Singer: Eva-Maria Westbroek
Born in: Belfast, Ireland, of Dutch parents, on April 25, 1970 (Dutch citizen)
Fach: Spinto Soprano
Recently in: title role, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District, Metropolitan opera, NYC
Maddalena / Andrea Chenier
Royal Opera House London
Maestro Antonio Pappano
20, 23, 26, 29, 31 Jan + 3 Feb 2015
Title Role / Ariadne auf Naxos
Maestro Fabio Luisi
15, 18, 22, 28 Feb + 3 March 2015
Santuzza / Cavalleria rusticana
The Metropolitan Opera New York
Maestro Fabio Luisi
14, 18, 21, 25m, 29 Apr 2015; 2, 5, 8 May 2015
Benefit Concert for
Musicians without Borders
May 16, 2015
Eva-Maria Westbroek studied at the Royal Conservatory of The Hague from 1988 to 1995. Her vocal teachers included Iris Adami Corradetti and the American tenor James McCray. She made her operatic debut at the Aldeburgh Festival in 1994 as Mère Marie in Poulenc's Dialogues des Carmélites. She was a prize winner at an international competition in Rome, which allowed her to sing the role of Tosca at age 25. She also was a laureate at the Angelica Catalani Concours and the Santa Maria Ligure Concours.
In 2001, Westbroek secured a 5-year contract as a company member of the Staatsoper Stuttgart. Her roles in Stuttgart included Carlotta (Schreker, Die Gezeichneten), Tosca, Emilia Marty (Janáček, Věc Makropulos), Desdemona (Verdi, Otello), Donna Anna (Mozart, Don Giovanni), Giulietta (Offenbach, Les Contes d'Hoffmann), Marie (Smetana, The Bartered Bride) and The Duchess of Parma (Busoni, Doktor Faust). In 2006, at the end of her work in Stuttgart, she was given the title of Kammersängerin der Staatsoper Stuttgart.
In 2003, Westbroek debuted at the Salzburger Festspiele as Agave in a concert performance of Egon Wellesz' Die Bakchantinnen. In 2004, she debuted at the Opéra Bastille as Madame Lidoine in Poulenc's Dialogues des Carmélites. Her debut at De Nederlandse Opera was as Katerina Izmailova in Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. This performance was commercially recorded for DVD release, and Westbroek won first prize from the Dutch VSCD Classical Music in the category "most impressive individual artistic achievement" for this performance. She repeated this role in her debut at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in London in October 2006. In 2008, she won the Grand Prix Antoine Livio of the Presse Musicale Internationale.
In her first world premiere production, Westbroek created the role of Anna Nicole Smith in the February 2011 Royal Opera premiere of Mark-Anthony Turnage's opera Anna Nicole at Covent Garden.
Westbroek made her Metropolitan Opera debut on April 22, 2011 singing the role of Sieglinde in the premiere of a new production of Wagner's Die Walküre directed by Robert Lapage.
Westbroek is married to tenor Frank van Aken.
Westbroek's commercial recordings include Bohuslav Martinu's Julietta, in the title role, for VMS Music Treasures, and four productions of Wagner's Die Walküre as Sieglinde with Bayreuth, Frankfurt, Aix en Provence, and the Metropolitan Opera on CD and DVD. She is also featured in a DVD recording (Opus Arte) of Puccini's La fanciulla del West as Minnie, her own acknowledged favourite role.
Other recentlly released DVDs include Anna Nicole, Elektra from Strauss at the Salzburger festspiele 2010, Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District at Amsterdam on Opus Arte DVD, and the role of Georgetta in Il Tabarro in Puccini's Trittico.
The Second Exclusive Opera Lively Interview with Eva-Maria Westbroek
This interview is copyrighted to Opera Lively and can only be reproduced in part or whole with authorization (use the Contact Us form). Links to it do not require authorization. Questions by Luiz Gazzola. Photo credits given when know; fair promotional use; we'll be happy to add more credits on demand.
Luiz Gazzola for Opera Lively - It’s nice seeing you again, Eva-Maria. We interviewed you about 20 months ago in March 2013 when you were doing Francesca da Rimini at the Met. What have you done in between that you are very fond of and would like to comment upon?
Eva-Maria Westbroek – I did a lot of things. I worked very hard. I did Isolde for the first time and it was with my husband, so this was fun, and it was in Dresden which is beautiful, and the music was amazing. I just thought it was very long… [laughs]. It’s so long, I can’t tell you! You think “can’t somebody else sing for a minute?” because you’re singing, and singing and sing. But of course it’s amazing. It’s a huge role and I feel I need more experience with it, to enjoy it more.
LG – It’s almost four hours, and then at the very end you get the Liebestod, which is eight minutes long and goes up and up and soars.
EMW – That’s not the hard part, no. The hard part is the beginning. You are screaming, you are so angry all the time and you just don’t stop. Then the second act is a bit different and is more lyrical but there you are; you just don’t stop singing.
LG – So, the Liebestod is not difficult?
EMW – I think the Liebestod is wonderfully written for the voice. There are many things that are much harder in this piece. [Editor's note - in the following clip we have the prelude to Tristan und Isolde and then at the ten minute mark, Eva-Maria sings the Liebestod:]
LG – At the time of our first interview you were apprehensive about Isolde; you said “I’m not sure how it will go.”
EMW – I’m still not sure how it was! [laughs hard] I don’t know!
LG – What did the critics say?
