Conductor  Lawrence  Rapchak
== and ==
Director  Carl  Ratner

Two Conversations with Bruce Duffie

This webpage presents interviews with the two men responsible for a company called Chamber Opera Chicago.  The box below contains a few very brief points about conductor Lawrence Rapchak and director/administrator Carl Ratner, and their involvement with that group, and also with the Chicago Opera Theater.  These details were provided to me by Rapchak.

* Chamber Opera Chicago's 1st season was Spring, 1983.  I arrived the following Spring.

* In summer, 1993, Chamber Opera Chicago went 'dark', and Carl Ratner and I moved directly to Chicago Opera Theater.  We were Artistic Administrator and Resident Conductor during our trial season with COT, Spring, 1994.  After the success of Beatrice and Benedict and The Ballad of Baby Doe, we were immediately appointed as Artistic and Music Directors.  [For more about these two productions, see my interviews with director Marc Verzatt (and Rapchak), and conductor Ted Taylor (and Ratner). Also, biographies and photos of Rapchak and Ratner can be found on those two webpages.]  We both left COT in the Spring of 2000.

* During the Ratner/Rapchak years of Chamber Opera Chicago, we always performed at the Ruth Page Auditorium EXCEPT for the Spring season of 1988, when the hall was undergoing remodeling to bring the place up to code. By some lucky break, I happened to walk into the Page theater in January, '88 to check on something, when the guy at the desk casually informed me, "Oh, glad you stopped by.  There's something that I've been meaning to call and discuss with you guys.  The city is closing the joint down for code violations, so you won't be able to perform here in April."  It was a good thing I walked in that day, and the scramble to save our season was on.  We ended up that year ('88) in the IVANHOE Theater (which had a popular liquor store attached, as I recall) for successful productions of Traviata and Barber of Seville.


NOTE-- For the record, Chamber Opera Chicago started up anew under the artistic direction of Barbara Seid.  
Among other works, they've performed an annual "Amahl and the Night Visitors" at the Athaneum and elsewhere for many years now (since 2005).

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

In August of 1989, Chamber Opera Chicago was about to produce The Hero by Gian Carlo Menotti.  The two-act work had been commissioned by the Opera Company of Philadelphia, to celebrate the United States Bicentennial.  The premiere had been at the Philadelphia Academy of Music on June 1, 1976, with Dominic Cossa, Diane Curry, and Nancy Shade in the principal roles.  Christopher Keene conducted.

To promote the Chicago performances, I spoke with the conductor, Lawrence Rapchak, and the director, Carl Ratner.  Segments were aired on WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago, and now (2023) I am pleased to present the entire conversation.  This is followed by another interview with just Rapchak, in which we discuss productions in a succeeding season by the company.

Bruce Duffie:   How did you happen to decide on this rarely performed work?

Carl Ratner:   I’d been involved in a production before at the Juilliard School in New York.  I was working there as Assistant Stage Manager, and had been involved in several productions before that Menotti had directed, or composed, or was involved with in some way.  He came to Juilliard to direct The Hero, and I liked the piece a great deal.  It was done very well there.

BD:   How does it compare with some of the other works that we might know, including Amahl and the Night Visitors, or The Consul?

Carl:   The Hero has a more biting sense of humor during the bulk of the piece.  It does reach for the big romantic moments, like those other pieces do, at certain points, but the rest of the opera is a little more sharp.  He says that he wrote the opera to celebrate the American sense of humor, and it’s definitely a more American piece than any of the other ones that people might know.  
It’s a brief opera, but very cheery, and it gets to the point.  It’s always very clever, and highly entertaining.

BD:   I assume that you have conducted other Menotti works, or at least know some of the others, so how does it compare musically?

