Soprano  Linda  Zoghby

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


Linda Zoghby was born in Mobile, Alabama (August 17, 1949), and began her vocal studies under Elena Nikolaidi at Florida State University. Her professional debut came in 1973 at Chicago's Grant Park Music Festival, following which she made her stage debut at Houston Grand Opera as Donna Elvira in 1975. Thereafter she sang opera in venues around the United States, including New York City; Washington, D.C.; Dallas; Santa Fe; and New Orleans.

On January 19, 1982, she made her Metropolitan Opera debut in La bohème by stepping in at the last minute for Teresa Stratas as Mimì, a performance which won her many critical plaudits. Internationally, Zoghby appeared at the Glyndebourne Festival as Mimì, and as Aminta in La fedeltà premiata by Joseph Haydn. Other roles for which she was known include Pamina, and Marguerite in Faust. During her career she also appeared in performance at the White House, and recorded a number of operas by Haydn.

Zoghby is married with three children. A resident of Mobile, she teaches voice at the University of South Alabama.


Linda Zoghby was in Chicago in October of 1986 for a performance of the B Minor Mass of Bach.  She graciously took time from her busy schedule for a conversation.  Despite the fact that she was singing Bach, I knew she had done a bit of Mozart, so that is where we began . . . . .

Bruce Duffie:   First, tell me the secret of singing Mozart!

Linda Zoghby:   [Laughs]  In ten words or less?

BD:   [With a grin]  I’ll give you twenty-five words.

Zoghby:   Okay...  I was just having this conversation with someone last night on the way back from the concert.  You’d probably agree that to be able to sing Mozart, and Haydn, and Handel, you really can’t hide any vocal weaknesses.  It’s all there to be seen.  The secret to singing it is healthy technique, an ease of line, and making it seamless.  It also requires a beauty of tone, so the secret would be just assembling those ingredients, if they can be assembled.

BD:   You put Mozart, and Haydn, and Handel all together.  Do they require the same kind of technique as Bach?

Zoghby:   I haven’t sung that much Bach.  This is my first time doing the B Minor Mass, and only my third venture into Bach.  I must say this particular piece has a very tricky vocal line.  I find I really can’t take my eyes off the music that much because each measure seems to bring something unpredictable in terms of either the rhythm, or the placement of the syllable, or a strangely stressed, or an unstressed note.  Also, the vocal line just lies in a very unpredictable fashion.  But, it’s lovely, and once one learns this piece, you cannot get it out of your head.

BD:   Is it a masterpiece?

Zoghby:   I would have to know all of his repertoire in a much deeper way to be able to pick out what are his masterpieces.  A real masterpiece is the Missa Solemnis of Beethoven.

BD:   What about that makes it a masterpiece?

Zoghby:   It’s profound.  It was the most profound musical experience I ever had, doing it with Antal Doráti and the Israel Philharmonic in Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Jerusalem.  Several ingredients made it.  One was the music; second was having Doráti be the conductor; and third was being the nearest to where my own blood comes from, which is Lebanon.  It was the nearest I had ever been, and it was a very emotional, fulfilling, and profound musical experience for me.  [Vis-à-vis these Haydn recordings, see my interviews with Antal Doráti, and Benjamin Luxon.]

BD:   You have also worked with Dorá
ti on the recordings of Haydn.

Zoghby:   Yes.  I have worked with him probably more than any other conductor.

BD:   How is he to work with as a conductor?

Zoghby:   He’s a marvelous man of music.  I got my connection with him when I just started out, so I was very wide-eyed and new in the field of music.  George London had introduced us, and wanted me to sing for the maestro.  It was in that way that I was able to do many concerts at the Kennedy Center with the National Symphony, the Detroit Symphony, Carnegie Hall, the three recordings in Switzerland, and in London, and Israel.  So, it was quite a connection for me.  Your question was how is he as a conductor, and he just had such wonderful insights into the music, both for the orchestra and for the singers.  He also had wonderful anecdotes.  I remember one little thing he told the orchestra when he was setting the tempo for the Benedictus in the Missa Solemnis, and that this was the baby, the child being rocked.  I just thought it was a lovely way of setting an attitude for the orchestra.

