A Conversation with Bruce Duffie
"Balance" seems to be the word that best describes conductor Emmanuel
Villaume. His current title is Music Director for Opera and
Orchestra at the Spoletto Festival, USA, and that seems to fit his
overall schedule of performances. He divides his time - and has
homes - in both Europe and New York, and manages to do not only the
expected and unexpected French repertoire, he also lends his artistry
to standard and unusual pieces from other countries around the
Now in the midst of a fine career, he has given Chicago
quite a bit of time in various venues - The Chicago Symphony, the Civic
Orchestra, the Grant Park Festival, and, of course, Lyric Opera of
Chicago, where he'll return in the fall of 2008 for the production of Manon which opens the season.
More biographical and schedule information as well as photos can be
obtained at his official website, http://www.emmanuelvillaume.com/
I managed to snag him for a chat in April of 2006, and he was pleased
to speak about many aspects of his career. Again, the balance was
what came through the entire discussion, and here is what was said that
afternoon . . . . .
Bruce Duffie: You do both
opera and concert. How do you
divide your career between those two?
Emmanuel Villaume: I try
to really balance the two. Right
now things are more in favor of opera than symphonic in my
schedule. It's about two-third opera and one-third symphonic, but
I still am pushing, as much as I can, for the
symphonic career because I really believe in the balance
between the two. The qualities you need in the
symphonic field have to do,
mainly, with extreme precision and attention to details, which is
BD: Precision performance
details, or details of interpretation?
EV: Both. That's
actually a good question, but mainly the details are in the performance
itself. That means really you
want to have the most precise texture in the
orchestra. The rhythm must absolutely be impeccable
throughout. Sometimes, let's say, that standards of
togetherness, intonation, colors, respect for layers of sound for very
are slightly higher than they would be in the operatic field.
BD: Is there ever a time
that you get it perfect?
EV: There is some time
where you think it
might be perfect, then you listen to it and it's not perfect
anymore. But if you listen to it, that means you have killed the
moment, so it cannot be perfect, because perfection is in the moment
and most of the time you are not aware
of it. Sometimes you achieve perfection in opera even more
than in the symphonic field in the sense that you can find a moment
where there is grace and something absolutely miraculous in the room
between the stage, the orchestra and the audience in a way
that is so unexpected that is even more miraculous.
BD: I would think there's
so much more that can
go wrong in the opera house!
EV: Exactly. On the
other hand, the qualities
you need in an opera are, obviously, dramatic qualities - the ability
to tell a story; the ability to take the
audience from point A to point B and eventually lose them in the
way and show them things they never expected to see or to
hear. When you use those dramatic
qualities that you are essentially required to deliver in the
opera field - otherwise you don't do your job - when you take them at
the highest level in the opera, or in
the symphonic field, these are extremely valuable. After
all, let's not forget that when Mozart was writing Haffner, or all of his symphonies,
he was writing operas at the same
time. And sometimes, when we forget it's the same guy, there is a
vision of those symphonies which is a little dead, which is a
little lacking in humanity or drama! Mahler, as we know, was
conducting so many operas he knew the whole repertoire! If you
don't have that
sense of drama, of tragedy, of feelings connected to a
story when you conduct a Mahler symphony,
I think you are missing one of the points of the symphony. It's
not the only point, but you are missing that.
BD: But there are so many
symphonies which are
just "absolute music" with no real story, do you have to make one up
as you go along?
EV: I think it would be a
big mistake. But I would challenge you to
give me a lot of those symphonies, actually. You will see that
very few are totally abstract. They are always
connected to tension and release.
BD: I see, but there's no
program to it...
There is no program to it! There is not necessarily a program to
it. There is not a
program in any of the Mozart symphonies, but you can
definitely relate to something which has to do with human
feelings or with a sense of heroism! Of
course it's not connected to a specific story, or when it was
connected to a specific story, let's say, Napoleon - I mean Bonaparte -
then, when he didn't like the
guy anymore, which is totally understandable, the program would change!
BD: [Chuckles] Sure!
EV: That's very
convenient. But the
same feeling of liberty, or of fighting the stupidity
of the masses and being victorious is a very human feeling.