Lawrence Rapchak:   Yes, I know of them, but I have not done any of them.  In general, of the works of his that I’ve been familiar with, this is definitely on the light-hearted side.  In fact, in his direction, Carl has often referred to it as a
sit-com, and in some respects I think he’s very right.  Our audiences will be very pleased by the light-hearted nature of it, and in particular of the five principal characters.  Three of them are more of less the villains of the piece, but they are still very lovable villains.  They are drawn somewhat broadly, both in terms of their characters in the action and the music.  It all adds up to a very lively, bright entertainment.  Drawing rather heavily on caricature, we’ve been able to cast the five principal parts very well.  We have people who are quite adept at projecting the characters on stage, as well as singing the parts strongly.  Particularly with these three nasty guys, it’s essential in this show that we see a lot of good comic acting coming from them, and I think we have it.

BD:   Being in such a small space, do you work hard at projecting every word of the diction?

Lawrence:   We do.  In a 220-seat theater, one would think it’s simple, and that there should be no problem whatsoever.  But there is.  The Ruth Page Auditorium [photo shown farther down on this webpage] is an odd little space.  In the last couple of years, particularly this last season, Chamber Opera Chicago has done a lot towards changing the acoustics by making it a much more reverberant and bright room.  It’s helped a lot, and the singers we have are very used to good diction and vocal production, so there shouldn’t be any problem.

Carl:   They know that in this situation, attention to diction will pay off, So that means something.  Whereas in some places, it doesn’t matter how much attention you give to it.  Your audience isn’t going to understand every word, but in our place they really can.

Lawrence:   In fact, when we put our program book together, and we find we’re short on space, I always say the last priority for us to include is a synopsis, because the audiences can hear and follow it so well.  In fact, we would rather like to involve them, and challenge them to stay tuned and follow along.  We realize the onus is on us as performers to make sure everything comes across, and in general it works, as you may recall from the Haydn opera that we did this spring [Il mondo della luna (The world of the moon).  Haydn later re-used the overture as the first movement of his Symphony #63.].  It was very gratifying.

BD:   How many productions have you done?

Lawrence:   This will be our seventeenth production since the company started in 1983.

BD:   Has each production gotten better and more well attended?

Lawrence:   Yes, I think so.  We find that there are different audience segments.  It’s interesting...  Carl and I particularly would like to experiment, and expand into the less frequently performed repertoire.  We like a lot of rarer things, and we tend to stray from the ABCs of opera.  We do like to do Butterfly and Bohème and Traviata because in our conceptual productions, a person who might be very familiar with these operas can still come and find a lot of new things, because rarely do you see these operas acted out in such an intimate space.  On the other hand, we do like to search out and perform some rarely done operas, and this Menotti work is one.  In fact, we did a rather unique thing.  This year, in our three-opera subscription, two of the operas are very unfamiliar.  Usually you do two familiar operas, and one less familiar. 


:   Is the public responding to this idea?

Carl:   During the run of the Haydn, attendance began to grow.  At the very beginning, the Haydn ticket sales were rather low, and then as the word got out, and the reviews got out, people started to come.
Lawrence [shown in photo at left]:   It’s very difficult to predict.  We scheduled the same number of performances of the Haydn as we did of Butterfly, and we shouldn’t have.  Butterfly sold very quickly, and we turned many people away.  We scrambled at the last minute to see if we could schedule extra performances, but it was too difficult to contract all the players and singers at that point.  With the Haydn, we were a bit surprised.  Interestingly enough, those opera-goers who are specifically and only tunneled themselves into the standard operatic repertoire have very little idea of who Haydn was, because he just doesn’t figure in the usual operatic repertoire.

BD:   Do you think eventually the people will accept Chamber Opera Chicago as being a good performing entity, and will just trust your judgment and come and see whatever you’ve decided to present?

Lawrence:   Yes!  We hope so, and we do have certainly a devoted group of followers who will basically come and subscribe, and see whatever we do.  As Carl mentioned, we saw the Haydn pick up during the run.  Certainly, everybody who was there enjoyed it a lot.  If we made a practice of doing a Haydn opera every year, we could probably build the audience that way.  [Laughs]  I don’t know that we will do that, but I think we could.

BD:   You both have been responsible for all of the productions?

Lawrence:   I haven’t been around for all seventeen, but Carl has!  He’s been there since Day One!

Carl:   Yes, I directed fifteen of the seventeen productions we had.  It’s been a wonderful experience for me, because seven years ago when we started the company, I was practically fresh out of school.  I’d been working for a couple of years, and I was relatively inexperienced.