BD:   So, it was more than just tempo?

Zoghby:   Exactly, and he had wonderful stories to tell.

BD:   Let us talk a bit about singing Haydn operas.  Why do we not know these works except through the recordings?

Zoghby:   I don’t know, because it is music on a par with Mozart.  Perhaps some of the stories didn’t lend themselves to the dramatic play that Mozart would, but some of them certainly would.  One that I recorded, L’incontro improvviso, is just another Abduction from the Seraglio, with delightful and beautiful and challenging music.

BD:   Too challenging?

Zoghby:   No, but wonderfully challenging in the sense that Mozart would be.  If you can do it, it’s not difficult, and I happen to love it.  There is one beautiful melody after another.  Then in Glyndebourne, I did another Haydn opera, La fedeltà premiata.  [Information about that work is shown farther down on this webpage.]  I don’t know why he’s not done on the stage more.

BD:   Who staged the Glyndebourne production?

Zoghby:   It was staged by John Cox as a play within a play.  We were poking fun, and having fun within the play.  I think it really was the right way to go with this piece.  It set it in its proper perspective because it’s not a major piece of drama.

BD:   Is it a major piece of music?

Zoghby:   Oh, I think so, maybe in the context of what was going on at that time.  Certainly there are much, much, more uninteresting operas being staged today.  Don’t ask me to name any, but this was delightful music.

BD:   You also did the oratorio Il ritorno di Tobia.

Zoghby:   That was recorded in London, and it had its first American performance, as we understand it, with Doráti when I did it with him at the Kennedy Center.  It was a few years later when we recorded it.


BD:   How does that compare with the operas?

Zoghby:   Dramatically, I don’t think this would have carried.  There’s not a lot of action in it.  But then, look at pieces like Idomeneo.  Do they have a lot of action in them?

BD:   Stage directors invent action.

zoghby Zoghby:   Yes, through a stone Neptune appearing, and lights flashing in all different colors, and lightning being created, and choruses of seventy or eighty.

BD:   In opera, where is the balance between the music and the drama?

Zoghby:   You have to weigh it in terms of your audience.  There are purists who will rightly tolerate much more than your provincial audience, because their ears and their minds have been schooled to a greater appreciation of opera.  In many cases, by
provincial, you’re talking about hometown America.  But in any case, it should have some merit in terms of its dramatic hold on an audience, as well as worthiness in terms of musical content, including melody.  There are different standards for modern opera.

BD:   Should there be different standards for modern opera?

Zoghby:   Yes.  In a way, there should be because we can’t use a 17th, or 18th, or 19th century ear to evaluate a 20th century sound.  We do, and that’s why we say we don’t like a lot of it.  It’s like beauty... what might be beautiful through a Western eye might not be beautiful to an Eastern eye, or Japanese versus American beauty.

BD:   Are audiences perhaps too conservative?

Zoghby:   Some audiences are.  Perhaps we all are, because that’s what we’ve mostly heard.  I don’t like a lot of the modern music, and I don’t say we should have to make ourselves like it, but we have to judge it with a more open ear.  But if you’re expecting an 18th or 19th century sound, then listen to 18th and 19th century music.  I choose not to accept engagements of some modern operas that people might be interested in having me sing, because it hasn’t been my cup of tea.  But sometimes I don’t give it a fair hearing, to tell you the truth.

BD:   How do you decide which roles you will accept and which roles you will not accept?

Zoghby:   I have to do it through what my 5-year or 10-year goal or plan might be.  I think about how I want to spend my time, how much time I want to spend away from home, what roles I feel leave me in good stead, and what roles do I have something to offer in.  So, I decide based on those factors.  This is a year with a lot of firsts for me.  This was my first B minor Mass.  It will be my first Violetta in Traviata, and my first Liù in Turandot.  Those are two operatic roles which will be really good for me.

BD:   As well as roles you could sing in many places.

Zoghby:   Yes, standards.

BD:   It’s good to have a number standard roles in your repertoire.

