• The Exclusive Opera Lively Interview with Nadja Michael

    Opera Lively's interview # 162 is with German dramatic soprano Nadja Michael, the recent Judith in the Met's Bluebeard's Castle. The artist is intelligent and attractive and her answers are very thoughtful and interesting. She contributes to the understanding of this opera by Bartók with her insights, and also introduces new angles to comprehend Richard Strauss' Salome, a favorite role of hers.

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    © G. Geller for Der Tagesspiegel - Fair promotional use

    Singer: Nadja Michael
    Fach: Dramatic Soprano; she has also had mezzo-soprano roles
    Born in: Germany, in Wurzen (near Leipzig) in 1969 (then, East Germany)
    Lives in: Berlin
    Recently in: Bluebeard's Castle (Judith), Metropolitan Opera House, February 2015; Macbeth (Lady Macbeth), De Nationale Opera, Amsterdam, April 2015 (subject to cancelation)
    Next in: The Makropulos Case (Emilia Marty), Munich Festival, Nationaltheater, July 2015
    Other future appearances: Marietta in Die tote Stadt at the Teatro Wielki in Warsaw and at La Monnaie in Brussels, Kundry in Parsifal at Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, and Isolde in Tristan und Isolde with the DNO in Amsterdam.
    Website: www.nadja-michael.com

    Most important appearances, among others:

    Teatro alla Scala (title role in Salome, 2007)
    Royal Opera House, Covent Garden (title role in Salome, 2008, Warwara in Kat'a Kabanova, and Marietta in Die tote Stadt)
    Vienna State Opera (Eboli, Don Carlos, Leonore, Fidelio, title role in Carmen, and Venus, Tannhäuser)
    DNO in Amsterdam (Leonore, Fidelio, 2010)
    Bavarian State Opera in Munich (title role in Aida, Ottavia in L'Incoronazione di Poppea, title role in Medea in Corinto, 2012, and Eboli in Don Carlos)
    La Monnaie, Brussels (title role in Médée, 2008 and 2011)
    Lyric Opera of Chicago (Lady Macbeth in Macbeth, 2010)
    Berlin State Opera (Marie in Wozzeck, 2011)
    Deutsche Oper Berlin (title role in Carmen, Venus inTannhäuser)
    Maggio Musicale in Florence (Cassandre, Les Troyens)
    Teatro San Carlo, Naples (Fricka, Das Rheingold)
    La Fenice in Venice (title role in Samson et Dalila)
    Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Paris (title role in Médée, 2012)
    Teatro Real, Madrid (title role in L'Incoronazione di Poppea, 2012, and Montezuma, The Conquest of Mexico, 2013)
    Teatro Muncipal, São Paulo (title role in Salome, 2014)
    Metropolitan Opera (Lady Macbeth, Macbeth, 2012; Judith, Bluebeard's Castle, 2015)

    She also appeared in festivals in Verona, Glyndebourne (Olga in Eugene Onegin), Salzburg, Spoleto (Italy), and Bregenz.

    Other United States appearances have included Salome at San Francisco Opera and Brangäne in Tristan und Isolde in concert under Barenboim at Carnegie Hall, New York as well as with the Chicago Symphony, and Didon is Les Troyens with the Chicago Symphony.

    Discography and Videography:

    Ms. Michael's artistry can be seen and heard in these recordings:

    DVDs:


    Don Carlos (Vienna State Opera), TDK label


    Salome (La Scala), TDK label


    Salome (Royal Opera House Covent Garden), Opus Arte label, also blu-ray


    Tosca (Bregenz Festival), Naxos label


    Medea in Corinth (Bavarian State Opera), Arthaus label


    Médée by Cherubini (Théâtre de la Monnaie)

    CDs:


    The Day of the Days
    (songs and lyrics by Nadja Michael), Mocca Music label


    Don Carlos, Orfeo d'Or label


    Mahler's Symphony #2, Deutche Grammophon label


    L'Incoronazione di Poppea, Farao label


    Xerxes, Handel Classic Audio label

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    The Exclusive Opera Lively Interview with Nadja Michael

    Questions by Opera Lively journalists Mary Auer and Luiz Gazzola. © Opera Lively, all rights reserved. Links to this interview are allowed, but no part of it should be reproduced without authorization (use the Contact Us form) and the source must be quoted. Done in New York, NY, USA, February 10, 2015.


