• The Exclusive Opera Lively Interview with Sandrine Piau

    This interview with the great French singer Sandrine Piau is being published very late for no fault of the artist, and we apologize for it. But even if it is no longer timely, it is still very interesting given Ms. Piau's intelligence and profound insights regarding the character Despina in Così fan tutte, which in the summer of 2016 she was singing for the Festival d'Aix-en-Provence. This piece is therefore to be situated in our extensive coverage of that edition of the festival. We made a portal where we listed links to all the articles we published about Aix, and our readers can consult the other numerous interviews and reviews by clicking [here].


    Artistic Biography

    : Sandrine Piau
    Voice type: light lyric soprano
    Born in: Issy-les-Moulinaux, France, on June 5, 1965
    Currently in: Dialogue des Carmélites (Constance) at La Monnaie in Brussels, Dec 8-23, 2017
    Where to see the singer next: Die Shöpfung (Gabriel) at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées in Paris, Jan 22, 2018; then again as Constance in Dialogue des Carmélites at the Teatro Comunale di Bologna, Mar 11-16, 2018; then Rinaldo (Almirena) at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées, Jun 5, 2018


    A renowned figure in the world of Baroque music, Sandrine Piau regularly performs with celebrated conductors such as William Christie, Philippe Herreweghe, Christophe Rousset, Gustav Lleonhardt, Ivor Bolton, Ton Koopman, René Jacobs, Marc Minkowski and Nikolaus Harnoncourt.

    Ms. Piau embraces both lyric and Baroque repertoires. The roles she has recently performed include Cleopatra (Giulio Cesare) at the Opéra national de Paris, Mélisande in Nice and at la Monnaie, Ännchen (Der Freischütz), Pamina (Die Zauberflôte) and her debut as Donna Anna (Don Giovanni) at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées; the title role of L’Incoronazione di Poppea in Cologne; Sandrina in a new production of La Finta Giardiniera at La Monnaie, Ismène (Mitridate, Re di Ponto) at the Grand Théâtre de Genève and Sophie in Massenet’s Werther at both the Capitole de Toulouse and the Théâtre du Châtelet.

    Sandrine Piau regularly appears in concert. In recent years she has performed at the Salzburg Festival, Carnegie Hall, Wigmore Hall, Covent Garden Festival, Musikverein, Paris’ Salle Pleyel, Festival de Saint Denis, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, Teatro Communale in both Florence and Bologna and with the world’s most prestigious orchestras including Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Munich Philharmonic, Orchestre de Paris and Boston Symphony Orchestra.

    Ms. Piau takes great pleasure in the art of recital. As a singer of both French and German repertoires, she has performed with many renowned accompanists including Jos van Immerseel, Roger Vignoles, and Corine Durous. She has a privileged relationship with pianist Susan Manoff with whom she recently made recital tours in the USA and in Japan.

    Ms. Piau is now an exclusive recording artist for Naive. Recent recordings include 2011’s Après un Rêve, 2015's Mozart's Desperate Heroines, and 2012’s Le Triomphe de l’Amour, which was named Opera News’ CD of the Month.

    Sandrine Piau was given the title of Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 2006 and was named “Lyrical Artist of the Year” in the Victoires de la Musique Classique award ceremony in 2009.



    Numerous recordings; see a partial list below, in addition to the ones quoted above and during the interview:

    -Les Indes galantes by Rameau conducted by William Christie (1992) Harmonia Mundi
    -Castor & Pollux by Rameau conducted by William Christie (1993) Harmonia Mundi
    -Messiah by Handel, conducted by William Christie (1994) Harmonia Mundi
    -Les Fêtes de Paphos by Mondonville conducted by Christophe Rousset (1997) Polygram
    -King Arthur by Purcell conducted by William Christie (1995) Erato
    -Rodrigo by Handel, conducted by Alan Curtis (1999) EMI
    -Motets by Couperin conducted by Christophe Rousset (1999) EMI
    -Serse by Handel, conducted by William Christie (2004) Virgin Classics
    -Acis, Galatea e Polifemo by Handel, conducted by Emmanuelle Haim (2004) Virgin Classics
    -J. S. Bach: Cantatas, Vol. 15-22 by Bach, conducted by Ton Koopman (2005) Challenge Classics
    -In Furore, Laudate Pueri, Concerti Sacri by Antonio Vivaldi, conducted by Ottavio Dantone (2006) Naïve
    -Les Illuminations by Britten, conducted by Thomas Zehetmair (2009) NMC


    The Exclusive Opera Lively Interview with Sandrine Piau

    Copyright Opera Lively - links to this interview are allowed as well as brief excerpts, but to reproduce the entire interview please use the Contact Us link to request authorization, and include a link to the source. Photo credits in some of our pieces might be unknown to us at the time; if we're informed of the photographers' names we'll be glad to include them; meanwhile, it's fair promotional use. This is Opera Lively's interview # 237.

