Interview with Baritone Johannes Martin Kränzle
By Opera Views, January 1st, 2018
German Baritone Johannes Martin Kränzle is particularly known for his intense artistic interpretations of complex operatic characters and is regarded as one of the leading baritones of his generation.
Born in Augsburg, he initially studied violin, the stage direction in music theatre, and after that he completed the voice studies with Martin Gründler in Frankfurt am Main.
Welcomed guest at the renowned international opera houses like the Metropolitan Opera in New York, La Scala in Milan, Royal Opera House in London, National Opera of Paris, Teatro Real in Madrid, as well in Zurich, Geneva, at Salzburg-, Bregenz-, Glyndebourne- and Luzern Festivals, Kränzle was an ensemble member at the houses in Dortmund, Hannover and Frankfurt am Main.
He regularly works with such renowned conductors as Barenboim, Levine, Petrenko, Janowsky, Jurowsky, Luisi, Metzmacher, Pappano, Runnicles and with the stage directors Loy, Brieger, Tscherniakov, Jones, Mouchtar-Samorai, McVickar, and Wieler.
In 2010, the Baritone was nominated for the German Theatre prize THE FAUST. In 2011, he was named ‘Singer of the Year’ by the poll of the OPERWELT and was awarded the Cologne Opera Prize. In 2014 he became a member of the German Academy of the Performing Arts.
Singer’s opera repertoire comprises of 120 roles and extends from Handel and Mozart to Rossini, Verdi, Strauss and Lehar, up to Henze and Rihm. Particular focus goes to Mozart and Wagner as much as on the Slavic repertoire of Tschaikowsky, Rimsky- Korsakov, Prokofiev and Janacek. The traditional German Lied repertoire and oratorio performances are Baritone’s another passion, as well as opera (The Worm, premiered in 1997) and songs’ cycle compositions (2016).
Johannes Martin Kränzle is a winner of the international voice competitions in Vercelli (Viotti), Perpignan and Paris (Placido Domingo). Since winning the first prize in Rio de Janeiro in 1991, he became an honourable guest professor in Natal/Brazil. From 2013 he acts as a guest professor at the Cologne Music University in Germany.
In 2015 Mr Kränzle was diagnosed with an advanced aggressive form of bone marrow disorder MDS and underwent a stem cell transplant. His brother Andreas could be his life -saving donor. In 2016 Martin returned to the stage in the role of Don Alfonso in Mozart’s “Cosi Fan Tutte” at the Royal Opera House in London. In 2017 the debuts at the National Opera of Paris (Wozzeck) and with the Hamburg Elb Philharmonic (Rhinegold) as well as with the Bayreuth Festival (The Mastersingers of Nürnberg) followed.
Numerous DVD and CD productions document Martin’s singing career. Two Solo recordings entitled “ The Midnight Draws Already Closer” (Ballads) and ‘”The Boundaries of Mankind” including Schubert and Schumann songs have been released.
Opera Views met Martin Kränzle on July 31st, 2017 at the Bayreuth Festival during the intermission of the “Die Meistersinger” by Richard Wagner where he was singing the role of Sixtus Beckmesser.
During the last 12 years, your career enjoyed a steady growth and development. Are you happy about this?
Yes, I am more than happy. About 12 years ago I started to sing Wagner, a repertoire that opens the International operatic market for the German singers. Thus my career also received a significant boost thanks to Wagner. But, I’m not only happy. I am also grateful. When you start studying this repertoire, you can never precisely know how far it will bring you. You don’t expect and just dream to maybe land in New York at the MET or here in Bayreuth: Both the dream operatic performing venues. Then one day when the MET calls, you first think it’s a joke. But, as we can see, dreams do come true.
Do you consider Bayreuth Festival to be the highlight of this development?
At least one of the highlights. For the Wagner repertoire, Bayreuth is the most important house in the world. It is also a universe, with its unique atmosphere created through the artistic and musical cooperation of many great artists and dedicated staff.
Is there more growing possible or have you arrived at the point of no return?
No, surely not. I’m not finished yet. One should keep evolving. For me, various aspects define the successful professional growth.
In the first place, you have to start with yourself and keep on learning. Then you either have luck and bad luck regarding the quality of an opera production, which depends on external factors. Besides, productions with an outstanding quality are not a prerogative of only the big international house, but can also be experienced on the small stages, where they are being rehearsed thoroughly, and the artistic team works together more consistently.
In the second place, it is the team I am working with: stage directors, singer colleagues, and conductors. When there is a mutual artistic and human understanding, it can produce excellent results of the high artistic quality. For me, all of it must be right, must fit together, just like in Bayreuth.
