• The Exclusive Opera Lively Interview with DANIELLE DE NIESE

    Luiz Gazzola had the privilege of interviewing in London Danielle de Niese exclusively for Opera Lively. [Opera Lively interview # 40] She is friendly and enthusiastic, and so vivacious! It is a pity that the interview has to be published in writing, since it cannot render the singer’s lively intonation and emphatic phrasing. Talking to her was a genuine pleasure. We have edited out some of the colloquial language, but not all, to reproduce the flavor of this friendly talk. Read on below this delightful interview, after our customary blurb about the artist's facts, biography, and discography. In addition to Almaviva, another Opera Lively journalist, MAuer, contributed with questions.

    Photo Copyright DECCA-photo by Chris Dunlop, used with permission

    © Opera Lively - Disclaimer: this exclusive interview is copyrighted by Opera Lively with all rights reserved, and is not to be reproduced without express authorization. Brief excerpts can be used after consultation (use the Contact Us form) as long as proper credit and a link to the full interview on Opera Lively are provided. Links to the interview can be posted without authorization.

    Artist: Danielle de Niese
    Born in: Melbourne, Australia, in 1979; moved to Los Angeles, California, in 1990. Lives in Glyndebourne, Sussex, England, since 2009
    Fach: lyric soprano (also coloratura)
    Recently in: Australian tour with the Australian Chamber Orchestra
    Next in: Summer concerts - Festival del Sole, singing Baroque arias; Castello di Amorosa in Calistoga, Napa Valey, California, July 17, 2012 [www.castellodiamorosa.com]. Central Park, New York City, July 25, 2012 (free). Brooklyn Bridge Park, New York City, July 27, 2012 (free).

    Artistic Biogragphy:

    Danielle de Niese's "sweet, gleaming soprano," "phenomenal musicality" and "sharply comic, yet utterly moving acting," combined with an entrancing physical presence, have launched her into a spectacular career. She has been called "Opera's coolest soprano" by the New York Times Magazine and "not just a superb performer, but a phenomenal one" by Opera News. Marie Claire magazine has named de Niese to their influential 2011 "Women on Top" while The Independent sums her up saying "With de Niese around, not much else matters."

    The Australian-born American singer who "looks like a pop diva but sings like a real one" (St. Louis Post Dispatch) regularly appears on the world's most prestigious opera and concert stages and has an exclusive recording contract with Decca. For her debut solo album, Handel Arias, released in 2007, de Niese was named New Artist of the Year at the 2008 ECHO Awards, received the 2008 Orphee D'Or by the Academie Du Disque Lyrique, and was nominated for the 2009 Classical Brit Award for Female Artist of the Year. The Mozart Album followed in 2009 while Diva was released in July 2010 throughout the United Kingdom. Beauty of the Baroque, de Niese's latest Decca release of favorite arias from the English, German, and Italian traditions, accompanied by The English Concert under Harry Bicket was released in summer 2011 in the UK and in early 2012 in the US.

    Through a combination of her recordings, live performance, and television exposure de Niese has gained wide recognition as a highly respected but popular classical artist, who combines effortless grace and class with the ability to communicate on every level. Most recently she appeared as a judge on the new BBC series Maestro at the Opera, a creative collaboration between the BBC and the Royal Opera House Covent Garden which chronicled four well-known British television personalities as they became "apprentice" conductors. She appeared on ITV1's recent Popstar to Operastar series, and she is also the subject of her own TV documentary, Diva Diaries, which appeared on BBC4 television. In the United States, she has been featured on the nationally syndicated program Better TV.

    Ms. de Niese's 2011-12 season included the role of Ariel in the Metropolitan Opera's world premiere production of The Enchanted Island - which was shown in movie theatres worldwide on January 21st, 2012 as part of the Met's HD Broadcast series. She received spectacular reviews for her role debut as Atalanta in Handel's Xerxes at Theatre an der Wien, and triumphed as well in her San Diego Opera debut as Norina in Don Pasquale. She returned to her native Australia for a six-city tour with Richard Tognetti and the Australian Chamber Orchestra. Upcoming performances include concerts in the Metropolitan Opera's popular Parks series and her debut in Brussels as Adele in Die Fledermaus, as well as recitals both in Europe and the US.

    Ms. de Niese's career got off to a formidable start when, at age eighteen, she became the youngest singer ever to enter the Metropolitan Opera's Lindemann Young Artist Development Program. A year later she made her Met debut as Barbarina in Le nozze di Figaro in Jonathan Miller's acclaimed new production with James Levine. Soon after came important operatic debuts with the Netherlands Opera, the Saito Kinen Festival, and the Paris Opera, but it was her portrayal of Cleopatra in a David McVicar production of Handel's Giulio Cesare for her 2005 Glyndebourne Festival debut that brought her true international acclaim. The New York Times hailed De Niese's performance, writing, "Her singing is utterly delectable and completely assured... Sheer 'joie de vivre' and mastery come spilling across, to the eyes as well as the ears."