EMW – I don’t read reviews so I never know if I have a flaw or a success; which is not right because you don’t know when you have a flaw, but when you have a success you also don’t know. But it was very special. It’s a very beautiful experience, to be honest.
I also sang my first Kat’a Kabanova, which I loved. It was right after, so I worked like a maniac to get all the Czech language. It was with Simon Rattle in Berlin. Simon, he is such a genius! And then, also this year I did Manon Lescaut in Baden-Baden also with Simon Rattle and Richard Eyre, and that was a magnificent experience, with the Berlin Phil, it was so beautiful, they play so amazingly, I was so impressed with everything. I was in this Baden-Baden Festival and I went to all the concerts they did. It was Heaven. That was great time. And, I sang Anna Nicole again.
Manon Lescaut with Eva-Maria in Baden-Baden, photo credit Jochen Klenk
Eva-Maria as Anna Nicole at the Royal Opera House, credit Bill Cooper
LG – Yes, two months ago at Covent Garden again, right?
EMW – Yes. That was fantastic for me, to do that again. I hope it’s not the last time, because I don’t know if they are going to revive it there or anywhere, and it is such a fantastic opera!
LG – Were there any differences in terms of staging or new solutions between the world premiere run and the revival?
EMW – I think we all got a little better at it even, and looser, funnier. We had another Howard Stern, which was Rod Gilfry who was fantastic. I loved the first one as well, but he was great. He was the only one who was changed. We had a great time.
LG – Was it sold out?
EMW – It was sold out! The thing that was amazing, which I thought was a fantastic idea, was that the artistic manager, Kasper Holten from Covent Garden, he had for the first night an age limit of 25. So no one over 25 was admitted, and all the tickets were one pound to thirty pounds. I’ve never had an audience like that, and they loved it, all these students. It was one of the most fantastic ideas, because we need opera to come to young people, and they came and a lot of them came again. It was the opening of the season, a fantastic statement, I though.
LG – This is great. They also did – actually I’m not sure if it was Covent Garden or the ENO – a “dress down” night with free cocktails for young people.
EMW – I think this is it. Probably; I’m not sure if it was the same event.
LG - Let’s talk about Katerina Ismailova, which is becoming a signature role for you, with four productions already, if I’m not mistaken (Amsterdam, London, Madrid, and the Met).
EMW – No, I did two productions, but one production travelled; it went from Amsterdam to Paris – so Paris also – and Madrid. I then did another production in London, which was the second production, and this one is the third one. Well, it’s really an amazing role to undertake.
LG - In preparation for the role, did you have an opportunity to read Nikolai Leskov’s short novel, which depicts the character in a very different light as compared to the opera? If yes, what have you found helpful in understanding the character, from consulting the source?
[Editor's note - the novel can be read for free online, in English, by clicking (here)]
EMW - I never did that before, but this time I did read the original story by Leskov. Her character in that story gave me chills; it was so horrible! You can’t really feel any sympathy for her, nor really for Sergei. There is nothing. It’s like a horror story, really. The way they kill this child as well, is shocking. Shostakovich with his music and his interpretation, he didn’t follow the exact story. He made it very understandable, I think, that she killed these people, because she is really abused by all of them, and she’s trapped. I find her so sympathetic, because she loses herself in this love. He doesn’t love her at all. She is like addicted to this man and she does everything for him, and it becomes such a downfall in her life! I understand her very well and I think a lot of people relate to her, so I feel that’s why the opera is so strong and it comes across so well.
LG – Did reading the novel change your acting and your portrayal of her in any way?
EMW - No, I decided to look at what Shostakovich made of her, because in the end I’m not doing Leskov; I’m doing Shostakovich. It’s different.
Friend [One of Luiz Gazzola’s friends who is also a singer was present but preferred to remain anonymous for the printed version of this interview, so she will therefore be just referred to, here, as “Friend”] – Do you approach the classicals that you’ve done of the repertoire for the first time in a different way than when you prepare a more modern piece?
EMW – I don’t know. I don’t think so. I think you always try to find things you can relate to, that you understand, and then you go from there. Of course everything has different demands; some are vocally different and difficult, but you always try to find something in the character that you understand. I do, at least. Katerina Izmailova is so easy to understand! I hear a lot of people talk about this opera, and everybody who has done it says “oh my God, I did the greatest production ever of it!” You know why? I think this opera is so good, it never fails. You have to do your best to make it fail. You have to really screw up horribly to make it fail, because it’s just a fantastic piece; from A to Z it is exciting, engaging… I brought my nephews and nieces to the production in Amsterdam and they loved it. They are always very bored when I sing and my parents make them come, but this, they liked. So, you see, it’s a very good piece.
LG - There is also a movie of the story, have you watched it? A Polish movie by the great director Andrzej Wajda in 1962, which is very much worth watching. It follows the novel more closely than the opera does, with a few modifications. Have you watched it?
EMW – I watched it, yes; at least parts of it. It’s great. The one with the young actress, but Galina Vishnevskaya sings. You mean that one? Because that’s the one I saw. It’s the full opera but with actors doing the roles.
LG – The one with the all-Russian cast.
EMW – Yes.
LG – I think you’re talking about the filmed version of the Katerina Izmailova revised opera. I mean the Polish film by the great director Andrzej Wajda in 1962, Siberian Lady Macbeth which is not sung, and is more like the filmed version of the Leskov novel although it does have a film score that is based on Shostakovich’s music. It is very much worth seeing.
[Editor's note - the Wajda movie can be streamed at Amazon Prime - click (here)]
EMW – No, that one I haven’t seen. I would love to see it.
