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Parsifal: Sir Donald McIntyre Q & A

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Sir Donald McIntyre

Parsifal was Wagner’s last and many say most accomplished opera, the culmination of the development of the emotional intensity of the German Romantic movement. Containing some of the most ethereal and subtle music Wagner ever composed, Parsifal is an allegory on the conflict between Christianity and paganism, good and evil, physical passion and spiritual purity. Here the NZSO talks to Sir Donald McIntyre – himself a world-renowned Wagnerian singer – who will be making his final NZ performance as ‘Gurnemanz’in the NZSO’s production of Parsifal, in association with the International Festival of the Arts.

1 When did music first come into your life?

I was aware of music from as far back as I can remember. My mother was a piano and violin teacher and my bedroom was next to the music room.

2 What was your first [instrument] lesson like?

I used to sit at the piano and thump out notes indiscriminately. It was the same with the violin. At a very early age my mother would explain and show me what to do. I was her worst pupil. That is the reason I took up singing. I can’t remember my first singing lesson. I was only 9 years old.

3 What was it that made you decide to make music your life?

It wasn’t like that but rather others decided it for me. All I did was say yes or no to the offers and opportunities. At the age of 10 years I was asked to sing at church and school. Later I agreed to sing at clubs and choral societies and that national orchestra. I sang a great deal in public and I had to choose between sport and singing. Singing would last longer, I thought than sport!

4 If you could invite five people from any period in history to dinner, who would you choose and why?

Why I would choose the people that I do is because I want to see, listen and question them at first hand. I have great difficulty choosing just five but here in my list. Plato, Jesus Christ, Mary Magdelena, Richard Wagner and Charles Darwin.

5 What would you serve them?

My choice of menu would consist of whole, unprocessed, fresh food. First, I would like to ask my guests what they would like to eat. I could select a balanced meal from meat, fish, poultry, cooked vegetables, salads, nuts, seeds and pulses.

6 What are you enjoying listening to at the moment?

I am enjoying listening to my own thoughts at the moment and trying to ignore the TV that is on in another room.

7 How would you describe the experience of performing live?

A good experience of a live performance would be a two way line of communication.

8 What has been your most embarrassing moment on stage?

The most embarrassing moment was during a performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. The problem was that the same orchestral introduction to the bass solo comes twice. I started singing after the first and consequently was 4 or 5 minutes too early. I was firmly told by the leader of the celli to shut up and sit down. I was blocking his view of the conductor.

9 What is the most supreme musical moment you have ever experienced?

Probably the most supreme moment lasted 10 minutes or so during a rehearsal of Leonore Overture No. 2. Otto Klemperer was conducting The royal Opera Orchestra in the Pit. On a non believer like me is defenceless in such moments. Since then in my own performances I have tried to connect with what inspired Klemperer. Beethoven connected Klemperer to the source.

10 What piece of music would you play to convince someone of the power of music?

What better than the second act between Tristan and Isolde to convince someone of the power of music. It is important to hear the right performance. I suggest the recording conducted by Furtwangler with the tenor Sudhaus and soprano Flagstadt.

13 Most unusual place you've ever been to?

Perhaps Kapiti Island

Sir Donald McIntyre will perform as part of an all NZ cast in the NZSO’s production of Parsifal – in association with the International Festival of the Arts – at the Michael Fowler Centre, March 17 (5pm) and March 19 (3pm)

Tickets at Ticketek – 04 384 3840


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