Monday, March 31, 2014

Choir of Christ Church Cathedral at St. James Church

By Douglas Neslund

One of the few downsides of living in Los Angeles is the fact that most musical ensembles from the United Kingdom and Continental Europe hesitate at touring all the way to the West Coast due to the distance factor vis-à-vis income potential. We have learned to cherish those groups of artists who do make that leap. The Friends of Great Music at St. James Church have served as host to many important music organizations, relatively few with the 700 year old history of Oxford’s Choir of Christ Church Cathedral.

Performing a richly traditional repertoire of Anglican and Catholic church music, the 18 boys and 13 men easily met the high bar of the finest such choirs anywhere. Their voices were bright, enunciation of texts clear.

The centerpiece of the concert was Ralph Vaughan Williams’ major a cappella double-chorus work, Mass in G Minor, the Kyrie and Gloria of which established to the audience the level of excellent singing to be expected throughout. Soloists were employed where indicated in the score, and with the possible exception of one lad whose treble days appear possibly to be numbered, all sang with assurance and top musical values, surely the very sound the composer intended.

“In ieunion et fletu” (Lamenting and Weeping) drawn from Joel 2:17 by Thomas Tallis interrupted the Mass with colorful 16th century word painting. The Mass continued with the Sanctus and Benedictus of Vaughan Williams, and it was in the Sanctus that arguably the most delicately beautiful and memorable singing of the trebles was to be heard. The music itself does not make the task easy, as entrances in the opening statement are top-down, and phrase attacks are brutally exposed; yet the boys got the job done with beauty of tone and accuracy of pitch throughout.

Alexander Pott is the Organ Scholar traveling with the choir, and while the men and boys had a chance to sit and rest, Mr. Pott performed Johann Sebastian Bach’s Prelude in B Minor (BWV 544) with brilliant articulation.

Dr. Stephen Darlington
“O sacrum convivium” (O holy banquet) in a setting by Tallis is an antiphon honoring the Blessed Sacrament. This was beautifully tended to, with special care taken by the highly esteemed Director Dr. Stephen Darlington, with careful phrase shaping, and attacks and releases that make Anglican choirs especially notable.

Vaughan Williams’ Agnus Dei from the G Minor Mass brought the first half to a most effective close.

Highlights were difficult to identify out of the overall excellence, but Henry Purcell’s “O God, thou art my God” was particularly special. Perhaps the choir was rejuvenated during the Interval, or perhaps there is an inherent common appreciation of that composer’s work, but the singing here was luminous.

Two Choruses from the Foundling Hospital Anthem by George Frideric Handel, “Comfort Them, O Lord” and “Hallelujah Chorus” followed, with audience remaining seated, as the Georgian gesture of standing was not required.

Clive Driskill-Smith, the Choir’s Organist, then performed the Final of Louis Vierne’s Symphony No. 3 in F Sharp Minor with distinguished skill, earning sustained applause from both audience and choristers.

Four items remained for the choir: “My soul, there is a country” by Charles Hubert Hastings Parry, which blessed the assemblage with a beautiful dose of 19th century romanticism; “Where does the uttered music go?” by William Turner Walton, which added a dollop of middle 20th century harmonies cum dissonance; and two Spirituals cleverly arranged by Michael Kemp Tippett, “Steal away” and “Deep river,” after which the audience arose as one with shouts of “Bravo!” to be heard. Despite the generous amount of singing already performed, two encores were proffered by the choir: “Somewhere over the rainbow” and “Our love is here to stay” which were chock full of multitiered harmonies.

One of the gentlemen, Edward Kay, is keeping public track of things through his Tour Blog, which may be found and followed at:

Another chorister, Thomas Chapman, wrote the following on the Tour Blog:  “Something that is a shame about performing choral music in England is that high standards can become taken for granted.” But highly treasured elsewhere, Thomas! He continued, “I can only hope that the good times continue. I mean, what could possibly go wrong? We’re living the American dream, right?!”

The choir’s next performance will take place tomorrow night on the Queen Mary in Long Beach, leaving four more concerts, two in North Carolina, and two in Toronto, Canada, before a return to what is described as a very soggy Oxford.