Zoghby:   Oh, certainly.  They’re your bread and butter.  There’s a new opera being written, and I don’t want to mention the city which is producing it or the opera, but there’s been some interest expressed.  I have not seen the music yet, but I understand that if I were cast in it, he could tailor it somewhat to my voice.  I will have to see some of the music first, but it’s not something I’d jump right up to.  I have to consider, based on how I want to spend my time, but it’s a decision I’ll have to make if it comes closer to being offered.

 BD:   Have you done any world premieres?

Zoghby:   Not of new works, but I think we did the American premiere of the Haydn, which is 200 years old.  [Thinks a moment]  Sometimes I can’t remember things I’ve done.  My mind works in very funny way sometimes.

zoghby BD:   [Encouragingly]  Your mind works in a musical way!

Zoghby:   Is that it?  Okay.  I’ll take that explanation.  [Both laugh]

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Thinking about the things you’re doing now, and the things you’re doing in the future, is there a role that you’ve done more than any others?

Zoghby:   Yes.  Mimì in La bohème.    

BD:   Tell me a little bit about her.  What kind of a woman is she?

Zoghby:   It’s very interesting.  Just two weeks ago, I played her in a little different way than I did all the other times.  I’ve done her sixteen times at Glyndebourne, and maybe ten times at the Met, plus two here, and three there.

BD:   You’ve had wide extremes of theaters, with the huge house at the Met, and the tiny house at Glyndebourne.  Do you play her differently because of the size of the stage?  [Vis-à-vis the program shown at left, see my interviews with James Levine, Richard Stilwell, Renato Capecchi, David Stivender, and Giuliano Ciannella.]

Zoghby:   At the Met, I wasn’t really directed.  I had some rehearsal, but Stratas withdrew from all seven performances in one case, and then I had other performances of my own.  But if the Met stamp was on it, it was from what I had garnered from what Zeffirelli had wanted via the assistant director, or what I had observed, plus bringing my own thoughts into it.  Glyndebourne was very intimate, and that’s the way Bohème can be most greatly appreciated, but it is a very versatile opera.  I don’t know a venue in which it really can’t come off well.  The orchestra at the Met is extremely, extremely powerful in that broad romantic sound, and there you’re so far away from your audience, anyway.  Plus, Zeffirelli had a set in which you’re twenty or thirty feet up.  The role is heavy in the middle range, but there’s a lovely acoustic in the house, and I carried fine.  Yet, it’s a whole different experience to sing it in a house where you haven’t got that massive orchestra to sing over.

BD:   Did you adjust your technique for the smaller house?

Zoghby:   No, I definitely use the same technique.

BD:   Have you sung any of your roles in translation?

Zoghby:   Yes.  For the Mozarts, I’ve done the Countess in English, and I’ve done The Magic Flute in both German and English.  George London directed the English productions.  I’ve done other productions of these, too.  There is also Fiordiligi, in both languages.  You have to learn these roles in both, with more and more being done in the original language, especially with supertitles coming along.

BD:   Do these operas work well in English?

Zoghby:   I’m one who feels that you don’t suffer doing the Mozart operas in English.  I think the Italian repertoire most definitely does suffer.

BD:   Do you like the idea of the supertitles?  [Remember, this interview was held in 1986, just as the use of supertitles in the theater was becoming more universal.]

Zoghby:   Definitely, and then the Mozarts could most easily then be done in original language, but I don’t think they really suffer in English.  

BD:   Do you think the use of supertitles will mean the death of opera-in-English?

Zoghby:   We were just talking about that at lunch today.  I think it can.  I don’t see how anybody could have any quarrel with it, particularly since many times operas sung in English are not understood.  So, supertitles seem to be the perfect answer if you really want to know what’s being said.  I just did my first use of them a few weeks ago, and the audience loved it.  Backstage, we heard them laughing at points that you wouldn’t hear them laughing at before, because they could get everything.

BD:   Are you conscious of your audience when you’re singing?