    Luiz Gazzola for Opera Lively - First let’s talk about this Così fan Tutte. The staging is very daring, with the emphasis on relationships of power in the Italian colonization of Eritrea, including an opening scene in which Italian soldiers rape a native female. It’s true that the original libretto does go into some dark matters in spite of its comedic flare, but how do you see this concept for Così by Christophe Honoré?

    Sandrine Piau - What you say is correct. This approach by Christophe Honoré is particularly somber. Personally, I love it, because Così fan tutte portrays a situation that doesn’t leave any chance for the women. This staging shows how oppressed they are. The minorities, the women, the black people, are always the dominated ones. In the 18th century people found absolutely normal that a soldier would cheat on his wife when he was at war or in the army, but when it’s the woman who faces the question of faithfulness, there is no reciprocity.

    I find this very tough historical context interesting. It shows this vision that is always very cynical, that is, that these men judge their women but don’t judge themselves. Similarly, they have a vision of the blacks as if they were a sub-race who live in a conquered country. Finally, there isn’t any reflection regarding their own actions as they relate to the actions of others.

    Christophe Honoré transposed this opera into fairly contemporary Eritrea with its misery and its unfortunate, unhappy people. We see a dominant class that is very arrogant and doesn’t ask itself any questions, represented in this community of colonizers and colonized. I find it interesting because it mirrors the social condition of these women. They appear weak, and it is touching that they get judged so harshly.

    OL – True. How does this staging concept impact on the psychology of your character, Despina?

    SP - We discussed Despina a lot with Christophe Honoré. From the beginning, he wanted to cut the chocolate scene, when Despina says that she will get the scent of chocolate while the rich will get the taste of it. I thought that it was interesting because Despina is part of the socially weak. Christophe wanted to cut everything that was bouffe, because he wanted to show the character as damaged; that is, someone who has had difficult life experiences, and then was dumped there in Eritrea, but somehow was able to integrate herself in that society and got to love the place. She then becomes the conduit between the two communities. She goes to the market for groceries, meets the locals, and loves them.

    By the way, she is judged negatively for it. The blacks judge her as a white woman who is a bit free and is seen as a sort of prostitute they want to take advantage of, even though they have their own wives at home. And then in the white community she is a fallen, classless woman who doesn’t have a husband, for some reason. She has no status, no respectability. So, she is truly, in the second act, shown as Christophe wanted, as different from the other whites. She is not racist, she has some humanity, even though she is socially defeated. She is redeemed by her openness of spirit.

    This is a character who is a bit somber than the bouffe one in Mozart’s piece. In the music, both Despina and Don Alfonso are bouffe. Her music is entirely bouffe; there are no moments of true sadness, so it is very difficult. We discussed with Christophe that we’d run into a conflict between the music and how he wanted her portrayed as mistreated and as an activist for the cause of the women, while the music for her is so light. But this is interesting because the stage director’s vision brings a supplement of color added to the color that already exists in the music by itself.

    OL – It is interesting, because usually we see Despina portrayed as very strong and assertive, but in this staging especially in the beginning, she appeared afraid of the men. She also seemed like the victim of this power unbalance, isn’t it?

    SP – Yes, because Christophe wanted to show that Despina was forced into Alfonso’s plan. This is a different color from how it is usually done. Our Despina does not want to be a part of this plot because she knows perfectly well how it will end. She is rational, she is experienced, and she knows that it will be catastrophic, and the women will probably break down. She knows that the plan is Machiavellic and there will be a massacre at the end. Nobody, including the men, will come out as victors from this truth.

