It is always a pleasure to welcome a new singer to our Company, especially one we’ve been hearing so much about in recent months. So it is our great pleasure to welcome American soprano Lise Lindstrom to our Company. Lise will be making her Company debut as Turandot in the season opener. Turandot is a role that has become her calling card in recent seasons and the role she sang at the Met for her debut (two weeks early with just a few hours notice) as well as just about everywhere else. But she is equally acclaimed for her Senta in The Flying Dutchman, Amelia in A Masked Ball, Ariadne in Ariadne auf Naxos and Giulietta in The Tales of Hoffmann. Lise took time out of her incredibly busy schedule (she’s getting ready to sing her first Tosca) to answer our 10 or so questions. We’re really excited to welcome her to our Company. And we’ll get to welcome her back. She sings Salome with us to start the 2012 season.
San Diego Opera (SDO): First, welcome to San Diego Opera – we’re very excited to welcome you to our Company. But first, so I don’t make a fool of myself when we actually meet in person, how do you pronounce your name?
Lise Lindstrom (LL): I know it’s a bit tricky. It’s “Leezeh”, or “Leez”, but not so much, “Leesah” as in the typical American “Lisa” version.
SDO: Turandot - this is a role you’ve made into your calling card all around the world. How does a nice California girl approach playing an icy Chinese princess with a predilection for riddles and bodiless heads?
LL: Ha! Well, I’ve got to say that I feel very lucky to have met this crazy Chinese/Italian Princess. Yes, she has a bit of an anger management issue, or I should say an inappropriate sense of justice, but she is a strong woman that won’t allow the fate of her ancestor, Lou-ling, to be repeated. While I certainly find the concept abhorrent that Turandot’s personal vendetta has cost so many lives in such a very gruesome and careless manner, I understand that she doesn’t want to be “conquered” by anyone let alone an undeserving foreign Prince! In spite of her delusion, she is a strong woman. Consider the other strong women that Puccini created: Minnie in “La fanciulla del west”, Tosca in “Tosca”, and certainly Liu in “Turandot”. These are all women that take a stand for their beliefs and therefore control their destiny and the destiny of the opera. I find this type of “feminine thinking” to be right up the alley of a nice California girl.
SDO: You made you Met debut as Turandot with just a few hours notice late last year. What went through your head during those hours? And once there, how was the view?
LL: Oh my goodness, that was one heck of a fantastic experience! Honestly
, in those few hours leading up to my stage appearance there wasn’t much time for anything other than the business at hand. Of course I was thrilled and very excited! But, there was so much going on and so many people coming in and out of my dressing room that I just barely had a second to think about what was really happening. I think it all settled into focus when David Kneuss, my director, took me by the hand during the intermission between the 1st and 2nd act to walk me to the stage for the first time. Previous to that moment, I had never set foot on the stage nor the set and had only tried on the costume in a fitting. He literally held my hand as I scaled the stairs and narrow walkway in my costume for the first time as the stage hands were finishing the set during the intermission. That was when I started shaking a little to be sure! Then the moment for my entrance came and I walked that narrow little walkway to sing “In questa reggia” on the Met stage for the first time – well, that was a moment I will never forget in the midst of an entire night that I will never forget. It was as if time stood still. To say that it was thrilling would be a supreme understatement! And, to make it even better, my family and many of my friends were able to listen to it live on Sirius XM! Ah, the joys of technology!
SDO: Your favorite moment in Turandot? No. You can’t say “curtain call.”
LL: What is my favorite moment in Turandot? How can I choose? I just love singing this role. I love all the twists and turns in her character and in her music. I especially love the challenge of making her human and relatable. Turandot arrives on the scene mid-way through the opera and sings some of the most vocally tricky and dynamic music in the entire operatic repertoire immediately without any chance to warm up to the audience or to warm up the voice. But, within that dynamic appearance there is the nearly impossible challenge to present her softness and femininity amidst all that sound and exclamation. I love that challenge.
SDO: Your dream role that you’ve yet to sing?
LL: Isn’t every role a dream role? I honestly think anything that Puccini wrote is something I’d like to try. Minnie in “La fanciulla del west” is a lady that I would love to sing and create on stage. Other roles that I’d love a chance with are Lady Macbeth in Verdi’s Macbeth, Leonora in “Fidelio”, Maddalena in “Andrea Chénier”, Leonora in “La Forza del Destino”, and the Kaiserin in “Die Frau ohne Schatten”.
SDO: Tell us about your introduction to opera? What was your path to get where you are today?
LL: My mother was a singer who received her Master in Music degree from Eastman School of Music. By the time I was on the scene, Mom had been teaching music for many years and I was soon being babysat by her high school students. I was exposed to a variety of music from an early age in addition to dance and piano classes. I think my Mom’s heart sunk a little when I announced at 17 that I wanted to be a professional singer. In fact, I clearly remember both she and my Father asking me if I could please be interested in any other profession since singing was a very tough pursuit. Their prophecy definitely proved to be true and after many years of study, failed auditions and heartbreak, I was on the verge of giving it all up when the beautiful “Turandot” found me. This role not only changed my life, it saved my voice, and changed my destiny.
SDO: Fill in the blank section: “If I was not an opera singer I would be __________”
LL: a) miserable
b) a completely different human being
c) social worker/cashier at Target
or d) all of the above!
SDO: What’s your favorite part of being an international opera singer?
LL: I get to travel to these amazing places and work there for an extended period of time. It allows me to feel a little bit like a local and get under the skin of a city.
SDO: Least favorite?
LL: Not being able to pack and carry along with me everywhere: my husband, my very own bed and my bathtub
SDO: Some people say there is more to life than opera. I know, we think they’re crazy too. But we’ll humor them: do you have any hobbies?
LL: I’m taking suggestions!
SDO: Do you have a book next to your bed? What is it?
LL: “Tosca’s Rome” by Susan Vandiver Nicassio
SDO: If you could invite anyone, living or dead, fictional or real, to dinner at your house, what would you serve them?
LL: What makes you think I can cook?
SDO: Name three bands or musicians on your iPod that aren’t opera related.
LL: Coldplay, Stan Getz, Eddie Izzard
SDO: Where in the world are you right now and what are you singing?
LL: I have just returned from Amsterdam and Berlin and am now in upstate New York at Glimmerglass Opera. We open our production of “Tosca” in 5 days. This will be my role debut as Tosca – and I’m loving it!!!!!
Turandot opens January 29, 2011. For more about Lise, visit her lovely website here.