In Peter’s Own Words

This page features comments and quotes by the tenor himself.

PHwordsMy First Engagement

Outsiders certainly have no idea how a singer’s first engagement comes about. First one has to make the decision to become a singer.  That frequently is fraught with resistance from one’s family and circle of friends or at the very least is met with amazement and concern. One listens to dire warnings and reservations, which often do contain some truth.  If one didn’t have the strength to sweep these away without a second thought, the decision to become an opera singer was without question a poor one. If however, one makes the decision to go ahead, there are many hurdles to overcome. The first priority is to find an appropriate singing teacher, one who would be able articulate abstract concepts, who could challenge the student to bring out the talent within him.  After that, usually there would be a vocal test to pass for entrance to a conservatory. Then after a long period of study, one would audition for an agent.  If he was interested, he would arrange an audition at an opera house.

In my case I had three auditions in one week, and each time I had to pay for the trip myself, so that by the third trip I had no more money and had to hitchhike from Karlsruhe to Lübeck.  Eight American singers had also traveled to Lübeck with the same goal in mind, and thus all nine of us tenors performed one after the other three arias. The choice fell to me, and I was engaged.

I had my first contract in my pocket, and I was overjoyed!  Money was not the issue; I was getting paid very little.  Because I was joining the company in the middle of the season (and no other tenors in my Fach had been engaged), I was given a very vague contract, which did not guarantee me any performances, but if I did sing, then I would receive DM700 ($350) for the performance. They would also reimburse me for my travel expenses.  Nonetheless even if I had to walk home, I was still pleased at my first tangible success.

The following season proved itself to be an important learning experience for me and my future career.  The first role I had to sing on stage was Tamino in Zauberflöte.  That was like jumping into the water for the first time. If one survived, then things moved ahead, if not – as so often was the case – one was, as they so charmingly say “ tossed out the window.”  However, at that time I still wasn’t aware of these consequences.  And so my first engagement actually played itself out without a hitch- easier than what came after.

One thing I slowly came to grasp: I needed to develop a thick skin to protect myself against all the maliciousness which this profession brings with it, at the same time that I nurtured and always guarded the maximum sensitivity for my work on stage.

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I am completely convinced that one must be obsessed in order to be successful.  One has to prevail over so many setbacks and huge difficulties and one cannot be too dependent on the opinion of others.  Above all, one has to believe in oneself!

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For me art is not hitting the right notes – that goes without saying –but rather it is the ability to evoke emotion with the voice, without resorting to excessive theatrics. Using grand gestures makes for external acting; feeling, however, comes from within.

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