orchestra concert when they’re on the stage.  He watches the players and he’ll say, “In the first violin section, nobody was on the same part of the bow at the same time.”  He’s listened to me rehearse, and he’s learned that it makes a difference, and that’s a little bit more than the average person would know.

BD:   Why is that not the responsibility of the section leader?

Queler:   It is, except that he can’t play turning around.

BD:   He’s just simply not aware that everyone is not with him?

Queler:   Yes, but he should hear a non-conformity in the sound.  When I conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra, he watched the sections play, and they are always in precise conformity.  If they’re three inches from the point of the bow on a particular note, they’re all going to be three inches from the point.  They take pride in that.  That’s their string sound, and that’s how they get it.  A
great orchestra will look like that, and even if you couldn’t hear that they were great, you could see that they were great.  Mind you, not all section leaders are great, and string players disagree violently about bowing.  The principal cellist of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Jascha Silberstein, has played many concerts with me with Opera Orchestra.  He played Tristan and Isolde with me.  He’s a Stokowski disciple, and he believes in free-bowing.  He will bow your way if you tell him.  If you really want it, and it’s important to you, he will bow, and he will keep his section together, but his personal preference is for free-bowing.  Even people who don’t believe in free-bowing will always think it should be different.  Some people think it should be flowing on the strings a little bit, and other people think it should be at the point.  Different hands are comfortable in different places.  This is Jascha’s contentionthat you’re going to get a better performance out of a player if you let him play it where it’s comfortable for him.

BD:   That way you get his best sound?

Queler:   You get his best sound, and my argument is his best sound doesn’t blend with the next player
s best sound, which doesn’t blend with others best sound, and none of it’s what I have in my ear that I’d like to hear.

BD:   Do you, as a conductor, try to change the sound of an orchestra to make it conform to what you have in your head?

Queler:   You make it conform partly with what it is, and what you would like it to be.  As a guest conductor, you can’t take one kind of a sound and change it to another.  That’s not possible.  However, I can create a sound with my own orchestra.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Do you read the critics?
Queler:   I guess I do.  One really can’t avoid it, because even if I don’t read them, other people are going to read them and send them to me.  But since I have run absolutely the gamut from one end to another, there’s nothing left that could surprise me.  I don’t mean I’ve been called the worst or the best, but I’ve had superlative reviews pinpointing what they thought was good about me.  One was by somebody who’s really knowledgeable.  I would say the most knowledgeable critic that I thought really caught onto me as a musician was in San Antonio.  In a rather long review of Symphonie Fantastique, which I did down there with the Symphony, he commented on what a keen ear I had.  It takes a pretty astute critic to be listening to a performance and realize that.  I do have a good ear, and that is one of my strong points.  So, it’s pretty keen of him that he noticed it.  I’ve been very heavily patronized by critics who can barely tolerate that fact that a woman was conducting.  What can you do?  You just have to grin and bear it.  Somebody once said if you don’t want to get wet, don’t jump in the water.  I’m in the major music field, and I have to get ready for whatever is going to come.  I’ve had wonderful criticism from people that have loved my concerts, and other people have hated my concerts.  Some people have thought they were boring, and others felt were exciting... and this is about the same concert!

BD:   For many years, we had four major daily papers here in Chicago, and if you would buy all four, you’d wonder if the critics were sitting in the same concert hall!  [Both laugh]

Queler:   That happens constantly in New York almost every day.  The New York Post comes out before The New York Times, and they rarely agree.  The New York Times has lots of critics, so you can’t say that the paper has a viewpoint.  The New York Post had only one for a long time.  They’ve had Harriett Johnson, and now Speight Jenkins has also joined that paper.  He’s been there for the last four or five years since he left Opera News.  He’s an interesting writer.

BD:   Then you get Andrew Porter in The New Yorker.

Queler:   He gets in magazines, and they come out later.  So, if you’re discussing specifically my reviews for Opera Orchestra, they come in waves.  First you get the New York Post, and then The New York Times, and the following week we get The New Yorker, and any out-of-town papers.  Then, about three months later, we get the reviews in Opera News and other opera magazines.  So when you’ve just about forgotten the whole thing, then you get another wave of reviews.

BD:   Is it more difficult to do one performance, as opposed to a run of ten or twelve performances?

Queler:   I would rather have it be multiple performances, because I know that it gets tighter with each one.  When I am out of town, mostly everything I do is subscription, either a pair or three concerts, and although they usually review the first one, the second one is usually tighter.  What we do with Opera Orchestra now is we have a preview performance before we go to Carnegie Hall.  That’s for the understudies.  They get a chance to perform maybe half an hour out of town, sometimes at one of our colleges.  We go to Brooklyn, or Queens, or maybe to Connecticut.  It is always some place outside so that it won’t cut into our audience for Carnegie Hall.  We usually do that before the dress rehearsal.  Therefore, I have a performance to comment on with the orchestra and the chorus, and it’s very helpful.

