Carolyn Sampson and her flowers

© Marco Borggreve

On Tuesday, 14 April 2015, the British soprano Carolyn Sampson, much loved mainly by early music lovers, made her appearance in the Small Hall of the Concertgebouw with a not so very common programme. This time it was not so much about the composers, but about …. flowers. So no Bach, Handel or Purcell or… but, wait a minute! The last one was indeed represented, because he too paid an ode to the rose.

The Concertgebouw’s website summed up Sampson’s recital nicely: “Normally, opera diva Sampson gets flowers thrown at her, but tonight she offers the audience a bouquet.

With her floral recital, Sampson travelled all over Europe, for which there was also a good commercial reason: the Swedish company BIS released her long-awaited new solo album, Fleurs. Roses, lots and lots of roses, but also snowdrops, jasmine and lily of the valley are not forgotten.

The afternoon before her recital, I met her in the Concertgebouwcafé. It was as if the weather gods had granted her and her flowers that little bit extra: the day was warm and sunny, with a perfectly blue sky. Her four-and-a-half-year-old daughter was playing outside, while her six-year-old son had had to stay at home: he was already of school age and so it just was not possible to take him to Amsterdam.

The children are the main reason she does so little opera, because she would have to be away from home so very often, and she is just not willing to do that. Home is Freiburg, where she has lived for nine years with her husband, who has a job with the Freiburger Barockorchester.

“I do my best not to do more than two projects a month, but sometimes it is difficult to fit it all into the schedule. In April and certainly in May, I am always busier than I would like to be. And don’t ask me why, I just don’t know.
Of course, all kinds of Passions and Easter Oratorios come along then, but I don’t think that’s the only reason. My recitals get also programmed more often in those two months.”

Doesn’t Bach get a bit boring during those months?
“Can someone have too much Bach? Oh no, oh no! Bach is never boring, especially not the two passions. I always discover something new in them”.

“I come from a family of teachers, my father was a maths teacher. Music did not really play a role in our familiy, but at home we had a piano that was always being played.
When I discovered my voice, I went to the conservatoire, but the plan was really to become a music teacher. I wanted that too, it also fitted in perfectly with the family tradition. My teacher did not agree. He thought I had much more to offer and so I was sent to London, where I had to report to Harry Christophers of The Sixteen. And then it happened as it always does: a singer fell ill and I filled in. That was in Handel’s Samson”.

Duet “Welcome as the dawn of day” from Handel’s Samson:

Sampson has already given three recitals in Amsterdam, and she remembers them well. In an earlier performance with Julius Drake she sang among other things various French songs. Repertoire after her own heart. Before the break she sang Liszt and Brahms and after the break came the French songs: Fauré and Debussy.

“Yes, you can safely say that I love French songs, they really do something for me. I also particularly love Poulenc. In 2014, together with Capella Amsterdam, I recorded his Stabat Mater for Harmondia Mundi. I sang it with tears in my eyes. So, so beautiful!”

“I would therefore really love to sing Blanche in Dialogues des Carmélites, it really is my dream role! Hopefully, one day, something will come of, but for the time being she is not yet in the planning. But soon I will sing a role in another beautiful French opera: Melisande! I’m not allowed to tell you anything about that yet, but please know that I’m really looking forward to it!”

‘Vidit suum dulcem natum’ from Poulenc’s Stabat Mater:

“I also particularly like the romantic symphonic repertoire. If I could ever be home alone and have an evening to myself, without any obligations whatsoever, I would put on Mahler’s Second Symphony, I love it. But also Brahms 4 and the Symphony Fantastique by Berlioz. Or anything by Shostakovich, I love his fierceness!”

“I prefe to sing recitals, they are of the utmost importance to me, in the future I want to concentrate on them even more.”

“About my flower project…..
It was Joseph Middleton, my pianist, who came up with the idea. We are not just partners, we are also good friends. So he knows me really well and knows what suits me. So he thought that it was nonsense to come up with the umpteenth Schubert or Schumann, that it would be much more fun to do something with a theme.
The theme of “flowers” was an obvious one. There are so very many songs about flowers! Well, all right then, also about love, sex and women, but … But a flower is actually just like a woman. And vice versa. Yes, isn’t it?

The programme is divided into four sections: the rose, when the flowers speak, a French bouquet and flower girls by Strauss

“Is it true that all sopranos love Strauss? Yes, I think so. Maybe because he loved sopranos so much himself? He composed his most beautiful music for the soprano voice. Actually, he wrote very few songs for the tenor, but when I hear his songs interpreted by Jonas Kaufmann I get quite weak in the knees!”

Sampson’s latest CD just won’t go out of my head, that’s how much I like it. Whether it is Purcell’s surprisingly spicy “Sweeter than Roses”, Fauré’s lightly perfumed “Les roses d’Ispahan”, Strauss’ ethereal “Mädchenblumen” or Lili Boulanger’s poetically sensual “Les Lilas qui avaient fleuri”: it is all very beautiful.


Of course, I could search for all kinds of superlatives to better describe both the choice of songs and Sampson’s crystal-clear voice, but a simple “beautiful” will do, I think. It’s like all the flowers she sings about: bright, fleeting and transient. Like everything else, really.

George Benjamin, Barbara Hannigan and Written on Skin ten years after the premiere

Barbara Hannigan is the muse of many contemporary composers, including George Benjamin. He composed Written on Skin with her voice in mind. It was clear from the beginning she should sing Agnes. In July the 7th 2012 Hannigan sang the world premiere of Written on Skin.

George Benjamin © Matthew Loyd

During the preparations and in between the performances Hannigan kept me informed by an “e-mail diary.”

“George Benjamin and I met three years ago in his house.  I was supposed to show him the possibilities of my instrument. We played a little composer-singer game without words, “composing” together. It gave me the opportunity to show him how my voice moves most comfortably.” 

withe George Benjamin in Aix-en-Provence © Barbara Hannigan website

The first rehearsals took place in London, after which we moved to Aix-en-Provence, where the word premiere would be. The whole “making of” process was quite intense.  My role is very demanding. Looking at the score you might think: finally a composer who does not take advantage of Barbara Hannigan’s high notes, or make her into a stratospheric trapeze artist.  But the music still is extremely demanding.

The vocal lines lie very high and are long, spread out and loud. Rather difficult for the quick moving core of my voice. I had to approach the part very carefully. Particularly from the moment on when the tension in the opera slowly starts to increase, scene by scene, until the final climax, when I sing my big aria.

A few months before I received the score George changed a few notes for me – something he has sworn never to do for anybody! He rewrote several passages in my score by hand, which has helped me enormously.”

“I really think my role is phenomenally good. It feels like a fantastic preamble and the greatest preparation for Lulu, who I will sing in October for the first time. Agnes ends were Lulu begins. A sexually liberated woman with no problems with herself. A gift of a role!

