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Marilyn Horne talks about her music career and her upcoming performance in "Rinaldo" at the Chicago Opera Theater

BROADCAST: May. 2, 1984 | DURATION: 00:23:03


Marilyn Horne talks about her music career and her upcoming perfomance in "Rinaldo" at the Chicago Opera Theater


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Marilyn Horne Okay. Here I am. Back together again after 20 years.

Studs Terkel Back together again after twenty years. I'm seated in the dressing room on this day of "Rinaldo", the performance of it this day, this Wednesday, of Handel's rarely performed opera by, and the star of the attraction, of course, is known as ["il grande cantante del mondo,"?] it's Marilyn Horne, the greatest singer in the world, so proclaimed by the Rossini Golden Plaque Society. For the Italians to do that to an American singer is, in itself, rather historic.

Marilyn Horne Well, it's something that one is thrilled about it, but one really can't think about that too much because, first of all, there are so many great singers around that I'm inclined to think it's a gross exaggeration. But they said it and so I enjoyed it for five minutes.

Studs Terkel And there are very few dissenters. But I was thinking, Marilyn Horne, 20 years or so when you were a guest on the program, and even then, I think you had sung, you were--just sung with Dame Joan Sutherland, didn't you, at the time? In "Norma." [Didn't you?]?

Marilyn Horne Oh, I don't really--

Studs Terkel [Oh? Or?] was it before "Norma"?

Marilyn Horne I suppose it was much before that. Yeah.

Studs Terkel It was before "Norma"?

Marilyn Horne Sure. I think, if I recall, I think it was, I was here singing in Grant Park.

Studs Terkel At Grant Park.

Marilyn Horne So it was, like, 1961 or -2, something like that.

Studs Terkel So we come to your voice and someone described it as "seamless." Seamless. And, of course, I suppose the sign of the artist is that feeling of complete flow. A flow; as far as the audience goes. We just go along with you. That's--

Marilyn Horne I think what somebody says when they mean seamless is that you don't hear a change of registers. And with the female voice, being that there are two--actually three registers--being what I would call the chest, middle, and head voice; the middle voice being a blend of the chest and head. I think what they're saying is that they can't hear the audible change of registers.

Studs Terkel I'm thinking of the range, of course, your range from "Rinaldo," perhaps ask you about that. The fact that this role was originally sung by--

Marilyn Horne A castrato.

Studs Terkel Males. Cast--

Marilyn Horne Right.

Studs Terkel [Right. Castra--and when did women take over?

Marilyn Horne Well, I don't really know what the history of "Rinaldo" was in the 19th century, how much it was performed. Or whether it was performed at all. I really don't know. But certainly when we started to get into Handel in the 20th century there weren't any castrati around anymore so they wanted to have the voice which matched it the closest. And certainly it is the mezzo-soprano or the contralto voice.

Studs Terkel Let's hear, we should hear because here's a case of--who is it said of you? That Handel, himself, has come alive. You know, more in our generation [than ever before?] because of one certain artist: you.

Marilyn Horne Well, I mean, I really, that's very nice, but I don't think so. There are a lot of wonderful Handel singers out there. I mean, Joan Sutherland certainly is not to be sneezed at. And Nicolai Ghiaurov has been a wonderful Handel singer. And I think that there's been a lot of Handel performed in England that we don't know about. But what's happening now is that at last Handel is now coming to the big opera houses of the world. And I am very proud to say that I brought "Rinaldo" to the Met this year and now to the Chicago Opera.

Studs Terkel You know, we should hear your voice. We should hear one. What? "Or la tromba"?

Marilyn Horne "Or la tromba." This is the aria which precedes it--well, actually, the battle is starting between Rinaldo and Argante and the forces of evil. Rinaldo, of course, is the--are the forces--he's the force for good. And this is the act, actually, the battle when Rinaldo calls his troops to fight the [Pharisees?].

Studs Terkel Is this, to some extent, based upon that old, early [unintelligible] "Orlando Furioso"?

Marilyn Horne [Oh?], this is--

Studs Terkel It is "Orlando Furioso"?

Marilyn Horne No, this is "Gerusalemme liberatta".

Studs Terkel Yeah. But it's from that same time?

Marilyn Horne It's the same, the same exact thing. Yeah.

Studs Terkel And this is it.

Marilyn Horne Well, I've done "Orlando Furioso" also so, and they were--were they brothers? I think Rinaldo and Orlando were brothers. That's it.

