Bass  Hans  Sotin

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


Hans Sotin

Born: September 10, 1939 - Dortmund, Germany

He was a student of F.W. Hetzel and then of Dieter Jacob at the Dortmund Hochschule für Musik.

In 1962 Hans Sotin made his operatic debut as the Police Commissioner in Der Rosenkavalier in Essen. After joining the Hamburg State Opera in 1964, he quickly became one of its principal members singing not only traditional roles by creating new roles in works by Blacher, Einem, Penderecki et al. His success led to his being made a Hamburg Kammersänger. In 1970 he made his appearance at the Glyndebourne Festival as Sarastro. He made his debut at the Chicago Lyric Opera as Grand Inquisitor in Don Carlos in 1971. That same year he sang for the first time at the Bayreuth Festival as the Landgrave where he subsequently returned with success in later years. In October 1972 he made his Metropolitan Opera debut in New York as Sarastro. From 1973 he sang at the Vienna State Opera. He made his debut at London’s Covent Garden as Hunding in 1974. In 1976 he sang for the first time at Milan’s La Scala as Baron Ochs.

Hans Sotin also appeared as a soloist with the leading European orchestras. In addition to his varied operatic repertoire, Sotin has won distinction for his concert repertoire, most particularly of the music of J.S. Bach, Haydn, L.v. Beethoven, and Gustav Mahler.

Sotin is a very striking man in many ways.  He is tall and solidly built, and his speaking voice is very much the same as his singing voice -- meaning deep and sonorous. 

Besides his regular work in opera houses around the world, he appeared at Bayreuth in various roles in every season (except 1996) from 1972-99.

We met in October of 1980 at the studios of WNIB in Chicago.  Sotin had returned to Lyric Opera for performances of Lohengrin, and as we set up the recording equipment, we chatted about the production . . . . .
Bruce Duffie:    How much does the physical production affect your portrayal?

Hans Sotin:    Well, quite a lot.  It depends on the producer [director] and what he is telling you about the character.  When you learn about it, you have a meaning about this character, but it depends.  When you come to an opera house and you make a new production with a man you don't know, he has a different idea about this opera and how to do it.  So you have to change the character sometimes.  My last Henry before I came here was in Bayreuth last summer, and that's a totally different production done by Götz Friedrich.  In this production, I'm not the fairy-tale king.  I'm a real strong person which is coming and looking for soldiers for the war against the Hungarians.  So for this idea, you have to change the idea, and the costume is different, and so on.

BD:    When I saw it a few nights ago, I got the feeling I was watching Oroveso.

sotin HS:    [Smiles]  It's a Roman style much more than a German style.  That was his idea, and I don't like it.  It looks good, but I don't like it.

BD:    Is this kind of production good for audiences today?

HS:    I don't know.  Maybe it's coming back, especially in Germany.  They did a lot of experiments to try another style, but this one we did here in Chicago I think is a little bit looking for Wieland Wagner.  He did once a production that was called the "Blue Wonder."

BD:    Is that the one where everyone was very still?

HS:    Yes.  It was a round circle and people were standing around and doing nothing.  Just the women had a little cross, and just for the entrance of Elsa when she comes to the church in the second act there was a little movement there, but that's it.  It's like an oratorio.  When you see the score and read the music what the chorus is doing, there is nothing to do.  Really they give commands for the things that happen on stage.  So for the principals, it's on them to tell the story on stage with the chorus around.  That's it and so he did it that way.  I think Mr. Oswald was right to do something.

BD:    There was a lot of movement here.

HS:    Well, it says nothing, all the supers with the spears are making their movement and it says nothing.  They are soldiers, they are guards, and they know when Lohengrin comes that they have to pick up the spears, and when he makes a step forward they have to put down the spears again.  I think it's terrible.  It means nothing what they do.

BD:    You would rather the chorus just stand around?

HS:    Yes.

BD:    Do you, as a principal, want to just stand around or would you rather have action?

HS:    No, I don't want to just stand, but in this production it is not possible to move because the stage is too small and there are too many people on stage in the scenes.  So for the principals there is not enough room to act.  There is just a few steps, so what we can do?  And you have to watch the spears so they don't kill you!

