When we contact Simon Keenlyside, his life is changing. He was first cut off from the world by apocalyptic storms at his refuge on the Welsh coast. But soon after, he announced that he had moved to Milan: for the first time in a long time, La Scala would host a full-fledged opera production in which he would perform the role of the Count of Nozze di Figaro.. He's already spotted the rehearsal room, gym, and laundromat. He answers our questions while enjoying the birdsong. Although Simon Keenlyside rarely mentions his zoology studies at Cambridge University, the baritone cannot hide his love of nature. Last year, the Grange Park Opera released several videos in which Simon Keenlyside shares his latest finds of starfish, spiders or berries.
Simon Keenlyside : “Nature is invaluable to me. Not just as an object of study, but in my life in general. I now live on a small farm in Wales where I cultivate woods and flower meadows. My goal is to attract a greater diversity of birds, insects and mammals. In twenty years, I can honestly say that my land has become an oasis in the desert. When I approach the forest and the meadows, I can hear a veritable cacophony of sounds, a sign that they are teeming with life. It gives me such pleasure that even in the choice of melodies, nature has a major influence.
Besides my fascination with nature in all its forms, there is also the era of my beloved masters: Schubert, Schumann, Brahms and Wolf lived and worked in a world where the connection with nature was still very strong. Today, the pastoral elements in music appear like a cliché, but it should not be forgotten that cities like Vienna were then small entities in the heart of a grandiose nature. For these composers, connecting all aspects of human life to the natural elements was taken for granted. They lived and loved among these grandiose landscapes. "
For the moment, this aspect does not interest us. Patience by Richard Strauss is a love song. But it is for another reason that I open my recital with this composition. We are still living with a nightmare called coronavirus, which has made us all suffer. This is the reason why this tune now has a different meaning for me. The poet addresses his beloved and tells her that he will be infinitely patient. When I sing it in Brussels, it's not for my beloved or for the man or woman Strauss had in mind. Rather, my patience is focused on ending this terrible pandemic. On waiting and anticipating the moment when we no longer have to be patient. The last line of the song says this: “I have only one spring, a rosebud. The same goes for me.
What one calls dark is sublime for another. Recently a co-worker asked me why I was listening to such depressing music. This question came as a shock, because this music - it was Bach's Goldberg Variations - is for me true heaven on earth. I find nothing depressing there. On the contrary, I find in Bach, but also in almost all of the German lied repertoire, an acceptance of the limits of our short existence. There is pure joy and sadness, but the concise form indicates that it is all short lived.
This is an interesting question, because indeed most songs don't just have a double meaning. I'm not exaggerating when I say that there are often three to five different layers of meaning. To the connotations of a poetic text is added an ambiguous musical coloring. In my opinion, a singer makes a big mistake if he tries to interpret all the facets of a song or an opera role. I try at most to show two meanings at the same time. Any attempt to do more is confusing to the public. As a singer, I have to stay focused. With masterpieces, the advantage is that each interpretation opens the way to another dimension. The fact that each time a different story emerges keeps the melody alive, both for me and for the audience.
I acquired a great deal of knowledge by experimenting with gestures and movement in singing. Two fantastic projects have been created at La Monnaie: L ' Orfeo de Monteverdi and Winterreise by Schubert - both with choreographer Trisha Brown - were works of art in themselves, but these two projects are among the most fascinating of my career. What's remarkable about this genre, the lied, is that it stands on its own, in the same way that frank conversation in a cafe doesn't have to be overly theatrical. If we compare it to opera, there are not the same dramatic possibilities for the singer, not the same entertainment for the audience. But think about the interpretation of Beethoven's last quartets: no need for big tralalas. Movement is not necessarily necessary to interpret Winterreise . The original form is so perfect that the piano and the voice are enough.