Mezzo - Soprano  Elena  Zilio

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


Elena Zilio received her education at the Conservatorio Monteverdi in Bolzano by Mrs. Marcucci, then studied at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia and Giorgio Favaretto in Rome. Debut at the Spoleto Festival in 1963 as Sofia in Rossini's Il Signor Bruschino. In the following years she appeared at the major Italian opera houses, at the Opera of Rome, in Genoa, Naples, Trieste and Venice, at the Festival in the Arena of Verona (1970, 1973, 1976) and in the Baths of Caracalla in Rome. She made her debut at Milan's La Scala in 1972 as Pierotto in Linda di Chamounix by Donizetti, where she had a long career. Among her roles were in 1972 Minerva in Monteverdi's Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria, 1973 Fyodor in Boris Godunov, 1974 the Page in Salome by R. Strauss, 1974-75, Dorina in Il marito disperato by Cimarosa, 1976 Rosina in The Barber of Seville, 1977 Siebel in Faust by Gounod, 1981 Cherubino in Le nozze di Figaro, 1982 Smeton in Anna Bolena by Donizetti and Ascanio in Les Troyens by Berlioz, 1983 Dardané in Gluck's The Pilgrims of Mecca, and L'Amour in Anacréon by Cherubini, 1984 in Les Noces by Stravinsky, 1985 Aristeo in Orfeo by Luigi Rossi , 1986 Olga in Eugene Onegin, in 2011 and 2014 Mamma Lucia in Cavalleria rusticana and in 2014 Hecube in Les Troyens by Berlioz.

She also sang at the Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels, the Paris Grand Opéra (2004 as Zita in Gianni Schicchi), the Cologne Opera House (including 1984 as Pippo in La gazza ladra by Rossini), in Boston, Chicago, San Antonio, Montreal, at the Geneva Opera (1964 as Mercedes in Carmen and 1982 as Lisa in Bellini's La Sonnambula), at the Bregenz Festival (1974 at a concert, and 1986 as Smeton), and Dubrovnik. In 1985 she sang at the Festival of Wiesbaden in Il Flaminio by Pergolesi, in 1987 at the Maggio Musicale in Florence in Benvenuto Cellini by Berlioz.

She became known primarily for her performance of difficult parts for coloratura alto in Italian bel canto operas by Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, Paisiello and Piccinni, but she sang on stage as well as in the concert hall an extensive repertoire. In 1988 she starred at the Teatro Comunale Bologna in the title role of the Offenbach operetta La Grande-Duchesse von Gerolstein, in 1991 she sang at the Connecticut Opera in Djamileh by Bizet and in La Navarraise by Massenet, in 1992 in Palermo Orsini in Lucrezia Borgia by Donizetti, in 1996 also Lucia in Rossini's opera La gazza ladra. In 1998 she sang at the Teatro Argentina in Rome the Marquise in La Fille du Régiment by Donizetti, at the Festival of Macerata Mrs. Quickly in Verdi's Falstaff. In 1999 she performed at the Lyon Opera as Mrs. Quickly, in 2000 at the Teatro Filarmonico Verona as Frugola in Il Tabarro and as Zita, also at the Opera House of Frankfurt a.M. as Mrs. Quickly. In 2007 she made her debut as Zita at the Covent Garden Opera London, where she also sang the abbess in Suor Angelica, Madelon in Andrea Chénier by Giordano, and Mamma Lucia. At the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, she sang in the season 2014/15 Filipjewna in Eugene Onegin.

She was married to the singer Attilio Burchiellaro, and they resided in Velletri near Rome.

LPs & CDs: EMI (Frugola in Tabarro, Suora Zelatrice in Suor Angelica and La Ciesca in Gianni Schicchi by Puccini; Rosa Mamai in L'arlesiana by Cilea), Mondo Musica (Armando in Maria di Rohan by Donizetti, Teatro Fenice Venice), Fonit Cetra (complete opera La buona figliuola by Piccini), MRF (La Straniera by Bellini, recording of a performance in Palermo, 1968), HRE (Un giorno di regno by Verdi), Nuova Era (Gianni di Parigi by Donizetti, Don Chisciotte by Paisiello), Hermitage (Una lettera d'amore di Lord Byron by Raffaello de Banfield); Castle video (Pippo in La gazza ladra by Rossini).

