Melba Recordings

"... a label of fragrant distinction"

There are no products in your shopping cart.

News from Melba Recordings

Go behind the scenes for insights on our recordings, our artists and our future plans. Follow our artists' schedules and share the excitement of their journeys.

Melba, the Label - Interview with Richard Bonynge

Thursday, 1 March 2007 - 8:54am

Conductor and Opera lover Richard Bonynge takes part in a new adventure, that of the Melba label, as Australian as the Soprano it takes its name from.

Very tall, slim, elegant and relaxed, Richard Bonynge apologizes with a great sense of humour for not speaking French in spite of living for more than forty years in Switzerland. In the sitting room of his plush hotel in Saint-Germain-des Prés, he is the very image of the perfect gentleman. The rebirth of Bel Canto owes a lot to his constant curiosity. He has come to Paris to present the new label, Melba Recordings. A great occasion for him to speak about his busy life.

Richard Bonynge: My first visit to Europe and to Paris was in the mid fifties, when I was twenty. I started to roam through music stores. It is amazing how many scores and etchings you could find for almost nothing, original editions, often signed, which would now sell for insane amounts. The public’s taste was evolving, Gounod and Massenet were still respected but not as much loved as they used to. Works such as Esclarmonde or Le Roi de Lahore were completely forgotten. However, Manon and Lakmé were still performed at the Opéra Comique. I remember Mado Robin, I loved the sweetness of her voice, which recordings unfortunately do not restitute.
You are an advocate of Bel Canto and also light music. Why did you make those choices?
RB: My tastes are easy to define: Mozart, late 18th Century music, Bel Canto, French Music, Operetta, Gilbert and Sullivan, although I have not conducted their works a lot, Franz Lehar, Emmerich Kalman, whose family I knew well, and that’s it. Full stop. However, I cannot really explain why I chose this repertoire.
Have you never been attracted by contemporary music?

RB: I listened to Britten and Tippett a lot back in the 50s. I played the piano works of Lennox Berkeley. That was enough for me. Life is short and you cannot explore everything. But I am particularly attached to Poulenc’s Dialogue des Carmélites.

Are you still discovering scores?

RB: Of course! Some late 18th or early 19th Century works may not be masterpieces as a whole, but contain marvelous pages which often work really well on a dramatic point of view. I have performed Auber’s Fra Diavolo a lot in Australia, and I had a lot of success with it. My next Melba Recordings project will be devoted to 18th Century Italian and English repertoires: Handel, Johann Christian Bach, Paisiello, Generali, Wallace … I want this programme to be pleasing, but also to constitute a real document. I enjoy recording music you never hear, as long as it is good.
Do these works stand the test of the stage?

RB: If you believe in them, giving a new life to operas like Esclarmonde is not difficult. But sumptuous operas should be revived in a sumptuous way, which is not always the case in modern productions. This music demands a certain style, you cannot approach them like Verdi or Puccini. You must also find the right performers. I was lucky to be able to rely on my wife, Joan Sutherland, who was always ready to follow me in new ventures. Casting a Meyerbeer opera today is a real headache.

Do you feel that great voices are becoming scarce?

RB: It is certain that a large auditorium such as the New York Metropolitan or the Opera Bastille impose loud singing on singers. So they sometimes forget to be musical. As soon as a great voice is spotted, it is constantly solicited and has no chance to blossom. It gets propelled into Wagner with an insufficient technique, when it should first learn flexibility with Bel Canto before facing Wagner. I have the luck to be working with young singers, and there are many in my native Australia. But how many will be able to have a career as long as, for example, Kirsten Flagstad?

Is the Australian music life rich?

RB: Very much so! The Sydney Opera House stages about 250 performances a year, The level is also excellent in Melbourne, in repertoires going from Baroque to contemporary. Several Australian Theatres are dedicated to musicals. I am sure that wonderful musicals such as Kiss me Kate or Oklahoma! will still be performed when many 20th or 21st Century Operas will never be staged again ...
You have made a lot of recordings and you have never opposed the publication of “pirate” recordings

RB: Joan and I have never protested against these recordings, on the contrary. The perfection of studio recordings often results in the loss of the soul. Live recordings keep the magic of the stage alive. Also, we know very well that if we ban them, they will come back with other names on their front cover …

You seem to be relentless. Where is your next performance?

RB: In New York for La Somnambule, and the stage direction will be signed by Renata Scotto, who was an admirable Amina. In spite of my training as a pianist, I realized soon that I could not face the keyboard for hours every day. One day, a conductor was missing and I happened to find myself facing an orchestra by chance. I was scared to death. I never learned conducting and this is not a joke. I had the great luck to be able to make a living by making music. I was simply there at the right time.