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The original German article is here
BZ Jan. 5, 2001 Ich bin Jochen Kowalski aus Berlin (PDF)

I am Jochen Kowalski from Berlin - Not a Cult Star!*
Today, the star alto singer will be seen in his showpiece roll: count Orlofsky in "Fledermaus"
by Martina Kaden
Jochen Kowalski: Berliner made of passion, with die-hard dialect and remains loyal to the Komische Oper for 17 years (Photo: Thiele, Klug)
Kowalski on data file:
· Born January 30, 1954 in Wachow / Brandenburg, Education in Nauen · 1977-83: Studied at Hanns Eisler music school in Berlin and with Marianne Fischer-Kupfer · since 1983: Member of the Komische Oper Company · 1984: Great success with Händel's "Giustino" · 1985: International breakthrough with "Belsazar" in Hamburg · 1994: Berliner Kammersänger, engagements world-wide.
Normally he would be silent now. Because Jochen Kowalski, 45, talks no more shortly before the "Fledermaus". His alto voice, this precious instrument, that effortlessly reach to the highest sounds will become weak. But he is so looking forward to be the counts Orlofsky, which he sings again at the Komische Oper today, that he breaks his silent vow for the BZ.
----- How are you, Mr. Kowalski?

(Cheerfully) Goood! Was great, not only the New Year's Eve did not flop, but I also sang "Cat's Duet" with Dame Gwyneth Jones here in the opera house. As an amusing insert for the "Merry Widow".1)

----- Was it not the first New Year's Eve in Berlin for years?

It is correct. For the last 5 years I was singing in New York, in Vienna or Hamburg. Depending on where "Fledermaus" is performed.
----- Even if you do not gladly hear it: You simply are a world star.

No I am not! I get annoyed by such a tittle. I feel like being pushed into a corner. I am the Jochen Kowalski from Berlin, and not a cult star and not a world star. Marlene Dietrich and Fische-Dieskau are the only world stars from Berlin, ok!

----- Well, but you nevertheless sang all around the world. What is the difference among London, Tokyo and New York?

Hmm. There are some countries, which do not want to hear my voice at all. For example Italy. There people do not like Mozart either. But in London and Moscow, they were rejoiced. In Japan, there is the best prepared audience of the world that sit with piano score among the audience. And applaud so sweetly with flat of hands with greatest enthusiasm, marvellous! In New York I bumped against a genuine door.2)

----- How come?

That was 1995, New Year's Eve at the Met.3) I was the first ever man who sang the Orlofsky. I came out, spoke my dialogue and raised to sing: "Ich lade gern mir Gäste ein". After the speech voice the high tones. And what happened? All the Met - how many people go there, sheer 4000 or so? - began laughing. I thought, I would die. But in the moment come the protecting hand of the dear God, I came is to the front of the stage, like in the old films, and gave everything. Then the the confetti rain went off. Truly goose bumps. And that is still like that today.

----- How was your first engagement abroad?

That was 1985, Hamburg. "Belsazar".4) That was quite sharp, a genuine culture shock. The shop windows already finished me off. I was so shattered that I no longer knew my text on the rehearsal. I could not sleep at night. It was so bad that I left after 3-4 days. When I was then again in my loved grey East Berlin, I was so glad. Even today I cannot believe it yet. All world envies us about our unity. But the people are so dissatisfied. Terrible!
----- You are royal to the Komische Oper Company since 1983. The love for Berlin is unbreakable?

Absolutely! I would not like to be elsewhere. You can give me a island with palm trees but I remain in Pankow!

----- Are there any nice fan storys? Marriage proposals?

In great quantities (a happy grin). In addition, touching letters. And once a lady found out my address and was with me before my door at 11 o'clock at night.

----- Did you actually go through entire alto repertoire now?

>The most important ones already. Orpheus, Cäsar, Orlofsky, Saul. But that never becomes routine. I have a wish: I'd love to sing Den Hirten Lel in Rimski-Korsakoff's opera "Schneeflöckchen". And perform dramatic "Winterreise" by Schubert.

----- You studied first as a tenor. How did you discover your alto voice?

During a singing lesson time. A contralto does not achieve two tones. And I could sing these tones. Then it turned out with an investigation in the Charité that my boy alto voice had kept from the correct break.5) I had at that time two voices, but in the long term one must decide. Fortunately the alto was more natural. As a tenor, I have literally quite geknödelt.6)

----- When you knock up there7), what will you sing before St. Peter?

"Erbarme dich", the alto aria from the Matthäus-Passion. Bach is the great maestro. Then comes Mozart, Händel and my Russian composers.8)

Translator's Note

1) "Duetto buffo di due gatti" (said to be) composed by Rossini. It was perhaps sang at the party scene in the "Merry Widow".

2) i.e. stumble into real obstacles.

3) He also gave this anecdote in another interview with BZ "Kowalski, the Siren man".

4) More colourful description of the circumstances can be found in interview with Spiegel "Tickle in the Midriff".

5) For more detailed explanation see the above "Kowalski, the Siren man".

6) Original German "Als Tenor habe ich nämlich ziemlich geknödelt." There is no exact English equivalent for this German verb "geknödeln" which is derived from a noun "Knödel" (dumpling). cf. German idiom "einen Knoedel im Hals haben" (sounds like choked up with a dumpling).

7) i.e. knock on the Heaven's door. St. Peter is the keeper of the key to the heaven.

8) As JK is Slavic, he refers them endearingly as "meine Russen".

© 2002 by Cleofide
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