As can be seen from the chart farther down on this webpage, Elena Zilio gave Lyric Opera of Chicago many roles, especially each season in the 1970s.  It was in 1982, while singing Suzuki in the brand new Harold Prince production of Madama Butterfly that she made time for a conversation.  [Names which are links refer to my Interviews elsewhere on my website.]  My thanks to Marina Vecci of Lyric for providing the translation for us.

zilio While we settled in, she was speaking about her children, and a few times her husband, Attilio Burchiellaro, also participated in the discussion . . . . . . . . .

Bruce Duffie:   Let us start right there.  How do you balance a wonderful singing career with being mother, and wife, and family person?

Elena Zilio:   Everything comes by itself, so it’s very easy.  Being a mother has added an extraordinary experience to my life, and made me even more mature on stage.

BD:   Does it help you directly with any roles?

EZ:   The happiness that there two beautiful children to my life adds a lot.  In order to be a singer, you have to be happy and contented for the voice to function, so I am very secure because of the happiness the children bring.

BD:   Does your husband travel with you all the time?

Attilio Burchiellaro:  
They always travel with us.  The children have a program that they’re given by the school in Rome.  The young boy is studying with me, and when he goes back to Rome he’s got to take an exam.  So the children have a good education.  [Looking at his wife]  It’s impossible for her to abandon her children.

BD:   [To Attilio]  I understand you are also a singer?

AB:   I was a singer, but I’m not singing at the moment.  I’m following my wife’s career.  I sang here in Chicago in Salome [Soldier, 1971].    

BD:   [With eager anticipation]  Maybe you could do a recital while you are here.

AB:   It’s impossible for both of us to have careers and to also have a family simultaneously.  We’ve done many duo-recitals in Rome, and a concert tour of old music.  There’s a lot of chamber music we can do.

EZ:   [With a big smile]  Monteverdi, Rossini, Bellini...

BD:   [Back to Elena]  How did you first get involved with singing?

EZ:   I was born a singer!  Actually, I studied music and voice in the Conservatory.  After graduation, I went on to an academy
first in Siena, the Accademia Chigiana, where I studied piano as well as voice, and then later in the Academy in Rome to perform in the theater, where I did ballet as well as singing.  It was at the Accademia in Rome that I met Attilio, and we were married.

BD:   Then how did you decide that you would rather go into singing, and not piano or ballet?

EZ:   I did better with singing, and it was my strongest passion.  I made my debut at the Spoleto Festival as Sofia in Rossini’s Il Signor Bruschino with Julius Rudel conducting.  Then, at La Scala with Pierotto in Donizetti’s Linda di Chamounix with Gavazzeni.

BD:   How do the different sized houses affect your vocal production?

EZ:   I don’t find much difference.  Here are the big American theaters, and La Fenice di Venezia is very small, but it doesn’t matter.  Big one, little one, if the acoustics are right, you can perform.  I have sung in the Arena of Verona, and the audience hears very well.  It creates an emotional effect.  You see this sea of people, and know that there are so many, but from the stage with the lights you don’t really notice them that much.

BD:   You don’t try to make contact with everyone in the auditorium?

EZ:   The more the merrier!  [Much laughter all round]  It does give you an emotional feeling of wanting to give more.  There’s more emotion.

BD:   Do you ever find yourself giving a little too much?

EZ:   Sometimes you’re tempted to overdo it.

BD:   Have you sung roles in translation?

EZ:   Usually I do everything in the original language
Berlioz in French, and Wagner in German.

BD:   Do you feel that opera would work well in translation?

EZ:   No, it’s not very good.  In Germany they do this but it is not so successful.  I have done Bohème but always in the original language.  It is much better.


