Sunday, May 29, 2016

Interview with John Chest, baritone

Foto: Andrey Stoycher

Suzanne Daumann

As I meet John Chest at the artist’s entrance to the Grand Théâtre in Angers, he’s just back from the dead. He has been a thrilling Don Giovanni in an exciting new production by Moshe Leiser and Patrick Caurier. We settle in a café for a quick drink before he goes off to celebrate the end of the run with the rest of the cast.

SD: John, will you miss this Don Giovanni now?

JC: No, not really. I’m a bit tired now, we had eight performances and I’m ready to move on. It’s been a fantastic time though, and it was a joy and a privilege to work with Moshe and Patrick. In this production, everything was thought through and made sense, and we were never left alone. That is not always the case. Especially in Germany, I sometimes have to sing in repertoire performances and then I go home thinking “Oh well”. Working on a new production is something completely different from coming into a repertoire production, where you sometimes have no rehearsal at all, you just go out and sing. I had to take on Papageno this way, and it was a bit scary, especially as Papageno is the scariest part of all for me.

SD: Because of the spoken text?

JC: Yes of course. Musically it is not so very demanding, but you need to get the dialogues right, and for a non-native speaker, that is a bit scary.

SD: You are a member of the Deutsche Oper now, right?

JC: Yes, until next year. They are being very good to let me go sing elsewhere already now, and as of next year, I’ll only sing a few performances with them.

SD: I tried to do some homework prior to meeting you, but there is not a lot of info on the net; you don’t even have a homepage?

JC: There is no need for that, as long as I get work.

SD: And so you’ll have to tell me yourself how you came to be an opera singer.

JC: I come from a musical home; my father plays the clarinet in an orchestra. Opera wasn’t much of a topic at home, and my father’s orchestra did not do much opera work, but they did some. I heard Tosca for the first time when I was six years old. So making music came natural to me, and I took up the clarinet for quite some time. In high school I sung in the choir, and enjoyed it, and people seemed to think I had a voice. So when I started to wonder what I should study in college, I considered a few options and finally decided on singing. At first it was more about the theory and the techniques, in view of becoming a teacher. One of my teachers saw a certain potential in me and encouraged me to go for a career as a performer. I owe him a lot!

SD: You take on your parts 100 %, with total abandon, don’t you?

JC: Is there another way?

SD: Not everybody has the guts to go that extra bit.

JC: It’s true, I like to perform for a public, I thrive on the attention.

SD: I talked to someone the other day that sings mostly lieder and he said more or less that he could sing just as well without a public.

JC: Lieder is something completely different though. In an opera production, you are surrounded by the cast, the orchestra, you have the stage director and the musical director… In a lieder recital, you’re alone and as it were naked on the stage.

SD: According to the booklet, you enjoy doing lieder recitals?

JD: I do, but they are hard to come by! Today, there are maybe five or six people who can fill a whole opera house for a song recital. Some time ago, I had a recital at the Essen Philharmonie. It’s a giant house, designed for 1500 people or so, and only 200 places were sold. They organize the recitals in that hall, because of its spectacular acoustics, and I was informed beforehand, but it’s kind of daunting to sing for a handful of people in a practically empty hall.  For the near future, I have one recital coming up, in London’s Wigmore Hall in January 2017. We’d like to present it somewhere else, beforehand, but if we don’t find a venue, we might just organize a private event in someone’s living room.

SD: Thank you very much, John, for joining me tonight, and all the best! 

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