BD:   Do the principals attend?

Queler:   No, they don’t.  Most big-name international artists don’t even like to be told that there’s someone else covering them on the part.  It’s a delicate thing, but it hasn’t really made any difference if I’ve said it or haven’t said it.  I have covers for everybody.  Even from the smallest part, I have covers now because I have this preview performance which gives more people a chance to learn.

BD:   It also gives you a chance to hear them.

Queler:   I get a chance to work with them, and also it gives them the chance to attend rehearsals in close quarters with Nicolai Gedda, and Monserrat Caballé.  They get to meet them, which is important for the young American singers because they have no way to be thrown together with these other people.  It depends on my rapport with the major singer.  If I have a really good rapport with that singer, I’ll say, “This is Miss So-and-so, who is understudying you, and this is her first bel canto role.  It really would be wonderful if you paid a little attention to her, or if she could ask you a question.”  When I did La Favorita, there was a young girl covering Shirley Verrett, and Shirley was very nice to her.  The young singer asked, “How do you sing piano?  How did you get the agility in it?”  Some people’s egos may not be too happy about there being anyone else who can sing the role.  If you do, say, an opera like Tancredi, maybe the artist who’s doing it thinks that she’s the only person that could interpret this particular part.

BD:   Is there an understudy for you?

Queler:   No, I’ve never gotten sick.  We conductors don’t get sick!  We only get fibrositis!  [Laughs]

BD:   I suppose you could conduct with a little sniffle...

Queler:   I can conduct if I were near dead!  The only thing that would stop me is a really bad bout of fibrositis.  Something major could happen, and I always try to look around to see if there’s anybody in the country who knows the opera that I’m doing without Opera Orchestra of New York.

BD:   In most cases, the answer is no!

Queler:   Usually, no!  I have had covers sometimes.  I usually have an assistant, but I don’t have enough opportunity to give the assistant a chance to conduct, to really make them able to go on.  None of my assistants have been pianists.  The obvious cover is the rehearsal pianist who knows how everything goes, and how everything’s taken.  They would get through it some way or other...  I’d like to be able to develop a program where Opera Orchestra could do more.  I wish I had an apprentice program for all the roles.  I handle about forty singers a year with just the concerts that we do now.

BD:   How many operas do you give each year?

Queler:   Three.  I would like to have an assistant conductor.  With the case of Rienzi, it was William Noll, who was the chorus director.  He prepared the chorus, brought them up from Atlanta, and then did his own cut version of Rienzi back there.  So, he would have been the obvious one if I’d been sick.  Sometimes it’s the choral conductor, but I’d really like to do more.  I wish National Opera Institute would give me an apprentice conductor.

BD:   Would you be offended if it was not a woman?

Queler:   Why?  None of my assistants yet have been women.

BD:   Would you be a little more thrilled if it was a woman?

Queler:   I’m not into that at all.  Maybe I should be.

BD:   I don’t mean to press you on this, but I’m interested to see where we are along this line.

Queler:   You mean as far as the woman conductor situation?

BD:   Yes.  It makes me happy that it is now becoming more accepted, and that there’s less notoriety about it.

Queler:   [Sternly]  Well, I don’t think it is getting more accepted.  I don’t see it.  When you look through the major symphony orchestras, there aren’t any women even guest conducting on the series.

BD:   [Gently protesting]  I don’t think they would have let Margaret Hillis conduct in Carnegie Hall twenty years ago.

Queler:   That’s true, and that’s a step, but she was allowed to conduct in order to save the performance!

BD:   Right, and she does conduct subscription concerts downtown, as well as choral concerts.

Queler:   I’m not a statistician.  I haven’t collected all of the major symphony brochures, and subscription folders to see if they have any women on them.  I don’t really do a study on it, but I’ve looked at Boston, Cleveland, Philadelphia, New York Philharmonic, and Cincinnati, plus all the orchestras that I’ve conducted, where I’ve certainly been the only woman conductor.  There is a woman conductor at the University of Chicago whom I met the other day.  Her name is Barbara Schubert.  She has the orchestra there, and I haven’t seen her work yet, but she’s a very attractive young woman, and she told me that she attended a study course given by Herbert Blomstedt on the West Coast.  There were about fifty-five students, and eight of them women.  She went around talking to some of the male conductors, and asked them how they felt about a woman.  A lot of them were people playing in orchestras who want to conduct, but some of them had small orchestras.  There’s almost 1,400 orchestras in America, counting the universities and the youth orchestras.  I’m not talking about professional orchestras.  There are probably only a hundred professional orchestras.  Everything else is probably on a very amateur level, playing for pleasure.  These other conducting students said that they recognized her ability, and felt that she is better than most of the other students, but they still hadn’t reconciled themselves with the idea of a woman in the position of leadership of conducting.

queler If I may...  During the years when I was gathering interviews (1978-2006), it was my distinct pleasure to meet with many women composers and conductors.  The full list is HERE.

