Teresa Stich-Randall talks with Studs Terkel ; part 1
BROADCAST: Dec. 1, 1964 | DURATION: 00:34:18
Studs Terkel interviews soprano Teresa Stich-Randall about her musical performances of Don Giovanni. Some of the interview is spoken in German.
Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.
Teresa Stich-Randall "[German]."
Studs Terkel Teresa Stich-Randall acting, interpreting, as well in a moment singing one of the "Four Last Songs" of Richard Strauss, "Vier letzte Lieder", "This is Spring". "Fruhling, in half flight I waited, dreamed all too long of trees and blossom, those flowing breezes, that fragrant blue and thrush's song," Teresa, you read the rest, you read so beautifully.
Teresa Stich-Randall "Now streaming and glowing from sky to field with light overflowing and those charms are revealed. Light gilds the river, light floods the plain, spring calls me. And through me quiver life's own loveliness returned again."
Studs Terkel So listen to "Fruhling", one of the "Four Last Songs" of Richard Strauss, this is a recent recording of our guest, Teresa Stich-Randall, who acts as well as sings powerfully, beautifully. She is, you know, has been and is the Donna Anna of Lyric's "Don Giovanni" and she's telling off Ghiaurov, who is a wonderful Giovanni, the very opening, thus Mozart begins. But back to these songs, these "Four Last Songs", part of the album, "Daphne", arias on the other side. What is it about these "Four Last Songs" that attract you so much, Teresa?
Teresa Stich-Randall Oh, Studs, you know, you feel the same thing, as we were just sitting here listening to this text and then I think I've asked you just since I came in, I'm sorry, I shouldn't, but, you know, I keep wanting to be, I want to be encouraged because there are not that many Richard Strauss lovers. And as I say, I've said three times, "Do you like him? Do you like him?" and you keep saying, "Oh yes, heavens, yes." The colors, the colors of the orchestra, Studs, isn't it terrific? I mean, it just--unfortunately, I would love to hear this whole record with you as I said to you when I just came in. I haven't heard it.
Studs Terkel The words are those of Herman Hesse, who is the, who wrote "Steppenwolf", who's a Nobel prize winner. So the--back to the songs, the "Four Last Songs". Meaning what, I suppose the last songs of a man's life. Was that what--is the way you would interpret them?
Teresa Stich-Randall Absolutely. Or let's say I would feel this way very definitely about them when I come to the end, to the last song, which is "Im Abendrot", and she says at the very end, "[German]." I don't think it has to be, and I of course, what God has in store for us, we--it'll come and we have nothing to do with it. But, however, it wouldn't have to be death, Studs. It could just be something which every human being is luckier, therefore, if they have the possibility, to occupy and preoccupy themselves about the greatness, the absolute eternity, the unending magnificence of the universe and including us as a part of it--
Studs Terkel But something, it's something that's just the opposite, though. You see, cause the singing of it has a great deal of power and passion and the feeling that even though life may be near an end--
Teresa Stich-Randall No, but this is, this is what I think this means, too, you see, because this song, this last song, which the text is so absolutely profound, actually, as you know, Studs, and it makes me so happy is because you understand and read the German. As I said to you before, and as Professor Krips said the other day, nothing, nothing can be translated and it can't be, and comes to an old argument of always being asked where I was being asked if what language one should sing in, etc. etc., and you just cannot attack. You just cannot skip. Let's just go to good old Herman Hesse. You can't get that rhyme, that sound, that music and that depth of meaning in a translation what he has put in these words, but where he does say then, "[German]," so deep, and there was even one last night, if people were watching.
Teresa Stich-Randall No, no. It's so deep, so deep in that color. Can you imagine yourself getting deep in that color? "Oh, we are tired of wandering. Could this be death?" And if it were, could anything be more beautiful, you see? And there's no such thing as an end meant here.
Studs Terkel And probably the fact that humanity itself continues would be the point. I think it's also a hymn as you sing it. I mean, you may deny this, but the very power of the song we just heard would indicate that there is--it's the sense of life that is so overwhelming, too. Even though it's the "Four Last Songs" of a man you can interpret any way. The sense of life is overwhelming, otherwise you wouldn't be singing with that--
Teresa Stich-Randall You know, my dear, I'm not really sure. I wish I could ask somebody and I can ask someone as soon as I get back to Vienna because I have so many friends who were very close friends with Strauss and worked with him. I wonder if these "Four Last Songs", if he meant them as his four last songs. I wonder if that's why they're called the "Four Last Songs". They were, you know, by the way.