Sometimes it's crazy but still connected to
humanity and to certain expressiveness. The
understanding of the pacing of emotion, then, not specifically a story,
but a pacing of emotion that you need to
have in opera, is extremely valuable in the symphonic
field. Having the knowledge of all the symphonic
repertoire, and having practice of rehearsing these great masterpieces
in a very, very, very demanding way can be, sometimes, very, very
valuable if you
are rehearsing a Butterfly
with a company that has done it
for years and years.
BD: These things that you
try to find in a symphonic
work with no program, are these things that you find and
communicate, or do you expect the audience to get them in
their mind as they listen to the concert?
EV: I think if you put
things directly in the face of people and if you
want them, at this moment to really have these very specific
ideas, you are missing the point! The
work needs to be there for the people to understand it their
own way with their own background and their own history. So if
you are in the way of the understanding of the piece,
you're really not doing your job! There is a fine line
there that you have to walk or to dance.
BD: So you have to put in
what you can and then get out of the
EV: Exactly. Or you
have to put
in what you can in a way that is going to
try to reach within yourself what is the most
universal that people can relate
to, which is difficult because
sometimes you go to very specific emotions. If you do the Sixth
Symphony of Gustav
Mahler, for instance, it's all about destruction, aggressivity,
darkness, death. Actually it's not all about this, it's all about
what we do with
this. But in order to have this on the table, or on the
podium, or on the stage, you need to go within yourself, at a
certain point, and try to connect to those emotions or to those
feelings or to those scenes. If you do it in a way that
is going to be too specifically personal, maybe the entire
audience, or a big part of the audience is not going to understand
this. In my opinion, if you don't, at least at one point
in the process of the conducting, connect to these emotions, I
think you are missing a big part of what you are supposed to
do in this context.
BD: So if you make the
connection with the orchestra, you assume, then, that the music
will make a connection with the audience?
EV: Eventually, if the
audience is ready for it, it's going
to happen. And most of the time it happens. You know, it's
very easy to fall into clichés
when you talk about these things, but you really feel when you
are on. When you all of a sudden know you're rolling, there is
something happening and the
people are with you. Usually you have a silence in house.
You know what's
BD: So you feel them
EV: You do feel them
behind you. Then, the next morning
you might get reactions which are totally the opposite to what you
thought you were feeling. The great thing in
being in a city that has more than two papers is that you can see one
the reviewer saying
it was too excited and another saying it was too slow and boring and
BD: I've often wondered
if the reviewers were sitting in the same
hesitation] And probably they were not! [Both laugh]
think it's not only
about emotions. I really think music is also about pure texture,
form, structure developing
itself within a certain time frame. It's playing with the time
and the sound as pure time and pure sound, and not necessarily as a
psychological, or human component. But in
most of our music you have this, too. I
really believe that any actor who would pretend to go
onstage and just give us
words and not any kind of meaning would miss what he is there
for. Now of
course the comparison between drama and music is actually, in a
way, going to fail, because these are two
universes that can never totally do entire justice
to the other one, or totally explain what the other one is
about. But sometimes musicians can
get lazy with what they are supposed to do, and part of what they are
supposed to do is deal with that.
BD: So it's your job to
keep them awake?
EV: I think it's our job,
as conductors, to keep the piece alive, and to keep the piece
alive you need to keep the orchestra - and the audience - awake.
Some people don't like to be awake, eh? [Both chuckle] It
can be disturbing or troubling.
BD: Well, what do expect
from the audience?
EV: [Thinks for a
[Laughs] That's one thing. I don't know, I never thought
because all musicians, performers, we are slightly paranoid, of
course. I mean, "What do they think? What do
they expect of me?" I never thought of the question in this
way. I think what you expect is for them to
forget about the preconceptions they might have about a
piece, forget about maybe even old recordings they have heard
of the one piece they are going to hear tonight, and just be open and
be honest in their listening.
BD: Does this, then, make
it a little easier for you when
you conduct unusual repertoire or new repertoire?
EV: Of course it makes
it easier. Go conduct a Beethoven 5 with any major orchestra in a
major city. Come on, it's a lose-lose
situation! Go conduct Traviata
at La Scala in Milano - it's a sure failure! In a way you can
make your point maybe more easily if it's a piece that is less known
than the big repertoire.
