Davide Damiani: Œdipe is a role for a lifetime.

The Italian baritone Davide Damiani is the most recent interpreter of Œdipe in Bucharest. He made his début in this role in the autumn of 2015, during Enescu Festival. He made such a good impression. This interview was made in Bucharest (and it was meant for an opera magazine, a project that has become uncertain), and I think this is the right place and  moment to publish it, on the occasion of the première in London.

Œdipe @ ONB (© GIN FOTO/ ONB)

Alexandru Pătrașcu: What’s the story between you and Œdipe? When did it start?

Davide Damiani: I was supposed to sing Créon in Cagliari, because I never thought that one day I would sing Œdipe. I sang Créon at the Wiener Staatsoper, you know the recording with Monte Pederson, Michael Gielen and Götz Friedrich. At that time, it was the beginning of my career and Ioan Holender asked me to sing it: “I think Créon is a good role for you”. It was not so long and very impressive on stage and then I spoke with Monte Pederson, who did a great Œdipe. He said “Davide, I gave 6 months of my life to learn Œdipe”. I was like “Wow, six months, amazing role.” I never thought about singing it, you know how it is, very low, very high, everything. And then it was 1997 and I did many other things, also difficult, like Henze, Elegy for Young Lovers, and many others. But I never thought again of Œdipe. And two years ago I met Ioan Holender in Vienna, he had finished his job as artistic director of the Wiener Staatsoper, but he was still artistic director of Enescu Festival. And he told me: “Davide, I think it is time for you, you are mature enough to do Œdipe. Think about it and let me know.” And I thought “Is this possible? I should try”.

I was home, I took the score and I found it amazing. But I had the score with the cuts, because in Vienna we did 40 minutes less. So, with the cuts, it was already big. Six months of his life, unfortunately now Monte Pederson is dead, but he gave six months of his life to study this opera in the version with many cuts. And then I could not say “no” to Holender, because he has a lot of flair: I could have said “no”, but in fact what he said was right. So I said “Yes, I do this.” And then I started to study and I said “oh, it is so long”, and I asked the Opera in Bucharest to send me the cuts they want to do. And the answer was: “No, no cuts, we do not cut any note”. Oh, no, so I need eight months or more! And I started to learn, and I did not have so much time because I was singing other things, in Frankfurt and in other places, I had only three months. I learnt the music, it was long, but it went ok, and then to memorise the libretto, in three months, this was very difficult. Memorising Œdipe was very special. I had never had another experience like this. So, I came here for the first part of the rehearsal, at the Opera, in the Enescu Festival, last year, in August, for the last ten days of August. I already had the character, from my experience in Vienna, it was already in me. But to learn the role by heart…

A.P.: Why is it difficult? Because it does not have any tunes?

D.D.: No, it is difficult because Enescu thought very much about it. He needed ten years to compose the music, even more, and then the orchestration took another ten years. In total twenty-five years from the beginning till the première. This was an amazingly long time. When we think that Rossini needed three months for an opera, Verdi, too. But with Enescu, he thought every word, every note, so you can’t change anything. So, for me, I started to study this opera in June, last year, the première in the Enescu Festival was on the 18th of September, and then we did the première with Valentina Carrasco, but I am still studying Œdipe. Because you never finish. It’s an opera, it’s a world, that of Œdipe, that you never finish to study. It’s the particularity of this opera. And you have to love this role. If you don’t love this role, it’s better to sing something else. This is my opinion. It’s not a role that you learn and you sing and you finish, like Germont, from Traviata. There, you sing, and then you do another role, and then you return to Germont, maybe even without rehearsal, it’s just singing. I did Œdipe last in December, and then I did Britten’s Death in Venice, another world completely, so I felt the need to start again to study Œdipe before singing it. I felt I had lost many things. There are so many little things in Œdipe you must always think about…