    So she doesn’t want to do it but Don Alfonso forces her, from the beginning. This gives her some sort of distance. We see that she is very fatigued of all that. But she is also someone who is capable of bouncing back, because she always has this humanity behind the pain; she is always able to smile; she doesn’t get into as much drama as the others who are always complaining and lamenting that their lives won’t be the same. She has the elegance of placing a smile on top of her sadness. She knows that the men are not very recommendable but she loves them anyway. She doesn’t judge them. Despina is not judgmental. She takes them how they are.

    This is what she tells the two women, that the kind of love that they want is for small children; it’s a fairy tale for 3-year-olds, but now they need to do something different. It doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t love. What is beautiful in Despina is that she lost her dreams but it doesn’t stop her from loving people.

    Evidently there is a lot of passion because Christophe’s context is very violent. The rapports are violent. Rod Gilfry, the singer who did Don Alfonso, had a hard time at first because he didn’t want to portray such a dark character who detested the women and wanted to despise them even more; and was trying to open the men’s eyes to their flaws. So he asked for more and more violent actions, even getting people wounded; it’s the background story that we can imagine in this staging concept.

    Since the historical context is so harsh with this rape in the beginning, there is a mixing of sensuality with violence. These people are violent and racist as a matter of ideology; not necessarily from personal beliefs, but because they are brought into a certain History that is so. They don’t pause to look back at their own actions; they are a little bit like savage beasts who are brought over there.

    Despina doesn’t resist the relationship she creates with Thibauld. [Editor’s note: a supranumerary character in this staging, not in Mozart’s roles]. She doesn’t really want him but at the same time she engages, but at a certain distance. She knows it will be catastrophic; she doesn’t have illusions about things, but this doesn’t stop her from living those things.

    OL – I think I was able to understand this dichotomy, because I found that your Despina was sort of classy and sophisticated, as opposed to the usual street-wise character in other stagings. I was asking myself; is this because Madame Piau is herself such a sophisticated and elegant lady that she wasn’t really able to portray Despina as a more vulgar character?

    SP – Oh, no, no.

    OL – I did ask myself that maybe it was because the stage director wanted this character to be more sophisticated.

    SP – Yes, this was indeed the stage director’s hand. I do hope that in my real life I’m not a vulgar woman [laughs] but I’ve portrayed successfully characters who were, if not entirely vulgar, at least not classy at all. And it is true that the notes written by Christophe Honoré about this character stated “I would like for you to have as reference Sophia Loren, like in the movie A Special Day [Editor’s note – Una Giornata Particolare, the 1977 Ettore Scola movie with Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni].”

    OL – Ah!

    SP – So, he sent me a picture of Sophia in the movie and they made me a hairdo a bit like her. He said “I’d like her to be both destroyed and sublime.” I said, “Listen, I don’t know about sublime; it won’t be possible because Despina’s music has nothing sublime about it.” But then when we met in person he told me “I would like her to also resemble a little – and this is very French! – Stéphane Audran in Coup de Torchon.

    This is a movie Bertrand Tavernier. In this movie Stéphane Audran also has this side of a certain class. She is also a bit crazy. But I didn’t really play a lot with the craziness, unlike two years ago when I did a character who was truly crazy, a young woman with tics, and I didn’t want to do it like this. Then he told me, “it needs to be a bit of both; she let go of lots of things, and this is maybe what gives her a certain class, a certain elegance of not anchoring everything too heavily, but she is also able to live with a certain lightness even when she is faced with the heavy things.”

    So, she lives this everyday life of a white woman who is also a fallen woman who won’t ever get married, who won’t ever be entirely integrated among the rich colonizers, nor among the poor blacks. So, as a social outcast, she probably doesn’t have too many friends at that time.

    She could have been like Don Alfonso who became bitter and wanted to destroy people, who wanted to destroy these rich colonizers and their illusions. She, on the other hand, has her elegance of being defeated but not bitter. She is a woman who can still enjoy things and live.

    She seizes the moment, when she has a moment of tenderness, or when she has sex with Thibauld – she thinks, why not? He is with her out of self-interest, but she has a certain elegance of not judging people. If she is classy, it’s because of her humanity rather than the clothes she wears. She is annoyed with the men, and disgusted when there is the rape of Mathilda [another supranumerary character]; she would like to punch Guglielmo, but she isn’t someone who judges people.