One of the highlights for me was the “Sitzprobe” with the orchestra. It was the first time George heard his entire piece, with orchestra and singers. It was two weeks before opening night and we were all very nervous. But the entire cast stood behind him and his fabulous score. It was a very moving and emotional day.

All my colleagues (not only the singers, but the extras as well) were fantastic and we all got along marvelously. George had composed the music specifically for each one of us. A lot was demanded from us, not only vocally, but dramatically as well, but we all supported each other.”

Katie Mitchell © © 2015 Festival d’Aix-en-Provence

“I think the production is unequalled and I adore Katie Mitchell, the director. It was the first time I worked with her. She pays a lot of attention to details, providing a lot of background information to the artists on stage. The public never notices that, but it had a tremendous influence on our performance. Working with Katie was a sensation, and I hope one day she will direct me in Lulu. “

“I loved the sensual scenes which were combined with violent ones. We had a special “fight director”  who taught us to act as realistically as possible without hurting each other. I believe that was quite unique for an opera production. You also need a lot of trust in your colleagues.

I have to say: Agnes is a dream role, and I thought it was fantastic I got the chance to play her. All the reviews were full of praise, and the public was enthusiastic as well. It really was a dream.”

“I had been in Aix-en-Provence before, in 2008, for the first version of Pascal Dusapin’s Passion. That performance was staged by Giuseppe Frigeni. In 2010 Sasha Waltz directed it. With her production we opened the season of the Théâtre des Champs Elysées.“

In 2008 we performed in the Théâtre du Jeu de Paume – small and very intimate.  Very beautiful too. Because of the dimensions it is rather limited in its possibilities, though. For Written on Skin we were programmed in the biggest theatre of the festival, the Grand Théâtre de Provence. Very unusual for a modern, ‘fresh from the pen’-opera. Opening night, as you know, was a huge success, and all the subsequent performances were sold out.

I love the city. Aix is fabulous and so easy-going. The city encourages you to relax, even while you are hard at work. The festival is truly special. No highbrow business like you see at some other festivals. There is a true mix of different styles and types of performances. Symphonic music as well as chamber music. 

They also have a fabulous young artists program, and I truly appreciate their efforts to get rid of the elitist stamp art has, particularly opera. Art truly can be real, and it can appeal to anyone.

I think Katie Mitchell and her team have tried with Written on skin to not only avoid stock opera gestures, but also to create something that actually did happen and that touches you. Something many of us have experienced personally, certainly women.”

Ivan van Kalmthout: Music has always played an important role in my life

The 52nd edition of the International Vocalists in 2018 was the last competition for director Annett Andriesen. After twelve years of incredible dedication and fantastic leadership (something for which she was honoured with speeches, a standing ovation, a wealth of flowers and a ‘modest’ bouquet of twelve roses), she handed over the baton to Ivan van Kalmthout.

Ivan van Kalmthout and Annett Andriessen

Van Kalmthout had previously worked as interim director of the Liceu Opera House in Barcelona and as director of the Berliner Staatsoper in Berlin, and in 2017 he joined the IVC board. Time for an interview.

Van Kalmhout is a true Brabander. He was born in Etten in 1968. His father’s family comes from Zegge and his mother, who comes from a Moluccan KNIL family, grew up in Zundert.

Ivan van Kalmhout with his mother

“About my family… My grandmother was Moluccan. You can’t see it in me, but my grandmother was very dark. My grandfather came from Tilburg. He was stationed in Tjimahi and that is where they met. My mother and my sister are really exotic looking. When I saw all the portraits of regents in the Rijksmuseum for the first time, it became clear to me that my appearance has nothing to do with Indonesia. I might have been born in the Netherlands in the 17th century! “

And what about the music?

Ivan Kalmhout: “Music has always played an important role in my life. My grandfather played the piston in the local brass band and he could also sight-read the music. My mother would probably have become a successful soprano if she had had the chance. She certainly has the voice and the temperament for it! I myself was fascinated by the violin as a child and studied it for quite a while.”

“Through a LP record with a piece by Wieniawski played by Emmy Verhey, I first heard a solo aria, sung by Hebe Dijkstra. ‘Mon coeur s’ouvre a ta voix’ from Samson et Dalila. I already knew some symphonic music with vocals and also the ‘Ride of the Valkyries ‘ but this was a new experience. I remember that I could not quite place it. But I found it fascinating. And after listening to it for a few times, I was ‘sold’ on the genre. I think that’s why it’s so important for children and young people to have the opportunity to come into contact with classical vocal music. We’re also trying to emphasise this aspect in the new Opera3Daagse.”

“A bit later I discovered Maria Callas and that was like a bolt of lightning to me. What I’ve inherited from that passion is a great fondness for the combination of text and music. When a singer is able to express the deeper truth of a text, it really touches me. Opera is not a literary genre, of course, but when the poetic truth is grasped by an interpreter, it has more impact than any other top-level theatrical text. When a singer sings technically perfectly but has clearly only looked at the notes, I can often do little with it. But sensing what is going on with sometimes very banal texts and being able to give the same word, repeated three times, a different meaning three times (‘amour’ in Carmen, for example) is for me one of the greatest gifts an interpreter can bring.”

Ivan van Kalmhout with Eva-Maria Westbroek

After secondary school, van Kalmhout studied business administration and management at Nyenrode Business University in Breukelen, after which he joined Pieter Alferink and his Artists Management. In 1991, he was asked by Marc Clémeur to join the Flemish Opera in Antwerp (and Ghent). There he worked as assistant artistic planning, together with Hein Mulders.

The next step was the Staatsoper in Hamburg and the Liceu in Barcelona. In 2011, van Kalmthout was appointed opera director and artistic director of the Deutsche Staatsoper in Berlin. Here he joined forces with the conductor Daniel Barenboim and the intendant Jürgen Flimm.

Van Kalmthout: “It was a privilege to be able to work in Berlin at the Staatsoper im Schillertheater. For three years I was back in the repertory theatre system with an enormous amount of productions and a very interesting opera studio, where I was allowed to work with new young talents in the first year. The concert programme of the Staatskapelle was also a parade of musical highlights with first-class instrumentalists. Daniel Barenboim’s inexhaustible curiosity and work ethic amazes everyone around him.”

“When the opportunity came to temporarily fill in for Joan Matabosch in Barcelona after Gerard Mortier had to leave Madrid prematurely due to illness, I gladly returned to the theatre and the city where I had had such a good time. I was able to successfully whip into shape a very difficult year (both organisationally and artistically) for the Liceu. It was a privilege to be there for another year but it was also clear that the direction that the Liceu was headed to was a completely different one from that of the ten golden years before my Berlin time.”

