Soprano  Angelina  Réaux

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


Angelina Réaux was born in Houston, Texas to a Spanish mother and a Cajun father. Trained as both an actress and a singer Ms. Réaux has forged her own unique path and fits no conventional mold and commands a repertoire from Strauss to Sondheim. Perhaps best known for her affiliations with the works of Kurt Weill and Leonard Bernstein, Ms. Réaux began her career in New York as the Beggar Woman in the First National Tour of SWEENEY TODD with Angela Lansbury and soon found herself engaged with opera companies, festivals, and orchestras throughout the United States and Europe, working with such companies as the Santa Fe Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Washington Opera, Vienna Staatsoper, Glimmerglass Opera, Portland Opera, Boston Lyric Opera, Accademia di Santa Cecilia, The New York Philharmonic, The Boston Pops, The Boston Symphony, Orchestra of St. Luke’s, the Eos Orchestra, The Philadelphia Orchestra, Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal, BBC Symphony, Orchestre de Lyon, the Ensemble Modern, the Ojai Festival, Cabrillo Festival, Caramoor Festival, the Gilmore Festival, Ravinia Festival, The Almeida Festival, AldeburghFestival and Innsbruck Festival.

After being chosen by Leonard Bernstein to play Francesca, the “I know you do” girl on his WEST SIDE STORY recording, and then as a part of the ensemble and understudy to DeDe in his and Stephen Wadsworth’s opera A QUIET PLACE in Vienna, Bernstein hand-picked her to sing the role of Mimi in Puccini’s LA BOHEME in Rome which was recorded by Deutsche Grammophon and televised on RAI Television throughout Europe. She has performed his JEREMIAH SYMPHONY with numerous orchestras around the world including The Slovenska Filharmonica and Radio Hilversum at the Concertgebouw. Her Bernstein Liederabend has been presented by the New York Historical Society and at the Innsbruck Bernstein Festival. Soon after Maestro Bernstein’s death his arranger Sid Ramin arranged five of his songs which she premiered in Vienna and which she later performed at Symphony Space for Wall To Wall Bernstein and WNYC Radio.   

Ms. Réaux created THERE IS A GARDEN:A CELEBRATION OF THE WORKS OF LEONARD BERNSTEIN for the Chicago Opera Theater, and BERSTEIN TONIGHT! which was performed in both Italy and at the Chautauqua Institute. She also recorded three of his songs on BERSTEIN: A JEWISH LEGACY, one being the song he wrote for his own Bar Mitzvah.

It was at Northwestern University where Ms. Réaux was first introduced to the music of Kurt Weill, performing in his BERLIN TO BROADWAY.  Her one-woman show, STRANGER HERE MYSELF, the music of Kurt Weill, conceived with director Christopher Alden, was produced by The New York Shakespeare Festival for an extended sold-out run and has since been performed throughout the United States as well as at the Almeida Festival in Islington, Great Britain and recorded on Koch Classics. She performed Weill’s MARIE GALANTE and JOHNNY JOHNSON at the Almeida Festival as well which, was also televised for the BBC.  She has also performed MARIE GALANTE and Happy End in San Francisco at Herbst Hall with Sinfonia San Francisco, as well as in New York City at Merkin Concert Hall with The Orchestra of St. Luke’s.  Ms. Réaux made her debut at The New York Philharmonic singing Weill’s THE SEVEN DEADLY SINS, which she has also sung with the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal, Sacramento Symphony and Vienna’s Ensemble Modern. At the New York Philharmonic’s urging, she was asked to put together a Weill cabaret which led to the birth of her show DANCING ON A VOLCANO: EIN BERLINER KABARETT (the music of Weill and his contemporaries) which has been performed in regional theatres, concert halls, clubs and cabarets throughout the U.S.  At Carnegie Recital Hall she presented Weill songs in an archival concert of his works and appeared in a celebration of his American works there as well and at the Santa Fe Opera starred as the False Angele in the American premiere of his opera DER TSAR LÄSST SICH FOTOGRAFIEREN.  Ms. Réaux’s relationship with perhaps Weill’s most popular work, THE THREEPENNY OPERA, began when she was cast by Stephen Wadsworth as Jenny Diver at The Skylight Theatre, then as Polly Peachum by Christopher Alden at The Chautauqua Institute. She then went on to direct and design productions in Tuscany, Italy, Santa Barbara and Sacramento (playing Mrs. Peachum), all of which were sold out and received rave notices. Ms. Réaux has also been judicator for the prestigious Lenya Competition on several occasions and her recording of Weill’s STREET SCENE as Rose Maurrant can be heard on the Decca/London label.

