2007.09 Rondo magazin
Translated by Ursula Turecek
The magazine is available for download in pdf format from http://www.rondomagazin.de/.
K & K
Angelika Kirchschlager and Simon Keenlyside
You can wrinkle your nose on operetta or click your tongue: Behind its firm absurdity the more serious in particular among today’s artists search for the unsteady floor of the world with relish and strike it lucky – like Kirchschlager and Keenlyside.
Angelika Kirchschlager and Simon Keenlyside: Names of singers who may conjure pictures of the enigmatic couple Mélisande and Pelléas, sounds from Maeterlinck’s and Debussy’s micro-psychology from the recent memory. And how the two of them solved the puzzle by leaving it undecided! French music is an art of nuances, Debussy said, not of dogmatism.
And now: Kirchschlager and Keenlyside, an operetta couple! Two singers who earned serious fame in droves with opera, song, concerto. Suddenly on the dazzling side. Either you ask yourself with concern: Are they able to do this? Or you click your tongue. Anyhow: No Italian tenor of position would ever miss his Neapolitan canzonas, prima donnas of impact and weight liked to drape lightweight music (which is most difficult) round their shoulders like a feather boa and even the Wagner-bard Wolfgang Windgassen turned into a Prince Orlowsky happy with guests and bottles.
You can pronounce the word “operetta” in a way that it sounds like a dirty word. Or like the sin that one likes to enjoy but dislikes to confess in public. Yet operetta is opera’s only little younger sister. When Mozart said “Operette” he meant “Singspiel” and nobody turned up his nose. But even the greatest spirits are not immune against uttering incredibly stupid and lastingly corruptive things about a genre in which they are not versed. Operetta had to suffer from this, the more reputable opera not at all or at least less so. To be fair we have to add: Operetta had its successful time during its golden, silver and bronze stages, then malfunctions occurred and it came into the shadows and into the cheap corner. Why is this Suppé’s and Kálmán’s fault and that of Lehár whose Lustige Witwe would earn another serious exploration of the soul? Let alone Jacques Offenbach whom K & K omitted for now at their CD-start into the world of operetta. Offenbach had on his side advocates like Nietzsche (!), Karl Kraus, Siegfried Krakauer who force us to the question: Offenbach – and what else? Siegmund Freud, not interested in music, never knew what he missed.
One week before Simon Keenlyside goes into the recording studio with Angelika Kirchschlager to present her – suitably for operetta – “his whole heart” he has a cold. He is in the middle of rehearsals. He laughs, as if it were a gain in life even for a singer to get infected by his wife. One year ago he recorded a CD with a selection of different types of opera arias, “Tales of Opera”. Once again he willingly lists what he owes to singers like Gobbi, Schlusnus, Tauber, Domgraf-Fassbaender, Metternich. Stimuli, instructive examples. He has studied them all “by the box”. He does not think he can do “Dicitencello vuje”, the Neapolitan canzona.
And now an operetta recital. Is this also an autobiographical reflection of a singer’s experiences ? No, not at all. As a student he once got a Richard Tauber award. But he is neither born in Salzburg nor Viennese by choice like partner Angelika. A handicap? “No, I do take operetta seriously”. At the beginning of his career he sang Danilo in the Lustige Witwe, in English. Afterwards Dr. Falke in Fledermaus, in German. But without the spoken dialogues ! It would have been impossible with them. Two years ago he was in Vienna at a “real” Fledermaus. The transitions from singing to speech and back to singing, the nuances, the subtlety and in front of a Viennese audience: “My German is too simple for this”.
Well, but with all the conscientious drawing up of borders the “Tales of Operetta” that are now in the offing are a broadening of the repertoire horizon that calls for everything from the singer that he had been able to do in opera before. Keenlyside follows a new idea with enthusiasm. “You learn the crucial things with the work at lieder singing. One of my teachers was the Australian baritone John Cameron who originated from a family of sheep breeders and devoted himself with enthusiasm to German literature – Goethe, Schiller, Heine – and to the art of the German lied”. His English colleagues in the teaching profession found this rather strange. Another teacher was the English tenor Alexander Young. It was he who familiarised him with the Schubert-song “Der Tod und das Mädchen” (Keenlyside actually sings the beginning in the middle of the conversation), and how you manage a tonal range of two octaves without slipping up. And now he sings, deep in the “vaults” “Sollst sanft in meinen Armen schlafen”. The song is the mirror that shows the singer what he can do and what he can’t.
His father and his grandfather were professional musicians too, fiddlers, one of them in the respected Aeolian String Quartet, the other in the Philharmonia Orchestra. And Alexander Young was – a happy chance – a fan of both. His father (he is still alive) put away the violin bow. His grandfather still practised at 94, in the hospital. “He didn’t have teeth left then but he did not need them for making music anyway”. What about Gilbert and Sullivan’s Savoy Operas that are only understood in England, they must be dear to his, the Englishman’s heart, aren’t they? Keenlyside denies intensely. He has no feeling for G&S. His father is an Englishman, it’s true, he himself is born in London. “But my mother comes from a Latvian family. I am feeling as a European, I am a gipsy”.
Suddenly he sings: “Wieder hinaus ins strahlende Licht”. He is against categorical classifications and thinks it absurd to put certain types of roles [Rollenfächer] in certain pigeonholes. This aria of “Mr X” from Kálmán’s Zirkusprinzessin, he says, has the same calibre as Pagliacci, Canio, “Vesti la giubba…” He does not exclude that he will copy his grandfather and his fiddle at 94, as a singer of course, but only for his friends then – should they live for such a long time too.