    Ms. de Niese has enjoyed continued successes on the stages of the Paris Opera, Zurich Opera, Royal Opera House Covent Garden, Netherlands Opera, Teatro Real, San Francisco Opera and Lyric Opera of Chicago, among others. She has sung with conductors including Sir Charles Mackerras, Kurt Masur, Seiji Ozawa, Nicola Luisotti, Sir Andrew Davis, William Christie, Christophe Rousset, Marc Minkowski and Emmanuelle Haïm. Orchestral engagements have included appearances with the New York Philharmonic, Cleveland Orchestra, National Symphony, San Francisco Symphony, and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. Important recent opera engagements include the title role in L'incoronazione di Poppea with Madrid's Teatro Real, the title role of Semele at the Thêàtre des Champs Elysées, Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro with San Francisco Opera, Despina in Così fan Tutte at the Metropolitan Opera, the title role in Rodelinda under the legendary Nicholas Harnoncourt at Vienna's Theatre an der Wien and her first performances as Adina in L'Elisir d'amore at the Glyndebourne Festival.

    Born to parents of Sri Lankan and Dutch heritage, Danielle de Niese grew up in Los Angeles. The soprano has been captivating audiences since childhood, when she was a fixture of Los Angeles local television hosting a weekly arts showcase for teenagers, for which she won an Emmy Award at the age of 16.

    De Niese (called Danni by her family, friends and colleagues) is married to Glyndebourne Opera Festival’s chairman Gus Christie. The couple lives in Glyndebourne, Sussex, England.



    Albums, Recitals, Sound Tracks on CD:

    Handel Arias
    The Mozart Album
    Beauty of the Baroque
    Prima Donna (with others)
    Hannibal – Sound track (with others)

    Complete Operas on CD:


    Complete Operas on DVD and Blu-ray disc:

    L’Incoronazione di Poppea – DVD
    Les Indes Galantes – DVD
    Giulio Cesare – DVD, Blu-ray
    Così fan tutte – DVD
    Le Nozze di Figaro - DVD

    To buy the above from Amazon.com Danielle de Niese store: [click here]

    To buy the above from Amazon.co.uk Danielle de Niese store: [click here]


    Opera Lively Exclusive Interview with Danielle de Niese, on July 1, 2012

    OL - You participated in three productions conducted by William Christie that we profoundly love – Les Indes Galantes with Les Arts Florissants; the Glyndebourne Giulio Cesare directed by McVicar, and The Enchanted Island at the Met. I think it would be really interesting to learn some backstage or rehearsal happenings for these productions; about working with William Christie, or anything really that you could tell us about the creative process there, to make us feel that we know a little more about these initiatives rather than just being loving but passive spectators. So, let’s start with Les Indes Galantes. Can you please describe your experience doing it?

    DDN - Ah… yes, yes, oh yes, beautiful, good choices. OK, Les Indes Galantes was in 2003, and it was my very first experience with French Baroque music. So, I have to say, I was very nervous. Bill Christie accepted to take me on with only an audition tape. Normally you have to go and sing for him. The Paris National Opera had played a video of me singing Cleopatra in Giulio Cesare, and I had done an audition for the music staff there, singing French Baroque music. They vouched for me to Bill, and he accepted to take me, so I was very happy.

    I was told by many of the singers that he was wonderful, but I had to make sure that on the first day I made a good impression because it would really go a long way with Bill, so I was very nervous. But then a horrible thing happened. I had been assigned a date to go for my swearing-in ceremony for my United States citizenship, and it was scheduled for two days before my musical rehearsal in Paris with William Christie. So the Paris National Opera agreed very graciously to release me, and they said “as long as you are back by Monday morning for your first musical with William Christie.”

    So I got back for this musical at 6 o’clock in the morning; my flight arrived and I hadn’t slept, and I was so nervous that I didn’t go back to my apartment, I went straight to the theater, and I rested from 8 to 10:30 and then I had this musical. And luckily the gods were with me because I somehow was able to sing quite well even though I hadn’t slept. I had this wonderful musical with Bill Christie and he was so pleased with me! I got along so well with his continuo, and I dove straight into all the French Baroque style endeavors, to make the music great. And so that was the beginning of my wonderful, wonderful, wonderful relationship with Bill Christie.

    It was a wonderful experience, I loved doing Hébé, I loved the challenge of singing with this acrobat; he lifted me with one hand and I sat on his hand. For the whole portion of an aria I was balancing on his hand. It’s quite amazing actually when you look at it! I don’t know how I did that. (laughs) I don’t know how *he* did that! But it was pretty amazing to do that, gosh, it was just incredible, the whole experience was wonderful. I would love to do Les Indes Galantes again and be all the soprano roles, because every role is so beautiful!

    OL – And what about Giulio Cesare? That one was so extraordinary, you danced [she laughs], you moved around a lot, it was spectacular. What can you tell us about that one?

