• The Exclusive Opera Lively Interview with mezzo and stage director Yvonne Fontane

    Luiz Gazzola met in person Yvonne Fontane in London, for this intriguing interview [Opera Lively interview # 54]. The accomplished singer and stage director is a lovely and charming lady who is so vivacious in her facial expressions and intonation that it is a shame that this is not a video interview, since on paper some of the fun won't be transmitted to our readers. Ms. Fontane is intense, and her passion for what she does pours out in every answer of hers. This is so striking that one of our staff members who was transcribing the audio file, said "I want to hug her!" Having met her in person, Almaviva couldn't agree more. This is one fascinating lady! We would be very curious to attend one of her productions, because if she can transmit to her team and to her audience all her ebullient enthusiasm for opera, the audience will surely be in for a treat!

    Ms. Fontane is one of the driving forces of Stowe Opera, a very interesting company that is now producing their shows on the beautiful grounds of Winslow Hall in England. Hopefully someone among our British readers will attend their upcoming show and post a review. Meanwhile, let's immerse ourselves in the pleasure of reading Ms. Fontane talking about her deep insights into the psychology of her characters, as well as her original approach to stage directing. Enjoy, readers; this interview is a winner! (Questions by MAuer and Almaviva)



    Used with permission of Yvonne's press representative; credit unknown

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    Artist: Yvonne Fontane, singer and operatic stage director
    Fach: Mezzo soprano with lyric and dramatic roles, and incursions in soprano territory
    Born in: Munich, Germany
    Recently in: Le Nozze di Figaro (La Contessa, and directorial duties), Stowe Opera
    Next in: double-bill of Weill's Mahagonny Singspiel and Darius Milhaud's Les Malheurs d’Orphee, in the roles of Bessie and Soeur Ainnée/Le Loup respectively, in August 2012 with the Orquesta Filharmónica de la UNAM in Mexico City, Sala Miguel Covarrubias - Saturday August 18 at 6 PM and Sunday August 19 at 12 Noon - Tickets $300 and $400 (Mexican pesos - approximately $23 and $30 US dollars) - Get tickets by calling the box office at 5665-6825 (open Monday-Saturday from 10 AM to 2:30 PM and 4:30 PM to 8:30 PM; on Sundays from 2:30 PM to 7:30 PM). The venue is located at the Centro Cultural Universitario on Insurgentes Sur 3000, Ciudad Universitaria, Mexico City.

    Her website: http://www.yvonnefontane.co.uk/

    See more photos of the singer in her beautiful gallery, clicking [here]

    ARTISTIC BIOGRAPHY and more

    Introduction

    Yvonne Fontane is a mezzo-soprano who has received high international acclaim as a vocally and dramatically exceptional opera singer. She has been recognized for her distinctive, individual vocal quality and approach, two things that find their source within her strong commitment to dramatic purpose and intention.

    Yvonne uses her rich, velvety sound and extensive vocal range with strong stylistic awareness and musicianship. Together with her striking physical appearance and acting ability, her repertoire ranges from Mozart to the living contemporary composers, from Italian Bel Canto to oratorio and the great German repertoire.

    Studies

    She was born in Munich and began her music studies as a flautist at the Munich Conservatoire and the Mozarteum in Salzburg where she also started her vocal studies. Two years later, Yvonne was offered a number of scholarships to study at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama where she received her diploma in 1991 with a Merit.

    She won the 1993 ESSO/NFMS Young Concert Artist Award and a commendation award from the San Francisco Opera Center. She also received scholarships to several master classes at the Britten/Pears School in Aldeburgh with Martin Isepp and at the Brereton International Music Symposium with Brigitte Fassbaender. Whilst still a student, Yvonne performed her first operatic role, Cherubino (The Marriage of Figaro) at the Banff Festival of the Arts in Canada.

    Operatic roles

    Yvonne Fontane has had outstanding success in the title role of Carmen including at Queensland Opera in Brisbane, the Raymond Gubbay/Royal Albert Hall Production with the BBC Concert Orchestra and at Opera Holland Park with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Also, she performed Carmen at Castleward Opera in Northern Ireland, the Belfast Grand Opera House, on the London City Opera/Columbia Artists' extensive USA tour and at Stowe Opera in Buckinghamshire, in addition to concert performances for the RTE Irish Radio Concert Orchestra in Dublin and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the Hampton Court Festival.


    Yvonne as Carmen in her first production at Stowe Opera
    Used with permission of Yvonne's press representative; credit unknown


    2009 saw Yvonne in her debut as Amneris (Aïda) for the Grand Open Air Festival Idée Fixe in Brussels, Liège, Gent and Namur. She returned to the role of AMNERIS at Chiemgau Festival's 2011 season in Germany with the Muenchner Symphoniker.

    In 2007, Yvonne Fontane joined the cast of Pegasus Opera for performances at the Sadlers Wells Theatre in London in the opera Koanga by Frederick Delius singing the role of Clotilda. This production was in support of the bicentenary celebrations of the abolition of the slave trade in Great Britain.

    2007 also offered the opportunity for Yvonne to extend her repertoire into the dramatic soprano fach when she sang the role of Santuzza (Cavalleria Rusticana) at Lakeland Opera in Cumbria with great success.

    Other operatic engagements included Jenny’s Girl (The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, Kurt Weill) and Dulcinée (Don Quixote) at English National Opera.

    In a double-bill of Weill's Mahagonny Singspiel and Darius Milhaud's Les Malheurs d’Orphee, Yvonne will appear as Bessie and Soeur Ainnée/Le Loup respectively in August 2012 with the Orquesta Filharmónica de la UNAM in Mexico City. This production is conducted by Jan Latham-Koenig and directed by Nicola Raab.

    Yvonne has also sung Maddalena (Rigoletto) on an extensive UK tour for Mid Wales Opera and Diva Opera and she returned to Opera Holland Park to sing La Zia Principessa (Suor Angelica) with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

    In contrast, Yvonne has sung the trouser roles in La Canterina and Lo Speziale at the Haydn Festival in Eisenstadt, Austria under the musical direction of Stephan Vladar and the New Austro/Hungarian Haydn Philharmonia. She has also performed Cherubino at Opera Holland Park again with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

    Yvonne had performed at Stowe Opera for three consecutive seasons from 2003 through 2005. She performed Die Hexe (Hänsel und Gretel), followed by the above mentioned Carmen and then Dorabella (Così fan tutte).

    In July 2012, Yvonne made her long-awaited return to Stowe Opera at their newly found home at Winslow Hall in Buckinghamshire, England as La Contessa (Le Nozze di Figaro).

    Concerts

    A live broadcast with the RTE Irish Radio Symphony Orchestra under Gerhard Markson heard Yvonne perform Die Hexe (Hänsel und Gretel) in 2009, a role she also sang throughout 2008, together with the role of Die Mutter on an extensive tour to Europe and the UK with Diva Opera.

