Bass Franz Hawlata
By Bruce Duffie
The Bavarian-born singer-actor Franz Hawlata [HAHV-lah-tuh] is eager to
say that he enjoys experimental stagings. Besides mentioning it
in the interview below, the photos show him in various updated
productions of his signature roles. His wide-ranging grasp of
music comes from having studied musicology, and his visions extend
beyond just the roles in his repertoire to a long-range goal of running
an opera house!
The details of his career so far are included in the biography
reproduced at the end of this webpage. After showing us his
Daland in The Flying Dutchman
of Wagner, Chicago has been fortunate to have had him portray the
central characters in two Strauss operas — Baron
Ochs in Der Rosenkavalier,
which had sets based on the original production, and Barak in Die Frau ohne Schatten.
It was in March of 2006, during the run of Rosenkavalier that I had the
pleasure of speaking with Hawlata. Hansom and athletic with a
very youthful face, his English was very good, but occasionally an odd
word or strange turn of phrase would creep into the conversation.
Some of those have been smoothed out, but a few have been left in to
give the flavor of his speech. He was a jolly fellow and his
humor shows through the discussion . . . .
You’re pretty well known these days as
Baron Ochs. Do you like being known for one role or would you
rather be known for a range of roles?
I’d rather be known for a range of
I’ve tried and I’m still trying. Now I’m doing, for example,
Hans Sachs, which I discovered is a new key role for me.
BD: It’s a
Yeah. I wanted to wait until I’m
forty, and now I’ve done it and I’m doing it in Bayreuth. So
that’s going to be, hopefully, a new signature role for
me. But I love this part [Ochs] and I love Richard Strauss, but I
rather want to be known for a wide range of repertoire.
BD: So how do
you decide which roles you will
sing and which roles you will not sing?
trouble in our business is that if you are very good in something,
everyone wants to have you
for that. And sometimes you just have to regulate that a little
bit and just drive it down. The problem is I did five revivals of
this piece in Paris and four revivals of it in New York. Now I
choose the places where there are people who are important for me,
personally or business-wise, and I just go there and sing it.
But actually I want to drive it down as far as I can. The
performance on Saturday
was my four hundredth performance of this piece, which is a little too
BD: But you
don’t want to retire it?
FH: No, but I
will be very particular with saying yes
to offers. We’re doing a DVD in 2009 with
Thielemann, and that might be the last time.
BD: And then
you say farewell to it?
FH: I will
say farewell, because that’s a good
moment to say farewell.
BD: Do you find that
DVDs are competing with you in the theater, or is it a
good addition to the theatrical performances?
[Photo at left: Hawlata as Ochs in Act II]
can compete with a live evening in the
theater. The sound, the smell and the atmosphere you just
can’t re-create. Actually I’m not very fond of DVD and
CDs, but for certain things we can hear the history. For example,
in the history of
Rosenkavalier, since the first
performance there was always one group every twenty-five or thirty
years who sang
it and they went around the world.
First it was Hilde Gueden, Ludwig Weber, Marie Reining and Lisa Della
Casa; then came Sena Jurinac and then
Schwarzkopf, and so. Now we have this group again and we did more
than a hundred performances together. Susan Graham and I are the
key people, and for most performances, the
Marschallin was Renée Fleming. So that is the bunch of
people who do it now. And every generation had a recording,
which I think is a nice idea to have each period of twenty-five
years. That’s more like a collection item than the equivalent of
a real theater evening. It’s more just a remembrance or memory, it’s
a souvenir or collection item. Therefore,
DVDs and CDs are good.
BD: Now you
have this little group that goes
around to many places. Is it more difficult or less difficult
when you come to a
different production and you have to come in a different door or do
a little different staging?
it’s less difficult because
what Susan Graham is doing, I know even without turning myself. I
don’t have to look at her because we spent more
time together than with our actual partners! [Both laugh] I
know every single detail she does. She just gives me a little cue
what she’s doing tonight, and I know
exactly what happens.