© Swinkels en van Hees

When it became known that Annett Andriessen was leaving, Van Kalmthout immediately applied. He knew the competition and its atmosphere well, after all, he himself had participated twice as a member of the jury. He is therefore sure that he will be very well able to continue its tradition. I think so too. TTT Ivan van Kalmthout!

Annemarie Kremer: Celebrity abroad

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 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.”

Annemarie Kremer performing “Schlussgesang” in Salome. Volksoper Wien. 30-09-2013

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! “

More Annemarie Kremer

Memories of Philippe Boesmans


Peter Franken:

In 1999 I saw Boesmans’ opera Reigen in the production of the Reisopera. The opera is based on a work by Arthur Schnitzler from 1897 which was not released until 1920. It is a controversial play with provocative sexual themes. Schnitzler explores the sexual morality and class ideology of his time through successive encounters between characters.

The action is set in 1890s Vienna. The dramatic structure is determined by ten interlocking scenes between love couples. Each character appears in two successive scenes, with the whore from the first scene returning in the last.

Luc Bondy adapted the play into a libretto for the opera of the same name, which premiered at La Monnaie in Brussels in 1993. The play, and also the opera, offers a disconcerting picture of the pursuit of sexual pleasure and the hangover that must surely follow. The cold, cold lust and the hunt for empty sex are mercilessly dissected.

In the Reisopera production, the act is set on a turntable with only sketchy locations: a lamppost representing a street scene and a scene in a park between a whore and a soldier, and between that soldier and a chambermaid; then a door turns as if to separate the sultry thoughts exchanged between the chambermaid and the young gentleman of the house.

The Count, a well-characterised presentation by baritone Roger Smeets, meets the whore (Janny Zomer) who was already seen in the beginning and who now is the last character in the round dance, or Reigen. In between we met Ellen van Haaren as the singer, Annelies Lamm as the chambermaid and Kor Jan Dusseljee as the soldier.

Ellen van Haaren, the ‘singer’ in the production of the Netherlands Opera:

Ellen van Haarden als Amelia in Ballo in Maschera

I was preparing for a rehearsal when Louwrens Langevoort approached me with a book/piano excerpt of the new modern opera Reigen by Philippe Boesmans, which they wanted to perform with the Reisopera. “Here, go and have a look, this is a great part for you! “

I spent the next few days thinking that this was nót for me. And, however honoured I felt, I gave it back. I really didn’t think it was for me! Some time passed; I was rehearsing Die Lustige Witwe at the time and there was Louwrens again, with the book!

” Listen”, he said, “I can’t find anyone who could do it better! You can do it, this part is perfect for you”. And I thought, o.k., this I cannot and will not refuse. It was very short notice, I think five or six weeks before the premiere. All right, I said, I’ll do it, but with whom can I rehearse it? “With Aldert Vermeulen. And the composer, Boesmans, is also coming to watch, he wants to be present at the rehearsals.

OMG was so scary!!! The next day came with learning, still more learning, memorizing, and singing it through.  And the thing I had been so afraid of, not being able to meet everyone’s expectations, shrank away bit by bit. It became more and more familiar to me, it became a part of myself and maestro Patrick Davin soon joined in. And we also had a connection straight away!

And suddenly there was Philippe Boesmans, the genius! The creator of this special opera. So calm and modest and friendly and encouraging. Through him I knew and felt…I can do this. He gave me the confidence! And from that day on, it was as if the sun broke through. The adventure I had embarked on became very enjoyable, it was really great fun! We laughed a lot at the rehearsals, about little things that Andrea ( xxxx the director BJ) and I had thought up… He was so happy and satisfied. That sweet modest man with his subtle humour!

Elen van Haaren met Janny Zomer in Reigen

And now this fine man and fantastic composer is no more. Thank you very, very much for the wonderful, special, beautifully catchy music! And thank you for the wonderful and fantastic memories of Reigen! R.I.P.


Lisa Mostin, Kristin in Julie in the production of the Opéra National de Lorraine:

Dean Murphy, Irene Roberts et Lisa Mostin, le trio de chanteurs qui interprète « Julie », sous la direction d’Emilio Pomarico, dans la mise en scène de Silvia Costa. Photo ER /Cédric JACQUOT

“I met him for the first time in the corridors of the Nancy opera house after the Orkesterhauptprobe (Orchestra stage rehearsal). He didn’t recognise me as one of the singers without my makeup on, because it looked so different and sinister.

© Jean-Louis Fernandez

He let us do it all by ourselves during the production process. He never came to say how he wanted a certain line. He always said in interviews that once an opera is written, he wants to let go of the piece and he accepts how the world will treat it. He did not only say this, he also did it, out of a wonderful feeling of acceptance and letting go, but I personally think also because he wanted to be surprised. Just as if you send your child out into the world and then, when they return from their wanderings, you will see what they have learned on their path of growing independence.

After the dress rehearsal, he came on the stage and realised for the first time that I was the one singing Kristin and that I was a Belgian singer. He first started in French and when he heard that I had a Flemish accent, like a true Brussels- born, he immediately switched to Dutch. It was extraordinary that two Belgians met like that in France. He said he hadn’t known there was an Antwerp coloratura soprano singing Kristin and said he would like to write another piece for me. I would have loved to sing whatever he would have composed for me, but unfortunately it is not going to happen in this world.

© Jean-Louis Fernandez

All the rest is not easily put into words, he had something that all the greats have. An energy that touches you and an unconditional love that radiates from him, I think that is what has stayed with me the most. An enormously amiable person.”

Meeting between Philippe Boesmans and Silvia Costa, who handled the production:

Philippe Boesmans died on Sunday 10 April 2022. His operas are performed regularly and both Julie(2004), after the play Fröken Julie by August Strindberg, and Reigen, after a play by Arthur Schnitzler, belong to the standard repertoire in opera houses all over the world.

Scene from Reigen performed by Operastudio Nederland (Daphne Ramakers & Pascal Pittie)

Below Julie from the Fondanzione teatro Comunale e Auditorium Bolzano directed by Manfred Schweigkofler:

Zangtechnisch is Marcello een peulenschil vergeleken met Eisenstein: ‘alleseter’ Peter Bording aan het woord

In april 2014 had ik een lange gesprek met Peter Bording, dit naar aanleiding van zijn optreden als Figaro (Il barbiere di Sevilla) bij de Nederlandse Reisopera. Het was een prachtige productie die door het hele land toerde en die zijn laatste voorstelling in augustus dat jaar had in het Concertgebouw in Amsterdam.

 Acht jaar en vele succesvolle rollen in het buitenland besloot ik het interview weer eens onder handen te nemen en updaten.

Voor het eerst heb ik Peter Bording live mogen bewonderen als Figaro (Il barbiere di Siviglia) in de schitterende productie van de Nederlandse Reisopera en ik werd gecharmeerd door zijn enorme bühne présence, zijn voortreffelijke acteren en zijn zeer natuurlijke, maar ook dansante manier van bewegen.