But if you lose one month, if you do not sing Œdipe for one month, you lose many things. Of course, you can always sing the role, but you lose the ties and the ties in Enescu’s Œdipe are the most important. It’s not only about singing “Hélas!”, you have to sing all the ties, because he wrote everything: subito, piano, sotto voce, the accent in each word. Because you find the key for this work in the words. Like in most of the operas, but here much more than in others, because he worked a lot, two or three years, for the libretto, with Fleg. This one spent a lot of time with Enescu, who had Sophocle’s text with him and underlined the parts where the actors gave their accents. And this is how he gave the instructions: singing or recitare. And this is why you don’t have to change anything. And for me, to remember everything is not really easy, but I tried. And for me, it became a role for the life. Before, I had Don Giovanni, because I did it many times, more than a hundred times, till 2004. It was one of my favourite roles. And then I said, ok, enough with Mozart. And I started also with modern music, and then Verdi came, in 2008, with Rigoletto, Un ballo in maschera and so on. And then I didn’t have, how to say, a role. I mean, you do a production, like Elegy for Young Lovers, you study for three-four months, you sing the performances, and then you do the next. There are no plans to do Elegy again, because it is so special. But here, in Bucharest, Œdipe is like a monument, they are very proud of it, because it is Enescu’s masterpiece, you find everything in it.

A.P.: And, in fact, it’s the only Romanian opera which is sung and performed also abroad.

D.D.: Oh, yes, but only in the last years.

A.P.: Before it was not performed too often, but it was.

D.D.: In Germany, Œdipe was performed for the first time in 1996, in Berlin. It was Götz Friedrich’s production, and then, in 1997, it was taken to Vienna. Amazing, no? If you think it needed sixty years… Because the première was in ’36, in Paris, sixty years later in Berlin, then in ’97 for the first time in Austria, and in Italy I think the first performance was in Cagliari, I don’t think they had sung it before. It’s really strange. There are these masterpieces, also like Parsifal, like Guglielmo Tell by Rossini, where the composers put all their creativity.

A.P.: The world première was in ’36 and then it was performed in concert version in ’54, in Paris, just two weeks after Enescu’s death. And then, in ’56, another concert performance, in Brussels, in French. And it is interesting that, at that point, it had not been performed in Romania yet. The Romanian première of this opera was in 1958, at the first edition of “George Enescu” Festival, and it was conducted by one of the greatest Romanian conductors, Constantin Silvestri. I don’t know if you have heard of him.

D.D.: No, I haven’t.

A.P.: It’s an interesting story. Constantin Silvestri was a very fine conductor and he wanted to prepare himself for the Romanian première of Œdipe. In Romania, at that time, there was a high level of control of people going abroad and coming to Romania, because of the communism. And still, there was an entire delegation from the Opera, led by Silvestri, to go to Bruxelles, to attend that concert performance, in order to get prepared for the Romanian première. And they did Œdipe in ’58. Then, they planned a recording of the opera, on disc, a studio recording, but the censorship and the difficulties he encountered in doing this led Silvestri to the decision to leave the country. He had had enough, and he left Romania in 1959, never to return. He established himself in England, and he was the music director of Bournemouth Orchestra. He also made a lot of recordings for EMI: in 2013, EMI released a box set in the ICON collection. I think you know it, they have numerous sets in this collection, with Callas, and others.

D.D.: Yes, sure, I know them!

A.P.: There are 15 CDs with different composers.

D.D.: But they did the recording here? Of Œdipe?

A.P.: Yes, Silvestri fled, but they made the recording with Mihai Brediceanu. He was a conductor at the Opera House.

D.D.: With Ohanesian? And in Romanian?

A.P.: Yes, with David Ohanesian and in Romanian. And in 2011, in a small window of time, they managed to release a CD with the Romanian première of Œdipe, with Constantin Silvestri conducting, the live version.

D.D.: Really? Very interesting! And it exists, this version? I would like to listen to it.

A.P.: Unfortunately, it doesn’t exist in shops anymore, but I can give you a copy. The CD was released in a moment when the law on copyright allowed it.

D.D.: But it’s a historical recording! Today you can’t really ask money for CDs recorded in the ‘50s… It’s a pity. Thank you very much for this! I need to listen to old versions. To see what they thought of this opera at that time.

