Soprano  Andrea  Gruber

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


To say that Andrea Gruber has had her ups and downs would be a huge understatement.  Personal problems of various kinds have plagued her, but when she is on top of her game, she's a terrific singer and a thoughtful interpreter.  This interview from 2007 will deal mainly with that positive side of her career.

She was in Chicago for one of her signature roles - Turandot.   The performances were spread over early and late parts of the season (including Opening Night), and during the weeks when she returned, I had the chance to chat with this strong woman.  She was up-front about her own capabilities and foibles, and even shared some self-analysis. 

Here is that conversation . . . . .

Bruce Duffie:  Is it an added pressure or is it a good thing to have electronic devices around, now, in the opera world?  We know it's good for the business world, but is it good for the opera world?

Andrea Gruber:  I'm not terribly technological so I have the minimum.  I use my computer for email and shopping.  [Chuckles]

BD:  I see.  I just wondered if that had any impact on your artistic life at all.

AG:  No.  None at all.  [Chuckles]

BD:  Sometimes new things have changed lives . . .  Anyway, you've been in Chicago to sing both opera and concert.  Aside from the obvious, what are the major differences between singing a staged opera and singing a concert with orchestra?

AG:  You're a little bit more naked in front of the audience in a concert, and [bursts out laughing] I was a lot younger!  But aside from that, I don't really think that there is much of a difference.  I think that the more I sing, the more I try to make my operatic experience more like a concert in terms of the way that I sing.

gruber BD:  Really?  Less dramatic??

AG:  No, not less dramatic, but more personal.

BD:  Personal for yourself, or personal in relating to each member of the audience?

AG:  Personal in terms of honesty of expression towards the audience, and less general - more specific in thought, more specific in gesture, more specific in intention.

BD:  Are all of these things pre-planned, or is there anything extemporaneous about anything?

AG:  I think that it just has to do with my general ideas about music-making.  It doesn't have to do with planning, it just has to do with the way that I think about my interest in the way that I like to make music.  Granted, I'm not a Lieder singer in the sense that I haven't given those kinds of recitals, but in the sense of standing up in front of an audience and having something to say, despite the difference, obviously, in the size of the orchestra, versus a piano, or a string quartet.  You know you're telling a story and you're not wearing a big wig or a huge costume or a lot of stage makeup that puts a barrier in between you, and hides [gestures to her body] this or masks this from the public.  Aside from that, I think that it has to do with the honesty and simplicity with which you say what you have to say no matter how big or loud or intricate it is.

BD:  Does it change your vocal technique at all to have the orchestra behind you instead of in front of you?

AG:  [Without hesitation]  No.

BD:  Do you change your vocal technique at all when you're singing in a smaller house or a larger house?

AG:  [Emphatically]  No!

BD:  So you just sing the way you sing!

AG:  Yeah!

BD:  Obviously the size of your voice and what you're able to do with it dictates how you select your repertoire, but within that, how do you decide which roles you'll accept, and which roles you'll turn aside?

AG:  Largely has to do with what you feel comfortable with.  Unfortunately the only way you can tell that is by getting up and doing it.  You may be able to sing something in a room, but you get up with an orchestra and your colleagues and an audience full of people, and that's the only way you can have the experience.  Simply put, there's no other way to tell, there's absolutely no other way to tell - not even in rehearsal.  You just don't know.  You may have an idea and you may be almost sure, and you may make a wise decision based on all the information you're given; or you may just play it safe.  For example, I've made a decision not to sing something here in Chicago that I'd decided to sing, and thought, "You know what, it's too soon."  It's something I will absolutely sing, but it was something that I decided I don't want to sing it yet.  To say yes or no is usually based on, "This is for me," or "This isn't for me."  Obviously I'm not Despina, but for a Despina to say, "I shouldn't sing Brünnhilde," or something obvious like that, there's a question of whether it's vocally accessible or whether it's just artistically wrong.  We can have a conversation about people who have no business singing the roles they do, or whether I have any business either.  That's a personal decision that audience members may or may not agree with, but that's a whole other discussion. 