    Luiz Gazzola for Opera Lively - First, let’s talk about Judith and Bluebeard’s Castle. The prologue in Hungarian talks about the title character’s anger and asks the question “Where is the theater?” which Sylvia Sass, for example, takes as the key of the opera. Her interpretation is “Where is the theater? Is it outside, or inside of us? If you really understand this question you realize that it is not a question of seven doors that you have to open. Everything is a psychological drama which happens inside the heads of these two people who want to know each other. When they discover all the parts of the other person, some of these parts are frightening.” What do you think of this quote, and how do you describe the psychological arc of the piece, and of your character?



    Nadja Michael – Do you want to talk about the whole concept, or about the character, specifically?

    OL – Both.

    NM – I think this piece is spectacular. Let’s talk about the plot first. You can watch it from all possible angles. It has to become a show at the end, that is, a theatrical piece, but you can set it multiple ways, for example, completely from the standpoint of Bluebeard’s eyes if you want, and it will work. But you can also do it like we did yesterday: out of the eyes and perspective of Judith. It also works. You could even just go away and only do it from the outside in a more abstract way. The content is so much about the archaic needs of the human race! It’s a really big subject.


    Ms. Michaels in Bluebeard's Castel - credit Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera, used with authorization

    I have a friend in New York who is a musician, and he read the plot. It was funny because he is so practical, and he called to say “how can you write an opera about a key opening doors, and what is behind the doors?” It’s funny because when you melt the words down and you only see the words, the hugeness of the actual meaning doesn’t occur immediately.

    The character Judith is not so easy to explain. Of course I put a character on stage; I have to, and I can do that. I can feel her and act her as a human being, a woman, but in fact it is very much about being able to break the barriers of loneliness and to face all the threats and fears that people have when it comes to relationships. I’m not talking necessarily about the relationships between two sexes, but in general: the earning for what is behind the doors. It’s a psychological description of our inner worlds when we open the doors to different spaces in our minds. Bartók is depicting what is behind those doors. It’s just amazing; it becomes bigger and bigger. Everything at first sight is beautiful, but then it turns into something threatening. But I think the biggest threat, the turning point for me in the opera, is eternity.

    OL – Eternity?

    NM – Yes, it comes to eternity. Bluebeard in such a moment allows her to open the door to eternity. This is the moment when Judith falls apart. Eternity is so big and overwhelming! This is what we all wish for, I think, that something lasts. But we know that nothing lasts, not even the universe. We can’t understand eternity, and it becomes too much. This is the piece! It is so rich, and it contains all the important and deep questions that human beings face in life. Consciously or not, these questions guide us.

    OL – In this production, the last scene seems to have your character dead in that grave.

    NM – Yes, yes.

    OL – But then, you have an alter ego that is joining the other wives, with the concept of living forever, right? I was a little surprised to see your character dead in that scene. You also seemed to join the permanent memories of Bluebeard’s past loves. How do you understand this duality, with your character also being dead in that grave?

    NM – It is for me very convincing and touching. I personally read the Ocean of Tears as the last door before eternity. Eternity breaks everything that Judith can take as a human being.


    The Lake of Tears scene. Ms. Michaels and Mikhail Petrenko in Bluebeard's Castel - credit Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera, used with authorization

    The next step – with her still moving towards the other person through her crazy imagination of eternity – is death. I get goosebumps when I talk about that scene. He opens the door to eternity for her, and she wants to merge with it, but she can’t completely merge unless through memory. All that we have in mind, all that we’ve lived through in life is in every single brain cell and in our whole body. Complete merger with his entire history is only possible after death, through memory, when it’s the past. In the here and now we have millions of things going on, but in the past, everything is fixed. The Ocean of Tear is for her the transition to death. Then, she reaches what she wanted, but through death. Now she is part of the memories. She is part of his past life.


