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This is Sarah Caldwell. When we first started the. Power company we made a rather extensive audience survey and we made a list of all what a hundred and fifty operators asked the audience to choose the opposite they would like to hear. And quite naturally the hoppers that were checked were the operas they'd heard of. What did you do that surveyed me through the way. You state university radio presents the music makers. Today's guest is Miss Sarah Caldwell director of the Boston opera group. Miss Caldwell was born in Missouri. Her musical gifts were recognized at an early age and she was a solo violin recital just before she was 10. Sara Caldwell arrived in Boston in 1943 and began a course of studies at the New England Conservatory. It was during her stay at the conservatory that she
became interested in opera. She studied under Boris Cole dusky and at Boston University's opera Department. She later joined the faculty of Boston University and taught music there for 10 years. In 1957 Miss Caldwell along with several others founded the Boston opera group Boston had not had its own resident company since 1914 and Miss Caldwell is almost single handedly restored Boston's opera reputation. She has variously served the growth as artistic director conductor costumer fundraiser staging director and inevitably her productions have borne the stamp of her perfection. With Sarah Caldwell as host for these conversations that forward. Now you've been able to attract not only members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra but a great many name performers. What's been the attraction for these performers for the Boston opera group.
Well I would say this the. Not not too weird to be cynical but I think the major attraction is money. All of us want to make a living as we perform as artists and I think that. This is one would be. Idiotic not to recognize this on the other hand we there are many singers with famous names who are. Would be available to us for the money that we are able to pick the singers in we not want simply because we're interested only of those people who are interested in doing and exciting to get a good musical performance of the first basic ingredient of such an activity means rehearsal time. And. Therefore we are interested in engaging only those artists who are willing to and interested in spending a great deal of time in preparation of the performances which we do so that.
Its work is not fair to say that money is there only in dreams. It's it's been my understanding from what critics have said that John Sutherland has given many excellent performances but her acting is left something to be desired yet from the reviews of her performance here in Boston this past season you've got a great deal of both out of Miss Sutherland is is there a particular secret involvement in your work Miss Caldwell that brings the best out of the performers. Well I think that the. First important thing to say that was Southern is a very gifted actors. And I am not aware of. Most of his performances apart from this company really very much I've not had the privilege of seeing or hearing most of them very much outside of the work he's done here. But she is certainly a very sensitive artist and a woman who takes direction marvelously. I don't I
suspect of that. The answer is really very simple. As in so far as an artist prepares carefully and over a considerable period of time to do something he does it well. If he is thrown into a situation in which he goes to a city on Tuesday and performs on Tuesday night the chances of integrated or exciting or interesting performance either musically or theatrically are just not existent. How does how is this problem circumvented with with the musicians that you bring in now you've indicated that you've brought in musicians largely from the Boston Symphony Orchestra and they have their own rehearsal schedules and problems there and yet you brought them in to perform difficult operas requiring a great deal of rehearsal time. I was the star I think with it with the orchestra situation a little bit different. We do have great difficulty in scheduling orchestra rehearsals because we and also performances because we must work within the framework of the Boston Symphony schedule.
We have two things in our favor and one is the very kind of cooperation of the Boston Symphony management. Secondly I think that in the case of the orchestra. These are men who spend 99 percent of their time playing orchestral music symphonic music and I think that the there is to them playing opera is in addition to being a way of helping to make a living as it is is primarily an interesting and have a slightly off the beaten track thing to do so that they approach it with with a great deal of enthusiasm. When I you've done some tremendously interesting works here you just very recently did the wood you know nose intolerance and you've done album Berg's Lulu. What do you find the reaction by the performers to these kinds of things because you're obviously doing works here that are
much fresher than than the standard operatic repertory. Well I would. Hesitate to endorse your use of the word Frisch I think that they're certainly more unusual. The. Other piece is done a great deal or not I think is not really a function of Doesn't keep it from being fresh or stale but the. I think performers by and large are interested in a varied diet and I think that well certainly doing that in the live rounds and that let a great deal of work to the people involved I think that this was stimulating work and I think that there was the. Reward of feeling justly proud that they've achieved something quite difficult to do. How do your audiences feel about the more recent works.