BD: Then do
you fight with the directors when they
try to get you to do something different?
FH: No, we
don’t. We are as free as we can manage to be. When you do a
role this often, the effect should be that you
are really comfortable in this part;
you are very secure and self-confident, and then you can do
everything. I did weird modern productions in this piece and I
didn’t say anything against it. I just tried to fill the
character the way the producer wanted.
BD: Do you
leave it up to the producer, or do you suggest a few extra ideas?
FH: Of course
you give ideas. This piece follows me now for many years, maybe
twenty times a
year. So this is really a piece I understand! There are
certain things you think about how
the character should be. Or you
have certain ideas how the character definitely should not be, and that
is, I think, the better way to put it. You have to
make that clear to the producer; otherwise I’m pretty
open. I’ve played every character out of Ochs, everything
possible, I think!
BD: From the
other roles you are
offered, how do you decide, yes you
will sing it or no you won’t sing it?
FH: First and
foremost is the character because I’m
an acting singer. I’m very interested in acting parts and
not so fond of standing-around parts. So that’s first.
Sometimes I just love the pure sound of the music, but this should be
done in concert. If you do an Elijah
or a Creation or Matthew Passion, then I
celebrate music, but when I do an opera it’s always
connected. I always try to find these interesting acting
parts, like Wozzeck or Hans Sachs or Ochs or La Roche in Capriccio
or Barak or Oreste in Electra
— things like this. All the
Mozarts are just amazing, except Sarastro who only stands around.
[Both laugh] But Figaro is wonderful and Leporello is a
sensational acting part. Then in Verdi you have Falstaff, or
Phillip II in Don Carlo
— which is a wonderful acting part, though it is not always
done like this — or the Mephistos. So you
have great characters in opera and that’s the first thing I’m looking
at. Then it’s the house, then it’s the conductor,
then it’s the producer, then it’s the colleagues, then it’s my
schedule — whether I’m fully booked or not, whether I have time, and if
can concentrate on it. And if everything fits together I accept!
BD: So it has
to be right for all of those items?
FH: Oh, yes.
BD: You can’t
leave one of them out?
no. The good thing about having a world
career is you can really choose it, and that’s what I’m doing
BD: Do you
make sure that you leave enough time for
you — off time, non-singing time?
must. I have two small children who
just ask for their time. They need Daddy around. I’ve tried
different models. This year, I just tried to
make one big working block, and then I’m doing one big block more or
free, or close to the family. You can’t get
more than two months free in a year because otherwise you are
away. You have to work at least ten months a year. But you
can choose the places where you can be
close to the kids, which for me is Salzburg, Bayreuth, all
the Italian houses, Vienna and Munich. That is the corner
where I can stay with the family, or I’m in quick range. Munich
and Salzburg always gets an additional favorite “yes”
course. Is there a secret to
yeah. Don’t explain! Don’t
explain the music; let it flow through you as beautifully as you
can. Don’t try to explain anything because that
would be explaining the unexplainable. Just be a medium.
I think this is the secret for Mozart. Be as free as you can and
just let it flow through you.
Mozart speak through you?
FH: Let the
music speak through you. Don’t
put anything against it or in the way.
BD: Is it
Mozart going through you, or
Da Ponte going through you?
FH: In this
particular case, it’s a congenial; I think
this is the couple of opera. Hofmannsthal and Strauss came pretty
close, but the first real
combining couple between words and music is Da Ponte and Mozart.
They can’t be separated, so if you sing Mozart’s music in the Da
Ponte operas, there can’t be any word different than they put it.
BD: You sing
in the various
houses and they’re of different sizes. Do you adjust anything for
small house or a large house?
Actually what I found out is that the
bigger the house, the more you have to watch your technique.