Besides the two who have already been mentioned (with links) in this interview, here is the list of the other female conductors who have been my guests:

Antonia Brico, Fiora Contino, Kate Tamarkin, Kay George Roberts, Catherine Comet, Sian Edwards, JoAnn Falletta, Jane Glover, and Marin Alsop.

BD:   Is it better in Europe, or worse, or the same?

Queler:   I think it’s probably a little bit worse in Europe.  In Germany, I was told that it would be absolutely impossible.  As a matter of fact, again one of our superstar sopranos tried to arrange for me to conduct something with her.

BD:   Was this in Germany?

Queler:   Hamburg, Covent Garden, and Paris.  I don’t know if she tried La Scala, but those all definitely said no.  They didn’t want a woman conductor even if that meant losing the superstar soprano!

BD:   That’s too bad, it really is.

Queler:   So, she didn’t do the particular opera that she and I had done together.  She said she wouldn’t do that without me, but she did agree to do another opera.  I don’t expect anybody to say they won’t come if they don’t take Eve Queler.  It shouldn’t be necessary, although it was necessary that Beverly Sills do that for Sarah Caldwell to get her into the Met.  It would have been necessary the first time.

BD:   Has Sarah returned to the Met since then?

Queler:   She did a second opera.  She did L’Elisir d’Amore without Beverly Sills.  You would think that the ice had been broken, but it’s not quite exactly true.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   [After a slight break, finally coming around to doing the specific segment to promote the upcoming performances]  I’m speaking today with Eve Queler, the Music Director of the Opera Orchestra of New York.  She is in town now for performances of Don Pasquale with Opera Midwest.  There will be four performances, September 3rd, 5th, 7th and 9th, that’s Wednesday, Friday, Sunday, and Tuesday.  Tell us a little bit about your ideas of Don Pasquale.

Queler:   You have had it here before in several different kinds of packages, and I can’t say how different ours will be because it’s a repertory piece.  It’s a charming comedy, and we think we have some special touches.

BD:   Do you enjoy working with the singers who are here for this production?
Queler:   I love them.  They are really first-rate.  They’re young people, and their voices are wonderful, and three of the four have done their roles before, and they have done them in this translation.  They are very strong people.  I have written some variations for the Norina, which she will do in the big finale, which is uncut.  We are doing the serenade, which is off-stage with the tenor in the last act.  We are doing that with the original orchestration of two guitars and a tambourine, and I understand in the past you’ve had that done here in Chicago with a harp.  You won’t see the two guitarists, but they’re there, and you’ll hear them.

BD:   Do you prefer working in English with this kind of an opera?

Queler:   This kind of an opera is definitely more enjoyable in English.  I’ve been to Italy, and I speak Italian, and I prefer everything in its original language, but I still feel that it’s more accessible, and that the English works well.  When something wasn’t comfortable, we’ve changed some words.

BD:   It’s always permissible to tamper with a translation.

Queler:   Yes, it seems to have to been.

BD:   How about the production?  Are you happy with that?

Queler:   Oh, I love the production.  I think it’s a beautiful one by Robert O
Hearn.  He just come from San Diego, and I love working with Lou Galterio, the director.  I’ve never worked with him before, but I’ve heard a lot about him.

BD:   Has he inspired you, and have you inspired him?

Queler:   Oh, yes!  We’re definitely a duo! [Both laugh]

BD:   What about the orchestra?

Queler:   The orchestra here is quite good, and we have one member in common.  One of the violists is a member of the Opera Orchestra of New York, and she’s a member of Chicago Lyric, and she’s a member of Opera Midwest Orchestra, too.  But the whole orchestra has a good sound, and they’re very flexible, which is terribly important in an opera orchestra.

BD:   How do you impart Donizetti on a new group of orchestral musicians, or a new group of singers on stage?

Queler:   That just takes time and work to get the lightness, the sparkle, the crispness, and the kind of joy that’s in the music.  Even the serious Donizetti works have that lightness and crispness and transparency.  It’s almost Mozartian.  I have done Gemma di Vergy, L’Elisir D’Amore, and Parasina d’Este besides Don Pasquale.  So that
s two comedies and two tragedies, and they all have the same kind of what I call ricky-ticky tunes in the music.  They start in the overtures, and theyre in all the patter songs, plus there are the really beautiful lilting singing melodies, which need to be accompanied very lightly.  Usually, the orchestration in Donizetti has the first violins that sing the melody, and the other strings accompany.  Then gradually he’ll add in a woodwind, and then he’ll double with the woodwind, and finally he’ll bring in the voice, and maybe drop out the violin and just leave the voice by itself with very little support except the rhythms in the orchestra.

