Alan Held Interview

AH-Steiner-color Dr Miracle This weekend bass-baritone Alan Held (pictured left, leftmost photo by Christian Steiner) finishes a run of Wozzeck at the Metropolitan Opera. He goes to Baden-Baden next for Salome, Munich in July for Rusalka, Washington DC in September for Tosca, and Bilbao in October and November for Tristan und Isolde. Next season he returns to San Francisco for the Symphony's semi-staged Bluebeard's Castle. The Last Chinese Unicorn and the Unbiased Opinionator caught up with Held last Monday.

LCU: There are those who have difficulty sitting through pieces by Berg, Schoenberg, or Stravinsky. What advice would you give to those unaccustomed to atonal music to prepare for Wozzeck?
AH: I have a friend who's flying in from LA this weekend to see the show and intimidated by it as well. She just wanted to enjoy it and I told her to be familiar with the story. To me a piece like Wozzeck is almost musical theater. There are wonderful sections of the piece that are very melodic, but there is all the atonal music and the Sprechstimme. The first step is to get familiar with the play, it's a gripping story. Then, listen to fragments of it. When you're preparing to hear a piece like this, don't try to listen to it all at one time. People are shocked at how much enjoy this thing, because it is so musical. The orchestra is so strong. But you have to take it in small portions at first, and then when you see it all together it will blow you away. If the artist is doing his or her job, to express the text and the story, to me Wozzeck is more natural and easier to absorb than just about any other operas out there. There's no repetition of the same phrases over and over. The bones of this stuff – the music and the sound palette is put out there to put the emphasis on the drama even more than you would in many other types of opera, or other theater pieces.

UO: That will be quite helpful to those less inclined toward the Second Viennese School.
AH: I'm very committed to this piece and to contemporary music. I do a lot of it. My bread and butter is probably Wagner and Strauss. I've been in the business 25 years this year, and I've seen the tastes and what audiences go for really change in these 25 years. When I was starting out you'd see Verdi, Wagner, Mozart and Puccini; that was the meat and potatoes. Things have really changed. You're getting more contemporary music, Czech music, a lot more of Bartok, and the Russian repertoire. And there's a change in the other direction, too. You're getting a lot more Rossini, Donizetti and Bellini, because of the artists who come around in certain time periods. Maybe we're a little bit low on the Verdi end right now. The economy affects the repertory too. You're not getting as much Wagner in some houses as you once were, because it's very expensive to do Wagner. But I think audiences become more enlightened, more intelligent about different styles of music and more accepting of it. It used to be, when Wozzeck was done, you'd have a very small audience. Same thing for Lulu. Now the audiences are becoming much fuller and more active. The response we received after opening night of Wozzeck was as huge as anything I've ever heard at the Metropolitan Opera House. So, I think audiences, singers, and companies are all becoming more appreciative and open to a wider range of repertoire.

UO: That's great to hear, Alan. I'm looking forward very much to hearing the broadcast and being in the house this Saturday to hear you.
AH: I'm glad you're going to be in the house because this is a production that you must see as well as listen to. I think it comes off one way on the radio, or CD, but this is a production that needs to be seen. You have merits of the theater and the music together, especially in a piece like Wozzeck.

UO: Of course you have the enormous advantage of having James Levine conducting.
AH: We're thrilled to have him step on the podium once again when he came back after being away for so long.

UO: I've done a little bit of chorus work with Jimmy, and I find him enormously inspiring. Would you tell us a little bit about what the working process is like with him as a soloist? I imagine at the point you start working with him it's so integrated that you're working less on details and more on the larger picture.
AH: I've worked with Maestro Levine quite a bit on many different things over the years including the Ring, Elektra, Hoffmann, and Wozzeck. The process that we usually use at the Met is that, unless it's a brand new production, we rehearse the staging first – we do that for a couple of weeks. Then he'll come in when we start to do the stage rehearsals, sometimes before, when we're still in the rehearsal room, and he really puts a lot of polish on it. Sometimes it takes a lot more polish than other things. But we usually do the rehearsal on stage and then we'll get together in List Hall or somewhere else at the Met, really working on details and working on characters. Maestro Levine is such a master at melding the character into the voice and he loves pure sound and expression of the text. He's very good with Wozzeck at not just being such a great technician and a great musician, but he does a great amount with the drama as well. He's so familiar with it; he loves the score and he does so much to help bring more out of you. It's been said so many times what a great accompanist he is and that's absolutely true. He's right there with you all the time and you really feel when you're working with him that you're working together. There's none of this: just someone beating a stick. I've had the privilege of watching him work not only with the Met orchestra but also with the Youth Orchestra at Tanglewood. He's a master technician as far as teaching the orchestra, and he's teaching us all the time.

UO: When you first debuted the role in San Francisco back in 1999, how did you go about learning it? Did you simply pound it into yourself?
AH: I began as a pianist and I also listened in theory class, so I understood the 12 tone style. But again, I approached it from the drama as much as I did it from the music at the beginning, because the two have to be married together. Yes, I did pound out the notes, but I looked at the rhythm and how the language flowed and Berg set it masterfully. It all makes sense, what he did. I think this piece is almost as tough rhythmically as it is note-wise. The rhythm is just as important. And then incorporating it into how I work as an artist, and as an actor, all together. I didn't do it separately: note, note, note, note. That would be the wrong way to approach Wozzeck.

UO: You've sung, as you say, for 25 years on an international level and you’re working in constantly changing acoustic environments. I'm sure you're familiar with most of the big houses but if you're confronted with a very dry, unforgiving acoustic, what do you do?
AH: There's really not a lot you can do. If you go messing around and trying to change the way you're singing to fit the acoustic of a certain opera house, you're going to end up in trouble. You can't change the acoustic. If you try to change your voice you're going to end up hurting yourself. So you have to just accept it. Fortunately, we get several rehearsals in the halls so you have the time to adjust your mind more than anything. A tough house is Amsterdam and it's not simply because of the acoustic, but the stage is very, very wide and you're not used to the audience being almost at your side all the time. But again, you can't really go changing your singing. You may have to sing more straight out, and less to the sides in certain houses, but your technical apparatus is the same.

LCU: What is your favorite city, and what do you love about it?
AH: Boy, you know when I do operas, I think, "Oh, this is my favorite scene! Oh, no, I love this one!" Every time I think that I have a favorite, it's the thing that I'm singing. I oftentimes say the same things about cities and I like a lot of different ones. I love San Francisco. The weather there is fabulous; it's a great walking city. I love Chicago, maybe because I'm originally from Illinois although I didn't spend much time there as a kid. I love New York. In Europe, I like Munich a great deal and Vienna. I just spent two months in Barcelona and that was great because I avoided all the weather on the East Coast! So, yes, there are a lot of places I love to be. There are some places that I don't want to go back to (laughter). I'm not going to say what they are. I may need a job there someday!

LCU: Wasn't it in Barcelona that you took the picture of those pig heads for Valentine's Day?
Oh yes! Nothing says Valentine's Day like a pig head! I tend to walk around, I'm a pretty observant guy when I'm doing so. So in Barcelona there was this meat case and it had all these pig heads and stuff, and they had Valentine hearts all over the place, and I was like "Oh my gosh!" (Laughter)

LCU: I remember seeing that picture, wondering if it was a joke or real.
AH: It was absolutely real.
UO: It's either a joke or another piece of Regietheater.

LCU: What's the story behind your Facebook profile picture (above right)?
AH: Thats Dr. Miracle from Tales of Hoffman in 1993 at the Met, the old Otto Schenk production. I love that picture! I figure that's how I look after four kids. (Laughter) That old production at the Met was amazing. It's one of my favorites. Dr. Miracle pops out of the fireplace, and he pops through the floor. I get so many people commenting on that picture all the time! And someone said that that's the best picture on Facebook so I said "OK, I'll keep it!"

Melody Moore Interview

Melody-moore This week the soprano Melody Moore (pictured left) performs with New Century Chamber Orchestra. She will be singing in Stephen Schwartz's Séance on a Wet Afternoon at New York City Opera next month, Gordon Getty's Plump Jack with the Münchner Rundfunkorchester in May, and returns to San Francisco for the world premiere of Christopher Theofanidis' Heart of a Soldier in September. Last week, the Opera Tattler spoke to her by telephone.

How did you get involved with opera?
Purely by the encouragement of others. I was in my high school choral program, and the director pulled me aside, and got me to audition for the Texas All State Choir. I had some piano as a child, but as far as music goes, it was mostly church music around me, or bluegrass, or country, since I'm from Memphis. The choral director gave me sheet music and tapes to listen to, and I sang alto in the Texas All State Choir. Only 300 people are chosen a year. I never even know you could have a job as a singer, but I went to school for music in Baton Rouge, Louisiana because of my music teacher. I did also study music therapy.

So you were a mezzo-soprano? When did you switch?
I sang lyric mezzo rep until I was 26 or 27. I always had a lot of top, a B natural and even a C, so my music teacher had me explore that. I don't know if I ever fully transitioned to a soprano mindset, however.

How are mezzos different from sopranos?
There are fewer lyric mezzo-sopranos than lyric sopranos, so it is a more competitive environment for the latter group.

What are you singing with New Century Chamber Orchestra? How has it been?
They are a great group, very tight-knit, and they play like one instrument. I enjoy coming back to work with them. This concert is Schubert, Bach, and Mendelssohn. I will be singing 4 little tiny songs, Schubert Lieder. They have a lovely arc of poetry to them, dreaming about love but not being fulfilled, or rather fulfilling love through the search for love.