    Two more concert performances were Kostelniçka (Jenůfa) with the Nottingham Philharmonia and Grimgerde (Die Walküre) with the Oxford Philomusica under Mario Papadopoulos.

    Yvonne Fontane is an accomplished concert singer. Her concert engagements reach from the Mozart Requiem with the London Festival Orchestra under Ross Pople, Tehillim (Steve Reich) with the Dresdner Symphoniker, a live Mahler and Brahms recital for BBC Radio 3 with Piers Lane and the Verdi Requiem with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and the Exeter Festival Chorus.

    Yvonne sings regularly in Opera Galas for Raymond Gubbay, London Festival Opera, Diva Opera and in 2010/2011 for The Chiemgau Festival in Germany with the Azerbajan State Orchestra in venues such as the Barbican in London, La Fenice in Venice, Buxton Opera House and the 2010 Harare Festival of the Arts in Zimbabwe.

    Yvonne also sang a selection of Mahler songs with the Orchestre National d'Île de France under Jonathan Darlington.

    2007 gave Yvonne the opportunity to once more perform the music of Paul Patterson and to work together with the composer at the Hampstead and Highgate Festival in London. She joined the New London Orchestra under Ronald Corp for the composer's Stabat Mater, after having sung his Millenium Mass with the Sinphonietta and the Exeter Festival Chorus the year before.

    Other recent concert engagements have included the C Minor Mass by Mozart with the Bournemouth Sinphonietta and the Exeter Festival Chorus as well as with the Oxford Harmonia and Chorus, Pergolesi's Stabat Mater and Vivaldi's Gloria with the New London Symphonia, Dvořák's Stabat Mater with the Exeter Philharmonic Choir and the Sinfonietta and also a selection of Cabaret Songs at the Hampstead and Highgate Festival.

    Stage Director

    Yvonne also works as stage director - her career counts on eight productions under her belt - two of Carmen, and Così fan Tutte, Cavalleria Rusticana, Pagliacci, That Man Stephen Ward, The Merry Widow, and the 2012 Le Nozze di Figaro.

    Discography

    In 2009, Yvonne recorded the role of Pheadra (The Bride of Dionysus) by Donald Tovey for the Dutton Epoch Label, specialists in British Music. This was in collaboration with the BBC Ulster Orchestra and was crowned Recording of the Month by www.musicweb-international.com in April 2010.

    She was also featured in the album “Love Unspoken” with excerpts from various operas, sponsored by the London City Opera with The Brandenburg Sinfonia.

    More facts about Yvonne

    Yvonne trained as a dancer and has worked in the field of Musical Theatre and Jazz. Following her passion for motorcycles she has appeared as a guest on the series Ridgeriders for Meridian TV with Nick Knowles, testing motorcycles on ancient Roman roads in Devon. She has a passion for the outdoors and is an avid skier and mountaineer.

    She very much enjoys teaching her few private students and holds a diploma in Personal Training, Sports Massage, Nutrition and Lifestyle Management. Her languages are fluent German and English and a good knowledge of French and Italian.

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    THE EXCLUSIVE OPERA LIVELY INTERVIEW WITH YVONNE FONTANE


    HER BACKGROUND AND STUDIES

    OL - You are a native of Munich and studied at the Conservatoire there. Germany has an extraordinarily rich cultural history in music and opera, and many German children grow up with this heritage. They are exposed to music at a very early age. Were your parents musicians, or were they opera lovers?


    YF: Yes. As it happens, my mother was a singer. She was part of a group that was doing baroque and renaissance music. It was a quite small ensemble, with ancient instruments. So I grew up with my mother's voice in my ears, that's for sure. My father also was a very good pianist and played the organ, but he was just drafted in at the very end of the Second World War. His house was destroyed and his father died very soon after the war, and he was the oldest of a family of four. Studying music just wasn't an option in those days, so he started studying something that was a proper job and went to physics. But I think he regretted it all his life, and he certainly brought up all of us — I have one brother and one sister — with the love for music. I'm the only one, though, from the family, who made it her profession.

    OL: And they love it?

    YF: Yes, but I think they probably love other music away from opera more. I think opera is something you have to delve into and really enjoy every facet of it: the acting, and the whole theater and drama and all that sort of thing, and the languages of course. But my mother's singing is certainly something that I have not forgotten. It is just interesting to remember her practicing and the sorts of exercises that she did. My mother's sister and my grandmother were always singing, and I started singing, and then I started playing flute, and studied flute for three years; one year in Munich, and two years in Salzburg at the Mozarteum. That's where I picked up the voice as well, so it was flute and singing as main studies and the piano.

    OL - Munich is home to the world class Bavarian State Opera, and also the State Theater on the Gärtnerplatz and the beautiful Rococo Cuviellies-Theater. When you were a student at the Conservatoire, did you have an opportunity to sing “bit parts” in operas at either of these houses?

    YF – I didn't sing parts there. I sang small parts when I started in Salzburg, really. I left Munich behind and then went with the flute to the Mozarteum. I had just started with both main studies at the Mozarteum. My voice was pretty green. There was a short spell when I went to Juilliard, because I thought I would pick up the flute at Juilliard, but came back to Salzburg and then went to London. So my main vocal studies really started at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London.

    OL - What made you decide to study in the United Kingdom?

    YF – First of all, the Guidhall School is a very, very good conservatory for singing; that's well known throughout Europe. But I think there is another facet to my personality and that is certainly traveling and wanting to speak different languages and find out about different cultures, so I was very much drawn - after having gone to the Juilliard and found out that that was really going to be too expensive for me - to go down that route. I came back to Salzburg and then went to the UK. It was really exploring, you know, being young and getting out there and getting as many cultures under my belt as possible. I think also that Salzburg is a very enclosed musical as well as social community, so I wanted the big city and bright lights. [laughs]

    OL - In recent years, you’ve sung in such diverse locations as Dresden, Belgium, Venice’s La Fenice, Switzerland, Australia, Mexico City, and even Harare, Zimbabwe. Yet your career really seems focused in Great Britain and Ireland. Do you consider Britain to be your home now?

    YF – Well, that's a poignant question. I spent twenty-four years in the UK, I've been away from Germany for twenty-six years, twenty-four of those I've been in England, and it's just this January 2012 that I decided that it would be time to move back to Germany. So in fact now I'm based just between Munich and the Alpes, in the Garmisch-Partenkirchen, in a place called Murnau am Staffelsee. See is German for lake, so it's at a lake. I've got the kind of place where I can look at the Alpes; I can actually see the highest mountain in Germany. I believe I was missing the mountains I think most.

    I brought up my daughter in the UK, and she is now at school at the university and I thought it would be time to me to see if I would like to live back there, for musical reasons, and for family reasons as well, because my parents are getting older. I wouldn't call Britain my home, I don't think I've ever done that. My daughter would, but not me.

