Thomas Novohradsky (TN):
very unique career, both started completely somewhere else to became what
they are now. (To Mr. Ettinger) Tell us about your background.
Ettinger(DN): I was probably not a very
serious conductor, as I've never studied conducting. I studied music as
a singer. As a young pianist, like everyone studied piano in this generation,
I entered a music high school. I started singing in high school chorus,
then developing my voice started the singing career that lasted about
9 years, and singing most of the liric Barione repertoire, Figaro, Conte,
Papageno, Malatesta, Belcore. During this period also playing the piano
and coaching other singers, which was a nice combination between two professions
both sides of the world, singing and coaching.
Working with many conductors, you can learn very much from them both
what to do and especially what no to do. Then I simply got an offer by
New Israeli Opera, because I am originally from Tel Aviv, Israel, to become
a chorus master for the Opera House. Then I really wanted a chance to
go into the orchestra pit and conduct an opera later on. So the opera
management decided to take the risk, and make me try it. And here I am
today with you and hopefully to open the wonderful “Falstaff” in 4 weeks.
TN: That was very modest
way of telling. In between conducting Israeli Opera and here, you already
fest conductor with Staatsoper Berlin.
DE: I was very lucky to
had a chance to meet Maestro Daniel Barenboim about 2 years ago, and really
established wonderful personal and musical connection with him, which
let me be invited to be a house conductor of Staatsoper Berlin and his
personal assistant. I am just finishing my first season there and starting
two coming seasons.
TN: Jonathan, I think you
have one of the most interesting ways to opera. You really didn't start
from the very beginning, you didn't know you want to come opera director?
Miller (JM): No, I didn't even know
that I was going to be in the theatre. I got into the theatre by complete
accident. It was like being in a‚Ž airplane with the one of the doors is
open, and the plane moved and I fell out the airplane. My ambition and
my training was in biology, I was interested in physiology and morphology,
that was what I started my training as, and I worked in marine biology
when I was young student, and I wanted to work on brain function. I was
interested in how the brain works.
I went to Cambridge, and by that time, I decided that I wouldn't to be
a biologist, I wanted really to study medicine. I had no philanthropic
idea, I wasn't particularly interested in helping people. I didn't want
to hurt them but I didn't want to help them particularly. I wanted to
go into medicine because you can't do experiment on human beings, but
nature does them for you and they call an accidents, injuries and illnesses,
and when the brain is damaged, you can see something about how the brain
works. So I qualified as the doctor, I was for three years at Cambridge
studying anatomy physiology, biochemistry, pathology, and I also continuous
I must say very important part of my training in Cambridge was my introduction
to what we call "Anglo- American Philosophy" analytic, linguistic philosophy.
I have no time for what we call "French & German Philosophy". I went
into medicine because I was interested in two things, probably more but
two important things I continue to be interested in it when I'm doing
plays or operas. I was interested in the one hand what goes into nerve
system, and I was interested in what comes out the nerve system. In otherwise
perception on the one hand and action on the other, and I wanted to know
what it was made the difference between an action which we intend to do
and an action which simply happens without our controlling it, and what
happens when we actually perceive and recognize an object.
TN: What accident made
you come to the theatre?
JM: The accident was I
am as an amusement and as an entertainment for myself I hope for other
people, I would occasionally act funny stuff on the stage, it was an amateur
dramatics in Cambridge was quite important, and from time to time I did
funny acts. By the time I finished my medical training, someone asked
me and three other people, Dudley Moore, Peter Cook and Aaron Benett to
do a show at the Edinburgh Festival. So I went into this show as the holiday
entertainment for myself, I was still working as the doctor by that time.
And the show was so catastrophically successful, that I kept being asked
to go on doing it, so we played it in New York and London. One thing let
another, then people asked me whether
I wanted to direct plays. I did direct lot of plays and televisions for
first ten years before anyone asked me to do opera. So I worked a lot
in the theatre I worked in National Theatre in London, and by accident
again, I directed people like Laurence Olivier
JM:I don't know what makes
a good director or a bad director. I don't think any training does you
any good at all. It's mostly to do with intuition and keeping your eyes
open and seeing what people do. It's exactly the same skills that I learnt
of being a doctor. When you are doing diagnosis, you stand at the patient's
bedside, you talk to them, you look at them and you examine them and you
do tests with your hands and with hammers and pins and so forth. And you
keep your eyes open. Well that's all you do as a director. You keep your
TN:I see you are not a
believer in opera jokes and scientific common sense in opera.
JM: The two things I'm
against in opera or in plays is what has become very fashionable, which
is theory, Having being trained as a scientist and a philosopher of science,
I know when I'm in presence of real theories, and when theory gets into
theatre or literature, it's almost always Franco-German nonsense. And
I can't stand it really. It's mostly to do with common sense. If you can
find your way to the toilet without advice, you can direct.
