Wherever Gerard Mortier, the "Bad Boy of Opera" goes, he makes waves. As director of the prestigious Salzburg Festival, and now as the head of the Paris Opera, he has shocked the tradition-bound audience with his bold, some say disturbingly distorted, modern interpretations by cutting-edge directors of opera’s most cherished classics – and by presenting what he regards as neglected 20th century opera masterpieces with modern music that can be challenging for many listeners.
A huge risk-taker, he has produced some explosive hits but, by his own admission, has also had his share of spectacular failures. And now he’s coming here to take over New York City Opera based at Lincoln Center right next door to the Met, known for its mostly conservative productions. This controversial appointment assures that sparks will fly. As one leading journalist recently put it, “there’s going to be a Fight at the Opera.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Die Zauberflöte “Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen.” Vienna Philharmonic. Sir Georg Solti. Sumi Jo, soprano. London 433 210-2.
Giuseppe Verdi I Vespri Siciliani “Arrigo! Ah, parli a un core.” Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire, Paris. Nicola Rescigno. Maria Callas, soprano. EMI 5 66462 2.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart La Clemenza di Tito. Trio from end of Act 1. Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Sir Colin Davis. Janet Baker, mezzo-soprano; Frederica von Stade, mezzo-soprano; Robert Lloyd, bass. Philips 422 544-2.
Robert Schumann Quartet for Piano and Strings in E-flat Major, Op. 47. Third movement [excerpt]. Juilliard String Quartet. Glenn Gould, piano. SMK 52 684.
Lewis Allan “Strange Fruit”. Billie Holiday. JWD 102 227.
Olivier Messiaen Quatuor pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the end of time) “Louange à l’Immortalité de Jésus” (“In Praise of the Immortality of Jesus”) [excerpt]. Ensemble Walter Boeykens. HMA 1951348.
Gilbert Kaplan Welcome to our October show where my guest today is perhaps the most controversial director of any opera house and he’s soon coming to New York. Gerard Mortier on today’s edition of “Mad About Music.”
Kaplan Wherever he goes he makes waves. As director of the prestigious Salzburg Festival, and now as the head of the Paris Opera, he has shocked the tradition-bound audience with his bold, some say disturbingly distorted, modern interpretations by cutting-edge directors of opera’s most cherished classics – and by presenting what he regards as neglected 20th century opera masterpieces with modern music that can be challenging for many listeners. A huge risk-taker, he has produced some explosive hits but he has also, by his own admission, his share of spectacular failures. And now he’s coming here to take over New York City Opera based at Lincoln Center right next door to the Met, known for its mostly conservative productions. This controversial appointment assures that sparks will fly. As one leading journalist recently put it, “There’s going to be a Fight at the Opera.” Gerard Mortier, welcome to “Mad About Music.”
Gerard Mortier Thank you for inviting me. I’m very honored and it’s a great pleasure to be with you.
Kaplan All right, as I said in my introduction, there are great expectations of your arrival here, so let’s talk about your vision for City Opera. Now, you’ve indicated a first season of what you call 20th century masterpieces, and some of the names have been mentioned, some by you, some in speculation, Benjamin Britten’s Death in Venice, Stravinsky’s Rake’s Progress, John Adams’ Nixon in China, Philip Glass I believe, Einstein on the Beach, and more. Now these are 20th century composers, some of whom have of course had appearances at City Opera before. But they have been the exception, not the rule. So my question is, an entire season of this, do you really think the audience is ready for it?
Mortier I always think that audiences are much more intelligent as we think. You should always know that people, when you try to challenge them, they follow you. I am looking now many times to the public, I saw yesterday evening Margaret Garner, and strangely enough, Margaret Garner at the moment is much better sold as Carmen or “Cav/Pag”. So that it means that people are looking for new things. We are in a big change at the moment in music, and of course you must guide the public. You must not do, ‘oh, you’re stupid because you don’t like it, or you don’t want to see it.’ You must give them the opportunity to learn this music. It’s for sure, when you listen the first time to Wozzeck of Alban Berg, that’s very strange; it’s difficult. When you give some keys to this music, at once the people discover it. In any case, if people only want entertainment, then there is Broadway.
