Soprano / Mezzo-Soprano  Regina  Resnik
 
A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


resnik



Regina Resnik is one among a very few artists who has enjoyed two internationally successful singing careers, first as a soprano, and later as a mezzo-soprano. In both repertoires, she was noted for her outstanding musicianship and superb dramatic abilities.

resnikShe was born in 1922 in New York to Russian immigrant parents. Preparing herself for a singing career from an early age, she graduated from Hunter College in 1942. That same year, she made her operatic debut with the New Opera Company in New York, and immediately set off on a cross-country tour, performing a series of concerts under the auspices of Pryor Concert Management.

She won the Metropolitan Opera Auditions of the Air in 1944, and made her Metropolitan debut that same season as Leonora in Il Trovatore, replacing an indisposed Zinka Milanov. She rapidly became established as a leading soprano both in the United States and Europe, with a remarkable repertoire ranging from Micaela and Butterfly to Aida and Sieglinde. She sang the role of Ellen Orford in the New York premiere of Britten's Peter Grimes.

By the mid-1950's, it became clear that her voice was taking on the darker, richer sound of a mezzo-soprano. By 1957, she had learned a new repertoire, and was making her highly successful debut at Covent Garden in the title role of Carmen. This was the beginning of a second career in Europe, with performances in Stuttgart, Berlin, Paris and Vienna. She returned to the Metropolitan Opera as Marina in Boris Godunov, and eventually completed thirty seasons with that company. Her roles included Mistress Quickly, Amneris, Eboli, Herodias, Fricka, Orlovsky, and the title role in Pique Dame.

In the 1970's, she began a third career as an opera director, and has directed productions with opera companies around the world. She also conducts master classes at the Metropolitan, San Francisco, Toronto, Paris, Venice, Treviso, and with the Curtis Institute of Music and the Juilliard School of Music.

Among her many awards, Mme. Resnik has received honorary doctorates from Hunter College and the New England Conservatory. She has served as a member of the jury of the Peabody Awards for Radio and Television, and is a member of the Board of Directors of the Metropolitan Opera Guild.




In March of 1987, the musical Cabaret was in Chicago, and though the schedule was tight, I was fortunate that Regina Resnik agreed to meet with me at the famous Ambassador Hotel on one of the very few off days during the run.

While setting up for the conversation, we spoke briefly about our lives in general.  Her husband was with her, and she mentioned that he rarely was able to get away from his work to accompany her on her travels.  She commented, though, that she loved to play. 
“When I dont have to work, I know how to play.”  We then went on to compare our recent surgeries!

Once those important matters had been settled (!), we turned our attention to musical subjects . . . . .


Bruce Duffie:    I want to speak mostly about your operatic career, but right now you’re involved in musical comedy, so let us first discuss the differences between singing in grand opera and musical comedy.

Regina Resnik:    There’s a notable vocal and artistic difference in the type of music you’re singing and what you’re doing.  There is also the practical side of performance.  There’s no question that if I put all the time together in eight shows a week that I’m doing in Cabaret, it really wouldn’t add up in work to even one and a half Carmens in time, and certainly not in effort.  There’s no effort.  It’s a lot of fun and there’s not a big effort.  The big problem is the question of being in the theater all the time.  For example, this evening that you and I are talking
— the dark night — is like some enormous gift.  That rest that you get is really not even forty-eight hours.  You got out of the theater last night at twenty of eleven, and you’re back in the theater at seven tomorrow night.  So you have less than forty-eight hours.  But those hours, I must say, look like a week because after the night you sang a big opera performance, unless there was an emergency, you really didn’t rehearse the next day.  You certainly didn’t sing the next night, unless it was something terribly unusual in the repertory that you sang night after night.  Even at three times a week, if you sang two Eleckras and a Carmen, it would still take a month of Cabaret to compare how much work you’re doing.  So once I’m on stage in the show, I’m just really having a good time.  I’m enjoying it.

resnikBD:    Does it give you a new perspective, though, for those who are singing the leading role in the musical comedy, that they have to go out there and give almost as much as a Carmen every night, night after night after night?

RR:    I’m not sure that that’s so.  The artistic effort, the brain effort to get out there and do a role from beginning to end is probably the same, but I don’t think you’re in the Olympics every night in a show.  In opera, you are.  The opera is the World Series every night.

BD:    Do you feel that doing an opera is like an athletic contest?

RR:    The opera is a phenomenally difficult sport, and we’re not treating it as such.  When I say ‘sport’ I don’t even mean it in a light-hearted way.  What we opera singers have accomplished in our lives
when I look back on forty years of that kind of singingis a very big tour de force.  When you are at your maximum strength in opera, if you’re doing an opera like Die Frau ohne Schatten, there’s nothing to compare it to except perhaps an endurance contest in the Olympics.  It’s a maximum physical, artistic and mental effort, everything that you’ve put together on stage.  It is a complete composition.

BD:    You’re competing with yourself.  Are you also competing against the audience?

RR:    No.  I never felt that in my entire career.  Never.  I did know that there were more — I won’t even use the word ‘hostile’ — cooler audiences, or less friendly ones in the sense that they weren’t so obviously warm and receptive.  There were just differences between audiences and cities or peoples, that kind of thing.  But I must say, wherever I sang and whatever I did, perhaps with some very few exceptions over a big span of forty years, I never felt anything but tremendous warmth.

BD:    Is there a difference between the Thursday audience and a Saturday audience, or a Monday audience?

RR:    Oh there was a big difference at one time in the subscription houses.  For example, Monday night at the Met was known as the late cool audience that sat on its gloves.  So you heard all the applause from the balcony and the standing room.  To this day, they say the people that pay the most applaud the least.  It’s not true anymore, I don’t think; everything has changed.  When they broke up all the subscriptions at the Met and people began to take half Mondays and some Tuesdays, the audience began to be very mixed.  We always looked forward a lot to the weekend performances.  Very much as in musical comedy, everybody said, “Wait for the Friday night, Saturday matinee, Saturday night audience.”

BD:    There would be lots of cheering?

RR:    For example, now here in Chicago, which is totally new to me, they say that the Tuesday night audience is not THE audience.  I really don’t quite understand why.  I guess people are more relaxed at the end of the week; they look forward to their entertainment after the week’s work.  I’m not really sure what that’s all about.  On the other hand, you really don’t know what groups of people come.  You’re not aware if there’s a convention in town, or if two or three shows and the opera are included in their week’s activity.  It’s also very different today than it used to be because there used to be dress audiences.  Today, dress is so casual that unless black tie is specified, you find a tremendous variance in the people and how they receive it.

BD:    You bring up one point about
entertainment.  Is opera art or is opera entertainment?

RR:    Both.

BD:    Where is the balance?