BD:   Whose idea was it to form a company to do chamber operas?

Carl:   Stuart Leitch founded the company, and got together the people and the financial support to put together the first season.  After the first year, Larry was brought in to conduct one of the shows, and gradually we began doing more and more of the administrative work.

leitch Stuart Leitch is a pianist, organist, and teacher active in Michigan and Chicago. He studied with Arthur Dann at Oberlin College and privately with John Richardson, Gui Mombaerts, Dmitry Paperno, and Donald Walker.

From 1962 to 1965 he was a member of the ONCE group in Ann Arbor, whose concerts featured prominent avant-garde composers and performers from all over the world. Later in New York City he transcribed books of country blues and worked with The Children of Paradise, recording and creating film music. During his long career in Chicago he coached singers and worked with Lyric Opera of Chicago and Chicago Opera Theater. He founded and directed Chamber Opera Chicago, and served as staff accompanist at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb.

He is also active as a pianist, with performances in the Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concerts, and solo broadcasts by WFMT-FM. He played and recorded several new works by George Flynn, and has performed twice as a featured pianist with Grand Rapids Ballet. He performs in the annual Schubertiade Chicago, and is artistic advisor of Schubertiade Oak Park at Unity Temple. He also works as a music engraver, editor, and arranger for several composers, refining their music and publishing their scores.

Leitch is also the inventor and publisher of Deep Solitaire, a game application for Android phones and tablets. He lives in semiretirement near his family in Grand Rapids and plans to spend the rest of his life deepening his understanding of the musical art, for the glory of God and the refreshment of the human spirit.

==  Biography (slightly edited) and photo from the Handel Week Festival website  

BD:   What have you learned in all this time?

Carl:   Every piece that you do is different, whether it is another Madam Butterfly or The Marriage of Figaro.  We’ve done Falstaff and La Traviata twice with different casts.  We use really fine artists, and every group of people have their own things to bring to a show like this, even ones that have been done umpteen thousand times.  Every time it’s a new look, and a refresher course in the lessons that those works teach.  We’re involved in this because we love the pieces, and it’s the pieces themselves that really give us the urge to go on.

Lawrence:   Opera is very difficult to do.  It is a tremendous amount of work.

BD:   Is it worth it?

Lawrence:   Oh, for sure.  Opera is such a strange genre.  I wonder how many people who enjoy opera, even for a moment, stop, step back from it, and wonder what it is.  Exactly what is it that I’m interested in?  What kind of genre is this?  Does this make any sense?

BD:   What is it about opera that particularly grabs you?

Lawrence:   Being a musician, music is just a part of oneself.  It’s as much a part of you as anything.  It’s a part of your whole spiritual make-up.  Then you add to that a composer who knows how to manipulate characters, and a plot, and can shape things through music, it’s just irresistible.  I never stop any longer and question it, but once-upon-a-time I did.  Certainly, one thing that attracted me to this is a conceptual way of doing things.  I keep referring to
the concept.  Basically, what I mean is the fact that we take the full-scale operas, and the only thing we scale down is the size of the orchestra and the chorus.  The rest is there.  We still encounter many people who think, Oh, chamber opera!  I’m not interested in that.  That’s people standing around in evening clothes just singing.  They think of it as concert opera, and maybe if we could turn back the clock, we might change the name.  But at this point, if you start changing the name of the company, then you suffer a loss of identity and recognition.  So we continue to put out brochures that show our fully-staged scenes.  Our Ruth Page Auditorium is bursting with people.  It holds about thirty people, and after that it starts to really fall apart.  In the hope that we can reach people and let them know all that, even though the name of our company may suggest one thing, it is, in fact, fully-staged opera.  What it does do is bring the audience very close to the action without the use of supertitles, which take that extra step to read, and to assess in the mind.  You hear it just as it’s being sung.

BD:   So, you’re a proponent of opera in English?

Lawrence:   Yes.  This is a never-ending battle...

Carl:   ...but in our space, it makes sense.