Kaplan You know, when you mentioned there was a full house for Margaret Garner, it makes me bring you to something else you have said in the past, namely that you don’t believe that the sale of tickets should be a measure of your success.
Mortier What I would like to say is of course that as an opera manager nevertheless, when I come in my office in the morning at the Paris Opera, the first thing I look is not to Wall Street, but to the ticket selling of the evening before. Because I am not Ludwig II of Bavaria who wants to sit alone in my house. I want the house to be full. On the other side, the program-deciding should not be a function of something what the public wants to see. I want to make a program, what I think that the public can like it, and then I go to the public and I try to convince them to come.
Kaplan But ticket sales have another aspect, of course, they provide money and money is a big issue for you, isn’t it? You challenged City Opera to raise their budget, I understand, from 40 million to 60 million dollars and that will require raising substantial funds. Not a new activity for you but you’ve been concentrating on the government before. Now you’ll have to learn the patron world of New York. How daunting a prospect is this?
Mortier You know, I like this, and that will make you wonder maybe, as a European we must now, you must also convince politicians to give you the money. Of course, in France it was a great generosity of the state always to the great cultural institutes. And I have increased, I have doubled, one hundred percent the fund-raising. What I find out, there is a beautiful book for the auditors who wants to read it, by a French man who worked in Washington, the culture in America, where he defends the American system. I read it this summer, it was given to me by someone who wanted to make me afraid of America. And strangely enough after reading it I was even more excited! The beauty – and we’ll find out – is that at the same time in finding money in America, you have to convince people of your vision. And therefore I think I’m someone who can convince people for my passion for music. There will be some people who don’t like it, that’s for sure, too, so there will be a selection. Some people will say, ‘oh, no, we don’t want to give him money,’ but other ones, I can maybe convince. And I don’t want money only for something entertaining; I want money for music and for theater – what is in this life very important is the human experience of music. And I think that a lot of philanthropists in America know that nowadays with all the cynicism, with all existential fear we have, that music can bring a lot of hope in life.
Kaplan All right. Well let’s turn to your musical selections which in a way I was surprised at – they’re quite conservative for a modernist, but I know you have reasons for all of them, and so we start with Mozart, I believe.
Mortier Yes. I wouldn’t sit here with you, Gilbert, today if I wouldn’t have discovered at eleven years old, “Magic Flute.” Of course when you go as a child, I am born in a quite beautiful but a provincial town, the town of Ghent, medieval, with an old beautiful opera house. A lot of Americans would like very much, because it’s with red and gold, it’s a one-thousand seats opera house. It was built – and that will interest you – in 1840 and opened by Franz Liszt, can you believe it? Franz Liszt was the big star at that moment. And I went with my grandmother because my mother went always and say oh, I want to see this. So I saw Magic Flute. Of course I was fascinated by everything, by the beauty of the hall. And then came up at once a woman in a very strange costume with brilliant, like stars to play the “Queen of the Night” and sang this fantastic aria “Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen”. And that always stayed with me. Later I found out that I love maybe more women voices as man voices, but I was fascinated from the beginning not only with by the music, but also by the theatrical situation. I was afraid of this woman when I was eleven years old! So that fascinated and that is still nowadays my fascination for opera. It’s not only the music, but it’s the music as an expression of a fantastic dramatic situation we all have in our life.
Kaplan The Queen of the Night’s famous aria from Mozart’s The Magic Flute, sung by soprano Sumi Jo with the Vienna Philharmonic led by Sir Georg Solti. The first selection of my guest on “Mad About Music”, Gerard Mortier, who will take over at New York City Opera after the next season. Now even though you are still two years away from assuming your position, you have already had a fair amount of press about your future, haven’t you? And the press is forecasting that there’s going to be a “Fight at the Opera.” Now last month on this show, we had Norman Lebrecht as my guest, a very well known musical journalist. Listen to what he said about what he thinks is coming.
