Podcast 63: Vivien Schweitzer, Author and Journalist

Indie Opera Podcast’s usual suspects sit down for a engaging conversation with author Vivien Schweitzer about her delightfully informative book, A Mad Love: an Introduction to Opera, her varied career as a journalist, a critic and her return to live performance as an accompanist.

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Recorded at the National Opera Center 6/17/19
Vivien Schweitzer, author/journalist/critic/pianist

A Mad Love: An Introduction to Opera
Vivien Schweitzer, author
Basic Books – publisher, September 2018

Spotify playlist for Vivien’s book

What We’ve Seen:

Brooke, Vivien, Chuck

  • Dido and Aeneas by Purcell (w/ excerpts from Christopher Marlowe)
    • Death of Classical: The Angel’s Share
    • Green-Wood Cemetery Catacombs
    • Alek Shrader, director
      • Ass’t Professor of Voice, Director of Opera Univ. Notre Dame
    • Tonio – Daughter of the Regiment
      • Santa Fe Opera
      • Walker Lewis, ass’t director
    • Elliot Figg, music director/harpsichordist
    • Daniela Mack, Dido
      • Elisabeth Cree at Opera Philadelphia
    • Brooke Larimer, Anna/2nd Woman


  • The Rose Elf, a chamber opera world premiere
  • The Angel’s Share 2018 season
  • Prototype Festival 2019
    • Psychosis 4:48 (based on the play of Sarah Kane)
      • Philip Venables, composer
    • Prism
      • Ellen Reid, composer
      • Roxie Perkins, librettist
  • NY Opera Fest
    • La Susanna
      • Heartbeat Opera & Opera Lafayette
      • BAM Fisher


  • Whitney Biennial
    • Carlos Reygadas, Mexican filmmaker
      • He uses classical music as subtext in his movies


  • The Constitution, an oratorio in 3 sections
    • The Constitution/The Bill of Rights/The Amendments
    • Ben Yarmolinsky, composer
    • Judith Barnes, co-director
    • James Rutherford, co-director
    • Peter Szep, conductor
    • Vertical Player Repertory


  • Hadestown
    • Anais Mitchell, composer/lyricist/librettist
    • Interweaves the myth of Orfeo & Euridice with Hades &
    • Persephone, also with Hermes
  • As One
    • Laura Kaminsky, composer
    • Mark Campbell, co-librettist
    • Kimberly Reed, co-librettist
    • Matthew Gray, director
    • Cast A
      • Michael Kelly, Hannah before
      • Blythe Gaissert, Hannah after
    • Cast B
      • Jorell Williams, Hannah before
      • Briana Elyse Hunter, Hannah after
  • NYCO, American Opera Projects, Kaufman Music Center
    • Some Light Emerges
      • Laura Kaminsky, Mark Campbell & Kimberly Reed
      • Utopia Opera
      • Caroline Worra, sang Dominique de Menil
      • Opera setting is the Rothko Chapel in Houston, Tx
  • Laura Kaminsky & Friends
  • NYFOS, 5 Boroughs Music Festival, The Center
    • Fierce Grace: Jeannette Rankin
    • Kimberly Reed, librettist/director
  • After Stonewall, world premiere
    • Elaine Sexton, poet
  • The Three Musketeers
    • Ken Ludwig, playwright
    • Ken Sordelet, director
    • Lead fight director on Broadway
    • Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey

OUR GUEST ARTIST – Vivien Schweitzer

  • As One – opera looking at the transgender experience
  • Blue – Police shootings of young black men
    • Glimmerglass Festival
  • Moby Dick – Jake Heggie/Gene Scheer
  • Fellow Travelers – McCarthy era Lavender Scare
  • Greg Spears/Greg Pierce
  • A Quote
    • Lord Chesterfield writing his son in 1752 “Whenever I go to an opera I leave my sense and reason at the door
      with my half guinea and deliver myself up to my eyes and ears.”
  • Opera should make you feel:
    • “When I am laid in earth” aria from Dido and Aeneas
      Shostakovich evokes a variety of thoughts and sound
  • After college Vivien worked various places as an intern
    • Classic FM Magazine
    • Eventually she was hired as a music critic/journalist
    • NYTimes form 2006-2016
  • During a fundraiser for Turn The Spotlight
    • “Empowering leaders on stage and behind the scenes to create a more equitable future in the arts.”
    • She met this young Armenian singer, Anush Avetisyan, soprano
  • Deborah Voight International Vocal Competition
    • 2017 1st place winner
    • 2018-19 Fellow Turn the Spotlight Foundation
  • The first opera review that Vivien remembers writing was when she was about age 14 or 15.
    • Arabella by Richard Strauss
    • Royal Opera House, London
    • Kiri Te Kanawa
  • Vivien didn’t have a complete knowledge of opera traditions like: trouser roles, castrati, etc.
  • Her book is meant to address the various conventions of traditional, baroque and contemporary opera that may require explanation to the opera curious.
  • Pelleas e Melisande by Debussy
    • This is an opera that could confuse the opera curious as it’s libretto/story is not straight forward
  • Parsifal by Wagner
  • Wagner’s Ring Cycle talked about
    • Siegfried
    • Die Walkure
    • Gotterdamerung
  • Due to technology and media inundation there has been a deep fracture in artistic sensibility, attention span and how we address the human condition.
  • Large scale works (lasting 5 hours or longer) that were mentioned:
    • the CIVIL warS
    • Robert Wilson’s 5 Act, 12 hour long multinational opera
    • Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
    • The Inheritance
    • Matthew Lopez’s 6 Act re-envisioning of
    • Howard’s End by E.M. Forster
    • The Seven Streams of the River Ota
    • Robert Lepage creating for his company, Ex Machina
    • The Mahabharata
      • Peter Brook’s 9 hour stage version
  • King Lear on Broadway with Glenda Jackson as Lear
  • To enhance the reader’s understanding of the concepts discussed in Vivien’s book, she created an adjunct Spotify playlist
    • The Language of the Game: How to Understand Soccer
      • A book for the soccer curious
      • Laurent Dubois, author
      • Basic Books publisher
  • Some of the contemporary operas discussed in the book include:
    • Fellow Travelers
    • Nixon in China
    • Dog Days was in an earlier draft of the book, but had to be cut.
  • Franco Zefferelli, film and opera director
    • Passed away on June 15, 2019
    • La Boheme
    • La Traviata
    • Tosca
    • Recent La Traviata production by Willy Decker was replaced this season by Metropolitan Opera
  • Everyone discussed whether it is better to have your work “booed”, lightly applauded as mere good manners or not applauded at all.
  • One production that Chuck could not bring himself to applaud:
    • Nelken (The Carnations) by Pina Bausch
      • Edinburgh International Festival
  • Looking Forward To:


  • Wozzeck at Met Opera in a new production by William Kentridge
  • Akhnaten by Philip Glass directed by Phelim McDermott
    • Anthony Roth Costanzo will sing Akhnaten
  • Porgy & Bess in a production shared with English National Opera
    • James Robinson, director
    • Eric Owens, Porgy
  • Agrippina by Handel in a production by Sir David McVicar
    • Joyce DiDonato, Agrippina


  • Opera Saratoga
    • Mozart and Salieri by Rimsky Korsakov/Pushkin
    • The Daughter of the Regiment by Donizetti
    • Ellen West, a world premiere
      • Ricky Ian Gordon, composer
      • Frank Bidart, poet
  • Glimmerglass Festival
    • Blue by Tesori/Tazewell
    • The Ghosts of Versailles by Corigliano/Hoffman
  • NYCO
    • Stonewall, a world premiere


  • Mostly Mozart Festival
    • The Magic Flute in a multi-media production
      • co-directed by Suzanne Andrade & Barrie Kosky
  • The Black Clown based on the Langston Hughes epic poem
    • adapted by Davone Tines & Michael Schachter
  • New York City Opera
    • Stonewall
      • Iain Bell, composer
      • Mark Campbell, librettist
      • Liz Bouk sings Sarah, a role created for a trans singer
  • The Shed, Hudson Yards NYC
    • Dragon Spring Phoenix Rise, a kung fu musical
      • Song by Sia

Vivien Schweitzer’s Bio:

As a music critic for the New York Times from June 2006 to June 2016, she wrote reviews, profiles and essays about a broad spectrum of classical, opera and world music. Some of her favorite recent articles include interviews with the composer Annie Gosfield, the pianist Yvgeny Kissin and the mezzo soprano Alice Coote, as well as features about the intersection of politics and music in Istanbul, the resur-gence of sacred music in Caucasus Georgia, and an exploration of what makes mu-sicians ‘ready’ to perform emotionally challenging works. Vivien has also written many reviews and features for The Economist, including profiles of the conductors Marin Alsop and Gustavo Dudamel. She contributes regularly to the New York Times obituary department.
Some recent opera reviews include “Turandot” and “Siegfried”” at the Metropoli-tan Opera,“Tosca” at LoftOpera, and a brand new opera called “The Rose Elf,” staged in a cemetery!

She was born in Mumbai, and is a dual American and British citizen, and growing up in London and Washington, D.C. Early in her journalistic career she worked as a copy editor and reporter for the Moscow Times in Russia, writing stories about topics including mail order brides and the challenges facing foreign missionaries. She has also written about Tajikistan for CNN Traveler and New York’s Chinese diaspora for BBC Online, and reported on festivals in Mexico and Slovenia.

When not writing about music, Vivien enjoys making music and performs regular-ly at various venues including Bargemusic.
She is also a volunteer teacher at the Center for the Integration and Advancement of New Americans (CIANA), a Queens-based nonprofit where she teaches English and Civics to adult students from all over the world.

Credits: Peter Szep, Walker Lewis, Brooke Larimer, Chuck Sachs, Rossa Crean (Theme Music), Peter Szep (Editor)

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