Lawrence:   Yes, in this situation it makes a great amount of sense.  There are a lot of people who really want it.  They call and want to be assured of that.  I used to talk with people, and hold discussions, and I would sometimes surprise them by saying that in many ways I preferred to sit in my basement, put on headphones, and listen to studio-recorded opera, rather than go see it.  They would all ask why, and I would say because in the studio, the singers can afford to be very expressive.  They can run the whole gamut of what they can do vocally, from the softest to the loudest, and the engineers take care of it.  They can really act and be subtle, whereas when you’re projecting to a 4,000-seat house, you really can’t.  So, here with Chamber Opera Chicago, it really is the best of both worlds.  We’re in a small enough house that we can really scale things down, and be very soft and very subtle when we need to be.  We run the whole gamut of expression that these characters can deliver, while at the same time presenting the whole opera.  People will see all the characters, and will hear all of the music.  The only thing they don’t hear is the full orchestrations, but I take care of that.

Carl:   In the Ruth Page Theater, even if we could somehow physically get a full orchestra in there, it wouldn’t sound as good for that space.  The balance is exactly right between the number of singers we have, and the size of their voices, and the group that Larry is leading.  It just works exactly right.

BD:   [To Rapchak]  I understand you’re writing an opera, as well as an orchestral piece?

Lawrence:   Yes.  Next year, an opera of mine which I have just finished will be done.  That will be in the spring, in April of 1990, on a double-bill with Gianni Schicchi, which will be sung by Philip Kraus.  It will be part of our regular season.  It’s a setting of a story by Ray Bradbury, whose birthday it is today as we tape this, August 22nd!  He’s 69 years old today.  There will also be The Marriage of Figaro.

Carl:    There probably won’t be a Fall season next year.

BD:   Why not?

Carl:   We’re working straight through, and won’t have time to plan a Fall season.  We’ll go through the Spring, and it’ll be really too late to just throw something together for the Fall.  We didn’t do one last year, but we did do one the year before.  It seems like we need that extra time.  
Two years ago in the Fall was just a revival of Falstaff, which we had done eighteen months before.  So it was relatively easy to just pull out the set, the translations, and most of the same cast.

At this point, the pair needed to get back to their preparations for The Hero.
We now move forward nearly two years for another season, and more discussion with Rapchak . . . . .

BD:   Tell me about the current state of Chamber Opera Chicago.

Lawrence:   We’re in our eighth season.  [Feigning astonishment]  Could it be that many?  It seems like so many more, but once again we’re embarked on a repertoire season where we produce two operas at once, and have them running on alternate nights on the weekends.  This time it’s a big romantic year.  As we know, romance is in these days, and certainly Puccini’s Tosca deals to a great degree in romance.

BD:   Yet that’s an opera you don’t expect to be produced by a group calling itself Chamber Opera Chicago.
Lawrence:   Yes, and as a matter of fact, when we look back to the days when the company was foundedat which time, incidentally, I wasn’t yet aroundwe think maybe we should have called ourselves something else, because the title is deceptive.  We still get people thinking we just stand around in evening clothes and sing.  No, it’s not that at all!

BD:   That would be Concert Opera Chicago, similar to the Opera Orchestra of New York, which is led by Eve Queler.

Lawrence:   Yes, exactly.  Ours are fully staged productions.  In fact, the set for Tosca is rented from Opera San José, and it’s really quite something.  It just fits on our stage and it’s rather impressive.  But, as you say, Tosca is not exactly an opera that would come to mind as being adaptable to a chamber format.  But it works very well, particularly when it’s as close-up as we are.  The audience on this past Saturday night, our opening night, was rather quiet throughout of most of it, even after big arias.  I thought they were either bored or engrossed, and when I talked to some of them after, a number of people said they were just really drawn into it.  They were familiar with the opera, but the action is so passionate, and so violent at times that it was immediate and almost overwhelming.

BD:   So, they were engrossed.

Lawrence:   Yes.  One of the things which came to mind years ago when we started talking about this work was the big choral scene at the end of Act 1, the Te Deum.  It is a big procession, with lots of bell-ringing, and organ sounds, and cannons firing, and we
ve got them all!  We packed people onto the stage.  We have a consultant who is very knowledgeable about the Roman Catholic religion, and its traditions, and all the artifacts are there.  The audience gets incense, and the whole bit.