BD: I've often wished
that we could
take the fifty most-played works in the opera house and the
concert hall, and pack them away for ten years and never play them.
BD: Then we could come
back to them more
EV: Yeah, that's
true. But, you know, I have lived
with Carmen all my life since
childhood, and at the end
of every run of the opera I say, "Never
again," and all of a sudden I find myself rehearsing
Carmen and having a lot of fun
and enjoying myself tremendously! Because these are masterpieces,
you always find something new in those pieces.
BD: Especially in the
opera, where you're dealing
with one long production over many nights, how do you decide, "Yes, I
will accept this contract or no,
I'll turn this opera aside"?
EV: It's difficult,
and I might get in trouble for saying this, but it's the difficult
balance between what you
are looking for as an artist and what you think is good for the
career - or what people around you think is good for the
career. And of course at one point you always have that
in mind. But if it's something I've never done from a
composer I really admire, and my calendar is free, I think I would
do it if there is an orchestra good enough, a
chorus good enough, and a cast good enough to do it! And you can
sometimes get artistic results of a very high quality in places
that are not that famous because you just have this kind of enthusiasm,
this conviction, this real love of the
music that you find in places that are a little remote from the big
BD: Do the technical
standards keep going up year by year?
EV: I think so. The
technical standards keep going up year by year. The technical
standards for orchestra playing,
at least, are, generally speaking, higher in the States than they
are in Europe.
EV: They are. If
you talk about the main five American orchestras and the main five
European orchestras, you will find some people would prefer this one or
that one, but if
you go down the list, the level is going to be high. But a
university orchestra here is going to be better than a
"C" orchestra in Germany. I really think that's a fact.
BD: Now this is
BD: What about musically?
EV: [Takes a deep
breath] Well, artistically,
musically, and technically, these are, as you imply, totally
different categories. There is no
point discussing the musical merit of anybody if the
technical abilities are not there at least at a certain level. I
say you need some time, when you are in the States, to
kind of explain a little more what you artistically intend about a
piece. But an American
orchestra is going to be very interested in hearing that
from you. A European orchestra is going to say, "He
is not going to teach us what this symphony is about; what does he
BD: You're from France...
EV: I'm French, yeah.
BD: ...so wouldn't you
have a lot to talk about French opera, then?
EV: Yes! And all
the French repertoire in general. I must say in that repertoire I
have been most welcome in the States and people really are
willing to listen to the story you have to
tell. I'm Music Director in Charleston
[at the Spoleto Festival U.S.A. in Charleston, South Carolina] since
2000. These are young musicians who are in their very early
twenties and the level of sophistication, of
culture, of sheer interest and love for the music is absolutely
remarkable. Of course it's la
crème de la crème, it's the best of the
best. It's an amazing selection of the best of what this country
offer! They are intellectual, and when you talk to these people,
you really don't feel you are teaching
them; you're just discussing and interacting with young colleagues.
BD: Does that make the
rehearsals go faster?
EV: That makes them more
so they feel like they are going faster, and then you can go
further. You can go much further.
don't want to dwell on this too much, but what is it that the
rest of the world needs to understand about French opera?
What is it that the rest of Europe and the United States don't
get about French opera that we should?
EV: [Takes a deep
breath] It's difficult to say because all the discussion about
national identity and colors
are, in a way, not only politically dangerous but they might
be even artistically dangerous. After all, if
you start at the 16th century or 17th century, Italians,
Germans, Austrians, French, Spanish, they were all traveling! Of
course you would have a
different school of playing, of articulation from one city to the other
but they were very much
influenced. Wagner, in the 19th century, was extremely
influenced by Bellini, Berlioz (more than he wants to
say), Glück, and Meyerbeer, and so on and so on. Anyway it's
BD: But not nearly as
much as today where
it's almost instantaneous!