RR:    The great thing is the balance, because there is no question that a great art can be entertaining.  If it’s a performance, which it is, and it is the theater, then obviously it is made to entertain the people who are buying tickets.  In a way, the man who buys the ticket because he thinks he’s an elitist and will come to the opera may not necessarily always go to Broadway.  Basically, he has to receive the same entertainment from the stage.  The fact that I will get up and sing Frau ohne Schatten or Carmen doesn’t mean that my obligation is not to entertain that person as Carmen.  It’s absolutely my obligation.  After all, for whom am I singing?  I’m singing for a man who pays for a ticket.

BD:    Is the man who pays for a ticket always right in his opinion?

RR:    No, not necessarily at all!  He may be wrong in his opinion, or he may feel very different about what he likes.  Perhaps the night he goes because he’s forced to on a subscription, may be a very poor night for him in the reception of what we’re doing, simply because he’s buying eight or sixteen blind Tuesdays and feels obliged to go.  That’s something else.

BD:    Is it really buying blindly if he knows that he’s going to be seeing a certain repertoire over the course of the year?

RR:    For years I sang at the Met in subscription and non-subscription performances.  I, myself, was a subscriber.  So when I send my money in for my tickets the year before, sometimes you knew the operas and sometimes you didn’t.  You bought the operas because that’s what you got on Tuesday.  If you didn’t like it because you had the Tuesday subscription, sometimes you’d try to palm them off, or share with somebody so that you didn’t take the operas you wanted.  So really, in a way, you’re buying blind.  They didn’t tell you the casts ahead of time, possibly with the opening night exception or if it was a benefit.  Subscriptions are, in a way, blind.  It’s obviously the opera-goer who wants to do that.  He’s buying what he’s going to get on Tuesday night.  [Note: Perhaps I am spoiled because at Lyric Opera of Chicago, our series subscriptions have always had the operas and casts completely listed before purchase
— subject to change, of course, but those occasions were rare.]

BD:    Does this help or hinder the expansion of the repertoire in an opera house such as the Met?

RR:    Subscription, in a way, does hinder repertory; there’s no question about it because you very often hear, “We did that to please the subscribers.  For many years they have heard this opera and this opera, so now they must hear something new.
”  Or, “We can afford to give them the repeat, but we can’t do it that often.”  On the other hand, considering that most of our music is not state-subsidized in any way, you have to look to the man who gives you his money in advance.  One owes him that.

BD:    Is there any way, though, to get the repertoire expanded to have more different things in different seasons?

resnikRR:    Now we’re not talking about audience anymore.  We’re going to come down to the basic things, including who are the singers who are going to sing that repertory?  Now we’re getting down to smaller and smaller repertory, not more adventurous repertory.  We have fewer singers for those new roles.

BD:    How can we get the singers to learn more roles?

RR:    I don’t think that’s the problem today.  There is a dearth, now, of great mature voices, and I dare to speak about it because I was very grateful to a man named Will Crutchfield.  Did you read the piece in the Times, “The Burn-Out of the Opera?”  It’s very hard for somebody who’s been in the field that long, and is a former — I hate to use that word, ‘former or ex-singer’ — but had that much experience.  When you say, “When I began I remember this, and when I sang this I remember that.”  It sounds like so much sour grapes that it only happened in your lifetime.  There’s no question in my mind that the voices are out there.  It’s our approach to their training and our lack of respect for their weaning that is now causing the dearth of voices and this burn-out.  Despite the fact that I did very daring things and lived through them, it’s very hard for me to tell a young singer, “I don’t think you should sing that.”  Their answer is, “But, you did.”  My case was extraordinary in two instances.  First, I had a very strong throat; that’s very important.  The other is that I was mature at a very early age.  The color of my voice was really quite there at a very early age, even though later it became darker and we made a change.  But the very important thing was that the people who were training me and watching over me, really did not let me go out on stage if I really was about to use two left feet.  I worked with the greatest names in conducting history, the great stage directors and great coaches, all of whom took the time to teach me, coach me, and advise me.  So I had great advice.

BD:    Do the conductors today not have the time to work with each individual singer?

RR:    A great many of them are too busy.  You must also remember that at the beginning of my career, which was during and right after the war, we were not really being pushed by the high-tech space age, jet-set opera singer yet.  We started to get into that in the fifties, and then it got even faster in the sixties, and on and on until the eighties where there is no holding getting to Covent Garden by Concorde and singing the next night.  You see that kind of thing.  Also there was no Europe back then.  You must remember that until the early fifties, the American singer came into his own because he was singing in his own country.  He had more rest.  He had more time, and he was doing a phenomenal amount of great studying with very great people.  So we benefited a lot from the war.

BD:    Is there no way of recapturing that kind of situation?

RR:    There would be a way if the opera houses and the heads of opera houses cared sufficiently not to use the singers as an expedient kind of card; if it doesn’t work out this year, we’ll get someone else next year.  That’s very hard to do.

BD:    How does a singer prevent himself from becoming a commodity?

RR:    That’s probably the roughest problem that exists today. It isn’t so much the big singer becoming a commodity; it’s the young singer rising not to become a commodity.  In other words, to say “no” now is very difficult.  Chances are relatively few, not as many as there were, although we have more opera houses in this country, more apprentice programs, more interest in young people, more young people’s programs.  Nevertheless, the chance to really work and study before you go out on stage is not as great as it was.

BD:    So it’s really a paradox, then.

RR:    It is.  The other night, backstage at the show, we were talking about singing serious music and the training of it, and how you have to take care of yourself.  I was talking to a young woman who does only show business, and the way they sing, of course, is totally different than the way we were trained.  They’re taught to open up and sing this big, wide, chesty, belty sound all the time, which is what they call show-biz sound.  I said to this person, “The one thing that you always have to remember is that you’re born and you die with the same set of vocal cords.”  You can’t change the string as you do with a violin or on the piano or any other instrument.  You can’t even stretch a new membrane like you do over a drum.  You have to care for those two things, which are intangible.  You can’t touch them; you can’t tune them in your body.  It is your whole life, so the muscle tone around them, your well-being and how you treat yourself is really what’s going to come out of you on stage, whether you’re singing musical comedy or opera or whatever it is.

BD:    So we are back to the athletics again?

RR:    Correct.  We are back to training and schooling, and I’m convinced that there is also a great dearth of singing teachers today.

BD:    A great dearth of singing teachers, or great dearth of good singing teachers?

RR:    I’m talking about great singing teachers.  One is very hard-put to say, “For what you’re doing at your time of life with your voice, I would suggest so-and-so.”  That is very hard.  I’m asked that all the time.  I was doing a great deal of master class work in the last few years, just before I undertook this show for a year.  Everything comes out of the woodwork after you have been working for a week or two.  You begin to hear what it is that they can accomplish artistically, based on what they can do technically.  At the end they said, “We’re about to change teachers.  What would you suggest I do?”  I’m very hard put; it’s a very hard thing to say, a very difficult question to answer.  It is especially difficult in the region that people are working.  If somebody’s working in Toronto and they say they’re switching teachers, what should they do?  Should they come to New York because there’s one special person?  It’s very difficult to give advice.