Photo credits, used by permission:
Choir by Tom King (2012)
Stephen Darlington by Wiley Stewart for WDAV
Clive Driskell-Smith by Association des Grandes Orgues de Chartres
Choir walking in 'crock' by Florence Maskell

Friday, March 28, 2014

Historic Stradivarius Violins Showcased by LACO

Chee-Youn, Philippe Quint and Margaret Batjer rehearse
By Douglas Neslund

Four of the existing 650 Stradivarius instruments created by Antonio Stradivari in the early 18th century were brought together to be admired for their unique audio qualities and historical curiosity for the admiration and appreciation of a large audience of Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra followers at Zipper Concert Hall of the Colburn School Thursday night.

The concert was the second of four events in the “Strad Fest LA” series sponsored by LACO in which the music of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) and Georg Philipp Telemann served as brilliant vehicles in the hands of Margaret Batjer (playing the “Milstein” Stradivarius, made in 1716), Cho-Liang Lin (his own “Titian” Strad of 1715), Chee-Yun (the “Leonora Jackson” Strad of 1714) and Philippe Quint (the “Ruby” Strad of 1708).

Cho-Liang Lin and his Titian Strad
Outstanding as a quartet, the audience was treated to the rarely-heard Telemann Concerto in D Major for Four Violins, TWV 40:202, a work of wit and showman qualities that allowed the audience to watch as well as hear, as themes were handed off from one violinist to the next, with the soloists obviously enjoying their common assignments.

The sound produced by these four instruments is not the booming sound sources of today’s violins. In fact, the Strads are smaller, especially in the upper portion above the bridge. The result is a thinner and edgier sound that didn’t always blend well with the other, modern instruments in performance; the typical Bachian aria accompaniments between flute and solo Strad (the Titian) were a bit of a mismatch, although Mr. Lin’s placement further upstage might have played a role.

Three Bach cantatas provided the meat of the performance, and featured the guest vocal excellence of bass Steve Pence and soprano Elissa Johnston. 

The concert opened with Cantata No. 152, a six-movement work entitled “Tritt auf die Glaubensbahn,” with Mr. Pence and Ms. Johnston exchanging recitatives and arias, joining in the final movement in a pietistic conversation between Jesus and the Soul.

Elissa Johnston
The Soul “role” was certainly meant for a high-voiced boy soprano, a vocal instrument known for possessing an upper range in excelsis, and one at Bach’s disposal in Weimar. Use of an innocent child is quite different from the implied relationship between Soul and Jesus when the soprano is an adult female. Nonetheless, Ms. Johnston hit all the high notes without much effort and with her considerable musicianship well intact. Mr. Pence’s bass is darkly rich in overtones but narrow in focus, a very good fit for a hall the size of Zipper Concert Hall.

After the Telemann, the fourth movement of “Sehet, wir gehen hinauf gen Jerusalem,” Cantata No. 159, “Es ist vollbracht” provided Mr. Pence with a solo turn with three of the Strads serving as “halo” accompaniment to Jesus’s triumphant declaration.

Cantata No. 84, “Ich bin vergnügt mit meinem Glücke,” a solo cantata of five movements brought the evening to a close, courtesy of Ms. Johnston’s artistry and Bach’s expression of satisfaction in his good fortune at God’s provenance. The fifth movement is a chorale, requiring in this case the audience as choir.

Steve Pence
Other performers were the evening’s host, Allan Vogel (oboe); Tereza Stanislav and Josefina Vergara (violin); Roland Kato (viola), who also arranged the Sarabande in B-minor for this occasion leading into the Telemann Concerto; Armen Ksajkian (cello); Peter Lloyd (double bass); Patricia Mabee (harpsichord); and Janice Tipton (flute). The performances were of professional recording excellence, revealing the players' joy in performing this repertoire.

Three other Strads will be heard at a gala event Saturday night, in addition to those on display at Zipper Hall: Serdet, Kreisler, Beechback, and the famous Red Mendelssohn. To be held at the California Club, this is believed to be the first time these seven Strads will have been heard in concert together.