A.P.: It’s interesting. In my opinion, the orchestra is just fabulous. It’s very dark, much darker than we are used to have it today. Dark and oppressive. And frightening. And it has an urgency, a big drama in it. For the vocal side, it’s mostly the Italian tradition, it’s sung like Verdi, so not necessarily the best singing, but there are historical voices.

D.D.: Sure, great singers, who sang everywhere, at the Met, too. But with Œdipe, you can’t sing like Verdi, Wagner, etc. Because it’s completely different.

A.P.: But they did not have any experience, it was the first performance.

D.D.: They sang as they could.

A.P.: As they knew.

D.D.: Yes, exactly, one day Verdi and two days after, Œdipe.

A.P.: On the other hand, in my personal opinion, I am not a particular fan of David Ohanesian, he was a singer of his time, it was a context.

D.D.: Everybody speaks about him.

A.P.: I know they speak about him, because he sang the role many, many years. And, you know, he was Œdipe.

D.D.: And also he sang the entire opera, because, after him, they switched between two singers, one for the young Œdipe, and one for the old Œdipe.

A.P.: That was in Andrei Serban’s production, which was very interesting.

D.D.: Yes, I heard about it.

A.P.: A metaphor of the recent history of Romania. The first act was about the period between the two World Wars, in the ‘20s-‘30s. Then, the Sphinx was Stalin, dressed like a woman, but with the face of Stalin. And it was the arrival of communism here, in Romania. The plague from Thebe was represented by some events taking place here in the ‘90s, right after the Revolution, when we had some social convulsions, demonstrations, riots.

D.D.: When was this Œdipe presented?

A.P.: In 1995. Very, very modern. And the third act, Œdipe’s exile to Athens, was in fact the Romanian diaspora, Romanians going to New York, with the Statue of Liberty on stage, but also keeping in their heart and souls some landmarks from Romania: Brancusi’s sculptures that are here, in Romania, were also present on stage. Very, very interesting. Everybody hated it, because it was much ahead of its time.

Œdipe - Regia: Andrei Șerban, Scenografia: Viorica Petrovici, ONB 1995
Œdipe – Director: Andrei Șerban, Set design: Viorica Petrovici, ONB 1995

D.D.: How many years they had this production?

A.P.: I think just that season. And then they destroyed it. And I remember I was at the première and I hated it like everybody else. (they laugh)

D.D.: Did the people boo him?

A.P.: Not very much, because people here do not boo usually.

D.D.: So, it was not a scandal.

A.P.: I remember before the scene of the Theban plague, the curtain was an iron curtain, like the Iron Curtain, you know. Anyway, the thing is that we are twenty years later from that production and last year I realised that I never forgot it, that I have constantly thought about that production. So, I thought: I was an idiot, in fact it was a fantastic production.

D.D.: Yes, and you understand now. I can imagine. But unfortunately this production doesn’t exist anymore. Is there any video, or something recorded?

A.P.: Maybe in the theatre, they should have it. And also Andrei Serban should have it. Do you know him?

D.D.: I know him from name, but I never had the chance to work with him.

A.P.: He did, for example, Lucia di Lammermoor in Paris, which is absolutely mind-blowing. And his Œdipe… I will never forget it.

D.D.: And as you see from that time till now, Anda Tabacaru-Hogea did an interesting, but very simple production.

A.P.: I kind of hate that production.

D.D.: For me it was ok, but it was a production where I was concentrated on my role more than on what was going on on stage.

A.P.: You know, when I saw you in that production, you were the only light on stage. You were the spotlight. The production was dull, and it was just illustrating the story, it did not make you think, you just watched the sets and what was going on there.

D.D.: And you knew everybody in that production. It was played for 4 or 5 years, and it was too much to see the same thing again and again.

A.P.: I was curious to see you, to hear you singing, and also to hear Hussain, because he did the production in Bruxelles. But I understood that he couldn’t really transfer his vision to the orchestra, that there were some problems.

D.D.: It’s always like this. There are never enough rehearsals. And here there was another issue: the orchestra used to play this opera in a certain way for 20 years. And to change this in 3-4 days, it’s impossible. So, we had too little rehearsals. Maybe three rehearsals with the orchestra?