Zijn lyrische, wendbare en van nature ‘blanke’ bariton kent ook donkere ondertonen en is rijk aan nuancen. En tel daar zijn aantrekkelijk uiterlijk, dat hem een vermelding op de ‘barihunk-website’ bezorgde, nog op.

In zijn zangerscarrière is hij een ‘alleseter’. Opgegroeid met operette (zijn ouders, de tenor Jan Handerson en de sopraan Truus Bording, waren beiden gevierde operettezangers bij onder meer de Hoofdstad Operette) kwam hij via musicals in de wereld van de opera terecht. Alle drie de genres zingt hij nog steeds, en alle drie met veel plezier en veel succes, al is het voornamelijk in Duitsland.

Hoe het begon

Eén van mijn vroegste herinneringen (ik was 4 of 5 jaar) is de eerste keer dat ik mijn moeder in een concert hoorde zingen”, zegt Bording. “Ze zong aria’s en het slotduet uit de eerste akte van La bohème, samen met tenor Matthijs Coppens (de vader van mijn latere echtgenoot). Het maakte een enorme indruk.

Sindsdien was opera een deel van mijn leven. Ik draaide thuis en bij mijn grootouders de platen van Callas en Sutherland en Deutekom grijs. Die overdaad aan sopranen is er waarschijnlijk ook schuld aan dat ik tot ver na mijn stembreuk als jongenssopraan heb doorgezongen.

Pas bij mijn eerste zangles gebruikte ik mijn werkelijke stem. Vanaf dat moment heeft mijn vader mijn stemontwikkeling begeleid, tot aan zijn dood, net voor mijn eindexamen aan het conservatorium.

Vanzelfsprekend maakte operette een groot deel uit van mijn muzikale achtergrond – dat genre is er letterlijk met de paplepel ingegoten. Nog steeds is mijn affiniteit met operette waarschijnlijk groter dan bij de meeste operazangers. Het is voor mij geenszins het kleine zusje van de opera. Integendeel.

Zangtechnisch gezien is een standaard baritonrol als Marcello of Silvio een peulenschil in vergelijking met een Danilo of een Eisenstein. Bij operette moet alles makkelijk klinken, alsof het geen enkele moeite kost. Om dat te bereiken, moet je eerst volkomen boven de materie staan. Dat is voor mij de grote uitdaging: ogenschijnlijk moeiteloos goed zingen. Voeg daarbij de dialogen en de dans en je hebt een complete theatervorm, waarin ik mijn ei volledig kwijt kan.

Al tijdens mijn studie, in 1988, ben ik begonnen met musicals. Achteraf waarschijnlijk te vroeg, maar ik moest en zou op de planken. Geduld was nooit mijn grootste deugd. Toen ik in 1993 in London was afgestudeerd, kwam ik terug naar Nederland om in Phantom of the opera te gaan zingen. Alhoewel dat een prachtige productie was, voelde het alsof ik terug was bij af.

Ik was goed opgeleid tot operazanger, had leren zingen en acteren, maar had geen aanbiedingen in opera. Ik heb er toen bewust voor gekozen om mijn contract niet te verlengen en op eigen kracht voor te gaan zingen in Duitsland. Weg uit Nederland, waar het label ‘commercieel’ al aan mijn kont kleefde.

Ik auditeerde bij het staatsagentschap, waar een aardige meneer me vijf aria’s liet zingen en tot slot zei: ‘Damit kann ich etwas anfangen.’ Een week later had ik mijn eerste twee kleine contracten op zak: Marullo in Dortmund en dezelfde rol in Braunschweig.

In Braunschweig werd toen een nieuw ensemble samengesteld; Brigitte Fassbaender werd er Operndirektorin. Zij kwam na een voorstelling naar me toe en vroeg me of ik in het ensemble wilde komen voor Pelléas, Papageno, Guglielmo, Demetrius, Melot en nog wat rollen. Daarmee was de dobbelsteen gegooid.

Mijn partners in het ensemble waren Michelle Breedt, Petra Lang en Lothar Odinius, dus ik kon er mijn repertoire opbouwen met geweldige collega’s en onder zeer inspirerende leiding. Na twee jaar Braunschweig en drie jaar Darmstadt onder leiding van Marc Albrecht volgden veertien jaar aan het Aalto-Musiktheater in Essen. En na mijn debuut aan de Bregenzer Festspiele kwamen ook de internationale contracten.”


‘Regietheater’ heeft voor mij geen negatieve connotaties; het is mijn dagelijkse werkelijkheid. Niet voor niets heeft het regietheater haar wortels in Duitsland. Het Duitse publiek heeft een andere verhouding tot haar operahuis. Het is een levendig onderdeel van de samenleving en er wordt met kritische producties anders omgegaan dan elders. Er komt niet eens in de twintig jaar een Zauberflöte langs, er zijn minstens twintig verschillende Zauberflötes per jaar te zien, met de nadruk op verschillend. Ik ervaar dat als een enorme rijkdom!

De echt traditionele producties zie je nog maar zelden. Hoe prachtig ze ook zijn, ze verdwijnen. Net zo goed als dat ook het pad van het regietheater ooit weer verlaten wordt, een tendens die zich trouwens al langer aftekent. Theater is altijd in beweging en dat is ook goed. De rest is een kwestie van smaak. Dat het niet altijd even goed aankomt, is duidelijk, maar dat is inherent aan kunst.

Mijn hart gaat uit naar goed theater. Dat is het enige onderscheid dat ik maak. Zolang het gebodene ‘schlüssig’ en ‘Bühnenwirksam’ en niet routineus is, ben ik tevreden. En als het me dan ook nog eens raakt of opwindt, dan maakt me dat zelfs erg gelukkig.”

“Sinds 1993 zong ik regelmatig bij de Reisopera, toen nog Opera Forum, maar het komende seizoen (2015, BJ) zing ik vooral in Duitsland – Heerrufer (Lohengrin) in Magdeburg, Eisenstein aan de Komische Oper in Berlijn, dan naar Tokyo voor Danilo en vervolgens voor de titelrol in de spraakmakende opera Peer Gynt in een regie van Dietrich Hilsdorf naar Braunschweig.

Naar aanleiding van het succes van Egks Peer Gynt (een juweeltje van productie van Dietrich Hilsdorf, met wie ik het altijd weer heel fijn werken vind) kwamen er, tot mijn eigen verbazing, meer en meer aanbiedingen voor een wat zwaarder repertoire.

Ik heb niet alles aangenomen wat voorbij kwam, maar ben wel verschillende uitdagingen aangegaan – Alfio, Rigoletto, Tonio, Scarpia,

Danton (Von Einems Dantons Tod),

John Proctor (Wards The Crucible). Vooral de Zeitgenossen uit de tweede helft van de vorige eeuw (Egk, Von Einem, Ward) blijken te passen als een handschoen. Ik was inmiddels de 50 gepasseerd en durfde vocaal de grenzen op te zoeken.

