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2006.06.23 Munich Abendzeitung: Munich is a Wagner town

Munich Abendzeitung, 23 June 2006 (Robert Braunmüller)

Translated by Ursula Turecek

“Munich is a Wagner town”

The baritone on the importance of seemingly small roles

Interview with Simon Keenlyside

Born in London. He studied zoology in Cambridge and singing in Manchester. At the Festival he’ll sing Wolfram this year and Almaviva in 2007.

Between Pelléas and Papageno nothing is unknown to him: At the Opera Festival, baritone Simon Keenlyside, who is appreciated particularly in Mozart-roles, will sing Wolfram in Wagner’s “Tannhäuser”.

Mr. Keenlyside, as a Mozart-expert you are very busy this year.

It’s ok. About half of my performances are devoted to his operas. But at the moment I’m also singing Debussy’s Pelléas or Prospero in the new Shakespeare-opera by Thomas Adès.

Did you ever want to sing Figaro too ?

SK: Never. Figaro has nearly the same range, that’s true, but I find the Count’s character more interesting. The role has more possibilities for comedy. It only gets serious in the end, when he asks his wife’s forgiveness.

Rumour has it that you toy with Wagner’s Siegmund.

Just for fun. I’m not the first baritone to try his hand at it. The role is lying very low. But I am cautious and don’t quite think I’m a Heldentenor. But maybe I’ll try it once in Cleveland where my friend Franz Welser-Möst is music director.

Do you consider Wolfram in Tannhäuser as a leading role ?

Most of the baritone roles are not the centre of attention. Nobody goes to see “La traviata” because of Germont. But the character is important. And it’s similar with Wolfram. He has some wonderfully lyric passages, but only one colour. He only shows passion when Tannhäuser dies. That’s why the part is hard to perform. I don’t sing it often but most gladly in Munich.

Why ?

Everybody knows the piece here. When in one final rehearsal the singer of Tannhäuser had to simulate singing, the whole chorus sang the “Romerzählung” [the part when Tannhäuser tells Wolfram what happened in Rome] with him, just for fun. Munich is a Wagner-town. If you succeed as Wolfram here you’ll succeed everywhere. That’s why I sing Wagner in Germany, Pellèas in Paris and Verdi in Italy. For a singer this is a special thrill.

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