Ms. Réaux has appeared with some of America’s finest repertory theatres including Berkeley Rep., Yale Rep, South Coast Rep, North Coast Rep, Washington D.C. Studio Repertory Theatre, The Royal George Theatre, Marriott Lincolnshire, Sacramento Stage Company, Santa Barbara’s Center Stage, NYC’s The Public Theatre, Playwright’s Horizon’s, John Houseman Theatre, The New Century, St. Clement’s, The Jewish Rep, Perry Street Theatre and the New Brunswick Theatre. She has performed in concert and cabaret series at such places as The Algonquin, the Ballroom, Paris’s Lapin Agile, the American Express Concert Series, Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher and Alice Tully Halls, Merkin Concert Hall, both Carnegie Hall and Carnegie Recital Hall, San Francisco’s Plush Room and Boston’s Jordan Hall and Symphony Hall.

She now resides in San Diego with her husband Michael Sokol and their cats and dog.

Angelina Réaux [pronounced RAY-oh] has brought her artistry to Chicago several times.  On one occasion during the last month of 1997, we got together for a conversation.  It was fun and raucous and very informative about topics close to her heart.

Here is what was said at that time . . . . .

Bruce Duffie:   [Looking at her recording]  Do you enjoy singing Kurt Weill?

Angelina Réaux:   I hope so... I sing it enough!  [Laughs]

BD:   Is it by choice, or just something that you have found yourself falling into?
Réaux:   It most definitely began by choice.  Little did I know it would become a mainstay of my bank account. [More laughter]  But I must say that I’ve never gotten bored singing it.  If anything, the only little thorn in my side is that, in this business, you are so easily put into categories and little boxes.  So, when I started singing so much Kurt Weill, they thought I was just a cabaret singer.  But little did they know that Kurt Weill never wrote for the cabaret.  He’s not a cabaret composer.
BD:   His material was taken to the cabaret?

Réaux:   His material was taken to the cabaret, primarily by Lotte Lenya, who wanted to lengthen her own career.  She served it well, I must say, but it became known as cabaret material, when that’s not really the case at all.

BD:   Then do you bring more musical artistry to each piece, rather than just another cabaret song?

Réaux:   [Sighs]  I hope I bring some musical artistry to it, though I don’t think any more so than any other material that I would sing.  I have an affinity for it.  Some people think it’s strange.  A few have come up to me and said that I must have been in a line to the concentration camps, or that I must have been born in Germany.  Some people claim I sing German with a Yiddish accent, which is very bizarre, having grown up Spanish and French in Texas, and never having had a bagel.  I was in high school when we moved to the east coast.  I don’t try to, but I just have some kind of affinity for it.

BD:   Do you bring all of yourself to it?

Réaux:   Yes, all of myself.  I was very influenced by Teresa Stratas.  Right when I was coming into my own as a classical singer, her album The Unknown Kurt Weill came out on Nonesuch, and all of a sudden, here were these songs of Kurt Weill being sung by a whole voice, by a voice that had many colors from which to draw, and who sang them in the original keys.  What drew me to them was that I was challenged by them dramatically as an actress, but when I heard her, I realized that I could use my entire voice.  She really influenced me.

BD:   How do you balance your career?  You’ve got these recitals with cabaret numbers and Kurt Weill, and then you also do opera.  How do you go back and forth?

Réaux:   Honestly, I just love to sing, and I like whatever I’m hired to do.  But, I don’t accept every job that is offered.

BD:   How do you decide whether you will accept an engagement or not?

Réaux:   First of all, I’m very influenced by the text.  I have to be drawn to it, either at an intellectual or an emotional level, and hopefully both.  Then I really, really listen to the music, and I put the things together.  If I feel I have something to say, and that I’m going to serve the music
and the music is not going to serve methen I choose to do the project.  I’ve turned down a number of things.  In fact, my career would be a lot farther along if I thought about it in a different way.  But I take things that really challenge me.

BD:   Maybe if you did other things, the voice would be much further deteriorated?

:   Maybe... I don’t know.  You’d have to talk to my voice teacher.

BD:   Are you not looking for a big long career?