TN: So by your talent and
by your training, you observe the world and bring it to the opera or theatre.
JM:I think that if you
are doing presentations of behavior, and that's really all that the theatre
is, you put on this side of the room people pretending to be people watched
by people who are actually people, And the people who are actually there
are watching people who are pretending to be them and you can recognize
whether they are real or not. It's very simple.
TN: The situations and
reactions and moves and gesture we everyday actually see.
JM: We see them all the
time. That's all there is with human beings. We live in a very complicated
social environment, in which we represent each other to each other and
much of what we do is the expression of things we intend to do and some
of the things that we do is the things we don't intend to do. So any spectator
of any other person is trying to make a separation between the actions,
which are obvious in their intentions, and the actions, which are obscure
in their intentions.
TN: And what makes us laugh?
JM:I think there are many
things. There are literally hundreds of theories of humor, And it's the
hardest thing to give an accurate description of. I think I was saying
to you Thomas the other day there are lots of what we call involuntary
activities. Peculiar respiratory convulsions; coughing, sneezing, crying
and laughing. Now, some of them are provoked by what we call stimuli.
But you see if you said there are two of these involuntary activities
that you can control. You can try not to laugh and you can try on to cry.
And you can try not to sneeze and you can try not to cough. But coughing
and sneezing on the one hand are produced by very different types of approach
to the nervous system. Crying and laughing are produced by situations.
Coughing and sneezing are produced by local stimulation of the mucous
Now we obviously go looking for situations in which we cry and laugh,
and we call that the theatre. We don't go looking for situations where
we are make us sneeze or cough otherwise we would have two separate establishments
here in this big building. We would have the opera for the singing performance,
where you would cry and laugh, and you would have the theatre, where you
laugh and cry, and somewhere there would be the little kammerspieler,
where you'd have the sneezing spieler and the coughing spieler. And people
would be paying for admission to have snuff blown into the air but that
But you asked me a question about comedy. I can talk about crying for
a long time but laughing is very interesting. I think that there are many
many theories of laughter and almost all of them are wrong, I think. I
think that most of the things that we laugh at were different 400 years
ago and we laugh at very different things now. You see, the notion of
style applies to the theatre and opera, and it applies to comedy. You
can't make sense of the style of a 16th century sneeze.
But I think that there's a very important category of things that make
us laugh. And usually it's having brought to your attention what you know
anyway at a deep unconscious level. The comedian or the humorist brings
it up to the surface and
TN: Like what we see everyday?
JM: Well, a little narrow
area that you'll all recognize. It will differ of course in Japan as it
will differ in France or Germany because it all depends on social manners.
As I say sneezing happens the same all the world over, every one sneezes
in the same way but the same things don't make you laugh.
I'll give you an example. I'm very influenced by a great American social
observer called Erving Goffman, who talks about the way in which we constantly
perform for a potential audience of others, in which there is always the
possibility of a faulty performance.
And you all know this but there are many performances that we do, many
actions which we do, which are non-verbal apologies of what we think are
If I had arrived late and this conversation was going on and I had arrived
ten minutes late but had to get on to the stage, I would find it impossible
not to have as part of my entry a non-verbal apology to every one for
I'll give you an example. I come in from this door here and suddenly
see that the whole thing is in action. And I'm late and I cannot avoid
being seen by you making my way to my chair. I've seen this many times
in seminars in universities when students arrive late. They will do this.
They'll come in and they'll go. I make myself ugly by going in order to
anticipate your worst accusation of my stupidity. But I now have to get
to the chair and cannot do it unnoticeably. So my approach to the chair
has to be accompanied by a non-verbal apology.
Why am I going on tip-toe? There is no way in which I can get to the
chair silently. My surreptitious entrance is a way of saying if I had
been able to get to my chair invisibly I would have done, but this is
the best I can do.
I'll give you one other example. You'll see this happen in Japan or it
happens in Italy. Someone walking down the street. As soon as anyone walks
down the street they know that there is an audience who might watch and
see and detect a faulty performance. So I walk along and I accidentally
trip. Now, watch this. Why do I go back to see how the damage is done?
I go back to demonstrate to you my audience to show you the fault is in
the floor and not in my walking.
Another example you'd all know this. Can you get taxies by waving for
it here? Watch people waving for a taxi and failing. Now why do they do
You see, you laughed. You
laughed because I brought to your attention what you knew anyway. And
that's really what most of stage humor, whether it's opera or theatre,
is about. You don't have to have a theory. You have to have your eyes
open and understand what motivates human behavior. As we always are, we
are always in an audience of unknown others who might identify faults
in our performance.
TN: Could you see any huge
development from early Verdi's opera to “Falstaff”?