Did you just sing Kurt Weill at San Francisco Ballet?
Yes, it was a blast. I was in the pit, and no one could see me so there was no pressure, I just had to deliver the text. Weill really gets down to brass tacks, his music is bawdy and gutsy.

With the exception of Faust earlier this year in Hawai'i, you have a lot of new music for 2011. What are the challenges of contemporary music?
Thankfully I do learn fast. I sit with the score and listen to recordings of the orchestra, if there are any. I try to get the scope, shape, and bones of the music so I know where I fit in. All the music I am working on this year is tonal, though there are challenges with mixed meter in the Schwartz, the meter can change 3 or 4 times on a page, from 9/8 to 7/8 to 5/8, and so forth. Looking over the Getty, it does seem to be mostly in 4/4 and 3/4. I will have to learn it in the next month, so I will be busy! I do feel really comfortable with the Theofanidis, as we work-shopped it in December, and there haven't been any major changes.

What is your workout regimen?
I work with a trainer, just as I prefer to work with a coach with my singing. It is good for me to be responsible to a person as far as exercise is concerned. It makes me feel ready for the day. Working out has been great for me, I had a year of terrible back pain, so strengthening my core has been key to changing that.

What are your hobbies and interests?
I love to cook, I love the alchemy of it. I also love reading. It makes me sad that there is not enough time in one's life to read all the books worth reading.

I love books too! What are your favorites?
Cormac McCarthy's The Road. To me, it is one of the most beautiful love stories. That might sound strange, given that the awful circumstances of the novel, but the love of the father for the son is incredible. Another favorite of mine is The Handmaid's Tale. You could say I am drawn toward dystopian novels.

Any guilty pleasures you are willing to share?
I enjoy American Idol. It is completely awful, but I watch it every week. When it comes on air I feel chipper!

Marnie Breckenridge Interview

Breckenridge This weekend soprano Marnie Breckenridge (pictured left) will be singing the role of the Princess in Ensemble Parallèle's production of Orphée by Philip Glass. She will be singing in The Rape of Lucretia with Castleton Opera, which will be presented by Cal Performances in Berkeley next month. Last week, the Opera Tattler met with her in a practice room of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music between rehearsals.

You attended San Francisco Conservatory of Music, so welcome back! Are you from California?
Yes, though the Conservatory was on Ortega Street then. I grew up in Claremont, California, lived in San Francisco and Napa, but now I live in New York.

I see you have sung in English quite a bit, such as in Love and Other Demons, Candide, and The Rape of Lucretia. Orphée of course is in French, what are the challenges of not singing in your native language?
French was the first foreign language I studied, before I knew I was going to be an opera singer. It does feel different in the body than English.

How did you get the role of the Princess?
I was already singing with Nicole Paiement for the BluePrint Series, so Brian Staufenbiel asked me to audition for the Glass. I sang Juliette's Waltz, and I got the part. I've never sung Glass before but I'm absolutely loving the challenge.

I've seen some of the previews, and the production looks very exciting. Your character looks like a ringmaster in the videos that have been shown. Where have you been rehearsing?
We've been here at the conservatory, and rehearsing at a circus school too. We don't get into Herbst until the Wednesday before the opening. The performers in this production are incredible. The Roue Cyr artist, aerialist, and juggler are as much a part of this opera as the singers.

What was your first opera?
The first opera I sang in was Così fan tutte, and I was Despina.

Favorite opera?
I love all of Janáček's operas. Wozzeck and Der Rosenkavalier are also favorites.

Dream role?
Norma! I will probably never sing it, but I do sing it in the shower.

Who do you look up to?
The list is very long, and also, in a way, very short. Renée Fleming is amazingly consistent, and a nice person too. I admire Anna Netrebko, Angela Gheorghiu, Barbara Bonney, Kathleen Battle, but my all-time favorite is Leontyne Price.

How do you feel about live simulcasts?
As far as exposing opera to more people, it is really great. However, opera is a live art form, and you feel all the vibrations physically, so simulcasts do not recreate a full experience of it.

Do you feel pressure to be able to move and act well?
I have always been physically active, I danced ballet, jazz, and did gymnastics before deciding to become an opera singer. I've also acted, I was in ACT's summer training program. So I am coming to this from the other side, I've had to figure out how to move less! So I haven't felt that pressure.

Are there musicians in your family?
My mother plays piano, she also sang, and played organ at church.

Do you play an instrument?
I play piano. I played flute in band, but I didn't like the freezy brain feeling it give you.

What are your hobbies and interests?
I am interested improv, my husband is in a troupe. I go to art museums. I especially enjoy Monet, Manet, and Delacroix, but I also love trying to figure out more abstract paintings, like those of Jackson Pollock.

Nicola Luisotti Interview

GockleyPaolo SpadacciniLuisottihandshake Maestro Nicola Luisotti (pictured with San Francisco Opera's General Director David Gockley and President of the Fondazione Festival Pucciniano Paolo Spadaccini; photograph by Cory Weaver) is currently conducting the centennial performances of La Fanciulla del West at the Met, including the upcoming HD simulcast on January 8th. He has been met with success in New York and just received the 39th Premio Puccini Award in recognition for his work. The Opera Tattler spoke to the effervescent conductor just before his final performance of Fanciulla at San Francisco Opera last season. Upon reaching his dressing room, Luisotti could be heard playing the piano.

What were you playing?
Some Chopin waltzes.

Are you always playing?
I study all the time, 6 to 7 hours a day, if I am not conducting, working with musicians, or listening to auditions.

You seem to often wear a navy polo shirt with a white sweater draped over your shoulders. What is the story behind how you dress?
I dress the same all the time, everywhere I go. This is so I am not a distraction to the musicians, I just want people to see that it is me, Luisotti, and get on with the music.

I hear you are to conduct Fanciulla for the centenary of this work at the Met, where the opera premiered. How many times have you worked on Fanciulla?
This will be my 7th run of Fanciulla. My first performances were in 1985, as part of the chorus. I have been the chorus master for Fanciulla as well, and the Met production will be my 3rd time conducting the work.

I was surprised how much certain parts of The Phantom of the Opera sound like Fanciulla. Have you heard this musical?
Yes, I have. My wife and I went to hear The Phantom of the Opera for the first time in London last April, when I was conducting Aida at Covent Garden. My wife and I like musicals, and we see a lot of them, it makes for a nice light evening. Andrew Lloyd Webber is a good musician, but some whole lines of Fanciulla were lifted out for some of the songs in the musical! In rehearsals with the orchestra, I would say things like "and now let's start again at the "Music of the Night" part. It made them laugh!

You have conducted both Puccini and Verdi a great deal at San Francisco Opera, is there non-Italian repertoire coming up for you here?
I don't want to say too much, but Tannhäuser, Lohengrin, Carmen are all on the SF Opera schedule for me.

You are hiring some new musicians, tell me about some of them.
As far as new hires in the orchestra, we have chosen a new principal oboist Mingjia Liu and a new prinicipal clarinetist just started here, José González Granero. José is great, he can go from nothing to everything to nothing again. You can hear this in Act II when Rance asks Minnie why she loves Ramerrez. I don't have to tell José anything, he just knows what to do. Music is not a job! Everyone needs a job, of course, but we try to hire musicians, people who love music more than themselves. I love music more than myself! Music is indescribable, just like love. It is just a group of 200 hundred people moving their hands, with me waving my arms, and suddenly you see Canova's Amore e Psiche, and we stop moving our hands and it is gone!

You seem to have rearranged the orchestra quite a bit for nearly every production, what exactly is going on?
We have tried 5 different configurations of the orchestra, even adjusting the level of the floor. The pit is too narrow and too long. The acoustic is challenging so we are trying to find a balance. I know that not every word that the singers utter can be heard, but I don't want it to be boring. Even if you find something to be too much, that too is a reaction. Being disturbing is a reaction. If I restrained the orchestra, I am afraid it would be boring after a hour. I have to respect the score, for Fanciulla, the winds are doubled, and it wrong to cut that orchestration down. When the composer writes "Tutti forza," I must follow that. I hate mezzoforte, and love pianissmo and forte. Life is full of colors. It is like when people go to the movies, no one complains that it is too loud, we get immersed in a world, just as in opera.

Are you still working on a symphonic season with San Francisco Opera's orchestra?
We are still working on this, but it will not be in the city. There is no need to compete with SF Symphony, of course.

Are you going to make it back to San Francisco for the Ring next summer?
I really wanted to make it back here, but unfortunately, my schedule is just too full!

Would you consider conducting this work?
I go back and forth about wanting to conduct a Ring, fighting with myself. I have 30 or 40 years to torture you with my conducting, so who knows!

Now for a very stupid question! What is your favorite pasta?
No, no, it isn't stupid, everyone has to eat, food is important! I like homemade pastas with Bolognese sauce or egg and tuna. I also like risotto with fresh mushrooms!

Elza van den Heever Interview

Evdh-full-length-smaller-version Soprano Elza van den Heever (pictured left) is currently an Ensemblemitglied at Oper Frankfurt, but as been in San Francisco this month for Vier letzte Lieder at San Francisco Symphony and a recital presented by San Francisco Performances. She sings Elsa in Bayerische Staatsoper's Lohengrin this January, the Composer in Ariadne auf Naxos and Leonora in Il Trovatore at the Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux from February to April, Vier letzte Lieder with the London Symphony Orchestra next March, Antonia in Les contes d'Hoffmann and Vitellia in La Clemenza di Tito at Oper Frankfurt in April through June, Verdi Requiem with the Frankfurter Opern- und Museumsorchester at the Alte Oper Frankfurt in May, and finishes the season as Fiordiligi in Così fan tutte at Opéra national de Paris in June and July. The Opera Tattler caught up with van den Heever before a rehearsal.