BD:    I must say that I enjoyed it just from a visual point of view.

HS:    Maybe it looks good, and the idea, I think, there he is right.  This is something that disturbed me in Bayreuth.  You know with music also comes together colors.  When you take different keys, you have different colors.  This has been proved.  For an A major work, which is most of Lohengrin, it's blue or silver, and there he is right.  It goes together with the music.  Now King Henry is C major all the time, and that is a dark color.  When you hear the music, you have an impression.  When you close your eyes and you hear A major, you have a feeling for blue or silver, and for C major you have gray or a darker color.  In Bayreuth, the whole thing is dark and when you hear A major you always see dark colors and you get nervous really.  You don't feel well.

BD:    Here in Chicago it's all blue.

HS:    Perhaps even a little bit too much I think, especially in the Brautgemach.

BD:    Do you like to sing through the scrim?

HS:    Oh, I hate it!  You see it and you can't see the conductor; he is like a shadow.  It kills also the brilliance of the voice.  It covers you, and in the first act there were two!  In the last act it is better, easier.

BD:    When you were here before and there was no scrim, did you find the voice going out more into the theater?

HS:    Yes, much better.  I think it's a very good acoustic here in Chicago.

Hans Sotin at Lyric Opera of Chicago

1971 - Don Carlo  (Grand Inquisitor) with Lorengar, Cossutta, Cossotto, Milnes, Ghiaurov, Estes; Bartoletti, Mansouri
            Das Rheingold  (Fafner) with Hofmann, Neidlinger, Holm, Hoffman; Leitner, Lehmann

1973 - Der Rosenkavalier (Baron Ochs) with Ludwig/Dernesch, Berthold, Blegen, Merighi, Zilio, Andreolli; Leitner, Schneider-Siemssen (Sets)

1979 - Tristan und Isolde (Marke) with Knie, Vickers, Dunn, Nimsgern, Versalle; Decker, Poettgen, Oswald

1980 - Boris Godunov [Opening Night] (Pimen) with Ghirurov, Baldani, Ochman, Trussel, Chookasian, Tyl, Gordon; Bartoletti, Everding, Lee, Hall
            Lohengrin (Henry) with Johns, Marton, Martin, Roar, Monk; Janowski, Oswald (Sets & Direction)

1982 - Tristan und Isolde (Marke) with Martin, Vickers, Denize, Nimsgern, Kunde, Negrini; Leitner, Poettgen, Oswald

1983 - Flying Dutchman (Daland [shared with Moll]) with Nimsgern, Carson, Schunk [Eric & Steersman]; Perick, Ponnelle

1986-87 - Parsifal (Gurnemanz) with Vickers, Troyanos, Nimsgern, Becht, Salminen/Kennedy, Kaasch; Perick, Pizzi, Tallchief

Hans Sotin with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra

[Note: Rheingold and Fidelio were also performed at Carnegie Hall, and both Beethoven works were also recorded]

1971 - Das Rheingold (Fafner) with Ward, Kühne, Stolze, Dunn, Watts, Talvela, Lanigan, Paul, Altman; Solti

1979 - Fidelio (Rocco) with Behrens, Hofmann, Adam, Ghazarian, Kuebler, Howell; Solti

[Interestingly, the previous year Sotin had performed and recorded (both audio and video) the role of Pizarro with Bernstein and the Vienna Philharmonic, and Janowitz, Kollo, Popp, Dallapozza, Jungwirth, and Fischer-Dieskau.]

1986 - Beethoven Ninth Symphony [Opening Night] with Norman, Runkel, Schunk; Solti


[Note: Names which are links refer to my interviews elsewhere on this website.] 

:    Do you enjoy singing over the huge orchestra?

HS:    I like singing Wagner especially at Bayreuth, sure, because you have the covered orchestra.  That's the easiest.  It's sometimes difficult to hear when it's piano in the orchestra.  You don't hear that very well, so you have to listen very carefully.  But to sing, it's much easier there.  Also the acoustic in Bayreuth is perfect.  Just for the singing on stage, you have a great feeling.  Every summer I come back from the season which is two months of good feeling, and I come back to another opera house, like Hamburg or somewhere.  This year it happened to me again.  I came back from Bayreuth and had two performances of Tristan in Hamburg and it's so totally different and you have to find your voice again.