Studs Terkel We're hearing Marilyn Horne. As you will, those of you who are fortunate, tonight at the opera house. By the way, this is the Handel "Rinaldo" you're doing. And then on May 9th, just to keep the audience straight [here?], for the record, on May 9th you're doing lieder? No.

Marilyn Horne No. On May 9th I'm doing an orchestral concert of arias, with orchestra with Leonard Slatkin conducting.

Studs Terkel And [that's a?] variety, [texts of?] Rossini--

Marilyn Horne Rossini, Vivaldi, which is from "Orlando Furioso," of Vivaldi.

Studs Terkel [That's the one. Yeah?]

Marilyn Horne And Thomas, Meyerbeer, and Saint-Saëns, and, of course, we have a few encores--

Studs Terkel [That should be a real joy?]

Marilyn Horne That we're preparing.

Studs Terkel And then on May 30th will be just an evening of song?

Marilyn Horne That will be just an evening of song with my accompanist, Martin Katz. And song singing is really at least half of my output as a singer. And, so, it's very special to my heart and I have always maintained an equal amount of recitals along with opera.

Studs Terkel I'm thinking it's the range. I'm thinking. Everybody thinks of your range, of course. [It's here you're doing?] "Rinaldo," you do "Carmen," you do "The Italian Girl in Algiers." You bring an incredible scope that you cover.

Marilyn Horne Well, I think that is one of the, probably the most difficult things that we have to learn as singers, and that is the difference of style. Style is sort of where the ballgame is after you get your technique down and become a singer, more or less. Then you have to understand that you don't sing Rossini the way you sing Puccini, and you don't sing Puccini the way you sing Mahler ,and you don't sing Mahler the way you sing Schubert. So that's the big thing. Style.

Studs Terkel Could you expand on that just a bit? This is you giving a key here. Style and the creative spirit.

Marilyn Horne Right.

Studs Terkel The [man?] who wrote the piece and now the interpreter who creates, in this case, her own [way?], "style."

Marilyn Horne Well, you see, if, say, you take a role like "Rinaldo," this is right in the heart of the Baroque period, which was a much more conservative kind of music thinking and one is very much hampered, in a way, by the form of the music. And all the arias have the ABA form and one has to learn along the way that the performance practice in those days were that the singer, then, did embellishments and ornaments. And these were always done, and at a particular place, where a stop sign goes up, and that means sing a cadenza. And a cadenza is a long flourish that the singer will sing. And then when the return of the A section comes around, which we call the da capo, then the singer is really obliged, it was obligatory, to ornament, then, the return of that aria. And this practice was carried over into Rossini, and Bellini, and Donizetti, and I would put my hand in the fire to say that I'm positive they also did it in the early Verdi [roles?] because that's the way they're written. They're--all those arias are written in the ABA form. But we got away from that.

Studs Terkel So it's embellishment, and grace notes added; all of that.

Marilyn Horne Right.

Studs Terkel But, following a form.

Marilyn Horne Absolutely. Now this, "Rinaldo," is a much more florid form than, say, Rossini, [from?] "Semiramide," or "Tancredi" or "L'italiana in Algeri"; so much more florid form.

Studs Terkel What--since this is going to be a great lesson for us--just listening through this. Suppose we go to Rossini then?

Marilyn Horne Right.

Studs Terkel You know, you're a great Rossini [interpreter?]. And I suppose it is the "Cruda sorte! Amor tiranno!" How do you like that?

Marilyn Horne That's great.

Studs Terkel So that's "Cruel destiny--"

Marilyn Horne Right. From "Italiana."

Studs Terkel This is from "The Italian Girl in Algiers."

Marilyn Horne Which I just finished singing in Venice before I came here.

Studs Terkel Now, what we just heard you do--the Handel from "Rinaldo"--with what you described. Now what will be the difference when we hear it?

Marilyn Horne Well, first of all, you'll begin to hear a much more romantic side. One can begin to use a lot more portamenti, which means carrying the voice up or down from one note to another. One will begin to hear a more expansive style in the way of singing. As I said, the Baroque style is much more conservative. One could say it's much more Foursquare. You're in a box in a way. But what is fascinating by that music, in that music, is that one can bring out all of these sentiments within that Foursquare style. But, again, as I said, we get to Rossini and things become much more passionate, much more romantic.

Studs Terkel Much more passionate, romantic? Is there also--

Marilyn Horne We're beginning, now, the Romantic period of music.

