10 Questions With Danielle de Niese

Next season San Diego Opera will welcome soprano Danielle de Niese to the Company to sing her first staged Norina in Don Pasquale.

The Aria Serious crew is extra excited about this because we've been big fans of Danielle ever since we caught a glimpse of her in this Youtube video of "Da Tempeste" from Handel's Julius Caesar in Egypt. In it, you not only get to hear an artist of incredible talent, precision and skill, but get to watch someone who is clearly in love with what she is doing. Plus, she has some pretty snazzy dance moves.

After watching this video we sought out her recordings (we do love the Baroque) and have been fans ever since.

So you can imagine our delight when we heard Danielle would be singing with us in 2012. More so, you should've seen the happy dance we did when Danielle agreed to answer a few questions by email last month. Or perhaps not,  our moves are not nearly as good as Danielle's. Needless to say we were excited. Nervous. Dizzy. We decided we'd come up with new questions for Danielle but in the end couldn't think straight so we asked the same 10 or so questions we always ask. And we're glad we did. Because it showed us that yes, this is indeed an artist who is in love with her work, with music, with life.

So without further ado, Danielle's 10 or so Questions...

San Diego Opera (SDO): First, welcome to San Diego Opera – we’re incredibly pleased to have you making your Company debut with us as Norina in Don Pasquale. Where in the world are you these days and what are you singing right now?

Danielle de Niese: (DN): Right now I’m on an airplane from London to New York. I’m flying there for 24 hours for a photoshoot for Marie Claire Magazine! Normally I wouldn’t go anywhere for just 24 hours, but I’ve been picked for a short list of inspirational people in all fields, and I couldn’t pass up a chance to be photographed in the group picture and meet all these inspirational women! Singing-wise, I just did a packed out concert last night at the legendary 100 Club in London (where the Beatles and the Rolling Stones performed!) as part of a series called Limelight which brings classical music to new and modern venues! It was the epitome of cool, and the public response to classical music in this context was amazing!

SDO: Norina is a role debut for you, can you tell us why you decided now was the time to add her to your repertoire?

DN: I sang scenes of Norina’s in a young artists concert while I was an apprentice in the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artists program, so I was completely bitten by the bug then! But I felt it was important to wait until I’d made some growth in my voice and in my technique before taking on these Donizetti roles. Vocally and technically, they are very intricate. So I waited until I knew I was ready before accepting to perform this role, and I’m beyond thrilled that I get to make not only this company debut, but also a role debut with San Diego Opera!

SDO: I hear it’s been quite some time since your “audition” with Ian Campbell and your appearance on our stage. Do you care to share this story with us?

DN: Well, I was 17 when I sang for Ian Campbell- I was quite honored and excited to have been asked to audition at such a young age. I went onto the main stage of San Diego Opera and sang O mio Babbino Caro! It’s so nice to be able to reconnect with him 15 years later for this debut!

SDO:  Confession: we’ve had your Handel LP on constant rotation in the office for months and months but we’ve finally taken it out and have been obsessing over your new one: Beauty of the Baroque. Besides being able to sing it gloriously (wow!), what is it about this era of music that draws you to it?

DN: There are so many things that have drawn me to Baroque music, and that keep me coming back to it. This music is the backbone of modern classical music as we know it. Baroque music also allows me to compose alongside composers like Handel because the Italian da capo aria form has you return to the A section and sing it again with ornamentation. So this allows me to write my own ornaments, in a sense composing directly in the inspiration of Handel! This dichotomy between the structure and rules of Baroque music and the requirement to ornament according to one’s taste is amazing to me- this freedom within the form. The other thing I love about Baroque music is that you never feel stagnant or stale in a role even if you’ve done it before, because you can tailor your ornaments, tempo, interpretation according to the needs in any particular production of dramatic requirement. So every time I sing a big Baroque role, it is tailored and custom-made to fit the production, so it’s always fresh and new, and you can return to interpret pieces you know very well with new eyes.

SDO: Are there any dream roles that you would love to sing and why? And since we’re dreaming it doesn’t even need to be in your fach…

DN: Within my Fach, I would love love love to sing Massenet’s Manon one day- I just know this role has got my name on it, and I am waiting patiently until I’m vocally ready to take on this very demanding role in all its complexity!

SDO: What was your introduction to opera and how did you decide this was the path you wanted to pursue?

DN: I had been singing in perfect pitch almost before I could talk, but I would have been about 5 years old when I myself realized that I had a voice.My parents were instrumental in the birth of my dreams, because they were the ones who noticed that I has a special talent at such a young age, and they enrolled me in a number of classes to allow me to experience different activities and see what I enjoyed the most. I chose to become an opera singer because of all the things I studied as a child (Piano, Ballet, Jazz Dance, Tap Dance, Music Theory, Drama, and Voice), classical music was the thing that made me feel most special and distinguished. I think I realized even at 8 years of age (when I took my first classical voice lessons) that being able to produce a classically trained sound in my voice was a gift and something I couldn’t ignore. I also really really LOVED it, and still do- it’s like a love affair that continues even today!

SDO: Fill in the blank section: “If I was not an opera singer I would be...

DN: ...an olympic gold medalist in figure skating and ice dancing”

SDO:  Two parter: What’s your favorite part of being an international opera singer? What’s your least favorite part?

DN: Favorite Part- EVERYTHING! Least Favorite Part- packing suitcases and trying to fit everything in!

SDO: Some people say there is more to life than opera. We think they’re crazy too. But we’ll humor them: do you have any hobbies?

DN: I like watching films, so I suppose that’s a hobby of sorts.

SDO:  Do you have a book next to your bed? What is it?

DN: Right now the book I have near my bed is My Names is Memory by Ann Brashares (which my best friend has recommended to me) but I haven’t had time to start reading it! I also have my own personal diary which I’m 30 months behind on. My diary doesn’t even know I’m singing at San Diego opera, so I better get writing or I’ll never catch up!

SDO: Name three bands or musicians on your iPod that aren’t opera related.

DN: Daughtry, The Script, The soundtrack to Vicky Christina Barcelona, Dave Matthews Band, The Indigo Girls, Imogen Heap, Natasha Bedingfield, The soundtrack to Something’s Gotta Give, The New Radicals, Parachute, Alexei Murdoch, Owl City…. That’s just to name the sounds I listen to when I’m getting ready for a performance! 

And PS, Dear Danielle's Diary - Don Pasquale opens Saturday March 10, 2012 for four performances.


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