Teresa Stich-Randall discusses her career
BROADCAST: Nov. 3, 1961 | DURATION: 00:21:01
Studs Terkel The aria from the Bach Cantata the soprano our guest this morning, Teresa Stitch-Randall, the American soprano who is the leading singer soprano of the Vienna State Opera who this evening makes her Chicago debut as Donna Anna and Don Giovanni at the Lyric. So Ms. Stitch-Randall, I don't know how to call you now since you've sung in Vienna. Would it be Madame Stitch-Randall?
Teresa Stitch-Randall Oh it's too funny for words yesterday at the Lyric they were asking me also now what should we really call you and I had to stop and think. And then it's oh well Teresa Stitch-Randall of course but for 12 years it's been Teresa Stitch-Randall, Teresa Stitch-Randall or in Italian, Teresa Stitch-Randall, anything and everything.
Teresa Stitch-Randall All over the the European continent, I've been in Tokyo, Mexico. Three years ago we went to Tokyo, the opera. We did Don Giovanni and Figaro there. That was a very exciting, very very interesting experience.
Teresa Stitch-Randall Fantastic. You never saw anything like it in your life, you know, actually that was also our feeling before we went what is the audience reaction going to be? Firstly it was sold out. It was so sold out and that you just can't even begin to imagine. And then they and a Japanese audience knew exactly that which you would never expect. They actually screamed and yelled at the last performance the night we left. Of course it almost frightened us to death because we didn't know their customs. When they like something very very much they set off fireworks. When we were finished with the last Figaro I think it was and the curtain came down and went back up for our stage calls for our first bows. All of a sudden the whole the entire hall exploded and they threw firecrackers all over. And little uh those little paper balls and it was a real uh fiesta.
Teresa Stitch-Randall Even more. They do that when something to them is superb, something exceptionally uh exceptional experience for them. And this is their way of telling with whomever they they are thanking or that they have enjoyed it beyond all description.
Teresa Stitch-Randall By the way speaking of their loving their Mozart which of course is must be very close to them you know the the uh clairvoyance, the crystality of it. Uh we used a Japanese orchestra. We used the Japanese orchestra that made its tour last year. I think it came to America also, um the National Symphony or something like this. Uh one of our conductors went over there a few weeks before we came and worked with them. They played magnificently. It was lucid. It was it was really unbelievable.
Teresa Stitch-Randall Oh yes. No West Hartford, Connecticut there's a difference. [Laughing] I was born in West Hartford but actually immediately after my birth my grandmother died. And her home in the country in New Hartford and I actually I always um regret saying New Hartford because everybody in the entire world connects with Hartford. There's no connection at all, it's 30 miles north west, it's right up in the Berkshires just about 10 minutes from Massachusetts and 10 minutes west of it is New York. And there I was raised. I had my childhood. And uh as I had mentioned to you before Studs if you remember you said something to me about when did I decide I wanted to be an opera singer, I said I never did. It just always was.
Teresa Stitch-Randall Was my mother's decision perhaps long before I was ever born. That's why I'm Teresa by the way, she prayed to St. Teresa to have a daughter and to have a singer. No, a musician she wanted.
Teresa Stitch-Randall Right From the very beginning momma says it would be very interim so she's not here but she'll be here next week she's coming for the performances, uh the last performances, she uh she said that of course I know this probably sounds awfully facetious but it really is the truth and momma being a real New Englander wouldn't dream of telling a lie, that when I was little tiny baby in her arms she would hum to me and I'd hum right back long before I ever spoke. So, there it was. That was my fate. And I started piano with my little tiny chubby hands with three and dancing. Everything that would strain me, begin me, to get me going so that I could then go into the conservatory and that is really for me was for me last few weeks ago when I made my debut at the Metropolitan. Very sad because.
Teresa Stitch-Randall Yes. Yes and after all these years I came back to my country to sing in what for us is the greatest opera house in the world. My daddy died just four years ago at the very young age of 58. Very unexpectedly, it was a terrible terrible tragedy for us. He wasn't there, it was a terrible blank for me. And then this young woman her name was Marie Roberge and she was the piano teacher in our hometown. And this girl with my mother, they just simply decided it was going to be this way and the two of them just formed me, really formed me. And at the age of 12, Marie said now we are just going to put her into the conservatory and let her formally study. But you know that could have been the end if I had gotten into anybody else's hands because she simply kept my voice natural and just let me sing naturally. After all from 5 until 11 that was 6 years, anything could have happened. And from 5 until 11, exactly what you asked before a small town that was those were the church social years you know when in my little tiny fluffy dress I'd get up on the stage and sing what do I know, animal crackers in my soup or something like this is.