    DDN – Well, Giulio Cesare was actually a surprise for me. I had auditioned for Glyndebourne in 2004, for the role of Adele in Die Fledermaus. I got the role and that was scheduled for 2006. But in 2005 I think maybe in March I got a call from my manager saying that Glyndebourne had lost their Cleopatra in Giulio Cesare due to illness. When I did Les Indes Galantes I remember talking to Bill and I was saying, “awesome, what else are you doing?” and he said “oh, we are doing Giulio Cesare for Glyndebourne in a couple of years” and I said “oh wow, that’s exciting!!” Little did I know I would get this call, in March or April, saying “would you like to come one year earlier and sing Cleopatra?” At the last minute! So the rehearsals were in May and of course I said yes, and then I came one week late because I was singing Tytania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Chicago.

    So because I had those performances already scheduled they knew that I would arrive one week late, but that was OK. The thing about Giulio Cesare is that people look at the DVD of that production and they say, “oh the role was created for you!” But actually it wasn’t easy. When I got there after that first week, David McVicar and Andrew George the choreographer had decided to make the first number a dance routine before they ever knew me, and also the last number as well. So when I got there they said, “oh hello, nice to see you, we’re glad you’re here, thanks for coming, now get up there because you got to get working.” So they set up about three hours to learn the first routine, and in one hour we were done.

    OL – Did you have a dancing background before that?

    DDN – I took dancing lessons in jazz, ballet, and tap dance from 6 years of age to about 16. So, yes, I did; I mean, I didn’t dance professionally at all but I definitely had the capacity to pick up a choreography and execute it in a way that was definitely helpful at the time. So this is when it all became really very creative, because after that, they realized “my God, we can do a lot with this!” So David changed his mind about a lot of things and decided to turn other numbers into dance numbers, and then it took off and became a collaboration where it was more tailor-made, I suppose. But the whole experience was incredible!

    But what people don’t know is - they think, “oh you took dancing lessons so it made it a lot easier” - but actually funny enough it made it a lot harder for me, because as a dancer you’re trained to tuck in your abs and support in a very different way than when you sing. So, when I was doing the rehearsals I was only marking, I didn't want to sing out until we made all these routines. So I was saying “yep, I can do that. Yep! I can do that too. Ok, I can do that, I can try that, I’ll do that…” And then suddenly when it came the time to sing it I was hyperventilating on the stage, because I couldn’t possibly do so much movement with my heart rate so high *and* then sing at the same time. So I had to go and practice many, many hours on my own to figure out when were the moments when I could be a singer and when were the moments when I could be a dancer.

    OL – Wow, and when we watch it, it seems so effortless! So good! [see it below on YouTube, it's lots of fun!]

    DDN – (laughs) Thank you. But it was very, very hard, and I’d always think that people could hear me panting, but they never did!

    OL - Lately when one sees some of the positions singers are in when they’re performing these very difficult arias – one wonders, “How on earth is he or she able to sing like that, lying flat on the back or hanging upside down, or something similar?” Anna Netrebko reacted to a criticism that she was breathy in her Traviata with Villazón in Salzburg in 2005, and she replied something to the effect of “yeah, have you noticed that I was running all around the stage and singing upside down? How wouldn’t I be breathy?” Have we perhaps gone too far in the opposite direction? Are stage directors placing unreasonable physical demands on singers?

    DDN – Well, I think it’s only unreasonable when the singers decide that it cannot be executed. My personal take on it is that you should always try something before you say no. So, there are lots of times when sometimes doing an interesting movement can provide a healthy distraction from the difficult passage or singing. So it’s good for singers, you know? If you are concentrated on doing something else maybe you stay out of the way of vocal production, and so it can make it easier because you are doing something else. In the case of unreasonable demands, you can’t say anything is unreasonable until you decide you really cannot execute the singing the way that you want.

    OL – And if you say that you can’t do it, do they scale back their intentions?

    DDN – Yes. For me, I’ve never ever had a problem, I’ve always tried everything. If there is something new that really, really doesn’t work I think everyone can see it, and then it’s reasonable, there is great respect between director and singer at least in the rehearsals that I’m in, because they know that I’m willing to do just about anything, at least I’m willing to try before I say no. Then if it doesn’t work I can say, “gosh, this is really difficult to actually do well in this position; is there any way I can modify it in this way or that way, you know, would you be OK with that?” then they will say, “yes, of course!” You know, I’m willing, for the challenge. There’s a lot of things that I’ve done that were crazy, I mean, when I sang Tytania in Chicago Opera Theater in 2005 I was singing all these high C sharps and things while lying on my back with my pelvis thrusting up in the air, on a chaise, on a lounge. And it was just like crazy, but it worked.

    OL – That Giulio Cesare, we find it to be one of the top five opera DVDs ever made; that was just extraordinary.

    DDN – Oh, I’m so happy! Yeah, I always say to people that for me it’s like Titanic was for Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. For those two actors to be part of that during that period of time that changed everything, that had such a massive success and a massive impact! And Giulio Cesare was like the Titanic of the opera world, you know? It just had a global impact, and people knew it from the moment we were rehearsing. You could feel that there was a gasp in the air; people would come to us and go, “oh my God I hear that Cesare will be really good!” People would come and watch our rehearsals. When we did the first run of the first choreographic number of Cleopatra, as we finished it I was on the side hyperventilating, but everyone else was clapping and they were so excited! It was an opera that really changed the game. It really changed the way we use choreography, and I think people will look back in history and realize that it was one of the very first productions - one that really pushed it – that had not just choreography on the stage but actually the singers themselves participating in full of the choreography.