EV: Today it is
instantaneous. I think if
there was a book that would tell you about the
difference in the French music compared to the other musics, it would
it's transparency. It's a certain clarity of the sound or a
certain achievement in the orchestration which can be extremely light
and you can see through it, but at the same time it can
be powerful. That might be true of Ravel or of Debussy, it might
be true of some of Berlioz but not always, although he's, of course, a
think the specificity of the music
of any nation or culture has to do with the language.
That is definitely a factor. That means the way you
articulate the language is certainly going to determine a
certain length of a phrase, and a musical phrase is going to be
influenced by that
kind of pacing. There is a certain timing of
things, a certain weight in some sounds, or certain points in a general
phrase that are going to be different
if it's Czech music or if it's French music or if it's Italian
music or, for that matter, if it is [speaks in a long, drawn-out
manner, for effect] a long German period that really ends after a few
words, and so on, and finally you have a point at the
end. And this is
obvious in opera because the music itself is
always, or most of the time, depending on the text!
So the pacing of the music and even the pacing of the
general drama has to do with the language from a point of view which is
even more immediate than what
I'm trying to describe, which has to do with almost mental
structures of one culture.
BD: And you have to
figure all of this out before you go to the
EV: It's too late to
figure it out if you are starting the
rehearsal! [Laughter] But yes!
BD: I don't know whether
you specialize in the
French repertoire, but you have this in your blood, yet you have to be
almost a generalist to do the French and the Italian and the German and
some Czech and maybe a Russian and a Spanish opera, and maybe even an
American opera once in awhile, too!
EV: Well, I was born in
Strasbourg which is at the
border of Germany, so I think I benefited from
BD: So you had a festival
of two worlds really from the
EV: I had it somewhat,
yes, and I worked a lot in Italy. I speak
Italian, and it does
help when you deal with this music.
But it's true that you also have to know the
literature. For instance, I think it's important to know German
literature if you want to really
understand Beethoven and Mahler! You
have to have a feel for this context. Of course some of my
colleagues, maybe more talented than I
am, at least in the past, were not cultured
and had an amazing, immediate understanding of
that music. But I think
it helps you not to make huge mistakes to
know what Goethe and Schiller were writing before you
conduct a Beethoven symphony. I really believe in
that and I understand if you disagree with
BD: It goes into what
makes your performance and your interpretation, so good or bad, it
Exactly! Good or bad, it
becomes you! It becomes relevant to you and it
becomes you in ways that you are not totally aware of.
BD: When you're learning
repertoire, do you learn new scores
that you hope to conduct, or do you just learn new scores that you
think are interesting?
[Chuckles] Right now I don't
have much time and I confess
this. I'm sorry, I don't have much time to open
scores that I am not going to conduct in the next month. But it
happens to me sometimes when you listen and you are trying to find
a concert. Then you start listening to things and you
get very, very interested. In the past I used to
do this, I used to just go and buy a
score of this symphony or that opera because I thought,
"Well, one day it would be wonderful to do that, so I had
better be prepared for it and look at it."
BD: So then you'd add it
to your repertoire and hope to get called to do it.
EV: Exactly. And
actually end up doing them. Although there are some... In
the operatic world, for
instance, no music director is going to give to a
guest Tristan or Meistersinger or Die Frau ohne Schatten of
Strauss. These are goodies that they want for themselves.
have to wait till the moment I have one of
those houses that does this repertoire to actually do it! You
might do it in Germany where they do those operas month after month,
but even then, a Tristan
is going to be always played by the General Musikdirektor, because he
keep it for himself!
BD: Well, of
course! I assume, though, that if they
assign you a Manon or Le Cid or something else that is in
repertoire that you will try to make
that as brilliant a production as possible!
EV: Yeah! But
especially when it's a repertoire
you have done a lot, you have to put it in question every time you do
BD: So if they ask you,
for instance, for yet another Manon
or yet another Carmen, would
you be able to say, "Ehhhhh, I'd rather do Grisélidis" or
something like that?
EV: Actually I would rather do Grisélidis. It is a
great piece. But if it's the Lyric Opera of Chicago and they say,
"Well, it's Manon," and you
want to do Manon because you
work with that artist, then you are going to
accept Manon because it's the
reality of the situation! And when you do that Manon, you really have to do
it questioning the score again and again, trying to find new things
in it, and you will, necessarily, have
to reposition yourself toward the piece because you will have
a different soprano, you will have a different
baritone, you will have a different tenor and you will have to
adapt to what they are doing.