BD:  Once you're doing it, do you find, as you get more and more into the role, that you have more to say about it?

AG:  Absolutely.

BD:  Then let me turn the question around:  Are there roles that you find, perhaps you've plumbed all the depths and there's nothing more to get out of it?

AG:  There are things that I'm not really interested in singing anymore. 

BD:  So you just leave those roles alone after you've fulfilled the contracts?

AG:  Yeah.  Some of them the music is so beautiful, but I find [voice trails off in volume and energy] that I really have not much interest in singing anymore.

BD:  [Somewhat rhetorically]  You mean you have to be interested in a role before you sing it?

AG:  [With understated conviction]  Oh, yeah!  [Introspectively]  Life is too short!  [Chuckles]

BD:  [Chuckles]  Are you looking to expand your repertoire quite a bit?

AG:  Oh, yeah.  I want to sing Elektra of Strauss; that's my dream role.  Also Isolde, the Brünnhildes and Salome.

gruber BD:  Is there something special about singing a title character?

AG:  [Thinks for a moment]  Not necessarily.  Yes, in the sense that that's who the opera is written about, but Aïda could be Amneris or it could be Radamès.  The story revolves around the three of them.  Most tenors walk around with that score and it says Radamès on the front.  [Both laugh]  So singing a title character just for ego's sake, no, but to be a principal part of the story?  Sure!  That's exciting, and that's terrific!

BD:  Does it change the way you look at it because it's Aïda rather than Trio on the Nile?

AG:  No!  No!  That goes into the whole conversation of yourself as a human being who loves to sing, or yourself as a human being who's aware of all the bullshit that goes on out in the world, and the person on the street who says, [excitedly] "Oh, you're singing Aïda at the Met?  Who do you sing?"  "Aïda."  [Excitedly] "Ooh, you're Aïda?"  I'm not immune to that.  But for any other reasons?  No.

BD:  When you get up on the stage, are you portraying that character or do you actually become that character?

AG:  Ohh, you know, I don't really know.  I like to play, so I leave that up to the moment... [Pauses]  I don't really know.

BD:  I just wonder how emotionally invested you get into the character, and is it more when you're actually doing it or during the whole run of it - even on the days off?

AG:  Oh, God, I don't walk around as Aïda.  I'm not a nut job.  I've got a life.  Absolutely not.  No, it's when I'm up there.

BD:  [Facetiously]  You mean you want to be a real person???

AG:  I am a real person!  [With understated conviction]  Oh, yeah!  No, it's when I'm up there.  When I'm up there, I'm completely immersed in what I'm doing.

BD:  About how long does it take you to get immersed?

AG:  The second I walk out on stage.  Before that I can be hamming it up with the stagehands.

BD:  Really?

AG:  Absolutely.

BD:  In costume and makeup?

AG:  Absolutely.

BD:  Then when you're out there on the stage and you've become this character, are you distracted by the conductor waving the stick, or maybe a stagehand or something?

AG:  Sometimes.  I can have moments.  For example, I remember being in San Francisco singing Santuzza (Cavalleria Rusticana) in the old Zeffirelli production where you're on the stage from the second the curtain goes up when the first note is played until the second the curtain goes down.  It was during the World Series and the Yankees were playing, and I used to surreptitiously check the score out of the corner of my eye.  That's a very emotional role and I was playing it pregnant, and I was real wrapped up in what I was doing, but I had to know what was going on with my Yankees!  I was I very involved in what I was doing, but I did have enough of my little brain left over to check out the scores.  There is a part of me that's a nutso artist, but I can't afford to be all-consumed and walk around like one of those crazies who are so self-absorbed that they're almost an unpleasant caricature and they live in a world apart.  I'm sorry, but if that's great art I'd rather sell cosmetics at Bloomingdales.  I just don't have the emotional time for it.  I find that to be an illness and I just can't participate.

BD:  It sounds like a psychosis of some kind.

AG:  It is a psychosis to behave like that.  So my point is I do get involved.  When I was a kid, I did a little bit too much and went a little overboard once in a while, but not recently - not often, at least.  I still love to play up there and I certainly get very involved in what I'm doing.