BD:   The orchestra then becomes little more than just a big guitar?
Queler:   Sometimes they are, but there’s always the struggle to make everything sound, yet keep it light.  This opera also has a very unusual piece of orchestration, and that is a big trumpet solo.  Donizetti didn’t write a lot for the trumpet.

BD:   Why was that?

Queler:   I don’t know, but I was talking to the trumpet player who is playing it here, and he’s tried it on a cornet and on a trumpet.  It’s a beautiful thing.  It’s like a Chopin Nocturne really, and I’ve decided that Donizetti must have had a particular trumpet player in mind that he wrote for, very much like Rossini had a flautist.  In Parasina d’Este, there is an incredibly difficult trumpet solo, which is a fanfare kind of a thing.  This one in Pasquale is more like an aria.  Ernesto has been told that he has to leave the house, and the trumpet has t
he introduction to the slow sad song.  The genius of this director, Lou Galterio, is that he has staged a pantomime that goes on during the trumpet solo.  Ernesto comes out with his trunks packed, and... I don’t want to give it all away, but it’s just beautiful.  It is slightly tongue in cheek.  It’s serious, but it’s not.  No one dies in this opera.  No one gets killed.  No one even gets hurt!  Pasquale gets his face slapped, and thats about it.

BD:   I was going to ask how you handle the moment where Norina slaps Don Pasquale’s face.

Queler:   Both Lou Galterio and I agreed that it’s a serious moment.  It’s the moment when everything is showing on him, and she’s sorry that she’s maybe gone a little too far.  She shows that because she’s a fine person. She shows that she has another dimension to her.

BD:   But it’s a happy ending opera.

Queler:   Oh, yes, the tenor gets the soprano [both laugh] and not too many end like that!

BD:   What about all the other Donizetti operas?  Do you think that there’ll ever be a time when we’ll have all seventy-odd in the repertoire?

Queler:   If you had all seventy-odd, you’d have to have Elzabetta from Kenilworth (1829), and Maria from Rohan (1843), and Maria from Rudenz (1838), and Maria from Skokie (joke about the Chicago suburb)!  [Both laugh]

BD:   Do you think there’s any merit to staging some of these unknown works?

Queler:   The New York City Opera didn’t do too badly when they brought out Anna Bolena, and their queen trilogy, with Roberto Devereux, which is beautiful, and Maria Stuarda.  However, they require great singers.

BD:   I wish more of them were more done.

Queler:   I do too.  I’m doing my little bit to bring out more of them, and I understand there’s a really enthusiastic following in Evanston for this opera company.  I was really pleased to hear about that.

BD:   It’s a small company that has done a lot of very interesting things.

Queler:   Yes, and they have a lot of other interesting things in the works, things that they’re thinking about doing.  Maybe people should write in with what they’d like to hear the company do.

BD:   Everyone out there with their favorite obscure opera should take a pen in hand.

Queler:   Yes, and this company is particularly suited for them.  They’ve just done La Cenerentola, and they’re thinking about some more Rossini, which makes a lot of sense for them because you have Philip Gossett in Chicago who is the foremost expert in Rossini.  He has done the critical edition, and he’s
also a Bellini expert, and a Donizetti expert.  So it seems as if the company has a lot of musicological expertise from that period.  Don’t forget about Cahn Auditorium, which is wonderful.

BD:   Do you like the acoustics?

Queler:   Yes, I like the acoustics and I like the shape of it.  It’s a semi-circle, so the visibility is very good for everybody.  I can’t watch the rehearsal as I’m conducting it, but it looks to me as if there isn’t a bad seat in the house.

BD:   The sight lines are very good.

Queler:   The one problem is that the pit is very shallow.  It’s only about a foot deep, and I would love it to be another two feet farther down.  That means the audience is going to hear more of the orchestra than they would in a theater where the pit was lower, and they’ll probably just see more of us.  So it gives me a little bit of a balance problem that I’ve been working on.  I’m struggling with it, I must say, because there are just so many decibels, and only so far down that you can play without stopping the tone altogether, and we don’t want to do that.

BD:   But you seem very enthusiastic about it, and you seem happy with it.

Queler:   I am very enthusiastic.  I really enjoy being here.  I like Evanston.  It’s a beautiful place.

BD:   Thank you so much for coming in and talking with us today.

Queler:   Thank you.  I’ve enjoyed it very much.


© 1980 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded at the studios of WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago on September 2, 1980.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB later that evening, and again twice in 1988, 1990 and 1996.  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.