Teresa Stich-Randall This is what I wonder if this is why they had the title, because there's nothing, there's nothing in any one of those poems to go on with that word last as an end. The end, there's nothing there,
Teresa Stich-Randall Every one of these four poems just go on, just the "[German]" at the end, just to--we won't get into philosophy as you just said a few minutes ago, but what I said to you, eternity, this continuation.
Studs Terkel It's also, I--again, I come back to, at least what I hear, hearing you sing it just that you wouldn't have sung it that richly, you see, you wouldn't have sung it that powerfully, too, overwhelmingly, if it were not the fact that it was a hymn to life.
Teresa Stich-Randall I know that I have had some questions. I have sung these songs again and again with many conductors, and there have been questions about how I sing this last line, because I always sing--
Teresa Stich-Randall Is what we were talking about and I mentioned the sunset last night, and "Are we tired, and is--could this be, are we wandering tired, could this be death?" And every time I come to that phrase and it's so beautifully built up by Strauss, I always sing it as a very, very real--honestly I swear to you, every single--as we were just saying, "[German]," that every single little tiny--
Studs Terkel Tremor.
Teresa Stich-Randall Piece of atom that makes me, just stands there trembling when I say, "[German]," and I really am just asking that is all of this absolutely indescribable beauty that occasionally, occasionally we have the grace and glory to experience, "Could it be death?" And I certainly don't say it is, and many people have wanted me, many conductors have wanted me to be absolutely much more emphatic with this phrase, to come out much stronger although the orchestra's pianissississimo, and I can't, because I don't feel it is, or it could be, I feel exactly, "Could it be? Is
Teresa Stich-Randall It's so funny, we don't know what titles are, and I've been in Vienna now for so long and it's been always, being an opera singer in Vienna, being an opera singer in Austria, is like being--well, Studs, what's the biggest thing in the world, the biggest spot in the world, it's like
Teresa Stich-Randall All of these things together. You are just the greatest of the great, you know? I mean, the Beatles are nothing in comparison to being an opera singer in Austria. That's a country that just--we were talking about that the other day, as a matter of fact, my sweet little 12-year-old nephew was with me and I was mentioning it to him, and I said, you know, Bob, you've just got to come. You've just got to come and see it now at this age because I want him to be, this is an impressionable age and I want him to see a country and people who treat opera and music like we treat baseball and football in this country.
Teresa Stich-Randall Exactly.
Teresa Stich-Randall Yes, it's from the days when we didn't have the Staatsoper, or the State Opera, it was the Royal Opera, and the Emperor would award the singers who had done the most in the line so of glory more or less for the country, for the people, and he gave them this title which actually would have been, you know, like a lord or lady because they had then open entrance to the court.
Teresa Stich-Randall Yes, but the thing that came with it, too, Studs, which was very important, which none of us really know too much in the world any place again, except Austria, they had then this tremendous gold pension for the rest of their life, but a very high one. That was when they had the gold florins, you know, and they--above and beyond their salary, which was also certainly they're always the best people, paid people in the country, but please don't misunderstand this now, this does not mean that singers in Austria would be paid anywhere in comparison to here or other places in the world. You must remember Austria is a small country with a very small economy.
Teresa Stich-Randall My dear, it's much more than that. You're God's own gift to mankind when you are a singer. They respect also their theatres, they have many theatres and they love their Kammerschauspieler, you see the same thing happened with the actors, but that came much later. The highest thing, the most respected position, the real aristocrats, in Austria--
Teresa Stich-Randall Is the singer. They also, of course, adore and worship their instrumentalists. But they have, and please don't ask me how, it's because I really don't know, they have this fanaticism, Professor Krips was mentioning the other day that after the war, and I know, because I walked in on the Occupation, it was still pretty bad, but, you know, immediately after the war Vienna was occupied by the Russians but it didn't have anything to do with the Occupation. It had to do with the bombing, and you know the last bomb that fell on the city fell right in the middle of the opera house. Isn't that terrible?
