Thursday, December 24, 2009

Mezzo-soprano Angelika Kirchschlager

Hansel and Gretel
Composed by Engelbert Humperdinck
Conducted by Andrew Davis
Starring Philip Langridge, Angelika Kirchschlager, Miah Persson
Performances December 14, 2009-January 2, 2010

Kirchschlager-and-PerssonOne of the most glamorous singers in classical music, Austrian mezzo-soprano Angelika Kirchschlager has led a somewhat quiet career compared to superstars like Renee Fleming and Anna Netrebko—and she’s fine with that.

Currently starring as Hansel in the Metropolitan Opera’s holiday presentation of Hansel and Gretel, the 44-year-old Kirchschlager has made a point of working when she wants to work and singing what she wants to sing, whether it’s a Strauss opera or a recital of Kurt Weill songs. Living with her 14-year-old son in Vienna, Kirchschlager usually keeps close to home, but when it’s a special occasion like Hansel at the Met, she’ll make an exception—luckily for us.

Kirchschlager spoke recently about Hansel and Gretel, audience etiquette and spending the holidays in New York.

Kevin Filipski: You sing in many European opera houses, which are relatively small compared to the Met. Do you like working in such a large house?
Angelika Kirchschlager: When I started rehearsing here, it was interesting to think about how different all these opera houses are. Covent Garden (London) is so different…the Vienna State Opera is so small compared to the Met. It’s very difficult to describe because each opera house is different. I am very happy here at the Met, because we have a wonderful team for Hansel and Gretel. Every night there is an opera onstage. We’re doing our production, which makes us all happy, with no stress around us. But there’s also a very important new production of Carmen currently in rehearsals, and I realize that the people who put our wigs on our heads have already put other wigs on other heads earlier in the morning! It’s very special to be where there are so many operas going on at the same time.

KF: How do you like this production of Hansel and Gretel?

AK: This Hansel is special to me because I feel like I’m in Disneyland with all these huge cooks and the trees and the long table and the fish, all onstage. It’s incredibly colorful and exciting, and it’s very easy to feel like a child and to become really childish in the part of Hansel. The props people actually bake the cakes backstage and make the decorations for each performance, and I think that’s a special thing for this production. It’s also really dark in its mood, which I like very much. Grimm’s fairy tales are supposed to be dark—people always protest that children should not see this, well, Grimm’s fairy tales are not entirely for children. Apart from that, children like to be scared. Our children are not like the children 100 years ago, they’re not scared at all by being baked by a witch in an oven! Philip Langridge (the witch) is fantastic—to see him at work is wonderful. He’s a great actor, not only as the witch but whatever he does. Miah Persson (Gretel) and I have worked before—we did Rosenkavalier in Salzburg—and here we are a boy and girl again. I’m happy that the chemistry is there between us; especially for Hansel and Gretel, since we are always together onstage, so our connection really lifts up the entire production.

KF: In your recent recital at Alice Tully Hall, there was a moment between songs when many audience members coughed loudly, and you seemed momentarily taken aback. What’s your take on audience etiquette during concerts?
AK: In principle, after a while you get used to it and just accept it, as long as the noise is on an average level. At that Tully concert, they were very attentive and there was a very good connection between us, but at one point, there was this huge storm of coughing. It made me laugh, because I felt like it was impossible for everybody to have to cough at the same time—and so loudly! I find it very amusing to hear that between the songs. I had some mucus on my vocal cords, so I had to cough too, and I had to wait to do it after the song because everybody expects me to not do it. So sometimes I want the audience to know that I do hear and see what is going on—there’s no barrier between us. If I am making my art in the silence, it sounds very different than when there’s coughing and other noise. It’s like throwing dirt on my canvas.

KF: How do you like being in New York during the holidays?
AK: This is actually my first time that I am not at home for the holidays. I always want to stay home for Christmas, but I had the chance to do Hansel and Gretel at the Met! I might not go to Frankfurt or Houston for Christmas, but everybody says Christmas in New York is great. So I talked to my family about it and we decided, why not? And they are coming from Vienna to spend Christmas with me here. We will go see the tree at Rockefeller Center and maybe even go ice skating there. Well, maybe not—I don’t want to break a bone while I’m singing at the Met.

KF: We don’t see you performing enough in New York. Any future plans to return?
AK: I have no plans for the Met at the moment. Singing opera in America is a problem for me—I stopped doing it when my son started school eight years ago. Now I’m 44, and I’ve been doing this for 18 years, and opera is a crazy business that’s very demanding physically. To sing in a four-hour opera like Rosenkavalier, you need to be really fit and build your entire life around the opera for weeks. I worked a lot last year, and many things happened in my personal life, and I’d rather be nearer to home. I was very exhausted at the end of last season—nine months away from home is too much. How long do I want to do this? I’m well-known, I do not have to be famous as long as people want to hear me sing. I am completely happy as long as I can pay for my mortgage and food for my family. I do more recitals now, or short orchestral tours in Europe, which are easier than operas. But I’m looking for new roles to sing and things to do. I don’t know when I’ll come back here, but I would love to return some time.
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