Soprano / Director Graziella Sciutti
A Conversation with Bruce Duffie
In the fall of 1982, soprano Graziella Sciutti came to
Lyric Opera of Chicago to direct — yes, direct! —
a production of Così
fan tutte by Mozart. During the run, I had the opportunity
to speak with her, and that conversation is below. The cast list
is in the box at right, and one interesting item to note is the single
performance by Gualtiero Negrini. This was one of those
sought-after make-or-break opportunities for an apprentice artist, and
he certainly made the most of it. Though not directly, it did
help lead to a strong and successful career, and he speaks of this in
my Interview with
Negrini which was done at the time. [Also see my Interviews
Rudel, and Duane
Schuler who were involved in this production.]
This webpage, however, is devoted to my interview with Sciutti.
Long a favorite in many roles, she was moving into the realm of
directing and teaching. More details of her distinguished career
can be found in the obituary at the bottom of this page.
Petite in stature and disarmingly coquettish in nature, our
conversation was spiced with much laughter thoughout. Sciutti
always displayed a wide-eyed enthusiasm when speaking about the topics,
and gave thoughtful answers to each question posed.
We met at her hotel, and utilized a table downstairs in the unoccupied
bar-area near a circular staircase. As we settled into the
nearly-deserted restaurant, we noted the pleasant surroundings and then
got down to business . . . . .
Graziella Sciutti: Now what do you want to
[With great eagerness] Oh first, tell me the secret of singing
[Laughs] There is no secret!
BD: You are a
well, that’s what they say... The critics, the public, the
theater directors and the conductors have been so kind to give me the
title. I confess that when I started singing I didn’t think to
become what one would say a Mozart singer in particular. I was
singing, of course, quite a few things of Mozart, but I must say that
the beginning of my career was not dedicated to opera. I studied
in a conservatory and got my music degree with, of course, all the
operatic repertoire, but my wish was to be a concert singer. This
was probably influenced by my family background. My father was a
musician — an organist and a pianist
— and the music that I heard at home and what I was taken
to was more the concert than the operatic repertoire.
BD: This was
I was born in Turin but I was brought up in Rome. Actually, my
early childhood was in Geneva, and then for school we lived in Rome,
where I did all my studies [at the
St. Cecilia Academy]. Of course there is quite a choice
there of performances, especially concerts. So my real wish when
the music appeared to me was to make that my profession. I was
dedicated to that. It was after only one year that I had an
immediate success on the concert stage. I made my début in
the St. Matthew Passion of
Bach conducted by von Karajan, which was an occasion! I had to
substitute for a singer who was taken ill at the last moment, and in
Rome there was absolutely nobody who could sing Bach but a very young
student of the conservatory! [Both laugh] Then immediately
I had all these other oratorios with Hermann Scherchen and Victorio
Gui, all very high standard concerts. After one year of all that,
I was invited by the director of the festival at Aix-en-Provence, in
the South of France, which had just started a few years previous, to
perform in opera, which surprised me very much. I was uncertain
of the result of such an enterprise.
of the dramatics?
BD: Were you
unsure of your voice?
GS: No, I was
not unsure of the voice because when I took my degree at the
conservatorium, I had to sing opera too. It’s just that I was not
tempted by the theatrical. I must say at that time I was a bit
put off by the fact that the few operas I had seen really didn’t appeal
to me. Singers didn’t used to play on stage; they just
threw sounds around, and that was not enough for me. I felt that
there was then something more to it. When I made my début
then I accepted it because the gentleman insisted. I was
extremely young and probably he was attracted by a funny, petite young
singer that could perform. The first role I performed on the
stage was Lucy in The Telephone
of Menotti. [See my Interviews with Gian
Carlo Menotti.] It was in French, and then the same evening Matrimonio Segreto of
Cimorosa. That started, somehow, this bug of opera! Then I
was lucky enough then to meet a great theatrical man in Paris, Sacha
Guitry, who offered me a role in one of his plays in Paris, with some
music of Reynaldo Hahn. Here started probably everything because
I was to perform Mozart himself as a young man of eighteen during his
second journey to Paris. It was a little story of around this
occasion. I was invited to do that in Paris in French because I
speak French. My mother was French, and I was brought up
bilingual in French and Italian. So it was not a difficulty for
me, although it was a difficulty to perform it on the stage. It’s
quite different to speak at home than when you go onstage in the
theater! So with that came very much the interest to join theater
and music, and I understood that one could do something more in the
opera than just stand there and sing. But then there were years
were opera took on sort of a new face. That was not the only
time; all the generations have liked more these types of
innovations. All this gave me a background to understand
more certain types of opera, some more than another, and for my vocal
attitude which is also for interpretation. Of course all my work
was in the Mozart repertoire, which was more apt to what I wanted to
give to the theatrical music. My background of singing Handel,
Haydn, Bach made my encounter with Mozart very easy.