DE: If we just listen to
one typical scene of "La Taraviata" and one typical scene of “Falstaff”.,
there is a very quick answer for your question.
There is huge development of Verdi's work, which I would like to give
you three examples:
One extreme example is from "Traviata", which is closest one continued
Bel Canto for me. What I call un za za za, un za za za operas, which 95%
of opera we can hear.
Another extreme example is an opera like “Falstaff”. Unlike "Traviata",
when you walk out from the theatre after watching “Falstaff”, you
can hardly sing any tune of it. On the other hand, after watching
"Traviata", everyone can sing(
humming melody of "Brindisi") but the impression of “Falstaff” is
like; "Hum··· He is fat"," Mrs. Quickly has
a very low voice", or "this director is genius we laughed all way
through" In another words, you can not remember the used melody
As another example, the opera one step toward to “Falstaff” is "Otello",
which is also late Verdi opera before “Falstaff”.
There we can feel the mixture of old Verdi and new Verdi, some un cha
cha cha (Bel Canto Rhythm)but some non un cha cha cha ( Non-Bel canto
rhythm). We have some nice arias and song like "Wine Song" by Iago and
also we have lots of scenes more like “Falstaff”, almost Verismo and modern
This is more complicated and serious than the example I gave. It has
lots more to do with different use of complicated rhythm, richer and different
development in harmony and orchestration in “Falstaff” than in "Traviata",
which is much more conservative and closer to Bel Canto style. Just I
want to conclude the Verdi development. If "Traviata" started with relatively
long overture, “Falstaff” like Puccini's "Madama Butterfly" goes straight
TN: Right into Life.
DE: Right into life, right
into realism. I think that is the big change.
TN: I would like to have
one mystery clear about so-called Fuga.
A lot of people believe the Fuga in the end of “Falstaff” is a real Fuga.
DE: First of all, Fuga
is just musical term comes from Italian word"to run" because it really
feels that one voice starts musical theme, other voices comes to run after
him and all run together and together. Fuga is 2,3,4,5,and more musical
voices or characters using one musical motive. Each voice enters a couple
of bars after the previous voice started his motive. For 2 voices, we
call it Canon, but it becomes Fuga when there are more than 3voices.
Why is last Fuga of Falstaff is not called real Fuga. If we go back to
Renaissance or Baroque, Bach Fuga, there are really tough and strict rules,
that you can really analyze it. It is really mathematics. But for Verdi's
Fuga, he started as a fuga and first motive starts and then second voice
comes in, ladies come, everyone one after one came. We hear this musical
theme but very fast and by the time when chorus comes in, we kind of loose
the structure of real Renaissance or Baroque Fuga. But we get this running
and everyone is gathering together with happy end theme of this one big
TN: In “Falstaff” you do
take a little bit of inspiration from the Dutch painters and from that
JM:I have to set it in
the past, not necessary the past as Verdi visualized it, but I don't think
it works very well in anything other than a sort of loose generalized
abstract past. And that's why we have a very simplified set. It is based
slightly on Dutch paintings for a simple reason. Not because I wanted
to make it look Dutch but simply because the Dutch painters were the only
people who in the seventeenth century gave us pictures of what the inside
of ordinary houses looked like. The Italians didn't do it and the English
didn't do it. The only people who did in Europe were the Dutch so we have
very very detailed pictures of what bourgeois life was like in the sixteenth
and seventeenth centuries. There are no Italian pictures of the interiors
of ordinary people's houses. There are palaces (palazzi) but there are
no pictures of ordinary bourgeois interiors.
TN: Who is the Falstaff,
what is his personality, did he run down from aristocrat or he was never
JM: He expects respects,
he talks about honor, he no longer thinks he is worthy very much. 25 years
earlier, he lived according to honor, he doesn't live according to honor
now, but he has some proprieties left. I think it is very interesting;
the social anthropology of propriety, of cleanliness, of misbehavior is
extremely interesting. What do we hang on to, when we are unfortunate.
TN: So is it a deep dignity
or is it a philosophic reason why he says in the end " Tutto nel mondo
e burla(Everything in the world's a jest)"?
JM: I'm not absolutely
sure. I think he's a confused character who has just escaped what could
have been under almost any other circumstances, a very unpleasant ordeal.
In fact in Europe in the sixteenth century, there was a whole culture
of the torment of the deviant called Charivari (rough music) in which
someone who had misbehaved was then mocked and tormented and sometimes
in America in the nineteenth century lynched. He has escaped with his
life and therefore he is relieved.
TN: I think we had an extraordinary
discussion, and touching many interesting points. Since we have a rehearsal
tonight, Mr. Ettinger and Mr. Miller have to go now. Thank you for joining
us today and I am looking forward to seeing you all at “Falstaff” and
also for next season.