    HER AMERICAN TOUR

    OL - You’ve also toured the United States. Can you tell us more about that?


    YF – This was a tour which was promoted by Columbia Artists and London City Opera, and it was Carmen, I was singing the role of Carmen in a production that we took from the UK all around America. It started in Charlottesville all the way around Florida, went back up through New York State to Buffalo and then went all across and ended up in LA, in fact. It was places like New York, it was places like Elmira up in New York State, and Corpus Christi down in South Texas; places I don't think I would ever, ever have gone to had I not been on this tour, and yet ended up in very beautiful all Old World theaters. Some of the college theaters are just amazing, vast, and so well equipped; and then some of the more usual theaters that we went through. It was a real adventure: three and a half months on a tour bus, and visiting places in America! I will never, ever forget that experience.

    OL – Was the public very different, in their reactions?


    YF – Very different! [laughs] Well, it was a fairly straightforward and conservative conventional production of Carmen, so I wouldn't say it was risqué in any way, however the story itself was risqué enough for Alabama and the sort of Bible Belt that we went to. [laughs] So yes, we did have the odd one or two people who left in the interval and wanted their money back [laughs] although I don't quite understand it. Different horses for different courses, I think.

    In general I think we felt that on the East Coast and the Northern East Coast it was very well received; and probably what I found, is that the actual plot and the opera and the theater were more removed from people's lives and they could make that disconnection between the two; they could go and just enjoy the theater and the production for what it was whereas when we went to places like Alabama and Kansas we felt more that the people were taking this very personally - the story of Carmen, her journey - and were disapproving of it. So really we had very, very different responses; and again, hugely enjoyable and interesting.

    OL – How long ago was that?


    YF – This was in 2001, so it's quite a long time ago but it seems like yesterday.

    MS. FONTANE AND HER REPERTOIRE - CARMEN, AMNERIS, SANTUZZA, LA CONTESSA


    OL - You’ve sung lyric roles such as Dorabella and Cherubino, but also more dramatic roles like Carmen, Amneris, and Santuzza. Carmen is actually something of a signature role for you, isn’t it?


    YF – Carmen has been incredibly good to me. After the 160, 170-odd performances I've done of it, I think I've never tired of the journey, from the beginning of the opera to the end, where she needs to drive this poor Don Jose to distraction to such an extent! I mean, it's such a long, long way to go - every night - from someone who is so lively and so full of life, enjoying her life and her sexuality and her relationships; and yet, seems to be so driven and somewhat screwed up – it's a good word – to drive this man to what he is about to do.

    I think in terms of the variety of roles – because as a mezzo you do start with the Dorabellas and Cherubinos, perhaps Octavians as well, but then as you grow older and grow into your mezzo range more, and also having had a child seems to have helped…

    OL – It makes the voice darker?

    YF – It makes the voice darker, and makes it more centered, stronger, definitely – I felt that the dramatic repertoire was becoming – it's still becoming… [pauses, thinks] However, now I am singing La Contessa in Figaro, and I always find that coming back to Mozart no matter what I do - where I've been vocally - doing Mozart is the complete elixir to the voice again. I enjoy it. Had it been more dramatic, I wouldn't be able to do it. If it was Donna Anna I wouldn't be able to do it, but that feeling of being a victim and the lyricism of her makes it possible. I'm hoping it's going to be successful. [laughs].

    OL – Let’s go back to what you said about the character Carmen. You picked up some of the ambiguity of this character. Sometimes, she is portrayed as a free spirit who is in charge of her life and will maintain her independence at whatever the cost may be. Other portrayals are not so kind and depict her as a selfish woman who plays with fire and ends up getting burned. Can you add a bit more to what you started to tell us about your own views of Carmen?

    YF – Yes. I can add a few things, maybe, to that. To me what I find interesting about Carmen is what drove her to the point where we meet her for the first time - what is it that has gone on in the past in her life; and that is things like other relationships to men in her life; the people she grew up with; the women she grew up with… I think she was probably very close to the women in her gypsy clan. There's been an awful lot of travel - I would have thought - as a gypsy, having come from, I'd say, somewhere around the Arab countries through Morocco and then into Spain.

    It's a very colorful character, but I think also very hurt character who has never been treated very well by men, and she just won't let anybody treat her badly any longer. And I think there is a soul in her, something that she sees in Michaela that she probably would quite like to be able to do, but she can't. She cannot be someone who is just homemaking, and yet on another level she would quite like to. So she is struggling with herself. I think there is an awful lot of…[thinks…] She never really expresses her emotions. Everything is about words, words, words; she is talking all the time; there are a couple of pages maybe of lyricism, but other than that she is constantly driven and full of her own history, I think. Yes.

    OL - Amneris is another complex woman, whose jealousy finally drives her to destroy the man she loves – something we also see with Santuzza. You received very favorable reviews not only for your musical interpretation of Amneris, but also for a portrayal that really brought out all of this woman’s emotional facets.

    YF – Yes, Amneris is definitely a complex woman. That's the thing about mezzo roles, and particularly when you get in the more dramatic mezzo repertoire. I very much enjoy those roles, and yes, Amneris is another one where you just wonder what is the relationship between the King and her father – this king is a very weak king – and she is so strong! Where is the mother in this as well? The mother never appears in Aïda, and you do wonder. With the missing mother, she had no one to look up to, and she certainly doesn't relate very well to her father. Like so many times, it's power struggles, it's wanting to win, it's going through emotions because you just want to have something that you can't have. She is certainly that. [laughs]

    I think with Santuzza I see it slightly different. She is more of a victim. She's been burned by something that she thought was different to what it is. She ends up potentially even pregnant, and therefore is in real, real trouble. I love the role of Santuzza, it's such a beautiful sing. Amneris, again, is very strong and almost shouting something – not all the time – but Santuzza is something else. It all happens in such a short period of time as well, in Cavalleria, so, you haven't gotten much time; one emotion comes up and one goes. Oh, it's just realism in its absolute best, I think; I absolutely love that opera!

    OL - Speaking of Santuzza, this is a role often sung by sopranos. This month, you’re venturing even farther into soprano territory by singing the Contessa d’Almaviva in Le Nozze di Figaro with Stowe Opera. There have been some noted mezzos who later transitioned to the soprano Fach – Violeta Urmana, Waltraud Meier, and Anna Caterina Antonacci, for example. Do you think your voice is developing in this direction?

    YF – I find this question quite tricky, because I don't think it's just about the vocal development. I think the different roles that one takes on very much have to do with your approach to the character and therefore what characters and parts of a character you can make reflect in the role that you are singing. There aren't many of the soprano roles that I could take, and certainly none of the Puccini roles, for example.