    OL – At the end there was a relatively ambiguous scene. It seemed like Fiordiligi took a weapon and killed herself off-stage. Is this really what this staging wanted to convey?

    SP – We rehearsed different endings and talked about it a lot. At one point she had that rifle really pointed to her own throat, and later we heard a shot being fired. We don’t know if she really killed herself or fired a shot up in the air, because we don’t see it. Christophe Honoré told me something very interesting: that Fiordiligi will became another Despina. She won’t bounce back; she won’t be able to get married, and she will also become a sort of fallen woman who lost her illusions, but without Despina’s elegance.

    Dorabella on the other hand will accept her weakness; will maybe have lovers but will get married and will enter the upper echelons of that society. Christophe said that Despina prefers Dorabella because Dorabella is also not judgmental, but ultimately Fiordiligi will resemble her more, because Fiordiligi had an ideal that won’t survive this story, and probably Despina herself used to have an ideal that didn’t survive either.

    So he wanted me to be show more tenderness to Kate in the beginning, because Kate [Lindsey, who sang Dorabella] was able to have fun with things and was less arrogant. For Fiordiligi, when she makes a mistake, for her it’s a veritable tragedy while for Dorabella it’s simply a moment in her life. For Fiordiligi, it will be a wound that will never heal. I think that at that moment Despina is touched by her. Christophe wanted me to look at her when I’m walking out of the scene and convey “this is a person for whom I’ll regret all this story, because she won’t bounce back and stand up again.”

    Sandrine in Aix as Despina comforting Lenneke Ruiten's Fiordiligi - Photo credit Pascal Victor

    OL – Yes, in this staging, Fiordiligi sees Guglielmo raping Mathilda, and she also overhears the treachery planned by Dr. Alfonso, which is not in Da Ponte’s libretto, in which she is oblivious until the end.

    SP – Yes. Christophe did take a veritable liberty with the libretto there. We may not agree, but it’s a position that he definitely embraced. He wanted her to be aware of the evil plot. Because she is so proud and fierce, she wants to see how far this will go. She tries to convince her sister, and tell her why they shouldn’t do it. She says, “they want to think that we are like that, but we are worth more than that.” Her sister won’t be successful in this bet, but Fiordiligi, when she does sleep with the other guy, she knows what she is doing. She knows that she will be judged, but she truly falls in love with the other guy. She does it, but it’s in another register. Yes, her awareness is not at all in the libretto. It was Christophe Honoré’s option.

    I know that the very misogynistic side of the opera troubled him. An opera like Così fan tutte is difficult, in our days, especially because the men had no excuse for doing what they did. I think it’s why he wanted to show from the beginning the violence and the arrogance of these soldiers. It’s a soldier’s life. They use prostitutes because they have sexual needs, but in spite of it, they don’t go to any lengths to understand that women might also have sexual desires when their men are absent for a long time. That is, they don’t reflect about their own actions.

    I found interesting that Christophe was able to get around this terrible question of misogyny, because in his version it’s not just men-women, but it’s men-women-dominators-dominated. The rich, the poor, the whites, the blacks. I thought that it was also interesting that it’s not just about two stupid women who can’t recognize their men under disguise.

    We always think, when we watch this opera, come on, how is it possible that they don’t recognize them? But Christophe wanted things to be less clear. In any case, I liked it, although I understand that certain people were very shocked by this violent and somber staging, while Mozart’s music remains tragicomic; we have the two aspects. In our time it is always a challenge to stage Così fan tutte.

    OL – I liked the staging very much. It was the perfect Così fan tutte, the one I always waited for, because I always felt that this opera was not a comedy. But the two more comedic moments, when Despina disguises herself as the doctor – in this staging as a nurse - and the notary, appeared sort of out of context in this staging.

    SP – It is very strange. In addition to it, yesterday things didn’t function properly; there was a spotlight that was supposed to add some effects but it stopped working. But yes, this is the problem of this very dark staging, because the music is not always dark; it follows the traditions of the comic genre. If a scene is written to be comic, we can’t make it serious. At the end we need to run around like in a cartoon when the cat chases after the mouse. At the end, nobody knows what exactly is going on.