Zoghby:   Yes, I think you are, even if not in an overt way.  They’re a companion with you, sometimes more than other times, but yes, you definitely can tell when you’ve got a warm audience.  When there is a cold audience, there will be comments backstage that they’re sitting on their hands.  There’s a different personality to each audience.  Sometimes the opening night audience will have all the
stuffy old patrons.  But I say, Long live the patrons, because that’s what gets opera on.  I will sing for any audience, and every audience.  If you can bring them a greater enjoyment of music, and you can express yourself and give your best to a role, that is what opera is all about.

BD:   Should we try to bring opera to the rock audience, or to a football audience?

Zoghby:   I say whoever wants to come should come.  There is always a need for education, enlightening one’s self.  Even if it just involves twenty minutes of putting a needle down on a record, and reading the synopsis before you get there is going to give you a greater appreciation than if you hadn’t done those things.  The more time you put into it, the more you’re going to get out of it.  I venture to say to the most avid football fan, if you put twenty or thirty minutes into a listening and learning a little bit, you’re going to get more out of it.  For whoever wants to listen, it’s really a matter who wants to expose themselves to it.  I love it when people come and tell me,
This is my first opera.  I feel like that’s a special thing.  I’m always happy to be a part of somebody’s first opera.  That excites me.

BD:   What was your first opera to see?

Zoghby:   It might have been The Barber of Seville when I was maybe ten or twelve years old.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   How do you divide your career between opera and concert?

Zoghby:   I do a pretty even mix, and I do recitals.  I love to do recitals.

BD:   What’s special about those?

zoghby Zoghby:   There’s a satisfaction, a purity of presentation.  It’s in your control.  Lots of times there are frustrating aspects to opera.  You didn’t choose your costume.  You didn’t choose your cast or conductor in some cases.  You might have directed something differently, or played something differently than the director might insist that you do.  In a recital, you assemble the elements, and the rate of return can be greater.  It can certainly be great in opera, and almost always I’ve had very satisfying experiences... with some exceptions.  I’ve always found recitals to be musically very satisfying and rewarding.  I love to do them, and I love to do orchestral works.  So, I feel very lucky to have that mix.  I wouldn’t want to do just one.

BD:   Do you like the way you sound on recordings?

Zoghby:   I haven’t listened to them in years.  I can remember when we were working on an opera with Maestro Doráti.  I made a mistake of asking him if I could take a breath on a certain phrase.  I learned from that experience that if you need a breath, don’t ask the conductor.  You can take it, because I didn’t take the breath as he recommended.  I sound horrible in that phrase in the recording, and it’s there to haunt me forever.  You learn from doing.  You learn from your mistakes, and I certainly did.  The session where I was slated to record it was used by another singer, who, shall we say needed, the time to get something right.  So, my session was wiped out, and they ended up having to put my recording of that difficult aria at the end of the whole week and a half.  We did it twice.  The first was a run-through, and the second was a take, and that was it.  I fared well, considering there was a run-through and a take, and I would have liked to have had two or three shots at it, but I think it came off okay.

BD:   What surprised you most about the recording process?

Zoghby:   I don’t know if anything surprised me.  It was just new to me, and I was observing how it was done.  I enjoyed it once I just relaxed.  There is tension in that you know you’ve only got so much time to do this.  Maybe you did a take, and they’re going to give you another take.  Maybe they’ll take this section again, and maybe they won’t.  So, there’s that tension.  But if you like the material you’re singing, which I did on the most part, you have fun, and I loved working with Maestro Doráti.  I just felt so lucky to be able to do this.

BD:   Obviously, he was pleased because he kept asking for you.

Zoghby:   [With a smile]  Yes.

BD:   Is opera art or is opera entertainment?

Zoghby:   It’s art and it’s entertainment.

BD:   Then where is the balance?

Zoghby:   Those are questions I don’t usually think about.  It should be entertainment.  Anything that’s meant to be on the stage is meant to be entertainment, either in a serious sense or in a more jovial sense.  It’s meant to move people.  It’s meant to speak to the emotions.  It’s meant also to speak to the intellect.  Some operas cater more to one aspect than the other.  Is that entertainment?  Is it a medium for meditation?  I don’t know.  I don’t care what people call it, but it has to move people in some way to be effective.  Otherwise, why do it?  It might be the sound of the voice, or the conflict that’s presented on stage, or the stories that run through human existence or a person’s life.  Those are universal conflicts, combined with the beauty of the music.  The art comes in through the composer, and through the interpretive skills of the director, and the actors and actresses who are singing.  That would be my musing on the subject.  There are certain things that just go with one’s job that sometimes you don’t think about.  Even when they are the most significant things, you’re just too busy doing it.