BD: Do you throw away
your old score and get a
clean one so there are no markings in it?
EV: Actually I don't do
that, [chuckles] but maybe I should. Sometimes the score has been
marked before that I get a new, clean
score and I redo it. It's interesting: I marked the scores
lot but all that
has to do with interpretation and I
always mark with a pencil that you can erase, which maybe shows
something about the fragility of the thing, or maybe the
humility. Or maybe it's very practical. If I write a
ritenuto, or if there is
a doubt between four and two - you know, subdivided or not
subdivided - I always write it with a pencil that can be erased.
BD: And then have your
assistant erase the score after each production?
EV: Yes. Or I do it
myself because it's kind of fun. [Both laugh]
BD: You rehearse up until
the first performance and
then it goes along. Do you expect everything to be done in
rehearsal and that all the performances are the same, or do you leave
the spark of each evening?
EV: I think you don't
leave something for the
spark of the evening; the spark of the evening is falling on you
anyway, because there are so many things that are totally
unpredictable. The work of the rehearsal is really to try
to understand - in the case of opera or if you're doing a concerto -
what your colleagues have as a vision for
the piece. So you need to try to
connect with this universe of
your friends and colleagues - the pianist
or the soprano or the stage director - and try to see
how much you can have your own ideas get in connection with them.
Sometimes you even back off a little because
you trust that these people can do what they need to do and you
shouldn't be too much in the way, and sometimes you say,
"Well, maybe this person needs a little help, so I'm going
to spoon-feed a few ideas there. It can go very far in this with
pianist or with a tenor if they are willing to do
it! So you have always to calculate
that and bargain sometimes.
BD: And you know who you
can trust, then, in the performance?
EV: And you know who you
can trust in the performance. Another
part is evaluating all the things that can go wrong and prepare
everybody for that.
BD: That would be another
volume there on your stand!
EV: That's another volume
on my stand and I try to limit it. Nowadays, with little
computers you can put things
in, but you need to cover your ground as much as you think you
BD: Is it ever fun when
things come crashing down?
EV: [Firmly and without
hesitation] No. No. No. No, it's not fun.
It's fun in rehearsal because you can laugh, but if
something doesn't go the way you planned, you feel that a good part of
audience is going to notice
it, and you're always furious. And you are
BD: And yet someone will
come backstage after that performance
and say, [excitedly] "This was the most brilliant performance
of this that I've ever heard!"
EV: Of course. Of
And you know what? Don't tell them it was not because they are
going to believe you. But things happen in
performance that you cannot
BD: For instance?
magic and visions. So it
does happen and this cannot be rehearsed at
all. But if you haven't prepared a score which is going to
be holding enough together in order
for this to happen, then it's never going
BD: Now you don't need to
give a specific example, but have
there ever been times when you're in the middle of the run of a series
of performances, and you
think, [nervously] "Oh, my God," and you look at the score
and you think, "I have to rethink everything right from the
beginning because something has come to me"?
EV: Well, it's more
organic than this. I don't think there is ever going to be
something that makes the
whole thing fall apart, because
if the conception can fall apart just by one
detail, that means that it was really not that strong from the
BD: Well, perhaps not
fall apart, but you're going along and all of a
sudden the light goes on.
EV: Yeah! That
happened to me. Usually you never know, really, how you
feel about a piece, at least not necessarily about your
own conception about the piece, before you have performed it with an
audience. You might have an anticipation of what it is, but all
of a sudden
you say, "Ha! I get it," because all of a
sudden everything is there and
it's developing itself in front of you, and you understand
that there is, maybe, a third, virtual line there in the music that is
point of what the composer is doing. Maybe sometimes even if he
doesn't know it, and that's what you want to hold. And you will
remember that the next time you look at the score. So definitely
performance is going to give you information on the
score that you would not find otherwise - even listening to the
performance of someone else because you do
it and then, "Aha! Here." That's the way things develop
themselves and there is sometimes no way you could have
felt that just by listening to a recording of a colleague or
looking at the score.