    Evidently, the nurse and the notary are strange because the rest of the time I don’t play Despina as funny, at all. But I see it in the context that Despina doesn’t like the idea of this plot but she is still capable of amusing herself. She comes as the nurse first a bit serious, then little by little she starts enjoying herself. It is true that a staging concept this dark can’t be the same for the entire time in this piece, because this opera is not a lyric tragedy.

    OL – In terms of vocal challenges, I’d say that for you it is not difficult at all to sing Despina, given that you are a Baroque expert and very experienced in singing Mozart, right?

    SP – Actually, I found it very, very difficult. I sung Mozart with Baroque period instruments, I’ve done lots of Paminas and Donna Annas, and also Sandrina in La Finta Giardiniera, and they are often roles that are heavier, but higher, and for me it was difficult to sing a role that is more in the middle of the register, and with a lot of text but without sufficient time to open the voice. Honestly, it’s the first time I did this role.

    I do have the soubrette voice given that my voice is light enough, but I have rarely done soubrettes; usually I do the young leading female, in sad roles. The last Baroque I did was Alcina, in the title role. It is true that I have a sort of chameleon voice, and I can do small when it needs to be small.

    Despina, I found difficult because she doesn’t have long lines. I need to find a line. She is very monosyllabic, and I’m a specialist in more elongated lines and pianissimo in high acute notes, and Despina vocally doesn’t have this tenderness.

    In this staging we made Despina tender, but vocally she isn’t, and she doesn’t have any lyric moments. She has one cadence, barely. It’s either comic or she feels a bit unhappy that she is mistreated by these men. It’s the first time I did something so soubrette, because usually what I do is slow, sad, and acute. [laughs]

    OL – Hey, it was very good, anyway.

    SP – Oh, thank you very much. But no, there wasn’t a true vocal challenge; it’s more a stylistic issue. Last year in Aix I did Songe d’une Nuit d’Été, and Tytania is more difficult with a lot of high notes that we need to pay attention to. Despina has more text, more theater, and a vocal approach that I wasn’t really used to do.

    OL – Have you had an opportunity to see the Pélleas et Mélisande that is going on here, too?

    SP – Unfortunately, no. It plays almost simultaneously with our show. The one day I’d have been able to see it was July 4th but I was home in Marseille and I didn’t have the courage to drive up here because with the FIFA World Cup it takes two to three hours, with lots of traffic, lots of accidents. But I plan to watch it on Arte [Cultural TV channel]. I think it is the biggest triumph of the festival.

    OL – It is formidable. I can’t describe it well enough to give it justice; it’s incredible, maybe the best staging I’ve ever seen. Everything is perfect.

    SP – Yes, I believe it is wonderful. I did several Pélleas et Mélisande and I also did Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno; the one I never did was Così. I wasn’t able to see the Trionfo either. It’s a very complicated piece. I did see a bit of the rehearsals for Pélleas and found it absolutely wonderful.

    OL – Given that you’ve done lots of Mélisandes, I’ll ask you a question about it, even though you haven’t seen this production yet. I loved it but one question remained in my mind: Mélisande is often portrayed as pure and almost asexual, and her relationship with Pelléas seems to remain platonic, leaving Golaud with a lingering doubt about how far she went with his half-brother. This production is quite explicit in showing a consummate sexual relationship between the two which is witnessed by Golaud (although one can also say it was a dream). What do you think of it? What is more artistically interesting in your opinion to portray Mélisande – as pure and innocent, or as a very sensuous woman who actively seduces the men in the castle including even Arkel?

    SP – I did a production with Pierre Audi that was very harsh. Mélisande did not have hair. She wasn’t naked but had a skin-tight dress that changed colors, in all the colors of the rainbow according to the scenes. It was a Mélisande who didn’t really exist, in a very harsh Germany where the people were very concrete and very savage. Mélisande in this staging was a projection of their fantasies, and they all had different fantasies so she was different each scene.

    She came up and did something very feminine: she entered the fantasy of the person with whom she was speaking. She was sort of asexual, with no hair and a costume that was like a second skin, but always tried to respond to something that people expected of her.

    By the way, in the text she replies to questions three phrases down, always with a lag. She never replies about herself because she doesn’t exist. She only exists in the eyes of the others. I had to do a Mélisande who did not have sex – in any case we didn’t see it. She must have had sex with Golaud because she has a son, but we don’t see it, and even less with Pélleas.

