In autumn 2012, Opera North’s production in Leeds of Bellini’s Norma won the Theatre Award for ‘Achievement in Opera’. The leading role in Christopher Alden’s widely acclaimed production, was sung by the Dutch soprano Annemarie Kremer. At the same time she was nominated for the Opera-Oscar in London and for ‘Sängerin des Jahres’ in Opernwelt for her performance of Norma. Her superb achievement was met with nothing but jubilant reviews.
Georg Hall wrote in The Guardian: “Her ample, wide-ranging voice keeps faith with Bellini’s notes, maintaining dramatic intensity via seriousness of artistic purpose and commitment.”
Anthony Lias in ‘Opera Brittania’ went a step further and asked: “Where has this Dutch soprano been hiding, why haven’t we heard of her before? And then gave the most obvious answer: “Well, presumably she’s been in the Netherlands honing her considerable talent”.
What Anthony Lias did not know is that, apart from Opera Zuid, no other Dutch opera company has been able to be of any use for Kremer. But in September 2015 she was back in the Netherlands for a short while: with the Dutch Reisopera she performed in one of her starring roles: Cio Cio San in Madama Butterfly by Puccini.
“For a long time there had been talk about me doing something with the Reisopera. First we considered Manon Lescaut, but that didn’t get off the ground. Originally, Billy Budd was planned, but due to circumstances it never took place. But I had just cancelled a production elsewhere and so I was free …
I can’t tell you how happy I am to be able to sing here again. It is really fantastic that all my friends, acquaintances and family members, who have not been able to hear me before – not everyone can go abroad so easily – can catch up now. I am really happy about that.”
The first time we spoke, she had just had a few days off which she spent in her home in the South of France, in a village of just over 5 km² in the Midi-Pyrenée and that has only 142 inhabitants.
“We don’t live in the village but outside it, on a mountain and our nearest neighbours live a few kilometres away. We have 15 hectares of land and our house is surrounded by hilly landscapes with forests and meadows. And the light is so incredibly beautiful here! A real idyll. It has been 14 years since we came here and immediately fell in love with it. I feel very happy here, but I am also a country girl originally.”
Can you tell me about the production of Butterfly?
“Do not expect Japanese folklore: the environment is not really recognisable as such. In the costumes, the Japanese aspect is still there, but without the usual parasols and fans. The designer has studied the Japanese clothing tradition: she has discovered, for example, that there was once a custom of wrapping yourself in a kind of mat to protect you from rain, wind and sun. It still has to be worked out, because I have to be able to move naturally in it, kneel and gesticulate. So far I have only seen pictures of the designs, but I was very impressed with them.
We all have a good time with Laurence Dale, our director. He stands for a personable direction and that’s what we as a cast also want. And I have every confidence in him and our cast.
My Pinkerton, Eric Fennell, is almost the prototype of a Pinkerton. He is American and he is good looking, a young girl may very well fall in love with him. The role of Suzuki is also perfectly cast. She is sung by Qiu Lin Zhang, a Chinese soprano with a very big voice. She is a bit older, which makes it credible that she is not only my confidante, but also my protector. And our voices sound wonderful together, a true symbiosis!
Butterfly is a role that suits me very well. I have sung her so many times that you can safely say that I have made her my own. She is a very strong person with an enormous capacity to love. She always stands her ground, no matter what the production. You can’t destroy her. No matter how often you sing the role, the emotions just keep rising. You have to dose them, because you can’t sing with a throat full of tears. A director once said to me: you have to fight the emotions and you can show that fight, but it’s the audience that has to be moved and cry in the end, not you.”
Trailer of the production:
Annemarie Kremer is known for her interpretations of veristic roles. Does she have a special connection with Verismo?
“I approach an opera character not from Bel Canto or Verismo but simply as a human being. I play all my roles in a very personal and physical manner; nothing must stand between me and the character. I love logic. I approach each role meticulously in terms of how the emotions are distributed, which may be five different emotions within a phrase of only two minutes. If you play the emotions one after the other, they will become clear to the audience, instead of it all being a jumble of a lot of feelings.
I felt that very strongly with Norma at Opera North. I had sung the opera before and the role was already well placed in my body and my throat, so I did not have to pay so very much attention to the coloraturas etc.. Now I could afford to concentrate on my acting even more..”
“I was lucky to work with Christopher Alden, a truly great director. I still have lovely memories of Norma and you could say that Opera North is my favourite opera house. They are like a family, you are supported on all sides. So I’m really looking forward to seeing them again: soon I will be singing Maddalena in Andrea Chénier.
Communication between director and singer is crucial to me. I can be very easy and accommodating when I trust a director, but I also set clear boundaries. Loyalty to the score and the libretto and logic are a requirement for me. Moreover, I refuse (explicit) violence, especially if it is not necessary. It’s bad enough that it happens, you don’t have to show it on the stage!”
Her role debut in the title role of Richard Strauss’s Salome in 2011 at the Volksoper in Vienna, a role she subsequently sang (and still sings) repeatedly all over the world, became a real sensation. GB Opera.it Magazine: “Ovation for the beautiful, talented and sensual Annemarie Kremer. Singled out by critics as the young new Dutch diva, La Kremer immediately shows absolute mastery of the scene and the musical score.”
What is your connection with Strauss?
“I soon found out that Richard Strauss is totally my composer, as sensitive and organic as he composed for the voice. This was already the case when I used to sing his songs and now I felt as if he wrote Salome especially for me!”
What are her future plans? Wagner perhaps?
“I have been offered Isolde a few times and I would like to do it, but certainly not now, I would prefer to wait a few more years. In October I will sing Senta in ‘Der Fliegende Holländer’, in Rio de Janeiro. It is an educational project in which children from disadvantaged neighbourhoods will be involved.
In January 2020, it was time:
“In May 2013 an enormous challenge awaits me: I will sing Ursula in ‘Mathis der Maler’ by Hindemith at the Semper Oper in Dresden.”
“And in the 2016/17 season, in Buenos Aires, I am going to sing Marie/Mariette in Korngold’s ‘Die Tote Stadt’. And there is more Korngold to come”
Annemarie Kremer sings “Ich ging zu Ihm” (Das Wunder der Heliane) in Vienna 2017
“One of my first conscious, deeply emotional musical experiences was when I was nine years old. I was with my mother in Zelazowa Wola, Frédéric Chopin’s birthplace, and on a bright Sunday morning I enjoyed the most beautiful nocturnes, waltzes and sonatas played live through the open garden doors of his birth house. It was as if he was personally playing just for us. Through time, passion, melancholy, but also the joy of life – I was totally overwhelmed! Immediately after returning home, I was allowed to take piano lessons and I studied diligently in the following years, with the intention of making the piano my profession.
Things turned out differently when, at the age of 17, I discovered my natural operatic voice. It was suddenly very clear to me that with this voice I would be able to express all of my passion, melancholy and joy of life. My piano studies have provided me with a very solid foundation which will serve for the rest of my musical life. It’s a pity that Chopin, who, next to the piano especially loved the soprano voice, never felt compelled to compose an opera. I would have loved to sing one of his heroines! “