BD:   [Slightly concerned]  Singing isn’t just a job, is it???

Zoghby:   No, I don’t think of it in terms of being a job.  I don’t know anybody who went into this field as a job.  Everybody I know went into it because they had a talent for it.  There are times when we look upon it as a job
when we really don’t feel like singing that night because we’re sick, or we’re just getting over being sick, or when every critic is out there and you just want to enjoy signing, but you feel the pressure is on.  There are those nights when it’s just not fun to sing, but they go with the package.

BD:   I hope there are more times when it is fun.

Zoghby:   Yes, or you would drop out.

BD:   Is your husband and family supportive of your career?

Zoghby:   Very.  I’m lucky.  On my father’s birthday I was writing him and my mother that they always handled that fine line so well of supporting me.  I always felt their support, but I never felt them push.  I hope I can recreate that with my own children.  With my husband, it’s more than lip service.  He lives it out, and I’m very lucky for that because he’s traditional, and he’s flexible in the modern sense.  That’s so important for any spouse of a singer, and for me that’s an important combination.

BD:   Do you want to encourage your children to go into the business, or to stay out of the business?

Zoghby:   I’m just going to encourage them to pursue what interests them, and what gives them a good feeling about themselves.

BD:   Do they like seeing Mama on stage?

Zoghby:   Well, they’ve seen Mama very little on stage.  They saw a little Bohème and a little Faust.  In Faust, there was so little that I could show them that wasn’t scandalous.  Either the woman was going crazy in the end, or she was having this illicit love affair at the end of Act 1.  So, the Jewel Song was about it.

BD:   [With a gentle nudge]  You’re not being overly protective of them, are you?

Zoghby:   Well, they were only two-and-a-half and five years old, so that’s pretty young.  In fact, my daughter and son witnessed a little bit of a Bohème rehearsal, and my daughter was heard to tell people in the audience “I don’t like her kissing that man!”  So, we had to take a while and explain to her that this was all pretend.  If you remember on your own childhood, there are some things that an adult would never think would stay with you, that have stayed with you.

BD:   That’s right.  I do remember some very strange things.

Zoghby:   Some of the strangest things you remember.  It’s either important or unimportant things, yet you’ve chosen to keep them in your memory.  So, you have to be careful what you expose those little ones to.

BD:   And the things you want to remember, or things that your parents wanted you to remember have gone.

Zoghby:   Right, they elude you.  Things they worried over so much, and worked so hard to set up and to give you.  You weren’t even aware that they were so very important.

BD:   They buy you a beautiful toy, and you play with the box.

Zoghby:   [Laughs]  Isn’t that something?  We were just talking about today because Christmas is coming.  You want to give a lot of thought to how and what you choose, and the simplest things that aren’t even classified as toys are sometimes the best.  I like to bring my children little things, like a little orange plastic glass that had been in my room in Santiago, Chile.  You bring it home, and it’s their favorite old drinking cup.  Silly little things like that.  They love the peanuts from the airplane.  They’ll love me forever if I just bring them peanuts.  My two-and-a-half-year-old told me the other day at the end of the conversation on the phone, “Have a good time at the airport, Mom.”  He thinks I work at the airport.

BD:   That’s the last time he sees you.

Zoghby:   Exactly.

BD:   When are you going to start bringing him with you?

Zoghby:   I don’t think I’m going to.  I can either be a mother, or I can sing, but not both at the same time.

BD:   What happens then when you have engagements in your home town of Mobile?

Zoghby:   I don’t often, but I did La Bohème in Mobile.  After opening night, I had to check out of my house and I went to my parents
home.  I was exhausted, and slept from 11:30 PM until 1 PM the next afternoon.  My husband lovingly and happily got up at 6:30 AM with the children after I’d be rehearsing from 10 AM until midnight.  Still, I would wake up and just be soooo tired.  I don’t think it would be easy to take the kids with me to an engagement.

