BWW Interviews: Furlanetto Part 2: The Russian Soul
In a continuation of our extraordinary conversation, Maestro Ferruccio Furlanetto reveals insights on performing the astonishing Russian basso repertoire - in Russia. Performing repertoire outside the operatic sphere. And Murder.
EM: Maestro, we were just discussing the need for the interpretation of Don Quichotte to have a special kind of sensibility. Could you elaborate?
FF: Yes. The beautiful quality of the sound. Not enough. For instance, when I started to study a long time ago, way before doing it, Winterreise. I was listening to everybody. And of course the most famous was Fischer-Dieskau. Nothing. Not a little bit cold, it was frozen. And then on the other hand I had the luck to listen to the person that would have been the inspiration for the rest of the way, Hans Hotter. He made his recording - you could only imagine what would have been the state of mind of a young man in 1943 in Berlin, where he did this recording. And you can feel it, you receive a wave after another of joy in desperation, pain - death. And it's amazing, I am already doing this Winterreise, I think three or four years, how it develops, constantly, even with a gap of months between recitals. You find new intentions, new colors, you get closer and closer to what it should be. But again, it cannot be just vocal effort. You must put yourself in it, heart, brain and everything, physically. Totally in it. Otherwise it's totally empty as it was for Fischer-Dieskau.
EM: And the lieder can't be.
FF: No, you must kill them (laughs). Now in July I want to redo the recording, to make another one. Because it's another planet since then. I just did it before coming here in Berlin, in Milano, Scala, and in Moscow Conservatory Hall. In Moscow there was a radio recording, and they gave me the first CD that it will be of course incorporated, but already if you compare it to the recording, it's hardly the same person. In a matter of everything, colors, the way you feel it. Again, I love to use this word, "filtering." It is a filter.
EM: And in July you get to do it again.
FF: With the same pianist, a very talented young man who has had a very specific state of mind these days because he is German now but is originally Ukrainian. He had good reasons to be... whew. A lot of emotion. But I think it's important because this piece needs to be done just to transfer emotion, and I repeat, in three years it's another world.
FF: (Sighs) This is nothing. Of course there are singers who are more attracted than others. But just think what Russian music has for basses, for baritone, for dark voices. It's a universe. You cannot not be attracted by it. And once you are attracted, once you're doing it, you have to do it properly. The more properly you do it, the more you are involved in it. Before Winterreise I also did in Berlin the Russian recital and in Geneva also, Rachmaninoff first, and the Mussorgsky lieder ending with the Song and Dance of Death. What do you want more than that? In Rachmaninoff everything is love. Mussorgsky, death. And death could be a fantastic subject in music. And in acting. Therefore Russian repertoire offers an interpreter the widest choice of roles. How couldn't you be attracted by it? Between that and to have a Russian soul - I would say there is an affinity for sure, because my part of Italy, northeast, we have because of former Yugoslavia, all the Eastern countries relatively close, we have Slavic influence for sure, over the centuries as you can imagine. I would never live in Russia, although I go there very often - because there is still the "stink" of Communism. That you can receive from the state of their architecture, and now they tend to restore it, to make it as beautiful as it was. But if you look inside in details you see how abandoned it was by this terrible period. I was born in freedom, I grew up in freedom, and I cannot stand both Communism and Fascism. These extremes don't exist and they shouldn't exist. I will never be able to live there because unfortunately we see, in these days, in the present, now the mentality of this very small group of power, one man surrounded by ten or twelve oligarchs who couldn't care less of the rest of the country. They just take care of their own interests, they share the cake, and it's absolutely dreadful. But whenever I am there and I am in concert with people, and with their amazing history... almost two years ago now, I was in Moscow with Gergiev and the Mariinsky to do Don Quichotte in concert version, at the Conservatory Hall, a glorious hall, beautiful acoustics, sensational. And a good friend of mine proposed if I would be interested to go to Boris's grave. I said of course. So she took me to it, eighty kilometers away from Moscow, kind of a fortified little village surrounded by walls, very mystical. There are five churches, Orthodox, of course. There is still in there what they call starets (star?ts?), a holy man, somebody who can tell you - they believe this kind of thing - your past, but it's religious. In front of one of these churches there is a simulacrum (draws in the air), like that, with Boris Godunov, his wife, (and children) Tsenia and Fyodor. Why outside? Because historically the wife, who was sent to a cloister, they say she committed suicide. But you know in those times they were killing people and saying it was something else. And it was so touching to be in front of this grave and to be somehow related to him through music. Such a touching experience. I didn't make any picture, it was just something private. And I was extremely grateful to this friend of mine because I was into the Old Russia, the big heart Russia. Because when you're singing this repertoire you feel this pathos, this somehow almost a pleasure of sufferance.
FF: You can understand. It's one of these (whispers), "Oh my God, I suffer but somehow it's beautiful to suffer." It's wonderful, and you understand the soul of these people. They have this misfortune to go through this dirty eighty years of garbage. Then when you are there, it's just a moment of their life, there are centuries behind it. St. Petersburg, when you walk around, it's unique, especially in winter. Then you are really feeling the real Russia. When you have this blaze of ice hanging from the roofs of the palaces, very dangerous, two or three meters long, it could kill anyone. But this is... whew.
EM: The real Russian soul. The one that defeated Napoleon.