    OL – Well, but not everybody is as talented as you are.

    DDN – Oh, this is really sweet. No, I mean, it was very, very hard. You know, I did it four times, and each time I thought “oh I must have some reserves out of having been used to doing this before” and each time I didn’t; I had to start from the beginning again, to learn again how to regulate my heart. I always had to do cardio exercises on a treadmill while I was rehearsing, trying to sing some aria while running, because I had to get used to singing with a high heart rate.

    OL – Wow, incredible! Have you used these techniques you learned at Glyndebourne later in other productions?

    DDN – Yes, but it’s not really a technique to learn, it’s just kind of getting used to performing with a very high cardio rate, so, I think the more cardio fitness you have the better it is. When I was cardio healthy, when my heart was healthy then it was easier, you know?

    OL – OK, so, the same for the Enchanted Island, what can you tell us about it?

    DDN – Yes, The Enchanted Island was another one of those very challenging aerobic productions. It was slightly different from Cesare, because, you know, in Giulio Cesare you had moments where it was very aerobic, but you had moments when you’d just be static. Whereas for the way that I created the role of Ariel… Ariel was always engaged in some sort of balletic movement. Ariel was never just static; she was always with her legs spread and her arms out, because she is a sprite, so she is always moving. This became quite exhausting during the rehearsals. But I knew the character needed to feel like she could leave at any moment. So that was definitely a challenge, I had to work with a lot of body padding, I had a belly and things like that. That was really challenging.

    Metropolitan Opera production photo used with permission

    One of the greatest things about doing this pastiche was that it could become completely your own. The singers had a say in the arias that we wanted, because two, three years before we were asked to make a list of the arias that we liked and we would like to sing, that we’ve never sung before but we dreamed of singing, so in that way it was very interactive. Very tailor-made, it couldn’t be any more tailor-made unless it was a world premiere.

    OL – Right. I read some harsh criticism of it that I completely disagree with.

    DDN – Oh really?

    OL – They were saying, “oh, we can’t put together all these arias in English that don’t match the sounds of the music,” and I was thinking, “it’s a pasticcio, what do you expect? That’s the point of it!”

    DDN – Yes. Yes. I must say, I myself was curious, you know, about how French music and Italian music would go… because in French music you have the trill that is very different, while in Italian Baroque singing the trill is what we hear in: [she sings], whereas in Italian music it is: [she sings again, in a different style], and it has a very different sound!

    [Editor's note - listen to her answer to this question including her vocal demonstration by clicking (here), which will take you to an mp3 file on Soundcloud]

    OL – Right!

    DDN – And I thought, “whoa, what will this sound like when you put it together; what if you take the French away, what would it be? Well, what is French music without the French?” I didn’t need to worry about it too much because in my role Ariel does not have any French music, so I was very relieved about this. But what I discovered is that even in the other roles, the pieces that are French when you take away the language, the syntax of that particular language, the English actually ties everything up; it is the English that ties the styles together. So I wasn’t offended by hearing a piece of French music sung in English.

    OL – Interesting.

    DDN – And I think we the singers would have been most offended if it sounded funny.

    OL – Yes. And that scene in which they throw a shell to you from inside the prompter box, that was so funny!

    DDN – (laughs) You know, what’s really funny? Before they did those fake shells, OK, the first shells they tried were actually real shells, so when they threw the big one up at me, it was heavy, and when they threw it up, it came back down and it cut my lip open.

    OL – Ouch!

    DDN – So, when I did the dress rehearsal I had a cut lip but no one saw that, because we didn’t do the HD until later. But it was very painful to sing. Yeah, we had to practice those scenes so much because it was so difficult to get it right, like “what if the shells fall, or they’re thrown at the wrong momentum, they can hit you.” It was quite a lot of practice for Ariel. Ariel uses lots of props. Lots of things for the spells, the dragon’s blood, the shells, the dragon’s teeth, shark’s teeth, so many different props Ariel has, plus wings. So I had to practice with wings for a lot of the rehearsals, and harnesses, so, yeah, it was great. And of course one of the highlights was singing with Plácido Domingo. This was so moving for me; I was almost crying every time on the stage, just looking at him.

    OL – Was it the first time for you with him?

    DDN – Yeah, just to see what a consummate artist he is, and to know that after so many years of singing he is still so excited to give his all on stage, to be the character. He plays everything to the fullest, and we just had some beautiful moments together on stage. We would always help each other, and say how happy we were; it was very, very moving for me and a huge honor to share the stage with him.