Lebrecht I am so excited about this! And now, for the first time, since Hammerstein, in the first years of the 20th century, there is going to be a fight at the opera. There are going to be two managers who are culturally and intellectually antipodes. They are as different from one another as it is possible to be. Peter Gelb, who is a technical administrator, a man who’s very focused on bottom line, and how to keep things running; and Gerard Mortier, who is a cultural polymath, an intellectual, a visionary, a dreamer, a controversialist, going head to head here in New York. I can’t wait to see it happen. I’m going to be back.
Kaplan So that was Norman Lebrecht and he too has used the words a “Fight at the Opera.” Now you haven’t exactly discouraged this notion, have you?
Mortier I would say we don’t need a fight because when I read, at the moment, that in America only three percent of the Americans go to the opera, four percent to the ballet, and maybe eleven or twelve percent to concerts, we have to work together at the moment. And you must know that Peter Gelb, I know him for a long time, he’s a good friend. We are very different like Norman Lebrecht said, but what I did the first when I was appointed is to call him up and say, “we should meet and talk.” I think that in New York, such a big city, there is place for two operas. In Paris, there are five at the moment. For me, it’s in a certain way more difficult because, of course, the Met has the prestigious situation so people who see the opera as a social representation, would rather go to the Metropolitan. That means for me that the City Opera must be the opera who invites a lot of public who has to discover opera. You go many times to the Met when you know already opera, so I have to do a big work there. I can do more 20th century because I have not to fill up 4,000 seats -- I have only to fill up 2,800. And I will position my opera next to the Met. I can bring in younger producers because Peter now engages the producers I brought up in Salzburg like Luc Bondy, Peter Stein, all these people; they come to the Met. But now I have a completely new bunch of stage directors who I will bring to New York. And so I believe that from the repertoire on, from our positioning, we can do very different things and do together that are more opera lovers in America. Now to say the goals that I would like to do is not only to stay at the State Theatre but to go out in whole Manhattan and in New York. I will perform at the Armory on Park Avenue; I hope to go once to the Apollo; I will collaborate with the Brooklyn Academy of Music. That’s one point. I will do repertoire you cannot hear necessarily at the Metropolitan and of course I will again, like Beverly Sills did, bring a lot of new talent to the City Opera with good rehearsals who will be prepared to sing after that in the Metropolitan. I will always be a little bit sad when they leave me, of course, but that’s the way it is. And I did this a lot when I worked in Belgium and in Germany. It will only make opera feeling in New York better. So I’m very much looking forward to it.
Kaplan Well, this must be the really new Gerard Mortier, because I remember you in Salzburg as unrelentingly competitive, even combative.
Mortier Well, you know, that’s typical -- I’m now 63, so it’s for sure that when I was 38, 42, you say things you don’t say anymore twenty years later. I always learned from a great producer, when you are young you have to show your fist in a certain way and when you get older, you must give the sign of peace to the people. And that’s right. You’re changing. I think I’m still rebel-ish in a certain way. I am not conventional. So I’m still maybe controversial. But, of course, I may be a little bit more human and as I was attacked much in my life, I know how it can hurt. So I’m thinking a little bit more on not hurting other people.
Kaplan Still, in Salzburg, you always attacked Austria’s premiere house, the Vienna State Opera, as being only a museum. Do you regard the Met in that context also as a museum?
Mortier It changed enormously. You must say that Peter Gelb did a beautiful job the last two years. He really decided to bring new work. He brought, of course it was planned by Joe Volpe, Die Agyptische Helena, but he brought in a lot of new producers. So he gives at the moment a new face to it.
Kaplan So he’s more competition really than, say, Joe Volpe would have been, who was more conservative.
Mortier Oh, yes! For me, Peter Gelb is a bigger challenge I would say, because with Joe Volpe, who is also a good friend, I know very well, it would have been more different. With Peter it will be a great challenge for me and maybe also a little bit for him.
Kaplan I should expect so. Now you were talking about the star singers might well wind up mostly at the Met. But I see your next selection involves a legendary star singer, Maria Callas.