BD:  I think you need to go a little bit too far in order to know where that limit is.

AG:  I've gone waaaayyy too far and paid a very dear price for it.  You have to.  [Chuckles] I'm lucky to still be here at 41, considering how far I went! 

BD:  Lucky mentally or lucky vocally, or both?

AG:  Both.  Both, absolutely.

BD:  How much care and feeding does it take to preserve the voice?

AG:  [In a matter-of-fact tone of voice]  Common sense.

BD:  That's all?  Just "common sense"?

AG:  Yeah.  I'm lucky.  I'm not very delicate, I'm really not.

BD:  Does it take someone who's robust to be an opera singer?

AG:  There are people who I see who are very delicate and I would lose my mind if I were like that.  If I had to live the way I see some of my colleagues living, I would shoot myself in the head.  Seriously.  I couldn't live like that.  I don't get sick.  I spent a lotta time sick, for many, many years, but now I'm very healthy vocally.  I've had a lot of health issues in terms of my back and my spine, but I don't get colds or infections.  My throat is very healthy.  I eat what I want, I can drink a gallon of milk and go out and sing, I can drink coffee, I can eat yogurt and ice cream; I can eat hot things and spicy things and salt, but I don't.  That's not me.  I don't have those problems.

BD:  It sounds like if you were going to eat all of that you'd wind up looking like Falstaff. 

AG:  Yeah, but I had gastric bypass surgery five years ago.  I was the first person [chuckles] to do it a long time ago.  Yeah.

BD:  Is it better for your vocal health to look more like these characters?

AG:  It's better for me, and therefore it's better for everything in my life.

BD:  So, then, the "Capriccio" question: how much is the music, and how much is the drama?

AG:  For me, it's everything.

BD:  Together?

AG:  Absolutely.  I hate to say that because inside I will always be the fat girl and I will defend the fat girl until I die.  Seriously!  But I am happier like this and I am more comfortable like this.  If I could've been happy at 320 pounds for the rest of my life I would've stayed there gladly, and I will defend somebody's right to do that till I die.  Unfortunately, I couldn't live like that.  I would have if I could and it kills me to watch people struggle because I will always know what that is.  It was a terrible struggle for me.  It was extremely painful and I was ridiculed, and I had directors say horrible things to me.  I was fired by famous people in famous places from new productions for my weight.  It was just a nightmare.  It was a nightmare and [pauses for a moment] I will never forget that.  Now I'm glamorous and now people love to dress me and it's just wonderful, and I will never forget it as long as I live.

BD:  Without mentioning names, do you not work with directors who were mean to you before?

AG:  It's not so much the directors, it's certain intendants in certain theaters.

BD:  So you don't go back!

AG:  Mm-hmm!

BD:  I hope we've made you feel welcome here in Chicago!

AG:  I never had a problem in Chicago, and I was fat here!  I made my debut here singing Odabella (Attila) when I was fat and I never had a problem.  They brought me back.  I wasn't at my heaviest, but I was quite fat.

BD:  It sounded fine to me, so I was happy.  If there was a Falstaff-type character that you were going to portray these days, would you put on the padded suit and everything?

AG:  [Without hesitation]  Sure!  Mm-hmm!  Sure!  Yep.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:  You seem to have a special affinity for Verdi and Puccini.  Does their music touch your heart in a special way?

gruber AG:  [In a low, sincere tone of voice]  Yeahhh.  When I was 21, before I came to the Met, I was in an Opera-Music Theater Institute Program with Jerry Hines in New Jersey.  The first year that he had the program I was with him and his wife, Lucia Evangelista.  I was a complete Wagner freak and Jerry and Lucia turned me on to Verdi and Puccini, but primarily Verdi at that point.  They're the entire reason that I discovered Verdi.  I never would've sung it; I never would've been interested in it.  They're the reason that I went to the Young Artists program at the Met in 1989, because the only thing I sang for Jim Levine was "Pace, pace mio Dio!" from Verdi's La forza del destino.  He didn't even hear any of my Wagner.  They introduced me to that whole world and I fell in love with it.  I will never forget what they did for me and what they shared with me, the love of that music and that culture.  I spend a lot of time in Italy; I love the culture, I love the country, I love the music, I love the people.  I just love the Italian repertoire.  I love everything about it, so it's very near and dear to my heart in a lot of ways.

