"I am no casualty, I'm part of the system"
The tenor Rolando Villazón about Berlin, Barenboim and the Buddenbrooks - and about the price of the fame
Mister Villazón, do you still remember your first Berlin abidance ?
Sure, this was in November 2000. I was at the beginning of my career. The first new-production which I was allowed to do in Europe, was "Macbeth" at the state opera. You perhaps know that I attended to the german school in Mexico. Germany was a kind of promised country for us. We learned so much about the history and the geographie, sang the national anthem. Then suddenly I stood in Berlin, saw the buildings, which I knew of photos out of my school books, saw cyclists, which we don't have in Mexico, saw the taxis and the green men. I looked at the people on the street and thought: They all look like my teachers !
At no other opera house of the world you made more new-productions then at Unter den Linden, six productions: "Macbeth", "L'elisir d'amore", "La Traviata", "Carmen", Massenent's "Manon" and last in September "Eugen Onegin".
By now I really feel at home in Berlin. It was even up for debate, if I should move with my family to Berlin. Because of practical deliberations we then however chose Paris, also because of the whether. But every time I come here, I a avid again. Berlin is one of my favourite cities, I don't say that now, because I give this interview at the moment. When I come to the state opera nowadays, I am received like at my first engagement. Of course, I like it to be famous, but it is fantastic too, to have a place, where the people call out to me "Hallo, Rolando !" over the corridor. This was a lovestory from the beginning between me and the state opera people. At the other opera houses I don't know anyone orchestra members. They sit downstairs, I sing upstairs. The only exception is the Staatskapelle Berlin. Here this is my musicaly family !
And how is your relations with Daniel Barenboim ?
I was always very bad at auditions: But if I came to the state opera, Barenboim made it so easy for me. He made a joke immediately, when I came on stage, then I sang totally relaxed. Today he is not only one of the most influential conductors in my life, but also one of the most important people.
In Paris you live with your wife and your two sons at the noble suburb Neuilly. This is the home of Nicolas Sarkozy, too. Do you know the french president private ?
No (laughs). We don't live in Neuilly because of political conviction or because we would be snobs, but because we found our dream apartment there. Rather only one side of our street belongs to Neuilly, the other side belongs still to Paris. It is fantastic for the family, because we are fast in the nature. On the other hand I need only five minutes to the metro by foot. I always take them, if I sing in Paris, because the opera is on the same subway route.
But you are not very often at home, are you ?
I don't want to be one these fathers, who says later: I didn't saw my children grow up at all. Because of this I fight for free time at my crazy fully packed timetable. And fortunately my wife and my children like to accompany me on travels. My part of the thing is, to travel at home more often between two performances, to see my family.
Can you follow up your second passion at the plane: reading books ?
Normally I try to sleep. But literature is really my hugh inspiration source. I read, because I really need it. I can manage 30 books a year with my timetable. As a child german literature had an enormous influence on me. After 25 years I just dealed with Hesse's "Steppenwolf". I only red three books twice in my life, the both others accidentally, because I forgot that I know them already. But the "Steppenwolf" has absolutely to be on my list for the lonely island. Like "Berlin, Alexanderplatz", too. Next I want to deal with Thomas Mann's "Buddenbrooks".
They are in the cinemas at the moment.
I'm not huge friend of literature film adaptions ! Dear directors, leave the novels alone ! Books say anything they have to say on their own. Once a film is released, the people stop reading the book. For example "Lord of the rings" - whereas this is anyhow good cinema.But think about the atrociously film adaption of " Another ending story", what a disaster for Michael Ende ! With film adaptions we risk to kill the lower perceptions, which the reading will always activate in contrast to the looking. The poetry is in the text, it can not be decoded in film dialogues.
So there are also operas, which are based on novels, like Puccini's "La Bohème" or Massenet's "Manon".
Yes, but at the opera it is exactely vice versa. They can actually animate, to read the book afterwards, because a libretto tells the story enforcedly very shortened. Verdi's "Otello" or Gounod's "Roméo et Juliette" - this has a little relation to Shakespeare. There remains still much to discover.
A similar case is also Tchaikovsky's opera "Eugen Onegin" according to Tolstoi.
It would be perfect to read the book in it's original language. Of course I will be not be able to learn russian for this. So I even take Nabokov's english translation. A brilliant composer needs a huge story, then he can add his immortal music to it.
In contrast to a lot of other countries is the rehearsling time in Germany traditionally very long, normally six weeks for a new-production.
This is absurd long. The six weeks are particularly for the director and the technic. The director perhaps does "La Bohème" for the first time, the technic needs time, for setting. We singers at the normal case don't do our roles for the first time and even if, six weeks are very long. Why do you believe that so many singers are getting ill during the rehearsaling time, why they have meanwhile thousands of other engagements ? I love the detail work, but at the opera you can not rehearsal like at the play. We don't have to expose the emotions first, they are already in the music ! The director only have to find the right movements, that the audience understand the feelings. What we singers need, are clear instructions. We finally have to care about creating morbid sounds, too. Because of this we have to feel at ease with our motion sequences. Otherwise they seem artificial in the evenings performance.
Star singers like you are booked nowadays 5 years in advance.
The opera's system has curios outgrowths. There are more and more singers, who are backing out of the stage at an age, with them they had actually to be on their zenith. I also recognize some colleagues, that they are wearied by the opera business. If we don't pay attention, we risk to loose the enthusiasm for the art. Me personally was at that point, when I took my break in 2007. It is however absurd, to book us five years in advance. They want to know of me what I want to sing in 2014 ! Hallo, are they still noticing anything ? Which artist does already know, what he wants to paint, which book he wants to write in five years ? This is art adversely. Two years in advance should be the maximum.
Does the star hype which is arranged about you, sometimes get on your nerves ?
Yes, but I'm not a casualty, I am a part of the system. Don't we put the balk of our power in getting famous, creating an image of us, selling tickets and CDs ? And don't we forget about it, what the point is: the passion for the art ?Well, I don't say that advertising is dispensable, but if I work at a theater, where incredibly much money is spend for promotion and then there aren't enough rehearsals with the orchestra, because this is reputedly to expensive - do we spend the money still right ?
In March should once again be born a whole new Rolando Villazón: You release an album with arias of Georg Friedrich Händel, on 30th April you will sing the programme then in Berlin.
An artist always have to search after something, which inflames him new. If you always do the same or just what others want from you, you are burning out. Händel was like a living-cell therapy for me. The baroque music forced me, to respect the rules of a completely different music epoch - in comparison with my normal repertoire. Six months I studied the style. Technic was the most important thing at that time. At Verdi and Puccini is the voice with their individual colours in the foreground. At the baroque music you can also reach brilliant things with a smaller voice, if you have the right technic. At this music you can not be the surfer on top of the wave, you have to rest on of the waterdrops.
I think it's a very interessting and particularly faithfull interview !
Thanks to Eliane for the information