    OL – Thank you for these wonderful answers. Let’s keep going. You did some Broadway work in Les Miserables, and you participated in the sound track of a Hollywood movie, Hannibal. How different or challenging are these experiences for an opera singer? And recently, you’ve been filming Master Class with Faye Dunaway. You portray one of the students who is attending a master class with Maria Callas. What is it like to act in a motion picture or to be in these different settings? For the musical you have the microphone and several performances every week, but maybe with the microphone you don’t have to use your voice as much.

    DDN – Yes. In the Broadway music, yes, you’re doing more shows. I wouldn’t say you’re using your voice less, but I do think it is very tiring, or must be for some singers; you’re singing every night. But if you sing with good technique you can do it. The thing is, people always think that in musical theater you don’t use your voice as opposed to when you sing opera; you know, that in opera you have to push because you don’t have a microphone. But it’s not the case; if you have a good technique you don’t have to push at all. It’s just well supported singing. So in that sense I don’t think that musical theater is less of an effort versus opera being much more, because it is the same effort as long as you’re singing well. One has amplification, though, so, you know, there’s less of a need for projection; you can even whisper and people will hear it, whereas you can’t whisper on the opera stage. But it has nothing to do with pushing or anything.

    OL – And did you like doing it?

    DDN – Yeah, I really enjoyed it. I really, really enjoyed it. It’s a very different kind of life, you know? But in some ways it’s the same. When I did those shows or when I do opera or when I do concerts, I just live and breathe for the show. And you do everything to preserve yourself and conserve energy in between the shows.

    OL – What about acting in a motion picture, what is that like?

    DDN – Ah, so different, it’s soooo different! And there are wonderful things you appreciate about the job you have if you are going to make films. We have the luxury of telling a story from start to finish. Any live theater, opera, play, musical; you tell the story from the beginning to the end and you take a journey, whereas in film it feels very segmented because you are not telling the story in chronological order; you’re telling the story based on what location is free. So, sometimes you shoot a scene that is midway through the film when you haven’t shot the beginning and you don’t even know the person you are kissing, you know? So that is a luxury, being able to be in the theater.

    But then, of course the other thing great about film is that you don’t have to worry about many things, because you’re not singing in the film. You don’t have to worry about the temperature or if there is air conditioning or heating, or if you had enough food to eat, or if you have enough energy for the show, or if you’ve slept enough. You don’t have to worry about all these things that singers worry about. It’s so much easier; you just… go. So in that way it is quite amazing, and I really love the whole experience of doing a film. It’s just so different; the lens is your audience.

    OL – I see. Well there were other singers who had notable film careers – the soprano Grace Moore was probably the most extensively involved in the movie industry…

    DDN – Yes, Geraldine Ferrar was a silent movie actress. Risë Stevens…

    OL – Yes, Risë Stevens played alongside Bing Crosby in Going My Way. Do you think you’d like to be more involved with motion pictures in the future?

    DDN – Yeah, I think I would! Depends on what happens, you know, what comes my way.

    OL – Have you been asked?

    DDN – I have been asked for a few projects but I’ve not been free to entertain the notion of auditioning for a film; but fine, they’ll come along, and when the time is right it will be right.

    OL – OK. Let’s shift gears to another topic. You began singing at a very early age. In fact, you were the youngest winner of “Young Talent Time,” an Australian TV talent competition. You also began taking voice lessons when you were eight years old, and had pretty much made up your mind already then that you wanted to be a classical singer, or more specifically, an opera singer.

    DDN – Yes, that’s right!

    OL - Do you remember what first made you interested in opera singing at that early age?

    DDN – Well I had been doing already a lot of singing and dancing in a lot of different performances. Singing, dancing, ballet, tap, everything. But at eight I took my first classical lesson because my parents knew already that I was really good and I was definitely showing that I wanted to do singing and dancing. But they thought “it would be really good if Danni had some classical training because that way she can do any kind of singing she wants with a good solid technique.”

    And so this is what started me to take these classical lessons but then we discovered during the lessons that I could produce this sound classically trained so easily and it was so beautiful and easy and wonderful and I really loved it, so, I think for me it became quite clear then - that this was something that would really make me really special; even more special than doing pop singing or musical theater, or anything else. I just fell in love, really, truly like a love story; I fell in love and then I knew what I wanted to do. I became like an Olympian, you know; Olympians always dream of being a figure skater or sprinter or something from when they’re young. And that was like, me!

    OL - Do you remember which one was the first opera you saw live on stage?

    DDN – Aw, I can’t remember… Maybe The Marriage of Figaro, maybe Tristan.

    OL – Wow, starting by Tristan, huh?

    DDN – Yes. I mean, I remember seeing a lot of those when I was younger; Traviata, I just don’t remember which one I saw first.

    OL - There is a lot of concern today about developing new audiences for opera, particularly among young adults. Already as a pre-teen, you began hosting a weekly arts program for youth on a Los Angeles TV station, for which you received an Emmy Award at 16. You made your debut with the Los Angeles Opera at 15.

    DDN – That’s right!

    OL - So you have unique expertise in arts outreach for young audiences. What are some of the things you think opera companies should be doing to engage teens and young adults? What kind of staging you feel has a better chance at succeeding with teens; edgy or traditional? Or, what opera companies should be doing for outreach, in terms of gathering the younger audiences?

