|foto: Stephan Rumpf - Süddeutsche Zeitung|
En Munich se edita el periódico alemán de más prestigio, el Süddeutsche Zeitung, similar en calidad a un New York Times en lengua alemana. Al dia siguiente de la première de Les Contes d'Hoffmann, se publicó esta interesantísima entrevista a Rolando Villazón, realizada por Egbert Tholl.
Hannah me puso en la pista, y Janet, desde USA, se ofreció voluntaria para traducirla al inglés, sabiendo que muchos de los lectores del blog entienden este idioma y, si no, es más accesible para quien lo tenga que traducir. El trabajo ha sido muy extenso, y agradezco muchísimo la colaboración de las dos: danke schön, thank you very much, muchísimas gracias !
"You must build a Universe"
Interview: Egbert Tholl
The lyric tenor Rolando Villazón sings at the Bavarian State Opera the title part in “Hoffman’s Tales.” A conversation about “Werther” — and the state of his own voice.
Jacques Offenbach’s opera “Hoffmann’s Tales” has its premiere under the direction of Richard Jones at the Bavarian State Opera. The musical direction is by Constantinos Carydis. Rolando Villazón sings the title part. He last sang in Munich Nemorino in “L’elisir” and at the beginning of the year became a stage director himself with “Werther” in Lyon. In conversation (in English) Villazón acted as though there hadn’t ever been any crises. He bubbles, he sparkles, he spins, he presents you with the whole opera under high pressure. A marvelous experience, that can only be reproduced inadequately in words.
ET: At the end of our last conversation we talked about literature.
ET: You read at least one good book a week.
RV: Mmh. But who knows what remains in my head from it.
ET: Do you know the tales of E.T.A. Hoffmann?
RV: Yes. But it is not necessary for an actor to read the book on which an opera is based. One doesn’t need to read Mérimée in order to sing “Carmen” or Dumas’ novel for “Traviata.” Nevertheless, the more one reads, the more imagination one gets in order to develop a stronger character on the stage. Therefore, I would recommend to a soprano that she reads “Anna Karenina,” “Madame Bovary,” or “Nana” if she wants to sing Violetta in “Traviata.” Regarding “Hoffmann,” naturally the opera is based on a piece by Barbier and Carré, but the stories of E.T.A. Hoffmann were used by these two. Offenbach saw the piece and wanted to put it to music.
ET: Then knowledge of the stories can enrich the character of Hoffmann?
RV: Yes, but there’s another aspect. I believe that the less information the singer brings, the better it is for a really good stage director to work with him. First I see what a director wants, and then I decide what I’ll read. In past weeks, for example, I’ve read Bulgakov’s “Master and Margarita” — you know the story of the devil who comes to Moscow — that is the same situation as in “Hoffmann” in the Giulietta act. If one arrives at the first rehearsal with a firm idea about how one wants to play a role, then one is likely to become a problem for the director.
ET: But you can’t hide that you know everything.
RV: No, no, I try to arrive completely empty.
ET: Although you’ve sung Hoffmann in four productions already?
RV: Yes, and then you forget that again. That was yesterday. Every time it’s a new piece. Because Offenbach died before he could complete the opera. Every opera house uses a little different version. Here a small chorus is added, there one is cancelled.
ET: What’s new in Munich?
RV: There’s a trio that I’ve never sung before. In the Olympia act there’s a different sequence, also in the Antonia act, there are some small pieces that are new for me.
ET: Have you sung in a production before in which all four distinct women characters are sung by the same soprano as here with Diana Damrau?
RV: No, that is absolutely unusual. Good, a very few sopranos have sung that, Gruberova or Sutherland, but I know almost no one who can do that today. Diana is amazing. She has an unbelievable instinct on the stage, it is a great joy to work with her. She is wonderful and can sing the characters so that you believe they were written for her.
ET: Does it mean something for the interpretation that Stella and the three imaginary women are sung by one woman?