    Approaching the last scene. Ms. Michaels and Mr. Petrenko in Bluebeard's Castel - credit Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera, used with authorization

    OL – Wow, excellent answer. Very interesting! What about the character in the title role? The music for him is more monochromatic, more even. It’s harder to put colors there. He keeps repeating “are you afraid? Are you afraid?” “Don’t do this. Don’t do this” in a sort of monotonous warning. What would you say of his psychology?

    NM – I’m very lucky because in Mariusz I found a director who wanted to use my ability and put everything under the perspective of Judith, but like I told you, you can turn it around completely and make of Bluebeard the center of the piece, seeing everything out of his eyes. It is hard for me to address the other character. I don’t want to talk for Mikhail. He knows what he embodies, and what he implants into the character, but I think in this interpretation our reading is that this is not a real man. It’s the vision of a searching spirit, which is Judith. He is her projection. He contains everything that for the state of mind that the woman Judith is in, means a counterpart for her. Does that make sense?

    OL – It does.

    NM – Yes? OK. We understand that this is a young woman, but she is not someone without life experience. She had a life – she has a family, she had a groom, she comes from a rich life. She is not a girlie girl. She had a life before but she decided to go for the unknown. This castle is her projection of everything that is unknown, dangerous, and unexpected about her sexuality: “how far can I go?” The issues sparkle around in the piece but are never obvious. We can’t really touch them. It’s never about what he actually says. It’s never about love, for instance, or making love – which is often what we put at the center of our relationships. It’s rather about coming closer. “Let me in! How far can I go? Open yourself to me!” He says, “Why don’t you just leave it? Watch me, hug me, love me like that and leave out the other things. We could have a beautiful life. Why do you want to go further and further? There is no need.” He is the one who lets go, in a certain way, and is not filled with impatience. He has a certain calm in himself. But that is also scary for her.

    OL – I see him as fulfilling a little bit the function of the superego – censoring her eagerness and her desire for exploration and for finding answers for her drives and passions. He says “don’t go there; there are scary things behind those doors.” He seems to be restraining her impulses, in a sense.

    NM – Hm, hm. I don’t know, I have the feeling that he is full of wisdom. He has had everything, and he knows that when you open certain doors, then they are open and Pandora’s Box can’t be closed anymore, when you take things for what they are.


    Ms. Michaels in Bluebeard's Castel - credit Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera, used with authorization

    OL – He seems to try to guide her, but he gives up because she keeps insisting.

    NM – Yes, but does he try to guide her? I don’t know.


    Mr. Petrenko and Ms. Michael in Bluebeard Castle. Credit Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera, used with authorization

    OL – I mean, guiding her away from that darkness. On the other hand, he says “don’t shed any light on this; it must remain dark.”

    NM – Yes, because he knows that when you become curious, you can’t stop; you go and go and go, and you destroy what is nice and beautiful. You have to discover that beautiful things probably have a counterpart; dark, and maybe bloody, in this case.

    OL – Have you watched Iolanta as well, or were you so busy rehearsing Bluebeard’s Castle that you were unable to see it? [Editor's note - Nadja's performance in this Bluebeard's Castle at the Met was part of a double bill with Tchaikovsky's Iolanta being shown first].

    NM – I did not see it complete, I have to admit, but I saw bits and pieces many times, so I can put it together [laughs].

    OL – This was my first time seeing Iolanta. It also has to do with darkness and light. She is kept in the darkness, and then she reaches light through love and redemption. There is this religious apotheosis, just like the end of Fidelio.

    NM – Hm, hm.

    OL – Everybody is celebrating the Lord, everything is beautiful, and everybody is dressed in white, except the king. The king continues to dress in black, and he turns his back to that celebration. He seems dismayed. Light focuses on him and keeps shrinking, and it all goes dark again. It’s like he is saying – “What have I unleashed?” like the Pandora’s Box you were mentioning. Iolanta was in darkness; now she can see, but what will she see from now on? What she will see maybe won’t be roses anymore; you know, the roses he brings to her in two colors. Before she couldn’t see the colors. Now she can see the red and the white, but things can go wrong. She’ll be able to see things that are not as pleasant and not as beautiful. He seems to think “What have I done?” His dressing in black and turning his back to the celebration cancels the whole apotheosis thing. I did not like the idea of this dark and psychological opera ending in this apotheosis. I thought that the celebration in the last scene didn’t really fit with the first three scenes. In this production, however, the king makes it all fit again, because he underlines that there is still darkness to be seen. What do you think?