    DDN – For me personally, the biggest thing that I think appeals to young people is a 100% commitment from the artist, and a really strong personality. My biggest thing is connecting with the audience. Making a connection is really important. The idea of them just seeing the opera… OK, it’s very nice, but it may become a distant memory just like a school trip. But if you make a bit more of a connection, you make the effort to go and meet the kids, to talk to them, to let them see you up close and personal, to tell them… You know, I spend a lot of time talking with them about what I do and how I started and how young I was and how it was so unusual and yet I really wanted to do it and I wasn’t going to just follow the crowd and just do something else out of peer pressure.

    There are a lot of important messages that I have for children, about never being too young to be passionate about something, never feeling too inexperienced to explore. Because I’m a living example of that, and because I come from a mixed background [Editor’s note – her parents are of Sri Lankan and Dutch descent] a lot of children can relate to that in some way; being different. They look at someone like me and they think “I could be that person!” And I say to them “I was you at one time, you know, as a young kid.” I think it’s very powerful for them and they make a strong connection with the classical music. If they feel the person is there with them, they connect with that person.

    And they ask me so many amazing questions! They ask whether I met any obstacles, whether anyone told me that I couldn’t do it. Like the moment of my debut at the Met when I was 19 years old. This kind of thing, they’re very, very proactive with me, they feel comfortable talking; this is why I love doing it, and I’ve been doing it since I was twelve, so…

    And now I started to work with His Royal Highness Prince Charles and his foundation Children and the Arts. I just became a patron of another charity for providing training and opportunities for disadvantaged children called Future Talent, which is founded by the Duchess of Kent. So there are a lot of charities I got quite heavily involved with because of the fact that they see me as a really good role model for children, for people who want to start young, because I started young as well.

    OL - You are very involved with social media: you blog for the Huffington Post…

    DDN – That’s right!!

    OL – You’re on Twitter, you’re the “Diva for the Digital Age…”

    DDN – That was so exciting, the blogging for the Huffington Post, oh my gosh…

    OL - And, of course, you have a Facebook page. So it’s clear that communication and interaction with your fans – of which there are thousands – is quite important to you. How do you balance being very accessible to the public and still managing to be a private person?

    DDN – I think I have a pretty good balance. I’m accessible in a way that I want to be accessible; do you know what I mean? I’m not telling people what I had for breakfast; it’s about connecting with insights; it’s about some of my daily activities, I don’t think I’m sharing every single detail of my life with people. The most important thing about social media is that it is now a way for people to connect with each other. You see when you’re in a live concert that people feel the need to connect to other people on social media, like “I’m at this concert and it’s amazing.”

    People write me during my concerts and say “oh my God this act one is amazing!” They like to connect and be social about something that they’ve experienced as a body of people. And so that is a really nice way to connect to people; it’s a way that we didn’t have before but it is a way that we have now, and it’s a very nice way to exchange energy with people. Because we give a lot of energy, I like receiving energy from other people also, that’s why I do live performances.

    OL – Yes, excellent. What about those BBC series? You were featured in their series, “The Diva Diaries,” and served as a judge in the “Maestro at the Opera” series that is co-produced by the Royal Opera House. You also made an appearance in a very different type of program, ITV’s “Popstar to Opera Star.” This show, and the involvement in it of well-known singers such as Rolando Villazón, has not been without controversy. How would you respond to the music critics and others who argue that this type of programming does a disservice to opera?

    DDN – I think I’d respond to these critics the same way I’ve responded to my own friends who’ve said the same thing – I mean, the premise of the competition Pop Star to Opera Star was not about saying that a pop star could in a few weeks become an opera star. The premise was: “let’s see, of these contestants who are famous in other fields, which of them could take a stab at learning to sing opera and give it their best shot.” That was the premise, because the person who won the competition was not getting a debut with a real opera house, like Royal Opera House or the Metropolitan Opera. It was just that they won the competition.

    So if you accept the premise for what it is, then yes, it’s valid. OK, it’s a sort of fluffy thing. But one of the reasons why I went on the show is that I thought it was important for real opera singers to be represented on the show. So I was really excited to do that, and I really believe in opera, and they believe in the legitimacy of what I do, so I was very happy to go up there and sing Mozart, you know, pure legitimate Mozart, and then marry it with a duet with Mika who is a pop singer but he is classically trained as well, you know; so he brought his integrity to his part of the piece; I brought my integrity to mine, and I thought it was important to represent opera in Pop Star to Opera Star, so that’s why I appeared in the show.

    OL – Nice answer. So, recently, Sir Colin Davis complained that modern-performance orchestras are being edged out of the Baroque repertoire by these period ensembles. From your experience, do you believe this to be true? And how do you feel about the trend towards Historically Informed Performances as far as Baroque operas are concerned?

