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2007.07.14-15 Süddeutsche Zeitung interview

Interview in Süddeutsche Zeitung

14/15 July 2007 (Klaus Kalchschmid)

Translated by Ursula Turecek

Going for sceptics

Baritone Simon Keenlyside bids farewell to youth and gives a recital at the Opera Festival

German is not the mother tongue of London-born baritone Simon Keenlyside and for a start he thanks effusively and a little impishly with “God bless you” for the decision to have this conversation in English. When he emphasises that in his mother tongue more nuances and fewer half-truths will well be audible, he whimsically shakes off the responsibility and sputters away after the first question with a vivid and boyishly bright voice and with tempo.

Yet the German language was and is crucial for Keenlyside’s life as a singer. Not only because the exact knowledge of the vowels’ and words’ sound and meaning permits an excellent and comprehensible diction for his occupation with Schubert or Schumann but also “because it is important to sing lieder from the mere technical point of view. And with this I’m referring to German lieder in the first instance. John Cameron, my Australian teacher told me that all the problems that can occur with singing show most clearly in lieder singing. That’s true. It also is simply exciting to discover the necessary colour palette for the sung word and for expression gradually with the voice.”

In Schubert’s “Winterreise” that Keenlyside sang at the Cuvilliès-Theater in summer 2003 he therefore dared numerous, often very muffled colours: “I know that this can be dangerous and sometimes it does not work. But I find it fascinating to sound the whole spectrum of grey tones with my voice and to find the respective colouring for certain roles or even particular phrases. It is like in life. It’s not so much the extremes that are important but what happens in the middle. And how it happens.”

So Simon Keenlyside is interested less in the clearly bad or radiantly positive characters but in a sceptic like, for example, Hamlet in Ambroise Thomas’ Shakespeare-setting. In 2003 he represented this broken character in a fascinating way in Barcelona, brooding, hurt by the world, close to madness in the end. Like Alban Berg’s Wozzeck who he will represent for the first time in March next year in a staging by Christoph Marthaler in Paris. But it remains pending what exactly the baritone means when he enthuses about the massive mountains that there tower in front of him.

After numerous complete opera recordings Keenlyside tried on his first aria CD with the Munich Rundfunkorchester under Ulf Schirmer, published a few months ago, to portray this singer’s life as a whole: “That’s why Rossini is standing next to Massenet or Mozart next to Tchaikovsky or Wagner. That’s how it is in my job too. And in my life. The most different things often happen almost at the same time or just alternately.”

Simon Keenlyside does not at all play upon his age, but asked about Pelléas and Billy Budd the baritone all of a sudden changes from English to German: “All over. Gone. I am too old now for this. For the next three years these wonderful parts are not in my diary. But then I am 50. And then I don’t want to play young men any more that have to be sung with a youthful, bright voice. Yet in any case we men have an easier time than the women. I only have to do without these two characters and may remember the beautiful journey I did with them.” So the emphasis is on the dramatic Verdi-roles now, on Rigoletto or Macbeth, “for which you need darker colours.”, or Tchaikovsky’s Eugen Onegin, another role debut in January 2009 at the Vienna State Opera.

Tomorrow, on Sunday, Simon Keenlyside, accompanied by Malcolm Martineau gives a recital with songs by Schubert, Mahler and Richard Strauss at the Prinzregententheater (8 p.m.). Among those are also less known songs by the latter because: “I have about 50 in my repertory by heart. Years ago I even made a CD with them. When I sing them if feels like a bright, light summer’s day for me, completely different to the songs by Hugo Wolf or Schubert.”

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