Teresa Stich-Randall (sic). And the city was bombed out. Now, we don't know what that means, but when a city is bombed to the ground, there's no electricity, there's no water, there's no running vehicles, you must remember there can't be anything as a bus or a tram or anything, none of this [group?] can run, because there isn't any. What was the first thing they had in '45?
Teresa Stich-Randall Somehow they scratched. And those people, those orchestra members bundled up like this, Professor Krips, the people up on the stage, no decorations, nothing, costumes probably they dragged out some old trunks that they might have found it, the first thing they did, Studs, was put the opera on its feet, and the first money they ever got, the Marshall Plan, everything went into the opera.
Studs Terkel So you think of, since you mentioned Vienna, you mentioned Krips, Maestro Krips, then we have to think of Mozart, don't we? Thinking of Mozart, we think of "Don Giovanni" and specifically in this instance, Anna, your Anna, who was Donna Anna? How would you interpret? Now, here's the three women in Mozart, three of the thousands, but the three we know of in "Don Giovanni", Elvira, little Zerlina the peasant girl, and then there's Donna Anna, the role you played. Who is she?
Teresa Stich-Randall your way of getting around-- No, I'm going to tell you-- Of getting out of telling me about-- I'm going to tell you, indeed, I'm going to tell you, but I'm just going to see if I'm going to fight with you or if it's going to be pleasant.
Teresa Stich-Randall No, tell me really and truly, are you one of those people with all of these millions of theories, including not just people with millions of theories, but the fact is that there are books, long, very big huge books like this--excuse me--written on--what this person--
Studs Terkel No, the word I want to get in is, that the enjoyment of the music is the big thing. To enjoy it. Okay. From there on in, everything is secondary. All right, now then, with that out of the way--
Teresa Stich-Randall Shall I tell you about Krips the other night? Somebody saying, you know, with all these stars around--I love that word. How can you have stars in an opera ensemble? Anyway, someone mentioned that and they said to him, who had been the star, and he said, "Well, the star of the evening was Mozart."
Teresa Stich-Randall I've been, you know, so I don't have to tell you, I started my career terribly, terribly young. I was a teenager in New York when Toscanini sort of discovered me, and I was off. So I've been singing and I've been thinking and I've been studying. I haven't been doing anything really except studying all my life because Mother, my absolutely adorable, darling mother always says, "Oh, heavens, why don't you get out and have some fun?" I said, "Well, it has never occurred to you or the other people who say this to me, that I've got everything. There's nothing else. There is nothing else. There isn't anything else I could care for. And there's nothing greater, Studs, but the reason I'm saying that is because I do work all the time on everything, and I don't like this part of it, but it's true, we do get older. And there's just, that's very obvious and I hope that everyone will agree with me because I can't see it any other way. As we get older, we obviously somehow, at least should expand. I use that word "expand" because I don't want to say wiser, because that's a mouthful to hope that anyone could get wise at all, to say nothing about being wiser. But the longer you live, the more impressions that are going to fleet across your life, the more impressions that are going to stop in your life, the more experience you're going to have, and so you're going to--yeah?
Studs Terkel As you're saying this, a parenthetical comment: Lotte Lehmann was speaking of this very point, and she was saying, if only she could sing right now, if only her voice were right now, she said, all her imagination, all she could do to Marschallin, much better now, and so she said this to Bruno Walter, [to Toscanini?], and he always says, "Of course, that's so if only we had the strength then," but as far as this--so--
Teresa Stich-Randall for her, because now she's teaching. And then take us, as a race, let's put it this way, it sounds funny but, you know, we almost are, singers. Where you have all the arts combined. You have painting, you have poetry, you have music, you have sculpture. Everything is combined. And there's your singer. All of the arts in that one supreme art: music. And then with that absolutely mysterious glorious gift of the voice. Why should my voice be different than yours or somebody else's, I mean,
Teresa Stich-Randall Well, that's another subject, but we'll talk about that next time we come to--But what I want to say is that they are different. I don't care what anyone says, they are different. They are different people, they're different from the moment their star ascends and they're, they're, what is it called, procreated? No, that's not the word. And they're born. They are different. They are, Studs, they are different. One thing they've got to have, otherwise they could never be a singer, and they certainly couldn't be--that you can sing, anybody can be a singer at home, but they can't be a singer on a stage whether it be recital, concert, or opera because you've just got to have that star, too. That gift on top of your, you know, all your stars, of projecting. And I think a great deal of that. Otherwise we couldn't do this. Has to do with an absolutely indescribable gift of, well, firstly, a sensitivity beyond description. And then this imagination. Now we're talking about maturing, growing older, and all of these pictures flitting across our TV machine for all of our life. Most of them with an ordinary person who is busy from eight until five or nine until six or something or other, goes home to the children, etc., etc., they'll just flit by. But you have this super-hypersensitive person, personality with this tremendous imagination which can be dangerous sometimes, and you can be sure that they are going to just grab and they don't go by, lots of them go by, but things that the average person wouldn't ever even retain ever, ever, in those 20 million cells, they're all retained. And, so, whether you want to or not, and if God is so good to give you the possibility to mature with these things, it's going to get richer and richer and richer, Studs.