    NM – What do I think? [laughs] I think you said it all! Mariusz wanted more darkness in Iolanta. In Russia, Iolanta is a very light fairy tale. They don’t see it as psychological drama, as far as the tradition goes. It’s a very well-known piece in Russia. I didn’t know it. I’ve been told that it is like Eugene Onegin for the rest of the world. Iolanta in Russia is part of the main operatic repertoire. As a fairy tale, it is known to everybody. It is part of the folk culture. Mariusz wanted to show the true content of a fairy tale. All the legends and fairy tales contain archaic roads into our inner lives. He saw it not as much as the story of Iolanta, a girl who was blind and recovers her sight through love, but rather as the story of the father who keeps her hidden. His relationship with her is not that of a pedophile, but is still one of a very strange and wicked love that goes through possession and power over a being, who happens to be his daughter. He loses this force when she finds her sight. So, your reading was perfect. That’s what Mariusz wanted to show. You saw it, so he’ll be happy! [laughs]

    OL – Good! So, back to Judith, what about the vocal challenges of the role? It’s a very dramatic role with a big range. It’s probably not difficult for you because you did very well, but what do you consider to be challenging in this role?

    NM – I think it is very challenging. For me, it sits very low. It does have a big range, but let’s put it this way: the main part, for my type of voice, sits on a very low range. For a long time it doesn’t even touch the high passagio; or very rarely, but then suddenly it changes. I set my voice in this low register. I have it, I can do it. But then all of a sudden it goes into nice and beautiful upper ornamentation and I have to touch the passagio. It does have the famous high C which is not a problem for me; it doesn’t bother me, but the role does require the dramatic side, and one needs to have a full voice with a solid lower register.

    OL - Now let’s move on from Bluebeard’s Castle and focus on you and your life story and career. You’re actually related to the soprano Erna Sack on your mother’s side. How much of a role did music play in your home when you were a child?

    NM – It played a big role, but not in an educated way, not in a professional way. My mother loves music. She always sang. We were five children. She wanted us all to play instruments. I come from a very simple background, but with a lot of inspiration although not in a profound, educated way.

    OL – So how did you get into this, then?

    NM – I don’t know! [laughs hard] There must be something… Now, I’m turning older and I look backwards, and the perspective becomes a bit calmer and loving but it is still not clear for me how I turned out the way I did. I think it was really from my mother’s side. But even my father has a beautiful tenor voice. He always says that he can’t sing, but when he does he has a beautiful voice although he can’t hold intonation. My mother always sang. She worked so hard. It was not an easy life but she always sang light pop music and that kind of stuff. In her whole family background, they all played instruments and sang in choruses.

    OL – What specifically turned you into an opera singer, at one point?

    NM – My first encounter with vocal classical music was when someone suggested to one of my brothers whom I love that he should be a chorus boy soprano. He got voice lessons for that. I was sitting there and listening, and was green with jealousy! [laughs] It was clear: “I’m not a boy so I can’t be part of a boy chorus, and I don’t get voice lessons.” I really hated it! And then I wanted to play the piano, and later I went to a special school for children who were musicians and wanted to become music teachers. But there I was able to go into the chorus, and it was beautiful and I loved it! I did some solos; I was really scared.

    I’ll never forget that my voice broke up in the middle of a concert. I was so scared, and it was a big concert. That remained in my memory. Our big break was when our choir performed Mahler’s Eight under Kurt Masur. This symphony is just a miracle out of Heaven. It uses unbelievable words from Goethe’s Faust, with eight soloists and many, many choruses. It overwhelmed me. It was just such an intense experience! That’s when it all started for me.

    OL – How old were you, when that happened?

    NM – I was seventeen.

    OL - You were originally a competitive swimmer. How did that remain in your life? Do you still swim for fitness or for pleasure?

