After her great success in 2011, Isabel Karajan will be back at the Salzburg Easter Festival in 2015, this time with two projects: in the Concert for Salzburg she will be the narrator in Sergei Prokofievs Peter and the Wolf, and she will also present a chamber music project - a Scenic collage about fear - entitled Miss Death meets Mr Shostakovich. She explains in an interview, why death is a woman, and why the topic of fear is at the heart of the project.
For the first time shown at the Salzburg Easter Festival this year - and at any festival in Salzburg: Two famous verismo operas Cavalleria rusticana by Pietro Mascagni and Pagliacci by Ruggero Leoncavallo. Philipp Stölzl directs and design the sets, one of the most sought-after movie and opera directors of his generation. In an interview, he describes how he wants to tell the stories of the two operas as if in a film.
(This interview was held in February 2015.)
For the first time ever on stage, you'll be singing the roles of Turiddu and Canio, the main figures in Cavalleria rusticana and Pagliacci. You recorded their famous arias on CD several years ago and said at the time that you were delighted, because you had fulfilled your 'heart's desire'. Now that you're going to give your double stage debut in these roles, will this be the fulfilment of yet another 'heart's desire'?
Jonas Kaufmann: But of course! Both works are synonymous with 'Italian opera' and what tenor wouldn't dream of singing them at some point? I remember when I was a student and I thought, 'hey, it must be great to sing that!' And that's just how it was when I recorded 'Ridi Pagliaccio!' and 'Mamma, quel vino' for my verismo album. To be swept along by this music, giving everything you've got, body and soul, it was simply wonderful. Tony Pappano and I were so happy, we were like little children. And even the orchestral musicians, who are normally not so quick to enthuse, were whooping and cheering.
At the press conference, when the programme for the 2015 Salzburg Easter Festival was announced, Christian Thielemann said it had been your desire to sing both roles on stage.
Kaufmann: It wasn't completely like that. The original plan was to engage two tenors, one for each opera, and I'd been asked to sing Canio in Pagliacci. I then asked if I could also take on the Prologue. But after the hunt for someone to sing Turiddu in Cavalleria rusticana proved unexpectedly difficult, I was asked if I could sing both roles. Because I love a challenge, I said, 'OK, but then naturally without the Pagliacci Prologue!'. That would really have been a bit too much on one evening.
Does this repertoire particularly suit your voice?
Kaufmann: It suits both my voice and the stage animal within me. It's really great to sing two such different roles in one evening. Turiddu is the firebrand who has his whole future before him. He's a frivolous fellow who puts his life on the line for an affair with a married woman. In terms of age, Canio could be his father. He already has a significant part of his life behind him. He travels in a caravan through the land with his poor troupe of actors, he plays the clown for people and is intensely jealous of his much younger wife - and rightly so. These are two strong variations on the topic of 'deadly jealousy'.
Love, passion, jealousy, death and murder - this is reminiscent of what we see every evening on TV. What can the stories of Cavalleria rusticana and Pagliacci say to an opera audience today?
Kaufmann: Despite all 'progress' in the development of man - civilization, the Enlightenment, humanism - ultimately, what remains is what we politely call the 'archaic', the fact that we don't just function physically exactly as did our ancestors in the Stone Age, but also emotionally and mentally. People have only learnt to master their feelings better in the course of evolution and as civilization has developed. But in situations where there is serious conflict, most of us react just as our forefathers did thousands of years ago. In this sense, operas such as Pagliacci and Cavalleria cannot be different from the soap operas that we see on TV today - with the fundamental difference that these two operas have much better music!
You've previously worked with Christian Thielemann in the concert hall. Now you?re doing an opera with him for the first time. How do you find the artistic collaboration with him?
Kaufmann: We've already done Rosenkavalier in Baden-Baden, but the Italian singer's aria is an insert that has little to do with the rest of the opera. In that sense, it's true that this new production of the verismo 'twins' in Salzburg is our first joint work in opera. I'm really looking forward to it, especially after our Wagner concert at the Semperoper in Dresden. To sing Tannhäuser's Rome Narration with Thielemann and his 'wonderharp' [as Richard Wagner once called the Staatskapelle Dresden] was a very special experience.
At Easter, you'll also be performing Verdi's Messa da Requiem with Christian Thielemann for the first time. This work is often described as an 'opera in liturgical garb'. And people have rightly pointed out its secular and political dimensions, given the story of how it came about. What do you think of the work?
Kaufmann: It's the work of a man with a strong faith, but a critical attitude to the church. The archbishop had to give his permission for women to be allowed to sing in the Requiem's first performance in the Church of San Marco in Milan; that's a sign of just how difficult it was back then to keep faith separate from the church. The rule at the time was that 'woman should be silent in church'. So permission was given, but under the condition that the women had to wear long black dresses and cover their heads with large veils of mourning. Isn't it striking that great composers often have their greatest inspiration when it's a matter of faith? Beethoven's Missa solemnis, Bruckner's Te deum and Verdi's Requiem are three very significant examples.
You clearly refuse all attempts to be pigeonholed and you now have an immensely broad repertoire. But what position does Verdi have?
Kaufmann: He's central. I could hardly imagine my professional life without Verdi. When I sang Alfredo in La traviata at the Met, it opened the door to my international career. And with Don Carlo and Alvaro in La forza del destino I've had wonderful experiences. My next Verdi role will be Radamès in Aida and Otello is planned for the 2016/17 season. Verdi is close to my heart, not just as a singer, but as a listener too. Unlike Wagner, you don't have to separate Verdi the man from Verdi the artist. He was a whole artist and a whole man. As with Mozart, you can always sense his humanity in his works. Of course, his operas are no less 'political' than Wagner's, but the source of their 'message' is humanity, not ideology. That's why Verdi's characters are never ideological constructs but always human beings of flesh and blood. And when he was asked what was his most important work, it's said that he replied, 'my old-age home for singers', which makes me find him all the more sympathetic.
This interview with Jonas Kaufmann was conducted by Martin Riegler.
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Attention: Traffic obstructions in the old city centre! Guests of the Salzburg Easter Festival are permitted to drive to and from the Großes Festspielhaus from both sides (Neutor and Salzach riverside) one and a half hours before the beginning of the performance and one hour after the performance. We request that you allow for longer travelling times, including access to the Mönchsberg car parks, or use public transport.
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