    But like I said before, I think that with Mozart there are certain things that I think are possible, because it is so, so good; it's like honey for the voice. If you just leave it be and open it up… But it's whether you can relate to those roles, emotionally. That's more of a challenge, I think. Once you've got that down I think it's possible. I've always been a mezzo who has a lot of height and a lot of depth, so I don't find it too difficult.

    YVONNE THE STAGE DIRECTOR - THE BEGINNINGS

    OL - It was also with Stowe Opera, in 2004, that you first worked as a stage director, in a production of Carmen in which you also sang the title role. How did this come about? When you were at the Guildhall School, did you also study this particular field, or was this your first experience as an artistic director?

    YF – Yes, it was my first experience as a stage director. I didn't study it, but what I always did study was the characters, and like I mentioned before, where the characters came from even before we meet them. I was always interested to see every character who is on stage with me – what they might have been before we meet them? It was quite funny, I was doing Hänsel und Gretel at Stowe Opera, and I was doing the Witch.

    OL – It's the curse of the mezzos who are witches and bitches [laughs].

    YF – [laughs] Yes, yes, exactly. I was working with the musical director Robert Secret who is the founder of Stowe Opera. While we were doing Hänsel und Gretel we ended up in the queue for the canteen one night, and he was behind me, and said, "Ah, Yvonne, you know, I've never wanted to do Carmen because I always thought it was an obvious choice and I actually don't like the opera that much, but I've heard you sing the Witch, and I think I really want to do Carmen with you." And I had just come back from I don't know how many other productions of Carmen and I just flipped and said to him, "well, have you gotten a director yet? You know, I could direct it for you."

    OL – Like that??

    YF – [laughs] Just like that! I almost took my own breath away, as I said it. But I was ready for it, I think, in my mind. He said "it's a bit of a shame because I've already asked somebody else." I said "that's fine, but I will sing it for you," because I very much enjoy the relationship he has with his artists as a musical director on stage; I absolutely adore working with him. And then two months later he rang me back and said, "you know, the director who wanted to do it, in the end actually pulled out; she thought it would be a bit too much for her because it's a huge chorus opera as well as you know in Carmen," and he said "do you still want to do it?" And I said, "wait, yes, actually, yes, I think I want to do it." And he said "but I still want you to sing it as well." [laughs] I said "whoa, let me think about that one." I thought about it and talked with a lot of people about it, and it was quite clear that everybody felt like "of course you can do this, so do it!" So, I sort of fell into it, but with purpose. Even if it's in the sense of the purpose of the universe: it certainly was meant to be. Yes.

    YVONNE THE STAGE DIRECTOR - HER APPROACH, AS A SINGER, TO DIRECTING

    OL – Interesting. What advantages you have as a stage director, from being also a singer?

    YF – Yes, yes. Where do I start? Where do I start? [excitedly]

    OL – We are very interested in getting this perspective from you.

    YF – Yes, yes. When it became clear that I was going to do Carmen at Stowe, I think there are many things that drew me to it, and they were probably why I came up with this line at the canteen. One is that having just done… - I can't remember just where I had just done another production of Carmen, I'm sure it was on tour; when you are on tour it's quite isolated, and you do actually end up spending a lot of time on your own in hotels away from your family, etc., etc. The prospect of working more in a team and preparing for an entire production with people on it, and you get a hold of the whole procedure – became something so relevant to me, because I think there is another side of me with the vagabond and wanting to be on tour and to be part of that; it's the very organized part of me that likes to know exactly what she is doing; likes to get a handle, wants to be in control. But that wasn't so much it… [thinks].

    I think it was me wanting to see a production from the beginning to the very end. And as a singer, if you come to it, I think you have the huge advantage of knowing how the music drives you. You get a very strong feel of how the emotions in the libretto and everything are actually driven by the music. You get an impulse, and it is very instinctive. I very much enjoyed being on stage for that, because you can actually drive some of these impetuses, some of these moments, through being on stage yourself. It almost permeates through to everyone else. So it's hard work to do both things, but I felt that actually a lot of the time it becomes easier, because through your energy, very quickly other people catch up with you.

    What I also found incredibly enlightening was the whole other technical side of it; and that's the budget, the financing, the fundraising, the need to stay within the budget, the whole technicality of it, what you do have to do to have a good team, like a good lighting designer, someone who can work independently, someone you can trust, a good set designer. So yes, doing both roles is much more of a team, which I really, really, really love.

    OL – But, I wonder… it's just occurred to me right now. Could that be out of some unhappiness with what the stage directors were doing in your previous productions? You know, like thinking "these guys are not doing the right things by us, the singers; let me step up and do it!"

    YF – [laughs hard] Well, I'll obviously not name names… (keeps laughing), but yes, when it came to 2004 when I did the Carmen at Stowe Opera as my first production, I had been involved in a few productions where just for me personally questions had been left unanswered. I really was ready to go into having my own goal to answer some of those questions. So I think of course, if you've done the role so many times with so many different people, you have a lot of things to say about a role like that. So I think it was really a good thing for me to do. Carmen is so incredibly close to who I am… [laughs] In a way I had to shake her off as well; actually get her out of my system a little bit, with that.

    OL – And then, you loved the experience of directing, and continued.

    YF – Yes.

    OL - In a recent interview with the magazine “Das Opernglas,” Rolando Villazón talked about directing the Baden Baden production of L’Elisir d’Amore, in which he sang Nemorino. One of the comments he made was that, “As a director, one must be an eye for all – and have eyes on everything.” He also had another tenor singing Nemorino’s role during the early rehearsals, and only gradually took over the part himself, finally singing the complete role at the dress rehearsal. I think this illustrates how demanding it is for someone to wear both hats as a singer and stage director.

    YF – All right. Yes. Everything is in the preparation. So before we actually even get into the first stages of rehearsals, months and months and months of preparation will have gone into it, as with every director - I'm sure - but I think in my case even more meticulously. So in terms of the props situation, the sets, the rehearsal schedule… This is another thing that is a big bonus when you are a singer, to put a rehearsal schedule together, because you get a very, very good idea as a singer yourself, of how long certain scenes will take and how to actually compile a rehearsal schedule that you later on can adhere to.

    What I do in the latter stages – halfway through the rehearsal period – I have a camcorder, a video-camera, I'll put that on a tripod, it will run, and that's my point of reference, which has worked incredibly well actually in the past, because I then have the choice of either watch the video and what we've filmed together with the cast, or I just watch it myself, take notes, and give them the notes later on. So, yes, I quite like the idea of maybe having a stand-in, but it might make it a little bit more difficult if I go back to what I said in my previous answer, that actually through my own energy and drive and where I'm taking the piece, people get a good feel of where it is going to, as well.

    OL – Were all the operas you have directed among those you had sung before?