BD: Were you
pleased with these characters then? Your voice forced you into
Yes. Of course, when I started my career I did also other
repertoire. I didn’t only sing Mozart. I’ve done a
lot of Rossini and Donizetti.
BD: But you
had no latent desires to sing Norma or Brünnhilde?
[Laughs] That wouldn’t have been for my timbre of voice.
The choice you have goes to a certain type of sound and voice, and that
was very clear. My voice and my personality, luckily enough, have
what we in French say, Le physique
du role! My body was right for these roles!
Sure! You look very, very slim and very petite.
GS: I am
petite, and so I managed very well in this. Altogether this is a
blessing, because I have seen and I had some colleagues with also such
light voices, very brilliant but huge ladies. So what can you do?
to suggest something positive for them] They could sing on the
radio where you don’t see singers!
GS: Ah, yes,
but today you don’t make a career on the radio. Some of them have
to force their voice into another repertoire which has then enabled
them to sing a shorter career than what they could have done if they
could have managed the right repertoire with their true voices.
The voice is what it is, and if you use it badly, it just goes away.
voices better today than they were thirty years ago?
I wouldn’t say so. Every time has its bunch of people with
good voices. Today, I would say there is more possibility of
training, and more schools than probably there would have been
before. There is also the mass media. You can hear much
more on radio, television and records and cassettes, everything.
This was true even in my time because it’s not so long ago [laughs],
but it is expanding. We didn’t have all that before. We
couldn’t record a rehearsal ourselves, or make a cassette and then hear
it like I do now. In the last ten years of my performances I
worked with that. I record the performances and could listen to
them and work on it. I record now my recitals, and it’s very
interesting to have that. But there is one snag today because
there are fewer rehearsals in the theater. We worked much, much
harder to prepare an opera. I’ve lived with one very exceptional
production, and that was the Così
fan Tutte at La Piccola Scala. This was the only opera
conducted by Guido Cantelli, who unfortunately died a few months
later. For that occasion we had thirty orchestra rehearsals.
genuine amazement] Thirty orchestra rehearsals???
Yes. That was quite exceptional even for that time. It was
for January 1956, because it was the 200 year anniversary of Mozart’s
birth, so it’s a very easy date to remember. There is even a
recording of it now. It has come out of that broadcast, with all
the defects that such a recording can have. It was a live
performance so there is all the movement, etc. But still, it’s a
historical recording, and you feel the unity of music and theater, the
musical expression even without seeing the people.
BD: So you
are pleased that the recording was made and is now available?
GS: Very much
so, though we are sometimes a bit mad at such things because not all of
them are of this standard. We don’t like that less-good
performances are on record, and there are some people that do take
advantage of us because we don’t get anything out of it.
GS: It’s not
as if one has to be mercenary, but as long as some other people do make
money out of us, it wouldn’t be bad that a little percentage would come
also to us. We are really the ones who are on the record!
[Both laugh] But it is very pleasant, nevertheless, to have a
testimony of some important evening still there.
BD: Now also
made some studio recordings of course?
BD: Are those
better than the live recordings?
Technically most definitely. There are some of them that are
really artistically wonderful. There is a Don Giovanni, for example, on EMI
conducted by Giulini, with Sutherland as Donna Anna, Schwarzkopf as
Elvira, Eberhart Wächter as Don Giovanni, Taddei as Leporello and
Alva as Ottavio. [See my Interview
with Joan Sutherland.] This is a very outstanding ensemble,
and the recording itself technically is superb. Although it is at
least twenty years ago, it’s still sells and it’s been reprinted.
It is really something quite outstanding.
BD: It is a
GS: It is,
although I love enormously one that has come out of a live performance
of Salzburg Festival from about that same time conducted by von
Karajan. Donna Anna is Leontyne Price, Schwarzkopf again is
Elvira and Wächter is Don Giovanni. It is a completely
different interpretation from Giulini, and of course the defects of a
live performance are there. You hear the footsteps, and voices
suddenly appear from another side. It’s not always so pleasant,
but there is such a vitality in the performance.
BD: Some live
performances that we’ve heard seem to a better vitality than something
that is cut and pasted in the studio.
because of one fact. Some years ago recordings were made
and cut to pieces to get the best out of an aria or an ensemble, but
not so much today. There was always a big piece that was repeated
two or three times, but the piece was then finished, even with probably
a slight defect here or there. I have heard some which are really
a disaster because it is so cold, and you feel that really one had to
split one note in the middle to get it, and that is a shame. That
makes really the recording technically perfect but... [pauses]
BD: Is that a
GS: It can be
a fraud because you know very well that the artists and that orchestra
or that conductor will never get a complete live performance the way he
gets it on that recording.
performers today in competition with these recordings that are out in
Recording is never a competition with a live performance.
public doesn’t expect this kind of perfection in the theater?
