Peter Hofmann Tales of a Singer’s Adventures

 

Published with the kind permission of the author, Fritz Hofmann.

Translated by Carla Maria Verdino-Süllwold

 Foreword by Jochen Leuschner

Peter Jochen LeuschnerMy first encounter with Peter Hofmann was at the end of the 60s on a rainy Sunday afternoon at Peter’s parents’ house in Aschaffenburg (Northern Bavaria/Germany), where his mother served us coffee and homemade cake.

I came to know and to experience Peter’s passion for classical music, his goal to study singing, and his desire to make a career as a singer.  At this time, he was serving the last year of his military obligation; he was not even thirty years old and full of élan and passion for what was to come after his discharge.

From the first meeting I liked him; his grand humor and his obvious talent as a raconteur were already very much in evidence.   I remember well that first afternoon that we all laughed and enjoyed ourselves enormously.

Peter’s dream was soon to come true!  By the middle of the 70s he became the celebrated new star of the Bayreuth Festival. The public and all the media loved the new tenor with the looks of a high-performance athlete.

A few years later, when we presented our idea of Rock Classics, we were surrounded by skeptics who believed that our idea that an opera singer could also set foot in the world of pop music did not have the slightest chance of success. But luckily all of them were wrong and right from the beginning of Peter`s career as a crossover tenor took off fast and and his success story became one of the most unsusual music phenomenena in the history of Germany`s music world.

In my almost thirty years in the music business, as an A&R executive and company president I have met countless musicians and artists. I met charismatic, striking artists, great talents, unbelievably  gifted and hard working music professionals, over-sized egos, nervous, stressed out and conceited individuals, sympathetic and sometimes less sympathetic phoneys, completely untalented dreamers, and established world stars . . .

But my friend Peter Hofmann occupied a completely singular place in my memory.  Why?  Because in all these years, I never met as unique a human being as he was!

I always found Peter to be a grown-up gifted child!  Curious, passionate,  playful, enthusiastic and capable of inspiring enthusiasm.  He could – when he wanted to- work in a diligent and disciplined manner and then in the next moment give in to completely laid-back impulses.  At every stage of his life he had a pure, child-like joy in all the beautiful and simple things of life.  He was more at home in nature than among the glamorous show people in the world’s cities.

His true love, however, throughout his lifetime, belonged to music – whether he himself was making the music or whether he was listening to and experiencing  the music others made, whether it was opera or another musical genre.  He was at home in many diverse musical worlds and he could, in all possible situations,  immerse himself in the sound of a great recording.

I believe I can say that I shared that.  I, too, have a great passion for music in all shapes and colors.  Perhaps that is what gave us a good chemistry in the years of our friendship and our successful professional collaboration.

A good example of the many memories of our time together is my first visit to Schloss Schönreuth to begin our work on Rock Classics, Peter`s first pop release which became a No.1 and multiplatinum album.  In a session lasting several hours, Peter introduced me to his world of opera.  We sat on the floor of the big livingroom in front of a giant stereo and were surrounded by numerous LPs.  Peter explained to me the plots and characters of the most important Wagner operas. He played for me many key scenes and often sang along in a charming fashion with the recordings.

I was blown away.  He noticed my reaction and liked it.  Today I very much miss the emotions of this visit and of so many others which followed.  In the succeeding years we shared so many lovely moments together.

We produced music in Los Angeles and in Nashville.  We worked together in the Abbey Road Studios in London.  Our paths crossed those of musicians and other colleagues who were music legends, and we, too,  created something special in our world.

With all the incredible successes Peter achieved, he remained true to himself.  He could be concentrated and focused with Fritz and me discussing the repertoire for the next album and then in the next instant he could, with the same enthusiasm, go shoot bow and arrow in his garden with us.

That is why – throughout the professional and business world- I admired him so much and – like an older brother- I loved him from my heart.

 Jochen Leuschner has worked for CBS Records/Sony Music Entertainment from 1974 – 2001. First as head of A&R and later from 1984 to 2001 as the German company`s president. He knew Peter`s family due to his close friendship to brother Fritz Hofmann. For a number of years in the 60s Fritz and Jochen were local rock heroes in the Aschaffenburg region.

Stories by Fritz Hofmann

1.    London- Der Freischütz

 I had just come back from the lovely English harbor town of Ramsgate in West County Kent, where I had Fritz Buch 1undertaken an English language course for several months, and before I was to begin my employment with an artist agency in Paris, Peter invited me to come to London with him for several weeks.  He had been engaged to sing the role of Max in Der Freischütz there at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden.

Peter had learned from experience that he preferred to live in private lodgings rather than in hotels, however comfortable.  So we took up residence in a lovely apartment near the Blackfriars Bridge on the Thames, from which we could see the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral on the opposite bank.  During the hectic rehearsal period, Peter, nevertheless, had to take the time to have a pair of custom high boots made for him, and we had the first appointment at Anello and Davide, who were the best known shoemakers for special theater and ballet footwear in London.  Their shoe shop was located not far from the Royal Opera House in Drury Lane.

Mr. Anello was famous for having crafted shoes for the Beatles, their so-called Beatle-Boots. Numerous international stars like Marilyn Monroe also had him make their shoes.  After Peter’s foot measurements had been taken, he was asked to come back a week later to try the boots.  Mr. Anello was so dissatisfied with the fit that we could have left after only a few minutes.  Throughout the appointment his old Master Shoemaker stood beside him in a white smock; both spoke hardly at all, and at the end they merely shook their heads.

But because Peter and I were very much interested in seeing it, Anello, after a lovely cup of tea, showed us his wonderful, antiquated, dusty workshop on the first floor, There in the showcases were some totally weird, offbeat shoe designs from major films and theatre productions!

On our third visit we found ourselves again sitting in Anello’s store, while his assistant tried to force Peter’s feet into the modified high boots.  Once more Mr. Anello stood there with his old shoemaker and wordlessly observed the unsatisfactory result.  After a little while they both looked at each other, and Anello issued the order: “Burn it!“

At this point it was unclear, if he really meant for the boots to be burned, but a week later the master creations were ready, and this time they fit Peter perfectly.  Evidently relieved, Mr. Anello took his leave of us with this terse remark:  “Finally – Well done, indeed!”

The premiere of Der Freischütz  concluded with huge applause and standing ovations, but in the following performance, there was an incident in the first act. At the spot in front of the wooded glen, Max is urged by his jealous hunting companion Kaspar, to use his gun to shoot an eagle flying in the distance.  So Max takes the flintlock gun loaded with black powder and points it at the stage rafters.  In the lighting tower above the stage, an assistant was standing – unseen to me in the auditorium – with a stuffed eagle waiting for Peter’s shot.