A.P.: I think there were more, and then he left.

D.D.: Yes, exactly. And he was away for two weeks. And then we did just the general rehearsal, on the 16th, and the performance was on the 18th. Also, for me, instead of going to Vienna after the first part, I was here for two weeks, memorising, every day, from 10 till 7 o’clock, with Luminita Berariu, who is my angel her for this Œdipe, because she knows very much and she worked in all Œdipe productions. And she was very helpful. For me it’s a travel, Œdipe, a journey, even to study is a journey. And the opera itself is also a journey. You know where you start, you know where you finish, but you don’t know how it develops. You have to see, because every evening is different.

Œdipe @ ONB, 2015 (© GIN FOTO/ ONB)

But you know, the score is very bad. The notes for the vocal score are printed, so we see very clearly what we have to sing. But the score for the conductor, that includes all the scores, in fact, is in manuscript. I don’t know from whom, it is still manuscript, so you don’t know which note is written. So when the conductor has to see the notes, he bends over the score and he disappears, I do not see him anymore. And all these problems…

A.P.: In short, the story of the score is this. There are some letters from Enescu to his friends, close friends, just when he started to rehearse Œdipe for the première in Paris, in 1936, and he says he is very, very happy that he found somebody to copy the manuscript by hand. So, at the first rehearsal, everybody had the score, it was a big achievement for him. He was paid by the Opera something like 8000 francs and he paid the copyist 14000 francs. But he was happy with that.

D.D.: Quite a lot of money.

A.P.: He was doing fine like a big star of his era. He made recordings, he had a big career as a violinist.

D.D.: An immensely talented artist. He supported many young composers, too.

A.P.: Composers, here in Romania, and he also was the teacher of Yehudi Menuhin, his most renown student. And not only him. I think Arthur Grumiaux was also his student. And he sold his rights to his editor and he said that Romania should have free access to the scores for a period of ten years after his death. And, of course, during his life. In Romania they started to print scores mostly of his symphonic works, but Œdipe was somehow a little bit disputed here by the censorship because of the subject, which was mythical and here the regime was of communist atheism. And the discussions were like: oh, I don’t know if it’s good to bring ancient myths on the stage, let’s think about this, and the morality of the story, the parricide, the incest, etc. So they delayed to edit and print the orchestra score. They played it by manuscript, which was the one made by the copyist. And then, after the free of charge period ended, nobody did anything. And although we spend here a lot of money on Enescu, we have the Festival, a Museum, musicologists studying Enescu, we declare our love for Enescu on every occasion, we still have those pathetic scores for Œdipe. This is a shame.

D.D.: I understand. Holender told me there is somebody who started to do a critical edition of Œdipe scores. They should do it, because now they will play it in Covent Garden, and in other places, too.

A.P.: Yes, precisely, and I am curious to know what kind of scores they will use there. Do they have an edited and printed score?

D.D.: Maybe they will use the original?

A.P.: But the original, in Paris, is the one copied by hand, it is the same as the one we have here.

D.D.: But there is a score written by Enescu? With his orchestration?

A.P.: But it’s not printed, computer-edited. It’s just a photocopy.

D.D.: It’s the copy of the one from Salabert.

A.P.: Salabert, which was bought by Ricordi, Ricordi was bought by Universal, etc.

D.D.: And in 2017 they will do again Œdipe in Enescu Festival, with Vladimir Jurowski, and they will use, I think, the same score. Because everybody had the same version. I don’t know, they should decide to find the money for this.

A.P.: And how much could this cost? I don’t think that much. It’s not like the Barber of Seville (laughs), to be played everywhere and to milk a lot of money from it. It’s just an opera not too often performed, but which is very important for us.

D.D.: In fact, you just need the conductor’s score, because the orchestra scores are printed, too, they are not in manuscript. I hope they will find a way. Because Ira Levin, the conductor, he asked directly to the editor, to Salabert, and they said they had only the manuscript version. And they said they did not have money to do it. So, maybe with the Enescu Festival, with this connection, or somebody else will find a way to solve this.