Basically there’s only one singing
technique, which is the Italian bel canto technique. That is
basic for everything, whether you sing Wozzeck or Ochs or Mozart or
Verdi or Puccini. And the bigger the house is, the more you have
to watch your technique and the more carefully you have to sing because
the voice has to project. Projection is just what we learn,
what our technique is. It’s not about body mass or something
it’s just the projection, the technical value of the sound you
make. So in big houses, you have to be a little more
careful. That’s the only difference. Otherwise when I sing
Bayreuth, at the Met, at the Vienna Volksopera or anywhere, I sing
the same, technically.
BD: Do you
take advantage of special acoustics of the
FH: You do.
For example, here in Chicago you
can sing as soft as you like. You wouldn’t believe! It’s a
wonderful projection, especially with very soft notes. We found
that out. For example, if you have colleagues like Susan
Graham, she just sits out in the house at rehearsal and says, “Wow,
really good! Do that more.” And I do the same with her
you can’t hear yourself. That is the mystery about singing!
If we always could hear ourselves, that would be
easier. You need colleagues or conductors or
people you trust who just sit out there and say how far you come down
or how far
you have to go up.
BD: I would
conductor would be in the worst place to hear the
the problem. He has the worst place
because he’s so close to the orchestra. Most conductors have
an assistant who just walks around in the house and checks the
balance. But Chicago has a great acoustic for the size of the
house, I have to say.
very fortunate, and we know this about our house. Maybe that’ll
encourage you to return?
FH: Yes, I
will. We already have one contract which is already signed, which
is in September
’07. I’m doing a new production of Frau ohne Schatten here.
BD: You will
yeah, with a very good cast, an
unbelievable, world-class cast. So that might be thrilling.
BD: We look
forward to that!
FH: Yeah, so
do I! Some Strauss again!
And then we’re talking about various things which I am not allowed to
BD: Do you
like being booked two, three, four
years in advance?
FH: I’ll tell
you when I signed this contract.
We are now in the year of 2006; I signed this contract in ’97.
years ago, which is scary in
a way because I didn’t know whether I’d be alive or still want to
sing. But with American houses, Chicago is
special and is very good in far advanced booking. If
they really want someone hard, they make a decision. They book,
and then it takes place exactly at the time they want it.
BD: So we’re
Yeah. I have to say it’s maybe the
best-organized opera house in the world, because there is a direct line
between [General Director] Bill Mason and everyone. He is around
and you can talk to
him. It’s a very open atmosphere. Everyone can say what he
wants to, so it’s very easy; decisions are very quick.
And at some houses in Europe, and also in America, it’s very, very
BD: Well, I’m
glad you’re happy about that.
FH: Oh yes, I
BD: You sing
roles which seem to be more baritone than bass, such as Papageno, or
even Wozzeck. They’re a little higher.
Yeah. I have an impresario who is very, very good, who used
to be Herman
Prey’s private secretary. I’m so lucky that I met him! He
used to be the chief of Philips Classic Recording Company and
he really knows about voices; he just hears what a voice
can do and cannot do. We’ve worked
together since ’92, and I always took his advice. When he heard
me singing the low bass repertoire, he always said,
“There is something in your high notes which I think will lead to the
higher parts.” And now we are just very careful in choosing the
BD: Just a
few things once in a while?
once in a while. The problem is I have contracts for
Osmin and Ochs five and six years ahead. So I have to be really
careful when I’m doing the new things, or when I’m doing a Wotan.
If I do a Wotan, for example, I can’t do anything low before for four
weeks, and at least two months afterwards because the voice is so
pushed up. Then you have a problem with singing the
low stuff. I now try to do Wozzeck and then Ochs, and they work
perfectly well because now I’m pretty familiar with how these higher
parts go. We slowly extend the repertoire and slowly
cut the repertoire on the bottom parts. I will do
my last Osmin in Salzburg this year and that’s it. I’ve done
nearly two hundred
Osmins, so that’s going away. Younger people or real full
black basses should do that. Then in 2009-10 I will stop
Ochs. So for every role we cut in the bottom, we just add one
in the high repertoire.
BD: So you’re
slowly going up?