Mortier I chose something with Maria Callas on the one side because it’s now thirty years ago that she died. No, she was the singer who taught me how I have to listen to singing. You should never forget the big period of Callas was at the end of the 50s, the beginning of the 60s, at a moment where a lot of people were saying, ‘opera is dead.’ And she was one who brought again in our mind that opera is about human figures who express their feeling with the singing. And Callas was the one in the 20th century for me, next to some other ones, but she has this passion of communicating. And therefore I ask you that we listen together to a beautiful aria, it’s from the fourth act of I Vespri Siciliani because it says everything about singing, about bel canto, without something bel canto what is cheap or without interest. So in this aria you have everything about opera -- it’s about love, about death, about passion. And Callas knew about this and expressed this on a sublime way.
Kaplan An excerpt from Verdi’s I Vespri Siciliani, sung by the legendary Maria Callas with the Orchestra of the Paris Conservatory with Nicola Rescigno on the podium, a selection of my guest on “Mad About Music”, the incoming director of the New York City Opera, Gerard Mortier. When we return, we’ll be discussing why the star conductor, Riccardo Muti walked out on Gerard Mortier.
This is Gilbert Kaplan with my guest on “Mad About Music” today, the newly appointed head of New York City Opera, Gerard Mortier. Now, beyond presenting 20th century operas, you have also been known for very bold, controversial interpretations of the classic older operas. As you know, there is a huge number of opera lovers who hate what they regard as a blatant distortion of the composer’s intentions. I know you have a different view of this though.
Mortier You know, when I am sitting together with businessmen who were very successful in their career and they talk to me that when they come to opera they want to see it as it was played in the 19th century. I always answer to them, if you would run your business the way it was run one hundred years ago, you would be bankrupt. So you have to understand that is the same for opera. My point is not that I want to shock the public, I want to give emotion to the public. But I want also to play for people who don’t know the pieces. So people, the opera lovers, come with a certain vision to the opera and they also want year after year see the same thing at the same moment. So my proposal is always to recreate the fascination, the wondering for what happens on the stage and therefore you have to many times destroy – it’s maybe a too strong word – but to shake up the vision someone has of a certain scene. So what I try with staging first of all to show that the figures we see on the stage of Mozart, for example, that they are still alive. These are not figures from the 18th century. They are talking about emotions, about love. We know these emotions also. The count in Le Nozze di Figaro they are running around everywhere in New York still, you know, and the Don Giovannis too. So I want to show this is not something from the past, this is something from nowadays.
Kaplan Well, of course, you know it’s not just the audience that often rebels at these new interpretations. Conductors have sometimes simply walked off the set, and you had such an experience in Salzburg with Riccardo Muti, didn’t you?
Mortier Yes. Strange enough, now it’s about twenty years ago. And strange enough, Riccardo is still a very great friend. He was the one who walked off my first opening in Salzburg, so it was a disaster for me, and at the same time, it was the same who, ten years later, wrote me one of the nicest letters when I left Salzburg. And as a sort of compensation, he promised me now to conduct in my last season in the Paris Opera. But Riccardo Muti is a typical example of what happens. He walked off for a new interpretation of Clemenza di Tito of Mozart. And a lot of people think that it’s not such a good opera. For me, it’s as a masterpiece as The Magic Flute, but you have to interpret it on the stage. I will bring it to New York, because I brought this production everywhere because it’s the most new vision of Clemenza di Tito. It’s beautiful to look at if you don’t want Roman costumes. And I want to see how a New York public will react on that.
Kaplan But I would have thought that you would approve of what Muti did in a sense because it was also an artistic statement, saying, you must have a different conductor for this because I don’t feel I can conduct this music with those things going on on the stage. Maybe someone else believes in it, but I don’t. I would think you would approve of that.
Mortier Yes and no, because I adore very much Riccardo Muti as a conductor as you may know and therefore was even bigger friends after this fight. That was very strange because we had the occasion to discuss about this. On the other side, I would like to convince him many times, I told him that we are both very bad swimmers. I would like to jump once in the water like I, with the staging, that you risk something, and then he laughs and then he stays with his more old-fashioned stagings.