Studs Terkel Is there also a little touch of, more leeway allowed here, too? Or it's still [following?]--

Marilyn Horne It's pretty much still a form but maybe not quite as foursquared as the other one. There is definitely a form to follow. Yes.

Studs Terkel Let's hear "Cruel Destiny."

Marilyn Horne "Cruda sorte!"

Studs Terkel Tyrannous love--tyrannical love. As we're listening to Marilyn Horne and, of course, these two great arias but, also the differences--who she is. Of course, some, a number of years ago during that previous conversation you talked a bit of background, beginnings. It was Pennsylvania and [inspiring?] the very moving, and funny, and delightful autobiography, "Marilyn Horne, My Life," published by Atheneum Press. Beginnings, small Pennsylvania town.

Marilyn Horne Right. Bradford.

Studs Terkel Bradford. [From?] where the music? Was it always music?

Marilyn Horne Yes. My family were always either amateur musicians or piano teachers. My grandfather was a piano teacher and he had several brothers and they were all piano teachers. And then my father, who had a very beautiful tenor voice, and my mother, a natural soprano voice. And all the aunts, and uncles, and cousins; music was very much a part of our lives.

Studs Terkel Did you do church singing, too?

Marilyn Horne Much. Much. I cut my teeth on church singing. That's really in my blood

Studs Terkel So hymns?

Marilyn Horne Oh, sure. All of the Protestant hymns and all that. I mean, they're somewhere back there.

Studs Terkel By the way, do you do that during your last concert of song? Some during your concert?

Marilyn Horne I did, when I did the "Marilyn Horne's Great American Songbook."

Studs Terkel The "Great American Song," so Stephen Foster and [unintelligible].

Marilyn Horne Right. And, fascinatingly enough is we had lots of mail about that concert. And the song which everyone loved the most was "In the Garden," the hymn.

Studs Terkel "In the Garden," yeah.

Marilyn Horne That and "Beautiful Dreamer," and then another song which, of course, was just amazing to us, called "I Didn't Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier." That had enormous response.

Studs Terkel Yeah. That's interesting. That was a World War One song.

Marilyn Horne Yes.

Studs Terkel But--

Marilyn Horne Al [Mantadori?] [sic] was the writer.

Studs Terkel Yeah. But, you know, it's interesting--and you've touched something--"I Didn't Raise My Boy to be a Soldier." Well, you know the strong--

Marilyn Horne Oh, it was so topical, too. I didn't realize it when we selected the song. And we played it through, it sounded sort of rinky-tinky and I thought, "Oh." But it's--there's something about this song that is really good because of the words. And then when I started to really prepare it for the concert, then I sort of realized that one of the interesting things would be to talk the second chorus, a little bit sort of like "I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy."

Studs Terkel Is that recorded? [unintelligible]

Marilyn Horne I haven't--I will be recording it next year.

Studs Terkel You will?

Marilyn Horne Yes.

Studs Terkel But, in lieu of that for now, since you mentioned Americans, or just to hear your [sense of?] early influences, [why don't?] we do a Stephen Foster? "Beautiful Dreamer"?

Marilyn Horne Wonderful. Thank you.

Studs Terkel "Beautiful Dreamer."

Marilyn Horne "Beautiful Dreamer" I learned sitting at my mother's feet at the piano. She could not read music but she played anything. In the key of C by ear. And I remember she sat me down at the piano, I couldn't have been more than about four or five, and taught me "Beautiful Dreamer," and "Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair," and various things.

Studs Terkel The thought occurs to me, and it's something that is very close to me. To you, it doesn't have to be one particular art form. As long as there's a certain spirit behind it, and there's a feeling and a talent to get the--in the creation of it, the creativity of it. It is your song.

Marilyn Horne Well, for me, I think that whatever I do has to come from my voice. And my sentiment as an actress, even. Or my ability to feel something. But I think I start with my voice and that it has to come from there because that's the thing I've known all my life.

Studs Terkel The voice is, of course, the instrument.

Marilyn Horne Right.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Marilyn Horne And, of course, it's a part of me. It's right in there in the throat and it's with me every second that I live and breathe.

Studs Terkel You know, there was a comment made by a marvelous jazz critic about Louis Armstrong and Jack Teagarden. Their instruments, the horn of Louis', the trumpet, and the trombone of Teagarden; that was the extension of the artist himself. That is, you couldn't tell where the instrument stopped and the voice began. And, so, your voice is really an extension of you, the being, Marilyn Horne.

