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Liner Notes: André Bishop

by Louise T. Guinther

Liner Notes Andre Bishop lg 1017
© Sean Zanni/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

The Basics  

André Bishop, Lincoln Center Theater’s artistic director since 1992, has loved opera for as long as he can remember. Bishop studied singing in college but found his niche as a producer. His decade of fostering new works at Playwrights Horizons garnered numerous awards, and his LCT triumphs have included everything from contemporary works by Wendy Wasserstein and Tom Stoppard to classic musicals, including this season’s revival of My Fair Lady at the Vivian Beaumont Theater.


OPERA NEWS: What do you love most about opera?

ANDRÉ BISHOP: I think voice, really. I went to the Met a lot in the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, and whether it was Tebaldi or Callas or Sutherland or Price, the sound those singers made was so idiosyncratically their own that if you turned on the radio you knew exactly who it was within three notes. There are astounding singers today, and beautiful-looking people, and wonderful actors—athletic, acrobatic and incredibly well-schooled. But I miss turning on the radio and knowing exactly who it is. Of course, when I was growing up, everyone said, “Callas, Tebaldi—oh, that’s nothing, you should have seen Rosa Ponselle.” 

ON: What were your most memorable nights in the opera house?

AB: Nilsson’s Elektra was astounding—not just because of her power, but it was a real shockeroo as an opera! I saw a Bohème in Boston at the end of Tebaldi’s career, and the last act was amazing—the audience was weeping, weeping, weeping, and these [sounds] just were floating out of her throat. And I was deeply affected by the production of Death in Venice at the Met when it was first done. It was a really beautiful, beautiful opera that I would love to see again.

ON: What’s your favorite opera?

AB:  Otello. The libretto for Otello is probably, in my opinion, better than the play.

ON: Do you have a favorite singer? 

AB: Tebaldi was always my favorite—I inherited that from my father.

ON: What distinguishes opera from musical theater? 

AB: Many of the great operas, like many of the great musical plays, are wonderful not simply because they have beautiful scores and wonderful songs but because the writer of the book or the libretto is first-rate. Story, character, plot, hero, heroine—all these things exist in both worlds. But the opera world is still essentially a composer’s medium. I think the musical-theater world really is more of a collaboration between the composer and the book-writer and the lyricist. I mean, everybody knows that Verdi wrote Aida, but not that many people know who wrote the libretto. 



Coda: What Else to Consider  

Bishop has never produced an opera, but the thought has crossed his mind. “Years ago, the playwright Albert Innaurato, who was a great opera buff, had done an English chamber version of La Rondine,” he says. “That’s one of my favorite, favorite operas, and we worked on that for quite a bit and ultimately didn’t do it. And I always wanted to do Carmen Jones. You have to be careful about it now, because it has certain stereotypical things that are just not acceptable. But Hammerstein’s adaptation of Bizet’s music is really brilliantly done.” spacer 



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