BD:    Out of all of this, are you optimistic about the future of opera?

RR:    I remain optimistic because we’ll go now to the other side.  The expansion of opera to the general public has become so great, especially in the last decade through television and super titles and accessibility, that more people now are enjoying the medium.  I think we’re at a kind of crossroads, and my optimism will remain because of the need to feed that much bigger an audience.  We will begin to look for more talent, and as we look for more talent, we may have to take a deep breath, stop, and say, “We’ll look after them.  We’ll take care of them to see that they last, that they give us more as the years go by.”  There’s another big problem today
— the question of youth and how old you are is a very, very big thing.  When I was a young girl — I started singing when I was eighteen or nineteen years old — I was told that if I’m fortunate and I’m very tenacious and highly disciplined, the best time of my life would be between forty and fifty-five, which was true.  Now think what happens when you say forty to fifty-five today to a young singer.

BD:    [Laughs]  Oh, my God! 

RR:    Correct.  Then there’s a paradox as well.  When I listen to the people I have now in interpretive master classes, they’re not as young now as I was then.  In other words, the age in which they are now working in master classes, either conservatory or master programs, is a good five to eight years older than we were at the time we were working in our teens.  So that’s paradoxical because they’re looking for that flush of youth earlier.

BD:    So you’re compressing it then on both ends?

RR:    On both ends they’re being compressed.  They’re being compressed on the study end, and they’re being compressed on the performance end.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Throughout your career, how did you decide which roles you would accept and which roles you would turn down?

resnikRR:    I really almost didn’t decide what I was going to accept and turn down because for a very long time I had only the Met.  I went to Europe in the early fifties as a soprano, and then the late fifties and early sixties as a mezzo.  You must remember that I was singing since 1942, so when things were offered to me, they became part of my repertory as long as I could study them and sing them at opera houses such as the Met and San Francisco.   My repertory grew because I became a very firm resident in that company.  I did what they were doing, and I did the parts.   There were occasions, especially under Edward Johnson at the very beginning, when I felt I was being burdened with a lot of work, and I would go and ask a question and get advice.  He would say, “Maybe we can leave that out for a year or so,” or, “Are you prepared to do this if you have to?”  But we did talk.  That’s rare today.

BD:    Was Johnson a special manager because he had been a singer?

RR:    I think so.  Also it was a very special time for the American singer.  Edward Johnson was a Canadian of course, born in Guelph, Ontario, but he was a North American who had gone to Italy and changed his name to Eduardo DiGiovanni.  Then he returned to his own continent as the Anglo-Saxon he was, the North American he was, and became a rather rare figure; he and Lawrence Tibbett.  In the thirties at the Metropolitan Opera, it was rather rare to have two male American singing stars.  There was also Rosa Ponselle, so of the great Americans singing around, there were only three or four.  There was no great group of Americans.  I was in Cleveland just now with the show, and reminisced all the way back with a music critic to when I won the Sherwin Williams Auditions of the Air in 1944, and sang the winning concert in Cleveland.  The American singer was being discovered on the radio during the war and after the war.  All the American careers which had gone until my day were, practically speaking, found and nurtured in that time.  I’m talking about people like Eleanor Steber and Robert Merrill and Tucker and Peerce and Roberta Peters.  There was also at that time Anna Kaskas and Leonard Warren, and on and on and on.  You can go on with the names of the fine American singers who began to emerge, not only Americans, but also including the Canadians like John Vickers [See my Interview with Jon Vickers], and the Australians like Joan Sutherland [See my Interview with Joan Sutherland].  The Anglo-Saxon singer began to come into the fold because the Anglo-Saxon world was not invaded by war.  The Australians didn’t have the war on their territory, and neither did we.  England, despite the bombardment, re-opened the opera house.  Immediately after the war there was opera, and they got all the singers from the Empire.  They came to Covent Garden, which brought together the Welsh, the Scottish and the Australians and all these great other singers who suddenly came out of the woodwork.  The Anglo-Saxon singer is really the product of post-World War II.  Before that, there was a rarity like Nellie Melba and Maggie Tate, and this one and that one, but rare, you see.

BD:    Are we establishing an American tradition?

RR:    Oh, there’s no question about that!  The American singer became the pillar of the European opera house after the war.  At one time I understand there was something like six hundred American singers on the German stages alone!  So where there was no opportunity in his own country — the prophet in his own land kind of thing — most of the Americans went abroad to sing.  George London is another example.

BD:    Sure, another fine Canadian singer.

RR:    He was born in Canada and came to New York at a very early age, and then went to Los Angeles.  These are singers who then emerged and went to Europe to sing after the war.  I’ll tell you a nice, a little anecdote that would please you; my husband reminded me of it the other day.  From 1953 to 1960 in Bayreuth was the big time of the American singer.  Astrid Varnay was American — Hungarian mother, but half American
— and George London and Steber and myself and Jerome Hines...  [See my Interview with Jerome Hines.]  You can go on and on; there was a very big American presence, especially people going in to sing Wagner.  In ‘53 I made my debut as Sieglinde, and then it was still a very mixed bag of Europeans and Americans, even though in that very season it was George London’s first Amfortas, Steber’s first Elsa and my first Sieglinde.  But until 1960, the Americans came up very fast in the Wagnerian circles.  They had big voices.  Then in 1960 I had switched to mezzo, and was now singing Fricka.  Wieland Wagner walked into the rehearsal for his brother’s Ring, Wolfgang’s Ring.  He took a look around in the rehearsal and said, “Well, well, well.  It still looks like the war.”  I said, “And what does that mean, Herr Wieland?”  He said, “All the Gods are the Americans, and the Niebelungs are the Germans.”  [Both laugh]  Now I’ll tell you why he said that.  I was Fricka, Jerome Hines was Wotan, Thomas Stewart was Donner and Gunther, Claire Watson was Freia and Astrid Varnay was Brunhilde.  We were musing over everything that was going on, and it was very apparent, because the way we were seated in rehearsals, not that the Americans sat with the Americans — it just happened that way.  He walked in and there were the Americans on one side!  Of course, now that’s all changed.  There are a lot of singers now going over to do German auditions, but they’re not finding as many positions anymore because the German singers come up now.  We are now forty years after the war.  Those who were born then are now forty.  Those who were then ten and fifteen are now fifty and fifty-five.  So the German singer has re-found his place in his own opera house.  So the opportunities are not that great for Americans anymore.  That’s another reason, for example, that people are not getting all the experience they want.  A great many of the American singers went to Europe and then came back home and found their place.  Now they have to find their place at home.  They must find work in America.  It is not that easy to go to Europe now.