BD: So is your study
before the performance just from the score, or is it also from
EV: You know that
they teach you in schools not to listen to recordings; you
make up your mind from the score! I think
this is B.S., if I might say. First of all, there are traditions
and you need
to understand those traditions. If you
don't have a very strong reason not to do a tradition, you should do
the tradition. It's a question, somehow, of humility. Then,
if you are convinced a tradition has
no meaning, or you find out in a rehearsal that the reason for a
fermata to be in that phrase is just because the celli have to turn the
page - which does
happen - then you say, "Let's make a photocopy and we
don't do the fermata." I work very
strongly on the score in the
first phase and then I listen to a lot of
recordings. This is always giving you ideas - sometimes of what
you shouldn't do. Or you say, "Well here maybe I could do it that
way," or someone else did it that way and you are not
convinced. And of course sometimes
it's going to give you new avenues! It's going to make
you feel, "Ha, that's interesting!" Yeah, there
is something I really had not seen there! So
it's making you smarter! It's
like saying in order to write a book, you should not ever have seen any
book before! This is ridiculous!
BD: So you don't want to
copy, you just want to get new ideas for
EV: Exactly! And
it's going to be your idea; you are going to put it in your
style. I mean, who can pretend
doing a Bohème without
knowing what all these conductors have done with Bohème
before. Of course it's going to be your Bohème, but
you need to know what they have done.
BD: What if someone comes
to you and says, "Oh, but that was just
like so-and-so, conductor X, or conductor Y?"
EV: You know what?
I'm going to surprise you. Here we are in this little
room talking to each other, so I am not on guard and people are
listening: it never happened to me that someone came to me and
say, "Oh, you are doing what so-and-so is doing." Sometimes I am
consciously doing something that I know that I have picked from this
person, but I try to make it mine! In my scores, when
it's a conductor I really respect and it's a
piece that is very strong
repertoire, very often I write the name of the
conductor and where here he is doing a rubato - slowing down or rushing
and so on - because it's always interesting to know what these people
have done. These are my own markings and then you make your
BD: All right, let me get
you to gaze into your crystal
ball fifty or a hundred years hence: are you going to be shocked
when some other conductor has your name written in the
score with that little bit of rubato or
EV: Well, in 50 years I
don't know; I
hope I might still be on Earth. In one hundred years I hope
I will be somewhere else. We don't know. It's
possible! I have heard interpretations that I thought very
vividly I the only one
doing, but it could be that we
both had the same idea. It is going to
be; unless you stupidly copy something, it's going to be
That's what culture is about. It's about exchange; it's
about getting smarter by using the intelligence, the
knowledge and the culture of the person who is in front of you.
Not by isolating yourself.
Then, if you are a copycat, you're not smarter, you
get even more stupid because you are not being yourself! But you
learn to be yourself by just having this connection with the other
people, and just having your brain go against the brain
of someone else and sometimes taking the brains of someone else.
BD: Is this what
makes some operas, perhaps, better than others - that they come from a
brain, a more facile brain?
EV: Yeah, it could
be. Although, if you
want to be a little more paradoxical, sometimes weak
pieces lower your own intelligence,
and the little ounce of genius that we all might
have within ourselves expresses itself more
greatly because you have to defend the text, you have to build the
text, you have to nourish the
text. You have to make it alive and...
BD: ...add what's missing?
EV: You have, in a way,
to help what is there.
Yeah. It can happen! It's still a
privilege, most of the time, to deal with these
amazing composers that can become, for us, those friends. I
remember going through the last pages of Die Zauberflöte, which is the
that Mozart wrote. And when you are so much into the study of a
score - especially with
Mozart - in a way you feel very close to that person.
You feel, really, that you understand the movements, the
body language, the gesture of the mind of
Mozart. And I remember closing the score and thinking, "He
is not there anymore," and being personally touched by the
fact that Mozart was dead. It's a little corny, but that's the
feeling I had at that moment.