:   Of course I am.

BD:   That takes care.

:   Right, but because I started as an actress in theater, and because I was used to doing eight shows a week in New York
either off Broadway, or on Broadway, or on tourmy stamina is much different than a normal classical singer.  I started with that discipline.  I wasn’t told that I must protect my instrument!  I wasn’t over-cautious.  I just went out there and sang for the pure joy of it.  That’s another thing... I will be singing a purely classical recital, but for some reason, some critic who’s heard of me as a cabaret performer will list it as a cabaret performance.  Even though I’ll be singing Barber and Copland, they’ll think it’s a cabaret performance.  I’d like to teach a course on putting the showbiz into classical musicparticularly recitalsbecause a lot of performers say it’s in their Fach.  They think they must learn Mahler songs because everyone says they must.  Their German is beautiful, and they learn this repertoire, and they think that’s it!  But unless you have something to say about it, and unless you can communicate something, or move the audienceeither educate them or entertain themthey don’t care.  That’s something which is my pet peeve, and with Kurt Weill and a lot of the other material I do, I’m able to do all threeeducate, entertain, and move people.  That’s why it really draws me.

BD:   Is it from a theatrical point of view rather than from a musical point of view, or is it all together?

:   It’s all together.  I don’t separate them at all.  People ask me how I dissect a song, or how I make it different every time, because people will come and see several performances of the same thing.  For example, my ‘Surabaya-Johnny’ [from Happy End] is always very different, as is my ‘Mi chiamano, Mimì’ [from La Bohème] because every song is a journey, and I start at the beginning.  I start before the music begins, and whatever I have gone through that day, or whatever point I am in my life, what I’ve observed, what I know about the character, or what I want the audience to know about the character is distilled in that crystal moment before I begin.  If I allow myself to do that, hopefully something new happens, and I try not to get in the way of it.  Of course you can’t make magic every day, but...

BD:   [Feigning sarcasm]  Oh, why not???  [Much laughter]

:   I wish I could sometimes.  That’s what makes my career special, and why I’m still interested in what I do.  I’ve never gotten bored.  I get more scared and more scared, and I’m more nervous at every performance I do.

BD:   [Genuinely surprised]  Really???  I would think it would get easier and easier.

:   [Screams]  No, no, no!  A lot of people come again and again to hear you, and you don’t want to disappoint them.  But not only that, I don’t want to disappoint myself.  I’m a very hard audience, but I’m very hard on myself as well.

BD:   Too hard?

:   Some people say so, but not when you have the ego.  I have a terrific ego, and you have to have an ego in order to go out there!  If you didn’t, can you imagine doing it?  In my normal, everyday life, I suffer self-esteem problems.  Doesn’t everybody?  But there’s something about when you’re a performer.  There has to be some sort of ego and temperament in order to make you want to do what you do.

BD:   [Again, feigning sarcasm]  You mean performing isn’t for real???
Réaux:   Of course, it’s real!  You’re breathing!  You’re sitting up there!  It’s in real time!  If you have that ham in you, that sense of joy of just going out there, it’s really a powerful feeling.  You completely get off from being a performer.  If you’re a true performer, that feeling of electricity between the audience and yourself is amazing.  I drive managers and union people of recital halls crazy because I have to come and look at the space in which I’m singing before I sing in it.  Then I will adjust my program to the space I’m singing in.  I will adjust the repertoire to the audience that I’m singing to during the program if I feel that I’m losing them.  For instance, this happened to me with ‘Happiness is a Thing Called Joe’.  I was singing a New Year’s Eve concert in New York City, and it was primarily Britten, and Weill, and Bernstein, and Marietta’s Lied from Die Tote Stadt of Korngold.  But one of the last songs was ‘Happiness is a Thing Called Joe’ because I think that song by Harold Arlen is an American art song.  Normally I sing it as a ballad, but that night there was something about the audience.  There was a smile on each of their faces, and there was a smile on my face.  I knew that I had them, and I wanted to go somewhere new, so that song became sexy, sly, and funny.  I will never forget it.  I never knew that song meant this, and all of a sudden, I spotted Tony Kushner in the audience.  He wrote (among other things) Angels in America.  I didn’t know he was there, and I was very pleased.  I saw him smile, and I just took the song even farther!  All of a sudden, I made it my own, really, really, really my own.  So that was an instance where I took the audience to a completely different place, because I knew they needed that.  They wanted to go there.  I’m never oblivious to my audience.