Marilyn Horne Absolutely. I mean, at least, what they could do was when they finished playing they'd put their instruments in a case and packed it up. And we've got to take it with us.

Studs Terkel Which leads, of course, to a big question: True, you could have a magnificent voice, which you do have, but there is something more than that and that is your interpretation.

Marilyn Horne Well, you've got to have brains. That's the other thing. That's one of the things that my father also said to me when I was a, you know, young girl growing up. He said, "Look, singing is 90 percent brains and 10 percent voice." You've got to really have a brain in your head.

Studs Terkel And [it really matters?], of course, because you studied for a short time with Lotte Lehmann.

Marilyn Horne Mmm-hmm.

Studs Terkel In her master class.

Marilyn Horne Right.

Studs Terkel And one of the things, of course, is your interpretation of [a lied, or any song?].

Marilyn Horne I learned a tremendous amount from her and I think I was absolutely ripe for it when I studied with her. The first sessions that I did with her I was 17. And I had never sung any German lieders before and she really opened the doors for me and showed me what great imagination one can use just for a little song. It is a story and a piece of drama [into? unto?] itself whether it's comic or sad.

Studs Terkel So that song--take a Schubert song, for example.

Marilyn Horne Yes.

Studs Terkel The one that you sing, "Die ju--

Marilyn Horne "Die junge Nonne."

Studs Terkel "Die junge Nonne."

Marilyn Horne In fact, that was the very first song I ever sang for Lotte Lehmann in a master class and, knowing what I know now and how difficult the song is, I'm amazed that I had the chutzpah to do it. But it was suggested that I sing that song and so I did.

Studs Terkel Well, I'm thinking here of the--you said of the drama, sometimes a song is a drama. Here's one: someone compared this to the "Erlkönig." In that the tremendous feeling, the passion of the--

Marilyn Horne Yes. Right.

Studs Terkel [melodrama?] in this case or the father and the dying boy.

Marilyn Horne "Erlkönig" is something I think I'm going to do this coming season.

Studs Terkel Really?

Marilyn Horne I've talked about doing the "Erlkönig" for many, many years and finally I said to my accompanist, Martin Katz, I said, "You know, I think this is the year of the 'Erlkönig'."

Studs Terkel Well let's hear "Die junge Nonne."

Marilyn Horne Fine.

Studs Terkel Isn't it funny how there's a progression here with Marilyn, even as she's casually talking. This is, by the way, after rehearsal. Tonight is the, your chance to see her in this seldom performed "Rinaldo." But casually something is happening with her. We began with Handel from tonight's "Rinaldo."

Marilyn Horne Right.

Studs Terkel Then the more romantic Rossini. And now we come to the great songwriter, the great lieder writer, Schubert.

Marilyn Horne Certainly the greatest of all. Even though I have a particular passion for Hugo Wolf, also. One can't deny the fact that Schubert was the great one. He wrote over 700 songs.

Studs Terkel But I'm thinking of the feeling. Passion is the word, particularly in this last song.

Marilyn Horne Mmm. Yes.

Studs Terkel So what happened is that you worked with Madame Lehmann, one of the great lieder singers, certainly one of the great ones of the century. It's--your father said brains--but also, do you imagine yourself as this young nun?

Marilyn Horne Oh, yes. Absolutely. Yes. In this particular case, because this is not--certain songs are narrative songs where one is telling a story but this is a song where one is deep feeling the story. One is the story. So this is exactly the young nun's passion coming out. Her feelings.

Studs Terkel We've done Italian, there's the American song, there's the lied, German.

Marilyn Horne The French, of course.

Studs Terkel Then there's French.

Marilyn Horne Which is another--

Studs Terkel And Spanish.

Marilyn Horne Another style [into? unto?] itself. French is a more subtle style. It has certain graces to it that are much, more subtle than even Schubert. And that's why French music is so extremely difficult, I think, to perform in a large hall. And the songs which I will be doing here, the Bizet songs, seem to lend themselves more to a larger hall than, say, Debussy. Debussy is so delicate.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Marilyn Horne That is, you know, one small cough can obliterate two bars of Debussy. So it's very difficult to do them in large halls. But then you take Spanish music and then you get into some really passionate feelings. And you can say what you want, but they are there; the Spaniards are that way. They have, you know, these very passionate feelings that come out in their music and I think no music is as easily identifiable as Spanish music. It has its flavor of--with rhythm there immediately and somehow, maybe in another life, I was Spanish. But, Spanish music--I took to that like a duck to water.