“Do you see the eagle there? Shoot, Max, shoot!“ Kaspar shouted to him.

So Peter took aim and pulled the trigger, but no shot.  He fired again, and again there was silence – not only was it touch and go with Peter on stage, but in the auditorium as well.  “No longer will I bear this torment,“ Max sang.

The special effects man who was following the scene form the wings had put too little black powder in the gun so that it was not possible for the scripted shot to be fired. After Peter had pulled the trigger of the flintlock unsuccessfully for the third time, he had to make a split second decision.  He knew that without a shot, the eagle wouldn’t fall, and the opera wouldn’t be able to continue.  So he aimed upward and yelled very loudly, “Peng!“  Whereupon the eagle came crashing down onto the stage, and the conductor gave the next cue.

I am not certain if there is a translation for the word “Peng,“ but it seemed to be universally understood, because the elegant English audience was very amused and laughed briefly, but heartily.  A pity that the Queen wasn’t there in the royal box!

In the next performance the special effects man wanted to make sure everything went well, so he loaded Peter’s flintlock with plenty of black powder.  Once again Max pointed at the rafters in the direction of the eagle and pulled the trigger.  With a deafening bang the gun barrel almost flew into the orchestra pit, and from the trigger of the flintlock a small battery used to trip the gun was seen dangling on a cable.  No one was amused at this strange sight, but seemed shocked instead!

After the performance Peter told me that he had been deaf for a few seconds and had a great deal of difficulty coming in on the right pitch. The special effects man was shifted to another department, and in the subsequent performances there were no more shattering explosions at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden.

Before saying goodbye to London, we stopped for a cup of tea at Mr. Anello’s, and we learned from him that Peter’s original, badly fitting boots had actually landed in the oven!  We packed our bags and none the worse for our experience traveled back to the safety of Germany.

2.   Bayreuth-Wolfgang Wagner

 Parsifal with Wolfgang Wagner

I was already a little nervous when Peter pointed out to me the Director of the Bayreuth Festival, Wolfgang Wagner, in the artists’ canteen. I was expecting an authoritative person whom all the artists and employees of this huge artistic operation addressed with the greatest, almost subservient respect.  Actually, my nervousness disappeared very quickly because he was a perfectly normal employer, with whom – rather like the Flying Dutchman – it was immediately and unmistakably clear he was captain of this ship.

In brief, passing encounters he could be very witty and always had an anecdote ready. But he was also known for his fits of temper if something didn’t suit him or his instructions had not been followed.  Moreover, one had the impression that he could appear in many parts of the Festspielhaus at the same time. His pronounced, strong Frankish accent heard in the darkest corner of the backstage signified: The director is nearby!

Right after a heated discussion with the lighting crew in the fly loft, one would see him shortly afterwards in the canteen kitchen with a spoon in hand tasting the soup: “That doesn’t taste right; it needs some salt!” would be his terse comment, and then he would again head off with quick stride in the direction of his office.  He was a tireless doer, whom I never saw go at a leisurely pace, and if you could call anyone a “Jack of all Trades,” it was surely festival director Wolfgang Wagner.

During a performance of Meistersinger while Peter was on stage, I ran into Wagner as I was waiting for the elevator, which, I might add, was not supposed to be used by the soloists or staff during a performance.  One thinks about a worst-case scenario: what if Stolzing got stuck in the lift and the whole performance were left hanging? Unthinkable!

Wolfgang Wagner clapped me on the shoulder, and I was graced with the following words: “Ah, Meister Hofmann, if your brother should have to cancel, you could jump in because you look so much alike. Gut, schön!”

Nevertheless, the elevator at the Festspielhaus was not completely off limits, as this little accident at a Lohengrin performance demonstrated:  At the beginning of the performance Peter was to make his entrance with the help of a hand operated lift which carried him up from beneath the stage. This got jammed so that the public could only see the top half of the proud Grail Knight, and Peter had the arduous task of creeping out of the tiny stage trap door in his heavy armor and sword. One can imagine the situation if Luciano Pavarotti, instead of Peter, would have had to appear on stage in this performance!

In their free time the artists got together in the canteen in the basement of the Festspielhaus. One could drink coffee on the terrace in the summer – as long as there was a table reserved for the soloists – and the entire atmosphere had a wonderful family feeling.  Here the last performance and other important “business” would be discussed  – for example, topical jokes or planning the next outing to a beer garden in Franconian Switzerland on a day without a performance.

I remember also, however, that this harmonious atmosphere could be abruptly shattered. Once while a performance was going on, Der Hausherr –  as always in a rush –  showed up in the packed canteen. He remained standing and looked around.  Quite a few artists sat in their costumes and makeup with their family and friends at the tables, and there wasn’t a single free seat.

At the Festspielhaus one can only get in with a valid pass, which specifies where one may have access.  All the Festspielhaus employees had to carry one of these passes, which came in a variety of colors; on my light blue soloist’s pass from 1985 it said: “Unlimited Access” meaning for the entire Festpielhaus. “Disregard or abuse of this will result in withdrawal of these privileges.”

Since that meant unlimited access to the canteen, as well, I wasn’t happy with Wagner’s tough, angry outburst. He hissed angrily and loudly:  “Everyone without a valid pass get out! Out right away, out, out! The artists’ canteen is for the employees of the festival, and when they cannot find anywhere to sit during a strenuous performance, I have to crack down.”  Polite, or for that matter, diplomatic expression was not his thing, but on the other hand, he had a point.  Accordingly, a considerable number of guests without passes quickly headed for the exit, and unfortunately many unfinished meals were left on the tables.

The quite understandable reason for Wagner’s sharp tirade lay in the fact that some members of the press tried to attain access to the Festspielhaus without authorization, in order to report on things that took place behind the scenes. He wanted to avoid this at all costs, because he believed that all the artists, without exception, were always in his protection.  He was like a father to a family of artists.

As I did every year near the end of the festival season, I got a call from Wagner’s secretary, Frau Taudt, asking me to make an appointment with her boss.  I knew that the topic was to be the next season and for which roles he wanted to engage Peter. One does not negotiate very much about fees in Bayreuth because these are firmly established for specific roles.  So I was politely asked to presently myself at the company office the next day at exactly 9:16 a.m.  Afraid of arriving too late, I found myself already there at 9:00 a.m. and was shortly afterwards invited into Herr Wagner’s office.  After the roles and dates, including the extensive rehearsal time for Peter had been fixed, and we were alone, I asked him one more thing:  “Please tell me why you specified exactly 9:16 for this appointment?”  He replied with a laugh: “Gut schön, Meister Hofmann, take note of this for your future management career. If I set the exact minute for someone to arrive at an appointment, this person not only comes very punctually because he is afraid of being late, but he even comes earlier than the appointed time.  Everyone thinks that my calendar is planned precisely minute by minute, which, of course, is not true.  Haha!”  The white haired Wagner patted me lightly on the shoulder and, richer for the tip, I took my leave of the wise festival director.