However, after working with such exceptional artists as the stage director Barrie Kosky and conductor like Philippe Jordan, you can turn into the quality gourmand. Indeed, it will not be easy for me to do another production of “Die Meistersinger” since the exceptionally high artistic and musical standards have been set. But of course I am open to new interpretations and ideas.
In third place, it is the role itself, which does not necessarily, has to be a new one. I am happy to repeat already sung roles since there is always a possibility to discover new things and develop them further.
You like to emphasise that you are not just a Wagner singer. Would it be so bad only to sing Wagner?
Not bad, but tiring: Mentally and physically. From the stylistic and the vocal side, Wagner requires an individual aesthetics, endurance, dynamics and use of the language. Also, his music is often constantly loud. If you do not sing other composers in between, you quickly fall into the singing style of vocal declamation, the chanting. That’s why I always try to sing Verdi, Mozart or even Slavic repertoire, because they bring you back to the Cantilena and Legato. In particular, Mozart is a balm for the voice.
How would you describe your work experience, the atmosphere during the “Meistersinger” production in Bayreuth? What was special or different?
I must acknowledge that throughout the whole production there was a great working atmosphere. Barrie Kosky has an incredibly positive, ironic, witty way to rehearse. There is also a fabulous singing team, and the role itself, which has a funny, melancholy, tragicomic side is a special one.
This leads to my next question: How much of Beckmesser there is in the Kränzle and how much Kränzle is in the Beckmesser?
The role is very important to me, but I do not think that I’m such a sad, lonely person. Beckmesser is a know-it-all, a geek and consequently a victim of the crowd. My private life, however, is entirely different. I believe that I am more of an integrative type and not a separating person with a lot of humour and ease. But, on the other side, one can assume there are still some similarities in character and personal treats between Beckmesser and me. Otherwise, the role wouldn’t feel so natural.
Also, the parallels that Kosky established to the Jewish conductor Levi are entirely comprehensible. Wagner, who valued Levi a lot, still didn’t hesitate to taunt him with sort of sadistic pleasure. Levi and Beckmesser both were mocked and despised at times in a somewhat masochistic way. This mutual sadistic-masochistic relationship between the composer and his environment gives, in my opinion, a new and vital aspect of this role.
What are the biggest vocal and acting challenges this role presents?
The comedy is an acting challenge. Good comedy develops out of the situation and not because actor behaves like a clown. Seriousness and timing are extremely important for the audience to find you funny. And it’s satisfying to hear when they laugh, albeit out of malicious joy.
Another challenge is the musical side of the role. Beckmesser has to scold a lot and in a high range. If you are not careful enough and give too much power, you will get tired very quickly. The role is incredibly intense, often divided into small sections without breaks in between. Artistically, the singer has to be able to create a space, a particular atmosphere around the figure, which, in fact, is also the case for any role.
Over the past three years, your health was and still is a topic of many interviews. Does that annoy you? Or would you like to leave the issue behind?
No, it does not annoy me, and I can not also leave it behind. What would annoy me, however, if journalists will keep linking me to the sickness: “This is the singer who was sick for a very long time.” But I also noticed that after three years, the questions in this regard significantly subside. Of course, the theatre professionals might still wonder how I am doing. And I understand it. I would like to be judged by my performance and do not be reduced to the false compassion like “for being so sick, he sings orderly”. Many people who did not know that I was so seriously ill do not realise it. They just hear the “old Martin” or even a «new Martin without noticing something being wrong or my illness. That is great and satisfying.
Outside the singing profession, how does the everyday life of Martin Kränzle looks like?
Since I started to sing again, my everyday life is fully determined by my profession: A new city, apartment, new roles, lots of rehearsals and performances.
During the rehearsals, I do not have that much free time. During the performances rather more. Then I travel and explore the surroundings, visit new cities. I do a lot together with my girlfriend Lena Haselmann. She is also a freelance singer, and we try organising us logistically in the way we can spend a lot of time together. In the summer, in Bayreuth, my children and my mother visit me and attend a performance. It’s vital for me to have my family around me.
When we would want to talk about your future, how does it look like?
My sickness has taught me that the life can turn to be very different from one day to the next. I sure do make plans, but I also stay modest. Nevertheless, I look very positively into the future; I am privately happy and have great productions to come.
Back to the Wagner. Which role is coming up next?
No new roles since I have already sung a lot of Wagner. The real dramatic characters like Hans Sachs, Dutchman or Wotan, are not for me anyway. Maybe I would like to sing Amfortas again because I managed to sing it just one time before I fell ill. My next new productions will be Janacek’s “From the Dead House” singing Siskov and the role of Ford in “Falstaff” in Antwerp (Belgium).