Yesterday I had the chance to speak with Martin Achrainer, the bass-baritone who was chosen to create the role of KEPLER for the world premiere performances in Linz and in Brooklyn. The night of the Brooklyn premiere, I briefly had a moment to speak with him. Being the same age and the same height, I began to wonder about his personal experience in creating this role. He and I could fit into Kepler's coat, but that's where the similarities between me and this fine singer stop.
Achrainer told me by phone from Austria, where the Landestheater Linz has performed Kepler 17 times (more performances have been added into February), that his initial participation began with difficulty as the musicians received their parts fairly late. They received Act I, the easier one for Kepler, in April. Act II, the more difficult, didn't arrive until June.
Richard Salter who had masterfully created the role of the Magistrate in Glass' Waiting for the Barbarians was originally in mind for Kepler. However with his death in early 2009 a new Kepler needed to be found.
Glass had heard Achrainer in Linz's production of Orphée, Don Giovanni, and Le Nozze di Figaro. Early on during rehearsals, Glass had three weeks in Linz of preparing the music and this afforded the composer the opportunity of changing and transposing Achrainer's part to fit his voice. The process and result enthralled Achrainer. He says at no point is the vocal part not comfortable or taking advantage of the very best parts of his range. "Musically," Achrainer says, "that helped me find a way to darker color in my voice."
He also found the character very interesting to play, calling Kepler a "political personality, not quite schizophrenic, but co-existing personalities in his world of mathematics and this other side of him, a political side, in which he made strong statements in a climate of political unrest and religious authority."
INTERVIEW WITH MARTIN ACHRAINER
Richard Guerin: When were you first approached about creating the role of Kepler?
In February 2009 the artistic director of the Linz State Theatre came to me with the idea of Kepler’s role. In me, they saw the perfect casting. There wasn’t yet any existing score from which I could take a deeper insight, but I was amazed by the idea. Immediately I started researching on the exciting life of the famous astronomer, I visited his residential house in Linz, read his biography and I looked into “Kepler’s Laws”. At this point my horizons and my interest about science had considerably increased.
RG: Were you familiar or have you sung in a Glass opera before?
I have been familiar with Philip’s music since my youth. Besides my personal enjoyment of his works, I was already in touch with his compositions during my studies. Before my education as a classical singer, I had first completed Drama and Musical training, during which I performed choreographies to his music. One of my first parts at the Linz State Theater was the title role “Orphée” in the opera of the same name. The vast experience of Maestro Dennis Russell Davies – who had premiered many of his pieces – helped me to get a basic understanding of the “Glass style”. Now I dare say that I have probably become an expert myself!
RG: Tell me about the process of work-shopping in Linz, details about that experience and your relationship with Davies and the opera company.
The wonderful thing about the work in Linz is to be allowed to play within a high standing and well rehearsed ensemble. I suppose this is due to the merit of the long-term artistic work of chief conductor Dennis Russell Davies. This is explicit in the development of the music production. The working process is carried out much faster.
After getting to know each other on the “Orphée” opera, the composer wrote the role for my voice. Therefore it fits like a glove. Besides, Philip was present most of the time during the rehearsals and supported us with his advice and actions.
Through the work with Dennis Russell Davies I’ve made great progress in my artistic development, which I wouldn’t have achieved elsewhere. He directed me in the main parts of my repertoire, such as Mozart or also Schubert (Winterreise). Kepler was just a further logical step in this terrific experience.
RG: What did you learn by doing this opera?
Originally I come from a very traditional way of making theater. For me it was very confusing not to act within a regular plot, but to represent the theological and philosophical problems. Not only to play a character role on stage, but to fall into that “contemplative state”, this was the great challenge. Kepler had to give up his ego to serve the bigger picture.
RG: What is in your schedule for near future?
The preparations for the next projects at the Linz State Theatre have already started, for example Viktor Ullmann’s “Kaiser von Atlantis”. I sing the title role of the emperor. Furthermore I will also sing the classical repertoire: Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro” (Count Almaviva) or Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly” ( Sharpless) as part of the program. Not forgetting my intensive work on the “Lied” programs in which I focus upon compositions of Schubert, Schumann, Wolf and Brahms.