BD:   Do you like being a mezzo soprano?  Do you have any latent desires to be a soprano?

EZ:   I have already done some soprano roles, such as Musetta, and Norina in Don Pasquale with Maestro Bartoletti.  A Rossini mezzo can do some of them because the tessitura is such that it’s the same voice range.  Norina is fine because the tessitura is a little particular.  I sing mezzo-piano not fortissimo, but a Rossini-mezzo can do it.  They said they wanted a voice darker than the traditional coloratura soprano, so they made me an offer and I accepted.

BD:   How do you decide then which roles you will sing and which roles you will say no to?

EZ:   I love to change roles often, and that kind of thing is a temptation, and a chance to do something different and create a new character than I had done previously.

BD:   So would you rather then sing something new, or just another version of something that you have already sung?

EZ:   In fact, I am always studying.  They give me many roles in Italy, and new ones, but not modern music.  At La Scala I sang Anacréon by Cherubini, and I sang Amore, which is very beautiful.  

BD:   Are there ever roles that you sing where you don’t like the character?

EZ:   I don’t have to do those.  I would rather refuse if I find the character very unpleasant because I want to find the interesting person and character.  I love to perform roles where I can find the characters. 

AB:   For example, you want to do Musetta, who is a frivolous woman, and you like it.  But in reality, you are a good mother, a good spouse, and perhaps a bit coquettish.  

EZ:   But Musetta is entertaining, funny, with lovely costumes and pleasing to the audience.  This is important.  I see the enjoyment in the audience.  The artist transforms herself into the character she’s playing.

BD:   How much in each character is Elena Zilio?

EZ:   In Italy many, many of them are trouser roles.  I’ve sung young pages such as Cherubino.  In Florence I did a complete version of The Tales of Hoffmann, reinserting quite a bit of music.  The performance ran over four and a half hours.  I sang Nicklausse, and there were two extra arias, beautiful ones.

BD:   If you’re asked to sing that same role in another house where they do the standard version, are you frustrated?

EZ:   I sang it here [in 1976] with Domingo, and when they showed me the score that they wanted to perform, I was delighted and surprised to see these extra numbers in.  The last time I was here [Bohème, 1979], was a very exhilarating experience because we had a different leading lady almost every other night.  We had five or six Mimì’s and four or five Rudolfo’s, but only one Musetta!  [Laughter all around]  Of all the Bohème’s that I’ve done, the one I enjoyed doing the most was here, when our production was new.  It was staged by Giorgio De Lullo [1921-1981], a great Italian stage director and actor, a man of the theater.  He was magnificent and I admired him, and since his death we have lost a great man.

Elena Zilio at Lyric Opera of Chicago

1966 - Gioconda (La Cieca) with Suliotis, Cioni, Guelfi, Cossoto, Vinco; Sanzogno, Frusca
         - Traviata (Flora) with Rinaldi/Maliponte, Kraus, Bruscantini, Voketaitis; Rossi, Menegatti, Peter J. Hall

1970 - [Opening Night] Rosenkavalier (Annina) with Ludwig, Minton, Berry, Brooks, Garaventa, Gutstein, Andreolli;
                                                Dohnányi, Neugebauer, Schnieder-Siemssen

1971 - Rheingold (Wellgunde) with Hofmann, Neidlinger, Holm, Hoffman, Boese, Altmeyer, Rundgren, Sotin; Leitner, Lehmann, Grübler
         - Barber of Seville (Berta) with Prey, Horne, Garaventa, Ferrin, Malas; Bartoletti, Gobbi, Peter J. Hall
         - Salome (Page) with Silja, Nienstedt, Ulfung, Cervena, MacWherther/Little; Dohnányi, Lehmann/Darling, Pizzi