BD:    You have to readjust everything?

HS:    Yes, yes.  After awhile it works.

BD:    Coming back to this Lohengrin, the whole stage had a round platform.  It reminded me a little of the Ring at Bayreuth in the 60s.

HS:    No, it's not a real round this one.  If you remember last year's Tristan, it's the same platform.  They needed the same platform and made the other things around it.  This production is coming from Buenos Aries.  Mr. Oswald did it there.  The stage there is a little bit wider and bigger and so he had to do something.  This is also the reason why there are so many people on stage.  He did the same here as there.

BD:    Did you sing it in Buenos Aires?

HS:    No, but I know it.

BD:    The stage seemed filled sometimes.

HS:    Ja, it was too full.

BD:    If you were directing, would you have cut the chorus a little?

HS:    No, you can't cut it because you need the sound.  But if I had directed it, I would have had them stand still most time, but not always.  When the women come in, they go with Elsa to the church, so they have to move.  But not the men -- they are standing there waiting for something to do.

BD:    What about the swan -- did you like the way they did the swan here?

HS:    I can't tell you about the swan because always when the swan is there, I am on stage.  I never saw it from the outside and I don't know how it looks.  It's done by lighting.

BD:    Let me assure you it was very impressive.

HS:    Ja?

BD:    The first scrim was all aglow, and there were shafts of light.  Then the swan appeared in the middle.  When the light faded, Lohengrin was standing there.  It was a good effect.

HS:    But did you see Lohengrin come in?

BD:    No.  When the light was gone, he was there.  The light covered it completely.

HS:    Good, because on stage, it looks crazy.  I am standing in the back of the scenery and he comes and has to find his way through the chorus men and go to the front of the swan lights.  We have a different swan in Bayreuth.  There is no swan anymore because Günther Uecker, who is a very famous artist -- making pictures from nails and so on -- did the scenery for Lohengrin and so it's very different, very modern.  His swan is like a round disc which is filled up with nails all going different ways, and it's moving.  It comes from the back, totally dark, very far away, and it comes from the dark like a UFO.  It looks very good because the nails.  It's moving and the light's going, so you have an impression of swan feathers.  It's beautiful, really beautiful, so it's not the swan in the old style.  It's just something you know . . .

BD:    It's an image and a feeling?

HS:    Yes.

BD:    If you were in a production where they actually had a boat with a swan coming across the stage, would you approve of this?

HS:    No, I couldn't stand it today.

BD:    Even though this is what Wagner demands in the score?

HS:    But Wagner is dead for a long time now and I think if he would live today, he wouldn't write a Lohengrin.  So it's different.  But we live today and you have to think about ideas of how we can show our people the Lohengrin performance without making them to feel like children.  It's serious, but it's a tale.  For me, this Lohengrin is a tale, but you have to do it for grown-up people.  I would laugh if there comes a swan with a boat behind it.  I would really laugh.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Would you ever sing any of these roles in translation?

HS:    No, I would not do that.  I know that there are some places where they do it -- like in London where the two opera houses.  At Covent Garden they do all operas in original language and Sadler's Wells does all operas in English.  They have a special cast of English singers, but no I wouldn't learn the whole thing in English for one or two performances.  I do have to learn the other languages -- I had to learn Russian for the Boris here.

sotin BD:    Would you do Boris in German?

HS:    Yes.  This is totally different because in Germany in most houses where they do Boris they do it in German.  Who knows Russian?  There is the problem.  I had to study a long time.  It was very strange for me.

BD:    Learning sounds?

HS:    Also the language -- you also have to read it.  It was hard work for really not so big a part [Pimen], but I liked it.  It's a pleasure to sing in Russian.  It's good language for singing.

BD:    Lots of open vowels?

HS:    Yes, and very front.

BD:    Is German a good language to sing?

HS:    Ja.  Well, in translations for some Italian operas maybe not, but for Wagner it's beautiful because the music line is coming together.  He composed it for the words he wrote.