Photo credits, used by permission:
Three Strads - Damian Doverganes
Cho-Liang Lin- MTV Artists
Steve Pence - Los Angeles Master Chorale
Elissa Johnston - Salastina Music

Furlanetto: The Russian Soul

By Erica Miner 

In a continuation of our extraordinary conversation, Maestro Ferruccio Furlanetto reveals insights on performing the astonishing Russian basso repertoire - in Russia. Performing repertoire outside the operatic sphere. And Murder

EM: Maestro, we were just discussing the need for the interpretation of Don Quichotte to have a special kind of sensibility. Could you elaborate? 

FF: Yes. The beautiful quality of the sound. Not enough. For instance, when I started to study a long time ago, way before doing it, Winterreise. I was listening to everybody. And of course the most famous was Fischer-Dieskau. Nothing. Not a little bit cold, it was frozen. And then on the other hand I had the luck to listen to the person that would have been the inspiration for the rest of the way, Hans Hotter. He made his recording - you could only imagine what would have been the state of mind of a young man in 1943 in Berlin, where he did this recording. And you can feel it, you receive a wave after another of joy in desperation, pain - death. And it’s amazing, I am already doing this Winterreise, I think three or four years, how it develops, constantly, even with a gap of months between recitals. You find new intentions, new colors, you get closer and closer to what it should be. But again, it cannot be just vocal effort. You must put yourself in it, heart, brain and everything, physically. Totally in it. Otherwise it’s totally empty as it was for Fischer-Dieskau. 

EM: And the lieder can’t be. 

FF: No, you must kill them (laughs). Now in July I want to redo the recording, to make another one. Because it’s another planet since then. I just did it before coming here in Berlin, in Milano, Scala, and in Moscow Conservatory Hall. In Moscow there was a radio recording, and they gave me the first CD that it will be of course incorporated, but already if you compare it to the recording, it’s hardly the same person. In a matter of everything, colors, the way you feel it. Again, I love to use this word, “filtering.” It is a filter. 

EM: And in July you get to do it again. 

FF: With the same pianist, a very talented young man who has had a very specific state of mind these days because he is German now but is originally Ukrainian. He had good reasons to be… whew. A lot of emotion. But I think it’s important because this piece needs to be done just to transfer emotion, and I repeat, in three years it’s another world. 

EM: You have a special affinity for the Russian repertoire. “L’âme Russe de Ferruccio Furlanetto,” as it’s been described. 

FF: (Sighs) This is nothing. Of course there are singers who are more attracted than others. But just think what Russian music has for basses, for baritone, for dark voices. It’s a universe. You cannot not be attracted by it. And once you are attracted, once you’re doing it, you have to do it properly. The more properly you do it, the more you are involved in it. Before Winterreise I also did in Berlin the Russian recital and in Geneva also, Rachmaninoff first, and the Mussorgsky lieder ending with the Song and Dance of Death. What do you want more than that? In Rachmaninoff everything is love. Mussorgsky, death. And death could be a fantastic subject in music. And in acting. Therefore Russian repertoire offers an interpreter the widest choice of roles. How couldn’t you be attracted by it? Between that and to have a Russian soul - I would say there is an affinity for sure, because my part of Italy, northeast, we have because of former Yugoslavia, all the Eastern countries relatively close, we have Slavic influence for sure, over the centuries as you can imagine. I would never live in Russia, although I go there very often - because there is still the “stink” of Communism. That you can receive from the state of their architecture, and now they tend to restore it, to make it as beautiful as it was. But if you look inside in details you see how abandoned it was by this terrible period. I was born in freedom, I grew up in freedom, and I cannot stand both Communism and Fascism. These extremes don’t exist and they shouldn’t exist. I will never be able to live there because unfortunately we see, in these days, in the present, now the mentality of this very small group of power, one man surrounded by ten or twelve oligarchs who couldn’t care less of the rest of the country. They just take care of their own interests, they share the cake, and it’s absolutely dreadful. But whenever I am there and I am in concert with people, and with their amazing history… almost two years ago now, I was in Moscow with Gergiev and the Mariinsky to do Don Quichotte in concert version, at the Conservatory Hall, a glorious hall, beautiful acoustics, sensational. And a good friend of mine proposed if I would be interested to go to Boris’s grave. I said of course. So she took me to it, eighty kilometers away from Moscow, kind of a fortified little village surrounded by walls, very mystical. There are five churches, Orthodox, of course. There is still in there what they call starets (starĭtsĭ), a holy man, somebody who can tell you - they believe this kind of thing - your past, but it’s religious. In front of one of these churches there is a simulacrum (draws in the air), like that, with Boris Godunov, his wife, (and children) Tsenia and Fyodor. Why outside? Because historically the wife, who was sent to a cloister, they say she committed suicide. But you know in those times they were killing people and saying it was something else. And it was so touching to be in front of this grave and to be somehow related to him through music. Such a touching experience. I didn’t make any picture, it was just something private. And I was extremely grateful to this friend of mine because I was into the Old Russia, the big heart Russia. Because when you’re singing this repertoire you feel this pathos, this somehow almost a pleasure of sufferance.

