DESKTOP
TABLET (max. 1024px)
MOBILE (max. 640px)
Return to Top
Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

INTERVIEW | Gordon Bintner Wants Onegin To Be One Of His Signature Roles

By Joseph So on October 6, 2018

Gordon Bintner as Eugene Onegin. (Photo: Taylor Long)
Canadian Bass-Baritone Gordon Bintner chats about his return to Toronto to sing the title role in The Canadian Opera Company’s production of Eugene Onegin, and the process which informs his artistic practice. (Photo: Taylor Long)

The first time Toronto heard the promising bass-baritone Gordon Bintner was in July 2011, at the Toronto Summer Music Festival’s Art of the Song masterclass.  Now seven years later, Bintner is no longer promising but has arrived. On the roster of Oper Frankfurt as a fest artist, he’s singing major roles the likes of Papageno, Belcore, Chorebe, Der Graf (Capriccio), Count Almaviva, and Harlekin. He is represented by none other than the big time agency, Columbia Artists Management.  According to his CAMI page, Mr. Bintner has upcoming debuts at Covent Garden, the Met, and Lyric Opera of Chicago: “Yes, but I’m not allowed to say in what roles…” replied Bintner when we recently met for a chat at the Four Seasons Centre. He’s in town singing his first Onegin, a role that suits his voice and temperament very well.

We saw the dress last evening — it was excellent! Really enjoyed your Onegin.

Thank you. It’s challenging in many ways, but it’s coming together.

Challenging vocally or dramatically?

A bit of both. It’s a big role and dramatically intense. The challenge is mostly in balancing the dramatic and vocal demands, and in the pacing — where you can conserve and where to let the emotions pour out. It’s a great role, a perfect fit. My personality in real life is quite quiet and reserved; it plays well into his stoic character. There’s a stoic and stately quality about Onegin that’s something I’m striving for.

“Stoic” is one way of putting it! Others would describe him as icy.

Yeah, I know, although I think his intentions are sincere.  I don’t think he’s intentionally cold or cruel to Tatiana. He has her best interest at heart. In Act One she has fallen completely in love with him. She’s so young; it’s a young love. He’s saying: ‘look, I want to be honest with you and not lead you on. I can’t return your love; you’ll have other loves.’ It seems like a cruel rejection, and it is because she’s so invested, so overwhelmed by her passion for him. In my aria, I’m saying ‘I am not worthy of your love. I am not in a place in my life where I can return your love.’ Onegin in Act One is 26.  In Act 3 he is 30. As it turns out I’m 30 right now. It’s fun to play my age. It makes it authentic in some way.

Who coached you in Onegin?

I worked with Richard Epp, a wonderful coach in BC. But first I brought it to (soprano and Russian language coach) Natalya Gennadi in Toronto. We spoke through it, and she recorded the entire text twice on tape for me. She’s amazing. Then I went to Richard Epp, who’s a fantastic coach. I’ve prepared some roles with him in the past. When I came to the COC, there’s an incredible staff here, with wonderful coaches at our disposal.

When you are learning a role like Onegin, do you listen to recordings?

Not in the beginning, ever. I always start with the text and the pronunciation. When I started with Natalya, I had heard the opera, but I hadn’t started listening to recordings. I wanted the text to be the priority. It helps me to learn quicker. In Mozart, it’s the same. I work on the recits, just the text, the rhythm of the text, the stress of the text. Then adding music is easy. The melodies aren’t difficult. I do listen to Hvorostovsky — such a beautiful voice and interpretation. He has that stoic quality, that strong character about him.  The reason I don’t listen to many recordings is because I want to produce my own unique Onegin. I don’t want to try to sound like someone else. I want to give my most authentic individual portrayal. [Not listening to recordings means] you’re not bound by pre-existing interpretations. It’s nice to organically create something as if it’s for the first time.

Do you foresee Onegin becoming a staple in your repertoire?

I certainly hope so. It’s such a fulfilling role. Dramatically it fits so well. It requires thought and study, but just naturally I feel I can step onstage and become Onegin.

There are people who say Onegin is a bad guy. What do you think?

I can understand that point of view. When you are playing a ‘bad guy’ – let’s say he is a bad guy – the approach shouldn’t be to see him as bad.

Do you look for redeeming qualities in him?

I look for redeeming qualities, and the sincerity and integrity in his point of view. He rejects Tatiana, so he’s seen as an anti-hero. But I think Carsen thinks Onegin’s intention is not one of cruelty, but he sincerely wants what’s best for Tatiana. He’s not in a place where he can reciprocate her love. He’s honest and sincere.

In this production, Onegin goes from the duel scene of shooting Lensky dead to immediately getting changed for the ball without a break — it’s very chilling. This Onegin is very hard; he doesn’t break down. I have seen productions where he drops to his knees, touches or embraces the dead body.

I do touch him, and there’s that acknowledgement of what I’ve done and the inner torment that begins. Although I understand he’s seen as an anti-hero, I don’t approach it that way, but with sincerity and honesty.

Tell us about your experience in Frankfurt. When I interviewed you a year ago for L’Elisir d’amore, you said you were enjoying Oper Frankfurt.

I’m still loving my time in Frankfurt. It’s such a great opera house. It was just voted Opera House of the Year 2018 by Opernwelt. This just happened within the last couple of days.

Oh great! How does it feel to be living and working in a foreign country, with its different language, culture, food? Do you miss home?

