“You must always take the characters seriously”


Daniel Ender: Mr. Eröd, the history of your family is repeatedly connected to the tragedies of the 20th century. To what extent is your background relevant for you?

Adrian Eröd: It plays a role in the respect that I am probably more sensitised by the history of my family, above all my father’s history, than others from my generation. Because for me it is not just something I have learnt at school. What we all know in the meantime, all that has to be said was never a subject at home, but I was aware of it: The former recollection is that that my father had come to Austria from Hungary in the year 1956. The fact that a part of his family, amongst them his older brother, was killed in the concentration camps, was picked out as a central theme only later, but was never treated as a big Memento Mori. It was simply a fact. I am more sensitised there, but I would not say that it affects my everyday life.

D. E.: In the course of this year’s Wiener Festwochen you sing the song cycle “Schwarzerde” (to poems by Ossip Mandelstam) by your father Iván Eröd.

A. E.: The fact that I may do this is a great pleasure for me. I have sung some of his music as yet, but rather in recitals on a smaller scale. When I sing a piece, however, it makes no difference whether it was written by my father or by someone else. I do not learn it more exactly or more negligently or with more emotion. But regarding the circumstances, it is definitely something special – also the fact, that it is one of his serious works: He is known rather as a “lighter” composer, friendly to the audience. Only a few notice the fact that there are some deeper and darker works of him, because he presents himself not as a closed, grouchy person, but rather amenable and happy.

D. E.: Has the profession of your father affected your development?

A. E.: Probably, but never consciously. It all started with my mother. She worked as an assistant director in the Graz Opera: Because there was a director who was not able to speak German, she worked as his interpreter, being native of France. For a scenic version of Prokofiev’s “Ivan the terrible” they needed a boy to play the role of Dmitri, the son. I was aged eleven, and my mother asked me if I was interested; that’s how I came to the opera. Then I was in the children’s choir, sung Solo parts, and thus I caught the theatre-virus. There was always music around me, but this was rather a matter of course than a mission. This came only later, because I wanted to act rather than to make music. With eighteen I did spoken theatre, it was not decided for me then, whether I would become a singer or an actor. Important for me was being onstage. Of course I am glad now that it has developed towards singing.

D. E.: How did it happen then, that your education focused on Lied?

A. E.: It was not so central at all. At that time there was no specialisation during the first four years of basic studies. Then I was also in the opera class. Of course Walter Berry was an influential teacher, therefore Lied and oratorio came to the fore. I completed my degree in the Lied class and not in opera. Not even then did the Lied dominate; and I earned my first wages as an opera singer. The first engagements began at the end of my studies in the Vienna Kammeroper, and then I sang Billy Budd with the Neue Oper Wien. The fact that the Lied was more present during the studies, however, was good, because later, when you are a member of an opera company, you don’t have so much time anymore to deal with it.

D. E.: The Lied has remained important for you — which is not self-evident for opera singers.

A. E.: That’s right. For me it is very important that I have the balance between opera and podium. The emphasis and the demands are absolutely different, and at the same time it is very important because singing Lieder benefits the opera singing – and vice versa. I always try to keep it balanced, even though the pendulum often swings in favour of the opera – mostly for profane reasons. Since the opera is my main employer, this is the base.

D. E.: Which virtues can a Lied-singer bring to the opera? Diction?

A. E.: Yes, although is equally important in both areas, actually.

D. E.: In the Lied it hurts even more if it is neglected.

A. E.: It causes me pain in the opera, too. Maybe it is tolerated more often, however it is as important. During the work on the Meistersinger I realized that Thielemann — like Muti rehearsing Cosi — is working almost exclusively on the text. All his musical wishes arise logically out of this work. But it is evident that one can focus more on the voice and the words in the Lied — without hiding behind costume and orchestra —, not just clarity but also interpretation, because one must work on nuances and colours — this benefits the opera singing. It is of course a much more delicate work than in the opera. Conversely “enjoying ones own voice” as my teacher called it, is something that could easily get lost if one is singing only Lied. Just singing and enjoying the sound (including  the orchestral sound) — this is something you only get in the opera: and there is also the exhibitionistic part that the audience expects and wants to a certain degree. This benefits the Lied.