GS: No, I
don’t think so. Yes, there are certainly some people who do
expect that, and they go home disappointed. It’s too bad for
them! But there is a majority who come to the theater to
live an experience that is never to be repeated. It is quite
different, and that is why what you feel in the live recording is that
the artist himself knows that there’s no going back. The
perfection has to come at the first go, and the attention and the
tension that he puts in that performance is different than the
attention that he puts in a recording.
BD: I would
think that the concentration is very different because you are doing
just a section in the studio, but the performance has the sweep of the
whole opera as conceived by the composer and librettist.
absolutely! It happens now even something that I find absolutely
abominable. There’s some artists who are not able to be there for
that recording, and so everything else is recorded and they come in two
or three weeks after and put their voice into the recording. This
is absolutely absurd! I find it non-artistic. After all, a
recording should keep some art in it and not be like canned
food! [Both laugh]
BD: You have
sung Mozart and Bellini and Donizetti. Have you also done older
GS: Yes, some
Monteverdi. I started with very old Italian music.
BD: Do the
works of Monteverdi and Cavalli speak to us today in 1982?
Yes! Very much so. As a matter of fact, it was part of my
conversion in studying music and singing. After doing some
vocalizing, I must confess I was not one of those who wanted to be an
opera singer, or a singer at all. I was very interested in music
because of my family. I played the piano because of my
father. He got me to study piano, but at the same time I did some
painting and some dancing. Music was not the passion, let’s
say. It came soon enough, but only with working on the music I
found my way of expressing myself. One of the things that really
made me understand that was when I took some classes for interpretation
of Monteverdi opera and Monteverdi in general, and what is called the Camerata Fiorentina which included
Caccini, Jacopo Peri, Strozzi and others. Then I realized that
all the world started to come alive for me. I’ve done also some
contemporary music including Stravinsky, as a matter of fact.
I’ve done his Rake’s Progress
and Les Noces, which was
conducted by him.
BD: How is he
as a conductor?
he was alright! The concert was prepared by his assistant, but it
was an extraordinary personality of course that he came.
BD: I just
wonder if the composer is too close to his own work, and that it should
be conducted by someone else?
GS: I don’t
know. I was very excited to be able to sing with him, so
everything was a bit of dream! I’ve seen better conductors,
though. [Both laugh] I’m glad that it was Leinsdorf that
conducted my Rake’s Progress
where I sang my Anne Truelove. [See my Interviews with Erich
Leinsdorf.] I’ve also done more modern Italians like Goffredo
Petrassi and Dallapiccola and a lot of Pizzetti.
BD: He seems
to be more of a melodist.
Yes. Pizzetti came very much back to inspiration from the
Gregorian chant. It was what really recitar cantando. The world
had great importance for him and to the music. He was a little
bit, I would say, our Italian Debussy! There is a differentiation
of the mode, but Schoenberg’s sprechgesang
is the expression of our twentieth century, but is much nearer to a
Monteverdi recitar cantando
than any other nineteenth or eighteenth century music, which is ever
adopting a different way.
almost as if we’re coming full-circle!
coming back to the origin with another type of expression, because the
twentieth century expresses itself differently than the sixteenth or
BD: Do you
enjoy contemporary music?
GS: I do to
an extent. Some of it... I have difficulties sometimes to
understand things on first hearing, but I do appreciate it, yes.
Where is opera is going today?
[Laughs] I wish I knew!
* * *
talk about young singers. You’re working with some of them, so
are they better prepared than they were thirty years ago?
GS: Yes, most
definitely. They start with more vocal techniques and they are
musically better prepared. I must say that in the United States,
they tend to be better musically and prepared than in Europe
today. Especially in the Italian schools and conservatory, they
seem to be stuck with just beautiful voices. Of course,
there are plenty of beautiful voices but they don’t go far enough.
BD: Are there too
many beautiful voices?
GS: There are
never too many, because really we lose them half-way for lack of
preparation. A misguided, beautiful voice is a lost voice,
and that is what very often happens today in our society.
BD: How can
we avoid that?
GS: It’s a
bit of long story because the young singer that starts working his
voice must have a voice. It is not like the seven year or eight
or ten year old that puts his hands on a violin or piano or
trumpet. He doesn’t immediately make the beauty of the
sound. You feel that he has a certain amount of presence, but he
has to work his technique to possess the instrument. The singer
has to go backwards with the instrument to make it ready because if you
don’t have a beautiful voice, you don’t start taking singing
lessons. You have to start, and for many people it can get
boring. People at sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, maybe they don’t
know anything about music. They have to start from this
solfège in order learn to read music from the alphabet.
