Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A Star Ascending

Danielle de Niese in Recital
February 27, 2009

Weill Recital Hall @ Carnegie Hall

Soprano Danielle de Niese
The 28-year-old soprano Danielle de Niese is still ascending in what’s so far been a meteoric rise, with performances on opera stages around the world (including recent Metropolitan Opera performances of Orfeo ed Euridice) and a best-selling CD, Handel Arias, on the Decca label.

The Australian native and northern New Jersey resident--currently on her debut recital tour with pianist Ken Noda, which ends at Weill Recital Hall in Carnegie Hall on February 27--spoke before a Met rehearsal about all things music.

Kevin Filipski: You were born in Australia, and now you live in New Jersey. Can you explain how that happened?
Danielle de Niese: Well, there’s a lot in between that. (laughs) I was born in Australia, my parents are both of mixed descent and were born in Sri Lanka, a British-Portuguese colony. They have mixed Scottish and Dutch ancestry, and my last name is Dutch. We moved to California when I was 10 years old, and I came to New York to go to the Mannes College of Music, and then the Met Young Artists program. When my parents moved out here, we decided to settle in New Jersey—coming out here from LA, where we had lots of room and dogs and things, and move into a tiny apartment didn’t seem right.

KF: With that background, the story of your musical career must be equally interesting.
DDN: I started singing at a very young age, about 6. I took dance lessons and piano. At 8, I started to take classical voice lessons--my mom had taken them, I was curious, and immediately realized how special and different and important it was. I was smitten by the classical music bug: I knew I wanted to be an opera singer, which is very unusual at that age. I was very lucky that my parents were very supportive, and they did what they could do to help support and nurture my talent. It’s one of those things: when you fall in love, you know--and I just knew. My mom is still my closest teacher and coach, and my dad’s parents sang, so there was a lot of music around. It was very natural—music is a huge part of my life, as evidenced by my hefty Ipod, which I can’t go anywhere without. I can’t imagine my life without music.

KF: You‘re making your New York recital debut at the end of February. How important is this performance to you?
DDN: Very important--I labored over this program, and I had to keep cutting it down. It bothers me because there’s not enough time to do all the music I want to do. It’s tough to narrow down each composer you want to sing--choosing is difficult, because they’ve written lots of songs that you feel are perfect for your voice, or you love their melodies or the story they tell, and you think, “I cannot live without this.” So it took months to get it right. It was very hard to pare it down to six composers. I don’t want to get to where the audience collectively says, “Enough already.”

KF: Talk about the composers you ended up choosing.
DDN: I took on Norwegian songs by Grieg, an inspired musical moment that forced me to take on an inordinate amount of work, since I don’t speak the language. Most singers do it in German, but it works so much better in Norwegian, since it was written with that language in mind. It’s worth all the blood, sweat and tears I’ve put in. The Poulenc songs I know well, they’re so French, which is what I love about them. What strung the three Barber songs together is they’re texts by James Joyce, from Finnegans Wake, which may be the most difficult novel in the English language. It is pretty incredible--there are certain words in these songs that are so wonderful to sing. Barber wrote incredible music for these texts—he really “got” Joyce‘s mysteriousness and incredible denseness. I love that torment—I’m drawn to that sort of thing, which is why I also love Wolf‘s songs. Maybe I don’t have enough strife in my life (laughs).

KF: You recently performed at the Met, a 4000-seat theater, and your upcoming recital is in the 268-seat Weill Recital Hall. How do you prepare for each of these totally different performances?
DDN: One of the many joys of doing a recital is you’re not doing one character, as in an opera—you’re doing many characters, many mini-operas. Creating an ambience, a story, an emotional response, in two or three minutes—I love it. It’s also so intimate, especially at Weill Recital Hall. There’s something very personal about a recital—unlike an opera, where you’re combining your work with the vision of a director, which doesn’t always jell. But a recital is your own show. And to end my recital tour in Carnegie Hall, at a place like Weill Recital Hall, will be a sort of graduation experience for me. I’ll know a lot of people who are there, and it will be a nice occasion to share everything I’ve gone through in the last decade, to catch up in an artistic way—showing where I am now. I’m very excited about my homecoming.

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