I also want to report on Peter’s CD Rock Classics and its reception.  Not long after it was released in 1982, it had experienced a huge, greater than anticipated success, but not all the classical fans shared Peter’s love for pop music.  We knew well that there would be no lack of outraged and scornful critics. Until that point there hadn’t been anything like Peter’s singing of both Wagner and pop music, and it remains unique until today!

At a later date backstage at the Festspielhaus with the music of Meistersinger to be heard in the background, I spoke with Herr Wagner about the phenomenal success of this recording – weeks in the number one spot on the hit sales charts.

“Does Peter’s excursion into the ‘depths’ of pop music really bother you?” was the direct question I put to the festival director, and without a long pause, he gave me a spontaneous and surprising answer:  “I find it splendid, Meister Hofmann, and I have nothing at all against it.  For some time now we have seen that the ticket requests for the festival are up by about 60,000, and I directly attribute this to your brother’s success with pop music. People who have not previously been able to make headway with Richard Wagner, suddenly desire to experience Peter just once on the Festspielhaus stage. That is great!”

I had not expected such an open approach from him, and when that evening I told my brother what he said, his smiling remark was: “We should send him an invitation to my next pop concert!”

Should the festival director actually have attended such a concert, then it surely would have been inconspicuously and very well disguised. With the exhaustive resources of the Festspielhaus there would certainly have been no problems for him to find a suitable costume!

PHWW

3.  Parsifal – Herbert von Karajan

Perhaps the most important recording of Wagner’s Parsifal with Herbert von Karajan conducting the Berlin Peter .Karajan Salzburg Parsifal Philharmonic Orchestra was scheduled on Peter’s calendar for the end of 1979. The recording sessions with my brother in the title role naturally took place at the Berlin Philharmonic Hall.  Months before, Peter had already performed the third act of Parsifal with Maestro von Karajan on stage at the Paris Opera, and now the work was to be preserved on disc.

After that performance I was sitting with Peter in a small Paris bistro, where he made me the wonderful offer to come back to Germany and take up the exclusive management of his career.  Even though my Paris apprenticeship years had been important for my future, I had no doubts, and without much deliberation, I gladly accepted his offer. Among my duties for my job at the Paris artists agency, I was to provide a singer for the tiny role of a squire for this important Parsifal production.

I was delighted when Peter invited me to drive with him to the recording sessions in Berlin, because for the first time. I would be able to attend such a major production.  That I as a former timpanist, having studied percussion, I was now able able to look over the shoulders of the Philharmonic musicians was an unique experience! When I asked the first chair timpanist how one got such a dream job at the Philharmonic Orchestra, he answered me: “Never look at the score; instead, always keep your eyes on the conductor.”

Karajan conducted very much in his own way – almost always from memory with his eyes closed – and demanded from his musicians constant eye contact with him.  Woe to anyone who had to glance down too often at the score!

So we got underway in our car toward Berlin, and as usual, we were running late because Peter had not been ready; he still had crucial things to do in tending to his horses.  He was tranquility itself; he parted very unwillingly from his beloved animals, and he would have been happier if he could have ridden to Berlin!  As always, I was pushing us to leave because one had better not let Herr von Karajan wait!

When we got to the DDR border crossing of Rudolphstein/Hirschberg bei Hof, we were greeted by an unfriendly border dull blue-gray.  To his question “So where are you headed?,” I answered “To Berlin.  We are already pretty late.”  We quickly sensed that he, in contrast to us, was in absolutely no hurry at all.  Amiably he shuffled though our passports in his grimy guard station from which, after a half hour, he came back out with a grim expression.  “Your visa, please,” he said gruffly.

“What visa?” Peter asked our friend incredulously, because he knew well with whom he was dealing; our impatience and nervousness did not in the slightest alter his calm apathy.

“Exactly where do you want to go in Berlin?” he murmured in his accentless  Saxon dialect.

“We have a recording session at the Philharmonic Hall in Berlin, and unfortunately we are pretty late, “ I replied.

With evident amazement he informed us:  “Ah, so, the Philharmonic is your destination.  That’s in West Berlin and before you only told me that you had to go to Berlin.  As you know, Berlin is the capital of the DDR, and for that you would need a visa.”

I couldn’t resist a loud sigh because otherwise we would have spent the rest of the day in the pre-Christmas atmosphere of this idyllic spot!

The unforgettable smell of brown coal heating and the exhaust fumes of two- cylinder Trabis accompanied us for the next three hours until we got to West Berlin, and we arrived – after driving well above the speed limits – at the Philharmonic Hall exactly on time.  Besides Karajan’s photographer, Herr Lauterwasser, I was the only other guest allowed to take a seat in the auditorium. I sat there without moving, thinking all the while about not making the tiniest sound.  What a nightmare it would be if a little cough from me might have interrupted the recording!  But everything went well, and I still remember that Karajan suddenly stopped the orchestra with these words:  “This orchestra lacks any kind of fundamental technique! ” and insulted, he withdrew briskly to the listening booth.  We sat there for a while at the mixing console, and after a while my brother asked the conductor why he had sentenced the orchestra to this forced break especially when we had not heard any discordant notes at all.  He merely mumbled, “There is absolutely nothing to find fault with, but when I come back after three quarters of an hour, everyone is sitting there rather piqued but completely focused on the podium, thinking, “We’ll show him now.”  And so they did!

Herbert von Karajan was a perfectionist in every respect.  It didn’t matter whether that pleased someone or not; any means was legitimate for him in trying to reach the highest level of perfection and performance.  This Grammy winning Parsifal recording demonstrated again that the conductor was on the right course.

During the recording sessions it came to the short entrance of my singer with his two small lines.  Unfortunately, he was so nervous, that he came in too early and rushed through his music. Von Karajan looked at the orchestra, but because  the singer was at the front of the stage with the conductor and musicians behind him, he didn’t notice it. Without turning around, Karajan impatiently halted and repeated this part.  For a second time the singer botched his cue. Now it fell to the Maestro; he broke off a second time and looked at the singer.  He again saw the young man in great anxiety leafing through his score.  In a fury, the conductor spat out, “Put away that score immediately!  Moll, Hofmann and all the other singers have been singing from memory for hours, but you need to look at the score for two lines, and even then you get it wrong.  One more try or you can go home!”

