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08.03.2010 10:20 - Franco Zeffirelli's Memories of CK (2/2005)
Автор: kleiber Категория: Музика   
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What follows is a translation of “Un Genio Che Incantava: Zeffirelli Ricorda Kleiber” by Valerio Cappelli. It was published in AMADEUS, no. 184, March 2005, pp. 42-44.

[Prefatory paragraph to article]: Franco Zeffirelli, one of the greatest Italian directors, student of Luchino Visconti, after having spent his life staging performances and shooting film in every part of the world, started to write the most significant memories of such a tumultuous and exciting existence, then gathering them in a book published in the English language. However, this collection does not by itself suffice to contain the memories of an artistic and human event so dense in encounters, facts, and intellectual excesses which has been that of Franco Zeffirelli. For this reason, the Florentine director has continued to draw from his own past and to write new chapters of his long history, lived on stages and in private relationships. This memory of Carlos Kleiber, of whom he was the stage director [regista] of choice, is the first chapter of a new series dedicated by Zeffirelli to those encounters, a truly interesting memory for those who have known and loved the genius German director deceased several months ago. It is irreplaceable for understanding something of his sensibility and of his mysterious psychology. For this reason we offer it to our readers as a precious document.

“A Genius Who Enchanted: Zeffirelli Remembers Kleiber”


Valerio Cappelli

“For we who had the good fortune to work with him, it was an experience that marked us forever. The first time that I met Carlos Kleiber was for a great appointment…” Franco Zeffirelli is in Paris to promote “Jesus of Nazareth” when they proposed to him to open the season of La Scala, 7 December 1976, with Verdi’s “Otello.” The protagonists are Placido Domingo, Mirella Freni, Piero Cappuccilli. On the podium, the great Kleiber. And then the mastery of Zeffirelli. They are all the premises for a legendary evening. But in ’76, Kleiber was “only” a star, had not yet entered into legend, his more brilliant fame belated, only reaching it with silver hair. “I hadn’t heard him speak; years before I had already listened to the father, Erich Kleiber, when he often came to direct in Florence,” relates Zeffirelli. He is the stage director who worked more with Carlos than did any other. They shared together four productions: “Otello,” “La Boheme,” “La Traviata,” and “Carmen.” A record for an artist who worked by subtraction as Kleiber did, limiting his talent to a few titles, always those. Over time, the two became friends. The director spent a lot of time in Zeffirelli’s villa in Positano and, far from music, the character of the man revealed itself. In the summer of 1989 Zeffirelli was witness to an “historic” meeting: in his home, on the Amalfi Coast, as guests, were Leonard Bernstein and Carlos Kleiber, two of the greatest [massimo] artists of the twentieth century.

Now, for the first time, the celebrated stage director tells who Carlos Kleiber was to him. “He was the kindest [gentilissimo] man, likeable, and he didn’t make you suspect anything of his magnificence. His was an easy-going genius; always respectful of my work, he had seen my films.” “I SEE MUSIC THROUGH THAT WHICH YOU SHOW ON THE STAGE, YOU DEPICT WITH MUSIC,” he said to me. He was never full of himself, the exact opposite of so many celebrated conductors. He had the power to broaden my musical horizons beyond the limits, however vast they already were. We became friends immediately, as if we had known each other since we were young. In short, I repeat, it was difficult to suspect that behind this wrapping lived one of the greatest geniuses of the twentieth century.”

When did you realize his artistic stature? “I started to see signs of it during the rehearsals for ‘Otello.’ I found myself facing a director completely different from all the others, even eminent ones, that I had known before. He had he power to surprise us, to invest us, when he was rehearsing, with a sort of creative energy that wound you up completely and made you fly like a rocket outside of your normal sphere. I remember the impression that he made on the Orchestra della Scala, that was immediately tamed.” The then-critic of the Corriere della Sera, Duilio Courir, underlined from Kleiber’s “Otello” the communicative energy, the clarity and sharp exactitude, the phrasing, free and analytical at the same time, and the interpretive tension that permeated every page of the score.”

Zeffirelli, but what was it that made Kleiber so different from other directors? “First of all he tended to have much more faith in the orchestra than one generally has. One day, while the musicians were tense in following him, he put down the baton and said ‘IT’S I THAT MUST FOLLOW YOU.’ He succeeded in projecting a passion and a total involvement, that the orchestra immediately reciprocated.”

“It is thus, that in the chorus and singers alike he was able to prime a need for ineluctable perfection, without speaking about the infinite universe of creativity and excitement that permeated everything, even those of us on the box (palco), and opened our minds and hearts to unusual revelations.” He had the habit of continually interrupting the rehearsal…“He was in continual dialogue with the orchestra, and he was never satisfied. He said, ‘I CAN DO BETTER, I AM NOT CLEAR ENOUGH.’ He was trying to go beyond, and the orchestra sometimes applauded him.”

“I had already directed ‘Otello’ on the theater stage in England at Stratford, with John Gielgud. I knew the original text well. And then in 1972 there was the production at the Metropolitan with which, however, I was never very satisfied. Kleiber provoked in my soul a particular reading through extraordinary stimulus that only a man gifted with supernatural powers can suggest to you. Working side by side, strong, completely new ideas arose inside me. Kleiber inspired me to put a certain religiosity in the finale, helped me to have a vision that I had not had previously, like a mystical and spiritual struggle of Otello, who at the end renounces faith that had been imposed on him, to return instead to his African, barbaric roots. A kind of ultimate resonance blossomed, an implacable return to the tribe, the great superstition, one could cut with the knife that climate of tension, just after Otello murdered his wife Desdemona.”