Kaplan But wasn’t one of the issues with Muti his insistence that the singers must always look at him and therefore he would not accept any production where that was compromised.
Mortier I understand his point, but he’s not always right. I told him you cannot always ask the singers to look to you when you are in a love duet. They have to look to each other, and if you rehearse enough, you can do it without looking to you. And that’s the big discussions, you know I have worked with a lot of great conductors, people like Christoph von Dohnányi or Georg Solti, for example, who was a great friend, and Riccardo, as he’s a real Italian, you need a little bit more time to convince him, I would say. I give one example from the Clemenza di Tito. There is a famous trio – normally in the Opera Seria, it ends always the first act with the trio so Mozart does it also. But this trio, if you listen to it, you cannot do it with the three singers looking to the conductor to sing this music. And what you find many times out, if they are really acting, the music gets better. And I hope that one day Muti will accept that because he is so dramatic when he is conducting his symphony. And it’s this jump that he has to do one day. But maybe we will stay the best friends and never do opera together and only do symphony -- outside of this Neapolitan opera he will conduct in the Paris Opera in May, 2009, before I leave the Paris Opera, what will be certainly more conventional staging. But I can see through that, too, if you wants!
Kaplan The trio at the end of Act I of Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito, sung by Janet Baker, Frederica von Stade and Robert Lloyd, the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden conducted by Sir Colin Davis. Music chosen by my guest on “Mad About Music”, the next director of New York City Opera, Gerard Mortier, whose ultramodern productions of classic operas in Salzburg caused Riccardo Muti to refuse to conduct it. Now you describe Muti’s walkout as a disaster for you. But still, you believe in this production and will bring it to New York. This raises a question about your own view of your success and failure. You know, when Valery Gergiev was on the show, I know you know him well, he said that if performers, and I assume he meant by that also opera directors, are really honest, they would say that only a portion of what they produce is really good. So I wonder, how do you rate yourself?
Mortier Exactly! I always have done in my life some very good productions, and it’s very difficult, and I say I have always thought it is very difficult to repeat yourself. I did maybe in my life in opera, four productions of Don Giovanni. I could say that as I love this opera and always work very long on it, I did three very good ones, but that’s exceptional. Maybe I produced in my life about 140, 160 operas. If I should have done a selection, I would say maybe fifteen.
Mortier Fifteen, ten percent, maybe are really productions that I would say still nowadays that it cannot be done better for me.
Kaplan But when you say fifteen percent you think are absolute smash hits, as we would say on Broadway, that leaves eighty-five percent. How many of the eighty-five percent you think were failures on your part? You just didn’t achieve what you wanted to.
Mortier The same, maybe fifteen percent. Yeah, fifteen percent.
Kaplan All right, let’s move away for a moment from you as a producer and talk about you as a listener, like most of our listeners today. When you feel like just listening, what music do you turn to?
Mortier First of all, chamber music, that’s the only music I listen at home. There are two things I wanted to listen is chamber, and the other thing is to discover new work. But my great concern is how we who love music, how we will give this tradition to the young public? Because the young public now is used to a lot of decibels, and chamber music asks you go inside of yourself again, and we miss that in our time. So we have altogether, who likes music, to find ways to make young people listening again to this more interior music. And therefore I chose the third movement of Schumann’s Klavier quartet what with of course a cello in it, what Schumann liked so much and I am sure if I would play this, even in a school where people have never listened to classical music, they would be moved. And I tried it once and I saw the tears coming up in the eyes of younger girls and boys, of sixteen, seventeen because they feel the great emotion within this music.
Kaplan An excerpt from the third movement of Schumann’s Quartet for Piano and Strings with members of the Juilliard Quartet and Glenn Gould on the piano, a work selected by my guest on “Mad About Music” today, the next director of the New York City Opera, Gerard Mortier. Let’s return to your observations about the audience for opera because I read in a speech that you gave, that you said we live in a world where, if you show emotions, you are a loser. I found that rather interesting. You’re very emotional, you don’t regard yourself as a loser, do you?