A.P.: No, they haven’t found a way for 25 years, I don’t think they will find a way now.  These are just pathetic excuses and crying about this tragedy.

D.D.: It could be also interesting to find 30.000 Euro, maybe, let’s say 50.000 Euro, and to present this event as a special thing.

A.P.: I remember Tiberiu Soare, who conducted Œdipe, was telling this story. He was preparing to conduct and saw the score and he said “Oh, my God, what’s this? I need to find a real score!” And he wrote to Salabert and it cost a lot, but he paid from his money. And he was very happy when the package arrived and it was the same!

D.D.: What a story! (laughs) I was in Enescu Museum and I saw the score of Œdipe, but it’s the same as the edition we have. Because I thought that Enescu wrote this score and this is the original.

A.P.: As far as I know, the original manuscript, the one handwritten by Enescu, is basically unreadable, because he made a lot of changes. He was sleeping with the manuscript by his side and he used to wake up, “Oh, I have to change this, I have to modify that”. He did that for twenty years, on the same manuscript, you can imagine how it looked like at the end…

D.D.: It’s interesting that, before doing the orchestration, Enescu did an execution with the piano, in Paris. Fantastic idea! To see the reaction of the audience, very intelligent.

Scena Sfinxului - Opera Națională București
Scene of the Sphinx – Œdipe @ ONB, 2015 (© GIN FOTO/ ONB)

A.P.: And I like very much what he said once: that one of the most intense moments of the opera, in his opinion, as a composer, was the Sphinx scene. And he said that right after the wrote the music for that scene he had to stop for a while, because he was thinking he was going mad.

D.D.: Wow, yes, it’s a very mystical moment. I listen a lot in that part of the opera, because I don’t sing very much, it’s not a very big moment, but it’s a very intense one. I listen very much to the music then, because I follow the music, I follow what she sings and what she says. And it’s another dimension of the opera. For the stage director, you can’t have so many ideas. In Vienna, for example, with Friedrich, the Sphynge was not on the stage, you could not see it. At first it was a bit of the tail, and then one eye, and then slowly two eyes, then three eyes, till hundred, thousands, fifty thousand eyes. Because the Sphynge sees everything, like Big Brother, there are cameras everywhere. The Sphynge knows everything. It was something impossible to touch. At the time, the idea was that you don’t know if it really exists or it’s just a voice, like in The Lord of the Rings, a bit in this way.

A.P.: Like Sauron’s eye! And it was played by Marjana Lipovšek. Who is the Sphynge also on the disc with Van Dam.

D.D.: Yes, and she did both, Jocasta and the Sphynge. And she also sang in Berlin. And Violeta Urmana also sang the Sphynge, in one or two performances, in Vienna.

A.P.: It’s strange, I don’t know if you know this, but in Romanian La Sphynge is a male character, sphinx is a masculine noun. So, I found it a little bit strange when I discovered Œdipe for the first time, and La Sphynge, a feminine character.

In Egypt, the Sphinx was a male character, like the Sphinx from the Pyramids. We know the imagery from Ancient Greece…

D.D.: Where it is both male and female. Head of a male and body of a woman, breasts and everything.

A.P.: It’s twisted, like the myth. And also, in that scene, it’s peculiar, it’s also frightening, because of the consequences, of the riddle, if you don’t solve it you die, and the character is frightening in itself, as a monster. But also, it drives an attraction for Œdipe, a sexual attraction, she’s also a woman, a very, very seductive woman. She sings “Je t’attendais”, “from all my prays you will be the most beautiful”, and it’s intense, because it’s a mix of all  sorts of feelings. (laughs) And when she laughs and says “you will never know if I died laughing at you or if you really defeated me”. I like that part very, very much.

D.D.: Very mysterious also, because she laughs, she laughs, and then she says “…rit de sa victoire?”, and I am scared, because I think that I will die, because I did not say the right answer.

A.P.: And I like very much the fact that Edmond Fleg wrote in the libretto “La Sphynge, avec une voix blanche”. And Marjana Lipovšek was singing with a white voice this part and it was really, really strange. She was fabulous. I am talking about the EMI recording, with Van Dam.

