On stage and off, Erwin Schrott’s life is an ongoing drama.
For years, he was opera’s most eligible bachelor, and he’s taken advantage of his status. So Erwin Schrott’s fans were not surprised – and yet still a little shocked — when opera star Anna Netrebko announced to the media last February that she was curtailing her appearance schedule. The reason: she was expecting his child. “We are both very, very happy that there will still be three of us,” she told a reporter at the time. But it was only Netrebko who made the announcement. Schrott himself said nothing publically, and in fact, deftly avoided the subject in interviews.
It’s that blurry line between life and art. When Schrott first defined the role of Giovanni, he was that man. Now, while still technically single, his personal life is a little cloudier. He’s a star faced with age-old dilemma: Does his personal life detract from the role he plays? Will his countless (and sometimes rabid) female fans feel the same way about Don Giovanni if he’s not really very Giovanni-ish? For decades stars have kept marriages secret to not turn off their fan base. Single is good for business if you’re a hunk, whether it’s George Clooney or Erwin Schrott.
So Schrott morphs in interviews from Don Juan into Hamlet – distancing himself from the character by badmouthing him and yet keeping alive enough mystery that maybe, just maybe, opera goers will confuse the actor and the part he plays.
Take this complicated analysis on Giovanni from Schrott himself: “I think he is very much a loser,” the singer says. “I think that most of the story he invented himself. Really, he’s totally a storyteller. I think he’s such a liar, you know? Counting women? A terrible thing. You have to be so insecure to do something like that. Being with women, two or three a day? You are passing a very bad time in your life. Not having any friends? Such a lonely heart.”
But then Schrott travels from the world of fiction to fact. When it comes to his own role as a sex symbol, he turns coy. “Most of the guys I know talk a lot,” he says, making a face of impatience. “But people who don’t talk? Those are the ones I believe. Always, the silence for me means so much.”
He’s not the first public figures to have it both ways. He criticizes his character but holds back on the few facts that might actually distance him from being a Don Juan.
It’s no wonder that Schrott is a complicated man. His childhood was tough. When he was 11, he worked cleaning cars with his father because “economics in Uruguay were so bad.” By that age, he had already been drawn to the stage. He was studying Mozart operas as a teen. At 22, he got an offer from a conductor to record Don Giovanni, but he turned it down because he didn’t feel ready and didn’t want to rush his career. It’s a decision he still feels was wise.
“It’s difficult to wait to do a lot of things,” he says. “Not because you want to wait for the perfect time, because no one is going to tell you when that is. You have to listen to your inner voice.”
Then, the perfect opportunity arose. When he was 29, Schrott — who won the 1998 Operalia international opera competition founded by Plácido Domingo — was invited by Domingo to perform the title role in Don Giovanni for the first time. On the Washington National Opera stage, his initial fears turned to pure excitement as he discovered “I was made to play this part.”
Schrott, who spends 330 days a year in the theater, says he loves his life. When talking about opera, he touches his heart.
He does it again when the subject of music comes up. “I am interacting with music all the time — in here. For me, music is so important. I have no idea how people live without it,” he says, adding that he is moved by all kinds of music from classical to jazz to salsa. “Music has the power to change the world, not in the way that we would love to, because music cannot change a war, but it will change at least the suffering, the stress. I think music can bring people together, the arts can bring a lot of happiness.”
And he hopes to contribute to that joy each time he gets onstage. “I can definitely try to share what I am enjoying so much,” he says, borrowing another phrase from the admiring critics, “singing and acting like a ‘stage animal.’”
(Editor’s note: Schrott and Netrebko’s son, Tiago Arua Schrott was born September 5, 2008 in Vienna. Netrebko is mentioned in news reports as Schrott’s fiancé.)
Read Part 1 of this interview.