    YF – Most, but some of the operas I have directed, I haven't sung at all. Santuzza I haven't sung before, apart from her major duet with Alfio. Contessa, I have not done. So it's a huge risk I'm taking on it an awful lot, but again, it's Robert Secret who put his faith completely in me, and he says "I think you can" – and if someone like that says that to me, it's difficult to say "no actually I think I can't!" [laughs]

    OL - Villazón mentioned that he has found a book by the director Yoshi Oida very useful in helping him to understand the work of a stage director. Do you have similar reference materials that you consult?


    YF – Yes, I sometimes do consult other material, but it's difficult to explain, really. The experience of directing for me is a very personal and very instinctive journey. It's nothing academic, and nothing that I'm trying to bring together and put together for the sake of taking control, for the sake of anyone else; but actually wanting to be true to the story. And for me that is always, always the reference point. So actually these kinds of books of reference to me would be - in Figaro, for example - Beaumarchais, and Da Ponte, and Mozart.

    And the other aspect to directing is people management – how do you manage a rehearsal room – how do you manage these different people and different characters – how do you manage that the chorus doesn't get bored – how do you manage the discipline and yet, within the discipline, give people the sense of space to bring their own ability and their own ideas to the table. For things to happen, with all this meticulous preparation, you don’t want to prepare too far. You want to make sure that there is a lot of room for scenes to develop. I haven’t gone into too much depth about how other people are doing it, because I’m going by feeling and by the response that I’m getting from other people in the rehearsal room, and then of course in the audience.

    OL – I would imagine that your singers feel more comfortable with you, no? When they come to the production, they think “oh, the director is a singer.”

    YF – Yes. I think they also see how hard I work, especially when I’m singing as well. So there are no tired singers [laughs] because they think “my God, how tired must she be…” at the moment when we are doing seven hours a day; really it’s a long, long week and I mean it.

    MOZART, DA PONTE, AND THEIR CHARACTERS

    OL – So, you directed for Stowe Opera a production of Così fan tutte, in which you were singing Dorabella. This is a very different opera than Carmen; a comedy rather than a tragedy. Yet both explore the dynamics of relationships between men and women. And with da Ponte’s librettos, there are always some serious messages underlying the comedy. How did you approach it at Stowe?


    YF – Da Ponte and Mozart are the absolute geniuses when it comes to being so precise and yet so subtle about relationships. To me it doesn’t really call for an awful lot of acting and interpretation. The truth of the libretto is all in there. However what we did do for the Così at Stowe was to put into modern day. There was a modern day aspect to it and that did need a little bit of pulling through a thread, and interpretation. My thoughts about the two sisters, when you take it into the modern day – what we did was that the two sisters were city slickers, they were working in the city and were completely overworked; they were two girls who knew they wanted to get married, then their two boys turned out and said “we actually have to go to Hong Kong, to go and leave you because we are very busy as well” [laughs]; so they left, and all they did was drown their sorrows in work again until these two fantastic looking soldiers in their white uniforms show up. It wasn’t so much with mustaches and so on; it was their blinding white gorgeous uniforms with which these two boys turned up.

    OL – I believe that Mozart didn’t want disguises at all.


    YF – No, exactly. It actually takes away the comedy for the comedy sake, for me. What is interesting is that they only see what they want to see, the sisters at that point.

    OL - What are your own views of the characters of the two sisters, their lovers, and Don Alfonso’s involvement in the whole situation?


    YF – An important aspect of course of Così is that with the bet at the very beginning and the two boys saying to Alfonso “we’ll see about that, we’ll see if you are right or not; you’re being so sure!” it is the kind of knowledge that they receive on counts where you think “is it really worth going to that extent, and twisting the women’s arms to that extent, and knowing, finding out, that you can twist them so far that they will break? What do you do with that knowledge afterwards? Does that make you feel better?”

    Because they go through such lengths to do this, that you sort of think, “well, that’s not Kosher either, you know, the way you are treating women.” And the fact that the women turn and become – in between parenthesis – infidels… [laughs] you sort of think “well it’s not something in that account that you really want to know,” I would have thought. And nobody is happy in the end, and most of all Alfonso is a very isolated figure; I think, at the very end. I think Dorabella and Ferrando get back together but the other two I think have a problem.

    OL – I see it a little differently. Everybody complains of how misogynistic the opera is, but I find that Alfonso somehow teaches them a lesson at the end that the genders are very equal. There is a last line in the end that indicates that he’s telling them: “it’s just human nature.”


    YF – It’s just life, yes.

    OL – I find that instead of being a “perv,” a voyeur, something like that; or a narcissist who wants to teach them a lesson, that he has some benevolent goal as well, to say “you know, women and men have the same urges and desires; they can stray, they can be faithful at one time and not at another; this is life and you should all forget about it and move on.” Many people say that this is so anti-women; I don’t feel this way; I feel that for something made more than 220 years ago, it was pretty advanced.

    YF – Absolutely! Absolutely! Exactly! I mean, it’s so relevant, this stuff! All Da Ponte operas are so relevant to human nature! I think it’s because of Alfonso’s wisdom. He knows that people are like that, that this is human nature. I think it has slowly turned him into a loner.

    OL – He’s jaded.


    YF – Yes, jaded, exactly.

    OL – And it’s multi-factorial. This is another reason his operas are so good – they are not black-and-white characters.

    YF – It’s unbelievably fascinating, yes. You never find answers to every question.

    OL – Did you know that Da Ponte moved to the United States and became Columbia University’s first professor of Italian?

    YF – Yes, of course. He was thrown out of every city in Europe [laughs], had to go somewhere.

    HER TAKE ON CHARACTER IMMERSION

    OL - Later that year, you were back at Lakeland Opera to sing Santuzza and direct their productions of Cavalleria Rusticana and I Pagliacci. Again, we’re in a very different world from that of Così fan tutte, musically and dramatically. This is a world of sexual passions and tension, violent emotions, and adultery at the core of the stories. Roles such as Santuzza, with such intense emotion, pose a particular challenge to singers, don’t they? You want to “inhabit” your character and create dramatic credibility, but at the same time, you need to maintain control of your voice and your own emotions. You can’t just “let go,” can you? This question has to do with immersion; how you dive into a character. Does the character take over? You have to do your counting; you have to think about breathing… we spectators are always amazed; we think you guys are supermen and superwomen.


    YF – [laughs hard] Yes, I think so too, actually! Well, first I would say, it comes with experience. It is something that you need to learn, as pacing yourself. But I think you also have to learn how to entrust that during the rehearsal period you go to both ends of the character, and actually slightly over the edge so that you know where the limit is. So it’s like a pendulum that swings in both extremes and you then take aspects of both ends – the one that is too controlled and maybe you’re thinking too much - maybe just about your singing - and the one when you are completely disregarding… well not completely… but things are going slightly out of control – and then you bring the whole thing back to where it’s serving both purposes.

    I think as a singer you always have a good 15% up here [points to her head] that is just keeping time, being aware of everybody else, purely technically on stage, making sure you don’t fall over, all those little technical things.