Teresa Stich-Randall now. I'm thinking, no, no, this is great. But the whole, I had a point-- Because I'm thinking of an old joke. Because I wanted to tell you that I've matured in Donna Anna. Tell me the joke though, I think it's time for one, this is getting too serious.
Studs Terkel You think this, no, no, no, this is good. No, it's not a joke, you see, it's about this guy, says, "Why do I have headaches?" you know, and this man's explaining to him very technically, marvelous, it's Bert Lahr that's the guy who asked the question. And his straight man is--and it's going on for half an hour. He says, "Well, tell me. Why do I have headaches every time I look out the window?" You know. And he goes on and tells him the story again. It's building and, finally, and after it's all over, the last line of the skit is, "Tell me, that's great." He says, "Why do I have a headache every time I look out the window?" And so I'm asking you, now tell me about Donna Anna. No, of course I'm giving you a rib. The point is, you were saying you've matured in your growth of Donna Anna.
Teresa Stich-Randall Everything.
Teresa Stich-Randall Everything.
Teresa Stich-Randall I was a little tiny girl maybe of 13 or 14 when I first sang "The Trout" of Schubert and I still give it as a piece in every single recital I ever sing. And that thing has changed from year to year sometimes month to month. "The Trout" is "The Trout", but in the meantime although I was a country girl raised right smack in the middle of the wonderful Berkshire Hills in northwestern Connecticut and loved it and spent my youth running barefoot through the woods, really, my mother's right here if you don't believe it, you can ask her. A wild little Indian in the woods and water, and I suddenly knew what a trout was. I went walking miles with my daddy when he, with his boots on, would, Mommy would take us with the car and leave us off at the source of a tiny brook and we'd walk that whole thing on a Saturday morning. So I knew what the little speckled shooting trout was, but I don't think at nine or 10 or 14 or 16 or 18 and certainly at that time then when I was involved in a rather strange creating of a career, that I emotionally was at the stage I am today to tell that story, nor am I today emotionally at the stage, God granting I'm alive and still singing, to tell it 10 years from now.
Teresa Stich-Randall A break. Every single fish a break. And he'd spend days and mom will tell you that and my brother does the same thing. That's funny about fisherman. You've ever known any fisherman? They'll go out. My brother, when Bob came over Saturday, we called early Saturday morning, my brother works very hard all week long and he was still up about four or five o'clock to go up to the lake and they sit, Studs, for hours, or walk for hours. They don't have to catch a fish.
Teresa Stich-Randall Fishermen.
Teresa Stich-Randall Donna Anna. I don't like this complex taking-apart of these characters. Why don't we just take it like it is, black on white? So listen, dear. Donna Anna is a 16, 17-year-old girl.
Teresa Stich-Randall A Spanish daughter of a grandee. She's not just Spanish, but just let's take, just let's take being Spanish of that period. [If you?] take it of that period, they are still such honorable people, you know, they are very, very great, very--they have great form, they have great, great--
Studs Terkel Style.
Teresa Stich-Randall Style.
Studs Terkel Grace.