EM: My parents were both Russian, so believe me, I came to understand the Russian soul. 

FF: You can understand. It’s one of these (whispers), “Oh my God, I suffer but somehow it’s beautiful to suffer.” It’s wonderful, and you understand the soul of these people. They have this misfortune to go through this dirty eighty years of garbage. Then when you are there, it’s just a moment of their life, there are centuries behind it. St. Petersburg, when you walk around, it’s unique, especially in winter. Then you are really feeling the real Russia. When you have this blaze of ice hanging from the roofs of the palaces, very dangerous, two or three meters long, it could kill anyone. But this is… whew. 

EM: The real Russian soul. The one that defeated Napoleon. 

FF: Yes. 

EM: I can see it in your face, when I’ve watched you singing in Russian. There seems to be a special joy. 

FF: You cannot be not involved emotionally. And if you are, that’s your face (laughs). 

EM: Just to shift gears for a moment. In our second interview last season about your sensational appearance here in Murder In The Cathedral  you had mentioned you would love to do it at the Met someday.

FF: I would like to do it everywhere. 

EM: At that time, Maestro Levine was not in physical shape to be considering it. Have you approached him again about it now that he’s back at the Met? 

FF: No. I talked to him about it, I also sent him the DVD from here. I know he’s gradually come back. I also have something with him in 2018, so it means he wants to be there. He proposed me some other opera, not close to the time of Assassinio but in that direction, L’Amore di Tre Re, and I said, “Yes, I’ve done it in concert in Vienna, it’s such a glorious piece. But you should also take a moment to listen to this (Assassinio). You saw the success we had last season, and that it was a national success because it was the first time in this country. And I think it should be wonderful.” But what can I do more than what I am doing? It will happen, for instance, with Gergiev because Gergiev loves it and when he says we will do it you can be sure it will happen. And this is a great quality. This time in January we were doing a Quichotte in Bolshoi and we had dinner afterward, and he said, yes, we will do it in St. Petersburg, the “white nights,” in concert version and we are pushing in that direction. We tried to do it with the London Symphony when he was there, but the London Symphony created so many problems. After St. Petersburg with Mariinsky Orchestra I would find sponsors, and I’m sure he can, we would do it in Canterbury Cathedral. And that for me is the final target. Because to do this magnificent piece and to have Becket die in exactly the place where he died in 1170, it will be an amazing musical event. Everybody I speak with, I’ve really spoken with the high level of the Canterbury Cathedral, and I mention it, they (gasps), they are enthusiastic. They are the ones who commissioned the theatre work in those times, so they are extremely interested to have an opera celebrating their own saint, for sure, so it’s not a problem. 

EM: For Becket to be assassinated on that very spot would be amazing. 

FF: That will be great. Maybe that could kick some interest in other places. You remember this piece was written in 1958, and six years after Karajan brought it in Vienna, where he was the boss. And he did it at that time, unfortunately in German, with Hans Hotter, by the way. Because at that time whatever they were doing in their own language - in Italy we were doing Carmen in Italian - but Karajan himself was the greatest personality in music of the century. (He) wanted it immediately, in his own theatre. So wouldn’t it be good in Vienna, for instance, to repurpose it. They are afraid of one thing, that these kind of operas need an interpreter. If the interpreter gets sick, the entire little castle collapses. And this could be a good reason. Last year when I did it here I didn’t have a cover, for me. And it was a tremendous responsibility. 

EM: That’s high pressure. 