LG, to Friend – Have you seen it?
Friend – I have, last night.
LG – So, it does follow the novel more closely than the opera. They do kill the boy but they make him an annoying brat, unlike in the novel. In the movie, Katerina is a little more sympathetic. The boy is drowning and she saves him, just to kill him later. The novel on the other hand, like you said, is brutal. She is cold and a murderess. She is the driving force of the whole thing.
EMW – No, he also drives it, because he keeps saying “why is this boy there? He is going to inherit all the money!” And then because of this, because she is so blind in his love addiction to him, she then kills the boy.
LG – You are right, because he also says “how will it be, after your husband comes back home? Then I’ll be poor again.” He is manipulative.
EMW – Yeah, he is totally manipulative. And also in the camp part, in the novel, he is more horrible to her. I remember.
LG – Yes, it’s a longer scene in the camp, he fools around with more than one woman, and he beats Katerina up with a rope full of knots. He is physically abusive in the novel, which isn’t in the opera.
EMW to Friend – Did you see the opera?
Friend – Not yet.
LG – Me, I saw both your past productions of it, the one in Amsterdam (so now I learned from you that it was the same one that travelled), and the one in London, and I did see the one here at the Met earlier this week. Your voice was great in all three, and so was your acting. There are, however, very significant differences in your portrayal of the character in the three productions. In Amsterdam you seemed stronger-willed. In London after the first murder you appeared free and exuberant. Here at the Met you seemed depressed for the entire duration of the opera. Please confirm if I’m right about it, and describe how you got to portray the characters in these different ways – was it because of the different stage directors, or has your own view of the character changed overtime (or both)?
A screen capture of the London production of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District directed by Richard Jones, with Eva-Maria
EMW – I seemed depressed? Oh! No, I think it all has to do with the stage director. The first one I did with Martin Kusej, he made it very much my own discovery, right? It was more like me, like I would be. The second one had more humor in it.
LG – Yes, Richard Jones; he is a master of black humor.
EMW – Yes, we had this amazing killing scene which was so funny! The first killing with all the blood; so I kill my husband with my lover, and we have this fight, and then all of a sudden I have an axe. I said “where did I get this axe?” and Richard said “it doesn’t matter, just get the axe.” So I got the axe, and then Sergei and I were behind a big bed post, and he goes like this [makes the gesture of striking down with an axe] and cuts the head of my husband, and we both had to go down behind the bed, and there was this little girl sitting there spraying blood on our faces. We come back from behind the bed completely splashed with blood. [laughs] And then I had the head in a plastic bag, a Tesco bag, actually, in this show [Editor’s note: Tesco is a supermarket chain in London, very popular with the Russian immigrant community]. The blood is dripping, and I go “what? What am I going to do with this head?” [laughs]
LG – Yes, and Sergei when he kills your husband and the blood splashes, says “well, that’s the end of him” which is a line that isn’t in the opera. Very black humor.
EMW – Very. And then we had like a mad dance with all this blood, and we were like “ewww” – it was very funny. And this one here at the Met, I didn’t know I seemed depressed all the time. Maybe I am, I don’t know. He wanted me to be sort of funny in the beginning with all these sort of, you know… [makes some coquette gestures] a bit like a caricature; a bit like Betty Boop, with the hair and the tight dress and that that stuff. I think it is a very good production. It’s very different! You can’t do exactly the same thing all the time.
LG – Do you get a say on how to act it, or is it always the stage director’s decision?
EMW – I do, it’s absolutely working together. There were some things I didn’t like that he wanted me to do, and others that he didn’t like that I wanted to do, so you work it out and you find a solution. And he is very wonderful, Graham Vick. And so was Richard Jones. Because for instance there is this moment in the end which I find the most important for me, personally, where in the prison when he gets her socks and leaves with Sonyetka, and all the women beat her and laugh at her, before her last aria; there is this amazing music in the orchestra, and I in my first production I said “this moment is the most significant for her because that’s where her heart breaks, I feel. This is the music where her heart is breaking.” I kept playing the music and humming, and thinking “what am I going to do? Something has to happen; you can’t just stand there.” My husband said, actually, “why don’t you try to do the Silent Scream of Edvard Munch? Do that!” I tried it, and the director said “that’s good” and he blackened all the lights so it’s just me and one light, very cold, and I do this sort of thing. So the next production I went to Richard Jones and said “I have to do something in this moment” and he said “Yeah, but you can’t do that scream anymore, because that was the other production.” So, he said, “would you like to throw up?” “But of course!” I said. So, I’d turn around, and there would be a little lady with a banana smoothie and I would put as much as I could in my mouth, and at the height of the music I would throw up and all this banana smoothie was hanging from my mouth.[laughs]
Friend – Ewww.
EMW – And I was singing my last aria.
Friend – Oh my God!
EMW – I know! It was great, though!
LG – Yes, it won the prize for the best production of the year, and it was fabulous, wasn’t it?
EMW – Yeah. That was the Covent Garden production and it was amazing. I was very lucky to do that opera. Then the one in Paris was the same one from Amsterdam with the sleek glass room; Gerard Mortier bought it from Amsterdam. Then it went to Madrid too.
LG - What do you think of this Graham Vick production? I thought it was great, and very risqué, which is kind of surprising for the usually more traditionalistic Met, to have done this production for the first time twenty years ago.
EMW – I know! People still find it risqué today, and it is twenty years old! I don’t know what is risqué about it, though.