Teresa Stich-Randall Great style. And it hasn't changed. Spain has kept that. However, let us take the Spanish upbringing of a young girl, an ordinary young girl, and we know the tales of, to the day they get married and, perhaps, even then either their momma was behind them, and if not, in the case of a Donna Anna, was her amah, or whatever they call it, her chaperone. In any case, this is a daughter of a great house who would have been raised in the greatest tradition of honor. No, don't start--
Teresa Stich-Randall Well, that's it! This business of telling me-- No, that's what I wanted to hear you say. That this 16-year-old girl finds a man in her room who attacks her and she's going to now be madly in love with him after she sees, she comes out two minutes later when she--Firstly, why the heck is she fighting him if we're going to say she's in love with him and she wanted him to stay in her room or something, what's the whole reason of this first scene where she's fighting desperately and screaming and going mad until her father comes out and when she sees and realizes after all her father's not so old but she has been mishandled by this man and must feel how strong he is and when she sees him pull his sword all she can think of is to get off and get help and calls Don Ottavio, her fiance, to come and comes back and what does she find?
Teresa Stich-Randall Well, what else then is there for that girl in life except vendetta? And there is nothing silly at the end of the opera when she says to Don Ottavio, "Wait another year." It all fits into the tradition and the style of these people. Her father didn't die, but if he had died, there would still be an enormous wait in the tradition of the land before she could ever consider marrying. Her father was brutally disgustingly murdered. Think of the dishonor, of the tragedy in that child's life, that she has to get over and it very easily explains then this first aria.
Studs Terkel Violated.
Teresa Stich-Randall Violated, this deep--in any case, if it's possible to hate, there would be hatred, but I don't think they hated, but they despised, and I think the emotion, the greatest emotion is as I said, vendetta.
Teresa Stich-Randall Another thing, she stands on the stage in that quartet before her big aria comes when she recognizes his voice and sees him mishandle a lady that she says immediately when she sees her, "What a great lady. What a noble lady," and he takes her and pushes her around, that already she would say, "Who is this man, this Don Giovanni, to put his hand on a lady like that?" Or any woman, a Spaniard never would touch a woman.
Teresa Stich-Randall So that when he escorts her in his brutal way off the stage, the Donna Elvira and he comes back and he says he wants to follow her so that she doesn't create, commit any trouble, or try creating trouble, and then he says, "[Italian]," she recognizes the voice. And if you don't think I'm right, honest to Pete, Studs--
Studs Terkel Yes.
Teresa Stich-Randall Well, she says, "[Italian]," "That's my father's murderer!" And he said, "Good lord, what happened?" And she said, "Well, the last accents," "[Italian]," "the last accents, the whole voice, everything, and he said, "Explain to me," and then she tells the story, how she was quietly, "[Italian]," and then she describes that this creature most likely came in, I can only imagine it since it's a palace, there are marvelous balconies, and he very most likely came in through the balcony and the window covered with this mask and this cape and grabbed her, and, obviously there was a struggle which she then describes. He grabbed her, and grabbed her arms and with one hand tried to choke her voice. "[Italian]." "With one hand he tried to stop my voice, and with the other one" "[Italian]" "And with the other he grabbed me so hard on my hand that I thought I had lost." And then she struggles so much that he tries to flee, but she tangles herself in him and won't let him go and screams, of course, all the time keeps screaming, "[Italian]," "Servants, people, everybody, come, come help me." And then, of course, the call is heard and the father comes out with his sword and says, "Stop!" Oh, my heavens, I'm talking about the scene now and you asked me about the aria. But
Studs Terkel Prelude.
Teresa Stich-Randall Appeared. "[Italian]?" He wanted to know him? "[Italian]" that's a word I don't know how to translate. "[Italian]." "He was stronger than my poor father." "[Italian]." "Made fate with that terrible death." And then she turns around and you hear again this preparation for this aria, it's pianissimo in the orchestra but it's the basses and they go brr-ummp-pump-pump-pump, and she says, "[Italian]," what did I just say before, honor?
Studs Terkel Honor.
Teresa Stich-Randall "[Italian]." "Do you know the honor that was taken away from me?" "[Italian]" "that traitor, that miserable traitor." "[Italian]" "That he took my father away from me?" And then she says, "[Italian]," "I ask you for vendetta, I ask you from your heart." Because if they swear, Spaniards, on their heart, and then he does, he swears on his heart and his honor and on his love for me and on my eyes, "[Italian]," and then she says, "[Italian]," "Do you remember, the wound," the "[Italian]," "The cut where the knife"--
Teresa Stich-Randall "Is in his breast? Do you remember the earth covered with blood? And can't in yours as in my heart a just fury be?" And then she repeats, "You know the honor that has been taken away from me, and now vendetta."