RV: Offenbach wanted one singer for the four parts. Even when there are four different singers, there is usually a sense at the end that all four can be one woman. What’s wonderful about Hoffmann is that in one evening you can play four roles. You have Hoffmann in the Prologue and the Epilogue who is drunk, who struggles with writing, who asks himself if he should follow life or art, whether he should lead an anarchic or an ordinary life. And in the Epilogue you have in addition the Hoffmann who knows that his opportunity with Stella has slipped away, that now only writing remains for him. And then in the Olympia act Hoffmann can be happy and naive, not at all brooding, one can portray him as a brother of Nemorino. He’s in love with a doll! But that must also have something important to it. Something from “Alice in Wonderland,” as in the stories of E.T.A. Hoffmann themselves, these outside-of-reality stories that yet play within reality. These stories come from a nightmare, but the nightmare is a completely normal dream that actually is reality, which we must just accept. Then you feel really well in this world.
Richard Jones is a genius. I love to work with him. He wants everything to be very serious. We shouldn’t make jokes, one should not become a caricature. You must act it so that Hoffmann is truly in love. It’s almost like Alfredo’s love for Violetta in “Traviata.” No tra-la-la.
ET: The doll Olympia is also completely real for him?
RV: The more seriously you play, the better the story is. If you only pretend, it’s all a joke. The audience should wonder, but it should accept his love for a doll.
ET: But this is also a bit comical.
RV: Yes, out of this complete seriousness comes the best comedy. It’s really a very merry act. In the Antonia act, Hoffmann becomes a serious character, his experiences have made him contemplate marriage. Then he observes that not everything is right with Antonia, that she should not sing, and finally she is dead. And he believes that he is guilty for this. In this moment, Hoffmann is a very lonely, very lost person. In the Olympia act, he needs no guidance: he lives in this world and soaks it up.
ET: During the Antonia act, he operates like an alien element that doesn’t belong here.
RV: Exactly. He wonders what the people are talking about, what secrets they have. It is not reality. He’s forced into that in the Giuletta act. Or better, he forces himself. If that’s the world, then so be it. He tries to play by the rules of the nightmare. Who understands the world in which we live? Who understands how business really works? How politics function? Which system is really the best for humanity? The metaphor here is very strong, even for our own times. It’s a wonderful opera. It’s a shame that Offenbach died before he could complete it. I picture how Offenbach worked in the night, feverishly and with despair: he wants to finish it, he wants to see the work on the stage. And then he knows, no, it won’t work, he won’t ever see it. Actually he was a happy man, a Hoffman-man.
ET: Who in his person explains life against art. Which of the four Hoffmanns is your favorite?
RV: They must all come together. You must love them all. Perhaps one can choose one for oneself, but I can’t. Within the act, there is no development of character. You must simply change the character. The development comes altogether from the man Hoffmann is in the Prologue to that which he is in the Epilogue. The three stories that we see have transformed the man of the beginning. We see this transformation. It’s not like, for example, Don José (“Carmen”). In that you see how he has changed, how he has become a killer. Here, no. But, when he sings “Kleinzack” at the end, he is completely another man. He can no longer sing as in the beginning.
ET: We meet Hoffmann again after three hours, and he is someone else.
RV: He is the same man, only three hours later. Now he has all these Hoffmanns in himself. Like when one sits together for a long time and drinks vodka. The vodka opens the inner feelings, and one starts to tell a story. About women and love. And Hoffmann tells of three women, of three loves, and knows that’s all nonsense because the three women are only one, the one that he loves. At the beginning, he talks, still full of élan: Ha, you want to hear a story, here it is! Cheers! (Villazón jumps up and rollicks around the room.) And then comes this guy who gives him glasses so that he doesn’t know that it’s a doll, and so on and so on, still a magician, Cheers! And all the listeners enjoy themselves and believe him or not, and he tells further about a woman who must not sing or she will die. And he drinks, and the listeners drink, and all are eager how it continues. And he talks and talks and drinks and drinks. And he tells that the woman sings and dies. And he howls and cries and is in despair. And then: let me tell you about a guy who was in love with a whore. Hahaha. And the woman plays with him, but he loves her. And Hoffmann who tells the Hoffmann-stories, becomes ever wilder and his listeners are enchanted, and he is completely exhausted. And then his stories are over, and the others want to hear “Kleinzack” once more, therefore he sings “Kleinzack,” until he breaks down completely drunk.
ET: Can you do that exactly the same again?
RV: (Laughs) There it is. You cannot do it as if nothing has happened. (Villazón sings with a self-consciously sweet voice to make it clear how Hoffmann at the end should not sound.) That wouldn’t work. With these stories he gives form to his suffering, makes it bigger.
ET: Would this be the description of the production if you were to stage “Hoffmann” yourself?