BD:    This is why I asked about translations, for instance the Verdi operas.

HS:    They do it now in Italian.

BD:    Do you prefer it in Italian?

HS:    Yes, much more.  When I started singing, it was '62 and there were a lot of places that did Verdi in German, but they've all changed now in the bigger cities.  When they do it in the smaller cities I think they do it still in German for the people to understand.  In the bigger cities, they make all in the original.

BD:    Tell us a little about King Marke.  Is he really unhappy in Act 2?

HS:    He is, but not in the manner of a man who is angry.  Tristan is coming back to bring him his wife, and Melot says he saw them together.  There is something because he is an older man and she is a younger wife and Tristan is a younger man.  He knows that they had a long ride on the ship, and it happens.  He doesn't know how it happened.  He doesn't know about the potion.  In the third act he knows, but then it's too late.  But in the second act, he doesn't know.  But he is old enough and too wise to know it could happen.  He is very upset that it happened, and especially that Tristan, his best friend, did it to him.  So the whole monologue in the second act is mostly just talking with himself.

BD:    He is looking inward, being introspective?

HS:    Yes.  He is thinking about the situation, thinking how it happened, and then suddenly in the few sentences he is pushing Tristan and saying, "Why did you do it to me?  Tell me!"  Tristan says, "I can't tell you.  I don't know what happened to me.  I don't know."

BD:    Does he forgive Tristan then, or in act three?

HS:    No, in act three when he knows about the Liebestrank.  If he would have forgiven Tristan in the second act, the fight would not have happened between Melot and Tristan.  He would stop it.  He would send them away and talk about it.  In this moment, he is really out of the world.  He doesn't know what to say.  The last sentence of Marke is what the part is given over to.  You can't speak about this reason.  "Who can tell to all the people in the world this reason?"  Nobody.  The philosophy is summed up there.  I like this part.

BD:    When Wagner was writing this opera, do you think he saw himself at all in Marke, or is he more in Tristan?

HS:    I think he's more in Tristan.  [Laughs]  He did the same to Franz Liszt.  He's no Marke.

BD:    But he understands how Marke would feel?

HS:    Yes, maybe.  Sure.  He knows absolutely otherwise he couldn't write it.

BD:    Do you enjoy the long and taxing Wagnerian parts, as opposed to shorter parts?

HS:    It's my job and my profession and I like it.  I like much more to sing Gurnemanz which is very long.  I like that more than to sing King Henry, which is on stage for the first act as a strong man, and then he is waiting, waiting, and coming at the end of the second act pushing one big line, and waiting again through the third act to the end and pushing a real big line at the end.  It's very high, and that's it.

BD:    Would you be happier -- dramatically, not musically -- to sing Telramund?

HS:    Yes.  He has much more acting, much more.  It's another character who is more colorful.  King Henry is just strong and that's it.

BD:    One-dimensional?

HS:    Yes.  I think Telramund is a good part.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Let's talk about Gurnemanz.  He's on stage so long.  [Note: at Bayreuth, Sotin sang Titurel in 1972-73; thereafter, he sang Gurnemanz every season from 1975-85, 1987-95, and 1997-99.]

HS:    Yes.  It's a difficult part because, well, you said it -- he's so long onstage.  The whole first act he is telling the story, and the whole third act, but there is really no acting because he is just telling the past always.

BD:    A narration?

HS:    Yes.  The first act starts in the wood with the Knappen, and suddenly Kundry comes and brings some medicine for Amfortas.  Then Amfortas has his short scene and he goes out, and then the Knappen see this Kundry bringing something.  She is a strange person they've never seen before, so they don't know who she is.  They ask what she is doing there in our area.  Gurnemanz is the only one who knows who she is and so they ask him, and there starts a long, long story.  He is telling them because they are very interested to know what is it that has happened.  So he's telling them the whole past -- not what's going on now, so you can do no acting.  You can fill it up with impression and remembering of what happened, but there's no acting.  In the third act there's a little bit when Parsifal is coming back.  He remembers him and he remembers the spear and he knows from the spear that this is the man we are looking for for the Grail's company.  Then there is the Good Friday spell and they take Kundry to be baptized.  That is action.  Parsifal is asking Gurnemanz about all this, and he tells him the whole story of what happened during the time when he was in Klingsor's area.  Through the whole thing there is no acting.