Mortier No. I mean with that at the moment when you’re on a bad track once or you are not so successful, we live in a world you can never show it! And that makes depressions of the people. Everyone in his life has good and bad moments. But we live in a world where you have to have always success; you have always to be power. And I believe in opera, the losers are many times the great heroes. In all Verdi operas, it’s losers – it’s Otello, it’s Traviata, it’s Rigoletto – they are all losers and they give us emotions. So I would say the opera can put the balance again, okay, our life is a succession of high moments, of beautiful, happy moments, we have all our moments where we are sad, and the music and theater and opera can give again some worth, some value to this. And we need it very much because a lot of young people who are losers they get depressed and maybe they can find it through the music that a lot of great composers was considered in their lives as losers. I think for example, Schumann many times, or Beethoven many times, and it’s good – not that I don’t want that people are losers, but that losing and winning are both things who must exist in life.
Kaplan Now, you will certainly have many emotional opening nights in your new season, and you will, of course, be there for the premiere, but I was struck by another comment I read in an interview you gave, you said “I no longer go to first nights,” presumably of other organizations, “because I always see the same faces. There is something incestuous about opera premieres.”
Mortier Yeah. First of all, I met all my colleagues. And after the first act everybody has already to give his impression. I didn’t want to give my impression before I saw the whole opera. Secondly, in premieres, you see a lot of people who only come to give their impression before they have seen the whole opera. And they don’t really come, but they come to be seen, and I find out that I like the most the last performance. If it’s a good production, in the last performance all of the artists are fitting together, they have a certain emotion that they have to leave each other, and believe me, the last performance of an opera production is always the most beautiful one.
Kaplan All right, then let’s turn to our own premiere, as we come to the “wildcard” section of “Mad About Music”, where our audience certainly knows you have a chance to pick something from outside the opera or classical music genre. We’ve had some wonderful selections, and I know yours already – and it is going to be a premiere of this artist on this show. So tell us about your “wildcard.”
Mortier I like the singing and I want to show that singing doesn’t only exist in opera, but outside and of course the Afro-America singing and one of my great idols is Billie Holiday. And I chose this beautiful song, “Strange Fruit”, what is very political as you know, but again, it’s as political as what you heard in Maria Callas’s song I Vespri Siciliani. It’s about freedom, it’s about love, it’s about compassion, and it’s about humanity. And I would say that the human voice and human dancing are two art forms we can express ourselves without one instrument. We forget about this. When we are born as a baby, the first thing we do, we cry, and we do something with the legs. So we are dancing and singing from the first minute we come into the world. That’s for me, very important. So, therefore we like to dance, and the moment we don’t sing anymore, once in the street, it’s dangerous for someone. I am happy to discover that when I feel good, I start to sing still, with 63, and that makes me very happy. So I wanted to show that every singing of a human being, if it’s opera, even it can be a song of Bob Dylan, it can be even the young song of Elvis Presley, it can be an Asian song. This is something so deep that I would say the singing is the expression of the human soul. You can believe in it or not, and Billie Holiday in this song is one of the most beautiful examples of something outside of the opera.
Kaplan “Strange Fruit” sung by Billie Holiday, the “wildcard” selection of my guest on “Mad About Music”, the next director of the New York City Opera, Gerard Mortier. When we return, we will discuss what will surely be one of the blockbusters of Gerard Mortier’s first season in New York.
This is Gilbert Kaplan with my guest on “Mad About Music”, the next director of the New York City Opera, Gerard Mortier. Now from Billie Holiday we jump to Olivier Messiaen. I understand you plan to present his mammoth, some would say challenging to listen to, six hour opera St. Francis of Assisi, but not at Lincoln Center, rather at the Armory on Park Avenue. What is that about?