    I did another one who was completely crazy; really crazy; it was another concept. But I’m not sure. I do think that Mélisande doesn’t exist except in the imagination of the others. They sing three pages and Mélisande responds with one phrase. It’s a sort of non-presence. It’s an absence that is present. It is very strange.

    OL – Jacques Lacan [a famous French psychoanalyst] would have loved this approach: the woman doesn’t exist; it’s one of his axioms.

    SP – Yes, yes, absolutely. It is one of the hints. But I haven’t only portrayed Mélisandes who were carnal; I did one who was very infantile, who was like an abandoned child who becomes insane. That one by Pierre Audi, she was like a chameleon who changed colors according to the sets and the people. She adapted her responses, unconsciously, to what was expected of her. She was never able to situate herself somewhere.

    OL - Your next opera is Zoroastre, by Rameau. It is interesting in the fact that it introduces some innovations, such as doing away with the prologue, and addressing a topic that is not in classical mythology but is rather Persian and linked to Freemasonry, as a sort of precursor to The Magic Flute. Please tell us about this piece and its staging, and your character Amélite.

    SP – Hm… no, I’m not doing Amélite in Zoroastre.

    OL – Oh really? That’s what is listed on Operabase as coming next for you.

    SP – It’s got to be a mistake. My next role will in Salzburg where I’ll be singing Dalinda, in Ariodante. Or maybe I wasn’t told that I’ll be Amélite. [Laughs] It happens! Where do you say it’s scheduled?

    OL – Apparently it is listed to happen in November 2016 in Vienna, at the Theater an der Wien, and also at the Opéra National de Versailles, conducted by Pichon.

    SP – In any case, I wasn’t informed! They haven’t contacted me. Next for me there are many concerts and some recording work. I’ll have tours of recitals. I’m going back to the United States in February with Susan Manoff [pianist] in Washington, Chicago, and Philadelphia, with a program that includes lieder and mélodies.

    I have concerts with music by Britten, Berg, and Schoenberg; I love this music enormously. I have a tour of Mozart with Il Giardino Armonico [an ensemble that plays on period instruments]. In March I am singing Mozart at the Philharmonie de Paris with [Christian] Zacarias. And then, this takes me to Salzburg and Ariodante, in a production by Cecilia Bartoli.

    OL – By now, the half hour you had promised is over. I have a few more questions. Do you have the time to continue a bit more?

    SP – Yes, but wait a moment, I was told that another journalist just arrived for another interview, let me go see if she can wait a little. [Sandrine goes talk to the other lady, comes back, and says she can stay with Opera Lively for twenty more minutes]

    OL - What do you find more fulfilling, concerts and recitals, or staged operas?

    SP – It depends. I love concerts enormously, but the opera, when it succeeds, is magical, because it is an encounter of different visions and enlightenments. In recitals, on the other hand, we are our own stage director, we come with our own gown, we sing our own repertory, and we can tell a little bit of what we are, by the means of our repertory choice. That’s what I love very much.

    OL - You started by playing the harp. Was this training important to inform you in your career as a singer, such as helping with the musicality of the vocal line?

    SP – I don’t think that what is helpful is specifically the musicality of the harp, but rather, the musical education in general, as an instrumentalist. When we play an instrument we often start from a very young age, so we learn to read music very early, which is not always the case with singers. This is a big asset especially in the Baroque where there are many scores that are unknown.

    It helped me for example when I had to go to the Philharmonie de Paris on short notice – they asked me if I could sing that same day in the evening and I said, “yes, send me the score by fax.” They did, and I jumped on a plane and studied the score during the flight.

    And also, playing an instrument gives you a lot of discipline, because we need to practice five to six hours daily. When I became a singer, I thought “the singers are all lazy!” [laughs]. But it is more complicated, actually. It is harder to be a singer because our instrument is inside us, which is a force but also a fragility because when we are sick we can’t sing well.

    OL – What made you switch from playing an instrument to singing?

    SP – It happened by chance. I worked with a flutist in chamber music. I always wanted to sing. I was part of choirs, I did the Maîtrise de Radio France [a choir school] when I was a child; I loved to sing. I sang in choirs and as an amateur, and I was at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Paris, and this flutist told me that one of the professors was an American conductor who was very interesting. It turned out that the American was William Christie! The flutist told me; “you know, he is very interesting, he does Baroque, and he often hires the people who attend his classes.”