How are you enjoying San Francisco?
It is great, this is where I lived for more than 10 years, so it is like coming home. I spent one week in San Francisco just to be here, and the rest of my time has been rehearsing, first with San Francisco Symphony and now for the recital on Sunday. Sheri Greenawald is still my primary teacher, so I have spent a lot of time with her.

Where did you live in San Francisco?
Out in the Sunset for 6 years, because that's where the San Francisco Conservatory of Music was, and in Civic Center for 5 years.

What do you miss most about this city?
Climbing hills, you don't realize what a difference this makes until you move away and see how flat other places are. You get into this fit zone! There is such a health conciousness in the Bay Area, and an awareness about how what you put into your body matters. San Francisco is also so close to nature, in a couple hours you can be in Point Reyes, for instance.

How was it singing with San Francisco Symphony this time around?
Michael Tilson Thomas is one of my mentors, he gave me such particular care, since he knows Vier letzte Lieder so well. Since there is only one soloist in this, unlike the 8 in Mahler's 8th, Michael Tilson Thomas really took me under his wing.

How are you liking Frankfurt?
It actually has a lot of greenery. In a way it is like a provincial town with high-rises, as soon as you get out of downtown it is less urban than you would think. At the same time, it is the banking capital of Germany, so it is comsompolitan and diverse.

How about Oper Frankfurt?
It is wonderful. It is an important house and I feel lucky to be able to try all these big roles there for the first time. For new productions we get 7 weeks of rehearsal, and then 8 to 10 performances, which is great.

You were the first-prize winner in the 2008 Seattle Opera Wagner Competition. Are you planning on going in that direction as far as repertoire?
That was a lot of pressure! It was my first and last competition! I was really glad to win, especially based on just the arias I did from Tannhäuser and Lohengrin, the only Wagner operas I will sing from right now. As far as repertoire, I want to keep all my options open, to sing as much as is right for me. I'm only 31 so I have lots of time, and I'd rather be prudent with my voice.

Do you have a favorite composer?
Right now I am really enjoying Verdi, he really lets the voice fly and I feel a special affinity for him. I am working on parts from Otello, the Requiem, and Il Trovatore at the moment.

Who do you look up to?
I look up to my colleagues, especially the ones that are of the same age as me, because they make me want to work harder and strive further. My absolute favorite singer is Maria Callas though. I know it is a cliché, but she was truly great.

Your San Francisco debut in Don Giovanni has been in cinemas and was broadcast on public television. How do you feel about live simulcasts?
That's right! The Met HD Broadcasts are amazing, they are so impressive. They do make me a bit nervous, I hope people don't cancel their subscriptions and watch them instead of going to the opera house. As a performer, it does make you all the more nervous to be recorded live, since most of media we see or hear are edited to perfection.

Do you feel pressure to be able to move and act well?
Yes, there is pressure. This was one of the great things about being in Merola, we had movement lessons. But I still can't dance, I have two left feet, and I always find I want to lead!

Are there singers in your family?
No, but my family is artistic. My mother was an actress and now a producer and my father is a film-maker. I have a photographer, a painter, and a chef as brothers.

I heard you also wanted to be a chef? How did you pick singing as a career?
Yes, I didn't know what I was in for! [Laughs] I figured I could a chef at any age but if I wanted to be a singer I would have to start training young.

What do you like to cook?
I like to go to the grocery store with no idea of what I'm going to get, so I can see what is in season. I like to be creative with vegetables, but I don't specialize in a particular type of cuisine. I never follow a recipe!

Marco Vratogna Interview

Gold_shoes Baritone Marco Vratogna (pictured left in San Francisco, note trousers and shoes) just finished singing Amonasro in the season opening run of Aida at San Francisco Opera. He is scheduled to sing Jack Rance in La Fanciulla del West at the Lyric Opera of Chicago and Ezio in Attila at La Scala in June. The Opera Tattler and the Last Chinese Unicorn met Marco with a rather raucous group of friends for dinner at Jardinière after his final performance of Aida last night.

How did you get involved with opera in the first place?
As a joke! I started singing in clubs and places like that, and got a lot of encouragement. I had a deal with my father that he would pay for my training for a year, and I would have to show some sort of success.

It has clearly worked out! Are there singers in your family?
My father's father was a tenor, he won a singing competition and got an engagement to sing Tosca in Rome. He couldn't do it, because, unfortunately, my grandmother became ill with multiple sclerosis.

What do you love about singing opera?
Everything! Especially the adrenaline rush of being on stage.

You sing a lot of villains such as Jago, Macbeth, and Attila. Which one do you identify with the most and why? Is this your favorite role to sing musically?
I don't really identify with these villains, except that they are all powerful men. My favorite is Macbeth because this role has many layers, is very intense, and is different in every moment.

Is it more fun to play the bad guy? Don't you ever want to get the girl though?
Yes, it is fun! No, you see what happens to the tenor! [Gestures to the next table at Marcello Giordani, Radames in Aida]

Do you have a dream role?
Rigoletto! This dream is coming true soon, I sing it in 2012. The opera is a masterpiece, and Rigoletto is the culmination of all the great Verdi baritone roles.

People are already saying that you were born to sing Rigoletto. How will you prepare for this role? Do you typically do a lot of research when learning new roles to try to understand your character both musically and psychologically?
I do research and read. Hugo's Le roi s'amuse is historically based, so my job is find the true story in that, to show you who the real person was.

You are a very physical performer, embodying your roles. Does this come naturally or have you studied movement?
Naturally. People want reality, so in a sense you just have to be yourself.

Are you excited about singing Attila at La Scala? Why is the La Scala audience so notoriously aggressive, booing and cheering with such fervor?
There is such a history at La Scala, the biggest stars have performed there, so the expectations are very high. The audience is crazy for opera.

You and Maestro Luisotti are very good friends. How is he to work with?
I met Nicola in 2001 for Stiffelio at Teatro Lirico Giuseppe Verdi, in Trieste. He is great with singers.

Who would win in a game of thumb war? [OT and LCU demonstrate, and LCU promptly wins]
Me, of course!

How long has Luisotti had that long-sleeved navy polo?
At least 10 years. Nicola has a uniform! It is important, so that he can be identified as the leader, which he is, as the Maestro.

Do you have a favorite opera house?
San Francisco. The audience is responsive and knowledgeable. They can distinguish talent.

What singers do you admire and respect?
Baritones Ettore Bastianini and Piero Cappuccilli; tenors Franco Corelli and Aureliano Pertile; and sopranos Renata Tebaldi and Maria Callas.

Complete this sentence. My idea of happiness is...

Spell horrible:

What do you do when you are not singing?
I am working on an electric and solar powered yacht business.

Here are some stereotypes about Italian men and you tell us if they apply to you:

Italian men like to eat pasta.

Italian men are passionate, hot blooded and jealous.

Italian men are spoiled by their mamas.

Italian men wear speedos, gold shoes, and tight pants.
Yes, in Italy all the football players wear gold shoes! Nice!

Italian men do not like to open doors and close windows.
I don't open the door, but I do close the window!

Danielle de Niese Interview

Danielle de Niese, Decca / Chris Dunlop Soprano Danielle de Niese (pictured left, photograph courtesy of Decca / Chris Dunlop) will have her debut at San Francisco Opera today as Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro. Later this season she sings Despina in The Met's Così fan tutte, conducted by William Christie. In March de Niese will fulfill her dream of working with conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt, singing the title role of Rodelinda at Theater an der Wien. The Opera Tattler caught up with Danielle on Friday after a talk with students from the San Francisco School of the Arts and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music that followed the final dress rehearsal of Figaro.

Where did you grow up in LA?
Hancock Park.

Do you still consider it home even though you live in the UK and your parents live on the East Coast?
I do still think of LA as a big home for me, since I spent my adolescence there, in the 90s.

Is your family musical? How did you find opera?
My mother sang, not classical music, but she still always gets the final word on how I'm sounding. My dad's parents also sang. On the other hand, my brother is a pharmacist, and though I do have loads of cousins, 40 or so, but none of them are singers. My parents had me take tons of lessons, everything from dance to tennis to karate. I just took to singing like a duck to water. I remember when I was a kid I would look forward to taking my voice lessons on Saturday mornings; it was my favorite day of the week!

Does it help to be pretty in this industry? Perhaps you can't say, since you've been pretty all along!
[Laughs] That's so sweet of you to say, thank you! I wish I could give a yes or no answer to this one, but it is very grey. I think you have to have personality over looks, but you of course have to have a voice. Opera is about singing. I don't think it hurts to be beautiful, but it is more a plus than anything else. I know it sounds strange, but there are loads of pretty singers, so you have to have something more to give.

You've performed in a lot of Baroque operas, what do you find appealing about this music?
Baroque music is good for young voices, the orchestration is light. In Baroque music, you have the da capo aria, and as a singer you can compose your own ornamentation. It is only in Baroque music that you are allowed the freedom within the form this way. If you sing Mimì, Puccini's music is all written out, and though every performance is different, it is on the page in a way that something like Cleopatra is not.