    NM – No. It’s boring. [laughs] First of all, this was ages ago; I was so young! The longing to be fit and to feel well in my body is still there. I have two children, and when the second one came to this Earth, I woke up one morning feeling this bone hurting and that other bone hurting, and I thought, “this is impossible, I’m in my early thirties and I can’t wake up in the morning and fell like I have an old body.” So I started having a sports routine, again. I do a lot of yoga. That’s what I do. I recommend it to everybody. For me, it’s very intense, very sportive; it tones the body and appeases the mind.

    OL - You first studied at Stuttgart’s State University of Music and Performing Arts, and then later at Indiana University. With all of the excellent music universities in Germany, what made you decide to continue your studies in the U.S.? Was there a particular singer on the faculty at Indiana University with whom you wanted to study?

    NM – Yes, it is always how it is, in life. Many circumstances come together to guide you in a certain direction. I think the first one was a certain uncomfortable feeling regarding the system in Germany. I could not explain it at the time. Now, I can explain it. I’ve always had this big, huge voice, and I’ve always been this skinny person. There was always a disconnection between my voice and my body. They were not congruent; the physicality, and the voice that came out. There was something I felt wasn’t right, somehow.

    In Germany the educational system likes light voices. They like pure Lieder singers, and Church music with light, refined sounds. I had fantastic scholarships in Germany; it’s not that I wasn’t appreciated, that would be wrong to say, but still, I felt that something wasn’t right. Big voices require much longer to mature. You have to develop and refine it, because what do you do? The low, and the top, they are all over the place and to get them in control is not so easy. [sighs]. Then, I met this teacher from Bloomington, and he was so excited about my voice! I felt good, I thought “well, maybe I’ll be more appreciated there; I’ll go!” Actually, it was a great experience, because it happened for the first time in my life up to that point, that I felt right. They loved my type of voice. It’s like in Italy, they love voluptuous big voices and don’t expect the voice to be ready too early.

    In our time, there is a strange fashion going on in the opera world. The recordings have changed our reception of voices, so much! Voices like mine – I’m not the only one – can’t really be recorded well. At a certain point when we push the voice, the sound causes artifacts and they have to compress it, but when they compress it, the sound loses the colors. The voices that record a lot are certain types of voice that go well with the sound engineering technique. This has been going on for twenty or twenty-five years, or even longer.

    What happens is that real dramatic voices produce the top notes very differently than the lyric voices, but the public – and even myself - is used to lyric voices. People like Katia Ricciarelli have light voices but have recorded heavier repertoire as well, and we got used to this kind of sound, to how they produce the top and the bottom for those heavier roles in recordings, even though it wouldn’t be possible to do it this way in a big theater on stage.

    I’m a dramatic soprano; that’s completely clear, so I will never produce a top like that of a lyric soprano, and I have to accept that. I had to accept it myself, you know? I was compromising my own voice, not accepting what I am and who I am, vocally. Not because I didn’t like myself, but just because I went through this education based on recordings and on this emphasis on the lighter voices.

    OL – Who was the professor you wanted to work with, in Bloomington?

    NM – It was Carlos Montané; he is a Cuban tenor, and he is still one of my best friends. I just met him for a couple of day in Miami; it was great fun to be with him. You listen so much to opera; can you follow what I’m saying?

    OL – I can, yes. I heard this same take yesterday, from a dramatic mezzo. We were talking about her attempts to record some pieces and send them to apply for auditions, but she was saying it is hard because she sounds a lot better on stage than on recordings due to the compression problem.

    NM – In my career, I’ve done this Tosca in Bregenz, and it almost killed my career. I shouldn’t have done it. It’s on the water, there are no walls, it’s open air, and there is only a microphone here [points to her cheek]. It takes the sound from here, but my voice, you heard it, goes to the room. It develops in the room, but when you just take the vibrations from here, you only hear the vibrations, and because the sound is so big, they have again to compress it, and it sounded like a light soubrette. It was the biggest mistake of my career.

    OL – Yes, to be honest, when we were planning to interview you, a couple of people in our organization objected, saying that they had heard you in some clips and you didn’t sound very good. I went to listen as well and I thought that you did have a very interesting voice that should be great in the opera house, and yesterday I had the confirmation.