BD:    And the Knappen?

HS:    They are listening!

BD:    What if the director has them moving a bit?

HS:    Well, let them move, but it doesn't say anything.  This is the secret of Wagner opera in this style.  In the Ring you can do a lot of things, but not in Parsifal.  It's quiet music, a quiet opera.


:    Do you think Parsifal works well on records?

HS:    Oh, yes.

BD:    Better than in the theater?

HS:    No, why?  It's different.  There are people who say they don't want to see the scenery, who just like the music and that's it.  I think the real opera lover wants to see the stage in the house.

BD:    At the end of the first act when Gurnemanz pushes Parsifal out of the temple, how much force does Gurnemanz use?  Does he just ask him to leave, or does he physically push him away?

HS:    He brings Parsifal into the temple, and he always is looking for the new Amfortas.  He knows Amfortas is not any more the man who is ready to make the Grail ceremony, and there comes this Parsifal, killing the bird and not knowing who is his mother and father... nothing.  He has an idea that the boy is very strange, so let me watch him and see what's going on when I take him to the temple.

BD:    He thinks maybe this is the one they have been waiting for?

HS:    Ja.  He takes him to see the ceremony and to watch Amfortas, this sick man, but nothing happens.  He is der reine Tor -- the perfect fool.  In the Bayreuth production I try to give him the cup for the wine and he says, "What shall I do with it?  I've already had breakfast, I don't know."  So he is strange; something special, but he knows nothing.  After the ceremony Gurnemanz says, "You know nothing.  Go and never come back and shoot our animals here.  Go."  Then he goes, and in this moment when he is out, there comes a voice saying, "Durch Mitleid wissend, der reine Tor."  Then he thinks, "What have I done?  I think I should hold his man and tell him," but he is away then.  In this production, Gurnemanz is going behind Amfortas and telling him that he thinks this is the man we are looking for.

BD:    Does Gurnemanz then go out to try to find him?

HS:    No, no.  He's away and running around.  This way he is coming to Klingsor's place.

BD:    Does Gurnemanz know that Parsifal must face Klingsor?

HS:    He must face Klingsor because Klingsor has the Holy spear which has to come together with the Grail for the festival and it has to heal the wound.  It has to be a man who is able to go to Klingsor's place and get the spear, and you only can get the spear if he is a real fool, not knowing what is going on when the women are around him and try to make him a man.  He must also not know about Kundry.  In this place she is in the power of Klingsor, who is telling her what she has to do with Parsifal to get him under his influence.  But he is a fool, and this is why he is the new king of the grail.  This way he gets the spear, and then he knows he must come back.  He is older then.

BD:    How much older?

HS:    I think it has to be nearly 10 years or something like that.

BD:    In some of the early photographs, we find Gurnemanz in the first act is young and virile, but in the third act he is a very old man with white hair.

HS:    Right, but you must not make him too young in the first act.  Mostly the Parsifals look like young tenors.  In the third act and they also have to be twenty or 30 years older.  I don't know...  maybe it's not so much.  In between, Titurel died and Amfortas is still there with his wound.  Parsifal is very young when he comes in the first act, maybe 15, 16, 17.  So maybe when he comes back he is 30.

BD:    What have the knights of the grail been doing for this time between acts one and three?  Do they continue with the feasts?

HS:    No, no.  Gurnemanz says in the third act that during the time you've been away, it's still the same place but things have happened.  This is another long tale.  There is no ceremony anymore because Amfortas is too wounded to do it and he doesn't want to do it.  I think the last time the ceremony happened was in the first act when Parsifal was there, and they are waiting for it.  Titurel was the man who was pushing Amfortas to do it, and he has died.  He says "You have to do it" however sick you are it doesn't matter.  But then there comes a point when Amfortas says no he can't do it any more.

BD:    Is there any reason to think that the ceremonies are stopped because they feel Parsifal will be the one to resume them?