Hexenjagd (The Crucible):

Dantons Tod van von Einem:


Dat zich aan de Komische Oper Berlin sinds het aantreden van Barrie Kosky een absolute operette-renaissance voltrok is geen geheim. Het is een bijzonder theater met een volledig eigen hartslag. Ik ben gek op dat huis en de stad waarin het staat.

Na die reeks Fledermaus-voorstellingen volgden Kiss Me, Kate, de Europese première van Kálmáns Broadway-musical Marinka, Oscar Straus’ Die Perlen der Cleopatra – allemaal producties van Kosky en zijn choreograaf Otto Pichler. Dat ik er inmiddels vaste gast ben, in juist dat repertoire, met juist die regisseur en collega’s, is misschien de grootste vreugde van mijn carrière. Tot nu toe dan..

Orphée aux enfers,© Deutsche Oper am Rhein

Dit seizoen ging na corona-uitstel (en 23 maanden Zwangspause) dan ook eindelijk Orpheus in der Unterwelt daar in première, een co-productie met de Salzburger Festspiele en de Deutsche Oper am Rhein, de première in Berlijn vond plaats 7 december 2021

Trailer van de productie:

Pers over Peter Bording en zijn Jupiter (selectie):

Berliner Zeitung: “Wunderbar Peter Bording als Jupiter, ein Bürger im Anzug, der seine Priviliegien davonschwimmen sieht; dass er Eurydike als Fliege becircen will, ist von grausam-komischer Konsequenz. Dazu passt sein verzweifelt blasierter Gesang”

Schabel Kultur: “Wenn Peter Bording sich als Jupiter in eine Fliege verwandelt erscheint, summend und flirrend erotische Energie verbreitet, ist das szenisch durchaus eine Meisterleistung.”

Der Opernfreund: ”Urkomisch und stimmlich absolut solide zeichnet […] Peter Bording als Göttervater Jupiter (mit leichten Tendenzen in Richtung Pantoffelheld) sehens- und hörenswerte Rollenportraits” “Es estupendo cómo Peter Bording en el papel del jefe de los dioses, de voz potente, tira de toda la comedia para hacer gala del hombre permanentemente agredido y, al mismo tiempo, conservar un poco de simpatía por él mismo (según el lema de que “Júpiter es tan solo un hombre”).

Wat zijn je toekomstplannen? “Die mag ik nog niet al te veel uit de doeken doen, omdat de theaters hun Spielplan nog niet openbaar hebben gemaakt, maar er staan operettes in Berlijn, Wenen, Graz en Düsseldorf op stapel.”

Nelly Miricioiu: Empress of the Saturday Matinee

Nelly Miricioiu in Baia Mare (Roemenië) in 2015

I cannot imagine opera life without Nelly Miricioiu. With her spicy soprano, her very characteristic timbre and her perfectly controlled vibrato, from the 1980s she belonged to the dying class of real divas, like Callas, Scotto or Olivero.

Nelly Miricioiu and John Bröcheler in the last scene of Thaïs (live recording from The Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, 1985)

My earliest opera memories bring me back to Thais by Massenet. With Nelly Miricioiu. After that, I have admired her for 25 years in the Great Hall of the Concertgebouw, during the unforgettable Saturday Matinees, where she sang 17 different roles. By Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti and Verdi. But also by Puccini, Zandonai and Mascagni.

I have also admired her on the stage in Brussels as Anna Bolena and in Antwerp as Magda (La Rondine) and Anna (Le Villi).

But between her and the DNO, things did not really work out. Luisa Miller, with Neil Shicoff at her side, succumbed to a stupid direction and with Norma she fell ill and suffered from vocal problems. A great pity, because Miricioiu is not only a very gifted singer, but also a
phenomenal actress.

Below: Nelly Miricioiu as Anna Bolena in Amsterdam 1989:


Nelly Miricioiu en Jihae Shin © Jeanne Doomen

In March 2016, Miricioiu was in Amsterdam for a few days to give masterclasses to young, promising singers. I was allowed to attend one of her lessons and watched breathlessly as
she tried to prepare the young South Korean Jihae Shin for the bel canto profession.

Nelly Miricioiu en Jihae Shin © Jeanne Doomen

Miricioiu is a very physically present teacher. She sings a lot herself and lets her student feel how the muscles react to certain sounds. How to produce those sounds better, make them more impressive or just more true. She puts her hand on Shin’s belly and shakes her head: no, that’s not how it works.

“Just feel,” she says and puts Shin’s hand on her own belly. The whole face is also involved in the lesson: from the temples, eyes and cheekbones to the chin. The lips must be pulled further apart, the mouth must be wider, much wider! Does she hear now what a difference it makes?

Nelly Miricioiu en Jihae Shin © Jeanne Doome

Jihae Shin is a good and complient student, she remembers everything well and obediently imitates what she is told.

“Brava”, the teacher cries, “but that coloratura (they are rehearsing ‘Caro nome’ from Rigoletto), it has to be different! You shouldn’t accentuate that “haha haha haha”, that’s what Reinild (the pianist Reinild Mees, who not only accompanies but also physically takes part in
all the lessons) is doing. That has to come from the piano, but you have to glide over it smoothly, you have to show off your technique. And don’t forget your smile, your lips, your lips…”.

She demonstrates and everything falls back into place. Just like a little later with ‘Ah! non credea mirarti’ from La Sonnambula. The pupil does a fantastic job, but it is only when the teacher is talking that emotion strikes hard.

How do you find it, teaching? And: isn’t it terribly tiring?
“I love it. Not every good singer is a good teacher, but I think I am
doing well. It is a fact that many of my pupils go really far and I
am proud of that.

“You cannot compare a master class with real teaching, of course, but even then you hope that you can convey something essential. Something that sticks. And, above all, helps. I often attend master classes given by my colleagues, that way I also learn something myself. I am still eager to learn.”

Look: it’s not just about the voice. Or the talent, hard work and/or charisma. It’s about the whole picture. Good looks are a bonus of course, but for me you have to convince me with your voice and not with your looks. On the other hand… Yesterday I saw Il Matrimonio Secreto by Cimarosa, with really fantastic young singers who also looked their roles. An ideal situation.

There are few really good teachers and singers have sadly become disposable. The only thing that matters is the competition, but there is also a lot of fear. Because if you don’t want to do something or don’t do it as expressely wished for, there are dozens if not hundreds of others who are already lining up to take your place. I’ve experienced auditions where the singer was told: you’re really great, but there are many more who are just as great as you are, next!”

