Interview with Professor Stephan Mösch

The DEBUT judge is a renowned musicologist and theater historian who has won numerous awards in the course of his career. Among other things, he reports here on his first experience of opera, his personal taste in music and his friendship with mermaids.

What qualities does a singer at DEBUT 2020 have to have in order to make a big impression on you?

Stephan Mösch: I look for personalities who are maximally immersed in the music, lyrics and context of a piece, yet who through it all remain true to themselves. And have acquired the necessary mastery of singing technique. It’s that interaction of mental, emotional and physical factors that makes the difference.

You’ve been on the judging panel of numerous competitions, and indeed you still are. What persuaded you to accept the invitation from DEBUT?

Mösch: I’ve held Clarry Bartha and her work in very high esteem ever since her Frankfurt days and regard her as the epitome of artistic seriousness. I hope the judging panel really do manage to look hard at each participant’s performance and engage in a frank discussion. I know of other competition panels where the judges place an anonymous slip of paper with numbers into a ballot box and a mathematical formula decides the outcome. I don’t want to be a part of that anymore.

What was your first experience of opera?

Mösch: My first visit to the opera was at the age of nine. My first formative experience came three years later, when I went to see »Tristan« with Carlos Kleiber and Catarina Ligendza at a dress rehearsal for the Bayreuth Festival as well as »Tannhäuser« with Colin Davis. I didn’t really understand what the pieces were about, of course, but my subconscious somehow grasped roughly what was going on. The year after, I took part as an extra – as one of the corpses which Patrice Chéreau used in Act 3 of »The Valkyrie« in his Bayreuth production of the »Ring« cycle. We had a backstage pass, which meant we were allowed to attend all of the rehearsals and experience quite a few performances from the lighting tower. I remember thinking, “So this is opera”. It took me several years to realize that at other houses opera can be rather boring by comparison. By the way, we corpses were supposed to keep our eyes closed throughout the performances. I wasn’t very happy about that because I was longing to watch Pierre Boulez and the orchestra (as I did, in fact, during the rehearsals). Some of the other corpses confessed to me that they opened their eyes whenever one of the singers was standing more or less over them, so that they could take a peak underneath their dress. Wagner and puberty...

If you had a chance to visit an opera production from sometime in the past, which one would it be?

Mösch: Oh, there are plenty I could think of there. I would have loved to have listened to Adolphe Nourrit live, for instance at the premiere of Rossini’s »William Tell« conducted by Habeneck. His rival, Gilbert Duprez, too. Not forgetting Pauline Viardot-Garcia as Fidès in Meyerbeer’s »Les Huguenots«. Or Rossini’s »Othello« with Maria Mailbran in the title role and Wilhelmine Schröder-Devrient playing Desdemona. Going back a bit further, I’d be very tempted by a Lully extravaganza or the very first performance of Monteverdi’s »The Coronation of Poppea« in Venice. And I would have been so excited to be the one who moved the scenery at the premiere of »Don Giovanni«, because then I could have studied Mozart’s face as he conducted and played. Thanks to recordings and research, we’ve got a good idea of just about anything that happened after the end of the 19th century.

What three virtues do you admire most?

Mösch: Sensibility and sensitivity, open-mindedness, emotional reliability.

What music do you listen to in your leisure time?

Mösch: Mostly music without any singing. To be honest, I took the score of Beethoven’s string quartets with me on my last vacation. That’s my kind of music to »relax and enjoy« because it demands something totally different to opera from the listener.

When was the last time you wrote a letter?

Mösch: I write (and receive) letters fairly often – it’s just that I send them by email. It’s the trouble the author goes to when writing it that defines a letter, not the method of despatch.

What items does your fridge never run out of?

Mösch: For many years, fridges were accessories in any production that was trying to be »modern«. Yet even then, a good stage director was quite capable of establishing a time reference without one. In the meantime, fridges has lost that former purpose and we can use them to keep real fresh milk again.

At times when the conversation gets away from music and singing, what do you particularly like talking about with your friends?

Mösch: My daughter is currently at elementary school learning to read and write, and I like to talk to her about the stories we read together. »Le Congrès des Sorcières« (The Witches’ Meeting) is one we’ve read many a time and it’s grown with our imagination. Mermaids are our friends. And I’m jealous of »Barbie’s« Ken because he’s got such a magnificent head of hair.

What would be your ideal destination for your next vacation or outing?

Mösch: My »place of longing« where I go to refuel is some dunes in Fuerteventura with views of the Atlantic Ocean. There are only two hotels there. I’m not going to let on any more than that. As an opera traveler, I get to see enough towns as it is.

Professor Stephan Mösch, one of the judges at DEBUT 2020, has taught at Karlsruhe University of Music since 2013. From 1994 to 2013, he was editor-in-chief of “Opernwelt” (Opera World), the international opera magazine. Professor Mösch has been a judge at many national and international competitions for singing, directing and stage design. In 2017 and 2019, he was on the judging panel for the German Music Council’s Conductor’s Award. He is also a member of the jury for the German Record Critics’ Award, undertakes regular work for ARD radio stations and writes for the features section of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

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