Podcasts

Licia Albanese Interview


The following is my interview with legendary soprano Licia Albanese at her beautiful apartment on Park Avenue in Manhattan in February 1981. Madame Albanese was celebrating the 41st anniversary of her Metropolitan Opera debut which took place on February 9, 1940.  She discusses many of her operatic roles, particularly Violetta in Verdi’s La Traviata, (a role in which she holds the performance total house record at both The Metropolitan Opera and San Francisco Opera). As expected, she discusses the title role in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly but also her appearances in operas by Wagner and Mozart. Regardless of whether you are a Licia Albanese devotee, this interview is filled with operatic history that includes the many singers, conductors, and other operatic figures that featured in Madame Albanese’s long career. Her very interesting insights and story-telling are interspersed with a delightful sprinkling of humor.

Lucia Popp Interview

Lucia Popp interview February 21, 1981 in conversation with Howard Hart

Part 1 of 2
This is the first of the two-part interview with Lucia Popp. In it she discusses her recording of songs by Dvorak, Prokofiev, Kodaly, and Janacek. She explains how she relates to the sentiments in the songs through her national and ethnic heritage. She goes on to discuss her two roles in Mozart’s The Magic Flute, where she began as the Queen of the Night and later, as she jokingly mentions, she became younger and performed the role of her daughter Pamina. She mentions her first voice teacher and stresses how important it is to have a very good teacher, likening it to having a very good surgeon in an operation. Finally, she discusses her favorite operatic role and this concludes the first part.

Part 2 of 2
This is the second installment of my two-part interview with the great Czech soprano Lucia Popp. This part of the interview begins with Ms. Popp discussing the role of Anita, the titular character in Jules Massenet’s opera La Navarraise. She speaks about how she was a late replacement for another singer on the recording and how much she enjoyed making it while also recognizing that she would never sing the role live on stage. She then discusses how she began her vocal studies when very young and it was believed that she was a mezzo-soprano. It was soon discovered, of course, that she had instead a lyric coloratura soprano voice and it was as such that she began her career. Lieder was very important in her career and she considered it to be an essential part of vocal discipline. At the time of the interview, and at that point in her career, she estimated that her work was evenly divided with one third opera, on third recitals and lieder, and one third recordings. It was a great joy to do this interview with Lucia Popp. It was a wonderful opportunity to meet with her during the time that she was in New York. She was an incredibly delightful woman and a great singer. This interview is a cherished memory that I am very grateful to be able to share with you.

 

Elisabeth Schwarzkopf Radio Interview May 4, 1982

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Recently a friend asked me, now that I’m in my eighth decade of life, what are some of the achievements and experiences that have meant the most to me in my life? Without hesitation I answered that the radio interview with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf that I had done with Tim Page was definitely and without a doubt one of them. It was for me the dream of a lifetime for which I will be eternally grateful. We interviewed Elisabeth Schwarzkopf two weeks prior to the broadcast of the radio program that played on May 4, 1982. Tim began the interview with a discussion of “On and Off the Record; A Memoir of Walter Legge” (Legge was Schwarzkopf’s husband). He asked Schwarzkopf about her master classes at Juilliard (1976) and at Mannes (1982) and how they came about. The discussion then moved on to her promotion of the Legge book.

Tim had advised me prior to the interview that I could choose a few questions of my own to ask Schwarzkopf. Among those questions was how a student would know when to go to another teacher? We discussed the writing of her autobiography. I followed that by asking if there were any roles that she would have liked to have sung on stage but didn’t. The broadcast of the interview was followed by a brief discussion with Tim and me at the radio studio.

Tim Page played some signature recordings of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf that he had chosen and which he identified in both segments of the radio broadcast.

Eleanor Steber Interview

 
The first interview I did with an opera singer was with Eleanor Steber. I had guest-hosted radio shows with a number of stations in New York but this was my first individual interview. The interview focused on the 40th anniversary of Steber’s debut at the Metropolitan Opera. In this wide-ranging interview, Steber discusses, among many topics, her Metropolitan Opera debut, the Eleanor Steber Music Foundation, music technique, the role of radio and television in connection with music, and the future of opera. One of the best pieces of advice (and encouragement) that I received for conducting an interview came from my friend Tim Page. He advised me just to be myself, to have ready a list of questions to ask, and simply let the conversation unfold naturally. With Steber I followed this advice and ended up with a three-hour conversation with this fascinating artist. My preferred settings to interview a singer are either at their home or in a hotel room where they are currently residing. In the case of Eleanor Steber, I met with her at the Ansonia Hotel in New York, where she lived at the time. It was a wonderful experience as she was very warm and forthcoming. I hope you will enjoy hearing the interview with her.