There was absolute silence in the hall, and since there was nothing I could do about it, I almost sank into my seat, because I had arranged for the engagement of this singer, and I now felt responsible.  Herbert von Karajan again gave the Philharmonic the cue. This time the singer found the right pitch and so he was able to remain.

We were all staying in the Hotel Kempinski on the Ku’damm. In the evening Karajan invited Peter and me to dine in the Kempinski Grill, and we talked in passing about this incident, for which he, in no way, held me responsible.  He preferred to talk about yoga, and I had the sense that the people at the next table was very interested in our conversation.

Not only did Herbert von Karajan get up every morning at five o’clock, but then he also stood for almost an hour on his head.  Then he would go to the hotel pool and swim there all by himself for about an hour.  Peter and I had great respect for his iron discipline, which was surely the basis of his huge worldwide success.

The recording sessions in Berlin were wrapped up to everyone’s satisfaction and in 1980 Karajan’s Parsifal with the same cast was performed at the Salzburg Easter Festival.  After a rehearsal in Salzburg, Peter drove Karajan in his Bentley to his house in Anif, the neighboring village of four-thousand inhabitants.

Karajan loved not only beautiful women, but also fast and handsome cars.  He was also the pilot of his own Learjet.  On the drive Peter’s powerful stereo system was blaring the recently released Pink Floyd album, The Wall.  After a little while Peter noticed how Karajan was tapping to the beat, and it gave him pleasure to turn the loudspeakers up.  ”We don’t need no education,” streamed from the eight loudspeakers, making passersby in the dreamy village of Anif turn around and look at the two of them and wonder about this loud music.

Karajan’s only comment:  “I like it.  Who is this?”

Peter and I were big fans of Pink Floyd, and a highlight for us was getting to know the entire band personally before their unforgettable concert in London.

4.   Moscow – Lohengrin

File_024In 1980 Peter had been invited by the Bolshoi Theatre to make his debut in the title role of Lohengrin as part of a guest performance by the Staatsoper Hamburg.  I had several important appointments and unfortunately could not go with him, but he later told me about his curious experience.

Peter was staying at the time in the center of Moscow, right on Red Square in the huge Hotel Moscow, which has been completely rebuilt today.  The hotel, which dated from Stalin’s time, was so big that Peter needed almost ten minutes at a leisurely jog to get from his suite to the reception desk. This athletic exercise was included in the price of the room.

After a short walk in the cold to the nearby Bolshoi Theatre, Peter soon found himself at the stage door, where the Russian speaking porter refused him entry. Because Peter was singing here for the first time and had never been in Moscow before, he didn’t know the doorman. With his leather jacket, sneakers, and long mane of hair, Peter didn’t exactly look like the cliché of an opera singer.  Having little command of Russian, Peter tried with gestures to explain to the porter that he was to sing the title role of Lohengrin that evening. However, the gatekeeper seemed stupid, or he actually was, because he calmly and unapologetically let Peter stand in the bitter Moscow cold.

Impatient, my brother got a clever idea to rescue the situation: he simply sang In fernem Land unnahbar euren Schritten, liegt eine Burg, die Montsalvat genannt.  This is the beginning of the Grail Narration from Richard Wagner’s opera, Lohengrin.  Fascinated, the porter listened to him, courteously opened the door and let my brother into the warm opera house, so that Peter could, without any further delay, give his best in the Grail Narration that evening.  Not in Russian, but luckily in the German language!

5.   Paris – Jessye Norman

American soprano Jessye Norman had been engaged.  As a result of Chéreau’s 100th Anniversary Ring, the dreampeter paris Walküre casting of Siegmund and Sieglinde has remained even until today as Peter and Jeannine Altmeyer.  They complemented each other superbly not only vocally but also visually.

One could not help notice that the marvelous soprano Jessye Norman had a statuesque figure, and, in addition to her complexion, there was a big visual difference between her and Peter.  I knew her very well because I had worked for her during my time in the Paris artists’ agency.  There is no one who can laugh as spontaneously and heartily as Jessye Norman. She is an extraordinary personality with a great sense of humor, and my brother got along wonderfully with her.

Peter and I had once calculated that he had sung the role of Siegmund in Wagner’s Die Walküre more than three hundred times.  But my brother was only too happy to experience one more performance like this one with Jessye Norman in Paris!

Both Siegmund and Sieglinde do not know at the beginning of the opera that they are twins. When Siegmund enthusiastically pulls the sword from the ash tree, he then learns she is his sister.  So Jessye is supposed to look at Peter and recognize him as her twin brother, which, naturally, did not come easily to her. It wasn’t only the Paris public who was thinking, “How could these two who looked nothing alike be twins?”

This bizarre stage situation spurred Jessye to one of her famous laughing fits in which tears poured from her eyes and she could barely regain control of herself.  Peter later told me that he was also having the greatest difficulty to look Jessye seriously in the face and to sing convincingly so blühe den Wälsungenblut.

Luckily the performance was able to proceed after even the conductor restored order with his baton.  The Parisian public didn’t take the incident amiss and at the curtain fêted the very different looking twins Siegmund and Sieglinde with bravos.

6.   Vienna – Karl Böhm

(This story is not included in Fritz Hofmann’s book.)

In the 80s and 90s Peter was working with the most famous conductors in the world.  An so it was that he was engaged for a concert at the Vienna State Opera with the New Zealand soprano Kiri Te Kanawa to be accompanied by the Vienna Philharmonic under the direction of Karl Böhm. (Today’s younger readers will likely be more familiar with the conductor’s son, the philanthropist Karl Heinz Böhm and his Africa Project.)

Maestro Karl Böhm could sometimes be a cynical, sarcastic, and difficult man.  I had gotten to know him in Paris, when the agency where I worked had organized a concert for him. His wife Thea was always by his side and shared all the decisions.

The rehearsals with the Vienna Philharmonic progressed very harmoniously, especially since Peter got along fabulously with his partner Te Kanawa, who was the same age and a genuine Maori. Both singers had a similar sense of humor, which was not exactly Karl Böhm’s thing.  He was known for being hard to follow because one could scarcely make out the movement of his baton and so the cues for singers and orchestra were tricky.