Yeah. Every healthy voice
Eventually you’ll sing tenor?
FH: [With a
hearty laugh] No, no, no. I would never sing
tenor because the characters are so boring!
BD: Don’t you
want to get the girl???
no. I just want to have the character. I just want
to show the fight in man. Tenors are too easy! They scream
a high C and then
they get the girl. That’s boring! [Both laugh]
BD: Is there
any role that you sing which is
perhaps a little too close to the real Franz?
there is one, and I have to say it’s the
role I’m singing here in Chicago next — Barak.
It is such an unbelievable part! The
end of Barak really goes incredibly close to my heart, because I can
understand — not that I have a bad wife — but I can understand this man
much; the feelings and this normal, wonderful, down-to-earth kind
of way of thinking. That is very close to me, and the same
is true of Hans Sachs, by the way. Hans Sachs is a man full of
and a kind of naughtiness, but his thinking is very down-to-earth.
BD: If there
was no Walther von Stolzing, would he
have been happy with Eva?
Yeah. Not only he would be happy with Eva,
I think Eva would be much happier with him than with Walther von
Stolzing. Look at how
simple Wagner described Walther and how complex he described Hans
Sachs; also how much time he uses to describe the character of Hans
Sachs and how complex his music is. On the other hand, Walther is
always singing in E flat major and it’s always high notes. That’s
the tenor. So I think the sympathy is very strongly on
the side of Hans Sachs. In the
third act Sachs says, “You know, I love you, but I don’t want
to end up like King Marke.” It’s just so
wonderful! It’s so human and he loves her so much!
And the other way around, too. But like the Marschallin says, if
someone, then you have to let him go.
BD: So these
are real people?
Yeah. This is what I’m so interested
in! Wozzeck, for example, is a real man; he’s not crazy
at all! I’m fighting every director when I do it, that he is
crazy from the beginning. He’s not! He’s a very normal man
and just his surroundings make him crazy.
BD: So everyone else
is crazy but he is all right?
[Photo at left: Hawlata as Wozzeck]
FH: That’s it
exactly! And the unfaithfulness
of Marie — she’s driven into that, too. She’s not unfaithful by
nature. She’s driven into poverty through all the
social surroundings. That is the real tragedy about this
piece. If he’s crazy from the beginning, it’s not a real
tragedy. It’s a human tragedy if he’s not.
BD: Is it
right that he does die in the end?
FH: He must
die in the end. It’s like every genius masterpiece. I think
the death of Wozzeck
is very similar to the death of Don Giovanni — a
dies. It’s not a human being; a symbol dies and the world
is poorer without Don Giovanni and without Wozzeck. I think
Wozzeck is a thinking man,
a down-to-earth thinking man, a normal thinking man in a crazy
society. This piece is really modern and it hits the
target! Like Don Giovanni — he’s the dream of every woman and
when he’s dead, there’s a big, big loss.
BD: I guess
we all aspire to be a
little bit Don Giovanni!
yeah! Who wouldn’t? I’d like to be like Wozzeck. I
to kill my wife, but this way of thinking, this creative, wonderful
connection to nature; the things he can hear in nature or see in
nature no one else can see. It’s misinterpreted as being
crazy. I think he’s like a visionary,
someone who sees more than other people.
kind of dancing
around it, so let me ask the real easy question — what
purpose of opera?
wow! You want an easy answer to that?
[Both laugh] It’s an easy question, but a hard
answer. It’s always good if you say what’s not the purpose
of opera. I think it’s not a museum. I think it’s not
playing old pieces the same way all over again just to select
people. That is not enough. Part of it is good, part of
singer stardom is very good, it’s normal. But if we don’t watch
out, we end like the classical ballet which is seen by a couple of
experts, and the widespread art of opera will lose their
viewers. That’s the problem. We have to be, I think,
our time with the people in our style. That doesn’t mean we
have to do all modern productions. The thing is we need young,
fresh, modern actors and singers, and they have to behave like
people of today. And we have to get this medium — opera
— as close to
people as we possibly can, which is not done by Three Tenor concerts,
and not done by crossovers and singing Cole Porter
songs, no. It is done by finding a language which everyone is
able to speak.