Studs Terkel You know, you've given me an idea. And it's about French and Spanish and this idea of the passion. You're a great Carmen. We know because you were a marvelous Carmen. And it's--here's Carmen, the Spanish gypsy cigarette maker--French. And then I thought, perhaps de Falla's "Seguidilla;" Carmen does a seguidilla.

Marilyn Horne Mmm-hmm.

Studs Terkel And there's a de Falla song.

Marilyn Horne Mmm-hmm. Right.

Studs Terkel "Seguidilla."

Marilyn Horne Which I will be singing on the recital.

Studs Terkel You are? So, What do you say we try both?

Marilyn Horne Great!

Studs Terkel For example, there's the French connected to Spanish, and the Spanish. And which should be begin? Which would be the first, you think?

Marilyn Horne Let's see, maybe, I think the French. Let's do the French first.

Studs Terkel The "Carmen"?

Marilyn Horne "Carmen."

Studs Terkel Okay, this is "Carmen." I'm going to ask you about this "Carmen" which we'll hear. "Carmen" and this moment when she's pretty well got Don José wrapped up, [unfortunately?], for the Don. [not to be?] Don, but [unintelligible?] for this young grenadier. But, here it is. [content removed, see catalog record] Of course, that's "Carmen." That "Carmen," your [interpretation?], that's pretty hard for any grenadier to resist, you know? That's [her?] approach, isn't it?

Marilyn Horne Well, I think every Carmen approaches "Carmen" differently. And everyone's, every woman's Carmen is not going to be everyone's cup of tea. It's a role that everyone seems to have his own personal idea of what Carmen should be. And I find Carmen to be a very down-to-earth, very direct person who reacts to everything around her. And I think she has a great sense of humor. Which she uses very much in the first and second acts. But from the start of the intermission, after the second act, she's all business because she wants to get rid of José and there's no more fun.

Studs Terkel By the way, do you use--there's something you said--you saw Carmen as having a sense of humor.

Marilyn Horne Mmm-hmm.

Studs Terkel Humor, I noticed, in your interpretations, you know, powerful, as so many are. There's always that little touch of [you there?].

Marilyn Horne Isn't life like that? And, you know, as everyone says, if you lose that you really can't manage life, if you don't have a good sense of humor.

Studs Terkel I'm thinking, that nonpareil among public relations men, Danny Newman, who is in a class by himself--

Marilyn Horne Absolutely.

Studs Terkel Has just peeked through the door, he's given us the signal, because you've got a schedule ahead of you that's unbelievable. And, yet, you've given of your time here. And, so, I know I've taken too much of it. And Danny's giving me the signal.

Marilyn Horne But it's so nice to see you again.

Studs Terkel But let us hear, end with the "Seguidilla" of de Falla. A word about the Spanish, your Spanish literature? Just a word about that. We're going to end with de Falla's "Seguidilla" which is [unintelligible]

Marilyn Horne Well, as I said, this is from "The Seven Popular Songs of de Falla," and something about Spanish music feels very good to me. And I have a real thrill singing it. I think, perhaps, because I also have the ability to sing with a lot of guts in my lower register and I think that Spanish music lends itself to that.

Studs Terkel Yeah, you know, just as we're saying goodbye now and hearing the de Falla piece you said that maybe you were Spanish, something of Spanish in you and--

Marilyn Horne In another life.

Studs Terkel In another life. May I say, the universal artist, in all the lives, the universal artist. And the phrase that opened the program is the one that ends the program: ["il grande cantante del mondo"?] said the Rossini Society. And I say, Oh yeah! And how!

Marilyn Horne Thank you.

Studs Terkel Thank you very much. [pause in recording] And this is by way of saying tonight you'll have the delight and the exhilarating experience of seeing and hearing Marilyn Horne and her colleagues at the Civic Opera House in Handel's "Rinaldo." And then on May 9th will be?

Marilyn Horne Arias.

Studs Terkel Arias.

Marilyn Horne With orchestra.

Studs Terkel With orchestra and?

Marilyn Horne With Leonard Slatkin.

Studs Terkel With Leonard Slatkin conducting. And then on May 30th--

Marilyn Horne May 30th.

Studs Terkel Will be?

Marilyn Horne A recital, a song recital with Martin Katz.

Studs Terkel Again, grazie. Grazie. [uninteligible]