FF: I was really so worried. I never played golf last year until the day after my last performance, because I stayed two days more. Finally the day after the last performance I went to play. But before that I couldn’t even think to do that and to put this production that I strongly wanted to be jeopardized or collapse because of a stupid cold. Of course a major theatre should train a young singer. In Milano I had a cover, a Finnish bass, who sang also one performance. just in case. 

EM: So it took some pressure off you. 

FF: Yes. In Milano they didn’t do like Pizzetti wanted, the four Tempters are the same Knights coming at the end. There were four Tempters and four Knights, but they could be switched. If one of the four were sick, they could interchange. That could be done also. Here we did it again with the same voices, which is right, perfect. And it’s wonderful and should be that way. It’s a bit risky (laughs). But it went well, and it was a magnificent event. Magnificent. And at the end after we finished, I was so happy and proud that I really insisted the point that they came to Milano, (Ian) Campbell and two ladies from the Board, they saw it, heard it, and realized… in Milano we had eight performances totally sold out - okay, it’s Italy, it was first time in fifty years it was redone - and it was a sensational success, and it could be tomorrow again. The production was stunning -Yannis Kokkos, the same guy who did Don Quichotte at Mariinsky. And I must say San Diego was so courageous to do it. When it finished and the success was stunning, I was so happy and proud that we make it happen. 

EM: As well you should be. At this point in your career have you done practically everything you want to do? Is there something you haven’t yet done? 

FF: There’s something I will do in fall, in Vienna, but it’s not Boris, it’s Khovanshchina, with Bychkov, under the direction, the production of Lev Dodin, who will never be traditional but he’s so clever. That will be for sure very interesting. But apart from that I want to continue to do what I’m doing now. Basically this: a lot of Carlos, a lot of Boris, Quichotte the most often as I can, and Murder In The Cathedral.

EM: And recitals also? 

FF: Recitals, yes. I want to keep going, especially the Winterreise, because the reason I told you, the development is so amazing, so unique, that it’s great, great pleasure and satisfaction. Then there is another one taking body, it Beethoven and Brahms. And then I think, keep going with this. I am mostly an opera singer. Recitals are marginal, let’s say, although they give you a dimension you will never get in opera. Because you are there for one hour and a half and you have to paint. 

EM: And you get a chance to explore a depth of emotion on a very profound level. 

FF: I think that to have this recital part of a career going on, it’s extremely important for the voice, because you explore your vocality in a way you wouldn’t be able to do in opera, and for that reason you can find new colors, things that at the beginning you were not even dreaming it could have been possible to find. And then you find you can refine your intentions, find new dynamics. Something special. 

EM: It sounds like a marvelous plan. And of the moment, we have your exquisite Don Quichotte to look forward to. 

FF: As I said before, very special. Very beautiful. It will be great.


Photos used by permission of San Diego Opera

Erica Miner can be contacted at [email protected]

Ferruccio Furlanetto: Filtering Emotion, Touching Hearts

By Erica Miner 

Notwithstanding the pall of despondency hovering over San Diego Opera, to be in the presence of Ferruccio Furlanetto’s greatness for one amazing hour while he imparted his wisdom was an overwhelming experience. In spite of, or perhaps because of, his greatness, he remains utterly modest and unprepossessing. And, as always, a true gentleman. 

EM: We’re ecstatic as always at your return to San Diego Opera, Maestro. Congratulations on your fortieth anniversary on the stage. And thank you so much for your astonishing performance in Verdi’s Requiem. I was honored to be able to hear it. 

FF: Ah, good. 

EM: It was such a privilege. 

FF: And it was a very special state of mind in general that night, because it just happened, this… strange mess. And it would have been the last thing to do, I would say, a Requiem for an opera theater, but we did and it was beautiful. I was very glad to be in that. 

EM: Yes, it was special on so many different levels. 

FF: It’s such an amazing, magnificent piece that is absolutely a privilege every time you have the chance to perform it. To be in it, to filter it. It’s great. 

EM: In our interview last season you had mentioned a very special Verdi Requiem you did with Guilini, and the emotions you experienced. 