I miss home for sure, but I’ve adjusted quite well. I’ve taken German courses; I make an effort to speak the language. Everyone in the opera house, from my colleagues to the backstage staff to the dressers, the makeup people, everybody is so kind and generous. There are Canadians and Americans, so I do have that connection to North America in Frankfurt. But I also make an effort to make German friends, because I think it’s important to embrace the culture, to show my appreciation for the job I’ve been granted. I’m honestly loving being there. It’s a great lifestyle, this German system.

They have an opera culture that we don’t have, not to the same degree anyway.

They really do. It’s a blessing to be exposed to so much opera, and to perform operas for an audience that appreciate it so deeply. The support and attendance and the love for opera is huge.

Last year you told us you sing only about 18 performances a year.

It’s slightly different now. I sing about 25 or more. This season alone, I sing Onegin here, then back in Frankfurt — Papageno, Harlekin, Argante in Rinaldo, Vladislav in Dalibor, the Count in Die ferne Klang.

Shreker’s Die ferne Klang — Wow! How do you like the music?

The music is challenging to the ear. However, it turns out my role (the Count) has a beautiful aria. I have a couple of other scenes that are more challenging. Like any difficult music, it’s just a matter of finding your way in.  I did From the House of the Dead last season. When you first listen to Janacek, it’s also challenging, but after performing the piece, it’s one of my favourites! When I’m working on this sort of opera, I am not always in love with it, but after I learned it and performed it, I fall in love with the style.

Where do you see your voice going in the next five, ten years?

I don’t know. I’ll continue to stretch myself and explore different repertoires, but I just want to continue to sing in a healthy way. I’ll always have Mozart in my repertoire, and I’ll always keep recitals in my repertoire — that’s where I started, singing German Lieder. I also enjoy the French repertoire. I sang Les Troyens, and I’ll always sing Handel — I love to move my voice. I expect I’ll keep doing these in the next five to ten years.

Do you have dream roles?

Maybe Wozzeck — something that every bass-baritone aspires to, down the line. And Billy Budd. I just want to continue to be singing in a healthy way.

I want to ask you a question I asked you a year ago — your thoughts on balancing career and personal life. How does it feel having a two-career family?

We take it day-by-day. This is a difficult question… In everything we do, we put our love first, that’s our number one priority. We have our own careers, our own aspirations. But through everything, our connection is the most important thing. We support each other in everything we do. If Simone is performing I’m there to support her, and vice versa. We just do our best, to meet up on the road. In Frankfurt, sometimes we have three weeks or a month together, which is a complete luxury. We’re both breaking into the European scene; it’s a period of transition for both of us. Both of our careers are very important to us, but at the end of the day, the single most important thing is our love and our connection. We always make that our priority.

Thank so much for speaking with me, and continued success to you and Simone.

****

The Canadian Opera Company’s production of Eugene Onegin runs through Nov. 3, 2018, at the Four Seasons Centre. Details, here.

Joseph So

Joseph So

Joseph So is Professor Emeritus at Trent University and Associate Editor of Opera Canada.He is also a long-time contributor to La Scena Musicale and Opera (London, UK). His interest in music journalism focuses on voice, opera as well as symphonic and piano repertoires. He appears regularly as a panel member of the Big COC Podcast.He has co-edited a book, Opera in a Multicultural World: Coloniality, Culture, Performance, published by Routledge (Taylor & Francis Group).
Joseph So
Joseph So

Joseph So

Joseph So is Professor Emeritus at Trent University and Associate Editor of Opera Canada.He is also a long-time contributor to La Scena Musicale and Opera (London, UK). His interest in music journalism focuses on voice, opera as well as symphonic and piano repertoires. He appears regularly as a panel member of the Big COC Podcast.He has co-edited a book, Opera in a Multicultural World: Coloniality, Culture, Performance, published by Routledge (Taylor & Francis Group).
Joseph So
Share this article
lv_toronto_banner_high_590x300
comments powered by Disqus

Ludwig Van Toronto

SCRUTINY | The Nether Sparks Timely Debate About The Ethics Of Virtual Reality

By Paula Citron on October 13, 2018

What happens when two acclaimed indie theatre companies, both with a penchant for plays on the edge, decide to co-produce a production? The answer is The Nether by award-winning, Los Angeles-based playwright Jennifer Haley.
Read the full story Comments
Share this article
lv_toronto_banner_high_590x300

PROFILE | Chilly Gonzales: "I always consider myself a musician who happens to be playing the piano"

By Hye Won Cecilia Lee on October 12, 2018

Ludwig Van's Cecilia Lee chats with Chilly Gonzales about his early days living in Montreal and Toronto, his move to Europe, and his love of the inner workings of music, no matter the genre.
Read the full story Comments
Share this article

THE SCOOP | Meet 'Glenn Gould's Chair' — A New Classical Music Podcast By Ludwig Van

By Ludwig Van on September 19, 2018

Glenn Gould's Chair is a new podcast based on the relationship between pianist Glenn Gould and his favourite folding chair.
Read the full story Comments
Share this article
lv_toronto_banner_low_590x300
lv_toronto_ssb_atf_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_high_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_mid_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_low_300x300
lv_toronto_tsb_high_300x700
lv_toronto_tsb_low_300x700
lv_toronto_ssb_atf_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_high_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_mid_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_low_300x300
lv_toronto_tsb_high_300x700
lv_toronto_tsb_low_300x700

We have detected that you are using an adblocking plugin in your browser.

The revenue we earn by the advertisements is used to manage this website. Please whitelist our website in your adblocking plugin.