HS:    No, because he doesn't know if this Parsifal is going to return.  Gurnemanz comes back and this armed man comes back with the spear.  Parsifal has to be very tired in the third act when he arrives because he doesn't answer.  He has come all the way back with no car no horse no nothing, and with this heavy coat and armor and the spear.

BD:    Should Parsifal in this act be made up to be tired and drawn, with dark circles around the eyes, etc.?

HS:    I would think yes.

BD:    But then when he comes in the last scene to the temple, should be still be tired or is he refreshed?

HS:    I think he is refreshed because he knows now why he is there.  This is the place where they are waiting for him.  He knows at the end of the second act that he is it, they are waiting for him.  This is the long time -- finding his way back from Klingsor's magic garden somewhere.  He doesn't know where he is.  When the magic of Klingsor is over, the whole magic is gone, so he is somewhere and has to find his way back.

BD:    How much time is there for Parsifal to leave the temple in act one and find Klingsor in act two?

HS:    This is a short period.  Then he comes back in the third act and there is no answer when Gurnemanz is asking, "Who are you with this weapon?  Today is Good Friday, which is a very holy day.  Why are you bearing the weapons?"  He gives no answer because he is so, well, "tired" may be the wrong word . . .

BD:    Exhausted?

HS:    Ja!  Sometimes you are in a situation where you don't see what is going on around you.  He is just himself and that's it.  Suddenly he brings the spear down and is praying to the spear.  It is then that Gurnemanz remembers his face and remembers this was the man he kicked out of the temple.  He tells to Kundry she should remember him.

BD:    This is who they've been waiting for?

HS:    Yes.  He is telling him, "You are here in the place we've been awaiting for you.  I know you and I know the spear."

BD:    Gurnemanz has seen the spear before?

HS:    Sure.  Amfortas lost it, and he knew Amfortas as a child.  He is the oldest man in the Grail's company.  Then he knows that Parsifal did it.  He brought the spear back.  Gurnemanz is very happy.  He is old and nearly dying and has not so many more years.  He is very refreshed, though, to see him, and he tells the whole story to Parsifal of what has happened.

BD:    Parsifal is Lohengrin's father.  Is he the physical father or the spiritual father?

HS:    No, it is the spiritual father.  I thought about that a few days ago.  They didn't have women in the grail temple, so how can he be the physical father?  They call it "father" when he is the teacher, he grows up with him. 

BD:    Lohengrin sings, "Mein Vater Parzival..."

HS:    And continues, "Sein ritter ich!"

BD:    His knight!

HS:    That's it. So I think he is the teacher.

BD:    That solves a few problems.

HS:    [Laughs]  Well, when you start thinking about all the complicated things in Wagner, you don't dome to an end!

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Can we talk about the Ring a little?

HS:    Yes, yes.

BD:    You are singing Wotan now?

HS:    Yes.

BD:    How difficult is it for you, as a singer, to go from singing the Giant to singing Wotan?

sotin HS:    It was a natural step for me.  I was younger when I sang the giant, Fafner.  My voice was growing up to the high.  I think it is good when you sing Wotan with a darker register or color, and not the more high timbre baritone.

BD:    When you sing Wotan, do you think there is enough contrast between you and the Hagen or Hunding?

HS:    Oh, yes.  Well, it depends on the bass.  It is better when it's a good, dark bass.  The musical lines are different.  Hunding is always [makes low, growling sounds] and it's not so much singing -- only a few minutes altogether.  It sounds like a very long scene, but it's not.  He's just a half an hour on stage, but the music is so concentrated, so dramatic, so intense and forceful that you have the feeling of this is a long, long part.  It's different, and so when you start as Wotan it's another tessitura.

BD:    Do you lighten your voice at all for Wotan?

HS:    No.

BD:    Is there any relationship at all between Hunding and King Marke?

HS:    No, I think not.  They are totally different characters.  Hunding is a real man in the world.

BD:    He would like to strike Siegmund down.

HS:    Yes!  But in this time they had the special guest right.  When a guest came, it doesn't matter if he was your biggest enemy or not, you have to give him one night free house and bed and food.  The next day you call him for the fight.