BD: Are the
works that you sing for everyone?
FH: They are.
they are potentially for everyone. If you go to the Vienna State
just amazing! The first ten rows are all
Japanese people. You just ask yourself what the heck
are you doing here? You don’t understand. They see
Meistersinger, Parsifal, Wozzeck, Die Tote Stadt — all
really difficult, long pieces, and they love it! They might sleep
an hour and then
they wake up, but they love it! So it is for everyone. I’m
sure it is for
everyone. Opera is the
combination of music and poetry — which is the
wonderful thing about
opera — but I think this
combination is so modern and has so much potential, that it will
always survive. We just have to find the language of our
time. We shouldn’t go back or reheat — re-microwave
— opera. We just have to cook it new every day.
BD: Is there
some way to get more of the rock
audience into the opera house?
FH: There is
a way, I think. For example, one way is new producers. The
crossover of film
and opera is very important, from my point of view. It should be
done much more in the States. All the good Hollywood producers
should really get interested in opera because film and movies is such
a big thing in the States. If you are a clever opera manager,
you use this popularity of people and just get them — like they had in
Los Angeles where George Lucas was supposed to do the
Ring, which is horribly
difficult because his animations are so
expensive! So they just postpone it and postpone it and try to
find money for it. But this is a great idea! Or Steven
Spielberg, or Jim Jarmusch, or whoever! Quentin Tarantino would
be fantastic for opera, fantastic!
they get some of these things on
film. How will that then add to, or detract from the live
performance after that?
no. You don’t have to get it on
film. You have to get the names in the big opera houses.
BD: Oh, I
see, get them to produce it live!
FH: Get them
to produce it live; that is much
more interesting. That’s what happens in Europe a lot, now.
In Paris, for example, they just did a Don Giovanni with Michael
Haneke, who is one of our most inventive and creative filmmakers in
Europe. They tried in Bayreuth with Lars von Trier, who
then just decided not to do it; but the idea is to get these
people who are very popular with the cinema audience into
the big opera houses and attract young people who know their
movies. That’s one good idea, I
it is good, that they aren’t steeped in this tradition; they bring
FH: That is
exactly what we need! That is the good double
consequence. First of all, people go to the movies. They
know Quentin Tarantino; they know Pulp
Fiction; they know
Jurassic Park. There was
a big discussion whether Steven
Spielberg is doing the Magic Flute
in Salzburg, which is a fantastic
idea by Gerard Mortier. It didn’t work out because he didn’t
have time, but this is the
idea. People think, “Oh, Spielberg is
doing opera! I have to see that!” That’s
one effect, and the other effect is that Spielberg might have not seen
an opera before — or this opera before — so he
just does it
with his film language and with his new ideas. I call it the
serious crossover; not the cheap, popular crossover, but the serious
crossover. In this country you have such amazing lot of good
filmmakers. This is the country of film, and
every great director was in the States, or lives in the States, or has
studied in the States. So there is a huge potential!
BD: So you
want to tap into this?
FH: Yeah, I
would love to. I would love to.
BD: You don’t
to be specific, but are there new pieces being written that will take
their place alongside Mozart and Verdi and Wagner and Strauss and Berg?
FH: This is a
big problem you’re talking
about. Opera is so expensive nowadays; it always
was, but the risk of taking on a new piece and just selling it
five times is, for most of the people, too big and they just
don’t take it. That’s why contemporary opera is dying.
singers are lazy, they just refuse to learn this very difficult
music, modern music. This has to be changed. I would love
to sing contemporary opera, but there are no
BD: If you met with
a composer, what advice
would you have for him or her?