Studs Terkel Yes.
Teresa Stitch-Randall Oh no, ask my mommy I spent I spent all of my time with music. Everything that had to do with music. And when I was just a youngster at that time doing my grammar school and then the following high school things, my entire summers were spent in in studying and mother reminds me of it very often. I would spend four days at the piano you know in my summer vacation I'd wake up in the morning go into the piano and just sit there until seven or eight o'clock in the evening just practicing or playing for myself or working. I never did a great deal of work on my voice which of course she wouldn't let me either. By the way I didn't say that that was the second sadness. Two weeks ago was because this woman died very very young. She was only 40 years old and died with uh um with cancer and we were very unhappy to miss her. She has never had the chance to see anything happen. Uh she was still alive when I did some of my career in Hartford and then began in New York but she was already dead when I sang with Toscanini.
Studs Terkel I want ask you about Toscanini in a moment in connection with the Aida and your priestess. But before that, the road is such a long one on a critically acclaimed one from Hartford to La Scala to Naples to Florence, Lisbon, Salzburg, Zurich, Vienna. We come to this teacher.
Teresa Stitch-Randall Paris.
Studs Terkel Paris.
Teresa Stitch-Randall I had only one teacher after Marie decided, after Marie said to momma, the bright age of 11 that I must go on now into the conservatory. Mother took me to Hartford, Connecticut, and there the head of the vocal department was a man, a Russian by the name of Ivan Velikanoff, and I sang for them and he was very very impressed and the director of the conservatory said to my mother, "now just don't get any ideas." He was a very happy, the man, he wanted to have me right away because he's a very dedicated teacher, really one of the really great dedicated teachers in the world. So he wanted to get me into his hands. But of course, the director of the conservatory was much more reserved and just didn't want mother to get any ideas that they were going to give her any guarantees which she didn't want. She simply wanted me to have some formal study. So mother and Valey as we call my my voice teacher, they understood each other from the very first moment and I started at the age I'm sorry I said the age of 11 at the age of 10. I started with this man.
Teresa Stitch-Randall Yes.
Studs Terkel Here you are a Sophie and you with the Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Krista Ludwig, it's you now. Sophie, Sophie and the duet with Octavian. Would you mind just one see I know is one of your favorite passages from the Der Rosenkavalier.
Teresa Stitch-Randall Oh it's one of the most magnificent things that ever, that Strauss, that God ever gave to Strauss. It's that fantastic moment when, when Octavian enters with the rose and gives it to Sophie and she takes it into her hands and she says "how heavenly "wie himmlisch" "not earthly, nicht irdisch", like a rose from high heaven." And then she said to him "don't you think so also" and he said "yes" and then she picks it up again and said it's like a greeting from him. Es ist wie ein grus von ihm. Ach Gott ist das schon von Heiliger hoch Heiligen paradeis I forgot about that. Ich nicht mehr geschafft die Rosen von hoch heilgein paradeis es vie ein Grub von ihm zu stark, das manche fragen it's just it's too strong that you just can't stand it if the music is.
Teresa Stitch-Randall [Laughs] Oh no you. Unfortunately, for me personally I'm terribly emotionally involved in music, it's my entire life really and truly and uh it's a constant battle if you have that it's a constant battle on the stage to keep your emotions in check to remember that the music that the technique after all you have to produce something and if you just go wild if you just let your emotions run run wild and go on go rampant you will never get anything out. Neither a tone or any kind of a musical phrase and exactly this scene you know when Octavian arrives and I know unfortunately what's coming musically and I find really one of the most magnificent pages that Richard Strauss ever wrote is this this scene that you just played and the thought already that that's coming. And I feel every note and every beat that the orchestra plays and these build ups which I as I was just explaining to you before as we were listening to this and thinking of going with him.[German].I get so nervous that I had to stand there and bite my teeth and swallow and think of mashed potatoes and everything else.
Studs Terkel [Laughs].
Teresa Stitch-Randall Just to keep the tears from coming because of course that's the end, you'd start crying and that's the end you can never cry.You know that two absolute uh ends to a voice? I mean if you want to really ruin yourself for whatever's coming, if you have to sing, you either cry or laugh. There are two things the two things that bang the vocal chords they just go just like that you know they just cut right into the vocal chords and then you just can't get anything out afterwards. It's terrible.