How do you feel about the many competitions out there?
“I think they are very important. Without a doubt. You really can’t do without them. If you want to profile yourself as a young singer, if you want to show yourself, you have to. And sometimes you hop from one competition to another in the hope of winning and being discovered.

What doesn’t help is that many of the competitions can’t decide who they are actually meant for. Do they want to be a career stepping stone for young and starting singers or do they want to provide the already establishedsingers with a bit more fame and better roles?

This is where the IVC stands out in a very positive sense. You get all the attention you need and it is ensured that you come away ‘richer’, even if you don’t win anything. You get masterclasses and good advice. And the atmosphere is very friendly, convivial.”

What do you think of super-realistic scenes on stage, increasingly
common these days? Scenes with violence and explicit sex?

“There is nothing against realistic images, but does it have to be there in every detail? Shocking for the sake of shocking, showing everything because it can be seen on TV? I know rape exists, but do I have to see it happen on stage?”

“Vulgarity on the stage, I have never understood it. And there is no need for it. I remember the production of La Fiamma by Respighi with the fantastic Romanian tenor and my very dear colleague Gabriel Sadé. The director wanted to portray the night of love as realistically as possible: naked, in other words. That didn’t feel right; that way I would never be able to concentrate on the role and certainly not on the singing. I didn’t want that. It was then decided to give us a sort of ‘second skin’. It looked very realistic, but for me I had something on, I wasn’t naked.”

Below is the third act from La Fiamma, it begins with the love duet:

Let’s talk about verismo. A movement that is so terribly neglected these
days. There are also few singers who can sing in the verismo style. Why
would that be? Is it not performed a lot because there are no singers for
it? Or are there no verist singers because it is not being performed?

 “Both, of course. Verismo is considered not ‘intellectual’ enough, it is looked down upon nowadays. We live in a time that is poor in real emotions, real feelings: love, empathy, faith. Showing emotions is considered old-fashioned, you can’t use that when you work conceptually. There are no nuances any more, we have discarded them.

But there are also few singers who can sing it, that is true. During training, too much emphasis is placed on technical perfection and too little on individuality.

Fashion and hype also play a not inconsiderable role. In the past, you couldn’t sing a Rossini opera properly; nowadays, there are plenty of Rossini and bel canto specialists.

Sometimes it seems as if there are only two possibilities: old music and early bel canto and Wagner. Somewhere along the way, we have lost not only verismo but also Verdi. It is easier to sing Tristan than Macbeth. That is food for thought. But – and this should not be underestimated – the choice also lies with conductors and their priorities. The orchestras are large and with a Wagner piece, the conductor can ‘score’ more easily. “

Nelly Miricioiu with Magda Olivero after the performance of ‘Iris’ by
Mascagni. Concertgebouw Amsterdam 2003 ©FB

I have a verist nature, it’s in me, my body is screaming for emotions. Of all my roles I love Iris the most, I think. She is, together with Silvana in La Fiamma and Francesca da Rimini, one of my favourite roles”.

Speaking of emotions, below Miricioiu sings ‘Io son l’umile ancella’ from Adriana Lecouvreur by Cilea:

I owe everything I have achieved to Jan Zekveld, Mauricio Fernandez (the former boss and casting director of Zaterdag/Matinee) and Patrick Schmid (co-founder and director of Opera Rara). They understood my character and discovered what I could do, everything that was possible. They both saw my potential and made me the way I am. They were my godfathers.”

with Patric Schmid © Opera Lounge

Below Miricioiu in one of her very many bel canto roles: Antonina from Belisario by Donizetti. She sings ‘Egli è spento, e del perdono’:

Opera in Tuschinski: tweede operahuis van Nederland?

Dit artikel is geschreven in Maart 2013

De benaming ‘tweede operatheater van het land is natuurlijk vergezocht, maar er zit zeker iets in. Het ligt niet alleen aan het aanbod – er zijn veel meer bioscopen in Nederland die de operavoorstellingen uit de Met rechtstreeks uitzenden. Het is de entourage en de sfeer die maken dat je je inderdaad in een echt operahuis van allure waant.

Ik twijfel er niet aan dat u allemaal weet wie Abraham Tuschinski (Brzeziny, Polen, 14 mei 1886 – Auschwitz, 17 september 1942) was. De, door hem opgerichte en naar hem genoemde bioscoop is één van de mooiste bioscopen ter wereld. Zo niet de mooiste.

Het geheel in Art Deco (maar de Amsterdamse School en de Jugendstil doen er ook aan mee) gebouwde bioscoop is een lust voor het oog en ik ken mensen die er alleen gaan om zich in de schoonheid te kunnen laven.


In oktober 2009 is Tuschinski met de opera uitzendingen begonnen en ze doen het geheel in stijl. Er wordt een rode loper uitgerold, je kaartjes worden door twee in een rode livrei gestoken mannen gecontroleerd en de champagne staat klaar.

Ze hebben ook hun eigen ‘Uitzending gemist’. Op zondagochtenden kan je terecht bij Encore, waar je de door jou gemiste opera alsnog kan zien. Of terugzien, wat ook vaak gebeurt.

Tijdens de uitzending van Francesca da Rimini zaterdag 16 maart 2013 heb ik met enkele betrokkenen gesproken

Leon Spee, service manager van Tuschinski:
“Nee, ik ben geen ‘opera-avondenspecialist’, ik doe meer dan opera alleen. Of ik ooit een opera heb gezien? Nou… nee… eigenlijk nooit. Tijdens de uitzendingen ben ik aan het werk, ik moet er echt voor zorgen dat alles soepel en goed verloopt en dat iedereen tevreden is. Maar ik hoop wel dat het er ooit van komt.

De opera-avonden lopen waanzinnig goed. Zodra de ticketverkoop van start gaat, staan er al om vijf, zes uur ’s ochtends rijen voor de bioscoop. Gewapend met matrassen, stoelen, koffiekannen wachten ze de opening van de kassa’s geduldig af.

Het aantal operabezoekers per avond is enorm. Normaal hebben we ongeveer 770 toeschouwers in de grote zaal. Vanavond verwachten wij tussen de 400 en 450 gasten. De aankleding vinden we heel erg belangrijk, vandaar ook dat we er veel aandacht aan besteden. Iedereen wordt verwelkomd met een glas prosecco en in de pauzes serveren we wijn en frisdranken.

De Encore wordt nog beter bezocht dan de rechtstreekse uitzendingen. Het is natuurlijk veel goedkoper, maar je krijgt niet de allure, wat er toch een beetje bij hoort, denk ik.

Of we ook voorstellingen uit andere operahuizen gaan uitzenden? Daar is best veel vraag naar, dus we zijn in onderhandeling, maar het antwoord moet ik u nog schuldig blijven. In ieder geval nog niet het volgende seizoen.”