In 1988 you won Young Talent Time, an Australian television contest, singing a Whitney Houston medley. Do you have a favorite song from Whitney?
The medley was of "I Wanna Dance with Somebody" and "Greatest Love of All," so I definitely love those two songs. "I Will Always Love You" is also one of my favorites, since I loved the movie The Bodyguard.

What sort of dance are you trained in?
Ballet, tap, jazz, modern, and folklorico. I concentrated most on modern, jazz, and tap though.

What is on your ipod that isn't opera?
I can't live without my ipod! Some of my favorite non-classical music includes Dave Matthews Band, Coldplay, and Beyoncé.

What sort of cardio do you do?
I used to run, because if you are pressed for time, running is very efficient. Unfortunately, I can't run right now because one of my knees is filled with fluid. So I've been on the multi-stride elliptical, which bounces and is easier on the joints. I'm even getting one for my house in England. I also swim and do some weight training.

How many pairs of shoes did you bring to San Francisco?
Let's see, 22 pairs? That's actually not too bad for me, I'm really my mother's daughter, and love shoes and handbags. But the weight restrictions are strict now, so my books outweigh my shoes.

What makes Bob Ross so awesome?
I just saw a re-run of Bob Ross on PBS, with his big gorgeous hair, exuding an effortless calm. He was just so sweet and I can't believe he is gone! Drawing is the one artistic thing I really can't do, and Bob Ross made it look so easy.

Do you like cupcakes?
Though I don't go out of my way to have them, I do like cupcakes.

Which scene in Figaro would look best depicted with cupcakes as singers?
Definitely the night scene of Act IV. I can imagine all the cupcakes peeking around the pines. You know they are half pines, right?

Yes, we have to pretend they go all the way around, but they are flat in the back!

Zandra Rhodes Interview

Zandra Rhodes by Gene NoconFashion designer Zandra Rhodes (pictured left, photo by Gene Nocon) created the production of Aida that opens San Francisco Opera's 88th season this Friday. She also designed the Les pêcheurs de perles seen here in 2005. Her Die Zauberflöte closes Seattle Opera's 2010-2011 season. The Opera Tattler and the Last Chinese Unicorn talked to Rhodes over coffee at the San Francisco Opera costume shop.

LCU: Why is your hair pink and what is your natural hair color?
ZR: In 1970, I tried on this lovely green wig, and it just cramped on my head. I thought, just a minute, I'm a textile designer, if you can dye a sheet, why can't you dye hair? So I had my hair streaked green, in those days. In 1980 I went to China and turned it red. It has been this color ever since. Originally though it would have been dark brown. Pink is very easy maintenance, far easier than any of the other colors. Green fades to look like old grass. Pink will last 6 weeks!

OT: Is there a story behind your first name?
ZR: My mother was going to call me Xandra with an X after Alexander. My grandmother said that no one will understand that, so that's why I'm called Zandra with a Z.

LCU: Who is your current muse? What do you look for in a muse?
ZR: I don't currently have a muse, but I have had fabulous muses. One of them was a wonderful girl called Maxine Smith, who first got me to go to LA. It is really someone who adores clothes, who will sit with you at night and try things on, and say this feels great and why don't you wear this. You just need someone who is prepared to spend time, who is fairly exotic, and willing to just play around with things.

LCU: How do you get your inspiration? Do you have style icons?
ZR: I get my inspiration through my friends, talking about things, trying things on, and looking at things, as they happen. I have found that since I have been doing things like the opera, things like that, it is very difficult to always be around to see the "style icons." I like someone who is a bit more below the radar, that you can suddenly think, that person has something wonderful going for them. Like yesterday I went to the farmer's market and we passed this amazing girl with stockings on, in all pink, and she had these pink stockings with bows round the top. This was someone experimenting with style, which is wonderful.

LCU: If your house caught on fire and you had time to grab 3 items from your closet, what would they be?
ZR: Oh, what a difficult question! If you weren't given any time to think, well, because some of the things you could buy again, so you should take things you couldn't buy. Probably my sketchbook. A sketchbook I couldn't redo, so it would be better if I grabbed that. It is only one of them, and the rest are stored. I have to admit, I am a hoarder beyond hoarders. For example, I've got in my library, in front of the books, I've got things, like one shelf is just all Japanese sushi in plastic. Another one has a metal spider I bought in the street in Brazil. I've got rocks from everywhere I've been to. So it's the case of, what would you actually pick? I would probably would pick my jewelry, though it is not valuable. It is just art jewelry, but if it was just hanging there I would probably put on as much as I could. So jewelry, sketchbook. What else? It couldn't be clothes because they are all in chests. Oh dear, what would I pick! Give me a bit longer on that one!

LCU: If you could say one thing to Alex McQueen before he died, what would it be?
ZR: You should have talked to people and not tweeted. I found that really sad that they could say he tweeted this and that, whereas I would have been able to ring a poor, bored friend and say listen, I am really depressed, I don't know what to do. Then the sadness of being in a cupboard, I mean, imagine finding him. But I think for me, talking to someone is important, I find that I am very, very lucky in friends. I can phone someone and say, I'm really depressed, I haven't any new ideas. One of my friends would say "Good God are you still on that again? You are always telling me that, you told me that last year." Friends can help talk you out of things and get you to come round or look at it another way.

LCU: Who is your favorite character on Ab Fab?
ZR: I was on there with Loulou and Brett Eckland. I'm going to say Joanna, merely because she's a good friend anyway. But I think all the characters are good, and both the girls are good.

OT: The first opera you designed was Die Zauberflöte for San Diego, but what was the first opera you attended?
ZR: Before I started on opera, I had hardly seen any. The first opera I saw, it was in Covent Garden, what's the one with the lady that throws herself off the balcony?

OT: Tosca?
ZR: Yes, but she looked like Miss Piggy. [Giggles] The Tosca was very big and Mario had built up shoes.

OT: Do you have a favorite opera?
ZR: I don't really have a favorite. I find when I'm working on a particular one, that one is my favorite. For example, The Pearl Fishers, they had Charles Castronovo singing, and when he reaches that extra high note, not on the main one, when they are both singing, but the song after that ("Je crois entendre encore"), it is gorgeous. It is a gorgeous opera. So I love that. I enjoy Aida, I can't wait for that grand march. It is just such a wonderful art form.

OT: What is your dream opera to design for?
ZR: I would love to have a go at the one they did with David Hockney, the Chinese one with the screaming lady, Turandot. I am also trying to work on ideas for a Salome.

LCU: What do you love about opera?
ZR: The amazing thing about opera is, without you knowing it, it hits all your senses. So it is not just what your eyes are showing you, but the music that's operating on you secretly without you knowing. For example, this is how I realized that, when I am watching rehearsals and they say to me I don't think the chorus looks right in what you put them in for the grand march in Aida. Well, once they start that grand march and they come on, it gets so exciting that I don't notice what they are wearing. [Laughs] It is so amazing, you are looking and you are thinking I forgot to look at that bit, because it was so exciting, with all the rest happening. You know in Aida when they are dying in the middle of the stage? In mine the pyramid closes down on top of them. There are two people with headsets, holding the scenery, and walking in on the stage, being guided, counting. So the singers are having to concentrate on dying in front of you and in the meantime the sets are being moved in by people, so they are not taking any notice of that. Then in back in the corner the chorus (they aren't paid over time to stay on, so they already've got half their wigs off and everything) and the maestro conducting them and the harp music, all in the back. You might not realize that you are not just listening to the principals singing with the orchestra playing. You've got extra music going on with these beautiful voices, but they are just all in the back! I just love all those technicalities.

LCU: Do you ever cry at the opera? Does it move you to tears?
ZR: Traviata always does!

OT: So you live in London and Del Mar?
ZR: That's right, because my partner decided to retire to Del Mar by the sea, but some of me would say, well, I don't know, I am not sure if it has worked out, or if it was a good career move. I go backwards and forwards every month. I have a secretary either end, so for example, I spoke to my London office four o' clock this morning and checked in. It continues either side, thanks to the fax, which I'm better at than email. But if it hadn't been for being in San Diego, I would have never been introduced to opera, because in fact it was Ian Campbell at San Diego Opera that had asked me to do The Magic Flute which is now going to Seattle. I am going up there this September for a day just to talk to them. He asked me to do The Pearl Fishers too. Then Jack DeMain, who used to manage Opera Pacific, saw The Pearl Fishers and said I'd be great to do an Aida. So they gave me a contract to do Aida, and was given in three charges. The first one was to come up with the concept, the second was to produce the designs, and the third would have been to carry it out. Well, I delivered the first two, and then they said they weren't going ahead. Well, I was really pleased with what I'd done, and I felt I shouldn't leave it. So I went to see Ian Campbell at San Diego Opera, and I said "Ian, I've done all this stuff for Aida, and I really want it to work" and he said "We've got an Aida of our own, I can't do it, but I'll give you the name of the guy who is going to Houston Opera, who is still at Welsh Opera." I emailed Anthony Freud and he agreed to meet me in London from Wales, which is only an hour away. We got together and he said "I think I'd like to go ahead with it, but I need to work in Houston, can you come to Houston?" Well, as it happens, I was doing The Magic Flute in Dallas, so I flew over for a day. Freud put together English National Opera, the Norwegian Opera (though they backed out) and San Francisco. That's how it happened!