BD:    Is the regional opera in America good enough to train star singers?

resnikRR:    I don’t know what you mean by star singers.  I think regional opera has its place, and must have its place.  I remember years ago when there was no regional opera.  I preached the fact that we needed it.  As a matter of fact, it wasn’t a bad idea even though it’s not all that necessary now.  I suggested to the Rockefeller Foundation a good thirty years ago that we should have the Opera of the Southwest, the Opera of the Northwest, the Opera of the Midwest, the Opera of the Mideast and the Opera of the Southeast
leaving out the big companies of San Francisco, Chicago, New York, etcetera.  Those regional houses would embrace five or six states, border states, so that somebody who is born and raised in Utah would know that they could go eventually from an apprentice program into something else, into Seattle for example, which would be a regional house.  At that point, my idea was to make the Rockefeller Foundation put together a repertory of ten operas, paid for by themstage director, producer, leg man, lighting engineerso that every regional house had ten operas for the first ten years, with a new premiere in each region.  Everybody would share productions.  It was an idea before productions were shared.  I remember one season where everybody was laughing their heads off; there were three new productions of Trovatore going at the same time in San Francisco, Chicago and New York.  Nobody was sharing anything!  Now today of course they can’t afford not to share; expenses are so great.  In those days they were all competing with one another.  For example, the New York City Opera was playing Butterfly the same night as the Met.  Now they are really trying to avoid that.  They are working to avoid it, and that’s the way it should be.  They should be complementing each other, not competing with one another.  Now of course, everybody is using everybody else’s sets.  There is only one way to get the money out, and that’s to make it available.

BD:    We’re still talking about Italian, German and French opera.  Why no more American opera?

RR:    We have nobody to commission an American composer.  There is no interest.  The interest does not have to be only from the public.  I am sure that if you present a season and a great foundation said, “We will make available monies for ten years to have ten American works performed, with an American premiere at the Met, at San Francisco, at Houston, Chicago, Dallas, whatever or wherever,” there would be commissioned works!  Nobody is commissioning these works because there’s no money for a composer to do it.  I sang a commissioned work at the Met.  The last one I sang was in 1953.  The Warrior of Bernard Rogers was a commissioned work.  The last one that I know about was Mourning Becomes Electra by Marvin David Levy.  There aren’t any big commissioned works anymore.  Not that there aren’t composers, and not that we don’t have the wherewithal; we don’t have the support as Rolf Liebermann did in Hamburg for years.  It was his desire, whether the work failed or not, that the composer would get his hearing.  They did two new works a year into a very extensive modern repertory.  Not all of it was a success, not all of it was acceptable, but there was no question the chance was given to the composer.

BD:    But out of all of that, a few works did emerge!

RR:    No question about it.  Had they not supported a man like Benjamin Britten, we would never have heard his works either, but the English did support him, and that’s a major operatic composer of the twentieth century.

BD:    Seems like in America we only have a couple...  Menotti and Argento are about the only two that come to mind right away.  [See my Interviews with Gian Carlo Menotti.]

RR:    Yes.  It’s not purely America as an idea.  The last American works that in the repertory that are occasionally done are Susannah and Of Mice and Men.  Otherwise, one doesn’t hear too much about American works in the repertory, but there certainly could be.  For example, it’s very interesting now because we were talking about Broadway.  Not too long before Frank Loesser passed away, his great ambition was to write his first opera.  He asked if I would do it.  He wanted to write The Rose Tattoo as an opera, and he might have been able to do it because he was on the road with Most Happy Fella.

BD:    Some people have tried to push Most Happy Fella as the great American opera.

RR:    Well, it cannot surpass the quality of Porgy and Bess as a piece, although it’s a marvelous piece.  My husband and I went to hear Porgy and Bess at the Met in the un-cut version.  A lot of people were very impatient with it; they liked the tunes, but they thought the opera was too long.  I couldn’t get enough of it.  I really heard it as an opera, even with all its show tunes in it.

BD:    Is the future of American theatrical composition, then, on the Broadway stage rather than the opera house?

RR:    I think it always has been.  When you go to Europe and you watch a version of My Fair Lady in Berlin, only then do you realize what a purely American medium that is.  If you lined up an audition of eighty dancers, just dancers looking for the ensemble of a piece, any one of those eighty would make anybody who does it abroad look silly because it’s in their blood and their legs.  It is the medium of the musical theater in America.  Opera is foreign to us, still.  Musical theater is not foreign; it is American.  It’s the language of America.  There’s no question about it.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Let’s talk about some of your roles.  Which was the role that you performed the most?

RR:    Hmmm.  I don’t know.  I’m trying to think.  I’ve never sat down to do a statistic.  I think Carmen was the most debuts, if I can say that.

BD:    Is that a good debut role?

RR:    Well, it was for me.  Once I became famous as Carmen, everybody wanted it.  I debuted in London, Vienna, Berlin, Stuttgart, most of the German opera houses with Carmen, and then everything else followed.  Maybe the work that I performed the most all over the world possibly could be Elektra.

BD:    Is Klytemnestra a satisfying role to play?

resnikRR:    I would say that if I had to choose the roles in the repertory that gave me the greatest all-around satisfaction, which means interpreter, actress, vocalist, singer, Klytemnestra certainly would be at the very top.  That doesn’t push Carmen away at all; it’s two different worlds.  It cost me more of me to sing one Klytemnestra than two Carmens.

BD:    Really?  Why?

RR:    Because what’s packed into that half an hour is a depth of consciousness of yourself as an artist, as a singer.

BD:    When you were doing any role, but maybe Klytemnestra in particular, did you become that character, or are you still portraying that character?

RR:    This is such a fine line that we’re crossing now.  I never became Klytemnestra.  I think this is so much hokum-pokum, this ‘did you become the character?’  If I became the character for you and the public, that’s enough.  There’s no question that when I was up on stage, I didn’t feel like Regina Resnik; I felt like Klytemnestra.  Her words were coming out of my mouth.  So did I become?  Yes, I became, but I don’t want it to sound so extravagant!  I was acting!

BD:    So when you walk off stage, you’re back to Regina Resnik again?

RR:    I’m not going to walk into my dressing room as Klytemnestra with the ax in my hand, and see my husband walk through the door and kill him the bath tub!  [Both laugh]  Of course I left it behind!  The curtain went up and my make-up was on, and I was that person for that time.  If not, I couldn’t have put a stamp on it or conveyed anything to the public.  There is a way of doing a role and not conveying too much; you do it well.  But if you’re in it and you have given the public what that role demands of you, and “you’ve put a little stamp of your own on it,” then obviously you’ve become someone different for that time.  There’s no question about it.  I’m not Regina Resnik in Cabaret either.  I feel very much like Fraulein Schneider on stage.  There’s no question about it, but that is the actor’s role.  It’s the same as a child getting dressed the evening of Halloween in Mama’s high heels and a mask and saying, “I’m not me tonight.  I’m somebody else.”

BD:    But just as you can give too little, is there is a point where you give too much?

RR:    In what sense?

BD:    Too much of yourself, putting too much emotion into it where it destroys part of the character?