Bernd Weikl Interview

My first memory of baritone Bernd Weikl in performance is aural rather than visual. I heard but did not see him as his voice echoed from the cistern in which his character was imprisoned in a production of Richard Strauss’s Salome at the Metropolitan Opera in 1981. When he arrived on stage, his was not the typical, haggard Jochanaan (John the Baptist) but a tall, muscular man with a magnificent head of hair who sang so beautifully, and with such a rich sound and multi-textured expression, that I can truthfully say that I’ve never heard another singer in this role without thinking back to this great performance. The interview begins with a very enlightening description of Jochanaan. “I think that Jochanaan is the erotic center on stage,” Bernd claims. We discussed his then-new recording of Verdi arias as well as other Verdi roles that Bernd was looking at for possible future recordings. This was followed by a discussion of Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia in the context of an unauthorized recording of the opera with him in the title role which he found amusing. I suspected that he wouldn’t want the recording to be played in connection with the interview but he said that it I shouldn’t do any editing and it should remain as it had transpired. Before moving on to another topic, we covered his upcoming recordings of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, where Leonard Bernstein was to conduct, and the rarely-heard Tiefland by Eugen d’Albert. The subject changed at that point and I asked him if there was a particular role that he related to as a man. He chose the title role of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin and Mandryka in Arabella by Richard Strauss. With great candor he described how he these characters in particular were significant for him. He followed this with his consideration of the character of Hans Sachs in Wagner’s Die Meistersinger (he was due to go to to Bayreuth that summer to perform the role). Of Sachs, who is thought to be roughly the age of 40, Bernd says, “I think that he has a midlife crisis, not an end of life crisis.” The interview concludes with my asking whether there were any roles that he would like to sing as well as roles that he wouldn’t. He goes on to discuss what those roles are and why he would or would not do them. This leads to his mentioning certain French, Russian, and German roles that he enjoyed singing and that he expected would be in his repertoire in following years. This summarizes a few of the highlights from this interview with Bernd Weikl. I hope you will enjoy listening to it.

Renata Scotto Interview

The year was 1981 and I had already participated in interviews with a number of well-known singers on New York radio when I asked Renata Scotto if she would be willing to do one. At that time I wasn’t certain that she would be able to set aside the time meet with me due to her busy schedule. Renata Scotto was the undisputed prima donna of the Metropolitan Opera in the 1970s and 80s so I was thrilled when Renata said “yes” and you will hear the interview today exactly as it was broadcast on November 4, 1981.

When I arrived for our meeting Renata offered me a delicious espresso and we got right into the interview. We begin by discussing the three soprano roles of Puccini’s triptych of one-act operas, Il Trittico. She was the first to sing all three roles in the same evening at the Metropolitan Opera. The discussion moves on to her interpretation of Lady Macbeth in Verdi’s Macbeth and her collaboration with different conductors in performances of this role. She enjoyed success at Covent Garden, Ravinia, and in New York in this opera. At the time of the interview Renata was preparing for upcoming performances at the Metropolitan Opera of Puccini’s Manon Lescaut and she relates how reading books, studying plays, and research into the historical and theatrical characters were such an integral part of how she works in creating her interpretations. Another topic was how she approached her work in the recording studio when she had the opportunity to make a second version of an opera she had recorded previously; in this case Verdi’s La Traviata. She had very definite opinions about how her concept had changed in her approach to this opera in the 18 years that separated the two recordings. She said that although she enjoyed the first recording, the second is much more in-depth in terms of the character of Violetta and closer to the intentions of the composer. There was an effort to clean up the old tradition and to sing the music as the composer wrote it by being more faithful to the score. She then turned to French roles, first discussing Massenet’s Manon which she was due to return to for the first time in many years. A number of other French roles were mentioned including one that may come as a surprise. Listen to the interview to find out. Roles in Mozart operas that she hoped to add to her repertoire was the next topic. Following that we discussed her Christmas album and she related a lovely story about how one of the songs that she sings is a dedication to her mother. I asked her if there were any roles that she wanted to do in the future and the interview closes with a discussion of oratorios and other non-operatic works that were of interest to her either in performance or recording. It was a delightful afternoon filled with charm, great candor, and insight into the life of a great opera singer. She is not only a great musician but a lovely and delightful lady as well. I enjoyed our conversation very much and I hope you will enjoy hearing it.

Lucia Popp Interview Part 2 0f 2

 

This is the second installment of my two-part interview with the great Czech soprano Lucia Popp. This part of the interview begins with Ms. Popp discussing the role of Anita, the titular character in Jules Massenet’s opera La Navarraise. She speaks about how she was a late replacement for another singer on the recording and how much she enjoyed making it while also recognizing that she would never sing the role live on stage. She then discusses how she began her vocal studies when very young and it was believed that she was a mezzo-soprano. It was soon discovered, of course, that she had instead a lyric coloratura soprano voice and it was as such that she began her career. Lieder was very important in her career and she considered it to be an essential part of vocal discipline. At the time of the interview, and at that point in her career, she estimated that her work was evenly divided with one third opera, on third recitals and lieder, and one third recordings. It was a great joy to do this interview with Lucia Popp. It was a wonderful opportunity to meet with her during the time that she was in New York. She was an incredibly delightful woman and a great singer. This interview is a cherished memory that I am very grateful to be able to share with you.

Lucia Popp Interview Part 1 of 2

This is the first of the two-part interview with Lucia Popp. In it she discusses her recording of songs by Dvorak, Prokofiev, Kodaly, and Janacek. She explains how she relates to the sentiments in the songs through her national and ethnic heritage. She goes on to discuss her two roles in Mozart’s The Magic Flute, where she began as the Queen of the Night and later, as she jokingly mentions, she became younger and performed the role of her daughter Pamina. She mentions her first voice teacher and stresses how important it is to have a very good teacher, likening it to having a very good surgeon in an operation. Finally, she discusses her favorite operatic role and this concludes the first part. The details for Part 2 of the interview with Lucia Popp are on the website speakingopera.com