OT: What do you think of ENO's approach, having opera in the vernacular of a particular place, vs. surtitles?
ZR: Oh! Why not have surtitles! Can anyone not read these days? They have the surtitles, up in English. I can't speak Italian, but when they say "Guerra! Guerra!" it sounds much better than "War! War!" [Laughs] Do you know what I mean? I think very strongly even if you speak the right language, I don't think you can understand what they are singing, except when it is very slow. I don't think it matters if you understand the words or not. Now that they've got surtitles, it is to die for. Years ago you used to have to read the libretto as quickly as you could. I speak reasonable French, but even so, you don't always understand, even in Carmen when they sing "Here come the picadors. Here, come the torredors." It is so easy once you read what the surtitles say.

OT: What medium do you use in your final drawings for the opera?
ZR: My drawings are done in my sketchbook, usually in felt tip pen. It is done on Japanese rice paper. [Pulls out her sketchbook] There's not much in this sketchbook, I mean, I've only got the current one here. So I just draw on this, we scan them, and print them up. We color Xerox them.

OT: How does designing for the opera compare to designing clothes?
ZR: They use lovely big safety pins. Designing for the opera, you have to, well, you do have to have the imagination to make a size 16 feel as if she's a 10. I think the stars are quite amazing. They come at in all this sort of stuff and convey the point about the music and everything, I just think it is incredible, I love all the little tricks you have to use and the things you have to do to make the clothes do things that you can't do when you are working on a practical level. I mean, to me it's been very exciting, being able to use things that as a textile designer, all the things I've done are all, I can use my textiles to "Zandra-ify" all the clothes. For example, hang on, I'll bring a couple around that we are not using. These aren't being worn, these are the ones in London that were for the princess. But the point is, that actually started off as plain cloth. I can take a piece of orange cloth, and print it or paint it or pleat it, because that's what I do, and turn it into a garment that does different things. These are all based on different things that I've done. I did an Egyptian collection in 1986, and I designed a leopard skin, so all the priests have got turquoise printed leopard skin. You also get, in opera, what is clever adaptation. For example, I might have an original design
, but the likelihood is you don't always get someone with that physique, so he might end up more covered up. So you get slight different interpretations. Funnily enough, when we started with The Pearl Fishers, in San Diego, we had them in t-shirts, fully dressed with the leopard skin. It has done 10 towns across America, and since then, all of the guys have done it bare chested, and looked fabulous.

LCU: There was a sighting of you at the farmer's market. What sort of cheese did you get?
ZR: I bought classic cheddar, a mature cheddar. It was a fabulous farmer's market. I also bought this mad cauliflower that looks like a wonderful hairdo! Not like the ones that you get at a supermarche that are all solid. That was what was so lovely, you saw things that you would never see otherwise. So it was a big treat.

LCU: Do you like marmite on your toast?
ZR: I love marmite. It is better than vegemite, which is the Australian one, that Australians swear by, but I don't.

OT: Do you have a favorite pastry or sweet?
ZR: Unfortunately I like sweets, but lately, they have been banned from my menu. I have lost about 18 pounds. That means, don't eat it if it's white, no flour, bread, or rice. I make a very good bread and butter pudding, which is with white bread, butter, and half and half. It is delicious. I can supply the recipe if needed.

David Lomelí Interview

David Lomelí Tenor David Lomelí (pictured left) is finishing up as an Adler at San Francisco Opera this Fall by covering the title role of Werther and singing the Messenger in Aida. He sings Edgardo in Pittsburgh Opera's Lucia die Lammermoor this November, Alfredo at Deutsche Oper Berlin in December, Nemorino at New York City Opera in March and April, Macduff in Lille next May, and finishes the season in Santa Fe with La Bohème. The Opera Tattler caught up with Lomelí after singing his last Werther rehearsal.

How is your class at Merola doing?
We all are working, as you know, Renée Tatum is at the Met and Leah Crocetto is here as an Adler. As far as everyone that was in Don Giovanni with me: Austin Kness is also here, Rena Harms sang at Wolftrap this Summer, Amanda Majeski is at Lyric and sings at Santa Fe next year, Carlos Monzón sang at Wolf Trap and Florida Grand Opera, Ben Wager sang at Los Angeles Opera, Adam Cioffari just finished at Houston, and Joélle Harvey was at Glimmerglass.

Tell me about covering a role and what that involves.
Covering a role is bittersweet. The sweet part is that it can be beautiful, you get to work with a professional team, the conductor gives you notes, and the music preparation here is great. You get to learn the role, be in the house, and be ready to go on. You definitely learn a lot. The bitter part is that as a performer, you want to go on. Like for Werther, I've had a month of pretty much singing it every day, because I just performed it in Tel Aviv with Maya Layhani and Austin Kness. Today was my last rehearsal before Ramón Vargas comes, so it will be hard to be back on the bench, not singing. Though I am looking forward to meeting Ramón Vargas and asking him how he preserves his voice. He is so amazing!

Do you generally read the source texts concerning a role? Have you read The Sorrows of Young Werther?
We are basically required to read the source texts for the roles we sing as Adlers. They really make us prepare.

What do think of Herr Werther?
The part is beautiful, a dream tenor role. There are 5 arias, and you get to be a drama queen. There is a huge range of emotions explored: happiness, sadness, insanity, delusion, and then you get to kill yourself and sing about it for 30 more minutes. I really hope to sing it again really soon, but don't have it scheduled in the next 4 years.

So you were the first-prize winner in Plácido Domingo's 2006 Operalia and the first singer ever to win both the opera and zarzuela divisions. Tell me about zarzuela.
Zarzuela is pretty much only championed by Plácido and some companies in Spain. For the baritone you need a big range, for the tenor a beefy middle. The sopranos need to be chirpy and the mezzos need a lot of color. It is a bit like the musical. Everything is rubato. I love singing this music, but not that many conductors have experience with it. If I even become a fourth as famous as Plácido, I would love to do zarzuela. It is the music I have known all my life.

When were you in the Los Angeles Opera's Domingo-Thornton Young Artist Program? How did you get in?
I was in the first year of the program, in starting in August of 2006 until May of 2008. My voice teacher, César Ulloa, sent me and Eleazar Rodríguez to audition for Plácido in New York.

How was singing at the Verdi Requiem in LA and Berlin?
I got the LA Phil performance because Villazón canceled Hoffman at the Met, and Calleja canceled on LA Phil to replace him. I was supposed to sing Cantata Criolla as my LA Phil premiere, but instead canceled this to sing the Verdi Requiem. It was the first time I had sung an oratorio since Messiah, which was a long time ago. It was scary, but I know Gustavo Dudamel from when I did a gala concert in my hometown. I have a youtube video of myself singing "Nessun Dorma" with Dudamel conducting the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra! The LA performance prepared me for Berlin, which was a success. That orchestra is incredible. When I heard the bassoon part in rehearsal, I couldn't come in because I was weeping.

What was your first opera?
Mozart's Bastien and Bastienne, though I did sing a Verdi Requiem before that, when I was 19. It was not good.

Favorite opera?
Well, I have done 65 performances of Bohème. I do love Werther. I am pretty weird, I also love Pelléas et Mélisande and Albert Herring.

Dream role?
I hope someday to do all the big Verdi roles, I especially love Ballo en Maschera and Otello. One day I would love to sing Walther in Meistersinger, I love that opera. If I could have Bryn Terfel or James Morris as Hans Sachs, I could just die, the next day, happy.

Who do you look up to?
Plácido. He's so successful, perhaps the best tenor that has ever lived, but he is still so kind and has discovered so many great singers.

Tell me about your stage fight incident in Fanciulla.
In Act I of the final dress rehearsal there is a fight, and I was supposed to be hit on the head with a sugar bottle. Except it wasn't a sugar bottle, I was knocked out for real. I saw stars and woke up 2 bars before I was to enter. I had a huge bump on my head and Matthew Shilvock sent me to the hospital. I had the fastest MRI ever, to make sure I would be okay. Then I rushed back for Act III, because there aren't covers for small roles like Happy!

Did you really have a coaching for Werther in the middle of a performance of Fanciulla? How does that work?
Yes, it was the last time I would be able to work with Allen Perriello before my Werther in Tel Aviv, so I called him and I had a coaching with him for an hour. I owe him a lot, and everyone in the music administration is great.

Sweet or savory?
Both. I love both sweet and sour. Mole for example. Or orange chicken.

Do you have a favorite pastry?
Tres leches. The only place I can get it is actually at Espetus, the Brazilian restaurant close to Zuni Cafe. The different kinds of milk have to be in the right quantities, the cake has to be soaked and soft. I hate it when they put strawberries on tres leches, it is just not the way it is supposed to be.

What is your secret superpower?
I vocalize as a countertenor everyday and it has helped my voice to do so. I have a high G in my head voice and can sing the Queen of the Night with Susanna Biller (not as pretty of course). Obviously my voice up there isn't nearly as pretty as Ryan Belongie's either!

How are you at soccer?
I am a huge fan of soccer, but I am so bad it. I am an FC Barcelona shareholder. (Breaks out his FC Barcelona card, complete with photograph.) It doesn't make Plácido very happy though, since he's a Madrid fan. I studied in Barcelona.

Why is football commentary so much better in Spanish?
Everyone gets a nickname, more poetic phrases are used, and it is much louder.

How similar are the circus and the opera?
They are becoming more and more alike, just as far as entertainment. For example, Cirque de Soleil's O has a theme, but not a story. But Robert LePage's Ka definitely has a story. As far as opera, it is not just park and bark anymore. In this summer's Walküre, from Zambello, everyone had to move, and they did so well.

What's your favorite Beatles song?
That's so hard, I love the Beatles, every song is good. But I would have to say "Eleanor Rigby" is my favorite.