1972 - Walküre (Siegrune) with Nilsson, Martin, Esser, Hofmann, Hoffman, Rundgren; Leitner, Lehmann, Grübler
          - Traviata (Flora) with Casapietra, Merighi/Tagliavini/Ochman, Bordoni, Voketaitis; Arena, De Lullo, Pizzi
          - Bohème (Musetta) with Krilovici/Bruno, Merighi, Patrick, Ferrin, Tajo; Bartoletti, De Lullo, Pizzi
          - Pelléas et Mélisande (Yniold) with Stilwell, Pilou, Petri, Ariè, Voketaitis; Fournet, Diebier, Heeley

1973 - Rosenkavalier (Annina) with Ludwig/Dernesch, Berthold, Sotin, Blegen, Merighi, Gutstein, Andreolli;
                                                Leitner, Neugebauer, Schneider-Siemssen
          - Bohéme (Musetta) with Cotrubas/Wells, Pavarotti/Merighi, Patrick, Washington, Tajo; Bartoletti, De Lullo, Pizzi

1974 - Favorita (Inez) with Cossotto, Kraus, Cappuccili, Vinco; Rescigno, Anderson, Lee
          - Falstaff (Meg Page) with Evans, Ligabue, Stewart, Alva, Bonifaccio; Maag, Anderson/Evans, Zeffirelli
          - Madama Butterfly (Suzuki) with Krilovici/Amedeo, Merighi, Patrick, Andreolli; Chailly, Aoyama, Lee
          - Götterdämmerung (Wellgunde) with Nilsson/Lindholm, Cox, Rundgren, McIntyre, Altmeyer, Reynolds; Leitner, Lehmann, Grübler

1975 - Traviata (Flora) with Cotrubas, Kraus, Cappuccilli, Voketaitis; Bartoletti, De Lullo, Pizzi
          -Orfeo ed Euridice (Amor) with Stilwell, Cotrubas; Fournet, Sequi, Samaritani

1976 - [Opening Night] Tales of Hoffmann (Niklausse) with Domingo/Johns, Welting, Cortez, Eda-Pierre, Mittelmann, Kuhlmann, Andreolli;
                                                Bartoletti, Puecher, Frigerio

1977 - Orfeo ed Euridice (Amor) with Stilwell, Shade; Fournet, Sequi, Samaritani

1978 - Madama Butterfly (Suzuki) with Hayashi, Merighi/Moldoveanu, Romero, Andreolli; Chailly, Aoyama/Overton, Lee

1979 - Bohème (Musetta) with Mitchell/Soviero/Niculescu, Shicoff/Moldoveanu, Romero, Ramey, Tajo; Chailly, De Lullo, Pizzi

1982 - Madama Butterfly (Suzuki) with Mauti-Nunziata, Ciannella/Moldoveanu, Bruscantini, Andreolli, Cook, Del Carlo, Harman-Gulick;
                                                Gómez-Martínez, Prince, Dunham

1985-86 - Madama Butterfly (Suzuki - Sept/Oct) with Tomowa-Sintow, Dvorský, Stilwell, Andreolli, Doss, Del Carlo; (same as 1982)
               - Anna Bolena (Smeton) with Sutherland, Toczyska, Plishka, Merritt, Doss; Bonynge, Mansouri, Pascoe, Schuler (lights)

1996-97 - Consul [Menotti] (Foreign Woman) with Daniels, Cowan, Golden, Devlin, McCauley; R. Buckley, Falls, Tsypin, Schuler

BD:   Do you find that the better the director, the better the performance is for you?

EZ:   Yes.  For example, this production of Butterfly is better than the one we had before, because of the genius of the director.  It is most important.

BD:   Then when you go to your next Butterfly, will you remember some of the things that you learned from Harold Prince?

EZ:   Yes, I will.  The things that I learn from these great directors is what makes the opera experience, and influences my performances.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Let me ask you about a few specific roles.  What kind of a woman is Suzuki?  What is she like really?

zilio EZ:   She’s young, and she is very much in love.

BD:   What is she going to do in the next act after Butterfly has killed herself?

EZ:   Poor Suzuki, who knows?  She’s never thought about it.

BD:   Is there enough music in the opera to really give a full characterization of the character of Suzuki?

