Klaus Florian Vogt trained as a French horn player, ending up on the opera stage only by coincidence. The celebrated tenor talks about that turn of events and more in an interview with Deutsche Welle.
DW: Performing Lohengrin in Bayreuth was your most impressive role to date. Since then, you've been in demand around the world. Your first solo CD, which has just been released, is composed of many Wagner arias and is entitled "Helden" - "Heroes." The cover shows you as a blonde warrior, with a sword and armor. Are you playing around with the hero role, or do you simply like to play the hero?
Klaus Florian Vogt: Both. For the CD cover, we really were playing with these elements. You see clearly that they are props. But I have to say that I really enjoy playing and performing the hero on stage.
You've had quite an unusual career. You were first a French horn player with the Hamburg Philharmonic State Orchestra. How did you discover the singer side of yourself?
Through something funny that happened with my wife. Just as I tried to take the straight and narrow path to becoming a member of an orchestra, she studied singing and became a singer. At some point, she came up with the idea of our singing a duet together for a family party. We practiced and then performed the song - with a lot of humor and fun. Then my mother-in-law heard a recording of it. She used to be a singer with the Bayreuth Festival Choir, among others. Once she heard it, she felt my voice had something to it that should be developed and trained - that something could really be made of it.
You had never noticed that before?
No. I really didn't know that I had that in me. No one knew that I might have a talent for singing. So I approached it all relatively cautiously, and only did the voice training on the side - some singing lessons every now and then, alongside my work as a musician in the orchestra. And then things just started happening one after another. My singing teacher, my professor, asked me if I wanted to do the qualifying audition. He said he could teach me better that way. So I did it. And once you pass that qualifying exam, you begin believing that you might just have a knack for singing after all.
How did you get interested in Wagner?
I first started playing his works, of course, as an orchestra musician. I had two different opportunities to perform the entire "Ring" cycle as a horn player. So there were a lot of rehearsals and plenty of chances to engage with the music. And then of course pieces like "The Flying Dutchman" or others are always part of the standard repertory. On the one hand, it was always a great pleasure, but it also represents a great challenge. As a hornist, but now also as a singer. I don't know why, but this music just speaks to my heart. It touches me emotionally.
Has your experience in the orchestra pit helped you up on stage?
Absolutely. The loudest place in the entire opera house is in the orchestra pit. So now, even a very loud orchestra does not faze me. Of course, I also learned the fundamentals as a musician - such as following a conductor. That is essential in opera. I also played a great deal of chamber music, so you really learn to listen to others playing, as well. And since I played a wind instrument, I learned quite early to control and work with my breathing, and to use my entire body to create sound - to make music.
What happens with you when you sing Wagner?
I become just as enthralled as the audience does. This music always sucks me in. And emotionally, sometimes when I am performing, I have to say to myself: "Whoa. I need to take a step back here." Otherwise, I might just start weeping on stage, which isn't particularly helpful when you're trying to sing.
Is it only the music that does that? Or do the role and the music blend together to evoke that feeling?
I think it's both. If you're really involved in the story - well, Klaus Maria Brandauer said it very nicely once: if we're doing it really well, then we are not performing it; we have become it. That is absolutely the case with Wagner. And then there's the element of music that comes with it. Just like in a film you watch, where you suddenly feel like you're inside of it, wrapped up in it. And reality and the performance blend together. And that's when you notice you have to maintain some distance.
Which Wagner character do you like playing the most?
Oh, there are several. Of course, I completely love being Lohengrin, but I love being the rebel Stolzing. Being the fighter for justice Sigmund is also fun. All of the roles have elements which I really appreciate.
So they mean something to you personally?
Klaus Florian Vogt is one of the most sought-after Wagner tenors in the world - performing at opera houses in Bayreuth, Milan, Berlin and New York, among others. A broad selection of his repertoire can be found on his CDs "Helden" and "Wagner" - both of which have been released by Sony Classical.
Interview: Silke Bartlick / als