What do you miss most about everyday life back home?
My ladies. My dad travelled a lot in the first years of my life. So I basically grew up surrounded by 13 women: my mom, sister, grandma, aunts, and cousins.

Can you recommend a place to eat relatively close to the opera house?
There is a really good taco truck next to the Best Buy on Van Ness. If you want sour cream and beans, you should go to the Mission, but the best burrito is at this truck.

Daniel Montenegro Interview

Daniel-montenegro-backbend Tenor Daniel Montenegro (pictured left working on his backbend) is just finishing up at the Merola Opera Program where he was Nemorino in L'elisir de amore. He will be performing excerpts from Roméo et Juliette this weekend for the Merola Grand Finale. Montenegro had his San Francisco Opera debut singing Roderigo in Otello last November. He sings next at the world premiere of Daniel Catán's Il Postino at Los Angeles Opera. The Opera Tattler listened in on a conversation between Montenegro and our mutual friend the Last Chinese Unicorn, our point of departure for this interview being À bout de souffle.

LCU: If William Faulkner were a gummy bear, which color/flavor would he be?
DM: Honestly, I am not familiar with Faulkner's work, so if I had to choose a flavor, it would be pineapple, because it is colorless.

LCU: Complete this sentence: My elixir of love is...
DM: Campari and tonic.

LCU: Does that work?
DM: [Laughs] No, girls think it tastes like cough syrup and just think I'm weird.

LCU: Which Disney movie/cartoon would make a great opera and which character would you play?
DM: Snow White. I would be one of the dwarfs, probably Bashful.

LCU: If you had to take Lady Gaga out on a date, where would you take her and what would you wear?
DM: To my mom's house, she's probably not used to that. I would wear what I normally wear, I have nothing to prove.

OT: What is your normal attire?
DM: Simple things, no labels. I tend to stick with blacks, greys, whites, and khaki.

LCU: Would you serenade her? With what?
DM: With mariachi. Malageña.

LCU: Who is more gullible - Nemorino or Otello?
DM: Nemorino. He is just innocent. Otello is more complicated, his downfall has to do with his jealousy.

LCU: Have you ever had a crush on your leading lady?
DM: Absolutely not. Unless I happen to.

LCU: What are your thoughts on armadillos?
DM: They have their place.

LCU: Do you accept random friend requests on Facebook?
DM: No, I only friend people if we have more than one friend in common.

LCU: What do you think about those people who believe that Phantom of the Opera is opera?
DM: I think they have a lot to learn.

LCU: How do you pronounce your name in Spanish?
DM: [dãn-jél].

LCU: Who do you want to work with as far as conductors and singers? Which opera house would you like to sing at?
DM: I get this sort of question a lot, but I just like singing, it doesn't matter where it is.

LCU: What is success?
DM: When saying no to things is the norm.

OT: What is your favorite pastry?
DM: Señoritas. They are the Cuban version of Napoleons (mille-feuilles).

OT: Do you have a favorite poem by Pablo Neruda?
DM: "Siempre" from Los versos del capitan: Poemas de amor (1952). I understand it as being about a man's jealousy, or lack thereof. It is something to strive for.

Sondra Radvanovsky Interview

Radvanovsky-martin Soprano Sondra Radvanovsky (pictured left in costume by Jai Alltizer for the current SF Opera production, photograph from John F. Martin) just had her San Francisco Opera debut singing Leonora in Il Trovatore. She sings two more performances and will be signing her first CD in the SF Opera Gift Shop tomorrow. The Opera Tattler spoke to Radvanovsky today in San Francisco as many costumed participants of LovEvolution made their way to Civic Center. Radvanovsky was perfectly on time, but was sporting a brace on her right ankle.

O no! What happened?
Someone tried to snatch my purse outside of Walgreen's (on Van Ness Avenue) last night, but I got him good. Unfortunately, I did sprain my ankle.

You are definitely the wrong person to mess with, you are obviously really tough. The Trovatore you are in seems very physical.
I do get thrown around quite a bit in the production! But I can take it, as singers, our bodies are our instruments, so I do take care of myself. I have a trainer and go to the gym.

How does it work with having different cast members come in? I know that Malgorzata Walewska and Quinn Kelsey are filling in for Stephanie Blythe and Dmitri Hvorostovsky at various points.
What often happens is that we get a pick-up rehearsal, but in this case, no, I haven't rehearsed with Quinn, so it will be exciting to see what happens! For Malgorzata, she was in the early rehearsals before Stephanie arrived, but that was 3 weeks ago.

You have sung Leonora quite a bit, for instance, you just sang it at the Met, and I heard you sing that role at LA Opera in 2004. Does it ever get dull?
I always find something new within the role, but tomorrow will be my 26th Trovatore since January, and Tuesday will be the 27th!

I bet you are ready to take on Ernani!
Yes, I head to Chicago on Wednesday to rehearse at Lyric Opera. Then I'm off to Paris for Don Carlo. I won't sing Trovatore for a year and a half when I sing Leonora at the Met again.

Your first experience of opera was hearing Eva Marton and Plácido Domingo sing Tosca at age eleven. Did you come from a musical family?
That's right, Placido at Arena di Verona, on television! I told my mother that I wanted to do that, and started voice lessons at that age. There are no musicians in my family. My mother is admittedly tone-deaf, and my brother isn't a musician either, though he likes music. My father, before he died, liked hearing me sing, but also didn't have a background in music. I always liked singing though, when I was a kid my mother bought me a Karen Carpenter record that I like to sing along with. I actually started off as a lyric mezzo, singing things like Cherubino, and then at 19 my voice just changed and suddenly I was a coloratura soprano. [Laughs]

It must have been amazing for you to sing with Domingo.
When I was 35 I sang Roxanne in Cyrano de Bergerac opposite of Domingo at the Met. It was a lifelong dream of mine and was incredible. Domingo has always been very supportive of me, he has only said positive things to me, even when my voice was "half-baked," as I call it. I used to get frustrated and ask when my voice would "finish baking", and he would tell me it would come, and he was right.

When do you think that happened for you?
It was Bill Friedkin's production of Suor Angelica last year in Los Angeles, that was the turning point when things really picked up for me. I felt comfortable in myself, and it was really the right opera at the right time.

It was an amazing performance you gave of Suor Angelica, and the whole set of operas was excellent. Have you sung that role before and are you singing it again?
Thank you! That was the first time I sang that role and I am doing it again in Spain in a few years, along with singing Giorgetta in Il Tabarro.

Do you think you'll ever sing all three roles in Il Trittico, like what Patricia Racette is doing right now?
No, I don't think so, perhaps if they were ordered differently it would be a possibility. It just seems like it would be very difficult both vocally and dramatically to sing the light part of Lauretta after turning yourself inside out for Angelica.

You have ties to Los Angeles, didn't you go to UCLA?
I went to both UCLA and USC. I started off at SC, and was there for 2 years for voice, but I had problems with my voice teacher there. So I ended up studying privately with Martial Singher in Santa Barbara, but doing a double major at UCLA in theater and voice. I was there for 3 years.

So that's why you move so well!
I learned a lot about how to act, how to hold myself, I even had to take dance. I had 2 left feet and now I have 1 and a half left feet instead! [Laughs] It is becoming increasingly the case that opera singers have to be a complete package.

Do you feel pressure about your looks?
Yes, of course. As singers we are out in the public eye and are scrutinized, it is part of the job.

How do you think a younger audience can be drawn to the opera? I can't help but notice you have a publicist that is a blogger, that you have a Facebook page, and you did a podcast for LA Opera.
Yes, we are going to launch a new web site with all the bells and whistles, and I am just starting out with Facebook too. Technology is part of it, like with the Met in movie theaters, and the SF Opera simulcast of Il Trovatore. Opera is not just for elitists, and it should be brought to as many people as possible, like the Opera in the Park that SF Opera did last month. Opera also needs to be modernized, has to speak to the younger people, and be believable to them. At the same time, new productions have to make sense, there has to be a reason for the choices made besides just being shocking.

Are you going to be in any of the Met simulcasts?.
Yes, I'm going to be in Il Trovatore, and I believe it is being broadcast in April of 2011.

Do you teach at all?
I do give master classes when I perform in the United States. I was in a young artists program at the Met, so often times younger artists have a lot of questions for me about how to get started. Yesterday I gave a class to the Adlers, and they are such a talented bunch. The class was supposed to be 2 hours, but it went on for 3, but it is a passion of mine, to help educate young singers.

You are booked until 2014-2015, that is just crazy, how much in advance you have to schedule. What are you looking forward to?
I will be singing Tosca and Aida at the Met. I'll also be singing a lot of Bel Canto, I've been learning a lot of music lately, and will be singing Norma and Donizetti's "Three Queens."

John Copley Interview

Jcopley John Copley directed the revival of San Francisco Opera's Idomeneo, which opens this Wednesday, October 15 and runs until October 31. He has worked on 19 productions for San Francisco Opera since his 1982 debut in Giulio Cesare. The Opera Tattler spoke to Copley on Friday morning in San Francisco.

It has been 60 years this month since you were first a supernumerary for Aida at Covent Garden. How did you get interested in opera?
My mother took me to La bohème when I was 10, and I caught it like the measles. I also studied piano, my father gave me one for my 6th birthday. He only played by ear, so he had me take lessons.

You went on to study ballet, painting, and architecture?
I studied ballet at the Royal Ballet School, but I started too late. Ninette de Valois sent me over to the opera, where I was told I would do better, and I did. I learned about painting, costumes, furniture, and architecture at the Central School of Arts. One of our models for drawing was Quentin Crisp, whose memoir, The Naked Civil Servant, was turned into a movie.