    Of course also with the improvement of technique, once you are very in tune and happy and settled with your technique it becomes more of a second nature, but it also becomes more and more your servant, because then you can really use it for everything that you want to do, whereas I think when you are a younger singer you probably hit certain limits sooner. Certainly I did, as a younger singer; certain things I couldn’t express the way I wanted to because I didn’t have the technical ability to do so.

    OL – A famous quote from Pavarotti is that he said that at age twenty he already knew how to sing good opera, but only at age forty he could actually do it.

    YF – Yes! [laughs] Exactly! That’s exactly what goes on. You can already hear what you’d like to do but you haven’t gotten the technical ability to do so. I’m not sure that Pavarotti only reached it at forty… [laughs]

    OL – But he had a relatively late start, Pavarotti.


    YF – Yes, he did. But I think it’s the whole thing that as a singer you have to enjoy the journey of the character that you actually play on stage, every time you go on stage. And therefore every performance will be different, of course. And therefore vocally and technically and in terms of the character, it will be new.

    OL – I’ve done lots of interviews with singers, and in a recent one just last week, Vivica Genaux gave me one of the most surprising answers I’ve heard. She said that by doing all these characters she kind of doesn’t need psychotherapy; she was able to work out her own issues by doing opera, because she had to put herself into so many of these human emotions that she started to understand herself better and to grow as a person.


    YF – Yes, I think that that’s definitely true, especially if you do a lot of trouser roles as well [laughs hard]. It’s a whole new aspect of it. [thinks] As a performer, if you are always true to what you are singing about and to the story, then you learn as you go on that you can give a lot less than what you think you have to give, actually, because it comes out of a true sense and a true feeling and an awful lot of depth. You learn that very quickly.

    OL – In my own field – I’m a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst in my “day job” – we kind of grow a distance – there’s a shielding process. You can’t go in totally open otherwise it disturbs you too much. We kind of develop a thick skin. I don’t know if opera singers dealing with all those emotions, as their career progresses, try to grow a little distance from the characters.

    YF – It can happen if you really jump from one production to another or you have little rehearsal time, when you take over from somebody, this sort of thing. But I try to resist that. Because at that point I would get bored. You spend so little time on stage; all the other stuff is traveling, organizing, is agents, you know? I don’t want anybody to take that away from me, that moment. I think a thick skin you certainly grow towards characters you have to work with [laughs hard].

    OL – You mean, your colleagues, directors, and conductors?

    YF – Yes! [laughs hard] Don’t print that list!

    WHEN SINGERS AND DIRECTORS CLASH - AND A BIT ON REGIE

    OL – [laughs] Nobody tells us names… we’re frustrated with that…[laughs]. But we understand, it’s professionalism. OK, let’s get back to something you’ve mentioned. There was once a precedent in this business of a pregnant Santuzza, of a director who wanted to depict her like this – and Montserrat Caballé, who was singing the role, would have none of it. She disagreed so strongly with this view of her character that she withdrew from the production. Have you, as a singer, ever found yourself in a situation where you really disagreed with a director’s concept of your character?

    YF – Ohh!!! Yes!! But I would never assume that I have all the answers, I think. I will always try and go with it as far as I can. And I think eventually I will try to permeate my own… what I have to bring to the production, my own character, my own personality as a singer, into the production so that it will melt hopefully and actually I can turn it into something that will work for me. I’ve never walked out of a production.

    Trying to understand a director, even if you really think it’s not well thought through, you have to work with it. You either work around it and you come out of it at the other end, and you suddenly realize “huh, this actually does work!” – because I would never assume that this doesn’t work – or you really do feel that somebody really isn’t prepared enough or really hasn’t thought this through enough, and then you just bring in more from yourself at the end to it. I can understand that Montserrat Caballé would do this, but maybe she could [laughs] as well. But like I’ve mentioned before perhaps Santuzza was pregnant; that was a possibility in that particular opera.

    OL – Well, we’ve interviewed Thaddeus Strassberger, I don’t know if you know him.


    YF – Yes, I do, yes.

    OL – And we had several questions about Regietheater. He said that you can’t really not interpret the text, because any work you put on stage is an interpretation.


    YF – Of course.

    OL – The work of a stage director is also one of interpreting the text. But sometimes I feel that they go too far. For instance, the Copenhagen Ring that had Brünnhilde getting pregnant and delivering a baby. For me that tampers so much with the symbolic aspect of the piece! Because the whole arc is that the gods are retreating and not leaving any heirs behind. They are ending their lineage and leaving it up to the humans. Then you have a child who is actually a descendent of the gods, to continue that line. This is not possible! It drives me crazy!


    YF – Me too! I get angry too! [laughs hard]. Well I don’t get really angry, I try to understand it, but often I can’t. I have been in productions also where the director didn’t interpret the words, where the words were completely by the by, but the action was completely different to what you were singing about.

    OL – Sometimes there is a divorce between the music and the concept.


    YF – Yes, and it was meant to be like that, so the libretto was the subtext to the action on stage. But my God, was that difficult to rehearse and to get through! [laughs].

    OL – But do you think that this approach can also be valid; that there is space for everything?

    YF – Yes, you know, at the end of the day… [thinks, seems to change her mind] No, I think there is a line, I do think that there is a line. But perhaps that’s also what has driven me to directing.

    DIRECTING CONTEMPORARY OPERA - DIRECTOR VS. COMPOSER

    OL – Your next directing assignment was quite different – the 2008 world premiere of Thomas Hyde’s That Man Stephen Ward at the Hampstead and Highgate Festival. You collaborated very closely with the composer in staging this work. Could you tell us what it’s about?

    YF – Stephen Ward was a figure in the sixties who committed suicide. The opera text goes through his last days. It’s a quite well known story here in Britain. He was a bisexual, if not homosexual, and in the end he was accused of housing girls and giving them money for sex. He was also on this sort of political level; he had connections to politicians, and it was a massive scandal actually in the sixties. It was a snapshot out of his life, and Thomas Hyde is a Cambridge graduate and it’s one of his works, I think part of his thesis – a very clever man.

    Obviously it’s a very modern work and we had a sort of synthesizer version of it, so that I could get a little bit of an idea of how it would sound. Pretty much it is a one-man show with a few people who would come in. Christine Keeler, this woman, was very much essential to his decline. [Editor’s note: Ward introduced the married British Secretary of State for War John Profumo to a showgirl named Christine Keeler at a house party hosted at Lord Astor's country home, in the summer of 1961 – Profumo engaged in an affair with the young woman, who was also seeing a soviet spy at the time – the relationship surfaced and caused Profumo’s resignation and resulted in a trial with charges filed against various people, including Ward who faced procurement charges]. There were actors coming on who would play her part and all sorts of other parts as well, but they weren’t singing. He was leading himself through the last days of his life. He took an overdose in the end. He was arrested and convicted, and would have spent time in jail and he said he couldn’t face it.

