Q & A: Michael Schade on Performing Idomeneo & Opera Australia

By Francisco Salazar

Michael Schade is one of the leading tenors of our times who has appeared at many of the greatest theaters in the world including the Wiener Staatsoper, Metropolitan Opera, Canadian Opera Company, Hamburg State Opera, and the Berlin State Opera, among others.

Throughout his career, he has performed a diverse repertoire that includes the music of Strauss, Rossini, Wagner, and Schubert. However, what has defined his career is the music of Mozart and he has become one of the finest Mozartians of his generation.

Now Schade is making his Opera Australia debut in a role that he has sung to great acclaim, the title role of Idomeneo.

OperaWire interviewed the acclaimed tenor about the role of Idomeneo and singing at Opera Australia.

OperaWire: You have performed Mozart throughout your career. Tell me why is Idomeneo perfect right now in your career?

Michael Schade: “Idomeneo” is the ultimate Mozart opera and singing Idomeneo is the ultimate tenor role – here the madness of love and parenthood, of fate and deals that have gone bad with the gods all go hand-in-hand.

OW: How is this work different from the other Mozart works you have sung like “La Clemenza di Tito?”

MS: While “Idomeneo” is about a deal gone bad with the gods that resolves in a very Abraham and Isaac-like fashion, and speaks of Ulysses-like Odyssey and is inherently traumatic, “Clemenza” is, as the name implies, mostly abdication through clemency – and yet – there lies it’s biggest drama. What happens in “Clemenza” is that the emperor creates a vacuum of power situations that are set up but NOT acting on things – and that, in its way, is also very interesting. Please don’t ask me which opera I prefer.

OW: What are the biggest challenges and how do you pace yourself in this work?

MS: I think the biggest challenge for this role is to make sure that you’re not always just a bull in the China shop because it makes the hero relatively uninteresting after about two minutes. One has to see the love of the son on one hand, the love for the country on the other and the passing of time and the fact that his time is getting nearer to an end. It’s multifaceted and I really thank Lindy Hume for all the new nuances she has allowed me to explore and I absolutely adore her staging.

OW: What is your favorite moment in this opera?

MS: Again, a very tough question to answer. Obviously, the scene where Idamante is finally offered up in an, as I said Isaac sort of a way, is incredible. Also, the final E-flat of Idomeneo’s peaceful resignation is one of the most beautifully lyric, difficult things to sing in the world. His aria “Fuor del mar” is perhaps the most bravura aria that Mozart wrote for a tenor— and therefore I look forward to that moment every night, very much.

OW: This is a political work in some ways. How do you think it relates to the world we live in today and why do you think it’s even more relevant today?

MS: There are so many levels that we can relate to in this opera: the father and son relationship, which is very reminiscent of Mozart’s own relationship with his father, the passing of time, the letting go of power, the bad deals we make with powers above us in order to save ourselves for just a moment, rather than for longevity. The sacrifice in an Isaac way, the voyage, the application, and above all that, that prevails everywhere are all things we can relate to daily.

OW: Tell me about working on Lindy Hume’s production. How does it update the work’s original setting?

MS: Lindy manages not only to give us an absolutely detailed, visually stunning, dramatic, and thoroughly deeply organized performance of this opera, but what I also really love is that she equally dives deeply into the characters at every second on stage. Her vision and her wish for character is some of the most beautiful and challenging periods that I have had as a singing actor rather than as a singing opera singer. What an absolute honor it is to work with her. It has been an absolute and utter joy and I hope to work with her another million times together.

OW: Why is Mozart great for your voice?

MS: Mozart’s music requires a certain amount of natural coloring in every voice. The tessitura, in other words, the extended vocal range, is perfect for my voice. I can both float notes lightly as well as give some power. I’ve always been very blessed to be known as a Mozart tenor and I’m glad that after 36 years of singing professionally (I started early!!!), that is still the case. This being the case even as I have ventured into other more expansive repertoire even up to Wagner. I would like to be judged always and foremost as a Mozartian Singer and I’m glad I still am.

OW: What comes after Idomeneo and is there any other Mozart opera you haven’t sung that you want to?

MS: I am very happy that I spent much of my year in concert and recital and especially television work. So there are lots of projects coming up, including in Paris, Vienna, Hamburg Germany, Italy, and Switzerland, as well as a tour to Taiwan with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra for a “Beethoven 9” immediately following this. There’s not a Mozart opera that I still want to sing as I’ve basically sung them all, the role I’ve sung the most is Tamino in “The Magic Flute” – I did that 285 times all over the world. There are new things coming up, although I limit my opera to one or two maximally per year as I need to be there for my festival which I run, and I need to be able to teach in Vienna and therefore the concert world is really the one that makes that happen.

That being said, I would love to come back to Opera Australia. I would love to come back for a “Salomé’s” Herod, I would love to come back for a Captain Vere in “Billy Budd” or for “Peter Grimes,” for a Hauptmann in “Wozzeck.” I’d love to sing anything that they can think of in Sydney, I think it’s the most special company.


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