Bo van der Meulen, een operakenner en producent, verzorgt al jaren de inleidingen:
“Een inleiding op het toneel duurt een klein half uurtje en ik probeer het zo toegankelijk mogelijk te doen. Ik bereid mij best lang voor. In de meeste gevallen ken ik de opera’s goed, dus naar de gewone achtergronden hoef ik geen onderzoek te doen. Ik probeer in rare archieven te duiken om met verrassende weetjes te komen.

De eerste jaren vertelde ik ook nog de hele inhoud van de opera, maar ik beperk me nu meestal tot de ontstaansgeschiedenis en de achtergronden. Meestal vermeld ik ook wel Nederlandse zangers die rollen in de betreffende opera’s gezongen hebben en welke cd- of dvd-opnames aan te bevelen zijn. Ik probeer ook altijd wat anekdotes en oude artikelen of recensies op te sporen.

Soms bekijk ik de opera’s eerder al in New York, zeker als het om een nieuw werk gaat, zoals The Enchanted Island. Verder plaats ik informatie op de Facebook-pagina van Opera Tuschinski en is mijn rol ook een beetje die van gastheer namens Tuschinski geworden. Dus ik sta na afloop ook iedereen een goede avond te wensen.”


Opera Tuschinski is inmiddels ook op Facebook een begrip geworden.

De oprichtsters zijn Lieneke Effern en Monique ten Boske. De groep telt momenteel 85 leden.Je mag je zelf aanmelden, maar één van de beheerders moet wel goedkeuring verlenen. Dit is met het oog op spammers.

Lieneke Effern:
“Eerlijk gezegd weet ik niet precies hoe lang de FB pagina Tuschinski bestaat, een jaar of twee, denk ik. De oprichting heeft veel te maken met de unieke locatie waar wij de opera´s zien. Het idee van de pagina komt van Monique en ik probeer de info te verzorgen

Het leek ons leuk om mensen via de pagina met elkaar in contact te brengen, maar vooral om informatie te delen over de uitvoeringen. Mensen kunnen er ook kaartjes proberen te verkopen of ruilen.”

Monique ten Boske:
“Ik ga graag naar de opera, live bij voorkeur, maar de uitzendingen in Tuschinski zijn wel het op één na de beste, het is een bijna live ervaring! Geweldige zangers en dito uitvoeringen, interviews en natuurlijk de close ups. En dat in een zaal met een super sfeer en gezellige mensen.

Als ik op vakantie ben, ga ik daar ook naar de uitzending, wetende dat mijn moeder in Groningen en mijn operavrienden in Amsterdam op dat moment naar dezelfde voorstelling zitten te kijken. Het komt regelmatig voor dat we om één uur s’ nachts nog even bellen, want het gevoel bij een bioscoopuitzending is soms net zo heftig als die bij een live-opera.”

Francesca da Rimini

Die zaterdag werd één van mijn geliefde opera’s, Francesca da Rimini van Zandonai uitgezonden. Het einde van de eerste akte is een lange, uitgesponnen liefdesduet zonder woorden. Op het moment dat de cello’s aanzetten weet je al dat het niet goed komt. En het komt niet goed.

In de prachtige enscenering van Piero Faggioni ontvouwde zich een renaissance drama van jewelste. De uitvoering was zonder meer uitstekend, maar deed mij de legendarische productie met Renata Scotto en Plácido Domingo niet vergeten.

Annemarie Kremer: beroemdheid in het buitenland


In het najaar 2012 heeft de productie van Norma van Bellini door het Opera North in Leeds de Theatre Award voor ‘Achievement in Opera’ gewonnen. De hoofdrol in de alom geprezen productie van Christopher Alden werd gezongen door de Nederlandse sopraan, Annemarie Kremer. Gelijktijdig werd ze voor haar Norma-vertolking genomineerd voor de Opera-Oscar in Londen en voor ”Sängerin des Jahres’ in Opernwelt. Haar geweldige prestatie werd op alleen maar jubelende kritieken onthaald.

Georg Hall schreef 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’ ging nog een stapje verder en vroeg zich af : “Where has this Dutch soprano been hiding, why haven’t we heard of her before? Om zich daarna het meest voor de hand liggende antwoord te geven: “Well, presumably she’s been in the Netherlands honing her considerable talent”.

Wat Anthony Lias niet wist is dat er, behalve Opera Zuid, geen ander Nederlands operagezelschap iets voor Kremer heeft weten te betekenen. Maar in september 2015 was zij even in Nederland terug: bij de jarige Nederlandse Reisopera trad zij op in één van haar glansrollen: Cio Cio San in Madama Butterfly van Puccini.

Er was al een lange tijd sprake van dat ik iets bij de Reisopera ging doen. Eerst werd er van Manon Lescaut gesproken, maar dat kwam niet van de grond. Oorspronkelijk werd Billy Budd gepland, maar door omstandigheden kon het niet doorgaan. En ik had ook net een gecancelde productie en dus vrij …

”Ik kan je niet vertellen hoe blij ik ben om hier weer eens te mogen zingen. Het is werkelijk fantastisch dat al mijn vrienden, kennissen en familieleden die mij niet eerder hebben kunnen horen – niet iedereen kan zo makkelijk naar het buitenland – nu hun schade kunnen inhalen. Daar ben ik oprecht blij mee.”

De eerste keer dat wij elkaar spreken had zij net een paar dagen vrij die zij in haar huis in Zuid-Frankrijk doorbracht, in een dorpje van iets meer dan 5 km² in de Midi-Pyrenée die maar 142 inwoners telt.

”Wij wonen niet in het dorp maar erbuiten, op een berg en de dichtstbijzijnde buren wonen een paar kilometer verderop. Wij hebben 15 hectare eigen grond en ons huis is omringd door een glooiend landschap met bossen en weiden. En het licht is hier zo ontzettend mooi! Een echte idylle. Het is inmiddels 14 jaar geleden dat wij hier kwamen en er onmiddellijk op verliefd werden. Ik voel mij hier heel gelukkig, maar ik ben ook een meisje van het land.”

Kan je mij iets over de productie van Butterfly vertellen?

” Verwacht geen Japanse folklore: de omgeving is niet echt als zodanig te herkennen. In de kostuums komt het Japanse een beetje terug, maar zonder de geijkte parasolletjes en waaiers. De ontwerpster heeft zich in de Japanse kledingtraditie verdiept: zo heeft zij ontdekt dat er ooit een gewoonte bestond om je in een soort matten te omwikkelen en zo je tegen regen, wind en zon te beschermen. Het moet nog uitgewerkt worden, want ik moet mij er natuurlijk in kunnen bewegen, kunnen knielen en gebaren maken. Vooralsnog heb ik alleen plaatjes van de ontwerpen gezien, maar ik was er zeer onder de indruk.”