During this rehearsal Maestro Böhm got a glimpse of the lettering on Kiri’s T-shirt, which he couldn’t really understand.  Because Böhm was not very conversant with the English language, he did not comprehend the meaning of the words,  I am a virgin, which was written in large letters on the shirt.  But after a little while he wanted to know what that meant and called to the stage:  “Please, stop and tell me what that says on Te Kanawa’s shirt.”

Peter translated for the maestro:  “I am a virgin means Ich bin eine Jungfrau.”

“Bravo,” replied Böhm accompanied by peals of laughter from the Philharmonic musicians.  After a pause to regain everyone’s composure, the rehearsal continued and during one scene Kiri TeKanawa turned her back.  Now one could read on the back of her T-shirt a second saying: This shirt is a little bit older.  Once again Maestro Böhm did not understand the phrase, but luckily Peter was there to explain it to him:

“This shirt is a little older means Dieses Hemd ist etwas älter.”

“Ah, bravo,” was Maestro Böhm’s new reply.  The rehearsal once more broke off, and Peter and Kiri TeKanawa fell into each other’s arms laughing.

And so a rehearsal day at the Vienna State Opera that had begun so seriously ended with an amusing English lesson for the famous conductor Karl Böhm.

7.   New York – David Rockefeller

Mick Jagger and Peter Hofmann in NYC

Mick Jagger and Peter Hofmann in NYC

Here are two of the many wonderful memories that I was able to share with my brother in New York. In 1986 Peter sang Richard Wagner’s Lohengrin at the MET at New York’s Lincoln Center. We moved into our accommodations right on Central Park South in the Navarro Hotel, which was where the rock stars stayed most of the time. At our hotel we often ran into Franz Beckenbauer, the World Cup soccer player and coach, who was at the time playing with the Cosmos in New York and also staying at the Navarro. Since their first meeting years ago they had developed a good relationship, because Peter greatly admired Franz’ s accomplishments and liked him very much as a friend. They often talked about golf, a “bug” with which they both were completely obsessed. At the Addidas Golf Cup in Herzogenaurach in Bavaria, they had played together in one team, and Peter always received an invitation to the Franz Beckenbauer Golf Cup. In exchange my brother invited him to his own Peter Hofmann Golf Cup.

Franz still likes to remember my brother today and says of him: “Peter was one of the greatest tenors of all time on a par with Domingo and Pavarotti, and I heard all three of them often in New York at the MET. Peter and I always kept in contact as friends, and I also visited him years later in Hamburg when he was starring in Phantom of the Opera with Anna Maria Kaufmann. I always greatly admired his work, but above all I admired him as a person.”

After a Lohengrin rehearsal Peter came back to the hotel from the MET and presented me with a handwritten invitation to a formal dinner in the New York apartment of David Rockefeller. I don’t think that the name “Rockefeller” needs any explanation, especially since at that time he was the CEO of the second biggest bank in the world, Chase Manhattan.

In addition, he belonged – with a dozen or so other members – to the Metropolitan Opera’s Golden Horseshoe. To become a member of this exclusive club, all fof whom all friends and patrons of the MET, one has to have not only a famous name, but also had to have significant funds to contribute. The annual dues for the members were a minimum of $200,000, and of course, there was no upper limit. In the huge auditorium of ther MET which has almost four thousand seats, every club member owns his own seat in the front row with his name plate on the armrest. This row resembles a horseshoe, and thus gives its name to the club.

One also should know that at the MET the profits and expenses are completely self-financed. Government subsidies, which the Bayreuth Festival, for example, receives, are a foreign concept in New York, so one is always thinking about ways to make money. The Bayreuth Festival or other opera companies in Germany and elsewhere should consider this efficient business model which doesn’t cost the taxpayers a penny.

The MET’s fantastic Lohengrin production with Peter and Leonia Rysanek in the principal roles was also recorded for television broadcast. This DVD with James Levine conducting is still available at the MET Opera Shop.

When I had packed my suitcase in Germany I hadn’t really planned on a formal dinner with Mr. Rockefeller, and so there I was without anything suitable to wear. And, of course, I didn’t want to buy a totally new outfit for this one evening. Peter found a simple, but clever solution. “You wear my tuxedo, and I’ll go in my tails to the dinner,” he said to me. Peter always packed both these suits for his concert performances, so this solved the issue of dress for me, because now I only needed an appropriate pair of shoes to wear with Peter’s tuxedo. So I went out and found a pair of shiny, imitation patent leather shoes on sale at Florsheim’s. Since I was really only going to wear them this one evening. I was very pleased with my little twenty-dollar bargain

The long stretch limousine arrived right on time at the Navarro Hotel and a chauffeur with white gloves opened the door. Everything seemed to be happening in a movie, but I took great pains to remain cool. When we arrived at the appointed place, Rockefeller’s townhouse, we got out of the limousine –in tuxedo and tails both of us were a little overdressed – to step into a candlelight dinner at David Rockefeller’s. “This will really be quite an evening,” I thought secretly to myself.

We were greeted very cordially by David. With the exception of Peter, no other artists had been invited. Besides Mr. Rockefeller, we knew none of the other guests, and at the beginning we had to get by with a great deal of small talk. Many waiters in white uniforms served numerous cocktails in the foyer during the initial reception, and the guests admired Peter in his black tails. On the other hand, my imitation patent leather shoes drew very little attention. I had the opportunity to talk to David Rockefeller, but I never found out why everyone called him “Billy”, which is what he had printed on his calling card that he later handed me.

Finally, we were invited in to dinner. In a palatial room with open fireplaces, the tables were elegantly set, and everyone looked for his seat with his place card. Peter and I were sitting at separate tables, but we had eye contact. It seemed to me that we were by far the youngest guests in this illustrious circle. With the estimated average age of seventy-five or higher, it was difficult for me to make halfway intelligent conversation with the lady seated next to me, a very elderly New Yorker with blue-white hair and sparkling diamonds. And I had to talk to her for the next hour ! How wonderful! I would have rather sat at Peter’s table because Billy was making animated conversation with him, and everything was going along very merrily there. For me the conversation about diamonds and wealth was boring, and I was glad when we slowly neared the end of the menu with its numerous courses.   But we kept smiling, we took our leave of Mr. Rockefeller, courteously thanking him, because after all, it isn’t everyday that one gets invited to dinner with the second richest man in the world!

I still remember another, fortunately less formal invitation in New York, that our then record company, Sony Music, arranged for Peter – a party in a private Manhattan club. It was a casual evening without tails or patent leather shoes, and many show business people were invited. Leonard Bernstein who lived in an apartment with a view in the historic Dakota Building on Central Park West, gladly accepted the invitation.

