The bass soloist Andreas Bauer from Jena describes Goethe’s Mephisto as his favourite role. To interpret the great seducer at the Latvian National Opera in Riga is something very special to him. Bauer is thrilled, and so are we.
Mr Bauer, first of all, congratulations on the premiere of Goethe’s Faust tonight at the Latvian National Opera. You’ve already sung the role of Mephisto in other cities. What was special in Riga?
Yes, that’s true, I’ve sung in Faust three times. The first time was in a very small opera house in the Saxon town of Annaberg-Buchholz, where I also started out as a soloist. Germany’s smallest opera house! Although I was a complete beginner, I sang Mephisto, which was quite a challenge because it is a rather elaborate role. It was a lovely production, but typical German director’s theatre; rather cool and intellectual. Then I did a production in Würzburg, which I liked very much. I was a clone, a sort of robotic man created by Faust in a test tube. He became alive the moment he was called, “Satan! Come to me!” And this creature then seized power over Faust in the course of the opera. That was impressive! Then I did another Faust production in Modena, Italy. And now, ten years later, I was finally hired again for one of my favourite roles and was really happy to see Riga again. I held a concert here a few years ago. I am enthusiastic about the city, but also about the production, because for the first time it allows me to be the Mephisto that I imagine the character to be.
You’ll need to explain that! What relationship do you have with the role that you embodied so intensively tonight?
Thank you so much! Well, who is Mephisto? Nobody can say exactly. Mephisto is a part of Satan. Faust calls Satan out of despair because despite all his efforts over the course of his life, through study and science and deprivation, he has not found happiness. And then Satan arrives in the form of Mephisto. Mephisto is not evil personified, but a sub-character of Satan. He says of himself, “I am a part of that power / That always wants evil and always creates the good.” Mephisto is cheeky and deceitful, but he also provokes the man and the people to new deeds. He provokes him to risk something, to move ahead in science, to grapple with sorcery, to discover “what holds the world together at heart.” But, of course, there is a price to pay for that, he cannot gain these insights for nothing, but must pay for it, as in many fairy tales, with his soul. He sells himself, so to speak. And Mephisto uses all of his seductive skills to get Faust to say, “Yes, I like that: that was our bet!” And, of course, it’s fun to play the seducer, in all the facets of this beautiful production. As a sexy lady, as a vamp, or even as a beggar, who prowls through the crowd unimpeded and slaps people on their behinds – a naughty fellow! Or even as a warrior, in a rather rugged way.
The fun you just spoke of...I think a lot of people felt it this evening. Please tell us briefly how the rehearsals were. It is really a very international team: a conductor from Poland, a director from Armenia who has lived in Riga for a long time, and so on. How do you communicate, how does working together function?
Well, we all understood one another very well from the beginning. I have to say, the people in Riga are all very warm, extremely pleasant, modest and helpful and welcomed me from the very beginning. I really appreciated that and felt very comfortable. My colleagues are also all multi-lingual; me, too – at least a bit. I took Russian the longest, but know it the least because we never really used it in East Germany where I come from. But many people here speak German; we also talk to one another in English, Italian and sometimes even French. I spoke German with the conductor Tadeušs Voicehovskis, who really speaks every language.
The German language is still used here and we are indeed in a former theatre built in 1863 by Germans. Richard Wagner produced a number of operas here. Is that important for you or does it not matter so much?
The fact that the Germans built this theatre, honestly, doesn’t really matter to me. I greatly appreciate the Latvians, and find not only this theatre wonderful, but also how they deal with history. I am delighted that the city has flourished so much since I was here seven or eight years ago to sing Mozart’s Requiem. That was with the Latvian Radio Choir. I thought, Wow, what a chorus! How they sang was incredibly beautiful, I’d never heard anything like it before! I was almost ashamed to be a soloist. And Riga, seven years ago, did not yet have this sense of joy, I had the impression, but somehow seemed more depressed. And now you come here, and it’s just a joy!
Thank you for the conversation, Andreas Bauer.
Thank you, too.