BD:   Maybe wait until they’re older?

Zoghby:   I faced this question early on.  Four months after our first child was born, I sang with the San Francisco Symphony.  We were living in Washington, not in Mobile.  I flew down to Mobile, to my parents
.  I discussed it with my mother, who had seven children, and has an insight into children’s ways.  She felt that if the children, especially when they’re very young, have security and love, it doesn’t matter who they’re getting it from if it’s consistent and it’s loving.  If you keep that consistent and loving care going when they’re in their twos and threes, and if they have a familiar surrounding, and their own territory, and their own toys and family with them, it can work.  Yet if there’s another way that the singer chooses to do it, you can make that work, too.  I really believe that.  I’m sure I would find it very hard to be around my children all day or all night, and then be fresh for rehearsing and singing.

BD:   A number of singers who live here in Chicago have told me that they live in a hotel during the rehearsal period.

Zoghby:   [Laughs]  I think I’d be crawling (with weariness) on stage, otherwise.

BD:   Are you the only musician amongst the seven children?

Zoghby:   No, my brother is a songwriter in New York, and also produces.  He has a 24-track recording studio with all the latest Japanese equipment.  He writes and sings beautifully.  I also have a sister who studied voice, and is still studying, although I don’t think she will have a full-time career.  I don’t think she’s going to take that direction because she’s just chosen not to.  Another sister studied piano for twelve years, and we all sing.  Some of us are pursuing it professionally.

BD:   [Wistfully]  The Zoghby Chorale.

Zoghby:   Yes!

BD:   Get the brother who has the recording studio to make some recordings.

Zoghby:   We may do an album.  We’re kicking around the idea.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   When you do a song recital, do you do any arias on that recital?

Zoghby:   Oh, yes.

BD:   Do arias work well with piano backing?

Zoghby:   I think so.  It’s in the context of a recital, and the audience’s ear is already set for piano accompaniment.  I’ve never given it a second thought.  I do at least two arias in a recital, and one may be an encore.  I usually end the first half with an aria, and maybe the second half with an aria or some dramatic piece, such as Carlisle Floyd’s Flower and Hawk.  It’s wonderful, and I do an excerpt from that.  It’s about Eleanor of Aquitaine, and Richard the Lionheart, and her son, and her imprisonment in the tower.  It’s a strong piece.

zoghby Flower and Hawk is a monodrama for soprano and orchestra with music and libretto composed by Carlisle Floyd. It runs about 45 minutes, and was Floyd's seventh opera. It had its premiere on May 16, 1972, with Phyllis Curtin and the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Willis Page. The production was directed by Frank Corsaro.

The work is based on the life of Eleanor of Aquitaine, arguably the greatest woman of the Middle Ages. In her long life of eighty-two years, she was born the Duchess of Aquitaine and Countess of Poitou, became Queen of France through marriage to Louis VII, and later became Queen of England when she married Henry II. The title is derived from her seal (shown at right, and on view in the Louvre) in which she stands holding a hawk in one hand and a flower in the other, suggesting a dualism in her character that is invoked in this work.

The monodrama takes place in Salisbury Tower, where Eleanor has been a prisoner for nearly sixteen years. Henry II had her confined there after she and her sons led an unsuccessful rebellion against him in France. Overcome by feelings of despair, abandonment and betrayal, she considers taking her life with poison, but instead resolves to distract herself by recalling happier times. As she relives her positive memories of becoming the Queen of France, the memory of her son Richard's death resurfaces. She also recalls the many conflicts she endured with her two husbands, and again finds herself sinking into hopelessness. Time and again her feelings about Richard's death force her into the present, until she finally allows herself release from the guilt and self-doubt surrounding this tragic event. Eventually, she is able to re-assume her role as Queen when the tolling of the bells announces the death of Henry and her liberation from the Salisbury Tower.

BD:   Does opera work well in concert?

zoghby Zoghby:   Some.  I haven’t done much opera-in-concert.  There’s a place for it, with some of the lesser-known ones to get a hearing, and for others to decide whether or not they are interested in staging it, or what the dramatic merits of it might be.  Those are the ones which would never be heard unless they were done this way, so there’s a validity to that.