This party was quite an experience, because Lenny, as all his friends called him, sat for hours at the piano with a cigarette hanging from his lips and a tall drink within reach and played selections from his famous West Side Story or a mean Blues melody.He always was the center of attention at any party, and he loved that. This moment was suddenly interrupted when Rolling Stones lead singer Mick Jagger appeared at the door. Then immediately the guests turned their attention to him. Because Peter and Mick had never until now met personally, Peter greeted Mick informally by saying”:” Hi, my name is Peter Hofmann. I’m an opera singer.”

Mick replied, “Hello, Peter, my name is Mick Jagger, and I’m a rock singer.”

They both laughed heartily and they talked very enthusiastically for a long time. Peter discovered that Jagger wasn’t a real fan of Richard Wagner’s compositions, but that he preferred Mozart’s music. All at once Leonard Bernstein was no longer the focal point of the scene; it quickly became Peter’s party.

Funny how so many times it is those seemingly small moments which remain indelibly and eternally imprinted in one’s memory.

 

8.   Los Angeles – The Capitol Studios

Capitol Studios LAAt the beginning of 1991, Peter’s CD Love Me Tender was recorded in Los Angeles. It was comprised exclusively of Elvis songs. Together with Sony Music Director Jochen Leuschner we decided not to produce this record in chilly Germany, but rather in the warm California sun of LA.

Of course, our decision not only had to do with the pleasant environment of the Los Angeles metropolitan area on America’s West coast, but an even more important reason was that the resident studio musicians there were extraordinary. Peter was quickly won over about the state-of-the art conditions, which are absolutely essential for this kind of top production.

As we often did on long stays abroad, I spent some time looking for an appropriate lodging accommodation for us. This needed to be not too far from the legendary Capitol Studios in Hollywood, where in 2011 Paul McCartney had recorded his latest studio album. Many options were offered us, but none of them seemed ideal. After all, it was going to be our home for six weeks.

After a long search, I found a modern villa in Beverly Hills, 1807 Ysidrio Drive, not far from the famous Beverly Hills Hotel. The quiet, roomy house was situated on a little hill, had a private driveway, and our neighbors were, of course, minor and major movie stars. In the evening one could have a cool drink by the pool with its view overlooking the Los Angeles skyline.

Pretty Woman, here we are!

For the implementation of our project Barbra Streisand’s producer Randy Kerber seemed the best choice, because he had already produced countless CDs for world stars and was knowledgeable about voices. The crème de la crème of American studio musicians together with the fabulous setting of the Capitol Studios made for optimum conditions for a successful CD, and Peter was enormously delighted with this thrilling new challenge!

Normally, the singer arrives near the end of the recording sessions, when all the playbacks are in the can, and crowns the recording with the most important “instrument” of all, namely his voice. In this case we were there from the beginning of the sessions, and in that way, Peter could always contribute his own musical ideas, which naturally made everything that much more personal. Setting the tempo and the keys for the various songs has to be decided at the start and requires a very precise consideration. Once the tempo is decided, it is no longer possible to change it later on. With studio costs at $4000 a day, one can well imagine that very accurate almost painstaking preparations are critical for such a big CD production. The producer Randy Kerber was not only musically responsible, but also had to be sure to stay within the predetermined Sony budget, which in the end was usually significantly overrun.

Every day in the pleasant weather, we drove our convertible with the top down the length of Hollywood Boulevard, and when we passed the Chinese Theater on the left, we were almost there at the Capitol Studios. After a long recording day in a windowless, climate-controlled studio with only a short fast food break at midday, it was lovely to drive back leisurely along Sunset Strip to the house. Of course, there we were again in the open convertible with Peter singing along live with whatever song was playing on the music cassette, and when we came to the red lights, we gave the passersby a little sample of the upcoming CD. I remember at one crossing a woman called to us in German: ”Peter, when is the new CD coming out?”

“Soon,” he replied.

After a demanding day in the studio, we would make a brief stop in the Beverly Hills Hotel, where the valet always parked our convertible. Tired and frazzled, we would have a little drink in the famous Polo Lounge and listen to the bar pianist interpret Sinatra songs. But it wasn’t long before our eyelids grew heavy and we soon retired to bed.

So much for the famous nightlife in Beverly Hills!

But then we hadn’t come to LA for a vacation, even though everything here felt like a holiday. There seem to be no normal working people in Hollywood. Everyone seems to be either a movie star or on the way to becoming one. Once at a gas station, the very handsome service attendant, a Brad Pitt look alike, told us that he was only doing this job because he was supposed to play the part of a gas station attendant in a big movie and so he was preparing on the real scene for his career as a big star. Whether he is still practicing for his gas station attendant’s role today, I do not know. “That’s Hollywood!”

After six long weeks when we had almost completed the recording, I proposed the idea that Peter should pose for the cover photo of the album on sunny Malibu beach in front of a vintage pink Cadillac convertible, and it met with a positive response. The famous Berlin photographer Jim Rakete, who was in Hollywood at the time, willingly undertook this assignment, and a 1950 pink Cadillac was rented from a film studio.

In a completely overpriced boutique on the famous Rodeo Drive, we found, after a long search, an appropriate suit which Peter liked and could wear for the upcoming photo shoot.

Sony Music Director Jochen Leuschner was very interested in the results of our studio work and of the photo shoot, and so we invited Jochen and his wife near the end of the recording sessions to come stay with us in Beverly Hills. The next morning when we met the photographer and the crew at the appointed place on Malibu Beach, the California sun was nowhere to be seen. Everything was gray on gray, and our mood was likewise gloomy. What were we to do?

Since Jim Rakete lived in the Hollywood Hills, in the neighborhood of Mulholland Drive, he proposed to drive to that area because that high up the sun shone twelve hours a day. That quickly resolved, we loaded up the Cadillac for transport and the entire crew took off on an interesting tour of the hills. After a winding drive we reached the highest elevation on Mulholland Drive, which Jim had chosen for the photo shoot. The sun was actually shining up there and we had an amazing view of the Los Angeles skyline! After endless waiting for the desired twilight rays of the sun – the so-called Blue Hour–Peter was very relieved to end the photo shoot. He didn’t especially like photo shoots, and he commented dryly: “Most of the time I don’t know how I am supposed to look at the camera.

Glad that everything had worked out well, Peter personally drove the unregistered Pink Cadillac down into the valley. In spite of all our worries, everything went well, and we were not stopped by the police. Several tourists on the sidewalks waved to us both at the tricky street crossings, and I was really glad that the very bad brakes were able to negotiate the curves in the road.