BD:  It's one thing to sing "Pace, pace" but was it especially gratifying, then, to sing the whole role?

AG:  I actually sang the entire role, except for the first scene, when I was 21 years old with Alfredo Silipigni, who was my first conductor.  Though I sang "Pace, pace," and "Du bist der Lenz," from Die Walküre, which was truly the slowest "Du bist der lenz" anywhere because Silipigni had probably never heard it in his life.  But then Henry Lewis conducted for me, and we did Forza scenes.  We did the entire role of Leonora except for the first aria and the first little scene.  So at 21 years old, I sang almost all of Forza!  I'd never sung an opera or an aria or anything, except for "Pace, Pace" and "Du bist der lenz."  That was because of Jerry and Lucia.  So that was my first opera, and that ended up being the first opera I ever sang, because then Jim sent me off to the Scottish Opera when I was 24 to sing Forza in 1990, which was my first opera, and I sang eleven performances of it.  So Forza has a dear place in my heart.  It's an amazing piece of work.

BD:  Did you grow up liking opera, or was this something new for you?

AG:  My parents were very musical; they loved opera.  I'm a native New Yorker and I grew up going to the Met.  I remember being at times very fascinated and at times very bored by it.  But I was very musical.  I played the flute and the recorder from the time I was very young.  Music was a huge part of my life.

BD:  So you're not just a singer, then.  You're a musician.

AG:  [With understated conviction]  Oh, yeah.  I grew up a musician.  I was a flautist, and the fact was that I was very gifted but I hated to practice, so by the time I was twelve my gift was up here [makes a hand gesture indicating a high degree], and my willingness to work was about down here [makes an equivalent hand gesture, this time way down low].  I was at a conservatory in the summer at one of the state colleges playing the flute and I auditioned for the singing stuff.  The woman who ran the vocal department said, "You're incredibly gifted; you should study."  So I went back to the boarding school in Putney, Vermont, and I started to study.  I auditioned for two conservatories:  Manhattan School of Music and SUNY Purchase.  I got into Manhattan and went there for four years.  I took master classes with Birgit Nilsson my last year, and then I went to Jerry Hines's program and I went right to the Met!  It's funny; I'm going to give a master class at the Manhattan School of Music twenty years, almost to the day, that I took my master class with Birgit.  I'm going to give one this spring when I'm at the Met singing Turandot

BD:  Do you still hear her voice in your ear and feel her hand on your shoulder?

AG:  Absolutely, in many ways.  I stayed in touch with her.  I had a feeling that she was very ill because I'd lost touch with her about a year before she died, and that wasn't like her.  A couple times a year I'd get a card from her, or something and I stopped hearing from her, which let me know that she was, perhaps, in failing health,

BD:  Aside from Nilsson, do you feel that you're part of a lineage of singers?

AG:  I don't think I've earned that.  I've had too much inconsistency.  I think that that has, unfortunately, passed me by.  I don't know whether I can earn that back.  We'll see.

BD:  Why not?  If you do consistently good work now...

AG:  [Clicks tongue]  If I continue to sing for another fifteen, twenty years, possibly, I could.  I don't know.  We'll see.

BD:  Is that what you're looking for, to sing for another 15 or 20 years?

AG:  I have no idea.  I don't know.

BD:  I assume you're booked three or four or even five years in advance.

AG:  Yeah, I am, but the thing is that I can't answer that.

gruber BD:  Does it give you a secure feeling to know that you've got engagements next year and the year after and the year after?

AG:  [Without hesitation]  Yes, but it can change in a minute.  It can change in a minute.  People can cancel things on you.  The world is not secure.  The world of opera is not a secure place and you cannot take it personally.  It is very difficult.  [Chuckles uncomfortably]

BD:  Let me ask another balance question about opera:  how much is art and how much is entertainment?