Studs Terkel That affects you at the beginning of the scene is a little you have to avoid this. Now we come to something that interests me. Your approach to acting we think of the singer today more and more and the drama, the drama, of it as well as the music of it is important what you're feeling as you you say tonight. You're Donna Anna role you've done so successfully.
Teresa Stitch-Randall No. You said what let's say tonight your Donna Anna. I will be it. That's the way I feel about it. That's the way I think. Is not the way I feel about it. I don't think there's a case of feeling or wishing or being or acting or anything. I think one just is. Don't you think so?
Studs Terkel Go ahead. I mean uh, what about a technique? Don't you believe there's a I don't I'm asking you this. Go ahead tell me what you were Sophie, a wholly different role from Donna Anna you where.
Teresa Stitch-Randall I simply don't believe that it's possible. I mean I know that I'm I'm probably going to get myself hung and quartered here because we're in the in the what is this new movement, I've been away too long to really remember the names for things but.
Teresa Stitch-Randall Um I just don't believe it. I mean I know that there are an awful lot of things that you shouldn't do on the stage, fine. I think it's wonderful to have really, these really great sensitive people who sit down there and a stage a show and say my heavens don't do that. Don't don't keep putting that hand up and don't do this and don't do that. But I think that if a person has that God given talent to be able to go on a stage which in itself is already something just to walk out of there and to truly lose their own um.
Studs Terkel Identity.
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Teresa Stitch-Randall Think that its just is the same thing that we were just arguing about or having a very nice little discussion two minutes ago. I just don't think there's any separation. I think it's all it's all a unity.
Studs Terkel The various people you've worked with whom you've affected whom affected you you work with the Maestro Toscanini, a tour with Toscanini, the very early, this is very early days wasn't it the view of your career? And.
Teresa Stitch-Randall Maestro Walter Pellate was always very interested in young singers and heard me sing and I was having a concert with him in New York and at this time I didn't know of his very intimate relation with Maestro Toscanini. They were very very great friends ever since Pellate was a young boy and a maestro young man and Pellate had asked maestro to listen to the broadcast and he did. And next day he called me up and asked me to sing the High Priestess in Aida and I thought I thought they were colleagues from Columbia University making good jokes. Oh yeah sure. [Laughs]. In any case it was true. His son Valta called me up a day afterwards and said come down papa wants to rehearse with you. So when I went down and I rehearsed the High Priestess with maestro he said to me how is your Italian? And I said well it just isn't. He said well you better get to work on it. And they arranged for me to work with somebody for Italian for the Nannetta of the following year. He wanted me immediately, he decided I was to do the Nannetta in his Falstaff recording, which was his big dream you know Falstaff was his passion, his mad passion and he's right. It's one of the greatest things ever written musically. And he had been planning this production for a long time, so I started that year I did my a High Priestess but started immediately working on the Nannetta. And then the following year in his production of Falstaff I was the Nannetta.
Teresa Stitch-Randall When I arrived when I came down it was during the week when I went down to NBC to his studio to his little room where he worked. He came up to me and kissed me and said he had heard this concert and it was absolutely stunning. And the that uh was some of the most beautiful singing he had ever heard and was absolutely sure I was going to be a very great singer. This is the first time he saw me. After we had been together for a couple of years and I had been going to his house and I had been very much in with the people surrounding him, his family and friends. He used to say to me when I finally had the chance to go abroad he said "oh yes you go ahead with whatever you do don't study, just don't let anybody touch you as far as studying is concerned you go ahead and and go ahead to get get abroad and get into a theater and get your experience." But there's just one thing he said you haven't done it yet and although I have great faith that uh vocally and musically you could be one of the greatest singers of our time, he said its just not going to, you're not going to do it. You're not going to have a chance unless you get a pella di elefante. You'd better start getting an elephant skin because I was at that time a youngster and I was up at Columbia and just beginning my career and I was at that time I didn't have control over those famous emotions. You see I didn't know how to bite my teeth and think of mashed potatoes. And I used to get so emotional, if I heard a beautiful line of music the tears would go pouring down my face and then I couldn't get a note out afterwards. And I was always being heard or ugh you know how it is.
Teresa Stitch-Randall No. No. Yes. He meant that you simply have to build around yourself a great big steel or stone block tower and you stay unscathed and untouched inside that tower and you go on creating music the way he did all his life, out of pure idealism. And if you stick to that, you come through thick and thin you do you do you just have to hang on to your beliefs Studs, you know.
Teresa Stitch-Randall [Laughs]. Maestro said to me at that time that this was the greatest priestess that had ever been and ever will be because he was quite sure that I wouldn't sing it anymore and he thought that he'd never get anybody else to do it that way.