BD:    Does he know that Sieglinde has betrayed him when he finds them gone in the morning?

HS:    Sure, because he knows from the first act that there is something between them.  He sees it in their eyes and they look the same, but he's not sure.  Then he forces Siegmund to tell his story and he knows he is the man they are looking for... but he can't kill him this day.

BD:    As Wotan, when you see Siegmund die and kill Hunding, do you know at the point that Siegfried will come along?

HS:    No.  He made the arrangements that Siegmund comes to the house of Hunding and for him to know Sieglinde.  She knows there is only one man who can take out the sword and that's him.  Then the story is different -- Wotan wants Siegmund for the new hero, but Fricka doesn't want it.  She knows how to get Wotan to do her will.  She says "No."  So he has to promise Fricka that Siegmnud will be killed.  He is down, really down from this moment, so he tells to Brünnhilde that she is responsible for this fight and for the death of Siegmund.  But then in the Todesverkündigung, she knows Sieglinde will have the baby and so suddenly she is not any more Brünnhilde; she is a real woman.  She says "Father told me to kill him but I can't."  She sees the real big love of Sieglinde and Siegmund.  But Wotan has to do something because he has promised Fricka he will die.  Then comes the fight and Brünnhilde doesn't do it, so he must do it himself.  He has to destroy the spear, which is normally impossible to fight against.  Hunding would have lost this fight, but there is no spear any more and Hunding can kill Siegmund.  It's very dramatically done, and some people at Bayreuth were cheering.  Hunding stabbed Siegmund maybe ten times.  You see he wants to kill him passionately, he will do it until he is sure he is dead.

BD:    This is his revenge upon Siegmnud for having taken Sieglinde?

HS:    Yes.  Then comes a beautiful part in the Chereau production which I like very much.  I kept this bit later in other productions because I liked it so much.  Because Siegmund was a loved person by Wotan, he was his main toy.  He created him and his whole hope is there and now is gone.  Then comes this beautiful point when Wotan takes the dead Siegmund in his arms.  It's beautiful, and it's very normal, then, that he kills Hunding.  Normally Hunding is right.  He is just a man who is fighting an enemy.  He got him and he killed him, and he is full of triumph.  It is coming from this feeling -- Wotan with the dead Siegmund -- that Wotan says, "Go, die."

BD:    What about Wotan in Siegfried?

HS:    Then the story goes on.  Sieglinde gets a baby, which is Siegfried, growing up in the wood with Mime.  Wotan knows it.

BD:    Does Wotan know that Siegfried will one day claim Brünnhilde?

HS:    No, I think he's arranging it again.  He comes to the wood and has this big scene with Alberich.  They are nearly both the same characters, I think.

BD:    A light and a dark?

HS:    Ja, both behind the gold and behind the power.  It was very well done in Bayreuth -- they were dressed like twins.  Wotan was more noble and better looking, but they had the same coat and hat -- dirtier on Alberich -- and they had a real fight with the spear.  Wotan knows exactly the only thing he can do to get the hero, and he knows that's Siegfried.  So he tries to get him to destroy the spear, and he knows he is finished when the spear has been broken, and he is out.  It's a big story!  Chereau made it very clear in his production to tell the people that Wotan is a person who is arranging all the things.

BD:    Is Alberich also trying to arrange things?

HS:    No, Alberich is looking behind the gold and the power.

BD:    But is Alberich not trying to arrange things with Hagen, like Wotan is with Siegfried?

HS:    Sure, sure.  That's it.  Chereau made it very clear when Siegfried finds the pieces of the sword and Mime, who is a very good sword-maker, can't do it.  He doesn't know how to do it because you need special power to do it.  He says to show me what to do with this, and then Wotan, in this production, comes and takes away a big piece of curtain, and behind there is a big machine which does it by itself.  He takes just the pieces, puts it in the and machine makes the sounds while he sings the hammer song.  At the end, the pieces were put together, but Siegfried finishes it, makes it sharp.  But the main production is done by the machine.  But Wotan brought this machine.  He wants Siegfried to get the sword and he wants that he finds Brunnhilde. 

BD:    Do you think Wagner would approve of these ideas?

