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The original German article is here
Berliner Morgenpost Aug. 17, 1997
Ein Sänger, der sich selbst auf den Arm nimmt

A singer who can make fun of himself*

With his unusually high voice, alto singer Jochen Kowalski is an opera star celebrated and in demand everywhere in the world. But he feels most comfortable in Berlin where he started his big career.

Whether in jeans on the terrace of his Pankower Dream-home, as a "Julius Cäsar" in Harry Kupfers's production at the Komische Oper, as a more loveable "Orfeo" or a prince Orlowsky in the "Fledermaus" of Johann Strauß: the singer Jochen Kowalski always makes a good figure. With our attendance in his penthouse dwelling which he lives since this May, he explains as follows: "it is a large exception." Because his private life is holy, it should not be otherwise disturbed.

When he sits on the terrace, while listening to singing birds and lay of sunshine in the distance, he seems like nothing to do with an opera star celebrated in all over the world. Surrounded by four walls, 43 years old alto singer with an unusual high voice is simply only a "human", wearing a colourful shirt with a red poppy flower pattern and puts suitably Rosita Serrano's old hit song "Roter Mohn (Red Poppy)" on the turntable. Old records and films are his passion. He longs for strong personality of movie stars in bygone age and laments that "there is no distinction between TV stars and movie stars these days".

Although Jochen Kowalski is just as in demand in Japan as at the New York Met or the Royal Opera House in Covent gardens in London, he firmly attaches himself to "his" Komische Oper in Berlin: "I love citizens of Berlin over anybody else. He also admits that "even if I am not hundred percent good condition sometimes, they still accept me."

However, his best prepared audience is found in Japan: "At one evening with song of Schubert, they know the texts exactly, which genuinely astonished me." When he returns home each time he has a suitcase full of gifts (from stuffed animals to neckties to an oil paint of his portrait) from the Far East.

When did he know that he wanted to become singers? "Actually already as a child", he recalls. The youngest of three sons of a butcher ("we came to the world 6 years apart") grew up till 18 in Wachow in mark1) of Brandenburg. "I had marvellous parents, we were very complete family, all this gave to me the base of my personality." Reinhard, the oldest, took over the butcher shop after their father deceased; Gerhard lives in Berlin. He is a journalist with the press agency ADN.

Jochen Kowalski went to Berlin in 1972 to work at Komische Oper2) - but first five years only as a prop man. Otherwise he used his time in his way: "I was constantly at the rehearsals, observing stars such as Theo Adam, Peter Schreier or Hermann Prey."

However, the result of an entrance examinations at the renowned college of music "Hanns Eisler" was much disappointing. "I was rejected twice as having no talent. Therefore, to a certain extent, I still have a somewhat strained relation with the college of music", Kowalski admits honestly. Only with the third time, he could enter as a tenor. Quite normal academic years followed - up to the large "Aha!" experience in 1981 by the extra-carriculum work with the Marianne Fischer Kupfer (wife of opera director Harry Kupfer): Only she discovered his gift as the male alto.

In 1984, Jochen Kowalski played the title role in Händel's "Giustino". It was an international break-through and he became an opera favourite in east and west long before the collapse of the wall. Numerous records, CDs and TV documentary of his arts, complete recording of Gluck's "Orfeo ed Eurydice" as well as TV broadcasting of Händel's "Giustino" and "Belsazar" were followed.

On Kowalski's schedule: in the middle of September he begins a four weeks tour in Japan, the 50th year anniversary of Komische Oper on 23th December, and on New Years Eve, "Fledermaus" on the stage of the state opera at Under den Linden. Appearance in Vienna in the following year 1998 and again appearances in Asia including Japan and Taiwan.

Which occupation would he rather be otherwise? "Actor", the answer came out as fast as a shot from the pistol. "Particularly with my favourite actor Goetz Schubert, I'd love to be in front of the camera for once." When he was a high school student, he particularly liked James Dean as many of his friends did. A picture of James Dean is hanging most beautifully among old UFA3) stars and opera singers on the corner wall of his study.

Otherwise Kowalski does not stay on the same thing all the time. He dares occasionally something new. "One should not take everything too seriously, especially oneself", he laughs and as a proof leached over to a near life-size display photo from Komische Oper. It shows him in ultramodern jeans and leather jacket: "I can also make fun of myself.

Translator's Note

1) It means margravate, the territory of a margrave (member of the German nobility corresponding in rank to a British marquess).

2) This is a mistake of the original article. He actually worked at Staatsoper, not Komische Oper.

3) "Universum Film Aktiengesellschaft". The government-subsidized conglomerate of main German production, distribution, and exhibition companies. Later transferred to private control, UFA became the single largest studio in Europe and produced most of the films associated with the "golden age" of German cinema during the Weimar Republic (1919-33).

© 1999 by Cleofide
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