EZ:   Puccini’s certainly not given too much of music for Suzuki to create the character, but it seems to be enough because the audiences always seem to love Suzuki.  In addition to what she actually sings, there’s a lot of acting, a lot of mime that goes with the part.  Singing the part is a little bit tricky, but I’ve got to warm up carefully.  The problem with being a good Suzuki is that you have to back-up Butterfly.  You can’t intrude upon her or above her.  You’ve got always be in the shadows, always moving, supportive, a real presence but not an interference.  The audience loves her by the end of the second act.  At the beginning it’s very gradual, and slowly it emerges just who she is.  If she does not make the character understood, then she’s ill-prepared for the role.  Whoever is playing Suzuki has to do that.

BD:   Earlier you were bringing up the problems of the intermissions.  Would you rather have no intermissions, or would you prefer that the intermission be longer?

EZ:   I prefer a single intermission in Butterfly.  In the version when acts two and three are played together, they flow one into the other, and it creates more tension.  It’s much more beautiful than if you break it in half.

BD:   It’s better for the public, but is it better for the singers?

EZ:   Yes.  It seems to work very well, but it is harder for Butterfly than for Suzuki to have half an hour off in between those two scenes.  But it always seems to work in the theater when you do it this way.

BD:   Would La Bohème work better with one intermission rather than two or three?

EZ:   I have done it where they have skipped the intermission between acts one and two, but never performances when they have run any of the other acts together.

BD:   Is it better to keep the sequence going with no interval between one and two?

EZ:   Yes, I like it better that way.  It’s better if they do them together.

BD:   When you’re singing, are you conscious of the public, or do you only play to the people who are on stage, and just hope that the public gets all that you’re giving them?

EZ:   I can get very intensely involved with the people on the stage, and the audience really fades into the background.  I’m aware of the audience before I go out to perform, but when I’m on the stage with the other characters, I am really wrapped up in them.

BD:   How much does that character stay with you when you come off the stage?

EZ:   Once I start taking the make-up off after the performance, the thoughts of my family are there, and there are other things to turn to, that intrude again.  The persistence of Suzuki is very slight.  Perhaps Musetta lingers on a bit little longer than Suzuki. 

BD:   [With a wink]  Musetta sometimes clobbers Marcello.  Do you ever come off the stage and want to clobber Attilio?

EZ:   He’s too smart for that! [Much laughter]  

BD:   How old are your children?

EZ:   My little girl is four, and my little boy is seven.

BD:   Would you ever volunteer them to be Butterfly
’s child?

zilio EZ:   It could be a shock to see the mother’s suicide.  I don’t even bring my children to the theater for some of my roles.  I bring them only for The Marriage of Figaro, Così Fan Tutte, the fun operas where they don’t have to watch the mother die on the stage.

BD:   Oh, I see, maybe they might run to the wrong mother or something in front of the?  Well, you’re going to have to bring them to an opera where you die eventually.  How will you decide when to bring them?  When will they be ready?

EZ:   In a few years she’ll do that.

BD:   Are there are some operas where you die on stage?

EZ:   There is a Rachmaninoff piece [Aleko] where I was stabbed to death by my lover!

BD:   Are there other roles where you kill someone, like Tosca kills Scarpia?

EZ:   I’ve never had to.  Too bad, too bad!  [Much laughter]  Once I rolled around the stage in a fight scene while the two of us were singing...  [It is exactly twenty-five years later as this interview is being prepared for website presentation, and I very much regret not pursuing this item just a bit more!]

BD:   Tell me about Cherubino!  What kind of lad is he?

EZ:   Cherubino is the sweetest person there is, a young boy in love with carefree women.

BD:   Is it hard to play a boy who is loving a woman?

EZ:   I’m a specialist in that kind of part.  I’ve been very fortunate to always have had brilliant colleagues, and it has never really presented a problem.

BD:   Have you done Octavian?

EZ:   No.  Here in Chicago I have sung Annina, the Italian schemer.