Brandon Jovanovich and Eva-Maria, photo credit Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera, used with authorization
LG – The lovemaking scene is quite graphic for the more traditionalist audience, I’d say. Me, I don’t mind it at all, but the more conservative audience gets shocked with it, like they protested when the Met put on stage three seconds of nudity in a Rigoletto production.
EMW – Yes, but we are not naked, and it is in the music. It’s not like what I don’t like in certain European productions when we all look terrible and we are all lit terribly and the production has nothing to do anymore with the story. This is exactly the story. It’s in the music; it has to be done. In England we sort of disappeared behind the cupboard or something, and in Holland we have the strobe lights so you couldn’t see much but it was sex too, you know, that’s the music, so what can you do? I’m very impervious to this. It’s all right.
LG – Yes. Certain scenes here at the Met looked like surrealistic paintings, like the beautiful walls, and the rose rising up. It is a beautiful production.
Photo credit Ken Howard/Metropolitan opera, used with authroization
EMW – I think so, too. I really love it.
LG -Tell us about your Sergei, Brandon Jovanovich.
EMW – Brandon is one of the most wonderful people you will ever meet in your life. He is a fantastic person and a fantastic singer, and so generous. To have rehearsals with Brandon, you know you are going to have a great day. I so love him! My husband too! He is singing tomorrow, he is covering Brandon’s role but he has one show, and Brandon will be there with his wife too. It’s rare to meet people like Brandon in this business. He is special, a very special man, and a great singer, so that’s everything.
LG - You once told us that Shostakovich is OK for your voice. Any vocal challenges in singing this role?
EMW – Oh, there are many. There are a lot of hard parts but I just love singing it; it’s very wonderful. Sometimes it gets a bit screamy, you know? She has to be screaming when he gets beaten, and you have to be careful not to lose yourself. She needs to scream “stop beating him” and all that stuff.
Friend – Is there any specific composer or role that you feel is for your voice and very easy to sing? Do you have a preference like this?
EMW – Well, I do; I’m not sure if it’s easy; I actually think it’s very difficult, but I think if I sing Italian music, especially Verdi and Puccini it’s very good for my voice, especially Verdi. I’m so happy if I have to sing Verdi’s Requiem, for instance. It’s like school and it is so amazing and so beautiful! Some people go back to Mozart but that for me would be suicide.
Friend – Me too. Funny that you say this; I say the same thing.
EMW – I wish I could sing Mozart but there is just no way.
LG - In your first interview with Opera Lively you said you are in the habit of consulting predecessors as part of your preparation, taking advantage of your husband’s extensive collection of old recordings. I haven’t seen your two predecessors in this Met production, Maria Ewing in 1994 and Catherine Malfitano in 2000. I’m not sure if there is any footage or recording of how they went about it, commercial or bootleg. Do you know anything about how they tackled the character?
EMW – I really don’t know about that, to be very honest. There wasn’t any footage. And they are so different; that’s what everybody kept saying. Physically they were very different. Maria Ewing is tiny and very skinny, and unfortunately I’m not very skinny and tiny [laughs], so I had to deal with myself; so that’s different. But no, this time I didn’t do that here.
LG – What about other recordings? Does your husband have any Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk in his collection?
EMW – Yes, he has the one with Vishnevskaya, she is amazing, and I listened to her, but I don’t know of many others. There are DVDs with other people but I haven’t really listened to them. That’s weird, huh? Because I always do, but I don’t know why this time I didn’t.
LG – Maybe you just didn’t need to, because you are great in this role, already.
EMW – Oh, I don’t know. I don’t know what happened.
LG - Let’s address Shostakovich’s music in this opera. As you know, its history is full of controversy, from the censorship it suffered in Russia for 30 years, to comments such as a review in the New York Sun that called it "pornophony", referring to the lurid descriptive music in the sex scenes (such as the trombone glissandos during the lovemaking scene which Shostakovich cut from the revised version Katerina Izmailova), including Stravinsky’s opinion of it as "lamentably provincial", considering the musical portrayal primitively realistic. I personally quite like it and find it lively and interesting. What do you think of it? Is the criticism justified in any way?
EMW – Pornophony! That’s just nonsense! Well, that’s why I don’t read reviews, because I get very angry when somebody says those things. [laughs] I think it’s an absolute masterpiece. It has everything in it, it has humor, it’s impressive, the chorus in the first act is just phenomenal, and then the fourth act is one of the most moving things I’ve ever heard in my life, with the old convict singing. I think it is sensationally magnificent. The way he portrays her character and everything, I wish he had composed more, because I heard somewhere that he was going to do a trilogy, and man, I wish he had!
LG – Yes, he was planning a trilogy about abused women throughout Russia’s history but Stalin criticized it, he got terrified and stopped everything.
EMW – Yes. Joseph Stalin, I’m sorry, what can we say? That’s really sad, because it would have been sensational to have it, because his understanding of the psychology of women is tremendous, he was 25 or something when he wrote this.
LG – Yes, for thirty years he was the “goodie two shoes,” afraid of Stalin branding him anti-Russian, so we lost all his creative – imagine how much he could have accomplished in thirty years!
EMW – It was his life that was at stake. His genius is tremendous.
Friend – How could someone understand women at such a young age? I just looked ahead a little bit to the Cavalleria Rusticana; isn’t it amazing that it was written when Mascagni was like 25? I know it was written for a competition and he was very young.
EMW – I didn’t know that. Wow, that’s amazing. So, it was like Shostakovich; he was in his twenties; 24, 25.