    I needed money because as an artist it was difficult to earn my living. So, I thought, “I’ll go for his exam, one never knows.” And he hired me to be part of Les Arts Florissants, and I became a singer. I continued to be a harpist for two more years, and to study chamber music at the Conservatoire de Paris; I was in three classes simultaneously. At a certain point I needed to choose, and I had a hard time choosing. I had fear of committing to one track. I loved doing everything at the same time. I was very busy and I thought that I didn’t really need to make a definitive choice.

    OL – How old were you?

    SP – I entered the Conservatoire when I was 20, and I think that my first role as a singer was in The Fairy Queen in Aix-en-Provence, I believe in 1989 or 1990. [Sandrine was born on June 5, 1965 – so, 24 or 25]. I was with the choir and I had a very small solo, in the role of Mystery, I think. But then everything pivoted, and I was in Aix for three years in a row, doing roles that weren’t very long, but at some point I became a true singer. But I was also in the choir of Philippe Herreweghe, and I loved that very much. I always loved choral music. I like to play or sing with others.

    OL – It was our gain, the public, that you became a singer.

    SP – Ah, thank you!

    OL - How are you as a person, in terms of personality and life philosophy?

    SP – I think I’m a bit like Despina. Christophe Honoré made use of that. I have no illusions about anything. I’m never disappointed, never surprised. I think I’m very funny. But I believe that funny people are people who are profoundly desperate. There aren’t many comedians who are just comedians. I think it’s a way to accept life’s axioms, which are very somber to start with. One is born in order to die.

    OL - What are some of your interests, hobbies, and pursuits that are not related to classical music?

    SP – When I was young I used to draw and paint a lot. I had a grandfather who painted very well. He used to copy other painters’ works and wasn’t a true artist himself but he was skillful with the brush and he taught me some techniques. I tell myself that one day when I have time I will paint – because for now it is time that I lack a lot; we travel a lot, I have my family, my children, I try to be home as much as I can. I was just on the beach with my daughter.

    I also would like to have the time to attend other shows like spoken theater and cinema, and travel for myself, not for work. When I was a student I traveled a lot. I spent one month in Iceland, one month in Indonesia, and this is a luxury that I don’t have at this moment, and I hope to recover later at some point when I’ll be singing less, or teaching. I’d like to have a whole free month for myself. Between our birth and our death we need to find an equilibrium, to live for something that is not just what others want you to live.

    I am very strict about contracts. I don’t have an enormous career because I have never sacrificed my vacations for a contract. If I plan vacations even though they are short, then I’m on vacation. Otherwise life is just wind and air. I have a need for true values.

    My daughter just sat for the Baccalaureate. She will get the results tomorrow. I hope she will pass. I wanted to be close to her and it’s one of the reasons why I accepted this contract in Aix which is close to Marseille.

    On the other hand I’m less able to watch the other operas here, because an evening with my family is more important than watching Pélleas. I see other things more when I’m for example in Amsterdam for two months all by myself. I come home for the weekends but on other days during the week when I’m not performing I want to see everything, the ballet, the plays. But right now I’m like a Mother Hen, I want to be at home with my chicks.

    OL – Well, listen, I liked very much your answers. You are very intelligent and authentic.

    SP – Thank you.

    OL – I apologize for going over the thirty minutes you had planned.

    SP – Oh no, it’s my fault, I’m very talkative. It was a big pleasure. And I thank you for accepting to do the interview over the phone, because like I said it is hard for me to go back to Aix on my days off. Most people prefer to do interviews in person, seeing each other face to face.

    OL – Yes, but over the phone it works too, anyway.

    SP – Yes. Are you going to watch Trionfo as well?

    OL – Yes, this evening.

    SP – Oh, good. I think it is very interesting too, and very particular. I would like to know what you’ll think of it. [Editor's note - all the reviews including the Trionfo one can be consulted by clicking on the link provide above for our Festival d'Aix coverage]

    OL – Everything here is of the highest quality, so I’m sure it will be very good too.

    SP – I hope so, especially because Emmanuelle is a conductor whom I love enormously.

    OL – I interviewed Emmanuelle today at lunch time, and her answers were fabulous.

