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Q&A: John Tomlinson

The legendary operatic bass answers your questions on Wagner, what inspires him, and the pressures of opera.

By Chris Shipman (Content Producer (Social Media and News))

20 December 2012 at 1.10pm | 2 Comments

Q&A: John Tomlinson

The legendary operatic bass answers your questions on Wagner, what inspires him and the commercial pressures of opera.

Storified by Royal Opera House · Thu, Dec 20 2012 05:04:19

@RuthRichards2: What about opera inspires you?
Sir John:"I love the theatre and being moved and involved in a performance. Theatre is about life and the human experience…" #AskSirJohnRoyalOperaHouse
Sir John:"Opera in particular because of the music. It's a powerful emotional medium..." #AskSirJohnRoyalOperaHouse
Sir John:"...and music goes straight to the heart in a way that spoken word doesn't." #AskSirJohnRoyalOperaHouse
Cath Smith: Which opera singer would you like to have seen perform but never have?
Sir John:"An awful lot. In particular the Russian bass Chaliapin - a great bass of 1900-30…" #AskSirJohnRoyalOperaHouse
Sir John:"...He was an extraordinary actor and an extraordinary personality..." #AskSirJohnRoyalOperaHouse
Sir John:"And closer to our own time, Maria Callas. She was a wonderful singing actress." #AskSirJohnRoyalOperaHouse
Is Wagner best performed as a classical production or does a modern one sometimes give new insight or emotion?
Sir John:"There are good traditional productions and good modern productions and bad examples of each…" #AskSirJohnRoyalOperaHouse
Sir John:"…Bad traditional is the worst though. A modern prod can bring fantastic insight (eg Richard Jones' 90s production)…" #AskSirJohnRoyalOperaHouse
Sir John:"...It was fantastic. It was completely controversial but I loved it! ..." #AskSirJohnRoyalOperaHouse
Sir John:"...So I like both but they have to be good." #AskSirJohnRoyalOperaHouse
John Tomlinson and Christine Rice in The Minotaur © Bill Cooper, 2008Royal Opera House Covent Garden
.@theresasmets: Have your ideas about Wotan changed over the years that you've sung the role?
Sir John:"Wotan is the greatest, longest, most complex and fullest role I've sung…" #AskSirJohnRoyalOperaHouse
Sir John:"…With Wagner's music dramas there's always a lot going on so the possibilities are endless…" #AskSirJohnRoyalOperaHouse
Sir John:"…and you're always discovering new things. A phrase you may have sung sorrowfully previously…" #AskSirJohnRoyalOperaHouse
Sir John:"…may be sung cynically in another production." #AskSirJohnRoyalOperaHouse
Ann Lander: I once saw you stepping in to sing a role from the side of the stage. What are the challenges of this?
Sir John:"That was Boccanegra here in 2010 with Domingo singing the title role…" #AskSirJohnRoyalOperaHouse
Sir John:"…I had a call at home at 4.30 asking to travel into London from home to sing Fiesco from the side stage…" #AskSirJohnRoyalOperaHouse
Sir John:"…I said yes but had been ill previously. I was okay and sang fine,but within 3 days my gall bladder had been removed!" #AskSirJohnRoyalOperaHouse
Sir John:"In my career I've jumped in quite a few times, but that was the only time singing from the side. It was very strange!" #AskSirJohnRoyalOperaHouse
Paul Parsons: In a world mad with health and safety, how satisfying was it to fling Hunding's axe into his dining table?
Sir John: "[chuckles] That's one of the best produced entrances of any character I've played! It gives great satisfaction" #AskSirJohnRoyalOperaHouse
Sir John:"…All these elements are well choreographed but a singer/actors job is to make it look completely natural" #AskSirJohnRoyalOperaHouse
Sir John:"Rigoletto, a high baritone part. Verdi's music has a purity, beauty, excitement & nobility. I'd have loved to sing it" #AskSirJohnRoyalOperaHouse
Sir John Tomlinson as Wotan in Die Walküre © Clive Barda/ROH 2007Royal Opera House Covent Garden
Sara de Lisboa: What do you think are the differences in the audience at the Royal Opera House today compared to earlier in your career?
Sir John:"We're doing #ROHminotaur in Jan. It has a different audience to the Wagner audience..." #AskSirJohnRoyalOperaHouse
Sir John:"…different operas attract different people. I'd like to think that opera is more popular…" #AskSirJohnRoyalOperaHouse
Sir John:"…I'm always upset when opera is mentioned, as it is often in the press, as exclusive entertainment for the rich" #AskSirJohnRoyalOperaHouse
Nick Holland: Do you think commercial pressures mean that there will be less variety/risk taking in the opera of the future?
Sir John:"A very wise question! Opera is by its nature expensive to stage (skilled orchestra/chorus/top singers)…" #AskSirJohnRoyalOperaHouse
Sir John:"…the more the taxpayer pays,the more adventurous you can be tho there's an obligation to be popular with the public…" #AskSirJohnRoyalOperaHouse
Sir John: "…the more private sponsors pay the more that you're subjective to tastes..." #AskSirJohnRoyalOperaHouse
Sir John:"The simple answer is that the more financial pressure there is, unfortunately the less adventurous you can be." #AskSirJohnRoyalOperaHouse

John Tomlinson returns to The Royal Opera in The Minotaur from 17-28 January 2013. Tickets are still available.

John and The Minotaur will also be part of Royal Opera LIVE, our day of live streaming from behind the scenes on 7 January 2013.

By Chris Shipman (Content Producer (Social Media and News))

20 December 2012 at 1.10pm

This article has been categorised Opera and tagged interview, John Tomlinson, Production, Q&A, Social Media, Stephen Langridge, The Minotaur

This article has 2 comments

  1. Great Q & As with Sir John, such a brilliant singer & performer.

  2. Chris Humphrey responded on 25 December 2012 at 5:31pm Reply

    Not entirely a different audience, I was at the dress rehearsal of the Ring Cycle at the ROH that John rescued when Brynn pulled out and John's recent appearance at the ENO in Parsifal and I'll also be at the Minotaur on the 26th. Wagner was my entry to opera which does make branching out somewhat difficult but highlights have been Sir John in Love (Waghan Williams), Turn of the Screw (Britten) and The Tempest (Thomas Ades) Lowest point was Love and other Demons at Glyndebourne (I forget the composer) and Aida at the ENO.

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