LG – So, you did see that revised version, Katerina Izmailova? Do you remember the differences?
EMW – I thought it was great, but I don’t really know, I don’t remember exactly. I think it has less of the sex scene in it, right?
LG – Yes, he took out all the explicit music and played it all down a lot, rewrote one of the acts, and became more conventional. I prefer more the original version.
EMW – Of course. It’s so weird that people get so upset at sex scenes, I never understand it. They don’t mind the killing scenes? Excuse me? We are murdering people! [laughs] I would be more upset about that!
LG – Talking about Cavalleria Rusticana, I’ll have the pleasure of seeing you again in May when you come back for it. Please tell us about Santuzza, vocally, and in terms of psychological traits you plan to portray.
EMW – Well, this opera is really dear to me. It’s one of the first operas I sang and then I never sang it again. I’ve always wanted to sing it again, so I’m so thrilled! She is of course a wonderful character who has been betrayed… what can you say? I understand these women, we’ve all been there, you know? [laughs] I can’t wait. It’s vocally wonderful.
LG - Less than a week ago I saw live for the first time an opera that has been one of my favorites for a while in recordings, Dialogues des Carmélites, and I was pleased to know that you made your operatic debut singing a role in this opera, that of Mother Marie in the Aldeburgh Festival; subsequently you also sang the new Prioress Mme. Lidoine at Opéra Bastille. It’s been a while since you last did it, but what can you tell our readers about this piece?
EMW – That’s really interesting because it’s one of my favorite operas and I’ve never been asked to do it again. It would be such a wonderful thing to sing Lidoine again, because it is very, very special. I did it in Paris at the Bastille which is of course the place where it all happened. Francesca Zambello did the direction, and she said “you have to go to the place where they were buried.” And I didn’t know that you could, but you can. Have you been there? It’s really interesting, you have to look it up. It’s somewhere in an area which is very uninteresting, near Nation, and then you are in this little courtyard convent, and there are those mass graves from the Revolution. There is some grass, and there is a plaque and of course Blanche wasn’t a real person, but Lidoine was, and her name is on it, and it is next to André Chénier, he is in the same mass grave. I went there three or four times, because I couldn’t believe it.
They have a little shop there, and they said that the Carmelites really did sing when they were taken to the guillotine. She had smuggled in a very small statue of Mary, and had it in her hands, and they found it in her body. There were people who would take the bodies and put them in the mass graves, and they found clutched in her hand and they made replicas of it, so I bought them for the whole cast. We all had it in our hands when we sang. It was so… [lowers her voice] I can’t even talk about it; it was so emotional, this last scene! [to Ola] Do you know it?
Friend – I did sing Madame Lidoine when I was a young artist.
EMW – That’s so cool!
LG – Back to Dialogues des Carmélites, that last scene is amazing, with the chorus dwindling and dwindling and the thump of the guillotine. I think it is one of the most beautiful scenes in all of opera. I just saw it this past Sunday.
EMW – Where?
LG – In Winston-Salem, which is a small metropolitan area in North Carolina. It was done by the local orchestra, semi-staged, with projections. There were some problems, because it was the first time this symphony put opera on stage. There wasn’t a stage director, for instance. There were a few glitches; they weren’t as polished because they are not used to the medium, but they did well with the music, and were able to cast all 13 singing roles. The vocal writing – it’s almost all in arioso – is beautiful.
EMW – Yes, it’s very, very special.
LG - You did Kat’a Kabanova in Berlin earlier this year. The source for this opera is actually Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, since it inspired Alexander Ostrovsky’s play that Janacek used for his opera. Did you know that?
EMW – No, I didn’t; it’s so interesting!
Friend – I wondered about that.
LG – How do you compare the two roles?
EMW – I find them very different. I mean, they have a similar problem, but I think everybody had that problem, in that time; all the women. Isn’t it true? It was a cultural phenomenon. She seems a little more hesitant, and she has a lot more problem with guilt. She does sleep with Boris but then she feels so guilty that she goes crazy! Katerina Izmailova just starts killing everybody and she doesn’t care anymore! [laughs]
LG – She kills her own baby, right?
EMW – Her own baby?
Friend – That’s Jenufa.
EMW – It’s not her, it’s her stepmother who kills the baby. Kat’a Kabanova, she is just longing, and that’s similar. It’s very beautiful music, amazing. She then falls for this man, but she can’t deal with the guilt, and when her husband comes back she instantly tells everybody, and then she kills herself.
LG – Oh, yes, that’s right. She kills herself in the river; I was mixing it up with Jenufa who at one point wants to confess to the baby’s murder, then her stepmother confesses she was the one who did it, now I remember.
Friend – Yes, they put the baby in the river, so yes.
EMW – That’s also an amazing opera.
LG - Both your website and Operabase only have your schedule until the Cavalleria Rusticana at the Met in May 2015. What is beyond that point? What are your plans for the near future? Any exciting projects? Will anything else appear on DVD?
EMW – I don’t know why it’s not updated. What am I doing? I have to think about it. I’m not sure if I can tell all of those things, maybe that’s why it isn’t there. I’m coming back her for Tannhäuser, and I have some fantastic project. I’m doing Isolde with Simon Rattle in Baden-Baden, which is amazing, and I’m not sure if I’m allowed to tell the other things.
LG – I never publish anything people are not comfortable with. What we can do is, we can later ask your agent if it’s OK to keep this in the interview or not, before we publish it.