RV: No. As I staged “Werther,” at the beginning it was a very cold, pragmatic work. Before I began to talk of feelings and psychology, I went through the whole piece. Completely cold: you go here, you go there, you do this, you that. And I said: Don’t ask me any questions, questions come later. After six or seven days, the piece was staged, everyone knew what to do and when. Then it had to be filled with individuality. For example, I wanted Albert and Charlotte really to love each other. I don’t like it when Albert is a hard, stupid guy. Then why shouldn’t Charlotte leave him for Werther?
ET: Did the clowns in your “Werther” staging contribute this poetic commentary-level from the beginning?
RV: Yes. I thought what is “Werther” about. It is about determinism, by society and family. There is no escape from duty. From the beginning I wanted to work with colors, bright colors for the children, etc. Many things I discarded again. The determinism goes further, from the marriage until death. And the clowns embody free will, the anarchic power.
ET: The decisions are apparently quite similar. Albert and Charlotte must love each other, otherwise the story doesn’t work. As Hoffmann must love the doll Olympia. One must maintain these feelings.
RV: Yes, yes, yes. To be honest, perhaps it would work if you portray Albert as a strict man, a real ass-hole, and Charlotte perhaps as a drinker. It would also work. The important thing is only: whatever you decide, you must seriously maintain it. You must believe it yourself. You must believe in the characters. If Olympia is for Hoffmann the most beautiful woman in the world, then so it must be. Naturally, all of this is a metaphor. What does it mean if Hoffmann loves a doll? What does it mean for his real love Stella, in whom he sees the three women? What side of Stella does Hoffmann describe with Olympia, with Antonia, with Giulietta? Does Stella herself sometimes behave like a doll, a doll in the round of society? Is Stella as merciless as Antonia— I sing and die. Is she as seductive as Giulietta, who will stop him from writing? All belong together.
ET: Do you discuss such questions with your wife, who is a psychologist?
RV: Sometimes. I believe we talk more about how the production is running, which ideas are treated in it. She has a very good eye for aesthetics. When she watches, she sometimes asks me afterwards what a particular movement was supposed to express. If she asks, then it wasn’t clear. Then I must think how can I make it clear. All this talk, these many ideas — how many can one put on the stage? What I said before is also a way to clarify for myself what it’s about and what I must play.
ET: Isn’t that too bad?
ET: That one can’t convey all ideas on the stage.
RV: Now, what I’ve been saying up to now has perhaps more to do with writing than with acting. These thoughts are only working stuff for the performance. Richard Jones is also so good for this reason, because he cleans everything away. You can try everything, try everything once in the rehearsals. You must not do that in the performance. You have it in your head. Everything that is too much you must cut away. It must be theater, not décor. Film is always more exact. Theater on the other hand must send a theater-message. Theater has its own language. And that’s not a film-language. You must build a universe. You can hate it or love it, as with my “Werther.” But it must be built.
ET: And now: how is it going with your voice?
RV: (Laughs) I am curious for how many decades I will be hearing this question. It’s going super good.
ET: Do you now finally keep an eye on yourself? Ordinarily, it’s still so: Scarcely does it go prima with you, then again you do way too much and zack, Villazón is kaput again.
RV: I am what I am, I can only sing the way I sing. Otherwise I must contradict you. I have a lot of free time, I don’t do a thousand things at the same time.
ET: But you did do that.
RV: Yes, I did it. And I would do it again if I had to. A thousand thanks for all I was allowed to do.
ET: You would lead the life again that you did from 1999 to 2006?
RV: I would do the same things.
ET: I suspected that.
RV: That’s the point that many perhaps don’t understand. I didn’t cause my illness through my manner of singing. That would be a simple explanation, but the truth is more complicated. Do you know how many phone calls the doctor who operated on me has received? None. If anyone asked him, he would say — for he has permission to do so — that I had a genetically caused cyst that I would have had no matter how much or how little I sang.
ET: Completely independent of how much you sang?
RV: Perhaps I hastened the process, also through the manner in which I sing. But that is not certain. Who knows in any case how long he will sing — three, ten, twenty years? I don’t know that. But for as long as it goes, it will go as I want it to and as I feel it. Even if it doesn’t go well. For a year I’ve felt really good. Before the operation, I wasn’t capable of singing Don Ottavio. And finally the answer is: yes, I am always a high-wire dancer. I dance on the wire, without net and padded floor.