Singers Plachetka and Havelka team up on CD of interwar classics

Ondřej Havelka and Adam Plachetka

Opera singer Adam Plachetka has teamed up with jazz and swing specialist Ondřej Havelka and his band Melody Makers on a unique new CD. Nebe na Zemi, or Heaven on Earth, mainly features classic interwar songs composed by Jaroslav Ježek and the famous stage duo of Voskovec and Werich. I spoke to Plachetka at the album’s launch at Czech Radio.

How did this project originate?

Photo: Radioservis

“I was asked by Czech Television if I could put together a 50-minute programme of Voskovec and Werich. When I was memorizing the words I listened to the old recordings of Voskovec and Werich and had to admit that with an orchestra it’s even more colourful and nicer to listen to than just with piano.

“So I picked up the phone and called Ondřej and asked if they could find some time and would be interested in doing such a project. They were in favour, which was great news. We put our heads together and came up with dates and a timeline, and within about two years we managed to organise the whole thing.”

How familiar were you with these songs at the beginning of the project?

“There are a few that were recommended by Ondřej on this album. Other than that I would say I know most of their songs from my childhood.

“So it was a music I was familiar with. But pieces like Svítá and Rub a líc – there were a few that I had to learn new.”

How was it working with Ondřej Havelka and his Melody Makers. They have been together for so long I guess they play together very naturally?

“Yes, it’s been great fun. I’m glad we’ve got many concerts, because usually when I prepare a programme it’s for very few concerts and we’ve got at least 15 good to go right now.

“And it’s probably going to go on a little longer even than we think. So it’s something that will have space and time to develop and I’m really looking forward to seeing it in a year.”

Do you sing duets or does one of you take one vocal and one of you the other?

“It depends. I think I’ve got six solo songs and Ondřej has three. The rest is duets, so I think about nine duets.”

You’re obviously an opera singer and some of these songs seem quite delicate to me. Did you have to rein in your amazing voice?

“Yes, to cut back [laughs]. I did have to, but also I think if you have at least the slightest feeling for this kind of music, or any sort of non-operatic music, you want to do it – and if you’re able you will.

“So that was something that came pretty naturally, but we also had to time to work on it and to work on style and phrasing with Ondřej before the project came to life.”

You mentioned concerts. You’ve played some already – how have they gone?

“They have been great fun and the only worry right now is that the programme’s getting longer and longer, because we keep talking more and more every concert.

“So we will probably have to sit down and talk about what we’re going to cut, because it’s getting a little too long and by the time we get to the 10th concert I’m afraid it’s going to be insufferably long [laughs].”