One of the last songs which we recorded in the Capitol Studios was the Elvis title, Little Sister. As we played back the first of Peter’s sung versions, the producer randy Kerber thought that adding a male backup voice would sound good. Remembering my days with Jochen Leuschner in a band, I made the spontaneous suggestion to bring him to the studio for this job. After Peter agreed, I called Jochen who was, at that moment, sunning himself at the pool. A little while later there he was for the first time with Peter in a studio, with both of them singing Little Sister into the microphone. Unusual, but great when the head of a record company is also a good singer!

The end of this wonderful time in Los Angeles drew near; the recording was finished, and we deliberated about where to go for a little farewell dinner. We finally reserved a table in Wolfgang Puck’s famous restaurant, Spago, on Sunset Boulevard. I don’t think there is a single Hollywood star who has not eaten here and has been waylaid by a dozen paparazzi and camera crews at the entrance and exit. We sat at a big, round table and enjoyed a fair amount of white wine. The demanding studio work was behind us, and we were allowing ourselves a few lovely hours of vacation.

As the evening progressed, I noticed how producer Kerber’s face took on the pale color of the wine. He gave me a signal to come over to him. Seeking help, he whispered in my ear, that this evening in the sinfully expensive Spago would devastate his budget if this jolly party continued as it was. Discreetly, I shared the problem with Jochen Leuschner, and he replied, “Tell Randy that I will take care of everything.” Relieved that his budget would not be burdened with an additional three thousand dollars, Randy’s normal color returned to his countenance.

With so many memories and Peters successful CD Love Me Tender in the can, we flew back home the next day.

 

9.   Richard Wagner – The Film

Fritz and Peter Hofmann in Wagner film

Fritz and Peter Hofmann in Wagner film

After my return from France, where I had been working at the opera and concert artists’ agency, in the Rue du Faubourg St. Honoré in the heart of Paris, in 1980 I took up, at my brother’s request, the exclusive management of Peter’s career. I returned to Germany and was now working for my brother from Bayreuth. Just after I had begun my “term of office,” an interesting film offer crossed my desk.

The life of Richard Wagner was to be made into a film for which the production company had already engaged some international actors. Richard Burton was to play Richard Wagner; Wagner’s wife Cosima was to be portrayed by Vanessa Redgrave; Sir Laurence Olivier was undertaking the role of one of Ludwig II’s ministers, and the movie was to be shot in over two hundred European locations. In 1984 not long after the completion of the film in 1983, Richard Burton died. He reminded us, in this his last great role, what a magnificent actor he was. The Englishman Tony Palmer directed; he had already made countless films with classical and pop music legends – for example, he produced the Beatles’ All You Need Is Love.

Multiple Oscar winner Vittorio Storaro, whose films included Apocalypse Now with Marlon Brando and Harrison Ford, was hired as the cinematographer. Thus, this film about Richard Wagner’s life was an international production loaded world stars! It didn’t take too much discussion to persuade my brother to sign on to this fabulous film project; his immediate acceptance stemmed not from financial considerations, but rather from artistic motivations.

Peter undertook the role of the first Tristan, Ludwig Schnorr von Carolsfeld, and not long after, we had to fly to London for the first costume fittings and “belly tests.” That’s right – “belly tests!” In 1865 when Schnorr von Carolsfeld was singing, people believed that opera singers had to have a huge girth in order to amplify the resonance of the voice. This is, of course, nonsense, because fat does not produce sound.

Because my brother had been a former decathlon athlete and had avoided weight gain naturally by abstaining from massive intake of calories, he now needed an artificial stomach made of white rubber had to be prepared for him to wear, so that he would be able to suggest the first Tristan’s physique. For the film Peter Hofmann was unrecognizable as Schnorr von Carolsfeld with his well shaped and very realistic looking rubber stomach, dark hair, and full beard!

Next we made the trip across the Vierwaldstätter See to Meggen near Lucerne. The scenes with Peter were to be filmed in this lovely location, where Richard Wagner once had a villa that is today the Richard Wagner Museum – the place where he set down the last notes of Tristan and Isolde in 1859. After that, we would film in the Zurich Opera House in keeping with the plan that all the locations had been chosen for their authenticity.

From the start Peter and Richard Burton got along famously. During one of their conversations I heard Richard Burton say to my brother that he would have loved to have been a singer, and Peter sounded him out about the actor’s art. Burton answered him in his sonorous Shakespearean English with his Welsh accent, that he actually always tried to be himself and as far as possible to avoid too many gestures. Above all, he never liked histrionic acting with grand gestures. He was, to put it simply, “very British” and portrayed like no other actor the English gift for “understatement.”

I still remember how Richard Burton’s exhaustive taste for the Scottish national drink led to having to cancel a complete day of filming, about which director Tony Palmer was not very happy because a cancelled day on the set costs the production firm an enormous amount of money.

On the other hand, one does not want to pique a world-class star, so we used the free time to explore the beautiful environs around the lake. A minor actor might have been summarily dismissed for such an action.

One evening at a restaurant, we were all discussing the next day’s film schedule. One of the director’s assistants came to our table and advised Tony Palmer that for the next morning they needed someone for the non-speaking role of a butler who would bring tea on a silver tray to Schnorr’s bedroom. The actor who had been cast was unfortunately sick, and actually more as a joke I said to the director: “I can do that.” The others at the table found this very amusing, but Tony immediately agreed saying,” Please be on the set in costume and makeup early tomorrow morning on time at 8 o’clock sharp.” Oh, God, what had I gotten myself into?”

So after a restless night, I presented myself on time on the set dressed as the butler wearing a moustache and livery. On the staircase Burton, who was on his way from makeup, met me. When he saw me, he said in his terse, dry manner, “You look very good. Now we are colleagues.”

I doubted that he actually viewed me as a colleague, but nevertheless, I felt flattered. It felt like hours passed until we got to my tiny tea scene. I nervously practiced my “important” entrance in the hallway, that is to say how to walk with maximum seriousness, always making sure that the teapot did not fall over. And that wasn’t easy when one is beginning to shake from nerves. Due to the endless waiting, my anxiety grew unbearable. In the completed film my big entrance lasts a whole twelve seconds. If only I had not been there the evening before at dinner!

At last the door opened, and I entered Schnorr von Carolsfeld’s enormous bedchamber. The eyes of a dozen cameramen, assistants, makeup crew, lighting technicians etc. were focused on me. At Storano’s order, “And action!” I moved with dignity toward Peter, who with his portly stomach lay in his four-poster bed. He soon opened his eyes, I bowed unobtrusively to him, handed him the tea, and he gave me a discreet smile. From behind the camera Storaro called out, “Cut.” That was it! With beads of perspiration on my forehead, but feeling proud in my butler’s heart, I felt a heavy burden lifted from me.

