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You seem to be moving in a new direction with all this Wagner and Mahler…
Yes – thank goodness I had a lot of superb training at Glyndebourne, which prepared me very well. I didn’t realise I had that dramatic sound in my voice until Vladimir Jurowski offered me a concert performance of Tristan a while ago. He seemed to think I could do it and I appreciated that leap of faith. I had sung Das Lied von der Erde with the Concertgebouw and many other orchestral lieder by Mahler so despite performing Handel’s Giulio Cesare at the same time, Brangäne’s music felt very natural. I will confess though that her extreme outbursts initially made me want to apologize to the rest of the room! I felt slightly uncomfortable with Wagnerian hysteria.
You seemed very suited to the character at your Prom performance with Simon Rattle and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment this summer…
Actually Simon came to that rehearsal of Tristan with the LPO and Vladimir and that’s how the Prom came about. Simon was offering different ways of doing things, giving me more space than I’d been used to. He’s a wonderful accompanist; he invites the orchestra to accompany and never dominates, but at the same time he is also able to take the lead.
Has the OAE has played a role in this shift in repertoire?
In a sense – if they know a voice, they are interested in how it develops and changes. I am interested also hearing and watching them play such muscular music. It requires a completely different mindset and physicality whether you are a violinist or a singer. The phrases are longer so I have to take these ‘turbo-thrust’ breaths – using different muscles in my back …basically every single sinew in my body! I think the OAE were surprised by the amount of sound I was making. They had never heard me sing like that before. Mind you, I’d never heard myself sing like that before!
You’re about to sing Mahler with them – and with the LPO and Philharmonia orchestras…are you on the crest of a wave?
Perhaps – I’m not on the way down yet! I think the main thing is that I keep having lessons and expanding the repertoire. Wagner is a relatively new addition but I feel comfortable with his lighter lyrical music. I keep being invited to sing more Brangänes, so I must be doing something right!
Interview commissioned by Askonas Holt Ltd, written by Andrew Mellor