Mortier I can’t bring it in the City Opera because you know the St. Francis of Messiaen needs an orchestra of 124, a chorus of 140, and the Armory on Park Avenue. So I’m now planning, I was there yesterday, we are now funding it, I’ll bring the East Coast premiere of St. Francis of Assisi in December. Why? I think it’s a masterpiece of the 20th century because on the one side, it is the whole complexity of the music and all the discovery I have done, and at the same time, it gives all the emotion. You will have to sit through something a little bit long pieces, like you have in Wagner’s Parsifal also and in Götterdämmerung. It’s a piece of six hours. But when you have the force, and that I expect from music lovers, you come at the end, you are a different person when you leave the place. You had an experience you have seldom in your life.
Kaplan I’m sure it will be a big event. Meanwhile, I see your final selection today is also Messiaen, but not St. Francis.
Mortier Yes, we hear one of the most beautiful pieces of Messiaen, it’s the last part of “Louange à l’Immortalité de Jésus” for piano and cello. I chose this piece because when I make music nowadays, it’s to give hope to the people. He composed this when he was in prison in Second World War. It was Christmas and cold -- there were prisons from the Nazis, and you feel that music gives always enormous hope to people; that you can survive with music. You know, they had a very bad piano, they had a cello where one of the strings was not okay, they had the clarinet. He composed it from instruments he had. And I wanted to take this into a world where we are always busy or running, maybe a short moment of going in ourselves, a moment of meditation, and a moment of seeing the light of the music. The music is many times brings us in darkness, but finally like all great music, opens our eyes for something. And this music brings us back to a vision of flight.
Kaplan An excerpt from the last movement of Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time. The movement itself is titled “In Praise of the Immortality of Jesus”, performed by the Ensemble Walter Boeykens, the final selection of my guest on “Mad About Music”, the future director of the New York City Opera, Gerard Mortier. Now as we enter the close of the show, I would like to ask you something I ask every guest on the show, and it’s fantasy time. You’ve been involved in opera so long as a director, as an overseer of institutions, and you’ve watched all these singers whose voices you so admire. So the fantasy question for you is, if you were a singer, what would the opera be? What would the role be?
Mortier You know, when I was young, I can say it at once, it’s Tamino, it’s Tamoni in The Magic Flute. One, I want to play because Tamino, I feel many times very young again, and still discovering life. Getting old is of course, you must be in good health, but it’s also if you think you have nothing to discover anymore. And I am still in the way of Tamino, but you know that this Tamino discovers that you can only really have living, that you know what is living, if you are decided to accept that there is in life also suffering. And that you have to stand through the trials in life, and you know the great trials of Magic Flute is to be quiet, what is a very big and difficult trial for me.
Kaplan I would imagine so.
Mortier It is a trial of love and a trial of death, of course. And so it would be in any case the Magic Flute, Tamino with the beautiful aria, “Ach, ich fühl's, die liebe” is fantastic.
Kaplan Well, we’ll save that one for you for one day! All right, the final question I have for you is to come back to something I read that you said. And after you have thought about it. You said once that one of the poems you most admire is about Leonardo da Vinci. Now I’m quoting you now, “sitting on the corner of a volcano, and talking about the darkness of the soul and the world, and afterwards, looking to heaven to find possibility of light.” Is that how you would regard yourself today as you are taking on this new challenge of City Opera?
Mortier Yes, I can say it better. You know, I, this poem, I discover it listening to a great composer of our days, Helmut Lachenmann. He put this poem in his opera The Little Girl With the Alumet [match stick]. You know it is a beautiful poem, a beautiful story of Hans Christian Andersen. And it’s so, I think if you love really music, if you listen to music, if you listen to Mahler, Beethoven, it’s always the knowledge of being between darkness and light. And the music should tell us about the darkness, but finally open our vision on the light.
Kaplan Well, that’s a wonderful note to end on. Gerard Mortier, always fascinating, always provocative. Thank you for appearing on “Mad About Music” today, and we wish you great success at City Opera.
Mortier Thank you, Gilbert, for inviting me. Thank you.
Kaplan This is Gilbert Kaplan for “Mad About Music”.