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Interview with John Chest
Since the 2013/14 season the young American baritone John Chest has been an established soloist at the Deutsche Oper Berlin. On 25th September 2016 he sings the part of Guglielmo in the premiere of COSI FAN TUTTE. In the interview we wheedled a few thoughts from him on the subject of Mozart’s work:

In Mozart’s COSÌ FAN TUTTE we have two young couples where one of each pair is being unfaithful. Today young people from around the world gather in the queues outside Berghain and the KitKatClub in Berlin. Is anyone still interested in Mozart’s classic tale?

John Chest: Quite apart from the fact that you won’t find me waiting in either of those queues, we all have to ask ourselves what we want from a relationship and what actions would wound our partner irreparably. All individuals have to figure this out for themselves and then conduct their relationships as best they can. That’s exactly what’s going on in COSÌ FAN TUTTE and everyone ends up damaged in the end. It’s much less of a happy end than it appears at first glance.

The title of the opera means something like “All women do it” and towards the end of the piece the obscure Don Alfonso again makes a point of blaming Dorabella and Fiordiligi. Does that automatically mean the men are off the hook?

John Chest: The sub-heading to the opera’s main title is “The School of Lovers” and all of them do indeed learn a lesson. But the important question is whether the men accept responsibility for their actions. If they use trickery to make their partners be unfaithful, they can’t afterwards claim they had nothing to do with it. Ok, Don Alfonso is also partly responsible: the older guy wants to show the young officers how the world works. And Despina is complicit, too, encouraging the naïve women in their erotic adventure. But in the end everyone carries the can for their own actions.

COSÌ FAN TUTTE was written for a relatively small stage, but the Deutsche Oper Berlin is one of the largest opera houses in the country and has acoustics that are more geared to Wagner and Strauss. How does that play out for you?

John Chest: We ask ourselves the same question (laughs). Theatres, orchestras, singing techniques, too, have all changed over the centuries. It’s a simplification, but you could say that everything’s gotten larger and louder. There’s a counter movement carrying a torch for “historical staging styles”, but at the Deutsche Oper Berlin we’re taking a different route. I’m convinced that we can create moments of intimacy, even in a theatre as large as the Deutsche Oper Berlin. After all, we pull it off in DON GIOVANNI and the MAGIC FLUTE. Those operas were written for much smaller theatres, too, but no one would seriously try to keep us from staging them.

Time and again we read that all singers without exception love singing Mozart because his music is meant to be so good for the voice. Do you subscribe to that?

John Chest: Obviously it depends on the type of voice. There are singers whose voices are not suited to this music. There’s nothing in Mozart’s stuff for heldentenors, for instance. Having said that, I know of very few singers of drama who don’t like his music. It always looks so simple on the page. But it’s deceptive. If you’re going to deliver his material elegantly and convincingly, you really have to be a good singer.

Interview: Uwe Friedrich