After 50 Years at the Met Opera, Paul Plishka Retires (Again)

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After 50 Years at the Met Opera, Paul Plishka Retires (Again)

Post by lennygoran » Sun Mar 11, 2018 8:46 pm

We've heard and enjoyed him so many times over the years! Regards, Len

After 50 Years at the Met Opera, Paul Plishka Retires (Again)


The voice is a fragile thing, and few singers end up with 50-year careers at the Metropolitan Opera. The bass Paul Plishka is one of them. He has sung dozens of small comprimario parts — the character roles of opera — but also starred in Mussorgsky’s “Boris Godunov” and Verdi’s “Falstaff.” Some roles, including Raimondo, the chaplain in Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor,” he has done at the Met more than anyone else. He was onstage for the first “Live From the Metropolitan Opera” telecast and the company debuts of both Luciano Pavarotti and Plácido Domingo, who will celebrate his own 50th anniversary next season.

But on Saturday, after singing what will be his 1,672nd performance at the Met, Mr. Plishka, the ninth most prolific performer in the company’s history, will call it a day.

While Mr. Plishka, 76, tried to retire once before, in 2012, it didn’t stick. But he said that this Saturday evening’s revival of “La Bohème” — in which he is singing the small, scene-stealing comic roles of Benoit and Alcindoro — would really, truly be his last. In a conversation in his dressing room, he reflected on his half-century at the Met. Here are edited excerpts.

Not many people have 50 years under their belts here.

Certain types of voices can pull it off a lot easier. Those really high tenor voices — once you’re up there, doing all those major tenor roles, it’s hard to come back to Parpignol [a bit part in “Bohème”]. But for a bass, there are a lot of roles right up the ladder that get you up to the top, and then there are ones on the way down. For a soprano, you’re either the maid, or you’re Tosca.

As human beings we all deteriorate — I don’t want to use that word, but our bodies don’t do what they used to do when we were in our 20s. The voice can’t do what it used to do. But at that point, you are able to start to move into this character repertoire, this buffo [comic] repertoire, because you don’t necessarily need this beautiful instrument. You need stagecraft. You need to be a character, to let go and be silly or make a fool of yourself. It added 10, 15 years to my career.

What were some of your favorite roles?

When I finally got to do [Verdi’s] “Don Carlo” — as Philip — at the Metropolitan Opera, in a televised version, that was the top of the hill. Where else can you go? But then, years later, “Boris Godunov” came along. I had sung Pimen, I had sung Varlaam — both other bass characters in the opera — but I had aimed for Boris later on because Boris is a dangerous part for your voice. It’s a great acting part. You don’t even need the great instrument — you can just act the whole thing. I’m exaggerating, but there’s a lot of truth in it. That was my next top of the hill. Until “Falstaff,” when I would go home at night after doing the role, and by 4 o’clock in the morning I’d miss him. I’d miss being him. This guy just didn’t give a damn what anybody else thought. He gave me a freedom.
The final fugue in Verdi's "Falstaff," with Mr. Plishka in the title role. Video by lucpebo2

What were some of the challenges?

I don’t care what any singer tells you, you do not hear yourself. It really helps to have another pair of ears out in the auditorium that can tell you when you’re singing correctly and when you’re not. And I had that in my first wife, and my teacher, Armen Boyajian. I would get into something like Leporello [in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni”], and it doesn’t go high. I t stays kind of low. The more rehearsals you do, it gets darker and darker, and they would come to the final dress and come back after the first act and say, “What are you doing?” And I’d know immediately. It’s a trap a bass can fall into very easily: You try to listen to yourself and make it sound good to you, but it’s only going just past the orchestra pit a little bit, and it dies out there. It’s too thick, too woolly a sound. And then, when I would do the second act, I would change it, sing more what sounds to me like a tenor — very bright, very pointed — and they’d come back at the end and say, “Why didn’t you do that in the beginning?” The theater can pick up the sound and it becomes the sounding board, like the body of your cello. That can take the very pointed sound and make it sound more luscious.

I saw that you had tried to retire a few years ago, but you failed at it.

I did retire in 2012. And a few years ago a colleague of mine, John Del Carlo, who was supposed to be doing Benoit and Alcindoro, passed away, and they called and asked if I would come back and do them.

Benoit and Alcindoro, that’s a part I could teach you to do, and you could do it next week!

I think you might be a little too modest.

It’s not that difficult vocally. If you wanted to hear me right now sing Philip, you’d go running down the street, saying “Don’t do that! Don’t do that!” But this is kind of fun to do. ... collection

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Re: After 50 Years at the Met Opera, Paul Plishka Retires (Again)

Post by barney » Mon Mar 12, 2018 6:28 pm

Thanks Lenny, that's a lovely interview.
Love the quote that sopranos are either Tosca or the maid. (there are a few in between, such as Micaela.)

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