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AND HEARD INTERVIEW
A New Voice from the Ardèche Mountains
interviews the French tenor Sébastien
Young French tenor S
Sébastien Guèze as Marius in Vladimir Cosma’s Marius & Fanny
How did you decide to become a singer – were there any musicians in your family?
There weren’t really any musicians in my family, although I often heard my grandfather and father sing - just for fun, but they both had fine voices.
Young French tenor Sébastien Guèze answered a few questions for Seen and Heard following his exciting debut as Rodolfo at Greek National Opera (reviewed here). His fresh voice and passionate acting made for a thrilling performance, and since his name is still a novelty to many of us, we started at the very beginning and looked into his musical roots:
So actually, it was more or less a coincidence! I spent my entire
childhood in the mountains of southern France (my hometown in
Vernoux-en-Vivarais) - not exactly a place where one has a great
deal of access to classical music. Nevertheless, while at high
school, I discovered that my voice was ideal for imitating
commercials including excerpts from operas. At the same time, I
was involved in quite a few extra-curricular sports activities,
but none of them were really right for me. Then, when it was time
to go to university, I took off to study in the “big city” (Nîmes),
and since everyone had told me “you should try!” I enrolled at the
Conservatory (as a student of Daniel Salas) and I tried – and it
was love at first sight from the very first note. I had finally
found my calling! Naturally it was out of the question that I devote my entire time
to music, so I continued my commercial studies and earned a
Masters degree in Montpellier, and then applied to the
Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique in Paris, from which I
graduated just over a year ago.
Are there any teachers or singers who have inspired you in particular?
There are many! Above all those who helped me discover opera for the first time with the recording of the Three Tenors at the World Cup in Los Angeles: Pavarotti, Carreras and Domingo. And of course artists like Corelli, Del Monaco, and Wunderlich as well as the current generation: Alagna, Shicoff and Villazon.
How did you happen to be recruited to sing in Athens – did you know Stefanos Lazaridis (former GNO artistic director)?
It was my agent who knew that GNO were looking to recruit a young tenor for their new production of La Bohème, because Graham Vick asked Stefanos Lazaridis for a young cast. But then, unfortunately, I wasn’t free to come to Athens for an audition. So I imagine that my agent told them: trust me, you won’t be disappointed! And I hope they weren’t.
I should think not! What was it like to work with Graham Vick? And the Greek members of the cast of La Bohème in Athens?
Absolutely fantastic! The atmosphere was great, very healthy and committed. No envy, no capricious moods, no temper tantrums, just hard work and high quality – full stop. Our conductor, Loukas Karytinos, provided us with exceptional music! And Graham Vick, is an accomplished “craftsman” who allowed us to improvise within the framework of his intentions.
What I mean by this is: if your character prompts you to make a certain gesture, then that is because it is the right gesture. Then there is the context of the scene and Graham’s concept to consider, and he will help you to find another direction to go in if your initial suggestion doesn’t suit him, but that direction will always be based on your character and its underlying truth - your lines, that is, the text itself!
Did you identify with the character Rodolfo to a certain extent? You seemed very much at ease – was this your debut in this role?
It certainly was, and I have to say that I fell in love with my role. I can’t say I was really all that much at ease, but I definitely identified with the character. Just as Murger depicts La Bohème in his novellas, I am a Parisian, too, I live under the rooftops of Paris and I often get together with others for long evenings with friends – so clearly Rodolfo is no stranger to me!
How do you prepare a new role? Some artists like to listen to recordings, others prefer to stick to the score and figure out their own approach, I’ve been told.
I would say it is a combination of both. From a purely vocal point of view, I like to listen to what others have done and learn from them. With a view to expression, I like to set out in search of my own vision by myself with my score.
Which other roles would you like to sing in future?
Roles that appeal to me are in general those that are interesting from a psychological point of view. This is because the one thing I like most about opera is acting. So obviously, there is Hoffmann, Werther, Otello... but, alas, as to the latter, not for a long time yet, if at all! In the mean time, I would be keen to do Alfredo and Nemorino... And finally, for the sheer pleasure of singing: Calaf!
What is your opinion of singing competitions?
The trouble is perhaps that sometimes a jury’s decision can be a
bit surprising, but on the other hand the good thing is that the
audience is always the ultimate judge – fortunately for us, they
always have the last word!
Besides, a competition can provide some welcome publicity – and I
am a case in point. No one had ever heard of me, and then in 2006
I won second prize and the audience’s prize at the Operalia –
Placido Domingo competition and was offered my first engagements!
What is your favorite kind of music?
Although I do have a slight preference for the romantic and post-romantic period, I have to say that what moves me most is when music comes from the soul, when it is interpreted with emotion, when it vibrates! When this happens, then I can feel passionate about any kind of music.
How do you feel about contemporary music? Many artists seem to hesitate to approach new roles that are difficult to learn and which they may never be asked to sing again – how did you experience Vladimir Cosma’s “Marius & Fanny”?
It was a very special experience. I knew of Cosma’s intention to write a score along the lines of his films – which was quite reassuring, since contemporary operas tend to treat voices in a highly erratic fashion. However, when I received the score I realized that the music was no less difficult for other reasons: Marius is always on stage singing very long phrases, which makes his a very physical role! I then met with Cosma, who told me that he would consider any change I wished. This allowed me to create ossia passages as I pleased and according to what I felt was necessary to make the character of Marius come to life.
You are about to appear in Lalo’s “Le Roi d'Ys” in Belgium – an opera which is unfortunately not particularly well-known outside the French-speaking world.
Yes, the production has just opened in Liège. Clearly, this is a work which puts the music before theatrical effects! In other words, we will hardly be moving all over the stage most of the time. There are quite a few scenes involving multitudes and hence conveying a more or less static peplos effect, and the challenge here is to be bold enough to emphasize certain lines and characters - not something that always works, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth at least giving it a shot!
Are you still working with the other members of the “Africa Trio”? Was this ensemble formed for a tour to South Africa – and what kind of music do you make together?
Yes, that is how it was founded. The idea was to promote music in places where it is not often performed, and this has given birth to a wonderful friendship. Our goal is to make music – and the important thing is that anything goes, we try out new combinations, styles, staging ideas…In my opinion the setting of a conventional concert is often like a strait-jacket, whereas at times - and we do this often with the trio - I like to indulge my imagination, the best way to liberate music and make it more accessible!
What do you like most about your profession – and what do like least about it?
I’m only just starting out, but already I think I can say that I am fascinated by how many interesting people I have met through my work. There always seems to be someone new who will come along and invite you to look at your art from a different perspective – and that is tremendous!
The disadvantage is linked to one of the advantages: travel!
Traveling is fine, but discovering and sharing things with
together with someone else is better! So I reckon the secret to
avoiding loneliness is to travel in good company:)
I can’t help hoping that his travels will bring him back to Athens, though it will not be for lack of other attractive offers (watch out for him in Paris this June in Berlioz’s Requiem under Sir Colin Davis) and I would love to be there for his debut as Calaf, whenever that may be!
More at: www.sebastiengueze.com