FF: That was by far the best case. Because this man was really filtering this incredible masterpiece. You know, our duty is really that, to filter with our own emotion, with our own sensibility, this amazing masterpiece, and to be the filter between the composer... And Giulini - you could tell the pain was his pain, and it was so magnificent. I will never forget. And I did many others, beautiful ones I will never forget also. The one on January 28, 2001, for the hundred years of Verdi, in the San Marco church in Milano, where it happened for the first time for the funeral of Manzoni, conducted by Verdi himself. That day was Muti and full, full, full church. I remember that Muti at the beginning asked the audience to listen, to have it in their hearts, and at the end consider the circumstance and why the event was taking place, just to leave the theater without applauding. It was so touching, because you could understand that everyone was really “washed” inside. But it is magnificent music.

EM: Yet this time for you, to perform it on the fortieth anniversary of your first appearance on stage, that must have been a different set of emotions. 

FF: Everything was ideal, because the day before, the day of the generale, it was the day of my first step on stage forty years before, and to be singing the Verdi Requiem, and to be in San Diego, which is without any doubt one of my few dearest places in the world, it was magic. Everything was so beautiful. It was only spoiled by this terrible news. 

EM: Once you started singing, though, was that awful news hanging over the whole time? 

FF: When you start to sing you immediately get into the piece and of course if you have any special reason to sing it, that’s even better. I’ll never forget another one I did in ’94. I was in Japan with Seiji Ozawa, we were doing a series of them, Requiems, and the last one was the day of the TV. And on that very day my grandmother died. And there was something special, because Ozawa said that night it was something amazing. And of course if you have a very special reason to which to dedicate this music… on that night something amazing happened, because maybe a month after I received a letter from Japan from a young woman, say early 40s, and she told me, “In those days my husband died of cancer, I was destroyed, absolutely desperate. I was even considering suicide. And that night I heard this Verdi Requiem on the TV and I understood there was reason to live.” And I still have this little letter, inside a beautiful precious manuscript of Don Giovanni, because this was a most amazing proof you have touched the heart of somebody. This is where everybody in the profession should target, to reach hearts. And this was proof that I did it that night. And somehow, I don’t know if I saved a life or not, but nevertheless this woman understood that there was a reason to continue. I was in tears when I read it. I was devastated. Beautifully devastated. 

EM: That’s the power of music, and what we, as performers, aspire to, to reach people with that power. When two events like that coincide, it becomes magical. 

FF: That happens both in stage operas or in recitals or in a concert like that, without staging. But just the fact that we are filtering emotions and transferring them to an audience. This is the greatest privilege. 

EM: Yes, it is. Then to follow the Requiem with Don Quichotte, which you mentioned, last time we spoke as possibly the role you love most of all…

FF: Probably it is… I just did it the 26th of January in Moscow, because the production we did one year before, in Mariinsky with Gergiev, was awarded the biggest prize in Russia. So for the final event we were invited to perform the production at the Bolshoi. And it has been sensational to be in this amazing theatre, of course, but also even more because it was the second performance in ninety-nine years. The first performance was in 1915 done by Chaliapin for whom the piece was written by Massenet, and the audience went wild. It was magnificent to repurpose it in a beautiful production, this stunning piece. There’s a lot of criticism about Massenet about Don Quichotte, because they find that these kind of operas are a bit light. I cannot agree on that at all. The character of Quichotte is so special, so unique. He’s exactly what men should be for three hours in their life: love. Love for everything that’s around us, whether it’s nature, sky, air, other persons, animals. And when it comes to the end, for instance, the death of Quichotte is so touching, so involving emotionally. I would say it’s on the same level or maybe even deeper than the death of Boris, for a very simple reason, because both are death of a real person. Boris is one of the greatest Tsars Russia had, and you have in this opera his real life, and Don Quichotte is the purity that every man can have. It’s just a matter of will. 

EM: You think perhaps with Quichotte it’s a bit more poignant because he is so childlike and naïve and idealistic? 

FF: Yes, but in the end naiveté went away. Everything finishes with the refusal of Dulcinée. His world is collapsing, and like an elephant he goes in a very specific place because he knows he has to die. But he dies beautifully, purely like the rest of his life, with a transparent soul, through which you can see everything: present, past and future. And it’s a sensational privilege to have a sensibility to do it properly, and to live this situation, because unfortunately normally in life when the end comes you don’t have much time. Very often it’s something sudden or painful. In theatre you have this possibility to leave your kind of legacy and when it’s done in such a touching way it’s so beautiful, really beautiful. 