BD:   [With a gentle nudge]  Incense, but not incensed?

Lawrence:   [Laughs at the pun]  Yes, we hope not!  We have bells of all sizes ringing all over the house.  We have organs playing, and cannons firing, and two choruses.  It all works very well.

BD:   That’s Tosca.  The other opera that you’re about to stage is Werther?

Lawrence:   Yes!  I certainly have developed a great fondness for this opera.  I encourage anybody who is has the slightest interest in ultra-romantic music and story, to see Werther.  [The opera dates from 1887.]

BD:   This is a French opera by Massenet?

Lawrence:   Yes, it
s one of his two best-known operas...

BD:   ...along with Manon.

Lawrence:   Yes.  The story written by none other than Goethe in 1774.  He created a sensation in Europe with this novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther.  Already, the title is a give-away.  Werther, the title character, is a hyper-sensitive young man, the quintessential romantic figure.  This was right at the very beginning of what we look back on now in western European culture as the Romantic movement.  Haydn was writing his Sturm und Drang [storm and stress] symphonies.  This is when it all started, right about the middle of the 1770s, and the novel created a sensation.  This young, hyper-sensitive man doesn’t just fall in love with Charlotte, this young beautiful girl.  He seems to feel that his love, his feelings for her, transcend just the love from one man to a woman, and they embrace all of nature.  Everything is somehow drawn into this marvelous intense feeling of his, and it
s too bad that he finds out at the end of Act 1 that it can never be.  After they attend a dance together, they come back, and there’s a beautiful moon-lit walk under the linden trees at night with a solo cello and harp.  We realize that they are immensely attracted to one another, but when he proclaims his love for her, unfortunately he finds out that as her mother was on her death-bed, she made Charlotte promise to marry a good young business man, named Albert.

BD:   So, she is actually engaged to somebody else?

Lawrence:   Yes, and this just hits the guy in a way that you  just can’t imagine.  The rest of the opera traces his gradual deterioration.  The opening act is set in July, and Act 2 is in September, and then Acts 3 and 4 are at Christmas-time.

BD:   How does it end?

Lawrence:   [Coyly]  Oh... we can’t say!  Let’s just say that Werther dies of opera.

BD:   He dies an operatic death?

Lawrence:   Yes.  It
s a rather prolonged one, but incredibly beautiful.

BD:   This is a huge role, a tour-de-force for the tenor.

Lawrence:   It is, and it’s a heavy role that requires a great amount of stamina.  We’ve actually double-cast it.  We also double-cast the three major roles in Tosca.  We’re not messing around this year.  When you’re doing this kind of repertoire, you have to find the proper voices to legitimately sing it.  We have two gentlemen sharing the role of Werther.  Our main tenor is a gentleman named Lawrence Johnson.  He’s from Evanston, and is a really marvelous singer.
 The other gentleman, Joseph Fosselman, will be doing two performances.  They’re both marvelously talented men.  [Fosselman would later be a chorister with Lyric Opera of Chicago, and sing a couple of small solo roles with the company.]  The plumb mezzo role of Charlotte is being sung by Amy Anderson whom we haven’t heard before.  As a matter of fact, other than the delightful Philip Kraus, who is doing the role of Scarpia, all the other roles are being sung by artists we’ve never used before.

The American tenor, Lawrence Johnson, has degrees in both voice and piano performance. He was an international finalist in the Luciano Pavarotti International Voice Competition in Philadelphia. Other awards include the Wisconsin State NATS Winner, and regional finalist in the Metropolitan Opera Auditions.

Lawrence Johnson has sung extensively throughout the Midwest and Southwest, as well as such diverse venues as Munich, Germany and Disneyworld. He has had the privilege of working with such distinguished luminaries as Sherrill Milnes, Mignon Dunn, Martin Katz, Elly Ameling, Geoffrey Parsons, and Tony Randall. He has also accompanied numerous concerts, operas, recitals, and shows. Among his many operatic roles performed, Rodolfo, Werther, and Don José remain his all time favorites. He continues to actively concertize locally and regionally with groups such as the Orchestra of Southern Utah, in oratorio, opera, and recital performances.