AG:  [Thinks for a moment, then snickers]  I really can't answer that, because I am the person who's always trying to bring it to people who have never seen it before.  I don't mean that by bringing it in a way by changing it and bringing it, but I mean by bringing it in a real way, in an accessible way.  I bring people who never, ever would think that they could come to the Metropolitan Opera, showing them what it's really like.  I show them the costume department and a rehearsal and what it's really like, and that real people work here, all kinds of people.  I show them that it's not a rich white folk sport, that there are black people who work at the Opera.  I have black friends who never thought that they would step foot at the Met.  If it weren't for me, they would never know what an opera was!

BD:  Even though there's a tradition of Leontyne Price and Shirley Verrett?

AG:  [Dismissively]  They have no idea who Leontyne Price is.  That has nothing to do with their lives.

BD:  They did in the '60s and '70s...  [Vis-à-vis the photo at right, and the one below it, Gruber as Lady Macbeth in Verdi's Macbeth in the Seattle production of 2006.]

AG:  Yeah, but not the generation of black people that I'm talking about.  Not my peers.  Leontyne is a great woman, but I'm talking about a culture of kids who need to know that somebody understands them.  Not somebody who's grand and wants to bring them into their world, but somebody who wants to go to their world and say, "Let me show you a little bit of my world and I'm coming to your world to tell you about it.  Then I'm going to bring you to my world, but I'm going to talk to you because I know who you are and I'm going to show you where I live because it's a scary place." 

BD:  So this is not just a black thing, this is an all-pervasive thing.

AG:  Absolutely.

BD:  OK, then, one of my favorite questions:  how do we get more and younger audience into the theater?

AG:  How we do that is people like me who don't frighten people and who listen to hip-hop and rap and all that stuff in my dressing room, and who don't mind having people in my dressing room when I'm getting ready for a show, who enjoy having people around, and who take a great deal of pride in what we do and love sharing it.  I have people come and watch what I do and show them the joy in the experience of the theater and introduce them to the costume people and the wig people and the makeup people, and show them that there's a whole life of theater - not just the singers and the stars.  They see that there's a chorus and there's an orchestra and there's technical work to be done, and there's a whole world of theater out there.

BD:  I was going to say there's stagehands, and guys who swing a hammer.

AG:  Absolutely!  All those people are my friends and family.  So that's my mission and that's what I've been involved with in any way that I can be.  That's something that's been very important to me.

BD:  Do you feel opera is for everyone?

AG:  Not for everyone, but it should be accessible in some way.  Of course it's not for everyone.  I don't necessarily love the opera, I really don't!

BD:  So you're not good audience?

AG:  Not always.  There are things that I love to see, but fundamentally I don't just go to the opera because I love opera.  There are things that I love to see and to hear; there are people that I love to hear.  I don't just love beautiful singing; it doesn't interest me.  I want to see a great performance.  I want, I need to be moved.  Just to sit around and listen to somebody pretty, you're going to lose me after half an hour.  Seriously!

BD:  [Chuckles]  I believe you!

AG:  Not going to do it for me.

BD:  So you don't go to symphony concerts, then.

AG:  That's not true.  Live music I love.  I love a great symphony orchestra, yes, if it's played with great passion.  I'm interested in somebody like Simon Rattle.

BD:  So you're looking for excitement, then!

AG:  Yeah!  I want to be moved.  I want to have an experience.  I don't want to be finessed.  I don't want to be techniqued to death. 

BD:  So you infuse that excitement into all of your performances, I assume.

AG:  Yeah.  Sometimes I do a better job of it than others!  [Chuckles]  I mean, I understand that there's a certain standard and sometimes I have fallen beneath it.  That's not acceptable and I need to do a better job.  You're only as good as your last performance and I understand that.  I have suffered for that.

BD:  But you go out there every night assuming that you will do the best you can.

AG:  It depends on your emotional state.  There are times when I'm not in the best form and maybe I'm emotionally not at my best, so perhaps I'm not in condition to live up to my end of the bargain.

BD:  If someone would come to all the performances in a run, would that person know which nights you went onstage and were kind of pissed off at someone or something?