BD:   What is next on the calendar for Linda Zoghby?

Zoghby:   I’m working on Traviata for a couple months from now.  I have felt for a while that this would be a perfect role for me.  We shall see.  You just can’t tell until you do some roles.  So, I’m looking forward to it.

BD:   Is it easier to do a role that has been done a lot, as opposed to a role that no one has done, like the Haydn operas?

Zoghby:   I approach them all the same way.  I learn them all the same way, and I apply my interpretive thinking to them all the same way.  When you go to a coach, perhaps you know what the coach can give, and that might be altered by the history of the piece, or the lack of history of the piece.  But musicality is musicality, so if you’re going to make music out of a piece, it’s not going to matter if it’s been performed or not.  As far as the history of certain pieces, and letting that affect the way you’re going to do it, it’s good in that it gives you a broad scope.  On the other hand, there are conductors today, such as Riccardo Muti and James Levine, who want to go against what is traditionally done, and do strictly what is on the page.  They do not opt for the interpolated high notes that are part of tradition.

BD:   Is that a mistake?

Zoghby:   In some cases, what is right is to go with what the singer is comfortable doing if it’s tasteful.  If the singer doesn’t have a great high E or E flat, then it’s only sensible to do what sounds good coming from that singer’s mouth.

BD:   If the singer doesn’t have the high E flat, then why is that singer engaged for that part?

Zoghby:   This is something which is not written on the page.  It’s an interpolated E flat.  It was never written on the page.  A composer would certainly know if he wanted to put it there, especially somebody as late in the game as Verdi, who wrote down everything he wanted.  In the earlier pieces, they often didn’t write these details, but when you get to Puccini and Verdi, they were putting into the score exactly what they wanted.  I understand why some of these traditions came to be.  They sold the moment effectively, but there’s a case to be made on either side.

BD:   Did Verdi know how to write well for the voice?

Zoghby:   I haven’t sung any Verdi yet.

BD:   You’re working on the Traviata...

Zoghby:   Yes, but I haven’t performed it, and the proof is always in the pudding.  He must have known, or he wouldn’t still be so popular today.  I don’t mean to be flip when I say I don’t know yet, because really until you’re on the boards with the lights and with the orchestra, sinking or swimming, you really don’t know.  I haven’t even gotten to the point yet where I’m ready to sing through the whole part, because I’m still learning it.  So, I can’t even give you that evaluation.

BD:   Did Haydn know how to write well for the voice?

Zoghby:   That I can speak to a little more knowingly, because I’ve sung a lot of Haydn.  I think yes.  It’s very singable, and very satisfying in that it’s got that little bit of challenge of making the line beautiful.  When he’s got those leaps and those runs, executing them well is very singable.

BD:   Mozart also?

Zoghby:   Oh yes, the same thing.

BD:   Even Fiordiligi, with all those leaps?

Zoghby:   She is very satisfying, and very fun to do.  I don’t find difficulty doing those parts.  I’ve always enjoyed them.  I think Mimì fits me like a glove, and we’ll see about the Verdi.  I have a feeling that Traviata and Liù will continue to be good for me while I’m expanding a little bit.  I like doing the Bach.  I like the music that’s written for the lyric voice.  I feel very happy in my repertoire.

BD:   [With a sly grin]  You
re not a latent Brünnhilde?

Zoghby:   [Laughs]  Oh, God, no.  I love the lyric repertoire.  I’m most happy to be a lyric.

BD:   I’m glad you’re satisfied with that.

Zoghby:   Oh, yes.  I would think it would be very frustrating to be a lyric and want to do the coloratura repertoire, and try to make your voice fit it.  I love the music for the lyric.

BD:   Good.  Thank you for your artistry, and for spending this time with me today.

Zoghby:  Thank you so very much.
 You ask very good questions, and do a very good interview.

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© 1986 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in Chicago on October 30, 1986.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB in 1989, and again in 1994.  This transcription was made in 2020, and posted on this website early the following year.  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.

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.