They have these beautiful instruments and they can already produce
something, so they are tempted — or some
teachers are tempted to push them too soon, too far because the
instrument is beautiful and there’s nothing to do. You come to a
point after three, four, five years of technique to know how to use the
voice that you already have, but you need to learn to know why you
already have it and what to do with it and not just let it go. It
is a beautiful and wild horse, but it can gallop through the wilderness
and stay in the wilderness if somebody doesn’t come. Sometimes it
can even hurt. I know, because after three years I was studying,
and at a certain moment I didn’t know anymore how to put this
voice. There comes a point of crisis because the voice is just
there, and then you have to overcome that. If you have studied
well, then suddenly you get again the voice that you had when you
started. But then you know what you do, and with years of
experience you develop better, and it comes even better and
better. But then it comes worse and worse and then you lose
it. It takes intelligence from the teacher, intelligence from the
pupil, meeting the right person that with abstractions and things can
lead this voice. You cannot just say, “Lift
your finger that way and then this sound comes out!”
[Both laugh] No, it’s all imagination. It is all a design
that comes from you.
BD: It sounds
like it takes a lot of patience!
and work, and it’s a question of feelings. The vocal technique
can be explained in half an hour — breathing,
your resonance cavities and all that. It’s said very fast what
you should to do, but then to do it, to be conscious of what you’re
doing takes time.
BD: Time to
understand, and to learn that if you do this movement, if you breathe
in that way, if you sustain, something like this or like that comes
BD: Are there
some singers who really should have the big career but for some reason
GS: There is an
amount of good fortune, chance, or whatever it is that comes into it,
but you must be all ready — not only technically
and musically, but ready to risk. Then, if you have the quality
you must go somewhere. If somebody with a beautiful voice and a
certain amount of technique doesn’t get there, there must be something
in himself that’s not ready. You have to expose yourself to the
risk and sometimes it is not always a success. It is a risk to go
away from your family, to be alone a lot, to sacrifice something of
your private life. There are many things that have to come, and
you have to decide on that. It’s not only the glamor.
BD: Do you
enjoy all the travel?
GS: I do!
BD: You seem
to be a wondering minstrel!
GS: I do,
yes. [Laughs] We all do that. Of course we are
fatigued by it, especially when you start packing and unpacking, and
coming to all the different places. When I read some of the
novels, I have to laugh enormously when it comes to the character of an
opera singer that arrives with an army of servants that do everything
for her. I was lucky enough to sometimes have a body to help
me. But believe me there’s been more of the time when I had to
pack, unpack, come tired from a rehearsal and then grab the next train
or plane, or drive at night to get from one place to the other all by
myself. There was no other chance, or you get to the station and
there is no porter. Now we have suitcases with wheels because
even if you have all the money in the world, if there’s not a porter
there, we used to come crying on your suitcase, and that’s it.
BD: Is there
too much reliance on the jet plane?
there is. There is a certain amount of that. That is also,
again, something that you have to do intelligently enough so as not to
accept too much.
difficult is it to say no?
GS: It is
difficult. It is difficult to say no to that because if I get
there and I’m half dead, maybe I will not produce a hundred per cent of
what I could be producing.
there’s a performance of Così
tonight (Saturday), and there’s another one Monday. Is that too
close together for the singers?
no. That is alright, just one day between. It couldn’t be
every second day for ten days or something like that. But I’ve
been for ten years in the Staatsoper in Vienna, and there were weeks
where we had three or four performances in one week. Then the next week
we had two, then a week with just one.
BD: So it
balances, doing them in the month sometime. Besides, the singers
are here. Tonight they sing, tomorrow they go back to the hotel
and they lie down and rest. They shouldn’t talk too much or go
out. That is up to them, but the difficulties would appear if the
Così would be here in
Chicago tonight and Monday in Buenos Aires. Then it’s a different
question. Then you have the travel and the climate and the food
BD: In Buenos
Aires there would be no big time change, but from here to Vienna there
would be the tremendous time change.
GS: From here
to Vienna there’s a tremendous change, but it is something one has to
deal with. Nobody is really forcing you to do it. You’re
always master of yourself, and if you accept to do it, you must do it.
BD: How much
influence is the agent in those decisions?
depends on the contract you have with your agent. If you accept
to sell yourself to the agent and the agent can throw you around,
that’s one thing. But nobody can come to you and say you must go
there! No. The agent will come to you and say that they
have asked you to go there, and it is up to you to say if you are going
or not. Even if the agent or conductor pleads with you to
go, you are still free to say no.