BD:   What happens next time you come back to that song?

:   I’ve sung it since, and it hasn’t worked in the same way.  I start at the beginning, and usually the song usually takes me.  I think about Joe.  I don’t even think about my husband.  I don’t do realism.  I have enough imagination and a sense of make-believe that I don’t have to use real substitutions.  Here, happiness is just a thing called Joe, and Joe can be an old love or a new love.  It’s whatever he is that night, but it’s never again taken on that wit and that sense of humor that it did that night.  I hear that Kushner wants me to sing at his memorial, whenever he passes on.  God forbid it
s not for a long time, but it was quite an honor when I learned that.  There was something about me, Tony Kushner, that audience, and that song that night!  It was amazing!

BD:   Do you feel that you always make an individual connection with each member of each audience?

:   I can, but it has to be less than a thousand-seat house.  When you do recitals around the country, they’re usually 900-seat houses.  In New York there is Merkin Concert Hall [449 seats], and Weill Recital Hall [268 seats].  There I know when a person takes a piece of candy out, or if a person is not attentive.  I’m very conscious of the audience.

BD:   Then do you leave that person out, or do you specifically go for that person who is not paying attention?

:   It depends.  I’d never look at somebody to challenge them.  I would never make somebody feel uncomfortable.  It’s my position to seduce them and manipulate them into loving what I’m doing.

BD:   Music as seduction?

:   Right.

BD:   I thought it was music as therapy!  [Both laugh]

:   Whatever they need, I’ll give
em!  [More laughter]  But you want them to like you.  That’s what it’s about.  You want them to like the song, and you want them to forget themselves for a moment and be with you.  I speak a different language than most of my classical colleagues just because I come from a different background.

BD:   Is it more difficult for you to step back into opera... or do you do much opera these days?

:   I’ve only been doing one opera a year for the past four years, but this year I’m doing four.  You just get in your niche.  For instance, I was doing the Jeremiah Symphony [Bernstein] everywhere for two years, and Seven Deadly Sins [Weill] everywhere for three years, and I was singing Zerlina [Don Giovanni] everywhere for three years.  You go through phases.

BD:   I can just see you actually getting Masetto to beat you up!

:   I like the beating up!  [Both laugh]  No, I don’t!  It’s too hard, but I just apply whatever truths are in me, and I try to make it as real as possible.  That’s why I love to sing opera, because whatever my twentieth-century sensibility is, I make it fresh for the audience.  I don’t pose.

BD:   Is there any role that is a little too close to the real Réaux?

Réaux:   Nothing is too close to Réaux because there are so many Réauxs!  [Laughs]  No, I really don’t think so.  One role which is not successful for me, even though everyone would think it would be, is Musetta [La Bohème].  [Thinks a moment]  Maybe that’s because it’s too close to me!  That’s a good point.  I never thought of that.  I am a Mimì, not a Musetta on stage, and you would think because I have been told that I have a gregarious personality Musetta would suit me, but it just doesn’t fit me.

BD:   Coming over to the songs, are there some that you stay away from because they are too revealing of the real you?

Réaux:   No, I
m never afraid to reveal me, because as an artist, you must be able to be vulnerable, and you must unveil yourself.  If you’re not willing to do that, then you really cut yourself off from your audience, and you dont make a lasting impression.  I dont claim to be one, but the truly successful great artists of our time are the ones who inspire me.  They dont play themselves.  Even though they were great, their performances never moved me.  Maybe the symbol for which they stood might have moved me, but it’s the people who completely become whoever they’re portraying, and can lose themselves in the character, create something that interests me.

*     *     *     *     *
BD:   You also make recordings.  Do you sing differently for the microphone than you do for a live audience?

Réaux:   [Thinks a moment]  When I’m recording an opera, no, not at all because they make all the adjustments in the booth.  I make no adjustments.

BD:   Do you like it when they adjust things?

Réaux:   I have no idea what they’re doing!  I really don’t.  They’re really nice to me.  They’ve always let me go back and listen, and help choose which takes to use.  The Bohème recording I made was live, and there were a couple of re-takes.  Most of my stuff is live.  That album is amazing.  I don’t know if the general public is aware of it, but that was my first opera in Italian.  I had never sung Mimì before, and I had never sung an Italian opera with an orchestra.