[Photo at left: Hawlata as Hans Sachs]
FH: A very
simple one. I met Elliot
Goldenthal — he wrote the music for the Alien movies — a very good film
composer. He actually wrote a musical and asked that I should
play the main
part. He asked me the same question and I said,
“Just sing along when you write. Sing along and write with your
ears, not with your brain. If you write for a
singer, write with your vocal chords. Try to sing it. Stand
up and try to sing what you just wrote.” Then you get
this feeling for melody — like Verdi had or
Wagner or Mozart
or Strauss. I’m sure Strauss hummed his way along the whole time
when he wrote because every line is so singable and
so vocal-oriented! We have a couple of young
composers in Germany who are doing exactly this now, and the system has
to be very careful in not killing them, but helping them
and not being too harsh to them. We must create an atmosphere
of experimentation, of the joy of trying out things.
BD: Are you
optimistic at all about the future of
FH: I have to
say I’m not. It
would be a huge, huge, huge effort for everyone who is taking part in
this business to bring this back to normal, like let’s say around the
time of Strauss. They had six new operas a year and one Mozart,
one Verdi and one Wagner. That was
it. If we are lucky, we have one new opera every six
years! Everyone, including the people who give the
money are very important. I was visiting ten donor dinners and
was talking about this. “Just don’t give your
money for Verdi and Wagner and for the safe shots. Try to
give the money, try to build a financial basis for every
opera director to say, ‘I will try it.’ That is important.”
BD: But we,
the public, want each new piece
to be a masterstroke.
FH: When you
look at the time of
Mozart, how many operas were written, and how many were masterstrokes?
course, but we’ve lost that today. We expect each one to be a hit.
FH: That is
what I think with the experimental
joy. When they saw a Salieri piece
in Vienna and it was bad, they booed or whistled and
said it was bad. But then they went to see Entführung or Così fan
Tutte and they said, “Oh, my God! That is really
So they went again. Or, if it fell through at the beginning,
people said, “We might have been too harsh. Let’s do it
again. I want to hear Così
fan Tutte again whether it was really
bad or good.” It’s the everyday interchange between the music and
the pubic, and you have to get people close
to culture again — especially in this
country. In Europe, it is exactly
the same but not as much. TV and the easy stuff has taken over,
and we just have to be strong enough to get people back to the stuff
that is a little
BD: So you
expect more creativity and interest on the
part of the audience?
FH: Yes I do,
but it is our job to educate
them. It just doesn’t fall from heaven; we have to do
something for it. That’s why a little more risky, a little more
naughty atmosphere would be good. Not so serious, because it’s
all so serious. There is a wide gulf between the rap culture and
opera. It’s way too far apart!
We have to try to get this together again.
BD: We need a
not? Why not? Go to Quentin Tarantino and say, “Let’s have
opera project. What would you think? What would be
interesting for you — like a script, like a film
What would you think about doing something.” Or think about
writes a script for you, for the opera, and then find a
composer. Find someone out of this fantastic gang of film
composers! There’s Goldenthal; there’s so many great
composers! But it’s just to do these projects.
BD: So they
should come from the films, rather than
from the symphony?
Yeah. I would say so. Just
try to get it together again; try to integrate. There’s
one wonderful man in Europe who is maybe the best opera manager in the
world now: Gerard Mortier who just took over the Paris
Opera. He was in Salzburg a long time and is trying
exactly that. He’s trying to get these worlds together again,
which is hard work and you must be very convincing. But he did
it; he found young people from the Catalan deserts who were
doing suburban theater. He put them on the Salzburg Festival
stage and said, “You are good. You do that. You find a new
language.” And they did; they found it, and now they are
everywhere. But that’s what we need — more
conquering; a discovery spirit, a conquering spirit.
experiments? More vision?
vision, yeah. The problem is the system, the financial
administrative system. The fact that the state
just doesn’t do anything anymore — or nearly
nothing — for the arts is understandable but also very dangerous.
I think it should be a mixture. It should be half-and-half
or thirty-seventy, but
there should be a sign of taking part in an everyday art policy, a sign
that the state is interested in this. At least one production
a year should be state-funded, should be new and should be
experimental and a little bit off the track.