I wouldn't get away from calling fresh or stale and talk about them in terms of being really contemporary opera. I think it's something you have to ask your audiences. Actually we're very fortunate we live in a in a marvelous city which has. Seems to respond with great interest to the variety of things which we perform I feel it's very important that we do perform a variety of styles and periods. I honestly feel that this word fresh which you use used is an important word and I think that one way to keep the repertoire which we perform fresh and interesting is to do a variety of things no matter how well one may like a certain food in it within a good meal when one likes were right and a skillful balance of foods makes a meal either
satisfactory or just not so pleasant. And I think that the same thing is true that opera season that. An audience should not go back time after time and know exactly what it's going to see or hear and I think that this is part of the fun of constructing an interesting opera season is is to produce a variety of works. It certainly is. Interesting and fascinating to see what is being created in our world today. It's equally fascinating to delve into other cultures and other worlds other times if one can do it in the same spirit. This is what we try to do. This isn't generally being done in this country today though for the most part opera seasons are are constructed on the basis of the standard repertory and I'm told there are seven hundred fifty opera groups in this country I find it hard to believe that apparently there are that many. And I suspect ironic there's a great deal of contemporary fresh. Seasonable diets being offered opera audiences.
Well I can only say that I hope that Europe was taken out. I think that oil produces a whopper are plagued with the same problems in this country. We're concerned about being able to pay our bills. And there's a considerable question as to what audiences will tolerate will buy tickets for or interested in. When we first started the. Power company we made a rather extensive audience survey. And we made a list of all about a hundred fifty operas. Ask the audience to choose the opposite they would like to hear. And quite naturally the hoppers that were checked were the operas they'd heard of them or those of. And I suspect as this kind of point of view which has resulted in people often performing a more. Let's face it as you say performing works instead of ripped off most exclusively and yet
I think that an audience can learn to trust you and to to know that you're that it's going to get a varied diet that if there is does find it far more interesting to. Taste of the music and theater musical theater styles Many-Worlds and just. To hear another performance of a work which perhaps has had many opportunities to hear. What did you do that survey did that you took me as we threw it away. Well actually we did in our first couple of seasons perform a far more conservative repertoire and we also operated on the theory that if we wanted really to have some kind of financial stability we would have to perform. The. The solace of the common and things of this kind. We have discovered much to my personal life that. More
venturesome died is far more probable. You refer to the Boston opera group as Boston's only resident opera company. I wonder if you would kind of justify that term resident opera company for me in terms of the fact that you bring in musicians and performers. I think that the word resident is important to us. As Pripyat used to distinguish. From distinguish what we do from those companies which tour and. So don't come to our city and perform for several nights. But which are not a part of the essential life. Well it's a life I start it's artistic like I was upset but they're not a product of Boston. Certainly the things. I think that Miss Southern would agree that the operas which she has done here have been products of Boston. She and her husband are
quite marvelous people and they were here for a long time. Several weeks preparing the pieces they did but in addition to that months beforehand we had many many conferences. About cuts about scenery and costumes. One instance we had certain sets designed that didn't seem to be quite the. Most exciting that we would get so we threw them out and started all over again and I think that this that the productions were. Collaborative efforts created over a long period of time of the major amount of work to the work was done in Boston. We certainly are. And I pity that was a peculiarly Bostons own. I think that the we have a peculiar enigma as a future problem in this country. We want to make up or. Take roots and become our living. In the city to the people of our
country in order to do this. We must of course give them a chance to be exposed to it exposed to an exceedingly high level. There are so many opera performances which I'm sure for the most part not out of the desire of the people who produce them but out of. The economic problems that plague us all. Because many of these performances are pretty dreadful and this is you know a quick and easy way to teach people to hate opera. And the logistics of the problem of having enough money to buy enough time for gifted people to work together to create an exciting musical theatrical experience. So that the people who come to these performances may be. Excited by what they see and hear and want very much to help. More particularly this is a serious problem and sometimes up performances do more harm than good. If they drive
audiences away. But it takes money. Oh it takes money. You've been in the middle of this money problem since I guess 1957 when when the opera group first got going would have been some of your experiences in the process of subsidizing an opera. Well we have. Really two sources of income. One source is from the sale of tickets and the others from charitable contributions. Our company like every other opera company in this country is a. Non-profit. Plan that was not planned quite extensively perhaps was developed to touche and like all the major symphony orchestras we must depend for a large percentage of our income on charitable contributions. So. A large percentage of our activities throughout the year involving asking for money. I spoke not so long ago at a symposium with. The director of another opera company and I asked him what he was going to say. He said I have only one speech it
send money and I think that this is a familiar situation to all of us that within the profession. So we become adept or try to become adept at the various fund raising techniques we have boards of trustees who are interested and devoted to what we're trying to do and composed of people who contribute the most part very generously themselves and who spend a great number of their waking hours persuading their friends of the community to do likewise. We have in this city as yet no government support of any kind either through the city or the state or other communities or have progressed further than we have and do have some type of governmental support as well. We certainly hope very much that we shall have it. Does it look like it's forthcoming. Yes I'm very optimistic about it I think it will be.