EM: You also had mentioned that when you were doing Mozart you were almost challenging - or rather, “channeling” - Siepi. Do you feel you are channeling, evoking, anyone else as Don Quichotte? 

FF: I think Siepi was impossible to challenge or channel. Siepi was a god. An inspiration for sure. I was trying to get close, to go in that direction, and I did. Even in that repertoire I was lucky enough to do certain productions where I was absolutely happy. All the Figaros with Ponnelle, the Don Giovanni with Chereau in Salzburg, I was a hundred percent in agreement with everything. And in that moment it’s pure happiness. 

EM: So as Quichotte, would you say you channeled perhaps Chaliapin? Christoff? 

FF: No, Chaliapin is too far. Nobody, I would say, for one simple reason. Chaliapin - of course, yes, the photo of the head, of Chaliapin, tells a lot. A great inspiration, because you see the eyes, the face, you imagine how you would present yourself in this role. But all the documentation we have is so old, so distant. Christoff, who was another god of mine - I had the privilege to meet and to do a tour with him, my very second opera, I was the Monk in Don Carlo and he was King Philip, and he was charming to me. But Christoff, for instance, in Don Quichotte, was a bit strange. His French was not good, the Italian was not good. It was (sings, growling) Bulgarian. I asked through friends if there was a tape, documentation, of Siepi doing Quichotte, and he replied very kindly that unfortunately he never did it. And this I think is such a loss, because his French was magnificent, and that voice! Applied to Don Quichotte it would have been… like chocolate, dark chocolate, melting. So, no, I just learned it, went though, digested it in the way I was feeling it. There is enough material to do so in this piece. 

EM: You also mentioned that when you are doing Filippo you feel you have to stay close to his historical character. But with Quichotte being just a fictional character, do you feel a bit more interpretive freedom? 

FF: Yes, but nonetheless there is this track of purity that has to be followed. Because the way he speaks, thinks, the way he sees even love towards a young girl - everything is extremely pure, healthy. And you can move within it, but you cannot go out from that and I believe that’s rather impossible. But of course you could. It happened that I saw some Quichottes done by people who were not filtering it in this way, and then even if it’s well sung it could be… empty. And Don Quichotte cannot afford to be empty. The voice is fifty percent. The other fifty percent is from the mental, and it must be pure of heart. Otherwise it’s a lost vocation. 

EM: So there’s something missing. 

FF: Absolutely. I won’t name names, but there are some recordings of great singers - I can remember two of them - where there’s nothing in it. Because they didn’t have that kind of sensibility. They were thinking just about the beautiful quality of the sound. Not enough.

EM: You also said then that French was the most difficult language to sing for you. Do you still feel that way? 

FF: Yes, French, if you are compelled to sing it like many French coaches would ask, is awfully difficult and against the human voice when it comes to be sung. For instance to listen to French spoken by a beautiful young girl is the most amazing language in the world, because it goes together. I remember talking with Jose Van Dam, we were doing Pelleas in Paris - he’s Belgian, so his mother language is French - and he told me when it comes to sing you must sing it as you would if you were Italian. Therefore, forget about (makes nasal sounds) because that doesn’t travel, closed nose doesn’t go anywhere in a matter of projecting. So just the “Rrrr” - you have to sing it, to project it, to make people understand it in the distance. Now it’s years I’m doing that in Quichotte and there is no problem whatsoever. 

EM: This may be a strange question, but you’ve sung the role in a French opera house. Does it any feel different for you, knowing your audience is mostly French? 

FF: No, but I did Boris in St. Petersburg and in Bolshoi, and I did my Russian recitals in St. Petersburg. It would be even more dramatic there, but when I prepared myself properly, deeply, I never pretended to be Russian. I never pretended to be French. I just want to be understandable, correct. 

EM: And Quichotte is a role you can do for the rest of your life. 

FF: Ah, yes. 

EM: Maestro, thank you so much for spending this time with me. It was a great pleasure as always. 

FF: Thank you

EM: I’m looking forward to opening night of Don Quichotte

FF: The cast is very lovely. It will be very special, very beautiful. It will be great.

Next: Furlanetto Part 2: The Russian Soul


Photos used by permission of San Diego Opera

Erica Miner can be contacted at [email protected]

Wednesday, March 26, 2014