BD: So the
singer must be strong.
yes. It’s difficult to not go there because it’s probably a lot
of money, and sometimes there is a new theater that you’ve never sung
there before. Perhaps it is an opening of another work that can
come back for next year, so sometimes that you have to accept for that
reason. I have done it very seldom, as little as possible, but it
has happened to me that there was a very tight schedule, but it was
interesting. It was important to go there, so you do. But
when that happens, you must get there, not to get too tired, and then
BD: Give it a
little extra energy to keep you up?
GS: Yes, and
then immediately after that you must have your rest. That depends
on how old you are and what your energies are. You must calculate
what you can give. Everybody has a different demand of energy to
BD: We seem
to be in the age of stage director and the stage designer, where
they’re taking over things. Is it sometimes too much?
GS: Yes it is
too much when the stage director or the stage designer does his job for
his own merit, for himself. He wants to become very important,
and he’s not so true to the work. It is easier to make a scandal
where everybody says how awful, how terrible! But it’s terrible
to put these persons on a level where everybody’s talking about
them. They get on the front page if it’s not a success, but I
must say very few they come with this in mind.
BD: They have tried
wild ideas all over the world...
GS: Yes, yes,
but it is subsiding a little bit. After all, the theater
directors and all the musicians have something to say. There are
some artists who say that if that director is going to do the
production, they are not going to sing there.
BD: Would you
ever accept a contract to direct Così
in modern dress, or even set in today, 1980?
GS: I don’t
know if I would accept that. It’s not so much the 1980 dresses that
would upset me or make me shiver. It is the music that goes with
the words that doesn’t suit the emotions of today.
remember reading about a Così
performance a few years ago at one of the schools in the East, and
instead of being Albanians, Ferrando and Guglielmo came back a hippies!
GS: I don’t
say somebody can’t do it. I just feel those are characters that
belong probably to old times. Something which has really happened
could probably happen today. Who knows? I don’t feel like I
would do it. I’m not criticizing if somebody would like to do it
like that. That’s his choice.
BD: Do you
approve of opera in translation?
no, because I believe so much in the phrasing, especially in the
Italian operas of Mozart. The marriage of Da Ponte and Mozart is
so absolute, with the timing of the recitativo,
the musical accentuation of the words, of the phrasing, which is very
difficult to do in other languages.
BD: You don’t
feel, though, that if it’s in the language of the audience it gains so
much more closeness?
GS: This is
why I said ‘basically’ no. I don’t approve, but I have been
singing in translation myself. There are occasions when it comes
to this as a first choice. For a certain public which is not so
well prepared for a certain type of opera, it is better that they can
follow the text in a better way than in a foreign language where they
would be a little lost. I even lived a very special experience in
Vienna. After some years of very successful Così fan Tutte in Italian in
Vienna and especially a production in Salzburg conducted by Böhm
with stage director Günther Rennert, those two people were so
certain that if this opera had been done in German the public would
have been more amused. They wanted not to do this in Salzburg,
but to bring this production to Vienna in German. The only
Italian singer of the production was me because there was Schwarzkopf,
Christa Ludwig, Hermann Prey, and Karl Dönch. [See my Interview with Hermann Prey.
She does not mention the tenor, but I
assume it was Waldemar Kmentt.] So the problem was
mine. But I speak German and so Böhm asked me if I wouldn’t
mind to learn Despina in German, and I said I would if they gave me
enough time. It was a bit of a problem to change after having
done it so many years in Italian, but I worked at it and it was
announced for the next season at the Vienna Staatsoper. Everyone
was very much expecting this production, and we arrived and we did
it. Strangely enough, my German colleagues were not so clear in
their German enunciation as I was, which probably was because I had to
study it very, very thoroughly. Critics started to say the only
person they could understand was the German of Miss Sciutti! But
apart from that, the public started to send letters asking why in
German it loses so much of its charm? There were also complaints,
asking if they thought the Viennese public is so ignorant, having had Così fan Tutte for so many
years in Italian they could not follow perfectly well all the comic
things of the Italian language, because Così fan Tutte is full of
double-meanings! So after one year of this German production, we
went back to the Italian! [Both laugh] Poor Böhm and
Rennert were destroyed by the experiment that didn’t work! It
caused a revolution in the public! Then of course I’ve done some
operettas, like Fledermaus.
In Vienna it was in German, then in Italy I’ve sung it in Italian, in
Geneva I sang it in French, and in London I’ve been singing it in
English. There is a lot of spoken dialogue, which would be absurd
otherwise. I’ve also done some years ago a wonderful production
of Orpheus in the Underworld
in English for the Dallas Civic Opera. I’ve also done another one
in Italian in Italy, so those are special things. Once I did the Barber of Seville in Paris in
French, and it was quite funny because in Paris it was not the Rossini
recitative, it was the spoken recitative of Beaumarchais! So I
have done some of these things, but I prefer the original. That
is something really quite, quite special. It is a perfection of
the unity of the word and the music... of course, most of the time the
music has been inspired by the phrase. Sometimes the composer has
asked for certain changes in the words, and it’s very interesting to
read the correspondence.