BD: But is it you and
Mozart, or is it you and Mozart and
EV: Well, it's
me and it's certainly not Mozart like he
was, but this is the image we have built of Mozart and
the image I have built myself of Mozart. Although when you
are dealing with those texts - Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, Wagner,
too, why not? - you feel you have a pretty good idea of the
soul and the spirit of these composers. They might have been,
actually, very disappointing human beings, with a lot of frauds
and flaws and problems,
but they have given the best of their soul. It's still
their soul which is there, and you feel you are connecting to
that. You really feel you are connecting to that, like you feel
you are connecting to a poet in
his works of literature.
BD: Because you were a
dramaturg, did you have any closer connection to the words than maybe
"just" a musician.
EV: Well, I don't know
because you can never understand the words in opera as pure
words. They are words which are there to be put into
music. So there is always a shadow in those words that you need
understand, and that the music is going to use, to make these
words more alive. There is this
possibility that the words are going to
be taken, absorbed, eaten, swallowed by the musical flow, and their
weakness is, in fact, part of their
function for the music to develop itself. When you look at it
just on paper, the libretto in
itself sometimes looks weird, bizarre and weak. But that weakness
those holes are exactly where the music is there to develop
BD: I've often wondered
about that. Are there some poems and plays that are too strong to
accept any music?
EV: I think so. I
personally think so, and that's what most of the great poets have
said. Maybe there are exceptions to
this, but real poetry has its own music within the poem. So it
requires a genius that somehow is going to take then from another angle
and add something else.
But it is an extremely complex challenge, and the chances it's going to
fail are bigger than the other way around.
BD: Do you have any
advice for a composer who wants to write an
opera these days, as we're now in the 21st century?
EV: I really don't
know. I don't know because we are in a time where we feel, at
least, you cannot tell a story the same
way you were telling it even fifty years
ago. I think the person who
has the answer to that and still has standards that are extremely
high is going to be the next genius of music. So I don't have the
BD: Do you expect that
genius to be coming along?
EV: Maybe. But
geniuses are here just to change history so you can't anticipate
them. I don't think you
BD: Lots of people are
saying opera is dead. I'm just wondering if you feel that way.
think there is a truth to that. New creation in opera is
problematic! There is a
future in music-theater. That
means great plays with music that's going to help support the
play! But opera means the musical value is first, and nowadays,
at least, it's a form that has a lot of
BD: So you think, maybe,
it's run its course?
EV: No, I think you would
reinvent the genre and the form to
really succeed at the level that we are trying
to reach with this. It's not very nice to say this,
but that's what I believe. It's not necessarily the same
thing with contemporary music in general.
BD: Symphony and chamber
EV: Symphony and chamber
music, yeah. There is a great future in theater with music there
to help the
theater, but as pure musical
values, it's more difficult. Even Messiaen's
It's a great piece, it's a fantastic piece. Is it an opera?
I'm not sure it's totally an opera. So if I answer your question
honestly, I think we are still
waiting for that. It's possible; it's not impossible, but they
would need to reorganize the old form.
BD: Are we waiting for a
change, or are we evolving and
we're too close to it to see the evolution at the moment?
EV: It's actually maybe
the same. Personally
I don't see how it could be done nowadays. I don't even see who
could do it, although there are a few names; Thomas Adès is
now fantastically, and Golijov. There are
several people who are and maybe it will come from some of those people
who nowadays are working on
the problem. I just don't see it,
but it might happen tomorrow!
BD: Well, I'm always
interested in what's going on,
but I wouldn't give the crown to one person or another.
EV: I don't think we
can! I don't think
we can and that has to do with the
time! You might have brilliant Broadway
shows that are going to be written in the next years,
but that's totally different! We are talking
about opera as the form that has developed itself since the 16th
BD: Well, we'll remain
EV: Of course!
BD: Good. Are you
pleased with where you are at this
point in your career?
EV: [Cheerfully and
optimistically] Yes! I hope I am going to enjoy myself as
much as I am enjoying myself today, and in order to do this, of
course, it needs even
more development in the career.
BD: So, back to your
EV: Back to the
BD: Thank you so much for
sharing the time today.
EV: Thank you! It
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© 2006 Bruce Duffie
This interview was recorded at Orchestra Hall in Chicago on
April 28, 2006. This transcription was made in 2008, published in
The Opera Journal and posted on this
website at that time.
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
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.