In today's Independent, I have an interview with Simon Keenlyside, who is singing Prospero in the revival at Covent Garden of Ades's smash-hit opera The Tempest, which opens tonight. I believe he's one of today's most fascinating baritones, a man with a brain as astute and analytical as any scientist, maybe more so than some.
Some of you may remember that Keenlyside took the leading role in Lorin Maazel's 1984 at Covent Garden a couple of years ago. Now, that opera must have been among the most critically reviled creations to hit the London scene this decade, partly because Maazel was known to be funding its staging himself, partly perhaps because some people knew something that others of us didn't until we heard it. I was willing to give it a chance, but Tom and I were both so disappointed with the music that we voted with our feet at the interval. But the production team and the cast nevertheless gave that opera everything they had. The standards were world-class in every respect. One audience member has since assured me that it was the best evening he'd ever spent in the theatre.
I asked Simon Keenlyside about 1984 in the interview, but in the end decided not to include the topic in this article, since space is limited and of course we were focusing on The Tempest which is a very different kettle of Calibans. His answer was still very interesting. I don't generally include what you could call out-takes of interviews here in blogland, but under the circumstances, I will - because he found countless positive things to draw out of the experience. Here is a slightly edited transcript:
JD: I saw you in 1984 and thought you were magnificent, but I must admit I had some problems with the piece.
SK: My job, if I accept the job, is – what’s that expression? Put up or shut up... If you’re booked to do a job, why would you want to pull the carpet out from under your own feet? If you’re on a stage, you’ve got to commit yourself 100%. And I’m not going to comment on the music, you wouldn’t expect me to of course, but I once read an old soldier saying that he always went to a man’s weaknesses through his strengths, so I’ll go as far as the strengths. I thought it was a good evening in the theatre. Whatever you think about the piece, I found a lot of worth in it and found it very enjoyable to do. Also I had Robert Lepage to deal with, which was an absolute privilege. Maazel is a brilliant man – just to be under his baton is a privilege. I’ve never seen anyone with such control, such ability to run a recipe like that and still have room in his head to talk to you. It’s great... Besides, people pay a lot of money for those tickets, and how can I argue my corner about opera, about music, if I think 'These people have paid a lot of money, they‘re in an uncertain state and we’re not committed to it?' I think most people are committed on stage, even if you didn’t like it. All of us have to take part in productions we can’t bear, we have no control but we’ve still got to give it our all...
UPDATE, 5.55pm: Over at On An Overgrown Path, Pliable casts some extremely interesting light on the background to the Gant/Wordsworth story. It seems that the political leanings and writings of the work's commissioner, R Atkinson frere, may be not irrelevant and will be highly uncomfortable, not to say repugnant, to much of the British arts community. Pliable applauds Wordsworth's decision. He may be right.