Lawrence Johnson serves as Associate Professor of Music at Southern Utah University.

*     *     *     *     *

Mezzo-soprano Amy Ellen Anderson is a versatile performer whose work in opera, song recital and oratorio has taken her throughout the United States and to Europe and Asia.

anderson Highlights include a role in the world premiere of Patience and Sarah at the Lincoln Center Festival, performances as mezzo soloist in Mozart's Solemn Vespers and Duruflé's Requiem at Carnegie Hall, the Liebeslieder Waltzes with the American Symphony at Avery Fisher Hall in New York City, and she featured in the North American premiere of the Rimsky-Korsakov opera May Night with the Sarasota Opera. She has also been the alto soloist in Handel's Messiah and Mendelssohn's Elijah at Orchestra Hall in Chicago.

Her operatic credits encompass a wide range of roles and musical styles from Baroque performances of La Messagiera in Monteverdi's Orfeo, to standard repertoire including the title role in Carmen, Rosina in the Barber of Seville, Lucretia in the Rape of Lucretia, Charlotte in Werther, and Maddalena in Rigoletto among others. She has appeared in several new operas including Patience and Sarah by Paula Kimper with American Opera Project and Steel Grin by Peter Aglinskas with Chicago Opera Theater. Her musical theater credits include the role of Anna in The King and I.

In addition to her interest in opera, Ms. Anderson enjoys performing concert and song repertoire and has worked with American composer William Bolcom in a recital of his music in New York City. She has been a guest artist with the contemporary chamber music group Continuum. She has been featured with the Aldeburgh Festival in England, the Lincoln Center Festival, Opera Delaware, the West Virginia Symphony, Aspen Opera Theatre, Glimmerglass Opera, the Ashlawn-Highland Festival, Waco Opera, the Pacific Music Festival in Japan, Chicago Opera Theater, and Sarasota Opera.

She has received the American Opera Society Award, The Union League Club Scholarship, the Farwell Award from the Musician's Club of Women and the Lynne Harvey Award. She is the alto soloist on a Naxos CD of Mozart's Requiem with the St. Clement Choir and Orchestra.

Ms. Anderson holds Master of Music and Bachelor of Music degrees from Northwestern University.

*     *     *     *     *

kraus The New York City-born baritone Philip Kraus has made a specialty of Verdi’s Falstaff and Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, performing both roles to high acclaim at Chicago Opera Theater and Chamber Opera Chicago. [Photo at right shows Kraus as Scarpia with Chamber Opera Chicago.] Kraus’s versatility encompasses the Viennese (The Gypsy Baron, The Merry Widow, One Night in Venice) and Baroque repertory (Handel’s Dettingen Te Deum, Esther, Judas Maccabaeus, and Cosroe/ Hasse’s Siroe). Among his specialties are the Purcell masques (The Fairy Queen, King Arthur) and the works of Gilbert and Sullivan (Sir Joseph Porter/H.M.S. Pinafore, Major General Stanley/The Pirates of Penzance).

Further appearances include Taddeo/L’italiana in Algeri (Hawaii Opera Theatre), the Vicar/ Albert Herring (Cleveland Opera), title role/ Rigoletto (Minnesota Opera), Salieri/Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart and Salieri (Fort Wayne Philharmonic), Douphol/La traviata (with Renée Fleming at Los Angeles Opera, released on DVD), and Mangus/Sir Michael Tippett’s The Knot Garden (American premiere). Since 1990-91, Kraus has sung 24 roles with Lyric Opera of Chicago, including Notary/Der Rosenkavalier, the Bailiff Werther, Antonio Marriage of Figaro, and Bartolo Barber of Seville.

Kraus is active in the concert hall having made multiple appearances singing Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, Orff’s Carmina Burana, Brahms’s A German Requiem, and Verdi’s Requiem with orchestras throughout the United States. He made his UK debut in recital at Norwich Cathedral.

BD:   All new talent, and all good talent?