BD: Even if
it falls on its face?
FH: Let it
fall! As we said,
how many pieces fell on their face during Mozart’s time or Strauss’
time? Look at Schreker.
He wrote twelve operas and none of them was good, but they were
hear them once in a lifetime,
yeah; put them to discussion, you
know. Back then, some people said, “Oh, my God, is that
bad!” Then another one said, “No, it’s good!” So there you
discussion and there opera and art lives.
discussion tends to be a fistfight. [Both laugh]
FH: Yeah, or
it’s over the quality of one single
singer, which is not interesting. Of course it’s interesting, but
much more interesting would be a new piece or a new
producer, or a real new, cracking new production!
BD: I hope
you get offered some of these things.
FH: I do, I
get a lot. I choose a lot of my
work after seeing how much creative potential is there. For
example, I just did Wozzeck
in Barcelona with
a completely mad producer! He’s famous all over Europe for his
trashy productions, and I thought, “I’m interested in this guy
because I want to see whether he tries it with me, too.” At first
thought it was too much trash, but I accepted it and we
had a fantastic time of discussion, and working. He was very much
listening to me! We did a wonderful, sensational, great
production of Wozzeck, which
played in an oil refinery which was absolutely close to us. No
one left this
opera without a tear in his eyes.
what we wanted.
BD: I’m glad
that you put your weight behind that production.
has to start
with himself and then talk cleverly about the others.
BD: You are
in your early forties. Are you at the point in your career you
be, at this age?
yeah! I was so lucky! Artistically I wouldn’t be
anywhere else than where I am. I’m very happy in this; I was
everywhere I wanted to be, and now I’m
in the right position. That’s the good thing about a career, when
you are in the position to decide yourself
what you want to do. You don’t have to pay attention to money;
you don’t have to be careful to please someone. Of course I have
friends and I have opera managers who are very loyal
to me, and of course I sing there
more than somewhere else. That is clear, but this is a very light
obligation; it’s not a real heavy burden. Otherwise, I can just
choose what I want to do, which is fabulous!
BD: So you
please your own artistic vision?
FH: Yes, I
do. And I pace my
own life, and to bring these two things together is not very
easy. I have artistic ideas and visions, but I also have a
family and two kids who go to school and can’t come with
me. So I have to please them and my artistry, but
somehow, until now, it worked. I hope it goes on like this.
twenty or thirty years from now, will you do
FH: No, I
don’t think I can. I can’t do
that. I’m not a visual type. I admire great producers who
have this broad vision of a
stage, and the geometric view of what looks good and what tells you
something on stage; which geometry between the characters tells you
something. I don’t have that. More conducting, maybe, or
what I would be really
be interested in would be running an opera house, one of the big ones.
BD: Be a
FH: No, a
General Manager! I would like to put all this into a reality,
what I just
talked very cleverly about; to convince people how I think
things should be done. Or to put teams together — this
is good with this singer. Some singers are not good with each
other because they have different ideas. You can’t just put any
singer with any singer. That doesn’t work. You need to know
the singers and you need to know how the interaction is between them.
BD: Vocal or
temperamental, or both?
Both! For example, my ideal stage partner — and I say this
very often — is Susan Graham. She’s got the same spontaneity as
me, the same joy, the same
earthy kind of sense of humor which is just perfect! The
chemistry between us is just perfect. With some other singer as
Octavian, for example, we can play together because
I’m a professional, but I can’t achieve the same result.
BD: So you do
the best you can?
FH: Of course
I do, always. But first it’s the
manager who puts the team together. Some conductor can’t work
with some producer; some singer can’t work with this
producer. That is the interesting thing, to
put the teams together.
BD: I hope
that you’re always involved, or mostly
involved, with good teams.
FH: I hope
so. Yeah, so far I was pretty lucky.
BD: Do you
sing mostly opera, or do you also do a few concerts?
