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2013.04, Prolog, Magazine of Vienna Staatsoper: Die grossen Genies verurteilen nicht

Die grossen Genies verurteilen nicht
The great geniuses do not judge

Simon Keenlyside singt Rigoletto –
Simon Keenlyside sings Rigoletto

Prolog 4/2013

Prolog 4-2013-Original-German-Interview

Translation by Petra Habeth

Simon Keenlyside, who recently excelled as Wozzeck at the Vienna Staatsoper, will again sing a Verdi role: court jester Rigoletto. On the occasion of this run of performances (and during a rehearsal of Wozzeck) he answered 3 questions which were asked by Andrea Lang.

Should you, can you, pity Rigoletto? At the beginning he is somehow part of the establishment and moreover his pursuit of murder as revenge for loss of honour is strong stuff (for an audience to accept…).

SK: It is interesting that time and again composers created figures who were not morally upright but nevertheless fascinating. For instance Mozart: his Don Giovanni is an evil man, yet attractive. The Count? A fool but yet likeable. And Verdi is no different: he also likes to show the grey areas of human nature and plays with the contrasts. Violetta is admittedly a courtesan, but is forced into this way of life by circumstances. Philip II is an amoral character who assumes the role of an honourable man. Falstaff? A thief and a rogue. And Rigoletto?  He has to carry burdens which on one hand may serve as an excuse for his character faults and which on the other hand arouse sympathies for his behaviour. Of course he is cruel and arrogant in his position as court jester but this is the nature of things. I have found out that most of the great geniuses do not judge and do not condemn. Shakespeare, Mozart, Da Ponte, Verdi, William Blake – they all thrust their characters (protagonists) into the spotlight where there is no hiding place. This shows up their weaknesses, rather than their strengths. But there is no judgement from their creator! (How does this work with regard to Wagner? Ha!! This would be a discussion which others should hold.)

When you compare the Verdi roles of Macbeth, Germont, Posa and Rigoletto: How do they differ in musical and technical difficulties?

SK: I think the main attribute of Verdi’s music is the enormous spectrum of colours – at least I experience it that way. When a singer finds himself in the middle of his career he is able to sing a large number of roles. The question which alone arises is: do the colours which he possesses suit the individual characters? Several recordings have given us the impression that only fixed ways of Verdi interpretation exist, which is definitely wrong. Compare the sound of Gino Becchi with Robert Merrill. Or Tito Gobbi and de Luca respectively with Leonard Warren, or in our times Nucci with Zancanaro or Bruson. These are all very different Verdi singers, but all of them famous Verdi singers. Concerning the colours, there is no essential difference between Mozart and Verdi. Mozart created for each part a wide range of colours, a universe. The interpreter therefore has the possibility to show in a single role a wide range of human nature. By way of contrast, in most cases Verdi allocates only a few but very specific colours to a character. For example, in this respect, the role of Giorgio Germont has only a few variations: he radiates tradition and propriety, he is a successful man of society. Macbeth is basically an unchanging, dark character, which should be reflected in the singing of the part. Verdi’s Posa differs distinctly from Schiller’s portrayal. The character of Posa in the opera has almost a religious quality, but all in all is not a very distinctive character. And Rigoletto? Well, here the interpreter/singer finds more possibilities. Especially as Rigoletto has two different faces. As a public person he is self-confident, arrogant, full of assumed lordly boasting. As a private person he is contemplative and sad and there is no doubt about his great love and tenderness towards his daughter Gilda.

Could you put the same qualities of expression you use for Wozzeck into your portrayal of Rigoletto or would that be wrong?

SK: In his Prometheus Goethe says towards the end: “Here I sit, making men/In my own image,/A race that shall be like me,/That shall suffer, weep,/Know joy and delight…..” in other words: We are all somehow equal, able to do many things. We grasp what interests us and let go what does not. Of course there are differences in the details but expressivity in its myriad variations is a feature of whole mankind.

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