    OL – How was the experience of directing contemporary opera?

    YF – Different. Definitely different, but it’s a blank sheet. The composer was really very much, again, putting his faith into me after we met. It was very low budget, I have to say, because it was experimental. But George Vass who was the musical director for the piece, and also the director of the Hampstead and Highgate Festival, he was very used to playing this kind of music, and so were the instrumentalists in the orchestra; so that helped, that he could lead through that very well. And it was a very cleverly written piece.

    OL – But in terms of working with a contemporary composer, especially because it was a world premiere…, it’s kind of his baby, right? He kind of had a right to set it the way he wanted, right?

    YF – Yes.

    OL – So how will the stage director relate to this? Because the artistic ownership of the piece is kind of unbalanced in that situation, no? When we think of the classic pieces, people may feel freer to do some Regie changes. But there, you have the composer, alive in front of you, and he may not like it if you want to change something. So, was that a problem for you?

    YF – No, I felt that it was a different process, again. But because I loved the process, I was so keen… it was talking through the piece and finding out where he was coming from with this piece; doing a lot of research, of course, and in the end I think he felt that he needed to let it go. He was not very good at visualizing. He could hear it, but visualizing wasn’t his strength. So I think he was actually in awe of seeing it unfold in front of him. But of course I was always referring back to him, but in the end he wanted to stay out of it. He wanted to be surprised and see how it would actually work.

    OL – That tells me that you are a very good director, then!


    YF – (surprised laughing) Oh, OK!

    LEHÁR - DON'T SAY IT'S FLUFFY!!!

    OL - In 2009, you directed a production for Lakeland Opera of Lehar’s The Merry Widow. His operettas are often regarded as entertaining fluff – lots of pretty melodies, but no real intellectual depth. But this isn’t a viewpoint you share, is it?

    YF – Oh, no, I don’t at all share it! First of all it just reminds me of home. I sort of grew up with this kind of music. It really rings true with me and seems to chime with me very easily. I think the music is divine! [very emphatically]. Especially that one, especially The Merry Widow!! [Yvonne seems really incensed]

    OL –It doesn’t mean that *we* find it this way. It’s just a question.

    YF – [laughs] OK, I’ll stop burning… I really, really love the piece. But also where Lakeland Opera is based is in Cumbria, so in the Northwest of England, and the Northwest of England of all the parts of England is very much struck by the financial crisis that we are going through. It’s a part of it that is extremely poverty-stricken. So I found that the relevance of the piece – that there is this poverty-stricken province that is running very fast out of money and having to come up with some sort of solution, any solution to it, in order to save themselves from the financial abyss - was very poignant!
    And I put that in my program notes at the time as well so that the people could really perhaps make that relation.

    Then, of course, the emotion in the second act that he goes through – Danilo – he gets so upset in that scene in front of all the people and they are all watching him and he is telling this beautiful story of this prince and all along it’s about him… It’s just… I love this sort of thing. It’s a part with true emotion. And in the end when they finally, finally get together at the eleventh hour, you can’t not think that this has got more than fluff to it.

    OL – Yes, the same is valid for Giuditta.

    YF – Yes. Any kind of comedy - it’s the same with Mozart’s comedies - you never play it for the sake of comedy. It’s definitely for the sake of human nature, and explaining human nature. It’s always with that one eye that is tearful and one eye that is laughing.

    HER NOZZE AT STOWE

    OL – You’ve answered already some of our curiosities about it, but let’s address once more this year’s production of Le Nozze di Figaro, where you’re serving as artistic director as well as singing the Contessa. Just like da Ponte’s other librettos for Mozart, this one also takes a look at the ways in which men and women relate to each other emotionally and sexually, but goes beyond it, with some layer of social complexity.

    YF – Yes, to me it is certainly more complex than Così, because it moves away from the realm of just inter-human relationships; it’s very much in front of the backdrop of class, the shatter that is going through the class system and the establishment in the aristocracy as we’re leading up to the French revolution. I think Da Ponte and Casanova – he was one of his contemporaries and they did spend time together – were aware of that. To what degree Mozart was aware of that I’m not sure, but I think he was definitely aware of change.

    OL – With his Masonic ideals, he seemed to want to make a social impact, so I think he was likely also aware of that.


    YF – Definitely. I don’t think he would have spent much time with it; he would have gone ahead and written whatever he wanted to write. But that aspect makes the piece more complex; it’s got a wider realm that you can cover with this and I certainly intend to do so. And then, there’s just more characters, as well, so you have an awful lot of things to contend with in that, and they are all in different levels.

    OL – What is your directorial concept?


    YF – We are keeping it in period. Just going back to what Stowe Opera is doing this year – we are regrouping after a break where we didn’t have a venue to perform because we lost the theater that we had been performing in. So just this year we are regrouping. We have a new venue, and this is all a completely new adventure. It’s at Winslow Hall, and it will be a kind of Garsington set up [Editor’s note – Garsington Opera is an open air summer opera festival], we are by a big massive marquee where the stage will be, where the orchestra will be, where the audience will be; so it’s a big tent; more than a tent, it’s almost a house, in the gardens of Winslow Hall. [Editor's note - Winslow Hall is located in Winslow, Buckinghamshire MK18 3H, and is 54 miles - 87 km - from downtown London, to the Northwest - approximately a 90-minute drive on M1/A41]

    OL – It’s beautiful, I saw pictures.



    YF – It’s amazing. It’s an amazing building. So people will be picnicking beforehand.

    OL – Like Glyndebourne.

    YF – Like Glyndebourne, yes. So therefore we are slightly tentative this year not to go into anything that is potentially unpredictable for us, so we are technically limiting ourselves a little bit, to keep things manageable. Once we’ve done this again - it will hopefully go up again next year with at least one if not two or three operas - we will have much more of a status quo and a way to go.

    So, we are keeping it in period, and I have kept the sets very much in the background. In the forefront are the characters, are the actors, and are the costumes. The costumes are going to be quite spectacular and I think very beautiful. But the whole study of the characters is left to us onstage, because it’s something I can control, out of the not knowing exactly what we can expect technically; it is something I can prepare for.

    I don’t want to get into too much detail on where I am going to take the characters, but, again, it’s always going back to what Da Ponte has actually written, to what is in the libretto. And that is the challenge much more than anything, because it’s been done a hundred thousand times and lots of people have seen it in other productions, and have slightly pre-conceived ideas, but I sometimes just read through the libretto and come up with something very different. I think, “this actually could be a very different read.” To me, instinctively, it’s something quite different.

    MISCELLANEOUS - CRITICAL EDITIONS, LA CONTESSA, THE FIGARO STORY PART III


    OL – One question that occurred to me right now. We’ve recently interviewed a scholar, Dr. Philip Gossett from the University of Chicago. He is a specialist in Bel Canto and Verdi, and he edits the critical editions that go back to the original autographs and he compares all the versions and the changes that were made, to restore the composer’s intention.

