German bass Franz-Josef Selig is making his Canadian Opera Company debut as King Marke in Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. Selig has performed at the world’s great opera houses including the Met, Royal Opera House Covent Garden, La Scala, Wiener Staatsoper, Staatsoper Hamburg, Opéra de la Bastille, Théâtre du Châtelet (Paris), Lyric Opera of Chicago, Théâtre de la Monnaie (Brussels), Deutsche Oper Berlin and Bayerische Staatsoper (Munich).
Recent appearances include Fasolt in the Met’s new Ring Cycle; Bartolo in Le nozze di Figaro (Salzburg Festival); Die Entführung aus dem Serail (Liceu Barcelona); and, Parsifal, Die Zauberflöte and Tristan and Isolde (Wiener Staatsoper). Other credits include Rocco in Fidelio and Die Zauberflöte (Munich), Die Zauberflöte (London) andCommendatore in Don Giovanni (Salzburg). Later this season Mr. Selig reprises his role in the Met’s Ring Cycle.
Franz-Josef Selig will continue in the role of King Marke in the COC Tristan und Isolde until February 23rd in a production that’s sold out except for standing room. In addition, this Tuesday February 12th, Selig makes a special appearance at the Richard Bradshaw auditorium at a noon-hour recital of songs, singing songs by Franz Schubert & Richard Strauss.
I ask Selig ten questions: five about himself, and five about his portrayal of King Marke.
1) Which one of your parents do you most look like (what is your nationality / ethnic background)?
I guess I’m a nice mixture of both of them. I’m German. I’m married and we have three children, two daughters (26 and 23) and a son (18).
2) What is the best thing or worst thing about being an opera singer?
I’d like to describe the best thing with a short story from the end of our dress rehearsal here at the FSC. There were many young students in the audience and after Act 1 and 2 they were reacting immediately very excited. Then after 5 hours of heavy Wagner-opera with this incredible music of Isolde’s “Liebestod” at the end the audience was so touched that they had to be silent for a moment. Such breathtaking silence is for me one of the strongest experiences you can have.
The worst thing about being an opera singer is the sad fact to be most of your life on tour and far away from your family.
3) Who do you like to listen to or watch?
First I have to say that even though or maybe because I am a musician I do not listen to music all the time. I don’t have earphones on my head all time and most of the time in my house there is no radio etc. playing. I love the silence! When I listen to music I love, for example, recordings of Glenn Gould playing Bach, recordings of Bach Violin sonatas, Lieder-Repertoire sung for example by Fritz Wunderlich…. 95% I listen to classical music.
On television I am a big fan of a German crime-series that is called “Tatort” and thanks internet video stream it’s possible to watch it from everywhere!
4) What ability or skill do you wish you had, that you don’t have?
When I studied church music and worked as an organist I used to improvise a lot but I think it was more a brave and technical style. The gift of inspired improvisation would be one of my wishes if “Lady Luck” would cross my way one day!
5) When you’re just relaxing and not working what is your favourite thing to do?
Having time together with my family; playing organ; reading a book.
Five Questions about King Marke in Tristan und Isolde:
1) How does singing and acting the role of Marke challenge you?
I don’t know if this role really challenges me. Does an actor have to be challenged by a role? I would say much more important for King Marke is how I can come closer to this King by getting older and bring in more life experience. That is for sure very important. As a young singer you can probably ‘sing it’ but the inner side of the character you will discover every time a bit more.
2) What do you love about King Marke: both the role Wagner created & in Sellars’ production of the opera?
King Marke, I think, is one of the most emotional characters that Wagner and probably any composer created. The way of telling his emotions and the injuries of his soul and heart directly to Tristan and the other people in the scene is unique. Filippo II in Verdi’s Don Carlo also has a very emotional aria but he is alone speaking to himself. That’s a big difference! Peter Sellars is very much interested in the inner life of the characters and their relationships. We had a very close understanding already in Paris 2005 working on the first run of this production. I know that some people have little problems with the fact that in this production Marke kisses Tristan. For me this is a moment of deepest friendship and love for Tristan to whom Marke says “I loved you so much that I never wanted to get married again”. That means to me Marke didn’t want to marry again so that Tristan can become King after Marke dies. I would appreciate when people can think about this without any “homophobic thoughts and fears”….
3) Do you have a favourite moment in Tristan und Isolde?
Hard to say… I really adore the Overture of Act 1 and 3 as well as all these moments when Wagner is able to create music from a full orchestra level sometimes down to one instrument playing in just a few seconds. And then the end “ertrinken, versinken, unbewusst höchste Lust”…. Wow!!! Most of the time that doesn’t stop for hours in my head!
4) How do you relate to King Marke (the king who is betrayed in the medieval legend or as the figure in the Wagner music-drama) as a modern man?
How King Marke opens his fears and wounded heart to other people I think is showing a very modern man. If he were an old kind of hero he could have killed Tristan and Isolde at the end of act 1. But he is asking Tristan “why” instead of taking revenge!
5) Is there a teacher, singer, actor or an influence that you especially admire?
One of my first operas I ever saw was at the age of 24 (that’s true!!) “Tristan und Isolde” at the Bayreuth festival with Matti Salminen singing King Marke. A moment I will never forget.
Singers that I especially admire are Fritz Wunderlich and Cesare Siepi. Actors that I really like are for example Jack Nicholson, Meryl Streep, Bruno Ganz…
Tuesday Feb 12th Franz-Josef Selig makes a special appearance at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre in a program of Schubert & Strauss songs (accompanied by Rachel Andrist piano), between performances as King Marke in the COC production of Tristan und Isolde.