BD:   A trial by fire!  [Vis-à-vis the recording shown at left, see my interviews with Jerry Hadley, Thomas Hampson, and Paul Plishka.]

Réaux:   It was trial, plus it was in Rome, and Lenny was making grandiose statements that no one could sing it like a young American cast!  It was because he believed in us, and he was enthused.  Fortunately for me, the rest of the cast were seasoned.  They had sung these roles at the Met, and at the Vienna State Opera, and at Covent Garden.  I was the neophyte completely, but what I had was that I had sung with Lenny many times.  They never had, so I was completely comfortable with his process, whereas they were saying they needed an iron lung to sing his tempos.  [Laughs]  They were absolutely fine for me, because I’d never sung it any other way.  It was like swimming the whole length of the pool.  I know when I was coming up for air, and I knew what my goal was.  But to begin one’s career like that was indeed trial by fire, but it was so inspiring, and challenging, and it set the tone for the rest of my very strange career.  In fact, sometimes people call me a pioneer because I’m defiantly trying to do what I want to do without ever firmly being ensconced in one area.  Most of the people who do crossover have been firmly ensconced, so when they cross over, it’s their trial.  If you’re a Broadway singer, you just don’t cross over and make an operatic record without it being some kind of specialty album.  It’s the same thing for opera singers.  They can’t do it either!  [Much laughter]  It’s just a way for all those record companies to make lots of money.

BD:   One really has to have one foot in both camps to do it justice?

Réaux:   To have it both ways, yes.  I really studied each one...

BD:   ...but just because you studied them doesn’t mean you’re going to be good at both.

Réaux:   Yes.  I agree with you absolutely, and thank heavens understanding the styles is one of my fortes.  Before you sing a Baroque opera, you study the style.  Before you sing a verismo opera, you study the style, and you go to a specialist coach.  If you’re singing French opera, you go to a different specialist.  It’s the same for the many different Spanish dialects.  You should know the difference between a Sondheim song and a Gershwin song.  Those are all separate styles, and they should be studied.  Just because you speak English and can read music, doesn’t give you the entitlement to be able to communicate a song.

BD:   Is there no way just to study the communication through music that would work for lots of styles?

Réaux:   I’ve never thought about that.  When I look at the song and what it needs, if I feel I have the tools to do it, and if something rings true, then I will do it.  I go to a coach, and if they say not to do it, I don’t just trust one.  I’ll go to many.  If I hear the same negative response from more than five, then something inside starts to believe it.  But a lot of times people will tag on four Gershwin songs or four Sondheim songs at the end of their recital program in order to win the audience over, and send them home happy.  That’s such an abuse of our own heritage in music, and that’s a real pet peeve of mine.

BD:   [With a wink]  Are you being snobbish about our music?

Réaux:   No, I’m not being snobbish about our music.  I’m being a real supporter of our music.  We still have such a Western-European complex.  When I do a soirée or a salon, I will sing ‘Mi chiamano Mimì’ sitting on a stool, and then I’ll sing Jerome Kern’s ‘Bill’ from Showboat from the crook of the piano, absolutely like a Lied, because I believe it is an American song.  All of a sudden, the song just goes BANG off the page.  The Bohème aria becomes just the song of this girl who’s embarrassed about saying what she really does and who she is, and ‘Bill’ becomes this gorgeous legato song about love.  It’s amazing when you know how and when to pull away, and when to give something extra.

BD:   That’s the artistry you bring to it?

Réaux:   I hope.

BD:   Do you sing ‘Mi chiamano Mimì’, or is it ‘My name is Mimì’?

Réaux:   No, usually I sing it in the language it was written in.  I’m a real stickler about that.  There are articles about me singing from the drapes, and doing a back-bend, and blowing smoke-rings, but honestly I never move!  I guess it seems like I’m moving because I try to create a world.  Some songs are huge, and it might need just one gesture, and other songs are very intimate and small, and you must bring the audience to you like a zoom-lens.  Maria Callas was so incredible doing that, but it makes it seem like I’m moving everywhere.  However, I do not move unless it
s a staged piece.  The only reason I even care about it is because the musical world can be quite afraid of classical singers, and they want to be accessible.

BD:   You’re trying to being them all together?

