This summer semester, world-class tenor Michael Schade is an mdw Artist in Residence, and he’s got big plans: a performance of Mozart’s Così fan tutte with a university ensemble.
In Mozart, the truth is exposed “like on the cutting edge of a knife,” says Michael Schade. “When Guglielmo complains about women, it’s pure violence, because he feels hurt.” And now, the renowned Mozart tenor Schade will spend this year’s summer semester working with a carefully selected group of singers from the mdw’s Department of Voice and Music Theatre on just how such violence should sound in Mozart’s Così fan tutte. Schade has big plans for his stint as Artist in Residence: he’ll be collaborating with the Department and its head Margit Klaushofer to choose the mdw’s best opera-focused voice students to be part of an ensemble that will usher in a renewal of Schlosstheater Schönbrunn’s summer opera programming, with this coming summer already set to witness the new ensemble’s première production: Mozart’s Così fan tutte. This opera will be performed four times (from 12 to 15 June) in semi-staged form at the Schlosstheater and serve to kick off a regular series of summer performances there.
“Since I’ve received so much help myself, I have an obligation to help others, as well,” says Michael Schade, who can count true greats such as Riccardo Muti, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, and Helmuth Rilling as influential mentors. The production of Così that he sang in under Muti transported him “into a different universe”, he says, while Harnoncourt acted as something of a musical father to him. Working with these maestri brought forth Schade’s clear and expressive vocal style, his fulminant stage acting, and his razor-sharp verbal articulation. The German-Canadian with the incomparable timbre, who makes just as brilliant an impression as Wagner’s Stolzing as he does in oratorios, says he’s remained “a Mozart tenor at heart”. And indeed: Schade has set new standards in Mozart interpretation, though his Strauss roles are just as incomparable. And when he sets out on the road to death in Schubert’s Schöne Müllerin or his Winterreise, the young lovers’ suffering can be keenly felt. “For me, opera, lied, and oratorio are things that belong together,” he explains—and he requires this of his students, as well.
For ten years now, Schade has been active as a scout for and mentor to young talents at the operatic world’s premier addresses. It was at the Salzburg Festival, back in 2008, that he first recruited promising young singers from the world’s most prestigious opera houses for his Young Singers Project, which has since grown into a festival institution. And that’s just one of his initiatives devoted to young talents. As artistic director of the International Baroque Festival at Melk Abbey, he’s instituted concert programmes designed to enthuse the festival’s youngest attendees, and he’s also been successful at acquiring sponsors for the festival’s Johann Heinrich Schmelzer Competition for early music. Furthermore, this summer will witness the tenth edition of the waterborne “Stella maris” singing competition. For this competition, young singers from the world’s greatest opera houses embark on a cruise—this summer’s edition will be from Barcelona to Hamburg—to compete before a specialist jury. Two previous Stella maris winners, by the way, are now quite familiar to Viennese operagoers: Hila Fahima and Yongmin Park.
“The world needs new, lyrical, beautiful voices,” says Schade, who’s more than eager to live out his passion for supporting young artists in Vienna, as well.
“I believe in young singers, and I want to motivate them,” he says, going on to remark how he can’t understand why one doesn’t see voice students more often among the standing room guests at the opera. Schade adds that there are two kinds of talented singers: the one kind is hard to rein in, while the other kind approaches the task at hand with too much reverence. And: “Singers who are just about to begin their careers need the most help. So what I want to do is to pass on what was given to me back then.”—which is by no means little.
The son of a Canadian engineer recalls that as he grew up at home with his parents, there was constant singing. “I’m convinced that my father could have been good competition for Peter Schreier or Fritz Wunderlich,” says Schade. After the war, however, his father had decided to study engineering, and it was as an engineer that he then made his living. “Though people in my family were always singing, none of them would have ever considered earning a living from it”—and he was no exception. The Schade family had moved from Germany to Canada during the 1970s. The two parents were active choristers, and little Michael sang in the choir at St. Michael’s Choir School in Toronto. After graduation, he began studying veterinary medicine. But even as a university student in Ontario, Schade kept on as a choral singer. One day, an instructor from the music department chanced to hear his high B-flat and asked Schade to tag along with him to a competition. And with that, Schade the singer had been discovered. His subsequent studies at Philadelphia’s renowned Curtis Institute proved to be the ideal preparation for his global career. “Curtis had its own opera company” that was accompanied by an outstanding orchestra, remembers Schade, whom Ioan Holender hired as an ensemble member at the Vienna State Opera in the 1990s. “It used to be that you studied and then joined the ensemble at an opera house, and at some point you went freelance. But the world’s changed.” Conductors come and go quickly: “By the time I was singing under the likes of Muti, Harnoncourt, Dohnányi, and Welser-Möst, I’d come to realise that a singer always has to be the right horse for the right rider.” Even today, Schade quite gratefully remembers Muti’s “drill”, which he’s willing to pass it on to his students—“if they want”, he’s quick to add. If they’ve learned a Mozart role with him, “then they’ve really got something in their pocket, a true Mozartean sound, when they set out on their own,” he says. And these days, one would be hard-pressed to find a better passport to the operatic world than that.