Rudolf Kempe. An appreciation by Heather Harper

Heather Harper

viernes, 12 de mayo de 2006

In the sixties I worked very often with Rudolf Kempe as he was the Music Director of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, but I had never sang opera with him. So when a communication arrived from Wieland Wagner inviting me to sing 'Elsa' in a new production at the Bayreuth Festival I knew I had to speak to Kempe before accepting.

He had asked for me and so I in turn asked him to hear me first before I gave my answer to Bayreuth. But there was very little time and Kempe was a very busy conductor, so we arranged that he would come to my home in London after travelling all night by train from Scotland where he had been conducting.

He arrived promptly at 8.30 AM and I prepared a breakfast for him and then with Wilhelm Pitz at the piano I sung the whole of the role of 'Elsa' for him. He had no doubts that I could sing it, but he warned me to be careful and not to give too much power in the confrontation scene with 'Ortrud' in the second act as it could be quite taxing for my lyric soprano voice. “You will be fine”, he said.

Working with him in Bayreuth was sheer joy, he had a quiet smile and there was no need to look at him as he knew how to conduct very well for singers. Alas, he was not able to conduct again in Bayreuth and the experience was not the same without him. The week he died in May 1976 I should have sang the Verdi's Requiem with him. Although I have now retired from singing, I still miss “Rudy” very much.

Editor's note

Heather Harper sang ‘Elsa’ at Bayreuth in 1967 and 1968. About those firsts performances, conducted by Rudolf Kempe, Ángel Mayo said: “Kempe conducted with his proverbial finesse -the prelude amazes- and delicacy; but he felt uneasy again so he showed up no more at Bayreuth. Elsa was the Irish Heather Harper, who specifically studied the role for her appearance at Bayreuth. She was very much liked, Erich Rappl said that her Elsa was "wonderfully performed and sung"; but she only went back there in 1968: today it becomes obvious that she has been one of the very few lyric sopranos of real class during the “only one in charge’s” persistent era.”


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