RR:    Well, that’s another subject.  Now we’re touching on something else.  You’ve asked me who am I out on stage.  Am I Klytemnestra?  No.  I’m Regina Resnik as Klytemnestra; there’s no question about that.  Klytemnestra lived in another time, and she’s not reincarnated through me.  She is interpreted through me via Hofmannsthal and Strauss, so I have a prescription to recreate an idea.  But you can give too much.  A great, great acting teacher, the only one I ever had for only two or three months of my life said, “If you cry at yourself when you’re learning Madame Butterfly, you will never convey it to the public.  The day you conquer your crying and feel it deeply is the day the public will cry.”  I’ve watched people who are on the stage go into tears in a scene, and very often I see the public not reacting because they feel it so deeply on stage that it remains on stage.  It isn’t projected.  So when you say ‘give too much of yourself’ what is it you’re giving too much of?  Your voice?  Of Regina Resnik?  Too much of Klytemnestra?  I didn’t really quite understand your last question. 

BD:    How much is too much?

RR:    We draw a fine line.  There is a limit to everything, which is a very delicate balance.  Some people give a great deal more than others, but the interpretation is different.  I learned this from Wieland Wagner very early on.  He convinced me that I was strong on stage.  I didn’t know how strong.  He told me in the fifties, “From now ‘til the end of your days on stage, the less you do, the better you will be because the power is there.”  From him I learned how to do less and less.  Probably the biggest challenge to do nothing was in Pique Dame.  The death scene of Pique Dame was as great a challenge to me as an actress, as much as Carmen or Klytemnestra or anything ever was; also the old abbess in the Dialogues of the Carmelites.  She is only in one act, but she leaves her stamp on the opera.  That under-playing in what I call heavy drama
life and death on stagebecame an obsession with me to under-play later.  I found it got stronger and stronger the less I played, but it’s only because I had confidence in myself on stage as being powerful, as transmitting.  Those people who don’t feel themselves powerful tend to overplay.

BD:    It’s an inner confidence, an inner strength?

RR:    There’s no question it has to do with inner strength.  I think it has to do another thing, with a word that we can’t define.  There is no definition for it.  I think it’s the word ‘presence,’ which sometimes is connected to a word like ‘magnetism.’

BD:    Things you feel?

RR:    No.  The presence of the person on stage, so that the audience has a magnetic feel to that person.  That person’s on stage; you don’t hardly watch other people.  It’s a pull; it’s a magnetic field that has to do with the presence of that artist on stage, not necessarily singing or acting, but a combination of both.  Even if that person’s on stage and not doing anything, you’re drawn to that person
which is an indefinable thing.  Another word can be ‘charisma.’  Charisma can be created and manufactured by a lot of PR around a person, but presence on stage is a very mysterious thing.  It is very elusive, and you either have it or you don’t.

BD:    You can’t create it?

RR:    I don’t think you can build it.  I think you could learn how to use it.  Once you have it, you learn how to use it; you can use it less or more, turn it on, turn it off.  I played with it a lot on stage.  I had a lot of fun with it.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    It seems that with a number of your characters you would come on stage for twenty or thirty minutes and make the statement, and then leave.

resnikRR:    Not too many of them, but interesting ones.  Pique Dame was one, certainly [Photo shown at left]; Klytemnestra, also the Dialogues of the Carmelites; even Prince Orlofsky.  The others, of course, were the biggies...

BD:    Speaking of Orlofsky, you were a mezzo for the latter portion of your career but you managed to escape most of the trouser roles.

RR:    You’re right.  Very few people have asked me that question.  I didn’t sing them because I didn’t think I have the physique.  I am, by nature, five-five in heels.  I can look five-ten under my clothes, but in what they call the Hosenrolle you couldn’t disguise your height.  I always found myself short the two or three inches.   I didn’t feel comfortable as Octavian, even though I learned the first act.  I took a look, and all the Marschallins were bigger than I was.  I’m not small, but I’m not tall.  I am that in-between height where I can make myself look very tall under skirts, under costumes.  I did look very tall as Klytemnestra, and I looked enormous in Pique Dame if I so chose to, which I did.  But you can’t disguise it once you’re wearing trousers.  As Orlofsky, it didn’t matter if he was smaller.

BD:    His world revolves around him.

RR:    That’s right.  Also my costume as Orlofsky was very clever.  I always used a cape that was long.  It almost touched the floor, so between the trousers and the cape, it gave the illusion of being a little bit taller and higher.  Also a higher heel that was hidden — an elevator heel for men.  But I couldn’t really disguise my height too well.  I found Cherubino didn’t suit me at all.  In any case, it wasn’t the kind of thing I was interested in.  The Composer in Ariadne was always tempting for me, and I never did it.  Octavian was out of my reach as a mezzo because, by then, I was not even in the Zwischenfach anymore; I was doing all the heavies.  Octavian was too high.  To switch from Klytemnestra and Herodias and all the low parts to Octavian was a tour de force that wasn’t worthwhile.  I just didn’t find it the correct thing to do vocally.  It was too hard on the voice.  Besides, I had eighty parts.  What more did I have to do?  [Both laugh]  How many more did I have to learn?

BD:    Besides the Composer, were there any other parts that you really would have liked to have done?

RR:    Yes, there were two parts that I would have liked to have sung.  One is a soprano part which I only heard later in my career, and that was The Makropoulos Case of Janáček; a stupendous opera!  I knew that character would have been right for me, but it was too late; I had switched to mezzo.  Then the other part which eluded me, and I really don’t know why — I think it was only a question of circumstance — was Kostelnička in Jenůfa, which is kind of made to order for me, too.  I never got to it.  I guess I was busy with other things when the opera was started.  It came up first at Covent Garden.

BD:    Interesting that they are both Janáček works.

RR:    Yes.  Isn’t it strange?  Both are very interesting pieces.

BD:    
Janáček is now just really coming into his own in opera houses around the world.

RR:    Right.

BD:    Now you bring up Orlovsky.  Is Fledermaus really a transition between opera and musical comedy?

RR:    It was the model, practically speaking, for all musical theater.  Fledermaus and Carmen were both around 1875.  Think of what was being written around that time
Fledermaus in Vienna and Offenbach on the boulevards of Paris were laying the groundwork for musical popular musical theater.

BD:    In 1876 was the first Ring in Bayreuth.

RR:    Of course, and Verdi working on Otello.  That’s another world, the revolution of the lyric world.

BD:    I wonder if there was ever another time in history when so many things were all coming together in different places.

RR:    Incredible, isn’t it?  Tchaikovsky went to hear Carmen in Vienna after it had failed in Paris, and predicted it would be the world’s most popular opera.  Then he went to that first Bayreuth Festival in 1876 for The Ring

resnikBD:    Unbelievable!  Someone should do a great doctoral dissertation on that brief period in music history.

RR:    That’s right.  Those ten years would be a very interesting documentary as a matter of fact.

BD:    I wonder if there was ever any ten-year period that had so much going on in so many different fields?