BD: And, of
course, some translations seem to work better than others.
yes! As a director I’ve produced The Marriage of Figaro in Toronto
in English. That was interesting, and I made some changes in the
translation. Now that I do a lot of recitals, I sing everything
in the original language. If I do Schumann, it’s in German; if I
do Debussy it is in French, etc.
you’re singing your recital, do you expect that the public will have
the text in front of them?
I don’t like them to look at the paper. I like them to look at
me. I translate it before I sing it.
BD: Oh, you
speak the translation?
GS: I speak
the translation. Not a wordy translation word for word, but the
meaning and certain words that are particularly characteristic of the
piece. I find that is a great success. I’ve done that in
London, in Paris, and in Italy. Of course in Paris I don’t
translate Ravel or Debussy, I translate the Schumann and the Italian or
whatever it is. In Italy it is the same thing, and I’ve really
had great appreciation from the public and from the critics. I
prefer to do it in that way, more than have them read and be distracted
by reading. To follow the context immediately after the
explanation of the mood of the piece that is coming works!
BD: So you are
continuing to sing as well as direct?
BD: How do
you balance the singing and the directing?
GS: Let’s say
my months are like containers. In a container I have two or three
months of directing, and in another container I have two months of
singing. I don’t mix it because directing is very, very tiring.
BD: Would you
ever direct a Così
where you would sing Despina?
GS: No, I
would never do that because it would take away something from one or
the other, for the performer or from the director. I wouldn’t do
once in a while you get someone who can do that, like Gobbi. [See
my Interview with Tito
choose to do that. That’s their choice. I wouldn’t feel
like doing it.
BD: Are you
getting more and more into the directing now?
Yes. Somehow the work is coming to me very much, and I enjoy
it. But of course I also foresee one day that I will stop singing
completely, and it’s wonderful to have already a very well advanced
career as a director.
BD: Is it
surprising to you that opera houses come to you and say they’d like you
to direct this or that?
still surprises me, yes. I was surprised when I was asked the
first time because I really didn’t have any idea to go into
directing. When I was singing in opera, I always liked to have
something to say, although I didn’t impose myself to directors.
But I was creating ideas in my head already. Some of those
directors said that one day I was going to direct because I see the
opera from a director point of view, not from a singer point of
view. I always laughed at that thought! Then a director,
John Copley, asked
me to go and help out in L’Elisir
d’amore at Covent
Garden. He told me it would be a co-production, and he would do
all the technical things. He wanted me to talk with the artists
about the parts of the roles, and guide the chorus. I found
myself very at ease. Then came the occasion where Glyndebourne
asked me to sing La voix humaine,
which was very difficult as it’s a one-woman show. So when they
asked me who I wanted to direct it, I thought why can’t I direct
myself? They were enthusiastic about that wonderful idea, and I
liked it very much.
triumphantly] So you have
directed a production you have been singing in!
GS: Yes, but
I was the only one to sing! [Both laugh] I didn’t have to
direct others, you see, although I had to do all the other things,
too. My relationship with the designer was very close because I
wanted a certain amount of things on stage. I decided what the
lights would do, and all that I did myself.
BD: At least
they knew you wouldn’t walk out on the director!
[Both laugh heartilly]
BD: Have you
directed operas in which you had not sung the parts earlier in your
now, no. Well, I directed some baroque works in Italy during a
festival of recitar cantando.
It was in a beautiful villa outside Bologna where I had done some
operas of Mazzocchi and Monteverdi and Caccini, but I didn’t sing
BD: When you
direct an opera in which you have sung, do you bring ideas that were
given to you by other directors?
course, I’m very much influenced. There is an amount of things I
remember, but I also have new ideas. Sometimes I was not very
satisfied with what the director was asking us to do, which I felt it
was not extremely right. Now I do the things that they didn’t do!
But I was very fortunate to have extraordinary directors in my
career. I was with Visconti, Strehler, Rennert, Oscar Fritz
Schuh, Carl Ebert, Herbert Graf, Ponnelle, then also some of the
younger generation like Copley or Mansouri. [See my Interview with Lotfi
Mansouri.] All these particular encounters do mean a lot.
BD: Do you
find it is extra work directing operas you haven’t sung because you
have to learn a whole new score and libretto?
GS: Yes, the
work is in learning the score, but it is not a difficulty. As a
matter of fact, I almost would enjoy more the challenge of directing an
opera where I’ve nothing to do before. I would feel somehow less
BD: Do you
set any pre-conditions when you come into directing — you
must have this or you must have that?
