Below, a short extract of an interview with recently deceased composer Hans Werner Henze. The interview was conducted by David Patrick Stearns & published on his Condemned to Music blog on ArtsJournalBlogs. You can read the piece in toto here:
Q: Whenever I tell people the plot of Elegy for Young Lovers, their jaws drop. They can’t believe an opera has such a fearlessly outrageous story – a ruthless, egomaniacal poet named Mittenhofer who steals his best lines from a raving madwoman and is happy to destroy the lives of those around him for the sake of his art. Did you have any hesitation in taking on a story so complicated and packed with many possible meanings?
A: When I asked Messrs. [W.H.] Auden and [Chester] Kallman to make a new libretto for me … and discussed the character of the piece that I wanted, we came to the conclusion that we should invent one in which more or less all the characters were larger than life in their thinking and in their doings. Thus came about a fabulous subject for what opera mostly needs – in accordance with the unwritten rules of music-theatre.
Q: Was there any apprehension in taking on a libretto whose main character is so unsympathetic?
A: Unsympathetic characters make good opera principals and give the composer the necessary material and make the presence of very sympathetic counter-roles an aesthetic necessity.