“When, later on, Carlos directed my ‘Boheme’ at the Metropolitan, at the end of the pre-dress rehearsal, he had a pallid face, like ashes, shattered, transfigured, like he had seen the tragedy of those young Parisian artists, as if he had died, like Mimi had. A very disquieting impression. In America the great directors always went to hear Kleiber. Leonard Bernstein remained enchanted and said to the musicians of the New York Philharmonic: ‘I just listened to the greatest maestro in the world. It is our duty to know him and to listen to him. And I am sorry if you have an obligation for that evening.’”

To hear Kleiber was a privilege reserved for a few. “Yes, already then his appearances were rare; when it happened, on the rare occasions when he directed, you knew that you were in the presence of an extraordinary charismatic force, a genius who knew how to open for you that special and revelatory part of experiences you would never forget, that made you enter in another connotation of space and time, a cosmos of emotions and colors.”

“In Vienna for ‘Carmen,’ he devised an experiment. I claimed that the ‘Habanera’ of the first act closes the action; it is an addition of Bizet to make the protagonist happy since she doesn’t have an exit aria. It would have been much more intense at that moment to represent Carmen as a black cat that crosses the street. Elena Obraztsova, the protagonist, was alarmed. Carlos in rehearsal skipped the ‘Habanera’ and the orchestra applauded him. It was only an amusing thing among musicians. And for ‘La Traviata,’ again in New York, I remember a problem of synchrony between the curtain and the delicate pianissimo of the violins in the first Prelude. Carlos caught unprepared one more time, went to the prop men and said, ‘WAIT, IT’S ME THAT MUST FOLLOW YOUR MACHINERY.’”

After your four productions…“For years I continued to pursue for other projects. In 2001, for Verdi’s anniversary, we were going to do ‘La Traviata’ at Bussetto. And he had almost accepted. Then he said to me, ‘YOU HAVE ALREADY PUT ONSTAGE A DELICIOUS “Aida”, WITHOUT POSING PROBLEMS FOR YOU THAT I COULD CREATE, IT’S BETTER THAT I LEAVE YOU IN PEACE.’ He was afraid of his creative essence; not even he controlled it. Then I tormented him to convince him to direct ‘Don Giovanni.’ ‘THE BEGINNING AND THE END ARE BEAUTIFUL,’ he said. I thought about the fact that those are two moments without singers. Then I returned to the attack for ‘Il Trovatore,’ and, candidly, he asked me if the author was Verdi. He added that he would give me a reply ten days later, meanwhile he would start to study it. When I called him back he spoke of something else…Finally, the ‘Falstaff’ proposals. ‘PERHAPS, he replied to me, BUT IT WOULD BE NECESSARY TO CUT THE FINAL FUGUE. WHEN THEY START TO TORMENT THAT OLD FAT ONE [quel vecchio grasso], THE OPERA IS TO BE THROWN AWAY.’ “But it’s Verdi’s goodbye to the world,” I replied, “those final words, ‘Everything in the world is a joke,’ are autobiographical.” ‘IT’S NOT FUNNY, AN ARTIST WHO REPRESENTS HIMSELF IS NOT CORRECT.’ He closed the discussion. In reality, he didn’t want to do it. In recent years he passed through like a cyclone on returning from a concert in the Canary Islands. At times he was directing at the opera in Munich to make a bit of money, like a wolf who emerged from the grotto to slaughter the lamb.”

And Kleiber the man? “He often came to Positano, in summer, where he spent most happy days, relaxed; every year he appeared with a different ‘little angel.’ He changed young female companions with the seasons. On the Amalfi Coast he never spoke of music, he detested professional jokes, was very discreet. One day, through a banal incident on a boat, one leg went here, the other there and he broke his ankle. We brought him in an ambulance to Sorrento Hospital. Carlos was not a popular figure; he didn’t like to be seen on tour. Thus I put the primary physician on guard: ‘Don’t forget, use every consideration, the greatest director in the world is arriving.’ To lessen the pain, he dulled his senses with alcohol, started to sing ‘Otello.’ To be operated on, he went to Salsburg, he didn’t trust the Italians.”

“He and Lenny Bernstein were both my guests at Positano in summer, 1989. They were completely different, even if Bernstein idolized Kleiber. He said his pianissimo from ‘Traviata’ were unequalled and that only Callas had been able to, before him, to give back to him with the voice in that way. Carlos was at Positano for his vacation and didn’t want to discuss music. With him I spoke of flowers, of Pompei, of art, and of people. In contrast, Lenny was trying in every way possible to set in motion a conversation about Brahms’ 2nd, one of Kleiber’s war horses.”

“One day a tape arrived of ‘Boheme’ at La Scala, under my stage direction and conducted by Kleiber. We were supposed to give our consent to its distribution. Bernstein was restless to attend the projection. I, knowing Carlos, asked Lenny to desist. Suddenly Lenny appeared at the door, on tip toes, in order to make himself unnoticed. He put himself in the back of the room with a glass of whiskey in his hand. During the last act one heard hopeless sobbing. It was Lenny who could not control his emotions. ‘You are a god, you are a god!’ he said to Carlos, who, embarrassed, asked him to calm himself down. Two geniuses, but completely different. Lenny could pass in discussion from jazz to Beethoven, from musicals to Mahler. Carlos kept himself completely buttoned up. Kleiber went to the sea in the early hours of the morning and when he returned Lenny had scarcely awakened. If they wanted to, they succeeded in not meeting each other. They were four incredible days. In the last two years, everything changed for Carlos, he fell into a general pessimism. He had a grave malady, by now it is certain, and he didn’t want to cure himself. He had lost the will to fight [lottare].”

“It was a great stroke of luck [una grande fortuna] for me to be able to work with him...”


Translation by Robert McGinn


1. kleiber - Making copies for non-commercial use is permitted!
08.03.2010 10:21
Making copies for non-commercial use is permitted!
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