EMW – Ah, OK. I’m doing La Fanciulla del West, which is one of my favorite operas as well, in my top three, at La Scala, which I’m very scared about. [laughs]
LG – You think you’ll be booed! [laughs]
Friend – That’s right! Have you been booed there? [laughs]
EMW – No, they didn’t boo me, no. I did Die lustige Witwe there, nobody even cared to boo, because they don’t know anything about it; they were, “Uh…” but Fanciulla, of course, is Italian, so.
LG – Anything else on DVD?
EMW – I don’t know. Sometimes they put something on television, and then it’s not on DVD, and sometimes it comes on DVD, I have no idea.
LG – They never consult the artist? How is the business part of it?
EMW – I’m a very chaotic person. I must have files of papers. I don’t know. Sorry. And the thing is, it’s not like you earn any money with these DVDs. You never see anything. I never even get one. Sometimes I do, but sometimes I don’t even get a copy.
Friend – Then you find it on Amazon.
EMW – Yes, that’s weird!
LG – CDs, you do get money, right? When you record albums.
EMW – Yes, but I’ve never done one, so... I wouldn’t know. They say that the money for that is also less, now. I have no idea.
LG – Yes, Chris Maltman was telling me that, yesterday. He has done a lot, fifty to sixty, and he says there is no money in it.
EMW – Nothing. But that’s not the point.
LG – Yes, that’s what he was saying: he does it because he loves Lieder and wants to get it out there, but he doesn’t get much from it.
EMW – No, I guess not.
LG - We just had difficult negotiations with the unions at the Met due to budget problems. Rome has fired their orchestra and chorus. San Diego almost closed down. We almost don’t see studio recordings any longer. How do you think the operatic art form is doing worldwide, these days?
EMW – Yes, it’s very, very depressing, and I don’t know what to say. I think those initiatives like what Kasper Holten did with getting young people into the opera world might help. I think people don’t know enough about it. It would be a great thing to really have some super minds thinking about it, getting together and finding solutions, because it would be so disastrous if we lose it. All music is just so important for our souls as humans, and for our ways, how we are, how we learn, how we behave with other people, how we learn empathy… I think it’s vital.
In Holland they stopped all the musical education in schools. Some people don’t get in touch with any sort of music anymore. It’s only television that people have, or the Internet. That’s really sad. I’ve noticed that when you take people who don’t know opera at all – I always go work out in a gym or something, and I always take the trainers and everybody to come see it – they always love it and they always want to come back. People just don’t know. And it is expensive, but so is Broadway, you know? I went to see a couple of shows on Broadway, it was just as expensive as going to the Met, and they are full. Something has to be done. I wonder what. I have to think about it. [to Friend] What do you think?
Friend – It’s as expensive as people going out every weekend and having a few drinks at a fancy bar, so it’s not really that expensive. I think especially young people, now, could relate to this music and these stories that are so passionate; young people with their hormones and everything at that time in their lives, when they are introduced to it in high school or college, it could really be a perfect time. I think people don’t realize that they could be really enriched and enjoy it.
EMW – For instance, this La Bohème at the Met, I went to see it, I think everybody would love that. It’s not controversial, it’s just sheer beauty and emotion on all levels. That’s what opera is about.
Friend – The other aspect that I always come back to it, is that one of the most popular shows on TV in the recent years was The Voice, which is live performance of the human voice. I think there is something primal in hearing somebody singing live, that everyone can connect to just as a human experience and I think people are craving that, and that’s why that show was such a big hit. The opera world has to find a way to capitalize on that and draw on those millions of viewers who are craving that experience.
EMW – I think that people got to have such short attention spans; you know, you just don’t just watch TV but you have your iPad and your iPhone, and you do your email while playing a game and seeing a show or something. But I have great hope that opera will survive, because it can’t stop. Young people love it. I really think so, and I have to say that I went to lots of shows, the Nozze was so fantastic, and I’m not a Mozart fan to be honest, but now I was, I wanted to try the grape in it and sink into it, because it was just fantastic, and the Macbeth with Anna Netrebko, she was sensational; it’s so exciting to go to all these shows, and there were lots of young people in the auditorium. But the money, you know, it’s all about money.
LG – I always think that reports of opera’s death are grossly exaggerated. I’ve been very involved with Written on Skin by George Benjamin, because we are doing a guidebook, and we got the right to include the libretto.
EMW – Yes, I heard of it, it’s wonderful.
LG – So we interviewed Barbara Hannigan…
EMW – I know her.
LG – And Chris Purves, Tim Mead, and Martin Crimp, the author, and I love a quote by a critic who said “People say that opera is dead, but they forgot to tell George Benjamin!”
EMW – Ah!
LG – Yes, because it is so incredibly good! He made this masterpiece in 2012, a century after people thought that the great works were over, and one hundred years later he composes this piece that is just as good as the great operas of the 19th century.
Friend – I have a couple of questions. One thing that I would love to ask you, kind of psychologically, before you rose from a young singer starting out to the glory of your career now, do you feel like there was a time when you prepared, and you said “now I’m ready” and then things happened, or did the opposite happen, that is, things escalated and they you said “now I have to prepare for what is coming”?