GS: Yes, but
I wouldn’t put it as really dictatorial things. There’s always a
certain understanding — I would like these and I
would prefer that, and so on. You have certain wishes that you
put on the table, and some are met. Some I understand if they
can’t be met.
BD: Do you
request a certain number of rehearsals?
number of rehearsals is important, of course. They say we could
have this amount of time — two or three
weeks. I wouldn’t accept if the time would be too short.
That is not possible because then I wouldn’t be able to do the work the
way I want.
BD: [With a
gentle nudge] You don’t want to stage Falstaff in two days?
[Both laugh] I know that it happened, but that I certainly
wouldn’t accept. But we come to the amount of time that is
agreeable with me. Until now I never had a difficulty about that.
BD: Can a
production get over-rehearsed?
mock horror] Never??? [She laughs] What if you get
six months to work on a single production?
GS: There can
be a time where you feel that it is too much, but then if you let it
rest one or two days, when you go back to it then you feel stronger,
and you can continue to build up from that. Let me tell you a
related story. For many years my favorite role was Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro, and I was
lucky enough to have a great success from the beginning. I sang
it in Aix-en-Provence, and there was a terrible critic for Le Figaro. It was signed as ‘Clarendon’,
and everyone trembled about him. [Bernard Gavoty (1908-1981),
organist, musicologist and music critic for Le Figaro; signed his articles
under the pseudonym ‘Clarendon’.]
Anyway, he alters the title so it was not The Marriage of Figaro but it was The Marriage of Susanna!
[Both laugh] So I started really on the right
foot. But although I knew that it was a good performance, every
time I rehearsed it I found my role developing and getting even further
and further. I’ve now stopped to sing that role, but if I would
have the chance to sing it again, I am sure in the next performance I
would still have something more to say.
BD: There is
always something more to learn!
GS: More to
learn. There’s no ending. That’s the beauty of our profession
that you never get to the top! When you get to the top, you’re
finished! [Both laugh]
mentioned this critic that everyone was terrified of, so what’s the
role of the critic?
GS: A critic
is somebody that has a certain amount of importance. It depends
also who the critic is. He’s in a position in the musical
world who is not just a person that arrives in the paper. Anybody
can write anything in the paper, so there are people who come to be
critics in the paper who know very little. Of course you realize
this from the type of criticism that they give you. Even when
it’s a good one, my God, he didn’t get the message! [Both
laugh] It’s disturbing when it’s not a good critic, not so much
because you have not been recognized for what you have been doing, but
because a lot of people that are reading it haven’t seen the show, and
they might be influenced by a bad critic, which probably was not right
to be bad. A good critic, of course, gives me a lot of
pleasure! As long as it has not been a continuous repetition of
bad performances, one bad review never really destroyed a good career
and a good artist. Any artist can have a moment of bad voice, or,
as a director, a moment of bad ideas. It is like in any
sport. In the whole of his matches you can judge him, but not on
one evening, or one goal.
BD: Is being
a singer like being an athlete?
yes. We have to do with our muscles and our body.
BD: Do you
feel you’re in training all the time?
yes. It’s muscular training. Remember, the vocal cords are
two muscles! But that is not the most important thing. It
is with the breathing support which is important. Also, it is
your good health. It is a discipline in your way of life, like
any good sportsman.
BD: Have you
ever had any really weird things happen while you were on stage?
there are a lot of things that are happening. They are, and when
one sees them after, one can laugh. They are terrible when they
happen... like losing shoes on stage or being dressed in the wrong
costume too soon or having to sing something as a dialogue with
somebody that’s never appeared yet on stage because he’s forgotten to
come on stage! Then you find yourself all alone and you have to
do both parts.
BD: Has that
happened to you?
happened to me, yes! You do a lot with a big long
recitativo, and thank God you know the part of the other person!
The conductor is looking in desperation, and back-stage everybody
looking for this artist. In my case, my colleague was in the
toilet! [Much laughter] A difficult place to find him!
BD: So did
you ask and answer your own questions?
GS: Yes, I
had to answer my questions until he realized that he had to be on
stage, and he dashed there!
BD: Was this
in a place the audience understood the language?
GS: No, but
of course some people knew the opera. It was not so much a
question of understanding. They thought maybe it was a new
interpretation of the director, you see. [More gales of
laughter] There’s always a scapegoat, the actor in that case!
BD: Did you
ever get blamed for things that were the director’s fault?