D. E.: You mentioned Meistersinger, where you performed the role of Beckmesser in the Vienna State Opera. What is your opinion of this character?

A. E.: He is definitely no comedian. Taken to extremes, he is the tragic figure of this opera, because he is a pigheaded eccentric for reasons we do not know. His invidiousness emerges from his desperation and not because he is a bad person. Actually, he has to take much more than he dished out, he gets thwacked by David without any reason but a misunderstanding, and what Sachs does to him in the third act is not exactly a pleasantry either. Like the major Moliere characters that are not funny in themselves, he is a comic because of the situations he gets into. The whole story makes no sense if Beckmesser cannot be taken seriously as a competitor for Walther from the very beginning. If he is only ridiculous from the outset, this is not just problematic, but simply wrong. He could not be the town chronicler and Merker if he were not a refined person. However, the tradition of playing him as a buffoon is decreasing anyway. But Wagner made it also quite clear that Beckmesser is the “foreign” who has to be eliminated to use the later diction. Undoubtedly he had this in his mind, because Beckmesser is equipped with all the anti-Semitic prejudices of the time, in his character, his text, as well as musically. This is a fact. But it is no use to emphasize this in an inappropriate context.

D. E.: I felt it even more touching in this traditional setting that one could commiserate with your Beckmesser.

A. E.: I once learned something very important from a director: No matter, what character you play, you have to defend it. As a singer and actor I can be ridiculous because the character is but I must never show the audience:  ”Look, this character is ridiculous”. In this moment I would betray it. Even if it is a funny character, you always have to take it seriously.

D. E.: Due to your Fach you have represented mainly lyrical and comic parts — but there were also some very serious ones like the title character in Wolfgang Rihm’s Jakob Lenz. Which other roles were or are important for you?

A. E.: I am very glad that I will sing Pelleas again in the next season, and I hope that also Billy Budd will come again. But in my case there are not so many serious roles. I really loved singing Jakob Lenz, but this was also an extreme example. This opera is so strong and has everything in it: from the introspective to the complete manic. This is a fantastic challenge. You learn a lot doing it. However, I am not trying to bring my own abysmal depths into the part, because I see myself more as a craftsman than a Method Actor. No matter how tragic the character is, or how desperate the situation, I have to keep control in every moment. I would not be able to do so, if I drown completely into the character of the part. While singing, you never know what happens. If you notice for example, that the voice gets tired, you have to be able to retain control on the singing.

D. E.: In June you participate in a new production of the State Opera: Strauss’ Capriccio in which you sing the part of Olivier.

A. E.: I have sung this part already in Linz. The main attraction this time is the team: the fact that Renee Fleming is coming back to Vienna makes all of us happy. Apart from that we are almost en famille, with Angelika Kirchschlager, Michael Schade and Bo Skovhus. The opera itself is something quite special. I really like it, and there is a certain tradition in Vienna about it, but it is not an easy piece at all. The text is quite sophisticated and the music is not Rosenkavalier. Except for the moonlight music at the end it is a dialogue piece thoroughly …

D. E.: … and sometimes considered problematic because of its date of origin in 1942.

A. E.: Of course it is very top-heavy; in the political circumstances of the time you can consider it problematic, because it was a certain kind of denial tactics for Strauss to sit in his house and write a piece like this, while all the tragedies happened around. Vice versa you could go much further and ask whether it is generally important, what we do on the stage, whether it effects  the „real life” — however, I don’t want to go that far, because I don’t think, this is part of our job. We are not on stage to change the world.

Inside and Outside
“You must always take the characters seriously”