    DDN – Huh… well… I mean, definitely with the wave of historically informed performance practices, that brought a new legitimacy to Baroque ensembles, so they are essentially saying “this is how it was actually done versus how other people have been interpreting it in the past.” I suppose that it is true in some way, what Sir Colin Davis says. And I suppose one could say on the flip side that Baroque orchestras would never be allowed to do Mahler for example on Baroque instruments, or Puccini, or Verdi, or Massenet, you know, so I guess in some ways I suppose there is room for everybody.

    But I do understand that there are modern orchestras who would love to play Handel, who would love to play Vivaldi, and I think, I still do concerts with modern orchestras where I perform repertoire ranging from Handel to Donizetti. I’ve been very pleased to work with them and to sort of explore the earlier repertoire so I personally haven’t been limited; I haven’t chosen to limit my Baroque to only Baroque orchestras. I’ve really had great joy in working with modern orchestras as well. So I had a great time, I think I’m endeavoring to not discriminate against modern orchestras and I’m very happy to do Baroque repertoire with them, so I’m working in Sir Colin Davis’ favor, I suppose.

    OL – OK, good. You’ve mentioned that Massenet’s Manon is a role that strongly appeals to you.

    DDN – Yeah, I’d love to do that one day…

    OL – So, does that affirmation mean that you are planning to move on from Baroque at some point?

    DDN – Yeah, I mean in some way I’m currently moving on from Baroque. It doesn’t mean that I’m leaving Baroque; I’m just bringing in other composers into my repertoire. So, the past two years I’ve been bringing in Donizetti, I did my first Adina last summer at Glyndebourne Festival, and then I’ve done my first Norina in San Diego Opera in February, and I will do Norina again in a new production of Don Pasquale at Glyndebourne next summer. I’m doing a lot of concerts in July for the Metropolitan Opera in Central Park and Brooklyn Bridge, and I’m doing a whole array of repertoire, but one of the main composers is Donizetti. This is the right time for me to bring that composer into my repertoire. I’m very, very happy that I waited until it was the right time vocally. It’s important, so that you don’t place unnecessary pressure on yourself if you do it too early.

    OL – Hm, hm, yep. You did contemporary opera once, RAAFF by Robin de Raaff, in 2004. [Editor’s note - click here for more information]

    DDN – Yes, RAAFF, yes! I’ve done some modern pieces but that one was the only modern opera that I’ve done as a world premiere, which was fantastic!

    OL – And is it much more challenging to sing contemporary music?

    DDN – No, no, I don’t think so. I mean, I think that there are challenges to the way contemporary music is written, so the execution of contemporary music is quite difficult. But in some way there is a freedom you have, you know; you’re not doing a role that is going to be compared with such and such’s version of the role. So you have a different kind of liberty.

    OL – Yeah, because you’re the creator.

    DDN – You’re the creator, yes.

    OL - Are there plans to visit this repertory again?

    DDN – Absolutely, absolutely! I just came back from a tour with an Australian chamber orchestra, and we did a world premiere that they commissioned for me, for my tour, which the composer dedicated to me, a Carl Vine piece, based on Patrick White’s novel The Tree of Man, so he entitled it Tree of Man, written for me, and it was a ten-minute chamber piece, beauuuutiful! And I look forward to doing another contemporary piece that James MacMillam is writing for me, and I will do a brand new world premiere at Chicago Lyric Opera in 2015, called Bel Canto.

    OL - You are not only very much in demand by the opera houses and concert halls – and one might add, TV networks – but you’ve been involved with some other very interesting projects. In 2011, you were a featured speaker at the Technology, Entertainment, and Design Conference – referred to as TEDGlobal – in Edinburgh.

    DDN – Yes, the TED conference, that’s right!!!

    OL - Can you tell us about that?

    DDN – Hmmmm… it was wonderful! Wow, this conference was incredible because it brought together so many brilliant minds. I was asked to open the conference with a performance [Editor's note - see video below], and then I got a standing ovation by an audience full of geniuses. I was pretty amazed and happy. And they came on after, and said, “that’s a voice that launched a thousand ideas.” Because, see, TED is really about the sharing of ideas and inspiration. Some of the talks that I stayed on to watch were absolutely groundbreaking in terms of being inspiring, being caring of the Earth, conserving its resources… Music has a great ability to bring people together in this way, so it was a huge honor to be a part of the conference.

    OL - Your three next engagements sound like a lot of fun – a concert in a castle in the Napa Valley, and Central Park and Brooklyn Bridge Park concerts. Why these venues?

    DDN – Well, I love the music that is performed in traditional venues, but it is also beautiful to take music to untraditional venues, and to really explore the way in which you could share music in big venues, but also in intimate venues. So, for me being a part of IMG’s Napa Festival is like being part of my own home festival, because it’s a big IMG family; it’s many people we know and love and respect, and tend to collaborate with musicians who are in the same roster with us, so that castle concert will be fantastic. I did one there in 2007 and it is under the stars. Actually all the concerts I’m doing are outdoor concerts, so that is one thing that ties them all together.