What has changed in the years since you started?
My generation of opera directors insisted on acting, one cannot just stand and sing. So that's one difference.

Also, there aren't as many divas. Perhaps it is just because I'm getting old and people feel they should be nice, since they figure I'll die soon. [Laughs]

Singers do tend to get used up these days, as opera is quite popular. The opera world is littered with causalities. Singers push too hard and take too many roles, they are often pressured by their managers. They need to be more patient if they want to have careers that are more than a few years long.

Mirella Freni had 7 or 8 parts within her voice in her early years, and she was terribly bored with them, but she wanted to keep singing. So she made it to 70 and still could sing. There are those that are very lucky, like Joan Sutherland, who was singing Amelia in Un ballo in maschera and Desdemona very early. But she has vocal cords of steel, and that's very rare.

You call yourself a "dinosaur" because of your traditionalism in staging operas. What are the considerations you make in directing an opera?
I try to find a new way of doing what's written, telling the story, and staging the music. I learned from Callas that you must examine what the music tells you. It doesn't have to be old-fashioned, but there are certain settings that do not work for certain operas. For instance, La Traviata doesn't work after women's liberation, Violetta would not have taken all that abuse, she and Alfredo could have just stayed together. Or Le Nozze di Figaro, the opera is very much about the right of primae noctis, it doesn't make sense in today's world. I saw a production in which Susanna was already pregnant, and it missed the whole point of the story, in which Susanna's virginity and purity are of great importance.

So what do you think of all these film directors directing opera?
Good luck! [laughs] That's what I think! Some of them might think it is going to be easy, and it isn't. I've been told that certain film directors are just so clever, so new and brilliant, but I haven't seen much evidence of this. They don't realize how hard the task is, moving that many people around the stage, knowing the music and the text. There are a lot of options, aren't there? Some film directors are good, Anthony Minghella, for instance. His Madama Butterfly was great.

What do you think of the Met simulcasts in movie theaters? What about the emphasis on how singers look?
I don't mind if singers look good as long as they can sing. I haven't seen the simulcasts but they are very important for expanding the audience. You look around at the average opera audience and people are quite elderly. We were at a performance in St. Louis recently and we counted at least 50 Zimmer frames!

A few days ago we went to a rock concert, and though it was an entrancing show, the music was not generally of a very high quality. The text was certainly not great. I'm not sure how to get a younger audience engaged with something like opera, but it needs to be done. Maybe new opera is a good way of doing this, as with The Bonesetter's Daughter bringing in the Chinese-American community in San Francisco.

What did you think of The Bonesetter's Daughter?
It was an incredible effort and a smashing success. I did have some trouble following what was going on, and would buy the recording if they release it. I would have liked to hear the music more. [Singing from Precious Auntie's part from the end of Act I] "Sit on your pot, grunt all you can, you cannot move your bowels."

Getting back to your work, I went to the dress rehearsal of Ariodante last summer and noticed that the horse heads in Ginevra's mad scene were removed in the actual performances. Why?
The horse heads were based on a Tiepolo painting, and are meant to show Ginerva's madness, but they just bothered people, including Ruth Ann Swenson, who sang the role.

I liked them! You also didn't replace them with anything so the stage is fairly placid at that point.
I liked them too, but so many people were confused by the horse heads, I just didn't want that. The music isn't placid, so the madness comes out there.

How about Idomeneo, what is this production like?
It is much in the same vein as Ariodante, inspired by Tiepolo as far as the sets and costumes, particularly in the colors. Mozart understands the human condition, even at age 24. The opera is very much about the father and son relationship, and about the perils of hubris. Idomeneo gets me every time, it is just so moving.

You are coming back next year to direct Peter Grimes in San Diego and San Francisco?
Yes, the San Diego rehearsals are in March, and the San Francisco ones are about this time next year. The production is based on the post-war Covent Garden one that I was actually in, as Peter Grimes' apprentice. Anthony Dean Griffey is singing the title role in San Diego and Ben Heppner will sing it here.

Did you really stand-in for Maria Callas in rehearsal?
Yes, I was Zeffirelli's assistant for Tosca at Covent Garden. Callas was ill and Franco said to me [Italian accent] "John, you do it, the cover isn't here." In those days there were ways of getting into the house, people would make sure they had to make deliveries, and everyone wanted to hear Callas, of course. Tosca starts off-stage, so when they heard me everyone was sure that Callas was finished!

Wordless Music Interview

Wordless Music is a New York-based concert series, which brings indie rock, electronica, and classical music together. The series has its San Francisco debut on August 21, 2008 with a program of Jonny Greenwood, Avro Pärt, John Adams, Fred Frith, and Mason Bates. The Opera Tattler spoke to Ronen Givony, the founder and director of the Wordless Music Series, on the telephone last week.

How did you come up with the name "Wordless Music?" Has that been confusing to people?
The name "Wordless Music" was originally intended to imply a neutral space between classical/chamber music on the one hand and electronic/ambient music and instrumental rock on the other -- that fuzzy borderland where people like Stars of the Lid, Brian Eno, Eluvium, Aphex Twin, etc., fit in, or don't -- neither pop nor "classical." Also, at the beginning, the series was geared largely toward strictly instrumental rock/electronic and classical music. Over the second season (which is just wrapping up) I learned to loosen up a little and just invite bands and artists that I like, and who I admire, regardless of whether they happen to write two-minute punk songs or piano miniatures or 20-minute symphonic suites -- musicians who can't help attracting listeners who themselves are open-minded, intelligent, and curious enough to learn about new things. In a word -- the only unifying principle behind the composers and artists presented under the banner of Wordless Music -- whether it's Bach, Haydn, múm, Messiaen, Stravinsky, Deerhoof, Andrew Bird, Times New Viking, Gavin Bryars, Explosions in the Sky, Steve Reich, Do Make Say Think, or Jonny Greenwood -- is that I love their music, and I think more people might want to know about it.

So I'm very curious about this concert series, since most of the audience is drawn in by the rock acts. I read that it was 90%, is that right?
Yes, I would say this is because of the difference in name recognition -- most headlining acts in rock and electronic music rarely set their schedules more than 4-6 months in advance (often closer to 2 or 3), unlike in classical music, where people are sometimes booked years in advance, and it's almost impossible to get internationally renowned names on less than one or two years' lead time. But it's also because the classical music part of Wordless Music programs is intentionally repertoire-driven rather than personality-driven. Since so many people at Wordless Music shows have never been to a classical concert before, I myself am more interested in devoting programs and introducing my audience to people like Bach or Ligeti or Charles Ives, rather than one particular interpreter over another. Last, it's inescapable that people interested in indie rock tend to find out much more quickly about shows since so much of this news is only disseminated online -- meaning, a fan of Wilco or Explosions in the Sky knows that a show with one of these bands will sell out in a few days (if not a few hours) if they aren't ready to buy tickets as soon as they go on sale.

One of the goals in your mission statement is to "bring audiences together," but if most of your audience skews young, aren't you just bringing classical music to a particular audience rather than making two separate audiences interact with one another?
To a certain extent that's true. Again, since the majority of people in the room probably bought tickets to see Grizzly Bear or Andrew Bird, or the piece by Jonny Greenwood, rather than the pianist who is playing Bach, most of the musical introductions taking place that night will be in a certain direction. That said, there are also lots of people who are devotees of the more traditional side of contemporary/new music who have written to thank me for introducing them to the indie/electronic acts -- I'm thinking of when David Lang and Greg Sandow both raved to me about Do Make Say Think, in particular. I heard unanimous raves from every classical music person in the crowd who went to see Deerhoof, and also acts like Grizzly Bear, Beirut, Sigur Rós, and The Books.

You get an audience that the marketing people at classical music institutions covet. Why do you think that is?
I think the young people that marketing directors and traditional classical institutions are interested in are of a very particular stripe -- young investment bankers, lawyers, venture capital/hedge fund types, society types -- people that have money and can donate, and (it seems fair to say) are there for social and status reasons, in addition to just the music. By and large, the marketing people at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall are in their 40s and 50s, and are spending all this time wondering how on earth to attract these allegedly inscrutable 20- and 30-somethings, all when they don't actually know anyone in their 20s or 30s. The audience I'm interested in is people that don't necessarily have lots of money but are interested in hearing good music above all.

Especially in my classical and new-music programming, I always remind the performers that many of the young people in the crowd will probably never have heard Haydn or Messiaen or Stravinsky before, and so to try to make the strongest possible impression in the shortest amount of time as possible. The challenge is similar to making a mix tape, where you just have 10 tracks, and 45 minutes, say, and so you have to pick the most strongest and memorable music. The two objectives I ask of my classical- and new-music performers are: (1) during the show, make the indie rockers think, "Wow, I can't believe I've been missing this the whole time," and (2) after the show, send them home with the feeling that "I need to immerse myself in this as much as possible."

Also, is an indie rock audience inattentive compared to a chamber music audience? It's been my experience that the people at indie rock shows want to be there, they are interested in particular bands and know the songs and such. On the other hand, much of the classical music audience is there because they feel they have to be, they've reached a certain age and this is an appropriate activity because of their social status. They might not have any idea what they are hearing and they are practically forced to listen to new music. Have you been programming a lot of new music? It looks like it from what I've seen, Avro Pärt, John Adams, Ligeti, though you've also programmed Bach, Chopin, Bartok.
A lot of classical music people love to look down their noses at rock/jazz/pop music people: their attention spans aren't long enough, they won't get it without the benefit of laboriously detailed program notes, etc. (I actually had the artistic director of a Lincoln Center constitutent group say to me once: "So you're telling me that people who are into this band -- Radiohead? is that their name? -- that they actually have the capacity to sit through a Beethoven trio or a Bartok quartet?")