BD:   Right, you and Andreolli...

EZ:   ...were the Italian couple!  [Laughter all around]

BD:   Is Rosenkavalier the newest opera you do?

EZ:   No, in Bologna I did Le Grand Macabre by Ligeti [1923-2006].

In 1977, Ligeti completed his only opera, Le Grand Macabre, thirteen years after its initial commission.  Loosely based on Michel de Ghelderode's 1934 play, La balade du grand macabre, it is a work of Absurd Theater — Ligeti called it an anti-anti-opera — in which Death (Nekrotzar) arrives in the fictional city of Breughelland and announces that the end of the world will occur at midnight.  Musically, Le Grand Macabre draws on techniques not associated with Ligeti's previous work, including quotations and pseudo-quotations of other works and the use of consonant thirds and sixths.  

Of the early stagings, Ligeti described the Bologna production as the only one that truly captured the spirit of the intended demoniacal farce.  
Roland Topor designed the sets, Giorgio Pressburger was the director, and Zoltan Pesko conducted.

BD:   Did you like that work?

zilio EZ:   Yes, it was a very interesting experience. 

BD:   Do you like modern music generally?

EZ:   No!

BD:   Why?

EZ:   Because to be able to sing, the voice needs expression and a certain line.  Generally modern music makes demands on the voice that hurt the voice.  Also, it does not satisfy me as a singer because it’s not got a sustained legato line.  This is music where one sings one note up here [vocally illustrates this] and one note down there, and it hurts.  If you do too much modern music, you can’t go back and do the bel canto.  There are specialists who do this contemporary music, and it’s hard for them to go beyond that to other kinds of music.  Every now and then, a work like the Ligeti is an interesting experience, but I try not to make a habit of it.

BD:   You don’t like to sing it, but do you like to listen to it?

EZ:   Yes, I like to listen to it, but I don’t do it very often.

BD:   Are you a good audience?

EZ:   I like to go and have a good cry if it’s a good production, but I’m always busy in between my own performances.  I have to prepare for what’s coming up next, and there isn’t much time to then go to the theater.

BD:   Do you have any special routines
like not talking on the day of a performance, or carrying certain dolls or artifacts to the dressing room?

EZ:   I don’t carry anything with me, no.  If I have a good-luck piece, it’s my children.

BD:   I have asked you about contemporary music.  What about old music
Monteverdi, Cavalli?  Do those pieces have a place on the modern stage?

EZ:   In small theaters, yes.  If they adhered to the original scoring, the orchestra might not really be adequate for a big theater like this one.  We did beef it up when we did The Coronation of Poppea.  We did it with the regular string section.  We didn’t cut back.  We had an organ, but we used modern instruments, and a modern orchestral force.

BD:   Do you think Monteverdi would approve of that?

EZ:   Oh, yes, absolutely.  He would say yes, and see it as being very good.  I’m going to do La rencontre imprévue – Les pèlerins de la Mecque (
The Unexpected Encounter, or The Pilgrims to Mecca) (1764) by Gluck in the Piccola Scala.  I have sung Monteverdi operas in the Piccola Scala, which is very, very small, and we had a small orchestra made up of the ancient instruments.

BD:   Do you find that your voice is too big for that?  Do you have to hold back?

EZ:   No, no, because I have studied a lot of chamber music at the conservatory and done many, many concerts.  I have had the good fortune of studying the style of Monteverdi and Gluck.  Each opera is written in a style, and my musical education taught me how to sing in these various styles.  These things really carry the role by itself.  I do not feel that I have to hold back when I do a Monteverdi piece, and I do not have to put extra out when I’m doing something like Puccini where it has to be more intense, and needs bigger voice production.  Whatever the role, it carries itself because of the musical style in which it is written.

civic BD:   Why does the contemporary public not know, or perhaps not appreciate, these older operas as much as they should?