Réaux:   No, I’m not trying to bring them together.  I’m trying to work, and to sing, and to not to make an excuse for what I do.  That word ‘crossover’ is just so bizarre to me.  You’re the same person who’s doing it, and hopefully you’ll get it right in both, and if you’re not, then you shouldn’t do it!  [Laughs]  That’s how I look at it.  I don’t make an excuse if I sing something like ‘Round Midnight’ [jazz standard by Thelonious Monk].  I did a concert of music by Ellen Taaffe Zwilich at Carnegie Hall.

BD:   She was the first woman composer to win the Pulitzer Prize.

Réaux:   Absolutely, and she’s fabulous.  She wrote this incredible piece called Passages, and I sang it in New York last season.  She said her influences were Beethoven, and jazz, and Gershwin.  On the first half, before I even sang this lengthy piece, I sang ‘Round Midnight’, ‘My Man’s Gone Now’, and ‘Someone to Watch over Me’.  It was funny because the critics honestly expected me to sing [imitates a bad opera singer], but I completely sang it [imitates a ballad singer].  It was completely as I feel the song, how I should sing the song, and how I feel it inside me, and it quite shocked them.  They didn’t understand that I had all these styles at my command.

BD:   Perhaps you’re unique in this.  We can’t usually get Jane Operasinger to sing songs as anything but Jane Operasinger.

Réaux:   Right, then it’s good.  [Laughs]  I’m glad I’m unique at something!  But a lot of times it has surprised people, because they want to fit you into a little box.  They think she wasn’t using her entire voice when she sang that.  Thank heavens, I’ve been very blessed by many critics.  Most of the work I get is thanks to them, and because my fans have been so loyal.  It’s very hard sometimes to convince opera companies that you’re truly an opera singer if you do branch out like I do.  I’m doing a concert at the Royal George Theatre [452 seats] here in Chicago again this year only because so many people want to hear these songs that I love to sing.  They’re not exactly regular recital-goers.

BD:   So, it’s a show?

Réaux:   Yes, it
s kind of a show, but I don’t do any patter.  I never speak, and I never use a mike.  I might start with Poulenc’s ‘Chemin de l’amour’, and then go into ‘Speak Low’ and ‘What Good would the Moon be’ [Weill], and then Sondheim’s ‘So Many People’.

BD:   It’s just you, and a piano, and a stool?

Réaux:   It’s just me and a piano.  No stool!  I just stand there.  I might move to a wall on the side to sing a song by Edith Piaf such as ‘L’Accordéoniste’, but usually it’s just me and the piano, and a very concert-like attire.

BD:   What audience are you aiming for?

Réaux:   The audience who loves words and music.  A lot of the people who come to see to me are performing arts people, but it varies.  I get the elderly crowd who know all these songs, or immigrants who escaped from Germany and Austria who love Kurt Weill.  I also have a very big classical audience.

BD:   They mix well?
Réaux:   Oh, yes.  They are all different types of people, I hope.  I don’t shoot for any specific group.  I don’t know how to market myself in that way, and it’s not my job to do so.  When he first discovered me doing this Kurt Weill material in New York, Joseph Papp said, I think you have a show here!  I’d like to produce your Kurt Weill recital as a show, and I said, “You’re crazy!  Nobody will come!  I thought maybe for two nights, but he wanted to do a run!  I said, You’ll lose money, and you’ll hate me!  I knew him because he had come to see several operas I’d been in, and I thought it was really cool that he was interested in opera.  He said, “You’re selling yourself short.  You’re much more accessible than you think.  I learned a lot from him because all different types of people came.  I’m really surprised now when I find out there are people who even know who I am.  Not many people in Chicago know who I am because, for some reason, I never sang anything here, even though I graduated from Northwestern.  Either my managers didn’t push me here, or there are not really venues for me.  Park West is too pop-oriented.

BD:   Besides the Royal George, there really isn’t a place for what you’ve been describing.

Réaux:   No, and what I do belongs in a theater.  I’m one of those old-fashioned performers.  My dream is to be like Charles Aznavour, or Édith Piaf in a little dress, standing in front of a curtain in a huge house with a small orchestra, just singing my guts out!  One thing after the next, without a set, without fancy clothes, just letting the songs speak for themselves.  That’s what I like to do, and there are not many people who do that with a classical voice.  There’s Rosemary Clooney, who I adore, and there’s Barbara Cook, but they play rooms, so it’s different.  Therefore, there are not really agents who promote that.  So it’s difficult, and I’ll either get on a roll, or I’ll have three weeks off.  That
s when I really feel like singing and being in touch with my audience.