HS:    Oh, I think he would like this production.  It's so full of action and so full of real dramatic and theatrical moving.  It's great.

BD:    Was it filmed for TV?

HS:    Yes.

BD:    With you?

HS:    No, with McIntyre.  I only sang it in 1976 -- the 100 year festival.

BD:    Was it special for you to sing in that one?

HS:    Sure, sure.  But then one year later we did the new Parsifal and I got to sing Gurnemanz.  I said it's too much; I can't do both.  I must say I wasn't very happy with Boulez.  It was without feeling.  It was going better year after year, but I wasn't very happy.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Do you find there is more depth in Wagner than in other composers?

HS:    I think yes.  I was yesterday to the dress rehearsal of Attila, and I don't like this early Verdi.  I sang Ernani in Hamburg last year.  It's nice to sing and there's some good music, good lines, but you take any Wagner opera you want and there's something special.
  It's funny... The Italian singers have a more easy life than we do.  They come and they do one opera which is like for us one act of a Ring.  Sometimes I sing one or another Italian role, and when the curtain is closed I say, "That's it???"

BD:    Have you sung all the Wagner parts you want to?

HS:    Yes, I've sung in all but Dutchman.  I'm not sure which role there to sing.  [Note: He would eventually sing Daland.]


BD:    What about Rienzi?

HS:    They asked me to do a recording, but I had no time, so I did not do it.

BD:    Do you enjoy recordings?

HS:    Yes and no because it's such hard work and sometimes it has nothing to do with the art.  An opera on stage in an evening has to leave an impression, and you are losing it in a recording session.  You take parts back and do it again if something is wrong, and you do it again and the flute or violin is wrong and you do it again, and so you are losing feeling for the whole line.  They put it together and maybe it sounds good, but...

BD:    You don't like the cutting?

HS:    I hate it.  I must say the great conductors like Solti and Karajan make big long scenes, long takes.  They record it, then they do it maybe again and that's it.  [Note: Sotin would record Tannhäuser and Lohengrin with Solti, as well as the Fidelio and the Beethoven Ninth noted in box above.]

BD:    That's the way you would prefer to do it?

HS:    Yes.  The other way is too tiring to make the short sequence again.

BD:    I thought everyone was doing long scenes now, but apparently not?

HS:    No.  Maybe now with the digital process they will do it more and more.

BD:    What about filming?  Do you enjoy this?

HS:    Ja, I like it very much.  It was something different.  It's not so difficult because we normally do the sound tapes first, and then when you act you have only to open your mouth.  It has to be on the right moment.  There are people around watching you and if you do it wrong you have to do it again.  But it's not so tiring because you don't need your voice.  However, it's tiring to get up at six in the morning to sit there at seven to get the wig.  The wig for the film camera is totally different from the wig for the stage, and it has to be on the right place every time because the next day it must be the same.  It happened once, a whole day was done and the next day we saw the takes and one girl during the intermission had taken off her necklace and forgot to put it back on.  Nobody saw it until the next day when it was there again, and the whole day was for nothing.

BD:    What about TV of a live performance?

HS:    I did some concerts, and the Fidelio was live.  It doesn't matter.  The cameras are somewhere and you must not think about it.  You have to try to do the same as a normal performance.  I think then it works best.

BD:    You enjoy singing!

HS:    [Matter-of-factly]  Yes, sure.

BD:    But this comes across!  When you're on stage, you understand the part and the character and we know that you enjoy it.  This is good.

HS:    Well, I think it is the way it has to be.  You must not make any business which you don't like.  I think you enjoy your radio studio and you enjoy to do what you do.

BD:    Thank you for being a singer, and thank you coming again to Chicago.

HS:    Good.  I hope I give you some material enough to write something.

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© 1980 Bruce Duffie

This interview was recorded in the studios of WNIB, Chicago, on October 25, 1980.  Portions were used on WNIB (along with recordings) in 1989, 1994, 1997 and 1999.  A transcript was made and published in Wagner News in July of 1981, and in Opera Scene Magazine in October of 1982.  The transcript was re-edited and posted on this website in 2014.

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.

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.