D.D.: You know, I have to say, what we did in Vienna, with Monte Pederson and her, she was live, from the première, and I studied also from José Van Dam, because he’s perfect, he’s in studio. But ours was live, so the character was really there. The feelings are different in a live version. Of course, both versions are interesting, one is prepared, precise, everything, the other is live.

A.P.: What is, in your opinion, the most difficult part of this role? Is there anything that frightens you?

D.D.: I have to admit it is not a difficult part, but it is not an easy part either. For me, it is easy and difficult at the same time. From the beginning, because there is a development, the climax for me is “Et vous serez maudits, vous tous…”, there I throw out everything, that’s the climax for me. (he pronounces with a stress on certain words) It’s not just “Et vous serez maudits, vous tous qui maudissez” (he pronounces like reading, with no stress on words), it’s not enough just to say this, you have to give everything. The first time when I did  Œdipe in September, the chorus was not prepared and, as I was scary, they said “Oh, Davide, what’s going on with you?” In the rehearsals, sometimes you don’t want to get tired and you don’t give everything, but that’s the rehearsal. Also Holender came to see me after this and said: “Davide, what you did is amazing! I never heard such a thing, bravo! It’s great.” It was like this and from this performance on I did the same. I came to Bucharest and I said “I have to do Œdipe and I can do it.”  Because when you start to learn the part, you are not sure you will be able to do it. It is complex, it has highs and lows, and if you prepare only the high, you lose the low, and if you concentrate on the low, the high notes are not too well and you get tired. So, this involves a lot of thinking.

But you start to speak the role, and the first part is with Œdipe who is very young, 20 years we said, then we said he was 40 in the third act, and more than 60 in the fourth act. That was our plan for the opera. So, one could think: I have to do a brilliant voice in the beginning, then an older voice in the last part. But I don’t think so, because it was written right by Enescu himself. He thought already to give Œdipe the line for his age. The fourth act is like “misérable Créon” (he sings in a very low voice), while you don’t have this in the second act, where everything is more energetic, or in the third act – “je marcherai…” (he sings in a higher, more luminous voice). You just have to sing this, just to trust the text. If you think of the voice, “now I have to sing like this, etc”, it doesn’t work. Or in the second act: “Je partirai! Je partirai!”, like every young man who comes and says “Mother, I am leaving, I am going to India”, and the mother wants to stop him “You are crazy, how can you do this?” The character of Œdipe-young is this character: “I want to go through the world, because I want to find my truth”.

A.P.: So, as an artist, you don’t need to stress this too much, as you have it on the score.

D.D.: I have everything on the score, absolutely everything. This is why this is a role for the life for me, to study my whole life. It’s not like other roles: I sang it a month ago, then I come here and I can sing it without rehearsal, then I go back to some other place and I sing Tosca, and then I sing Rigoletto. No. So, I last sang Œdipe in December and before coming here for this performance, I started three weeks ago to prepare myself, every day, doing nothing else but Œdipe. I looked again at the text, because you never finish…

A.P.: To understand the text.

D.D.: Yes, you never finish to understand it. And everybody said: “But, Davide, you studied Œdipe for three months in 2015, to learn the role. And then four months in Bucharest, for the two productions”. Yes, but I feel like I’ve never finished, and still now I’m not finished, and I will study again for the next time. I will finish to study when I say: ok, now there is no more Œdipe to sing in operas. But it’s a role too beautiful to leave… Maybe in 40 years I will still sing it.  Maybe only the fourth act, I will be ninety years old and I will sing only the fourth act. And the other acts will be sung by someone younger. But I want to sing the fourth act in forty years.