GS: Yes, yes,
yes, but it more often happened to the contrary, that we have done
something that the director didn’t want, and it was blamed on the
BD: I wonder
if you’ll get any of that back, now that you’re directing?
afraid I do, yes. [Both laugh]
BD: Thank you
so very, very much for being a singer, and thank you for now bringing
all that experience to directing.
thank you. I hope that I can do that. I finished the master
classes, and that’s what I told my pupil in sort of in a farewell
speech, that it is something. I had just received yesterday a
letter from my teacher. She is a very old lady who lives near
Rome, and we still write. She’s still very much alert with her
mind, and I still get a lot of good advice from her. She’s so
happy to see that her favorite pupil has done so much in the
career. Now I give it further to others, and that’s what I’m
trying to tell these young people as they start. I tell them not
to forget it, that it will happen in twenty or thirty years. It
is a long time. Don’t let this flame be extinguished.
BD: Does it
make you feel good to know that you’re passing this along?
GS: Yes, very
much, yes. You have to spread it around very much because there
are few that then get the message. It’s not to everybody that one
can say this.
BD: Thank you
for coming to Chicago. I hope that we see you again!
there are rumors that I’m coming back! We are working on my
return to Chicago!
BD: To direct
or to sing, or do both?
GS: No, to
direct. I’m not going to sing in opera anymore.
BD: But you
will keep up the recitals?
BD: We look
forward to you coming back and directing whatever you like in the next
few years in Chicago.
GS: Thank you.
Graziella Sciutti, 73, Soprano and Director
By ALLAN KOZINN
Published in The New York Times,
April 14, 2001
Graziella Sciutti, an Italian soprano and opera director whose purity
of sound and deft characterizations won her admiration in Mozart,
Puccini and Verdi roles, died on Monday in Geneva. She was 73 and lived
in Geneva and London.
The cause of death was cancer, according to The Associated Press.
Ms. Sciutti was born in Turin on April 17, 1927, and studied at the
Santa Cecilia Conservatory in Rome. During her student years she was a
soloist in a performance of Bach's ''St. Matthew Passion,'' conducted
by Herbert von Karajan. She made her formal debut as Lucy in Gian-Carlo
Menotti's ''Telephone'' at Aix-en-Provence in 1951, and she remained an
important presence at the festival for many years. Among the roles she
sang there were three of the Mozart roles that quickly became signature
pieces for her, Susanna in ''Nozze di Figaro,'' Despina in
''Così Fan Tutte'' and Zerlina in ''Don Giovanni.''
She also created the title role of Henri Sauguet's ''Caprices de
Marianne'' at Aix-en-Provence in 1954, the same year she made her
Glyndebourne debut as Rosina in Rossini's ''Barbiere di Siviglia.'' She
sang Carolina in Cimarosa's ''Matrimonio Segreto'' in the inaugural
performances of the Piccola Scala, in Milan, where she went on to sing
a broad repertory that included roles in Piccini's ''Buona Figliuola,''
Donizetti's ''Don Pasquale,'' Rossini's ''Comte Ory'' and Paisiello's
''Nina Pazza per Amore.''
Ms. Sciutti made her Covent Garden debut in 1956, and her American
debut, at the San Francisco Opera, in 1961. She was also a member of
the Vienna State Opera roster for several years, where her most
successful roles were in the Mozart operas and as Nanetta in a Luchino
Visconti production of Verdi's ''Falstaff.'' And she sang at the
Salzburg Festival for nearly 20 years.
In 1977 Ms. Sciutti sang in and directed a production of Poulenc's
''Voix Humaine'' at Glyndebourne, preparing her way to give up the
stage and become a director. She staged productions of ''Le Nozze di
Figaro'' and Donizetti's ''Elisir d'Amore'' at the Canadian Opera, and
in 1983 she made her New York directing debut with a highly praised
staging of Puccini's ''Bohème'' at the Juilliard School. In 1984
she revised Colin Graham's production of ''Così Fan Tutte'' at
the Metropolitan Opera. Her 1995 staging of ''La Bohème'' at the
New York City Opera won an Emmy Award after it was broadcast as part of
the ''Live From Lincoln Center'' series in 1997.
Ms. Sciutti taught at the Royal College of Music in London and gave
master classes at the Lyric Center of Chicago, at the Juilliard School
and as part of the Merola Opera Program at the San Francisco Opera.
She is survived by a daughter, Susanna.
© 1982 Bruce Duffie
This conversation was recorded in the lower-level restaurant
area of her hotel in Chicago on October 30, 1982. Portions were
broadcast on WNIB (along with recordings) in 1985, 1992 and 1997.
A copy of the unedited audio was placed in the Archive of Contemporary Music at
Northwestern Univeristy. This transcription was made in 2014, and
posted on this
at that time. My thanks to British soprano Una
Barry for her help in preparing this website
To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been
transcribed and posted on this website, click here.
Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975
its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001. His
interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since
and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well
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
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.