EZ:   It could be because the American audience is not familiar with.  It
s not that they don’t like it, but they don’t have an opportunity to see it.  In Italy, in all the big houses, every season there’s always a couple of old pieces, early operas of Gluck or Monteverdi, or something of that era.  It would be very nice to do them here in Chicago in the Civic Theatre. [The Civic Theatre was a miniature replica (900 seats) of the Civic Opera House (3600 seats) at the other end of the same building, which opened in 1929.  It saw plays and ballets, as well as a few chamber operas, such as those given by the Opera School of Chicago (as it was originally called), before being converted into backstage and rehearsal space for the main theater in 1993.]  [To see a fantasy on this architectural element (shown at right) by Kathy Cunningham, click HERE.]

BD:   What about the lesser-known operas, such as those by Giordano and Mercadante?

EZ:   Even in Italy, those aren’t even done much.

BD:   Why not?

EZ:   In the Italian theaters that they like to look around and find something different to give the audiences, and for that reason they do produce some of these pieces.  Adriana Lecouvreur was not very often produced until rather recently, where it seems to be enjoying a little bit of vogue.  But the managements of the theaters do like to keep something novel in every season, something like that which is a little bit different and a bit new.  

BD:   Here in America we have such a small repertoire.  We always do the same few operas again and again and again.  How can we get management, and ultimately the public, to accept more works?  [Now, a quarter-century later, it does seem that we have expanded the list a bit, including the Lyric Opera
s series in the 1990s Toward the Twenty-First Century . . .]

EZ:   A big problem in Chicago is that our season is so short
September to Decemberand you can’t do that many, whereas what in a normal season, like we have in Europe, starts in October and goes all the way until May.

BD:   But even the Met has a longer season, and yet they do very few of these odd works.

EZ:   Strange, because these operas always excite the audiences.  It could be that the managements of opera houses think that with the well-established repertoire they’re going to be able to sell out easily, and it might not be so easy with less familiar works.  I sang in sold-out performances of The Trojans at La Scala with Prêtre which is a rarity.

*     *     *     *     *

zilio BD:   Have you made some recordings?

EZ:   My recordings have largely been chamber music.  I have done La Cecchina [The Little Blind Girl] by Niccolò Piccinni (1728-1800), and I’ve also done Pimpinone of Albinoni (1671-1751).  It’s a short opera, a little bit like La Serva Padrona of Pergolesi (1710-1736).

BD:   Are recordings too perfect?

EZ:   It’s a very special art, and they always come out stupendous!

BD:   But do they give us a wrong impression of what an opera really is?

EZ:   Recordings can help, but what goes on in the theater is much more exciting.  Opera is something to see, not just to listen to.

BD:   Does opera belong on television?

EZ:   Whatever will help audiences to love the opera is worth doing, but you should be seated in the theater in order to enjoy opera.  They resort to all kinds to things
like dubbing, and seeing that the singer always looks beautiful on the screen.  Sometimes, when we make a sound, the voice comes out and we do not look so pretty.

BD:   How does the opera house in Chicago compare with the opera houses in the world?

EZ:   The audiences around the world are very much the same, but there is something about the American public that I find fascinating.  My debut here was in ’66, and I was even younger than I am now!  [Laughter all around]  I came with a suitcase, and was in La Gioconda.  I sang La Cieca, the blind old mother.  [With a wicked laugh]  We called her the Venetian blind because we made her up with a flat wig, and wrinkles and lines!

BD:   Do you like playing old women?

EZ:   No!

BD:   Why?

EZ:   Everything in its own time!  [More laughter]  I don’t want to get ahead of the times.

BD:   Will you be back in Chicago?

EZ:   I hope so because I love Chicago very much.  I have the most beautiful memories of Chicago, especially Little Italy.

BD:   Thank you very much for taking the time from your busy schedule.  Mille grazie!

EZ:   Thank you, it has been my pleasure.

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© 1982 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in Chicago on December 7, 1982.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB in 1993.  This transcription was made in 2017, and posted on this website on the first day of 2018.  My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.  To read my thoughts on editing these interviews for print, as well as a few other interesting observations, click here.

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

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