AG:  No, it's not a matter of being pissed.  It never has anything to do with that.  It's never about being pissed off at someone.  It has to do with where I am with myself.  It's never about anybody else.

BD:  So then you're using opera as psychoanalysis!

AG:  No.  It's not about opera, it's just about me.  [Chuckles]  It's just about me being okay and having to find a way to sing.  It's just that unfortunately your vocal cords are a living thing; you can't just get up and turn it off and then get up and sing.  Some people do it better than I do.  I know plenty of people who can be a complete mess, and they can get up and do it anyway.  Unfortunately I don't do as well as others at separating where I am with how I'm singing.

BD:  Do you ever wish that the voice in the throat was more like a flute - you know, take it apart into three pieces and put it in the case at night?

AG:  I don't really think about it because it's not an issue.  You know, why bother?

BD:  Perhaps you could replace the head joint once in a while?  [Both chuckle at this thought]

AG:  Yeah, clean it out and toss it in the closet.  I sometimes wish I could change my embouchure, but I can't do it.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:  Let me ask the big question:  what's the purpose of music?

AG:  [Thinks for a moment, then speaks in a comically refined tone of voice]  To soothe the savage beast.  [Chuckles slightly]

BD:  [With mock impudence]  That phrase has already been used. 

AG:  It's a very personal question!  I have no idea; for everybody it's different.

gruber BD:  [Gently]  What is it for you, then?

AG:  [Thinks for a moment, clicks tongue, then thinks some more]  It brings peace, it brings comfort, it invokes feelings, it takes you away, it brings you here.  It does all kinds of things.  I'll never forget, I sang a performance of Lohengrin in Seattle when I was probably about 24, the only Lohengrins I ever sang.  I was backstage when a young man came up to me and he was obviously dying of AIDS.  People around me were very strange; they looked like they were trying to keep him away from me, and I couldn't figure out why.  Maybe he had a little bit of dementia and they were worried that he would make me uncomfortable, which was ridiculous.  I told the stage people to let me alone and we just went into a corner and talked.  He was crying, and he was messy, and I was crying and I was messy!  I was in a really bad place in my life at that point, and he says, "I just wanted to thank you because you gave me three hours of peace."  That man didn't look like he had had a minute of peace in quite some time, and my life was a fucking mess at that point, so the idea that I could have given anybody any kind of peace was pretty extraordinary.

BD:  Was it you that gave him peace, or was it the Wagner?

AG:  The point is that for whatever reason, I was put in a situation where I happened to be singing the music that gave him the peace.  He put it in those words - I gave him the peace.  So my being a part of the music that touched him, he chose to express it to me, and for whatever reason, it was at a time when I needed somebody to let me know that I was part of something that mattered.  That meant a lot to me.  I never heard from him again, never saw him again, don't know how much longer he lasted, but I'll never forget that because it wasn't one those grand old moments, it was very sloppy and it wasn't pretty, and it wasn't like, [in an excessively blissed-out, breathy tone of voice] "Oh, you gave me three hours of peace."  Music does a lot of things!  Music is great to [gradually lapses into the caricatured voice of an overeager bubblegum-chewing teenage girl] get ready to go out to, and, you know, put on your makeup and smoke some cigarettes and get ready to go out and, you know, drink a glass of Coke and, you know, dance around the house, and [back to her normal voice] listen to really loud 50 Cent . . .  It has so many places in the world.  You have memories that you put a song on, or you can smell something and you think of a song.  It's an incredible thing.  Music is everywhere, it's part of everybody's life.  I can't think of anybody who doesn't like music.  There can be a million different kinds of music, but everybody has some kind of music in their life.

BD:  Is it a good thing that it is so all-pervasive?  You can't get away from it - in corridors, in elevators, in book shops, in restaurants!

AG:  Yes!  I think it's terrific!  I hate Muzak.  Sure!  I can't stand it, but what I'm saying is that can you think about anything else in the world...  [Pauses for a moment]  Even food, there's anorexia and there's bulimia.  People have turned something wonderful like food that everybody needs to live, into something that is horrible.  Granted there is Satan rock and white power music, but my point is just that everybody has some kinda music in their life and there's some kind of music for everybody.  That's a pretty incredible thing in a world that's so divisive and divided.