RR:    Possibly the last years of Mozart-Haydn and beginning of Beethoven, maybe, with the preponderance of works that were written for the lyric stage at the very beginning of the 1800s.  Even before that, there were Rameau, Sacchini, Lully, Martini.  At that point it was not to be believed what was being written for the theater in its style.  It was not as varied as we’re now talking a hundred or two hundred years later.  We’re talking about a style which did not deviate.  Most of them were writing the same style, but they turned out an incredible amount of work!

BD:    Why don’t we know any of these works?

RR:    They’re past our taste now, and unless you are a Baroque society, they are not revived.

BD:    Do you think they’ll ever come back, or are they dead and buried?

RR:    My husband, Arbit Blatas, is an artist
painter and sculptorand we also have a home in Venice.  [Note: It is his drawing of Resnik on the album cover shown at right.]  We were astounded to go a few years ago to an exhibition at the Fenice, which showed the models of fifty-four working theaters in the Veneto area!  This was at the time when they were performing Gabrieli, Tartini, Pergolesi and Monteverdi.  It is not to be believed what works were being performed just in northern Italy at the time of the birth of the lyric theater!

BD:    Can we draw a parallel between that amount and popularity of lyric theater with the movies of today?

RR:    How do you mean?

BD:    So many were being done and everybody was going to them in so many houses.

RR:    Perhaps.  I don’t see the corollary as clear as something else.  My dear, what kind of a corollary can we draw between the movie houses and the movies that are being produced today, and the kind of rock singing that’s done that comes up in a record and dies?

BD:    Is rock, music?

RR:    I don’t know anymore.  It’s like asking my husband is photography art?  We are now at the point of definitions that are so obtuse; I don’t know what to say anymore about it.  For me, rock is rhythm but it’s not necessarily always music.  To me it’s a beat, a rhythm that I hear which intensifies to the point that it becomes a noise to me.  I cannot tolerate the sameness of what I’m hearing.  Music to me is melody; music to me is what I learned to do and how to sing.  It was very difficult for me even to entertain the idea of doing a great deal of very, very modern music that was injurious to the voice.  I wasn’t even interested in singing it because it kept me from singing beautiful things!  Not that it necessarily would hurt me, but everything, I suppose, is relative.  After all, Schumann-Heink sang Klytemnestra on the first night and never sang it again.  She said, “We have reached the limits of vocalism.”  [Both laugh]  Then they said the same thing about Lulu and about Wozzeck, and here we are.  Now those are accepted classics, and we’ve moved into Stockhausen and Cage, which are now already in the past, and into electronic music.  [See my Interview with John Cage.]  So I don’t know where we’re headed.  The next is going to be a robot who makes all his own sounds, and we don’t need musicians anymore.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Are you pleased with the recordings that you made?

RR:    I am very pleased that my great parts are recorded.  Let’s put it that way.  Many of them are down forever.  At the beginning of my career there was no museum for singers, so I’m glad I made it into the realm of having been preserved.

BD:    Did you sing differently in the recording studio than you did in the opera house?

resnikRR:    I must say I tried not to.  When you had to repeat a lot, it became tedious and so it wasn’t that fresh anymore.  But very often, the things which are preserved on recordings are very often my first takes.  For example, the Seguidilla on the Carmen recording is the first take.  The death scene of the countess in Pique Dame with Rostropovich is the rehearsal take.  I sang it once through, and then we put it in the can twice more, but we used the first one.  The entire scene in Elektra with Nilsson was in two takes.  [See my Interview with Birgit Nilsson.]  [Photo of Nilsson and Resnik in Tristan und Isolde (which is autographed by both artists) is shown at right.]  The only thing that I did separately was the exit and the laughter and all that stuff, which was technical.  Very often, a lot of what I did was right on at the very beginning.  Of course, we were limited to space and microphones and technique.  You couldn’t move around too much, but I tried to make it as feeling as possible, and as non-technical as possible.  The end result often had nothing to do with the singer; it had a lot to do with the engineers and the mixing of sound, and all of that sort of stuff.

BD:    It was out of your hands completely?

RR:    That’s right.  The Ballo in Maschera we made for Decca, which was made in Rome, the first edition that came out was actually not a very good take.  The tapes had been switched, and they pressed the wrong tape.  [Both laugh]  The sound wasn’t very good.  Then they re-pressed it and it was better sound.  I don’t think it was one of the greatest records I ever made, but I do think the quality of the Elektra is absolute optimum, as is Pique DameCarmen was recorded in extraordinary circumstances in Geneva, between nine and midnight over a period of about three weeks.

BD:    Why?

RR:    I really couldn’t understand all those convolutions of why they chose one theater and one orchestra over another, and at what times they were recording.  I think it had to do with the availability of an orchestra and the artists.  It was a highly complicated affair.

BD:    But you’re glad it was done?

RR:    Oh, I’m very happy it’s down.  It was also done at a ripe time, and a great time vocally.  One hopes for that, that you do it when you’re at your best.  And I must say I am very happy for that, because Falstaff was done at the time of the great Falstaff performances, at my best, and so was the Carmen, so was Elektra, so was Pique Dame and Fledermaus.  Of course now there comes the big talk about the pirates.  [Both laugh]  What’s come out now with the pirates is incredible. 

BD:    We can dip back all the way to the beginning of your career and have some of those tapes also.

RR:    Oh yeah, they’re around.  I don’t know how they get them, but they’re there!  What’s emerging is not to be believed.  So people now ask me, “Do you care?”  [Wryly pauses]

BD:    [With a gentle nudge]  OK, do you care?

RR:    Well, I must tell you something very interesting.  I was one of the few artists at the beginning who sued a production company called Allegro Productions when the phony Ring came out in 1954.  When I say ‘phony,’ it was a phony.  We were in it, but it had phony names and they said it was made in Dresden.  I thought that was terrible.  When the commercial companies didn’t record a lot of the things that I would have liked to have recorded, and I suddenly find that there’s a Don Carlos on the market which was my debut in Salzburg, I don’t care!

BD:    You’re glad that it exists?

RR:    Well, I’m glad it’s there. [Laughs]  I can’t fight them, anyway.  We’d all have to get together in the most enormous kind of battle to fight the pirates!  I think there are more pirates there than anybody else!  Of course, everybody is stealing electronically these days; how can you avoid it?  I don’t know how many people are in the audience every night with their tape recorders.  I haven’t got a clue!  They say in the program, most of the time, that tape recorders and cameras not permitted.  Last night there were more pictures being taken by flash from the front than I’ve ever seen in a performance.

BD:    At least you cannot see a tape recorder, but a flash picture disturbs everyone.