I do get involved in this art of friendly persuasion yourself. As far as the charitable contribution yes I get involved in it less now than I did in the beginning. But I think that it is a it is unfortunately true but it's really necessary for artistic personnel to become involved because we are the most adept at explaining to people why we need their money. And it's so easy to understand if someone is going to make a generous gift. He wants to understand he wants to feel that he has given his money wisely. After all we in the arts have to compete with scientific research we have to compete with contributions to hospitals and to schools and we have to articulate our needs very clearly and we have to find those people.
Whom we can rouse a spark of something. And if someone has given generously. I think it's terribly important that the person be made to know how grateful the entire profession must really be to them. But these things take a lot of time. Gradually getting the point across then that opera is very important to Boston. I think we're beginning to. And how about the subscription sales they increased. And yet it has. But everybody says the last three or four years we have a policy of selling subscription seats only. This policy grows out of. Simple economic necessity. This way we know what our ticket income will be when the season begins we know we sell tickets considerably in vans of the season so we can plan what we're going to do we know how much money needs to be raised we know how.
Much Money we'll be able to afford to spend on the production. And it also gives us the. Opportunity to. Developed our audience in such a way that. We can speak in terms of a planned and varied diet. We tried in our early years to have both subscriptions and sell tickets at the box office and this was a disastrous experiment to us financially we did well at the box office in the next year we didn't set any subscription so that we have gone back to the subscription plan. There are many people who say that they would like very much to hear one particular opera which we're doing and not the others and where we want sympathy with this but. Just the logistics of building a company at this moment rule it out. If if there was a healthy government support say at the federal level for the Boston opera group as well as for other operas would you
prefer to keep an open box office. I don't know the answer. It's very comforting to think I've let me say this I think that an audience becomes as much a part of an artistic organization as the performers and as organization. And audience. Participates in the performance. And if the audience is a it is a tremendous factor in the performance we don't perform in a vacuum. You take for example the productions of Wagner by Roy and the audience that goes there year after year is basically made up of the same people one meets so many people that you how many years they've been there many years they've had this see that's very much like it's a subscription audience for the Boston Symphony Hall that happens to go model or. Now if you're performing
Parsifal. For the same group of people for 30 years in a row. You become involved with new ways of expressing the same thing. New ways of bringing out. Or new ways of emphasizing this year this particular meaning. Next year you become involved with another aspect of it and are bored with that aspect. You emphasize the year before so you do it another way and you keep you can through this method keep your audience really interested in what's happening. But if you're performing possible for an audience which does not know possible. Then you produce an entirely different way and I think that this is the real thing we're we're involved in finding ways to communicate with our audience. And we've used this season and will keep going using a variety of production techniques. But truly Each production is is not just a production of this
opera it is a production of this season by this company. And if we use a certain type of scenery for one opera. Then we would probably not use it for the next opera because we want to keep our audience interested and alert. And I think that. That is why it's very comforting to have a an audience that one knows is going to hear and see the performance of serious performances. You can bring your audience along much much farther much faster that way too I would imagine. Well they bring us along I think as well as we have on that. By the way they react to things that the things that do touch and move them out of things that they hate or the things that they have all of these things are symptoms of. We learn to communicate with one another. That's the truth of the matter.