BD:  When you're out on stage, are you conscious of the audience?

AG:  Oh, absolutely!  I'm there.  [Chuckles]  When people get up and leave, I know they're going!

BD:  I hope that doesn't happen very often!  [Laughs]

AG:  Oh, it does!  It happens a lot after Liù's death.  There are lots of places when we do the Alfano ending where people get up and leave.  Here in Chicago this time around, they're not leaving.

BD:  Hmm!  I guess I just can't imagine leaving a satisfying performance, but then I sit up in the top balcony, and we don't leave.

AG:  Because you guys really know your stuff.  It's the main floor, where people have [with mock weariness] their diamonds getting heavy.  [Both chuckle]

BD:  But if music is to be for everybody, then it's got to be for these diamond-heavy people, too.

AG:  Absolutely.  They should come and listen.  Look, I'd rather they get up and leave than stay and boo.  I have a very strong feeling about that.

BD:  Really?  There are directors who would rather they would stay and boo their controversial creations. 

AG:  Well, bully for them.

BD:  [Laughs]  Are you at the point in your career that you want to be right now?

AG:  [In a breathy half-chuckle, accompanied by a wave of the hand, as if such a thing were out of the question]  No!  But that's my own thing.  I don't mean my career in terms of, "I want to be more famous," or make more money, it's not that.

BD:  Now, in terms of your vocal health and your repertoire and all of that.

AG:  Yes.  My vocal health?  Absolutely.  I'm singing very well, absolutely.  My repertoire, I'm not sure.  That's always a question.  Don't know.

BD:  Are you heading into the Wagner?

AG:  I'm holdin' out!  Like I said, I'm 41, so I'm holding out.  I'm waiting.

BD:  Can you know when it's the right moment?

AG:  [Thinks for a moment]  I hope so.

BD:  Will you know when it's right, or will those other ears that you trust out in the audience know and tell you?

gruber AG:  The combination of us will know when it's right.  The thing is, it's not a matter of when it's right, it's a decision that I have to make, that I'm going to be ready to give up some of the things that I do now.  It's a matter of time and it's a matter of being willing to schedule things.   The way I see things, once you schedule a lot of that, you have to give up a lot of the other.  I'm not going to be able to sing 50 Turandots a year if I'm singing Ring Cycles.  I'm just not.  I like singing 50 Turandots a year [shown at left in the Met production.].  Believe it or not, it's been wonderful for me and it hasn't hurt my vocal health!  For me it's been a wonderful thing!  I sing a lot of coloratura in Attila and Nabucco.  I sing a big sustained high D in Nabucco and there's absolutely no reason, technically, that I can't keep doing it.  But when you sing a lot, a lot, a lot of music that sits a little bit lower, the voice shifts, and I won't know exactly what will happen until I do it!  But once you do it and ya find out, [chuckles] then you can't go back if the answer is it takes it away!  So those are decisions that I have to make and be willing to have the consequences.  Right now I don't want to know!  [Chuckles]  So that's why I'm not making the decision.

BD:  You want to keep what you've got!

AG:  Exactly.

BD:  Is it hard at all to keep each night of Turandot fresh?

AG:  I don't know.  I love it and I've got a very active imagination, so I've got all kinds of things going on.

BD:  At some point would you want people to be able to see what's in your mind?

AG:  Naaah.  It's nobody's business.  [Chuckles]  It's my own private stuff. 

BD:  One last question:  I assume singing is fun?

AG:  [In a very understated, relaxed, low tone of voice, almost a whisper]  It's pretty fun.  It's wonderful.  I wouldn't do it if it weren't fun.

BD:  Good!  I'm glad you've been here in Chicago and I hope you will return!

AG:  I hope so!

BD:  Thanks so much for the conversation. 

AG:  Thank you.  It was very interesting for me.

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© 2007 Bruce Duffie

This interview was recorded in the office-suite of Lyric Opera of Chicago on January 25, 2007.  This transcription was made and posted on this website in 2008. 

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.

Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.