    And of course the Metropolitan Opera in New York; I’ve never done these concerts in the park; I’ve always sung at the Metropolitan Opera, this is the first time I’m starring in a concert that is going to have a limitless audience. I don’t know what the capacity is, but I think that the audience can reach thousands upon thousands, so I’m really excited to bring opera to that grand landscape of Central Part and Brooklyn Bridge. It should be great! I’m inviting all my friends, so, it will be great fun.

    OL – I’m sure it will be great. So, you live in Glyndebourne and you’re married to the chairman there.

    DDN – That’s right.

    OL - And it is a very fine opera company. Is there a temptation to become a Glyndebourne resident artist like they do in other parts of Europe like in Germany and Eastern Europe where people just stay in one company, and stop all the crazy travelling?

    DDN – (laughs) Hmmm… I think if I had a different kind of career, that might be something that I would consider, but even if I were to consider it, I don’t know that this is something that Glyndebourne would consider. And certainly it’s not an option for me because I have too many engagements all over the world, and the scope of my career has already had a global presence around the world. If I were to stop now, it would be really like pulling the plug on my presence in another countries, and I have so many fans that look forward to hearing me perform with companies that I really, really enjoy working with! My home company is the Metropolitan Opera, but Chicago Lyric, San Francisco Opera, Vienna, Amsterdam, there are lots of places I really, really enjoy singing in, and it would be a shame to limit my career and stop working with those companies.

    OL – But here is a traditional question we always ask – is it too taxing for the person, to be travelling around as much and have less of a family life? Do you feel a need for – say, in fifteen years – slowing down?

    DDN – I don’t know; I have to see when I get there. Yes, absolutely, travelling takes a toll on your family life and personal life. We try to regulate that in a way that makes it possible that you can travel and sing but also still see your family. You know, it is doable. It is doable to have family and have a career at the same time; it just takes a lot of smart management and organization, really.

    OL – The last question. You seem to be a very happy person.

    DDN – (laughs hard and for a long time)

    OL – Right. Can you describe your personality for us?

    DDN – Yeah, I would say that I’m a pretty happy person. You know, you make your own happiness. I think I probably had always a very happy personality but I’ve always been a really hard worker. I’m a real family person; I’m very, very close to my family. They mean everything to me; so when I’m with them I’m extremely happy. When I have my work and my family and my loved ones on the same place I become even happier. I’m very lucky that I have such a supportive family as well.

    OL – And do they come to see you?

    DDN – Yes, my parents come to every premiere that I do; they were just with me in Australia.

    OL – Wow!

    DDN – Yes, so, it’s beautiful, to celebrate my homecoming this way.

    OL – I think we’re about reaching the 45 minutes you said you had.

    DDN – It was lovely talking to you today! And if you have any other questions, just write them down and send them to me! And when the interview is ready, I’ll tweet it and get it out there.

    OL – Very good!

    DDN – Great!

    OL - Thank you so much and good luck in your next concerts and operas. You are a wonderful singer – and person!

    DDN – Thank you! Take care! Bye bye!


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    Comments 5 Comments
    1. Schigolch's Avatar
      Schigolch -
      Perhaps the best role of Ms. de Niese so far is Monterverdi's Poppea.

      With her acting skills, I think she could be great performing more 20th century and contemporary opera.
    1. Dark_Angel's Avatar
      Dark_Angel -
      Excellent interview.....

      Danni is such an energetic positive force, she could succeed in almost any project and make everyone else perform thier best, a great role model for opera industry and a lovely person to hang with

      I'm glad you told her how much we adore her DVD work in Cesare and les Indes
    1. Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
      Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) -
      Dear readers, we've added a small mp3 file with her recorded answer to one of the questions, since she demonstrates the difference between the trill in French and Italian music, by vocalizing. The link has been added up there, but here it is as well: [click here to listen to Danielle talking to Opera Lively].
    1. Vesteralen's Avatar
      Vesteralen -
      Thanks for this interview. I do have two of her concert CDs and I've seen her on DVD, too.

      The question you asked her about whether she would complain to a director that something was too difficult to do was interesting, as was her answer. But, it reminded me of another question that I know I would never have the delicacy to ask, but I'm curious nevertheless: In these days of Regietheater, do any performers have personal boundaries about what they're willing to do on stage from an acting or costuming point of view? Or is it more a matter of , "well, you accepted the role - now you just have to do whatever they ask you?"
    1. Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
      Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) -
      Quote Originally Posted by Vesteralen View Post
      Thanks for this interview. I do have two of her concert CDs and I've seen her on DVD, too.

      The question you asked her about whether she would complain to a director that something was too difficult to do was interesting, as was her answer. But, it reminded me of another question that I know I would never have the delicacy to ask, but I'm curious nevertheless: In these days of Regietheater, do any performers have personal boundaries about what they're willing to do on stage from an acting or costuming point of view? Or is it more a matter of , "well, you accepted the role - now you just have to do whatever they ask you?"
      This question has been asked of, and replied by, many of our interviewees. Some were pretty close to walking out. Some said they'd try something first - so that they couldn't be accused of not even trying - but if they felt it was really impossible, they'd speak up and generally the director would listen.

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