    NM – Yes, you see? And then, what is in the world, is in the world. You have no control anymore because of the social media and stuff.

    OL – Yes, in the opera house your voice sounds completely different. I like to sit far, for my reviews, because if you sit too close you don’t really discriminate what the singers are doing.

    NM – Hm, hm. [nods in agreement]

    OL – So, I go all the way back, trying to see how the projection is, and whether or not the singer can fill the auditorium; and you could; you sounded very good.

    NM – Yes, I have a huge voice, but then you listen to a clip you think “she doesn’t sound good.” It’s really true, because they put these recordings together and they change the body, the color, and the dynamics of the voice, completely! Then it sounds like rubbish! [laughs]

    OL - What is your personality like, and your take on life in general?


    © A. Laible for Hamburger AZ - fair promotional use

    NM – What is my personality like? I think I’m very dynamic, but also I combine to it the heavy thoughtfulness of a German. So even though I’m thoughtful, I can also be very fiery and dynamic. I love to take action. Not to react, but to go for something.

    OL - What do you like to do, besides opera? Any hobbies or particular interests?

    NM – I like to create projects. I like to write. I believe I’m a thinker, a little bit. I like to build characters, for instance. That’s part of it. I like to build whole visions of worlds. I’m writing a movie script, and I love to do that because it binds everything: my theatrical experience, and my love to observe and see characters. I like to spend time with my children. It is time-consuming, of course, because now they are bigger and they play and talk.

    OL – How old are they?

    NM – Twelve and thirteen, almost fourteen. We cook together. I’m not a good cook, but they are. [laughs]

    OL – Do they come to see the opera as well when you are performing?

    NM – They used to come, but now they think it is embarrassing. [laughs hard]

    OL – [laughs] That’s what happens at that age. They are teenagers, and they are embarrassed of their mother even though everybody else finds her to be a great artist!

    NM – Yes, yes! [laughs] But I don’t mind, I like it, because they are fantastic and they need to build their own lives.

    OL – Yes. Back to your career, the role for which you are probably best known now is Salome. You appear in this role in two DVDs – Luc Bondy’s production for La Scala, and David McVicar’s production for the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden. McVicar’s staging was influenced by Pier Paolo Pasolini’s film Salò and he updated the events to a palace in Germany during the Third Reich. There is a suggestion that Salome was sexually abused as a child, and at the end of the opera, she is raped. Bondy’s production set the events in the late Victorian era and is somewhat a little more conventional, with Salome crushed to death under shields – though there is also more than a hint of necrophilia in the way she treats Jochanaan’s severed head. What are your own views of this character? Is Salome in fact a traumatized individual? What is your take on Salome’s psychological traits?


    Ms. Michael as Salome at San Francisco Opera, edited from a photo by Terrence McCarthy, fair promotional use

    NM – Yes. Salome is probably the most touching creature I’m able to put on stage, and have the chance to put on stage, because she is a child. She is not a woman. Medea is a woman. Lady Macbeth is a woman. Judith is a woman. But Salome is a child. Or, let’s put it this way: she is on the edge of being an adult, but she is still a child. It is heart-wrenching, especially when you are a mother, and you see how easy it is to spoil the minds of children. This girl, she did not have any chance to grow healthy. Again, in opera, just like in all classical subjects, she searches for something she can relate to, something she can belong to in a good way. I think there is a lot of abuse going on. It doesn’t matter if it is sexual or not. Because, this is really ridiculous. Imagine when Salome happened, when it was set in time. Cutting-off heads was nothing. It wasn’t a big deal, it wasn’t a new thing. This is something I’d pay attention to, if I were to put it on stage.

    OL – You mean, direct it?

    NM – Yes, I’d love to, at a certain point, because directing is very absorbing. I think what makes this opera so shivering and threatening is that this girl asks for his head, but in that time, around cities they had walls, and around those walls they had wood sticks with heads on top of them, and they were in decay so you can imagine how it smelled, and they were people strangled and hung from trees everywhere, which was done as a threat to others so that everybody would know what happened if they misbehaved. And it was a spectacle; people would gather together to see executions and to see people tortured, beheaded, or starved to death. It belonged to societal behavior.

