ROGER WATERS INTERVIEW - November 2005
The interview is (c) 2005 Total Production International and used strictly with permission - no unauthorised use allowed. All pictures are by Jimmy Ienner, Jr., and (c) 2005 Columbia Records & Sony Classical. They are used strictly with permission - no unauthorised use allowed.
Mark Cunningham: Given that the classical world is notoriously protective of its genre, I think you've been extremely brave with Ça Ira, but as I'm sure you'll agree, true art is not about playing safe.
Roger Waters: No, it's not about playing safe and I fully expected to see the knives come out. But I'm happy to say that the knives have been on the dull side, by and large. There's been very little written that's been very dismissive of it. I think there's enough in it musically to prevent them from just saying it's crap. They can accuse it of being crude or that it has relentless crescendos - all those kinds of criticisms - but they can't write it off as not being relevant to the place in which they live. And I'm happy with that.
Mark Cunningham: I could detect some very clear parallels between some parts of Ça Ira and pieces like Bring The Boys Back Home and The Trial from The Wall... this made me wonder if you had considered classical opera before Ça Ira came along.
Roger Waters: In short, no, I hadn't. The Trial is a sort of Kurt Weill pastiche and Bring The Boys Back Home was something I wrote on guitar and we appended the orchestra later.
Mark Cunningham: I was thinking more from a melodramatic point of view...
Roger Waters: I see... well, the rendition of Bring The Boys Back Home in the movie and the one we did in Berlin in 1990 was extremely dramatic. I loved working with that Russian marching band. It was an extraordinary experience, not least going to rehearse with them in East Germany. We drove for hours and hours, and couldn't find the army base where we were supposed to be going to, to rehearse with the musicians. We asked loads of people where it was but no one would tell us. We soon discovered it was only 100 yards down the road but the East Germans were so bloody terrified that they'd be giving away military secrets that they wouldn't tell us where this enormous Russian army base was!
Mark Cunningham: From watching the performances and talking to some of the crew, it's obvious how important the creation of the visual content was to you...
Roger Waters: I had always thought that we would project something when we came to do a concert version, but I imagined we would treat the libretto in some way, using Nadine [Roda-Gil]'s drawings and some other found art from the period. But then about a month or so ago, I suddenly thought... what if I got some actors and actresses together, put them in costumes, stuck them in a theatre and photographed them as if they were part of a production? So we used those photographs to enhance the narrative. It was a very simple idea but I had to do it... I knew it would really help the evening.
So I went to Sony with the idea, and in fact consulted Peter Geld who used to be Sony's president and is now general manager at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. He suggested I contact [executive creative director] Adam Owett at Sony, who loved the idea. He then lined up a meeting with [art director] Sean Evans, who you met, and [executive producer] Chris Lenz. We looked at some portfolios of different photographers, picked two, interviewed them, and it was immediately obvious that Mark Holtheusen was the guy.
I was so impressed with his work and attitude. He dropped everything to work with us. He made some models, photographed them in San Francisco and got on a plane to New York, and has been working on this, flat out, until he flew over to Rome. His vision of how to do this opened everything up immeasurably and he was a terrific influence.
Mark Cunningham: The sound effects, too, were quite spine-chilling at times and very much in line with your previous rock'n'roll work...
Roger Waters: David Novack and his collaborator did a lot of work on a Foley stage, chopping things up and being very inventive. Some effects were found on discs but much of it was recorded specifically for the opera. Brian Besterman and David then worked out how best to devise a system that could play them into the live performance. Some of the simplest things were the most spectacular - to be able to play the ticking clock in time was amazing and it came out perfect.
Mark Cunningham: You've always been an artist who likes to retain maximum control of his work, particularly in terms of live performance. It must therefore have been an odd experience for you to have created something that was completely out of your hands as soon as you delivered your introduction and moved out into the audience.
Roger Waters: It was, and there was very little I could contribute, except with the visuals, where I would occasionally lean over and say, 'you're fucking four bars behind, faster, faster!' So in a way I was itching to get my hands on the controls, because I know I could have got it all precisely in sync only because I know the music better than anyone else. I might even do that one day!
I did feel so close to all the people on stage because we'd been in rehearsal for the previous four days, working very intensely, particularly with Rick Wentworth. But during the performances, my heart was in my mouth a lot of the time, although Rick did a fantastic job of keeping the orchestra under control. There were one or two weak links in the orchestra, it has to be said. Some had trouble registering key changes when turning the pages sometimes. One discovered that a woodwind player was in B Flat when everyone else was in F Sharp! But that only happened once and otherwise I thought it was flawless.
Mark Cunningham: I was very aware of you at the back, singing along and getting nervous about the synchronisation!
Roger Waters: Yes I was. They had very little time to prepare. Sean Evans and Richard Turner, who was operating the video, did a tremendous job but obviously, another couple of days would have helped them perfect the synchronisation and got rid of some of the jumps and judders.
Mark Cunningham: I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised to have enjoyed and been quite moved by something that isn't a field of music I would normally go to see.
Roger Waters: I'm happy to hear that. I really enjoyed the first night but I was feeling as sick as a dog on the second night. You came to the In The Flesh tour, didn't you?
Mark Cunningham: Yes I did... and attending Ça Ira was like a breath of fresh air, after spending all year confronted by huge rock'n'roll productions and loud PA systems! I found it very hard to draw comparisons with anything other than your own work, however, I noticed one newspaper review [La Repubblica] that compared you with Lloyd Webber... how very pleasant for you, considering how you condemned the man in your song 'It's A Miracle' [from Amused To Death]!
Roger Waters: Yeah... well, they're clutching at straws. Those reviewers who want to be a bit snippy. And that's alright, I don't mind that. It comes with the territory although I think they're wrong. Ça Ira has some seriously spellbinding melodies in it which sets it apart from what Andrew Lloyd Webber does. They'll say what they will and... whatever... it's alright.