BD:   You don’t sing every day?

Réaux:   No.  I’m learning music every day.  Because I do so much contemporary music, I’m constantly learning music.

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BD:   What advice do you have for someone who wants to write for either the human voice in general, or specifically your voice?

Réaux:   [Thinks a moment]  You need to know who you’re writing for, and you should not just take it off of one recording or one session.  You should ask them to sing many styles.  Maybe there’s a part of their voice or a specific sound that hasn’t even been discovered yet and is particularly moving.  I have a lot of composers who have written for me, and the ones who are the most successful are the ones who utilize my really big range.  I sing a lot really low and really high, and the ones who take advantage of that, but who don’t abuse it, are the best.  Don’t keep just hammering away at my passaggio, or at my middle, or my mix, or at high notes.  They seem to have unrealistic expectations of any singer, because they really don’t know the voice.  They do these huge jumps.  A high C is nothing for me if it’s approached the right way, but if it’s approached in a difficult way, forget it.

BD:   [With fake sarcasm]  You don’t want to be treated like a clarinet???

Réaux:   [Laughs]  No, but when the best composers are writing specifically for you, they let you hear it.  They’ll ask if the key is okay, and inquire about what I would like.  They consult you.

BD:   There must be communication?

Réaux:   Yes.  That’s very rare, but when it happens, it’s a collaboration, and then that is just a dream.  I love to read biographies and autobiographies because you learn so much about yourself, and about other people who have gone through these things.  You see the fights they had, and what happens when they didn’t get along.  Then people had to try to bring them together.  That’s just collaboration, and, of course you’re not going to get along all the time.  On the other hand, nobody wants to be temperamental anymore.  Nobody wants personality.  We are all expected to behave.  When you see somebody who has a quirkiness or excitement about them, that is special.  Everybody has something special.  One thing I have discovered is if you take that and you nurture it, and let it bloom, then what they have to say is unique in the world, and people will listen.  If you homogenize it, then who cares?  You just become one more on the scene, and you fade away.  Everybody tries to tear down anybody with temperament because everybody’s always afraid of it.

BD:   Then is your advice for younger singers to keep some of their temperament?

Réaux:   My advice for them is to learn how to say no!  If a coach says you must smile at the end of this line, if you don’t feel like smiling, it’s your interpretation, not theirs.

BD:   But it has to be from the artistic point of view, rather than just from sheer temperament.

Réaux:   Oh, absolutely!  It
s not just arbitrarily deciding what you want to do, nor should it be a carbon copy of someone else’s performance.  I’m sorry, but honestly you can make a smile even if the person’s supposed to be sad at a given moment.  Let’s say it’s a big huge tragic moment where they’re hovering over someone’s dead body.  You can have a smile there, and absolutely make it work because when they’re the most sad, a lot of people have this hysteria of smiling about them.  They’re all different, and you can be anything, as long as it comes from something real.

BD:   So, you’re a real singer?

Réaux:   [Has a huge laugh]  I don’t know about that, but I try to find truth in everything I do.  Truth always remains, and it always resounds.  That will translate into the audience’s reaction, and travel with them wherever they go... hopefully forever.  I know I proselytize about this, but it
s very important to me.

BD:   No, that’s fine.  Good, solid opinions are always desired.  One last question.  Are you pleased with where you are at this point in your career?

Réaux:   If you had have asked me two months ago, I would have said absolutely not, but as of today, yes I am because I put myself here!  It was my decision, and also it’s the luck of the draw.  But I realize that I’m in control of what I do, and I also feel that I’ve left enough of a mark of myself already at a very young age, just by the recordings that I’ve done, and the people that I’ve worked with.  I’ve been very, very blessed, and just the fact that I’m so darn opinionated on everything means that I have accumulated something, and that I have something to pass on.

BD:   Thank you for spending this time with me today.

Réaux:   You
’re lots of fun to talk with.  Thank you.



See my interviews with Sheri Greenawald, and John Mauceri


See my interviews with Kiri Te Kanawa, Tatiana Troyanos, and Marilyn Horne


See my interviews with Josephine Barstow, Arleen Auger, Emile Belcourt, and Barbara Bonney

© 1997 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in Chicago on December 6, 1997.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB the following April, and again in 1999.  This transcription was made in 2024, 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.