A.P.: Altogether with Falstaff, and Simon Boccanegra…

D.D.: Yes, for example, why not? But it’s a role for the life. It’s very different from all the other roles. Even in Wagner: for example, Wotan is Wotan. I know some arias from this role, I never sang all the role and it’s difficult to learn, because it’s very long and very complex. But psychologically, Œdipe is more interesting, because it’s from birth to death. And the time and the space are much longer, the development is much more important. And for this, the voice too is much more developed. In my opinion, the development in Wagner is not so big, you don’t have to think that much. But I will tell you when I sing my first Wagner. I already sang Donner, in Rheingold, in Vienna, many years ago, but Donner is nothing on Wagner scene. When I sing Wotan I will tell you exactly how things are. But I don’t think it will be so difficult like Œdipe. Because with Œdipe you have to live this character.

A.P.: So, are you going to championship this role? To offer yourself to sing it anytime, anywhere in the world?

D.D.: Yes, sure, but you know, each theatre wants his own Œdipe. For example, Bryn Terfel, but I don’t know if he has so much time, because he is a fantastic singer and for a singer like him, I don’t know if he has the time to dedicate to this role. Now, for example, he sings Boris Godunov, and you have much more chances to sing this role, but Œdipe… I want to sing Œdipe because I love this opera and I love this role. I had the chance twenty years ago to sing Créon and with that I already had the love for this opera. Because otherwise, if somebody had come to tell me: “Would you like to sing Œdipe?”, I could have answered “What is that?”. But I already had the connection and I answered: “Wow, it’s beautiful, but I don’t know if I can”.

A.P.: But when you sang Créon and you saw Pederson on stage, or during the rehearsals, how did you feel? “How can he memorise so many words without singing?”

D.D.: I was impressed, I had a big respect for him. And it was a confrontation, because I was at the beginning of my career. I started my career in ’94, that was in ’97 and it was the really first great modern opera that I did. And it was not a problem because it was a modern opera: as I studied conducting, I have no problem in learning anything in the world, even the most difficult things. It’s a question of time, because maybe I need more time for some things. When we did the production in Vienna, we had a lot of rehearsals, I think eight weeks of rehearsals. And Götz Friedrich and Michael Gielen were always there. It was a fantastic experience. And they created this Créon, this strong relationship, because he was the brother of Jocaste. And I was already strong and I thought at certain moments: yes, Friedrich made Créon like this because he was a young Œdipe inside, because he wanted to have his position. So we didn’t have the same level, but I was always behind him. I was very attentive at what he was doing, I looked at him very much, I learned very much. And even now, when I do this Œdipe, I still remember many moments from the one in Vienna, because that production was very strong for me. And, in fact, there are so many strong moments in the entire opera… For instance, in the third act, when Phorbas comes and he says “Come back to your family, because your family is not your real family, they adopted you”, I say “Phorbas? Polibos?”, I am a bit confused. And I remember when Monte Pederson said this in Vienna, but Götz Friedrich told him to accompany the words with a gesture. (he shows the gesture) It was different now. And I remember how the words and the gesture changed everything – it was much stronger now. And these ideas, from twenty years ago, I still have them in me. I don’t mean that I do the same, but you know, there are some strong moments in your life that you take with you forever. And this is how I got to make this interpretation. You know, when you do a role like Œdipe, you can do it your way, or you have a story behind you.  I mean, Toscanini had as story, he had Verdi. Puccini also had many other composers behind him. I think that, if you want to give a 360 degree interpretation, a complex interpretation, you must have a story behind you. Mozart would not be Mozart without all the story behind him, without Bach, for instance.

A.P.: Yes, he copied Bach scores, for study!

D.D.: Yes, it was not Mozart the genius who got up in the morning and said “Ok, now I will write a symphony!”, he studied years and years in order to create what he did. And for us it’s the same, we don’t wake up and say “Good, I’m going to sing like the biggest singers!”. For Pavarotti, for example, Beniamino Gigli was the biggest tenor, or Titta Ruffo studied with the greatest singers who were together with Verdi, and so he could be considered the most important singer of his time. Today maybe it’s not possible to have this any more. Maybe one can say “I want to have a story”, but which story? There are no more ties like there used to be.

A.P.: But you have a lot of communication today, you have the internet, you have the recordings…

D.D.: The recordings are not a story, unfortunately.

A.P.: They are not a personal story, but they are a shared experience.