RR:    It certainly did.  It was very disturbing last night.  There must have been at least fifteen or twenty that went off in the course of the evening.  We have found different situations in opera all over the world.  My husband and I did some fourteen productions as designer and director.  This is all over the world, as far flung as Sydney, Australia, to Warsaw, Poland.  We met different audiences and state-supported houses and ensembles which stayed together for years, where the state even didn’t undertake to dismiss a singer.  If he couldn’t sing anymore, he taught
which is a great thing, by the way.  We are the only profession in the big leagues that doesn’t take their great singers and put them on first base.  All the great tennis pros then became teachers and the trainers of the young.

resnikBD:    There used to be the great tradition in Europe of taking the lead singers who are beyond their prime, and putting them in small roles so you have the strength and experience there.

RR:    Correct.  If they want to do it, yes.  No question about it.  They’re still doing it.

BD:   Do you enjoy directing?

RR:    Very much.  It’s a big hassle today, however, directing and producing because it’s an enormous responsibility and the time is very crammed.  Nobody’s giving you rehearsal time now.

BD:    It must be so expensive!

RR:    I don’t know.  I can’t really reconcile whether it’s time and money, or time or money, but it’s a very crammed kind of thing to do.  Even in Hamburg in ‘71, where there was more time, where we did our Carmen which then later became the documentary on PBS.  I had two casts, one in German and one in French, and we had to do both of them in less than a month.  It was very difficult.  Where we did have a lot of time was in Poland.  Now that was an interesting experience.

BD:    There they have lots of time?

RR:    No.  It’s a very crowded repertory; a big, big repertory and a big ensemble, with not all that much orchestra time
a little more than we have but not all that much more.   It’s not because of unions or money, it’s because the schedule of making music is crowded.  They’re doing a lot of music, but there was an interesting effort made because it was a Verdi premiere.  Falstaff had never been heard in Poland, so Verdi had a premiere, which I found very amusing.  I could hardly believe it.

BD:    Did you sing also or just direct?

RR:    I sang.  I sang the first performances and then I sang the performances in the West.  I’ll tell you about that because we went out on tour with that production, and the challenge was to find the double company.  We had a big press conference and they asked me why I wasn’t doing it in Polish.  The only reply I could give them was that if you don’t understand the comedy, then I am to blame as a bad director.  But I thought it’s time that the ensemble sang Verdi in Italian.  So we went ahead, and I spent a month with the singers as coach and repetiteur, teaching them Falstaff in Italian.  That was a challenge, and it was very rewarding because we were a kind of breath of fresh air from the West.  We were the first foreign team to come in.

BD:    Would that work well with Polish super-titles?

RR:    It could, it could.

BD:    Is that the answer to opera-in-translation, the use of super-titles in the theater?

RR:    There are so many elitist snobs that don’t want that up there.  They don’t want to see that, so they’re not really interested; they don’t care about it.  It might really be the answer, but I don’t see the super-titles in the Polish opera house.  I think they’d laugh it off the place.  But they do watch foreign films with super-titles on their televisions, so who knows?  That may be the transition.  I was talking to Terry McEwen about the Siegfried that he did.  They had such an overflow with the success of Siegfried in San Francisco that they took Davies Hall next door, and on a giant screen television the opera was projected.  It is interesting.  We were in a performance where I took a look at the super-titles.  I didn’t need them, but I did look up and put myself in the shoes of somebody sitting next to me who really could follow what was going on because he enjoyed it.  It was not really disturbing; you didn’t find yourself too distracted.  I think it was in San Francisco.  I went to hear Macbeth, which I love, and I watched it via the super-titles as well.  It’s not uninteresting for the public.  It is a great idea, whoever started it.  I think it was used in Toronto first by the Canadian Opera.  [See my Interview with Lotfi Mansouri, General Director of the Canadian Opera Company, and the man who introduced the use of supertitles in the theater.]

BD:    It’s now catching on most places except the Met.  The Met is saying ‘no.’

RR:    I know.  They don’t want it.  Well, maybe they should.

BD:    We’ve had them here in Chicago and they’ve been very successful.  We had one opera a couple of years ago and a couple last year.  Next year will they will be used in every production.

RR:    In one way it’s good because it’ll avoid doing bad English translations of operas.  That’s another good point because we’ll get the American singer now to be able to sing practically everything in the original, which is wonderful.

BD:    I was told that the New York City Opera has even done super-titles of operas that are being sung in English.

RR:    That’s admitting the thing that the singers can’t be understood, isn’t it?  [Both laugh]

BD:    You’re a singer and you’re a director.  In the production, where does the ultimate responsibility fall for making the production go?

RR:    Oh, absolutely with the director.  No question about it.  As a total, as a whole, it must fall to the director.  Mind you, I did very few original productions of Carmen, strangely enough, in my life.  I was most always a guest in a Carmen.  There weren’t that many new productions of it done for me.  That is very strange, but that’s the way it was.  I didn’t need the director when I went to do a guest Carmen.  I was glad he wasn’t around, so I did what I wanted.  It didn’t depend on him whether I was a good guest or not.  But if you’re doing a new production, there is no question where the responsibility lies; it is with both the designer and the director.  They are directly responsible for both the visual and dramatic effect on stage.  If you pick up the paper now, you’re talking about Zeffirelli’s Turandot; you’re not talking about Puccini’s Turandot anymore.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    This Cabaret is your first musical comedy?

RR:    Yes.

BD:    Is it going the way you expected it, or are there a lot of surprises?

resnikRR:    It’s going better than I expected.  No, there aren’t too many surprises.  I’m having a good time doing it.  I enjoy the character.  I would not have taken this musical comedy as such if it had been Me and My Girl and Forty-second Street no matter what.  The part is excellent.  It’s a part that grows
— it has a beginning and it has an end.  She’s charming, she’s poignant, she’s cute, she’s tragic.  She has a little of everything.  It’s an interesting part.  The play has a motivation.  It is not just another play, it’s a good play with a good book.

BD:    Is that one of the problems with some of the operas
— they’re not good books?

RR:    Oh, sure.  The music has to be tremendously great to overcome a book like Trovatore, for example. 
The baby’s in the fire!

BD:    [Laughs]  Everybody picks on Trovatore, I’m afraid.

RR:    There’s enough music in Trovatore for seven operas... and one poor story.  But it works, doesn’t it?  The music is great.

BD:    During your career you sang both Leonora and Azucena?

RR:    I’ve sung both parts in ten or twelve operas.  I’ve sung Sieglinde and Fricka; Elsa and Ortrud; Alice and Quickly; Elizabeth and Eboli; Aïda and Amneris; Michaela and Carmen; Donna Anna and Donna Elvira, though those are both soprano roles; Rosalinda and Orlofsky...  There must be a few others...

BD:    Does it make you at all schizophrenic to learn that second part?

RR:    No.  [Continuing the list]  Amelia and Ulrica...

BD:    You made the switch from soprano to mezzo.  It seems that today it’s the other way around
mezzos are forcing themselves into the higher fach

RR:    When they make the switch from down to up, it’s a kind of glamorous switch to go into what they call the good money parts.  [Laughs]  When I made the switch, it was absolutely vocal.

BD:    But you never regretted it?