In your structuring of a new season this call of all do you begin with the artists that will be available or to begin with the operas. This is a difficult question. To me this is the be one of the difficulties of the kind of company which we have is that I always seem kind of obliged to come up with a new season in tremendously short time we're trying to get over this we're trying to make a giant step here a planned two seasons at once which is that one really should be a year ahead of the game. But neither by let's say inclination or by opportunity in the past have I. I really thought of these terms and it's an agonizingly difficult thing for me to select a season. For me personally I do it because I do feel like there's a kind of chemistry that happens when you get the right combination of ingredients
and I have very much to settle for. A combination of pieces which I don't feel. I've not yet felt this was involved with. Miss Caldwell. Everybody's talking now about the Rockefeller Panel Report which has just published a short while ago that they would like to see the a sad list not of at least six regional opera groups in addition to four major resident companies that now exist. I would like to get your reaction to the quality and extent of opera that's being done now in this country how you would like to see it improved. When I think of the miracle worker is operate all as a great tribute to the people throughout the country who do work in opera and I think it would be presumptuous for me to. To comment on the quality of what is being done because quality. Is always unfortunately a function of the
circumstances in which an artist works. The. It seems to me that the idea of a regional company makes very fine sense. The problem that we all have is that we use in finding enough money to bring people together from the time to create something which is exciting and rewarding. If four or five cities were to band together. And. Have a company then perhaps the fans which would be available from. Each city in the audience is which would be available would permit something which. Does not yet exist in this country. That is a company which could spend. Sufficient time in preparing a production. To for the sake create the kind of music on theatrical experience that I think were capable of in this country but which. None of us
yet has had the opportunity to achieve. I can see that. Let's say five or six cities. Could provide an audience. A sufficient number to. And let's say charitable contributions of sufficient size to permit such an activity to happen I think it's a very exciting idea. But the dangers of this thing I have such a plan I think are. Are immense. I believe that. It would be a great mistake if such a company were looked upon as a touring company. And that the only way such a thing can really work is if the cities involved would. Feel as possessive about this company as they feel about their symphony orchestras or there are museums. And I think that the company would have to take roots in the cities which supported it. I think that the core organizations would. Let maybe
it would at least have to give opportunities to people from all of the cities. Whether one would have let say 5 courses or whether one would have a chorus to offer that the finest talent of the 5 communities I don't think is important. But I think that I mean I think it works either way but I think what is important is that the opportunity to the gifted artist within each community should be there. The. Problem which every opera company in this country has that it is a re opera company that doesn't operate on full time basis. There's not real employment for. The gifted young artists who may have grown up in the community. Are now with us employed on a full time basis so that. Artists with real talent and real ability gravitate to the. Either to Europe or to. New York which is in a sense the center of the employment center. And. Those who stay in this country
become. I turn around performers. Going and singing with various companies spending two weeks in one city and two days in another city and perhaps a month or another. I think the great tragedy in our country is that our very finest talent. Has not really yet found a way to. Make for itself a living in art. WHAT IS A LIVING IN MUSIC IN THE WAY THAT. It's able customisation can do a singer really cannot do that as yet. And that is why some of our very best people to go to Europe I'm convinced that this this could be a marvelous thing as long as the company did take roots in each city as well as the trustees within each city and with each community felt that they had. It's a sacred responsibility to the maintaining of something of extraordinary quality. That was Sarah Caldwell today's guest on the music makers a series of
conversations with prominent Americans whose art and business is music host where the conversation's is Pat Forde. This is Ken beach later inviting you to be with us again next week for a conversation with Virgil Thompson. These programs are produced by Pat Ford at Michigan State University under a grant from National Educational radio. This is the national educational radio network.
The music makers
Sarah Caldwell
Producing Organization
Michigan State University
WKAR (Radio/television station : East Lansing, Mich.)
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
This program focuses on opera conductor Sarah Caldwell.
Series Description
Distinguished Americans discuss their profession of music, from composition to criticism; the business of music and its current place in our national culture.
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Interviewee: Caldwell, Sarah, 1924-2006
Interviewer: Smyth, Henry De Wolf, 1898-1986
Producer: Ford, Pat
Producing Organization: Michigan State University
Producing Organization: WKAR (Radio/television station : East Lansing, Mich.)
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 66-6-9 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:48
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Chicago: “The music makers; Sarah Caldwell,” 1966-02-07, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed May 28, 2024,
MLA: “The music makers; Sarah Caldwell.” 1966-02-07. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. May 28, 2024. <>.
APA: The music makers; Sarah Caldwell. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from