D.D.: At least it’s better than nothing. Personally, I had the chance to sing with Domingo, Carreras, I did Elisir d’Amore with Pavarotti. But I studied with Aldo Protti, with Gino Bechi, people who are from another world. When I sing and I say this to friends and colleagues, they ask me “You met Gino Bechi? But how old are you?” Well, I met him and I did some master classes with him, in his villa, in Florence. And also with Cappuccilli. And before being a singer, I was a conductor, because I studied to become a conductor. But then they heard me in Don Giovanni, as a student, in Vienna, and they took me with this role in Israel, and then from there I started to learn singing, and I got the chance to sing for Holender and he took me to the Wiener Staatsoper. And even now, I want to go back to conducting, because I did all my studies to be a conductor. But anyway, the experience from the stage cannot be compared to anything, because when you have the chance to interpret a role like Œdipe, for me this is the most incredible experience in life. Not just to speak the role in the theatre, but to sing and to speak in the same time, to interpret such a big and complex role. This is why all the time I spent to study this role, the three months and the next, all this is paid back. Sometimes I learn the role very quickly and then it’s finished – like I did with Elegy for Young Lovers, by Henze, which is also very modern, very difficult. Three months, three performances, and finished. There is also a video done. And they asked me to sing again somewhere, but I was busy. But with Œdipe, fortunately, I have to say, I did a performance of September and I did not know what comes after. And I had two performances then, and still it was not so much for three months of study. I never thought forward, I thought that I wanted to learn this role, and it’s the same for me if I sing one performance and then never again. And then they called me: “Davide, do you want to do a new production? It will be with Valentina Carrasco.” And I said OK, I was in Hong Kong with Tosca, and I told them I come to Bucharest  when I finish. And I had one performance, on the 20th November. Then 7th December. Then now. Then will be Hungary. So, it goes like this, step by step. I’m happy when they call me for Œdipe. And not because of the work, it’s not like “oh, I have another production, I have another performance”, it’s not that. It’s because I want to do Œdipe. And I don’t want to lose too much time from one performance to the next. For example, now, three months since my performance in December are too much.

A.P.: So, it would be better to do it like they do it in big theatres, four-five performances one after the other? I don’t know why they don’t do it this way, probably because of lack of money.

D.D.: Yes, that would be good, but I don’t know if this would work here. And I am a guest here, I don’t know the organisation of the planning here. But I think also it would be difficult for the audience here, because Œdipe is very special.

A.P.: Yes, you are right, three performances with Œdipe in a row could be a little too much.

D.D.: And maybe in Bucharest all the people have seen Œdipe one time in their life. But they should also have performances for the students, for different ages, 15 years, 18 years, even less. Because the little children who are on stage in this opera, even though the story is scary, they are very enthusiastic to be there and to play with Œdipe in the end. I would be happy to do this for less money if they tell me they do a performance for the students, one day after the regular performance. Or maybe it’s better two days after it(laughs), because of the voice. Since Monday, we did the entire opera every day, without pause. And at the general rehearsal, on Wednesday, I did not sing 100%, but 95%, because you can’t mark, there is the orchestra, they want to listen to you, the conductor has to hear you singing. So, I still have the voice I have on stage, because I have the technique. But after this performance, if I stop for two days and then they do a performance in the morning, or in the afternoon for students, it would be good. You can also invite students from the University, to study this opera, to find arguments, there are many ways to see it.

A.P.: I want to ask you something I have in mind for a long time. In Romania, the musicologists pretend that Œdipe is a Romanian opera, the most important Romanian opera. But in fact it’s a French opera, because the librettist is French, Enescu lived a long time in France, etc.

D.D.: And the influence also is very French.

A.P.: As you come from Italy, from the Italian tradition, I think you believe in this tradition of  a national manner of playing. Do you think that here, in Romania, Œdipe is performed in a manner specific for Romania? Is it different from Vienna the perspective of the Romanian musicians of Œdipe?

D.D.: Yes, I think there are ties. Here they are connected to the tradition of the Romanian music, folklore music, there are many connections, all through the opera.

A.P.: Thank you very much!

D.D.: My pleasure!