    SP – She is extraordinary. She is one of my best friends. We regretted it because at one point we hoped to be together in this production.

    OL – You have recorded CDs with Emmanuelle, right?

    SP – Yes, we have a long history together in Baroque music. I met her through Christophe Rousset. I would have loved to be in this Trionfo. But in any case, I also loved a lot this concept by Christophe Honoré for Despina. I don’t think I’ll do Despina again, or Così, but we need to find the good sides of everything, and I found his production very interesting. And then, I’m a big fan of his work as a film director. I love his films so meeting him in person was very nice.

    OL – Among your recordings, which one do you find to be your favorite, the most accomplished?

    SP – I have special fondness for my very first Mozart with the Naive label, “Mozart Opera Arias.” There were two Mozarts with Naive; the other one with Ivor Bolton is called “Desperate Heroines,” but I have a lot of tenderness for the first one.

    In terms of DVD I love very much the Alcina we did in Brussels. I don’t think it’s been already released [Editor’s note – by now, it has, on January 13, 2017, on blu-ray, together with Tamerlano - we just ordered it; stay tuned for the review]. It was with Pierre Audi, who is a stage director that I love enormously, avec whom I have a true collaboration.

    Evidently this role is the anti-Despina because she is violent. She is a power girl, a magician. The production was very special. I don’t know how well it will be rendered on DVD. But in any case, what we prefer is always what is next, because once it is done, it’s too late. [laughs].

    Another recording I love is “Le Triomphe de L’Amour” also with Naive, and Jerome Correas, because we did one hundred years of French music, and my debut was with William Christie in French music. William was the one who launched me with this repertory. Jerome at the time was a singer, and now he is a conductor with this ensemble that is called Les Paladins. When we had the opportunity to make this CD twenty years later, for us it was like a map of our journey. It was a way of thanking William Christie who launched us and made us love this French repertory.

    There arias from the last part of the 17th century, until the pre-Classical. It’s in touch with my French culture and it is a different vocal style. I also evidently love Handel but these two recordings starting with my first Mozart and going through my French history are significant for me.

    With the latest Mozart recording it was a way to check this box and close this cycle, because I was able to insert roles that I wasn’t able to sing when I was a debutante, like Sandrina from La Finta Giardiniera or Donna Anna which are roles much heavier than what they could give me at the time. By now they are roles I’ve done on stage, so for me there was a sense of an evolution from the very high notes of the first disc to notes that are more in the middle range, because it’s in the same sense of my evolution in life.

    OL – Thank you again for this very pleasant interview. My only regret is that we can’t take a souvenir picture together!

    SP – True! Are you staying in Aix for a few more days?

    OL – No, I must leave in a couple of days; I’m going next to La Scala then to the Berlin Staatsoper.

    SP – Oh too bad, because tomorrow I can’t be in Aix; I have to go to Paris to the American Embassy to get my working visa for the upcoming tour. Every time it is so complicated!

    OL – Yes, I’m glad that I’m a dual citizen of the United States and Italy so I can work anywhere in the European Union without a need for a working visa.

    SP – Ah, that’s the best way.

    OL – OK, I know you need to go see the other journalist, so, I’ll let you go. Thank you very much!

    SP – Thank you. Good bye!


    Let's listen to the singer, here displaying truly stratospheric quality; this clip is to die for. We understand what she said about the long, sad, acute lines; she does it exquisitely, and her considerable talents were indeed a bit wasted with Despina.

    The lyrics first, then listen to it!

    Ah, mio cor! Schernito sei!
    Stelle! Dei! Nume d’amore!
    Traditore! T’amo tanto.

    Puoi lasciarmi sola in pianto?
    Oh Dei! Puoi lasciarmi, oh Dei, Perche?

    T'amo tanto, puoi lasciarmi sola,
    sola, sola in pianto, puoi lasciarmi,
    Oh, Dei, perche?

    Ah, mio cor! Schernito sei!
    Stelle! Dei! Nume d’amore!
    Traditore! T’amo tanto.
    Puoi lasciarmi sola in pianto,
    Oh Dei! Puoi lasciarmi, sola,
    sola, sola in pianto, puoi lasciarmi,
    Oh, Dei, perche, perche?

    Puoi lasciarmi sola in pianto,
    Oh Dei!
    Puoi lasciarmi, oh Dei, perche?


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