EMW – It was actually very difficult. I had a very hard time. There was a moment when I thought that I was actually going to be a truck driver, because all my auditions failed. I had already sung Tosca and Cavalleria at the age of 25, and then nothing for three years. I was home, and I was unemployed and extremely depressed. I had nothing. I always tell everybody. Some people are very lucky and they were discovered when they were 24. With me, absolutely not. I tried all the competitions, Belvedere, I never even came through the preliminaries. All of them. Nowhere. I came through one round in one of them, then they kicked me out. It was just very difficult. And then I went back and had a fantastic family that was very supportive. They were wonderful, my friends and family, and they always had confidence, which I started to definitely loose. So I took more lessons, learned more, worked harder, did everything, still nothing. And then at one point I had such a depression…
I became a singing waitress, and that was kind of fun. I would audition for people and they would go “eeh… “, like this [uses a dismissive, contemptuous expression] and that just kills you, in your tenth audition. You come and they go “eeh…” but then I sang in this restaurant and people liked it. Some people started to laugh so loud that they had to leave the room but some people liked it. Some people didn’t know about opera. I got my confidence, and I also had a wonderful therapist. So I got my confidence back and that was a big thing, and all of a sudden, it worked.
Something clicked and I got jobs. I was singing one of the Valkyries, I was singing Gutrune which is not a big role, but in Stuttgart, a wonderful theater, small, not like the Met or anything, but for me it was nice, I thought I’d never sing at a higher level than Stuttgart. I sang there for six years, I was in the ensemble and it was wonderful, I learned a lot. And then I got through covering and covering, I covered in Salzburg, and through that Gerard Mortier who was a big opera director at the time; he died, unfortunately, he sort of discovered me and he got me in, and then in Paris, and then things started to roll, very slowly, you know? And then I sang for Tony Pappano and he hired me, I first sang for Simon Rattle and he hired me, and then these things started to happen. But it took a long time. And I never expected it to happen anymore. So, everyday I’m grateful. It’s not like I think it’s normal.
Friend – What a great story! It’s really amazing.
EMW – I mean, it won’t happen for everybody because you have to be lucky as well, you know? I was very lucky. But people should not be discouraged. You have to be very honest with yourself and realize what your weak points are and work on them and all that sort of stuff. People say horrible things to you when you are starting out. Horrible.
Friend – I know! I know, yeah. [laughs] I’m sure we both could write a whole book about that.
EMW – Later you see them at a party and they start kissing your ***, and telling you…
Friend – “Oh, you are singing great now and you are getting these roles, I love you, I’ve always loved your singing.”
EMW – Yeah, that will happen. It happened to me very much. I always try to tell it because young singers need to know that it is not going to be easy. For some people yes, but for me, no; for a lot of people it isn’t easy.
LG – So that’s your advice for young singers.
EMW – Yes, don’t give up, hang in there. Don’t be discouraged. It often has nothing to do with you, it has to do with people’s egos and all that sort of stuff. But it is very hard.
Friend – Let me ask you this. Do you feel like… wait, let me think about it, how to phrase it.
EMW – [To Luiz] She is so beautiful! [To Friend] You are so gorgeous!
Friend – Thank you.
EMW – What’s your last name?
[Friend and Eva-Maria engage in an animated conversation about Friend’s name and background; since this would result in identifying information and Friend wants to remain anonymous, it’s been removed]
Friend - My question is, how important do you think it is to have the right -- aside from your own, as an artist, vocal work and coaching and lessons and getting everything prepared that way – other side of the career, the business side? Like you said that stage director really catapulted you and helped you out…
EMW – He was an opera director.
Friend – OK, opera director. Do you think that there was anyone else, a certain manager that took you on early, or somebody else who promoted you?
EMW – Yeah, yeah, my first audition that went well was for one agent and she really helped me and she really worked for me, but then of course you have to do it, they have to hire you and you have to do your performance and you have to make it all work. One thing I never did – and maybe I should have – I never really did all that self-promoting, glamour dressing picture taking. I mean, of course I have a picture, but I never did that sort of thing. I personally really don’t think one needs it, I really don’t think so, unless that’s what you like, unless that’s what you want. But maybe you need it nowadays, because people are so visual. I never did this sort of thing: “my career is going bad, I’m updating my website!” I would rather take a singing lesson, you know? You know what I mean? That’s sort of an angle that…
Friend – The image thing.
EMW – The image thing, right. I didn’t do anything about that.
Friend – So the types of roles that you sing and the way that you look and everything that you present is all a certain type, so you never had to worry about that.
EMW – Is it all a certain type? I don’t think so.
LG – She sang Anna Nicole! That was exuberant, beautiful!
EMW – That’s right. [laughs] So very different!
LG [to Friend] – Have you seen her in Anna Nicole?
Friend – No, I’ve seen pictures of it. I’d like to see it. Is there a DVD or video of it?
LG – Yes, there is.
Friend – OK.
LG – It’s fabulous.
EMW – I don’t know.
LG – I think these days image is important.
EMW – You think?
LG – Yes. Certain very large young ladies, they are having more trouble now. In the past a Montserrat Caballé, nobody would care if she was large or not; she had a gorgeous voice and it was all that mattered. These days, it is more difficult, and it is kind of a shame.
EMW – It’s terrible. It’s terrible.
LG – With all the HD, blu-ray, people are very focused on visual aspect of opera, now. Some singers struggle with that; they may have good voices but if they don’t look the part they don’t get hired.
Friend – It can also go the other way though too, as my silly experiences of people saying to me, major coaches in major A houses: “well, you make a very large sound for such a small body.” I say, “what are you telling me that? What does that mean? Go to Russia, these girls as this thin and they have huge voices!” It’s not about that; you know what I mean? In any capacity, people sometimes do the opposite, too. “How is that huge sound coming out of that small person? It doesn’t make any sense!”