    Of course a young girl should not ask for the head of somebody, but in the end, surrounded by all that, it wasn’t that terrible. The terrible thing was, much more, the fact that this was all happening on the edge of a change in the historical time. Society was so decadent that a lot of prophets were going around talking about the apocalypse. What was so bad about what Salome did is that they didn’t know if that special guy, Jochanaan, was truly showing some signs that he was a real prophet. That was the terrible thing: that she might have asked for the head of a real prophet, which might then bring evil to the world, from a revengeful God. In our time, if a girl were to ask for the head of a guy, it would kill everything else, it would kill every other meaning, it would stand out, but for her, it was the only way to be in control, once, in her spoiled life.

    OL – Wow, I had never thought of it this way. Super interesting!

    NM – [laughs] Yes, you see?

    OL – I watched your Salome when you are drenched in blood. It was a spectacular performance, in a heavily Regie production. Do you prefer these productions with strong directorial concept, or the more traditional setting?


    Ms. Michael as Salome at the Royal Opera House, photo Gross, fair promotional use

    NM – I’m not sticking to that because I’m more interested in content. For me, I love traditional productions, I love contemporary productions, but I love to work in a proper way, to be detailed-oriented, to think it through, to be in contact with the team, and to develop the play at the same time with the music, all together. These things go hand in hand.

    OL – Is it easy for you to influence the way you want to portray the character, or do the directors have their minds set on something they want you to do?

    NM – I’m lucky that most of the time – not always – the directors are happy to cooperate with me and to create something together so that I can add something to a concept. You saw that yesterday. Mariusz is great with aesthetics. He is fantastic in creating a mood, but he welcomes a counterpart to make it rich and to bring something in, and I think we worked fantastically together. Maybe once in a while directors are scared or they fell like… I don’t know, I don’t get that feeling, but it could be, because I have strong opinions and I like to explore that and go somewhere. For instance, Médée in Paris and in Brussels, I would never have done it like that. So, I gave everything into a concept that was not mine; it wasn’t my first take on this. But it is fabulous when you have a director that gives you the big picture and a certain angle, but then you can fill in, with your own brain.

    OL – Who are some of the directors you most like to work with?

    NM – [laughs] It’s very hard to say. I started to work in an incredibly intense first opera production, I did Amastre in Xerxes, a Handel piece, and it was directed at the time by a young German director who was an actor himself. I think that was good school for me, because he would sit down and really talk everything through, and I thought, “oh, fantastic, this is how opera works” and then of course [laughs] life taught me that it is a little different. I’m lucky, I had David Alden at the beginning of my career, I worked with Neuenfels, Martin Kušej, Krzysztof Warlikowski, Mariusz Trelinski, a very skilled director in São Paulo, Brazil, Livia Sabag. I mean, it was always fulfilling and collaborative.

    OL – Your acting is outstanding. Have you had special training as an actress, or was it only through your operatic education that you’ve acquired your acting skills?

    NM – I don’t know if I have acting skills, but I like to embody the music. I made an experiment, one and a half years ago. I understand that my presence sometimes kills the voice. I have a very huge voice and an unusual type of voice but I step on stage and people just talk about my stage presence, you know? That drives me crazy so I made a very conscious experiment. It was in a production that didn’t really convince me so I thought “I’ll take it a bit easy, this time; I’ll be very controlled and I’ll only sing.” You know what happened? People just freaked out about my vocal abilities. It was good to focus on the singing. [laughs]

    OL – OK, I know you are out of time; you said you absolutely had to leave at this hour and we’ve just reached it; we do have more questions but I think you don’t have time for more, right?

    NM – Unfortunately I do not; I’m sorry!

    OL – Oh, no problem; the answers that we got already are fantastic. Thank you very much!

    NM – You’re welcome!

    -----------

    Let's see here two fragments of the Met's Bluebeard Castle, with Ms. Michaels and Mikhail Petrenko:





    Let's see Ms. Michael's great acting and stage presence in the Covent Garden production of Salome:



    This video clip of Cherubini's Médée displays more extensively her singing:



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