FH: I do more
and more half and half. I’ve finally sung my first
Bach again. After something like twenty years with the opera
brand, now I’ve sung Matthew Passion
with Mazur, and it was just a
sheer joy! I’m doing this much more, now. I’m doing Elijahs
BD: Is it
nice to get back to pure music without the
absolutely! And it’s very good for
you, too, because there is no tricking around. You just
have to sing and sing and nothing else. Doing Ochs, I can kind of
little bit. I don’t have to sing everything as clearly as it has
to be. But you can’t do that in concert and in recital. I’m
very, very, very keen on recitals. I love to do recitals, so
that’s what I’m doing — two in Europe. So it is maybe
eighty-twenty or seventy-thirty; seventy opera, thirty concert.
BD: I wish
you lots of continued success, and we look
forward to you coming back to Chicago!
you. Thank you.
|Franz Hawlata was born in
1963 in the Bavarian town of Eichstätt where he began his musical
training. He completed his studies at the Musikhochschule in Munich
under the guidance of Ernst Häfliger, Hans Hotter and Erik Werba
and by the late 80s had won several competitions and made his
professional debut at Munich’s Gärtnerplatztheater. His
international career began shortly thereafter with engagements in Lyon,
San Francisco and Amsterdam.
In the 1993/94 season Franz Hawlata sang Baron Ochs in Der Rosenkavalier with Welsh
National Opera, a production which launched him onto the next stage of
his career and a role which became one of his great calling cards of
the next decade. Franz sang this role for his debut at the Metropolitan
Opera (1994/95) as well as at the Vienna State Opera, l’Opera National
de Paris, Covent Garden, the Salzburg Festival, Bayerische Staatsoper
Munich, San Francisco Opera, and with both the Met and the Vienna State
Opera in Japan.
Since the early 90s, Franz Hawlata has enjoyed a close relationship
with the Staatsoper in Vienna where he has now sung over 200
performances including Baron Ochs, Sarastro, Rocco, Jokanaan, Kaspar,
Leporello, Figaro, Wozzeck, Orest, Papageno and Daland.
Franz Hawlata sang his first Hans Sachs (Die Meistersinger) with Zubin Mehta
at the Maggio Musicale in Florence in the 2003/04 season and his first Ring (as Wotan) at the
Staatstheater Meiningen in 2005/06 season.
Over the past seasons, Franz Hawlata has made many major débuts:
at the Paris Bastille (Mahagonny),
Covent Garden (Leporello), Salzburg Festival (Osmin), Paris Chatelet (Rossignol), Liceu Barcelona
(Wozzeck) and Lyric Opera of Chicago (Daland). Return productions
followed: at the Met (Rigoletto),
Bastille (Rusalka, Wozzeck, Capriccio), Covent Garden (Rusalka), Lyric Opera of Chicago (Der Rosenkavalier) and the Salzburg
Festival (Così fan tutte,
Major appearances in the 2006/07 season include his first Tristan in Brussels, Der Rosenkavalier in Paris, Monte
Carlo and Berlin, Rusalka in
Torino and Wozzeck in San Diego. This summer marks Franz Hawlata’s
debut at the Bayreuth Festival as Hans Sachs in the new production of Die Meistersinger.
Franz Hawlata is increasingly in demand as a concert singer and his
discography includes: Rocco/Leonore
(with Gardiner on DG Archiv); Water Spirit/Rusalka (with Mackerras on Decca);
Franz Schmidt’s Buch mit sieben
Siegeln (with Harnoncourt on Teldec-Warner); Loewe’s Three Wishes, Spohr’s Faust; Nicolai’s Merry Wives of Windsor and
Marschner’s Vampyr as well as
solo recordings of German opera arias, an all-Verdi programme as well
as Lieder by Carl Loewe (all on Capriccio).
© 2006 Bruce Duffie
This interview was recorded in Chicago on March 9,
transcription was made in 2008 and posted on this
website in 2009 for eventual publication in The Opera Journal.
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
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.