    YF – Yes, wonderful!

    OL – In spite of being an opera fan for a while, I wasn’t in tune with this. You go see a production and you want to know who the singers are, who the conductor is, the director, the orchestra, but you rarely want to know what version of the score is being used. Is that something that you worry about?

    YF – Yes, I do, especially now. I have singers with three different editions in the rehearsal room at the same moment. You see differences straight away and also mistakes that have been made in various editions, so that is always very poignant. Of course it goes back to the musical director to see what he wants to use. I would love as I go on - on the directing strand of my career - to spend more time actually researching where things actually came from and where they were in the original; definitely.

    OL – Well, I think we got it. Anything to add?

    YF – Going back to the dual role of director and Contessa. What I found when I was directing and singing Carmen is that it was quite a bit easier, because Carmen is quite a strong forceful and manipulative woman herself – not that I am manipulative as a director [laughs] – but it was easier as a consequence to do both roles, because I was sort of slightly on the same vein if you see what I mean. The Contessa is different.

    OL – She is softer.


    YF – She is softer, and she is certainly more in the victim role, and yet you have to be the driving force as the director. So I find that I have to be very much in the moment of thinking “what am I doing right now, which am I right now?” and I’m still working on that. But of course if you think of what has happened in The Barber of Seville, the lengths the count went through to get her and to have her with him, then to see her getting so bored in this castle and her life now… That has not turned out at all in the way she wanted.

    OL – Because she is so fierce as Rosina, in “Una voce poco fa” when she says “ma…”

    YF – Yes, yes, “I’m the viper” and she’s lost that.

    OL – Then, she doesn’t seem like that in the second opera.


    YF – Absolutely.

    OL – Have you seen the third one?

    YF – La Mère Coupable, no, I haven’t.

    OL – There is also The Ghosts of Versailles that contains the third story, it’s spectacular, have you seen it?

    YF – I haven’t seen it, I must see it!

    OL – It’s available on DVD; not as an isolated disc, but it comes in the box set of the 40 years of maestro James Levine.


    YF – And it’s the same subject matter of La Mère Coupable?

    OL – Yes, but they develop it a little more; it’s a sort of opera inside the opera. There are ghosts observing the action, but the characters are there – Count Almaviva, the Countess, and their offspring – the son she had with Cherubino, the Count’s daughter… The opera happens in Versailles and there are other characters as well, but they look back at the Mère Coupable story. It’s very interesting.

    YF – Yes, it sounds interesting.

    YVONNE FONTANE, THE PERSON

    OL – To finish, let’s talk a bit about the person Yvonne Fontane, beyond the singer and the director. What’s your personality like?


    YF – [laughs hard] Oh no! Well, my personality… I don’t know. I am… Where do I start? [laughs hard]

    OL – Relax, it’s not a full blown psychoanalysis section, that’s my other job!


    YF – [laughs] Yes… OK. My personality, how I would describe it… it’s always the two sides, if anything. If I look back at my life so far, it would be the two sides of my character that have always been in a struggle with each other. One, is the one who rides motorcycles, who loves traveling, who is out there doing Carmen, who likes to feel the wind blowing in her hair, who is a little bit sometimes reckless and probably doesn’t think about all the consequences of all her actions, who is a little bit – not flighty – but certainly impulsive, definitely. And the other is the one who loves being at home and likes to be organized; likes to know what is going to happen, likes the discipline.

    Sometimes I am in such quarrel with what the profession of singing is actually asking of me - which is that you don’t know from day to day what is going to happen and where you are going to go, necessarily. So I find that to nurture those two sides has been my personality, and both always come through. But I’m a mother and I brought up my daughter on my own, and it’s been a fantastic experience, and she is beautiful!

    OL – Is she into music?


    YF – She is into theater; she’s graduated, she is now a BA in Theater Arts, and in fact she is my assistant director in Le Nozze di Figaro.

    OL – Wow! That’s nice!


    YF – Yes, it is, and she is doing a really grand job; I’m very, very proud. So she is also giving me from the second part of my personality the groundedness that I’d love to have.

    OL – It’s amazing how you guys can do this - in the case of certain careers like Plácido Domingo’s - for several decades, with all the traveling, the hectic life, the rehearsals and this and that… it’s mind-blogging. I was asking Vivica who’s got an amazingly busy schedule – “how do you all keep going like that? Don’t you think of quitting at some point?” She said, “absolutely not; music is everything for me; I can’t quit; that’s who I am and what I love to do.” Is it really very hard on the person, or do the advantages outweigh the hardships?

    YF – Gosh, I think it ebbs and flows, depending on what you’re on at the moment. But it is also a way of life, of course. I don’t think I would ever want to do anything different. It suits my personality. I think there are probably people whose personalities don’t suit quite as well. I’m not in a relationship, therefore I can reign over my own time and my own schedule; I think that probably helps. I have been in relationships, of course, but I think in the end maybe that’s also just not possible for me as a person and also with the kind of life that I have. But I think it’s all in the mind, isn’t it? If you know the other end of the stick that comes with it - with the beauty of it - and you accept that, then you can’t complain.

    OL – Can you feel this beauty on stage as much as the audience does? Some of the singers I’ve interviewed said they’d love to sit there with the audience and watch the opera.

    YF – No, no… I’d much rather be doing the big roles… [laughs hard]. I don’t like waiting. I’d rather be on.

    One of the reasons I moved back to Germany is because I want to be close to nature. I do walk not only the hills but up the mountains. I do a lot of mountaineering and skiing. That’s where I recharge batteries and get ideas.

    OL – Anything else you want to tell us?

    YF – [laughs] Not without questions!

    OL – We covered so much! Thanks a lot!

    YF – Thank you!

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    Here is a sample of Ms. Fontana's singing, as the Witch in Hänsel und Gretel:



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    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Schigolch's Avatar
      Schigolch -
      Interesting interview!.

      About how contemporary composers look at the way their operas are staged, I think is also interesting to know the approach of the very succesful Kaija Saariaho.

      She was very involved in the first staging of "L'amour de loin", working with Peter Sellars, and she was very happy with the result. Some years later, she was invited to the premiere of the opera at Berne, in Switzerland. The stage director tried to accentuate the minimal dramatic component of the libretto, and made an almost Romantic approach to the opera, that took place inside a kind of huge library. The final farewell of Clémence, with her prayer that could be directed either to God, or to her dead lover, was staged almost like a mad scene, à la Lucia di Lammermoor.

      When she was asked her opinion, Saariaho said her own vision of the opera was different, but that she was all for having different approaches, and was not going to interfere with any future staging.
    1. Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
      Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) -
      Hehe, it's pretty clear that Ms. Saariaho did not like the staging in Berne, but she was polite and professional enough to be elegant about it.


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