In my experience, however, fans of indie rock and electronic music are even more respectful and earnest in their listening than your typical Lincoln Center audience. Go see Wilco or Radiohead or Sigur Rós perform some time, and then compare the vibe in those rooms with that of Alice Tully or Avery Fisher Hall when a Webern or Messiaen piece is played, and you tell me which is the more respectful audience. For the most part I have trained myself not to be distracted by all the sounds one can expect at any classical music concert in New York -- the hearing aids going of, the not-entirely-unconscious coughing and rifling through bags at the start of any halfway modern/contemporary piece -- but it's still a bummer.

Have you been to San Francisco and are you coming to the performance at Herbst Theatre on August 21st? The venue seats 916 people, and it's a venue where I've heard everything from an interview of Philip Glass to Philharmonia Baroque to Beirut in.
I've been to San Francisco twice and loved it both times. Quite a few of my friends from college now live out there. I'm definitely going to the performance. I think I get in on Tuesday for rehearsals, the performance is Thursday, and I'm going to hear Radiohead at Outside Lands on Friday. San Francisco is a great place -- an almost unfairly beautiful city -- and has a lot of commonalities with New York. So if I am ever held at gunpoint and told that I have to leave my beloved borough of Brooklyn, I wouldn't mind moving to San Francisco.

Could you talk a bit about how this SF debut came together? You are having a string orchestra play Pärt, John Adams (Shaker Loops), Fred Frith, and Mason Bates, plus "Popcorn Superhet Receiver." Why these pieces? I know you had a couple of sold out concerts earlier this year in January of "Popcorn Superhet Receiver" with Gavin Bryars' "The Sinking of the Titanic" and John Adams' "Christian Zeal and Activity."
A great deal of the credit for the San Francisco show deserves to go to Terra Reneau of Café du Nord and Swedish American Hall, with whom I have been discussing a Wordless Music co-production since our first season, and also Minna Choi, who is the tireless founder and artistic director of the Magik*Magik Orchestra.

How about the big piece, "Popcorn Superhet Receiver," the work by Radiohead's lead guitarist, Jonny Greenwood? How did you manage to get the North American premiere? What is the music like?
One day about a year and a half ago, I suppose, I read a news story on the Internet that the BBC Orchestra had given the premiere of a commissioned work by Jonny Greenwood. I thought to myself: why haven't I heard about this? And more important, how do I get in on this? So I wrote to Radiohead's management, not thinking anything would come from it. But I got an e-mail back within a day or two, saying, 'No, you're actually the first person who's asked me about this.'

As far as the actual piece, I was extremely surprised upon hearing the full work. As we all know, it could very easily have been another rock-star-going-classical vanity project, but in my opinion it fully stands up on its own as real music, regardless of whether you know that the composer happens to play in the biggest rock band in the world.

Official Site | Concerts On Demand from WNYC | Tickets

Eric Owens Interview

Eric-owens Bass-baritone Eric Owens is currently singing the role of the King of Scotland in Ariodante at San Francisco Opera until July 6. The Opera Tattler spoke to Owens last Sunday in San Francisco.

You started piano at 6, oboe at 10, and now you are an opera singer. Did you come from a musical family?
No, there aren't any professional musicians in my family. My mother had me take piano lessons, and I'm very glad she did, but at the time it wasn't exciting, practicing and all that. It's a funny story about how I got started with oboe. In junior high my older brother was in band, and I started off on clarinet. At one point an oboe became available because the oboist graduated, and I thought I'd take it up. Since there was only one, I knew I would be first chair. It is a great instrument, but you spend a lot of time making reeds, more time doing that than actually practicing. It makes oboists a little crazy, not that opera singers are exactly sane.

So how did you move from playing oboe professionally at 15 to studying voice?
I loved opera from when I was 10 or 11, but only started singing in choir in high school. The choir director pulled me aside to say I might have something there as far as my voice was concerned. So I took voice lessons at the end of high school and studied voice at Temple University.

Your San Francisco Opera debut was as Lodovico in Otello in 2002, and I remember that as being a crazy production because Ben Heppner withdrew. How was that experience?
It was very exciting! We practically played guess the tenor each night, since there were four different singers as Otello in that run. Pat Racette was a trooper, she barely rehearsed with some of them!

I did not realize you were even in Ariodante, because I was blinded by the prospect of Susan Graham, Ruth Ann Swenson, and Ewa Podleś. When I did notice my first thought was General Leslie Groves (from Doctor Atomic) is singing Handel? The music is so different. But obviously from the panel discussion and from your singing you love Handel. You were able to name Carestini as the castrato that first sang Ariodante and Gustavus Waltz as the first person to sing your role, the King of Scotland, so you did your research. How do you sing such different music? It's easier to research for newer operas, because many of the characters are historical, such as Leslie Groves, and there are tons of documents to look at, in English. That's much simpler than trying to find out information on operas based on older texts, you might look at a source text that isn't exactly in modern French for example, and perhaps that’s more difficult.

As for preparation, I'm lucky to have a strong foundation for my technique from my voice teacher, and I don't go about preparing for a role much differently even though the styles are very different.

In looking at your repertoire, I see you have performed some Handel, starting with Achilla in Giulio Cesare. What other Handel operas have you sung in besides this and Ariodante?
I've sung in Hercules (Hercules) and Jeptha (Zebul). Most of my career has been in the United States, and the Handel-craze is mostly in Europe. I'm not a singer people necessarily associate with Handel, not like David Daniels or Joyce Di Donato. Some singers specialize, but I couldn't do that, it would drive me crazy to sing, say, Rossini, all year long.

I read the score with last night's performance of Ariodante, and I have to say, I have an immense respect for all the singers and musicians involved. I could barely keep up and I was just reading along, I can't imagine having to play or sing that quickly.
Last night I had a moment when I just looked around and there I was, Ruth Ann's dad on stage, and it all sort of sank in and we don't always take time to appreciate how amazing it is.

I believe they cut one of your arias in Ariodante, is that right? It's a rather long opera, even with the cuts it is the longest opera at SF Opera this summer.
Yes, they had to make some cuts to keep it manageable, like you said, it is long. So they've cut some arias, part of a duet, and the ballets. I think they ended up cutting 30-40 minutes of music.

How was creating the role of General Leslie Groves in Doctor Atomic? Did you know you have the best line in all of opera?
I do?
"Three pieces of chocolate cake, 300 calories."
It was great working with John Adams and Peter Sellars. When I sing the line about the cake, it is like having a therapy session in front of a few thousand people, since I'm not exactly a small guy. Groves didn't get to be the top military leader in charge of the Manhattan Project by being nice, but that part is meant to humanize him, and I think it does.

You just had your Lyric Opera of Chicago debut with this role, and you will be singing Leslie Groves at the Met this October. Is it your Met premiere? Are you excited about being in a simulcast?
Yes, that will be my Met premiere. It's all very exciting, especially since it is a totally new production. I am also singing Sarastro at the Met in December.

Is it the production with all the puppets in it?
Right, it's the Julie Taymor production of The Magic Flute.

Could you talk a little about your experience in Grendel? I know it had some issues, it was supposed to have a world premiere at LA Opera on May 27, 2006, but it had to be pushed back to June 8, 2006. Do you think you'll sing it again?
Grendel really changed the trajectory of my career. You know, I usually end up playing the father or the king, and I don't think people knew I could sing something like Grendel, where I'm on stage for nearly 3 hours. It was a great experience.

The production had a lot of computers and motors, and they weren't talking to one another by the time we were supposed to premiere. That part was frustrating, so much time was taken up by tech that we didn't have all the time we needed to rehearse all the way through.

I know Julie Taymor wants Grendel to be performed again, and I hope they do it in the next 10 years, while I can still sing it.

The reviews were very good, Alex Ross wrote some really nice things about you in The New Yorker.
That was so great! I was a cartoon in The New Yorker. I think the only thing that could be better is being on Sesame Street. That would be so cool.

Interview with an Icon: Philip Glass

Philipglass* Notes *
The word icon is from Greek εἰκών meaning "image."

Last night, Philip Glass was interviewed by David Gockley at the Interview with an Icon donor event. The first half of the interview was devoted to Glass' life, working at his father's record store as a child; going to Peabody, University of Chicago, and Julliard; studying with Nadia Boulanger and Ravi Shankar; his operas Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha, and Akhnaten; and his work in film. The second half had to do with Appomattox, which opens this Friday in a world premiere. Among the details discussed were the librettist Christopher Hampton and the conductor Dennis Russell Davies, both of whom are having their San Francisco Opera debuts with Appomattox. This latest opera has two baritones as leads, Dwayne Croft as Robert E. Lee and Andrew Shore as Ulysses S. Grant. Apparently the costumes are period, the sets minimalistic, and the opera covers not only the Civil War, but comes up to the present day.

* Tattling *
The venue was moved from the opera house to Herbst Theatre, and they did not open the doors until ten minutes before the event. Philip Glass mumbled a great deal, and mistakenly said "Los Angeles" for "San Francisco" at one point, and David Gockley kicked him. Gockley had a cold and also took one of his shoes off during the interview. The audience, however, was very well-behaved.

This interview will probably be made into a podcast.