That evening in a very short time I indulged myself by spending my modest fee for my acting gig at the hotel bar. Unfortunately, until today I have been waiting in vain for more film offers!

10.   Schönreuth – The Mansion

schoenreuth2In 1980, as he often was, Peter was making guest appearances in the USA, and I was living for almost a year in Bayreuth after I had come back from Paris. Of necessity, I had made a little office for myself in my tiny apartment. Both Peter and I agreed that we needed to find a change of location quickly.

In so many of my stories, I have talked about how much Peter valued country living. One day the telephone rang; Peter was calling me from Chicago, and he asked me to look for a suitable and permanent residence. Naturally, above all, it had to have a place for the horses and to be in the neighborhood of Bayreuth. There was no other place in the world that Peter had more of a connection to than Bayreuth and its environs, so why not “pitch our tents” there?

Through someone I knew, I learned that near Kemnath in the Oberpfalz, there was a small, completely remodeled hunting lodge from the Middle Ages. After I had located the owner, I talked with him about visiting the place. This little village of Schönreuth consisted of only a few houses and the lodge stood on several acres in a setting with a lovely pond surrounded by landscaping. In the compound there was a swiiming pool, but the most important detail to my mind was that there were three roomy buildings next to the main house, one of which could be converted to a wonderful stable and another to a great office.

Because the owner made me a good offer, I called Peter in Chicago to tell him about this fantastic real estate. Peter only said:”Do you really like it that much?” I could only answer “yes,” to which my brother said, “Then buy it in my name.”

This was a little bit of a shock to me because I knew the risks. Really, I should have only put a deposit on it and waited for Peter’s return to make the final decision on buying. Barring that, then at least he should have seen a photo if I was going to acquire Schloss Schönreuth for Peter! What a great testimonial to his trust in me!

Subsequently, I carried out all the formalities in Peter’s name, and when he came back from America a few weeks later, he was the proud owner of a Schloss in the Oberpfalz! Calling it a Schloss was actually a little bit of an overstatement, because it didn’t have two hundred rooms like Schloss Thurn und Taxis; Peter’s house had only twelve.

The first time Peter took the drive to Schönreuth, I was a little nervous. Would he like it as much as I had, and had I described all the details properly on the phone?

Briefly, my brother was very impressed with everything and more than pleased. Immediately, he wanted to see where the stable was to be. He wanted to see the stalls before he looked at his own bedroom.

In a big room next to the swimming pool hall we could build our music studio with a concert grand piano, and this would also serve as Peter’s study where he could learn his roles in tranquility. Now and then a few fans could be spied standing behind the fence listening to Peter’s vocal exercises. It was here my brother gave me my first and last singing lesson. He wanted to find out if I would ever be able to sing. This test came to an end after a few minutes when Peter said to me, “ You don’t have a chance. Work on your drums instead.”

Soon the rehearsal period in Bayreuth began and Peter was driving almost every day to the Festspielhaus. One day he was accorded the rare title of “Honorary Horn Player of the Bayreuth Festival,” and so, of course, my brother invited all the horn players and their friends to Schloss Schönreuth. In order to celebrate the honor fittingly and have a reason for a feast, they came to Schönreuth en masse. I still remember the moment when the horn players performed the hunters’ chorus from Der Freischütz. A few positioned themselves on the other side of the pond and played the echo to the piece. Because Peter was on friendly terms with the villagers of Schönreuth, half the town showed up. The friendly innkeeper of the village guest house told me afterwards that no one here had ever experienced anything like this, and I believed him at his word. We all stood there enthralled and enjoyed the beauty of this magnificent sound, because the players here were the best in Germany.

Peter also built on the other side of the lake a riding ring so that I could watch him from my office as he took his morning ride. During the long Oberpfälz winters, the frozen lake lent himself wonderfully to ice skating or curling and then to warming ourselves up in the sauna. We worked and played together every day in harmony. We were never bored. Big and little holidays were celebrated fully on so many different occasions. Important and not so important people visited as our guests, and gloomy days were transformed by our sunny good humor.

Looking back, we spent very beautiful years rich in experiences at Schönreuth, and I remember this time so fond memories.

Schwert Nothung 111.   Bayreuth- Nothung the Sword

During the rehearsal period for Patrice Chéreau’s 100th anniversary Ring cycle at Bayreuth the following few stories concerning Peter occurred- ones which even Richard Wagner would have chuckled. On stage there stood a giant ash tree from which Peter in his signature role of Siegmund was supposed to pull out the sword Nothung. Of course, this was not a real tree. It was hollow in the back and had a prepared slit into which to stick the sword.

Chéreau rehearsed the famous scene where Siegmund with his back to the tree truck stood with both hands over his head clutching the hilt. His eyes are riveted on Sieglinde (Jeannine Altmeyer), and he sings “Nothung! Nothung Neidlicher Stahl [Nothung, Nothung, jealous blade. Show me your sharp cutting teeth. Out from your sheath, come to me!” And with those words he should pull the sword from the tree and sink to his knees before her. Or at least those are the stage directions.

Without the slightest thought that this could turn into a joke played on him by his genial singer colleagues, Peter went to pull the sword from the ash tree trunk. This was, naturally, impossible because, unnoticed, they had fastened it with a clamp behind the trunk. Peter pulled with all his might, but Siegmund’s sword refused to budge from the tree.

Even Chéreau was surprised by this joke and at first thought there was some technical problem, and so Peter again sang “Out from your sheath, come to me!” But then it became too much for him and he started to laugh out loud and everyone present including Festival Director Wolfgang Wagner broke into hearty laughter. After a stage crew worker had removed the clamp, the rehearsal was able to continue.

Was Patrice Chéreau’s laughter genuine? At that time this question couldn’t be answered because he seemed a little impatient after this amusing episode. It was something which had never occurred in the otherwise rather serious rehearsals on the main stage, and it had interrupted his carefully calculated rehearsal time on the main stage. When I recalled this little story later in a visit to Patrice in his Paris apartment, however, in hindsight he found it to be very funny, and we laughed about it together.

There is an unwritten rule that any jokes be permitted only during rehearsal and never during a performance, in spite of which Peter thought “Better be absolutely certain,” and so he checked the movability of the sword before each performance. To remember this charming little anecdote, at the end of the production Wolfgang Wagner gave my brother the sword itself. together with the twenty-six foot high Walküre rock, which Peter installed to “grow” in his park at Schönreuth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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