Tuesday, October 18, 2011

10 Questions With Lise Lindstrom

Those of you who attended San Diego Opera's performances of Turandot last season will surely remember Lise Lindstrom, the lovely soprano who made her Company debut in the title role - her signature role. We saw and heard a superlative artist with incredible stage presence and stunning vocals. And behind-the-scenes we got to make a new friend who quickly placed herself on the Aria Serious "Awesome List" (oh yes, we have a list) with her humor, intelligence, grace and generosity.

Saying goodbye to Lise after the last performance of Turandot we knew we wouldn't have to wait too long for her return as she'll once again sing the title role in the season opener, Salome.

Lise took time out of her busy schedule to answer our 10 or so questions... and here is what she had to say.

San Diego Opera (SDO): First, welcome back to San Diego Opera – we’re very pleased to have you return to us to sing Salome. Audience members are still talking about your Turandot last season and always ask me what you’ve been up to in the past few months. What should I tell them?


Lise Lindstrom (LL): Thank you! I’m thrilled to be coming back!

Probably the most exciting thing that has happened since being in San Diego was my Teatro alla Scala debut last April/May. I was singing the role of Turandot, and it was truly an amazing experience. Milan is a lovely city and my time with everyone at La Scala was incredible. It was a new production by Giorgio Barberi, conducted by Valery Gergiev. My entire experience in Milan is something that I will never forget!

SDO: Turandot and Salome – both strong women. How are they similar?

LL: While they are both strong-willed and insistent young ladies, Turandot and Salome might also fall under the heading of “dysfunctional teenager”? Salome seems to come to her dysfunction slightly more honestly as she grew up in a house of deceit and murder. However, Turandot, at some point in her young life, attached herself to the tragic story of her long dead ancestor. Neither of these women live in what we would call, a “happy home”. Salome’s household is characterized by intrigue, deceit, and lechery. She is aggressively objectified by her step-father Herod, hated by her mother, Herodias, and I assume, feels very isolated in her world. Turandot’s home is also less than warm. She lives an isolated life with no real relationship with anyone including her father, the Emperor, or even her closest ministers. Both women are surrounded by servants that attend to their every need, regardless of how absurd. Both women are accustomed to getting their every whim and wish fulfilled. This becomes the challenge then, to find their depth and warmth, and try to imbue these superficially cold and deluded women with humanity and empathy.

SDO:  Different?

LL: Turandot and Salome both have issues with “reality”, but for different reasons. Salome exists in a true house of horror. Turandot has made the house of horror. Salome is surrounded by the conniving, deceitful and deluded. She has no one to attach herself to. Turandot uses methods of intimidation and fear to get her way and seems to be strangely detached to all the murders that have occurred under her hand. Salome, however, seems more sensitive in that she is aware of all the strangeness and even the beauty around her. She proclaims how sweet the air is, how beautiful the moon is, and later, how beautiful and different Jochanaan is. She is able to exhibit an introspection and openness that Turandot only briefly brushes up to after Calaf’s kiss. Unfortunately, this fragility and sensitivity is the cause of Salome’s ultimate downfall.

SDO:  We just produced Der Rosenkavalier last season and personally I find it amazing that the same composer could write Salome, the music is so different. Can you tell us a little about the music of Salome?

LL: Throughout Strauss’ life he was determined to compose in a style that was wholly his own and one that would be compelling for the audience. Strauss certainly achieved both goals with the composition of Salome. Mahler declared Salome “a live volcano, a subterranean fire”. Five years later, and with Elektra in between, Strauss completed Rosenkavalier in his new and modified harmonic language. Rosenkavalier integrated more typically Viennese elements and while still very sophisticated orchestrally, it didn’t require the audience’s ear to be quite so pliable. Salome is an aggressive and percussive piece of music in addition to a disturbing and gripping drama. The audience maybe shouldn’t really like it, it’s not meant to be a “feel good” opera. Regardless, since its premiere, the audience has found this piece to be tremendously powerful and compelling. What has become known as Richard Strauss’ style of musical scenography and dramatic illustration is certainly already in place in this early opera. One’s ear is drawn deep into the work and the genius of the composition between the singer and orchestra which creates the deeply psychological relationships between characters. With his next opera, Elektra, Strauss took this compositional style one step further and it was after Elektra that he was ready to move on to the challenge of finding his orchestral voice in a new and expanded style. This is when Rosenkavalier comes in.

SDO: The centerpiece of Salome is the dance of the Seven Veils. As an artist how do approach this very physical moment of the opera?

LL: This is where the collaboration with the Director is absolutely pivotal. I relish finding the motivation and interpretation for this dance, as in each production is it just a little bit different. As far as the physical demands of the dance, Strauss was clever but not overly generous. Salome has to sing perhaps the most demanding material after the dance, but thankfully he composes a little bit of time for her to be able to recover. In Strauss’ day, it was not uncommon to have a dancer, rather than the singer, dance the Dance of the Seven Veils.

SDO: By the way, are you a dancer?

LL: I wouldn’t say that I’m a dancer, but I studied dance when I was young. Singing requires different muscular coordination than dance, and that was tricky for me to make the transition. Regardless, I always look forward to being able to dance as Salome. Not many dramatic soprano roles offer the opportunity for the singer to dance!

SDO: This season sees you making three more Company debuts as Turandot – how does this role continue to evolve for you?

LL: Turandot, the woman, continues to be an enigma to me, and I think to many people. I love singing this role and I never tire of trying to seek out and bring her warmth to life. So often I wonder what Puccini would have done had he had the time to complete this opera. How would Turandot have developed? Nonetheless, I always hope to deepen my interpretation, and to expand my musical awareness of what the composer was intending. It’s a little like studying a favorite piece of poetry or art, I never get bored.

SDO: You never answered this last time, so what are some of your hobbies?

LL: The reason that I didn’t answer is because my answer isn’t very interesting. My life and my hobbies seem to be one in the same – travel, food, music, art, literature, and meeting new people. I live a perfect life for me that encompasses all my passions.

SDO: Do you have a new book next to your bed? If so, what is it?

LL: I have several books on my bedside table at any given time. Right now they are:

The Gift: Poems by Hafiz (Daniel Ladinsky)

Opera Anecdotes (Ethan Mordden)

Sophie’s World: The History of Philosophy (Jostein Gaardner)

SDO: Most beautiful place you’ve visited in the past 12 months (excluding San Diego, obviously).

LL: That’s also a tough one! I guess I would have to say: Lake Como in Italy last spring, and the Austrian alps outside of Salzburg this summer.

SDO: Since you are coming back to San Diego, anything about our city you are looking forward to revisiting?

LL: It is such a pleasure to know that I am returning to California where I can dip my toes in the ocean, take a stroll on the beach and soak up the easy SoCal lifestyle while working with one of the most professional and inspiring opera companies in the country. That is really something to look forward to!

Salome opens January 28, 2012.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Looking forward to Salome with great anticipation. My last Salome was at the Met with Malfitano--a post-industrial setting and sort of leather-and-dog-collar costumes. At the end of the dance of the 7 veils Malfitano ended up splayed against a white tile wall as if velcro'ed there. Memorable.