EMW – I don’t know…
LG – This week it was my first time listening live to Chris Maltman’s voice, because I always followed his career on DVD but I hadn’t had the opportunity to see him live. I was so surprised! He filled the entire four thousand seats at the Met with this booming voice, and he is a small man, skinny and relatively short. I always loved his voice, but I wondered, because with the DVDs and blu-rays there is sound engineering.
EMW – Yes.
LG – I usually sit far when I’m reviewing a show because I want to get a sense of the artists’ projection. If you sit on the third orchestra row you pretty much can’t tell the difference that way.
Friend – Yeah.
LG – So I sat in the back, and when he entered the stage singing the Figaro aria, I thought “wow!” A huge sound!
EMW – That’s great.
LG – On the other hand, I don’t think volume is the most important thing.
EMW – No, no.
LG – Delicacy, elegance, phrasing, musicality…
EMW – Yeah, yeah, definitely.
LG – Interpretation… That’s another thing, when you say people are spoiled with short attention span and little screens everywhere, they are also spoiled with driving to the opera listening to Met Opera Radio on the eight-speaker car sound system cranked up loud, and they park and come to the opera house and think they will hear the same sound.
EMW – [laughs]
LG – That’s not the sound they’ll hear. The beauty is in the direct relationship between the singer’s unamplified voice and non-electronic sound and the audience’s ears, and for this you don’t need high volume.
EMW – I agree. It’s great if you do have the volume, though. If you can.
LG – But sometimes… I remember talking about that with Matthew Polenzani. He was singing “Una furtive lagrima” and he is able to produce a big sound, but for this aria he lowered the dynamics and sang it really softly, and the whole Met was mesmerized. Everybody was on the edge of the seat trying to listen, like hypnotized, and everybody erupted in applause at the end. He lowered the dynamics in purpose and made it really heartfelt. I loved it.
EMW – Yes, I agree.
LG – You do have a radio interview at four.
EMW – Is it a radio interview? I have no idea.
LG – I mean, if you want to stay longer, great, we love talking you, but at the Met they told me not to keep you for too long because you have a radio interview at four.
EMW – Yes, I do have another interview, I just didn’t know it would be a radio one. But tell me [to Friend], what are you up to, now?
Friend – I’m just doing auditions right now. I just finished doing [… talks about a recent engagement]; a lot of the Verdi Requiem; I love it too.
EMW – Isn’t it amazing?
Friend – I haven’t done the whole thing yet; I’m really looking forward to it. I sing a lot of Verdi, I don’t know why. It happens that way, as far as I’m hired to do, but I haven’t done auditions in a while because I’ve been working a lot. So this month I’m working on auditions.
EMW – Are you coming to Europe as well?
Friend – I really want to. I think that my way of singing and my everything might be a bit better there for me, so I really want to, but I have a family, so I don’t know.
[Eva-Maria chats with Friend about her family, then they resume the talk about auditons]
EMW – I’ll tell you one thing: I sang for Levine way back and he said “absolutely no, thanks” and he didn’t hire me. And then I got hired, and I worked with him, and I loved him, and I think he like me too. So, it can change, even if it doesn’t work the first time.
Friend – I know, I’m trying not to put too much pressure on the one moment.
LG – What about competitions, have you tried them?
Friend – I have tried competitions, I just don’t think I’m that kind of singer.
EMW – Same with me. I have never won one. I have no idea why. I’m not the one.
Friend – Yes, me neither.
EMW – I don’t know what I do. I’m crap at competitions.
Friend – It’s not really my forte. I like to be in a role. I like it even better than concerts. I can sing with a big symphony and in concert repertoire, but you know, it’s a different experience.
EMW – Very much so. It’s true.
LG – Well, good for me that I don’t need to sing. I just talk to singers.
EMW – [laughs]
Friend – I saw your Sieglinde at the Met. It was your debut here, right? It was great.
EMW – Yes. Thanks. Was it with Levine?
Friend – I didn’t see it in person, it was the Live in HD broadcast.
LG – I think it was Fabio Luisi, no? I think Levine only did Rheingold then Luisi took over.
EMW – No, I did it with Levine for the HD, the first one, and then the second one we did with Luisi.
LG – Levine is really back, conducting a lot again.
EMW – Isn’t it fantastic? I went to see his Mozart, and I loved it. A to Z I was on the edge of my seat. The singers were sensational, but Levine’s conducting made it all like… magical. Really great. So… I think I have to run. It was really great meeting you two, and [to Friend] I’ll be rooting for you.
Friend – Thank you!
EMW – So hang in there. Remember that.
Friend – I know. It was very inspiring, what you said.
EMW – Oh, great.
LG – Can we take pictures together?
EMW – Oh, I look terrible.
Friend – No, you look beautiful!
LG – OK, let’s get this background here.
OR – With the bottles!
EMW – Look how much we drink!
[we take pictures, with the restaurant’s cellar bottles in the background]
EMW – Very good!
LG – Thank you so much!
EMW – Let me get the bill.
LG – Oh no, you are our guest.
EMW – Thank you! Have a great Bohème. [We were about to go see the Met’s Bohème]
LG, Friend – Thanks!
Let's listen to some samples of the gifted singer's performances:
As Cassandra in Les Troyens in Amsterdam:
The entire Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District from Amsterdam with Eva-Maria is on YouTube (parts 1 and 2):
With Jonas Kaufmann in Die Walküre at the Met:
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