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Volume 11 Issue 8 - May 2006

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ecently in town

ecently in town interviewed by Pamela Margles American soprano June Anderson first sang in Toronto in April 1995, replacing an indisposed Mirella Freni in a concert with Freni's husband, Nicolai Ghiaurov. Now exactly eleven years later, Anderson was back in Toronto, this time replacing Elena Prokina in Bellini's Norma for the COC. This turned out to be a coup for the COC - there is no better Norma singing today. Critics and audiences soon caught on, dazzled by the unmannered purity of her voice, and the brilliance of her technique and intonation. Tickets quickly sold out. I spoke with Anderson in the middle of the run. 'Technique is something that I work on all the time,' she said, 'because it changes every day. You think you've solved one problem and another one comes out. It's a constant battle. But I had a wonderful teacher.' 'I was sick about ten years ago. The disease destroyed muscles that I used for singing. I had to find other muscles to do a similar job, so I know exactly what I'm doing on any given day. It took me about five or six years to work my way back to being able to sing properly. By that time my teacher had passed away, so I just had to remember things that he had told me, and find new ways of doing old things. I came close to saying, "I can't do this anymore," it was so frustrating.' Her repertoire is versatile, but she made her mark in bel canto. Recently she has been exploring the German repertoire, with works like Capriccioand Daphne by Richard Strauss. 'After I did Norma for the first time, I got bored with a lot of be! canto. Norma is so incredible that most other parts pale in comparison, dramatically. And I'd already spent a lot of years on them.' She started out with high, florid roles like Mozart's Queen of the Night (it's her voice for the Queen in the film Amadeus), 'and worked my way down.' But she is not a typical coloratura soprano - her voice, though extremely agile, is big, with lots of shading, and a rich centre. 'Strangely enough, given my repertoire, I'm not a high note person. I love a more mellow sound. If I could have chosen I would have been a mezzo-soprano. People will de- 14 scribe me as a dramatic coloratura, but I don't like labels - I'm a soprano, basically.' 'I actually think the best thing I do is the legato line. I'm really good at the coloratura, but that's not something I can take credit for. To do it easily is just a facility that some people have and others don't. You can learn to do it better, but it's a natural ability. Callas, Sutherland, Sills all had it. But that's not what singing is all about, as far as I' m concerned. It's just a little whipped cream.' 'That said, there are singers who have really good coloratura and don't have very good pitch. That screws things up a bit. I'm a fanatic about pitch, as someone doing the kind of music that I'm doing should be. If you' re not going to do all of those notes and do them right, why bother doing them? Someone in an opera chorus once came up and said to me, "You are the pitch." I loved that.' Beyond her technique, what impressed Toronto audiences was the expressive intensity of Anderson's stage presence. 'Singing is an art that should communicate. If you leave somebody cold then you haven't done your job, especially with a part like Norma. It's a hard night's work. There are other roles that demand many things, but Norma is so complete. Dramatically it's asking everything, and vocally it's asking more than everything. And it's very long. It's her all the time. ' 'I started doing Norma in 1997, and my performance has changed a lot. I've learned to pace myself. I've figured out what can and can't be done. I think of her as a successful modern working woman. She's trying desperately to have a private life - and it's just not working. I like Norma a lot. She's tough. She has a conscience, which stops her from killing Pollione, the father of her children, who she once loved even though he's a bastard . I wouldn't mind having somebody like Norma as a friend, because she's the kind of person you can really count on.' 'I didn't sing Norma until after I'd had my heart broken and everything turned upside down in the worst nightmare relationship.' She laughs. 'I've known my Pollione, and mine was even worse than Norma's. But it does help to have actually had that experience of having your heart absolutely ripped to shreds by somebody. All Bellini's male characters are basically bad news, even when there's a happy ending.' 'At first I had to really work on the aggressive part because Norma is so much stronger than I am. It's kind of remarkable that I've had the career that I've had, given that I've never tried very hard to make anything happen. I'm not an aggressive person at all, which has had an impact on my career. I just kind of let things flow. But I was always very careful what I did repertoire-wise because I didn't want to hurt myself. I guess that's why I'm still singing. ' Anderson hasn't done a lot of contemporary WWW. THEWHOLENOTE.COM "I LIKE NORMA A LOT .... I WOULDN'T MIND HAVING SOMEBODY LIKE NoRMA FOR A FRIEND." music, but her recent experience with The Bassarids by Hans Werner Henze was a happy one. 'I accepted it because the Chatelet Theatre is a seven minute walk from my apartment in Paris. We had an extraordinarily talented conductor, Kazushi Ono. He even made me like Henze's music.' 'I saw that this score wasn't unhealthy. And has a certain lyricism, albeit sometimes a little weird. When you put the music together with what's going on in the orchestra, all hell breaks loose. My character is very dramatic, with a mad scene that is so moving. I brought to the role all my backround in be! canto. You don't find too many Normas doing this kind of thing. I came to really appreciate this amazing work, although we had one of those typically French experiences - an orchestra strike, for the first time Henze's opera was being performed in France!' 'When I'm working on a part, once I've made most of my decisions I'll listen to someone I admire to see what they've done. Usually that's Callas. I love her voice, even though I often don't agree with what she's doing. I learned both what to do and what not to do by listening to her. She is so clear dramatically, and so intense. 'But you've got to find your own road, so luckily I never tried to copy her, which so many sing- ers have gotten themselves mixed up trying to do. Most of the people I started singing with are now not singing anymore, which is sad because this age is part of the prime.' 'For someone who pretty much never wanted to be a singer - I was going to be a lawyer - I do see now that I've had a much more interesting life than if I'd been a lawyer.' Of her many roles, Cunegonde from Leonard Bernstein's Candide is one of her signature roles. 'My time with Bernstein was probably the best of my career. We had an ideal connection - two people putting their own ideas together and coming up with new ideas that no-one else could have.' 'So often people either want me to tell them how I want to do something, or they want to tell me how they want to do it. To be in a situation where you are actually collaborating is what I'd always hoped for in my musical work, and I found it with Lenny. He was one of the most intelligent people I've ever met. He could quote poetry in several languages - that just got me. He had such extraordinary passion and humour. He was over the top in lots of things but he really was a genius.' Anderson worked frequently with Luciano Pavarotti, including in the infamous Daughter of the Regiment at the Met in 1995, which was supposed to be Pavarotti's big comeback in his most famous role. 'Oh, that was interesting. I didn't ever want to do this part again, but Luciano kept calling me. Of course, Luciano ended up doing only halfofthe performances ..... Well, CONTINUES ON PAGE 16 MA v 1 - ) UNE 7 2006

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