RR:    Never, not for a minute!  I had sung an enormous amount and an enormous number of very interesting roles as a soprano.  In fourteen years I had done the whole range from Fidelio to Tosca to Aïda.  I was already singing Carmen, by the way, as a soprano.  I had also sung the American premiere of Peter Grimes as Ellen Orford at the Met.  I had also sung the Female Chorus in Chicago in The Rape of Lucretia.  That was the first performance in America.  In Chicago, I remember very well that sitting next to Rosa Raisa at dinner was the great thrill of my stay here.  But when I switched to mezzo, the gamut of the great character parts as well as the great leading roles was so enormous there was just no question about the interest as an actress.  Then of course, there were the heavies
the big, dramatic mezzo roles are so meaty, so juicy, what can one say about them?  In Strauss alone were Herodias, Klytemnestra and Die Amme in Frau ohne Schatten, if not the Frickas and the Brangaines and the Ortruds and all of that.

BD:    Is Wagner a completely different kettle of fish?

RR:    Only because of the volume of voice you need to stretch with the orchestra.

BD:    Even at Bayreuth?

resnikRR:    Anywhere.  It makes no difference where you sing Wagner, the effort’s the same.  Let’s take the difference, for example, between Verdi and Puccini.  Verdi is more difficult on the voice in the break of the voice because Verdi wrote for the drama, what he could get out of the drama of the voice.  But Puccini stretches the voice.  You need much more stretch in the cords and in your breath to sing Puccini, especially the tenors.  The Puccini tenor is more difficult than the Verdi tenor.  There’s no question that the Rodolfo needs much more of what I call stretch stamina, than Alfredo in Traviata.  In Wagner it is not the question that you sing longer and it’s more arduous; it’s do you have the quantity of voice to come over the orchestra for that long period of time in these long phrases.  You have to sing big, long phrases against a huge orchestra.  Wagner and Strauss use a hundred and twenty-three in the pit at their maximum.  But if you have no fear that you don’t have enough sound, it is another style.  You do have to gear yourself for that much support and push.  The way they do it in Bayreuth, as you brought up the question, is that they give you some time in between.  The intermissions are an hour.  I sang Fidelio at Central City in 1949-50.  That house had six hundred and ninety-nine seats and a reduced orchestra.  I didn’t sing it any differently than I sang it at the Met; it’s still your voice and still Beethoven’s Leonora.  You can’t sing less.  You’re singing it the way it is.

BD:    So you never changed for houses or for parts or anything, you just sang the way you knew how to sing?

RR:    I sang with my voice.  My voice is big enough for Central City.  It was also big enough for the Met, but I was fortunate.  Some of the big problems that arose with European singers who came to the Met is that they were heard by the agents and the managers in European houses that seated twelve hundred.  Fifteen hundred is considered a big house over there.  Two thousand two hundred at Covent Garden is a big house.  Paris and Berlin and Covent Garden are about that size.  The Vienna State Opera is only sixteen hundred or seventeen hundred seats.  La Fenice is only twelve hundred, and those are big opera houses for Europe.  So those singers came and transported themselves to the enormous houses in the United States, and suddenly people were disappointed in the size of the voice.  But that’s what they had to give was that amount.

BD:    Is this, maybe, one of the secrets of the American singers
that they know they have these houses to sing in and that’s their goal, rather than the twelve hundred-seat house?

RR:    I’m not sure.  Big voices grow but big voices are basically born.  Big sound is born.  It’s younger at one time, then gets older, more mature, and you know how to use it more.  Technically it gets bigger because you’re growing, but I think a big voice is born.  The quantity of sound, the big resonance chamber is there in the beginning.  It has something to do with the way the genes got together.

BD:    Thank you for being born with a big sound.

RR:    Thank you.

BD:    I must let you go.  You’ve been very gracious to have me in on your day off.

RR:    [With a big smile]  When else could we have done it?

BD:    Once a conductor asked me to come backstage between acts...  I will never do that again!

RR:    [Laughs]  That’s rough on everybody. 






Regina Resnik, renowned opera singer, stage director, filmmaker and master teacher, was catapulted into operatic stardom on 24 hours’ notice in 1942, when she appeared as Lady Macbeth with the New Opera Company of New York, conducted by Fritz Busch. She repeated the same feat in her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1944, when she sang Leonora in Il Trovatore. After 13 years as a leading dramatic soprano, she began a highly esteemed second career as a mezzo-soprano in 1956, becoming the only singer in operatic history to have sung the mezzo and soprano leads in half her repertory. Her legendary musical collaborators include Bernstein, Solti, Karajan, Bruno Walter, Klemperer, Erich Kleiber, Reiner and Rostropovich. In a career spanning 60 years and more than 80 parts -- at the Met, San Francisco, Covent Garden, Vienna, Salzburg, Paris, La Scala, Berlin and Hamburg -- Ms. Resnik became synonymous with four roles. These are: Carmen, Mistress Quickly in Falstaff, Klytämnestra in Elektra, and the Countess in The Queen of Spades -- all of which she recorded and which have become the standard of comparison.

With her late husband, the artist Arbit Blatas, as scenic designer, Ms. Resnik directed in such international opera houses as San Francisco, Hamburg, Venice, Sydney, Vancouver and Lisbon from 1971 to 1983. That year she also wrote, produced and directed the prize-winning documentary The Historic Ghetto of Venice. In 1987, her musical theater début as Fraülein Schneider in Cabaret earned her a Tony Nomination, and, in 1990, her Madame Armfeldt in A Little Night Music brought her a Drama Desk Nomination. In 1992, the 50th anniversary of her operatic début was honored in New York, Vienna and Venice. In 2004, The Metropolitan Opera Guild celebrated the 60th anniversary of her Met debut at Lincoln Center, while London Records released a two-CD retrospective of her recordings, entitled Regina Resnik: Dramatic Scenes and Arias.

Ms. Resnik is also renowned as a master teacher in the world’s leading young artist programs. In New York, she just completed her eighth year as Master Teacher-in-Residence at the Mannes College at the New School of Music. The opera was Falstaff, prepared for the spring 2011 production at the Kaye Playhouse, Hunter College. In 2009, the New School honored Ms. Resnik with her fourth Honorary Doctorate.

From 1993 to 2010, she directed four different programs in Treviso, Italy. Ms. Resnik has also enjoyed prestigious affiliations with the Metropolitan Opera, the Juilliard School, the San Francisco Opera and L'Opéra de la Bastille, among many others.

Since 1997, Ms. Resnik has directed and narrated the concert series Regina Resnik Presents, co-founded and co-produced with her son, Michael Philip Davis, both on City University of New York (CUNY) TV and in concerts nationwide.

--Biography prepared for her 90th birthday, August 30, 2012 








© 1987 Bruce Duffie

This interview was recorded at her hotel in Chicago on March 16, 1987.  Portions (along with recordings) were used on WNIB two weeks later and again later that year, as well as in 1990 and 1992.  This transcription was made and posted on this website in 2012.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here

Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.