Lawrence:   Oh, undoubtedly!  I’m just amazed by the quality and the consistency of it.

BD:   You’re conducting all the performances?

Lawrence:   Yes, I am, but for Tosca we’ve enlarged the orchestra.  We’re using some very discreet electronics, and a lot of percussion.  In this little room it all sounds very, very powerful.
ruth page
BD:   How big is the Ruth Page auditorium [shown at left]?

Lawrence:   220 seats.  Somebody came up with a good line for our brochure this year,
Leave the Opera Glasses at Home!  [Both laugh]  It really works very well.  We don’t even print synopses, because you can just follow the English translation so closely and so clearly.  With the close proximity to the stage, it becomes very, very involving.  Tosca is perhaps overwhelming.  Werther is really an opera not to miss.  I encourage people not to shy away from it.  It is the most gorgeous piece.  In fact, I’ve just sent out a letter to our subscribers, which starts off, Three hours of non-stop gorgeous music!  If Werther has a flaw, it’s just too beautiful.

BD:   Is it too sweet?

Lawrence:   I don’t think so.  The rap that it gets in a lot of quarters is that it’s just cloying and too sentimental. 
This is the way Goethe wrote it in 1774, and the way Massenet set it in 1887, over a hundred years ago.  In fact, when it is discussed, some have said that people today don’t relate to this intense romanticism these days.  Well, I’m sorry, I think they do!  People do kill themselves over unrequited love.

BD:   It doesn’t seem like the right work to bring a first date.

Lawrence:   No, I wouldn’t say that, because ultimately, when you leave the theater, you have been all awash for three hours in gorgeous romanticism.  The thoughts and emotions that are expressed throughout the opera are just wonderful and deep, and the music is unrelentingly beautiful.

BD:   How many of you got in the orchestra for Werther?

Lawrence:   As we always do, Werther has a smallish orchestra.  In our little tiny theater, we have an orchestra of seven.  It’s a string quintet, harp, and piano, and you’d be surprised at the way this fills up the little auditorium.  There is also some discreet percussion.

BD:   Have you added any electronics?

Lawrence:   Not really.  There’s a church organ that plays off-stage at one point, and a set of bells at the end, which we are doing electronically.  The opera does end on Christmas Eve, and Massenet’s genius comes shining through because he has a very special thing that happens at the very end.  Oddly enough, even though the first act takes place in July, the first thing we hear in the opera is Charlotte’s father, Le Bailli, rehearsing his seven children in a Christmas carol.  Johann and Schmidt, his two drinking buddies, come in and say he’ll be late for the party, and ask why he is doing a Christmas carol in July?  The Bailiff responds that little children learn slowly, so they have to start early.  So, we hear that at the beginning, and it comes back at the end, juxtaposed with Werther in the final moments of his life.  He asks if he is hearing children or angels, and I took my cue from that.  I have added some off-stage women’s voices, and a little set of bells.  It just drifts into angelic mystic beauty in the end.  It’s a wonderful, wonderful opera.

BD:   [After listing the performance dates and ticket prices for the radio audience]  I wish you lots of continued success.

Lawrence:   Thanks very much.  We will do our best.


See my interviews with William Neil, John Bruce Yeh, Charles Vernon, and Barbara Ann Martin

Because I spoke with each of these two men on several occasions, and sometimes with additional guests,
here is a full accounting of the air-dates, with links to the various transcriptions (taken from my full list of guests)
The material above on this webpage is the first interview (of three) with Ratner, and the first two (of four) with Rapchak, hence, the listings below are not links.

Lawrence Rapchak (also composer) [4/+///+] WNIB 8/29/89, 4/30/91, 4/17/94, 5/28/96; (")CT 3/2/01; #3 - This Website; #4 - This Website
     Rapchak also participates very briefly in the conversation with John Pascoe

Carl Ratner  [Also Administrator]  [3 +/+//+] WNIB 8/29/89, 5/22/94;  #2 - This Website;  #3 - This Website

© 1989 & 1991 Bruce Duffie

These conversations was recorded in Chicago on August 22, 1989, and April 23, 1991.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB a few days after each meeting.  This transcription was made in 2023, 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.