Allemaal hebben we een goede tijd met Laurence Dale, onze regisseur. Hij staat personenregie voor en dat willen wij als cast ook graag. En ik heb alle vertrouwen in hem en onze cast.”

Mijn Pinkerton, Eric Fennell is bijna het prototype van een Pinkerton. Hij is Amerikaans en hij ziet er goed uit, daar kan je als jong meisje zeer zeker verliefd op worden. Ook de rol van Suzuki is perfect bezet. Zij wordt gezongen door Qiu Lin Zhang, een Chinese sopraan met een zeer grote stem. Zij is wat ouder waardoor het geloofwaardig wordt dat ze niet alleen mijn vertrouwelinge is, maar ook mijn beschermer. En onze stemmen klinken prachtig samen, een ware symbiose!

” Butterfly is een rol die zeer dicht bij mij staat. Ik heb haar zo vaak gezongen dat je gerust kunt stellen dat ik mij haar volledig eigen heb gemaakt. Zij is een zeer sterk persoon met een enorm vermogen tot liefhebben. Zij blijft altijd overeind, ongeacht de productie. Haar maak je niet kapot. Hoe vaak je de rol ook zingt: de emoties blijven vanzelf ontstaan. Je moet het wel doseren want met je keel vol tranen kan je niet zingen. Een regisseur zei ooit tegen mij: je moet tegen de emoties vechten en dat gevecht mag je wel laten zien, maar het is het publiek dat uiteindelijk ontroerd moet raken en huilen, niet jij.”

Trailer van de productie:

Annemarie Kremer staat bekend om haar vertolkingen van veristische rollen. Heeft zij daar een speciale binding mee

“Ik benader een operapersonage niet vanuit het belcanto of verismo maar gewoon als mens. Al mijn rollen speel ik op een zeer persoonlijke en lijfelijke manier, er moet niets tussen mij en het personage staan. Ik houd ontzettend veel van logica. Iedere rol benader ik minitieus op hoe de emoties verdeeld zijn, dat kunnen vijf verschillende emoties zijn binnen een frase van bij voorbeeld maar twee minuten: nu voel ik dit en daarna dat. Als je de emoties na elkaar speelt worden ze duidelijker voor het publiek, ipv een brei van emoties. 

Dat had ik sterk met Norma bij Opera North. Ik had de opera al eerder heb gezongen waardoor de rol al goed in mijn strot zat en dus hoefde ik nu niet alleen, bij wijze van spreken, op de coloraturen te letten, nu kon ik het me permitteren mij nog véél méér op het acteren concentreren. Ik had het geluk gehad dat ik met Christopher Alden kon werken, een waarlijk geweldige regisseur. Aan Norma heb ik mijn mooiste herinneringen overgehouden en je kan stellen dat Opera North mijn geliefde operahuis is. Ze zijn net een familie, je wordt aan alle kanten ondersteund. Ik verheug mij dan ook enorm op een weerzien: binnenkort ga ik er Maddalena in Andrea Chénier zingen.”

“Communicatie tussen regisseur en zanger vind ik cruciaal. Ik kan heel makkelijk en meegaand zijn als ik een regisseur vertrouw, maar stel ook wel duidelijke grenzen. Trouw aan de partituur en het libretto en de logica zijn voor mij een vereiste. Bovendien weiger ikhet (expliciete) geweld, zeker als het niet noodzakelijk is. Het is al erg genoeg dat het gebeurt, je hoeft het niet nog eens op het toneel laten zien!”

Haar roldebuut in de titelrol van Salome van Richard Strauss in 2011 in de Volksoper van Wenen, een rol die zij daarna herhaaldelijk zong (en nog steeds zingt) overal in de wereld werd een ware sensatie. GB 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.”

Wat heb je met Strauss?

“Al snel kwam ik erachter dat Richard Strauss helemaal mijn componist is, zo invoelend en organisch als hij voor de stem heeft gecomponeerd. Dat was al zo toen ik vroeger zijn liederen zong en nu had ik het gevoel alsof hij Salome speciaal voor mij heeft geschreven!”

Wat zijn haar toekomstplannen? Wagner wellicht?

“Isolde is mij al een paar keer aangeboden en die wil ik ook graag doen, maar zeer zeker nog niet nu, daar wil ik nog een paar jaar mee wachten. In oktober ga ik wel Senta in ‘Der Fliegende Holländer’ zingen, in Rio de Janeiro. Het betreft een educatief project waar kinderen uit achterstandswijken bij betrokken zullen zijn.”

In January 2020 was het zo ver:

” In mei 2013 wacht mij een enorme uitdaging: ik zing Ursula in ‘Mathis der Maler’ van Hindemith aan de Semper Oper in Dresden.”

En in het seizoen 2016/17 zing ik in Buenos Aires Marie/Mariette in Korngold’s ‘Die Tote Stadt’

Opname uit 2017 in Wenen:

“Eén van mijn eerste bewuste, diep emotionele, muzikale ervaringen beleefde ik op mijn negende. Ik was toen met mijn moeder in Zelazowa Wola, het geboortedorp van Frédéric Chopin en mocht daar op een stralende zondagmorgen genieten van de mooiste nocturnes, walsen en sonates live gespeeld door de open tuindeuren van zijn geboortehuis. Het was alsof hij ons persoonlijk door de tijd heen toespeelde, die passie, die melancholie, maar ook die levensvreugde ik was compleet gegrepen! Meteen na thuiskomst mocht ik pianolessen nemen en studeerde in de jaren daarna vlijtig met de bedoeling om er mijn beroep van te maken en net zo te kunnen spelen.

Het is iets anders gelopen, want toen ik, als 17 jarige mijn natuurlijke opera-stemgeluid ontdekte was het ineens overduidelijk dat ik juist daarin al mijn passie, melancholie en levensvreugde kwijt zou kunnen en ik met de piano vooral een heel solide basis had gelegd voor mijn verdere muzikale leven. Jammer dat Chopin, die naast van de piano vooral van de sopraanstem hield, zich nooit geroepen heeft gevoeld een opera te componeren, ik had graag één van zijn heldinnen gezongen!

Angela Gheorghiu: “I am a star. Always have been”

© Cosmin Gogu).

In 2004, I wrote an article about Angela Gheorghiu.  “I am a star. Always have been” she once said during an interview. And that was true, because back then she had everything that makes a contemporary opera singer a star. Young, slim and beautiful, with a more than average acting talent and, not unimportant in this profession, she could sing exceptionally well. Her voice, with its fast vibrato, could be placed somewhere between Cotrubas and Olivero, although it lacked the intensity of the latter. She was a real diva and she behaved like one.The literal translation of the word diva is ‘goddess’. Does she like being a diva?

© Jean-Marie Périer/Photo12

“Someone once called me that, and I do like it. It has everything to do with appearance, and besides, as a singer I cannot be a ‘normal person’. Without divas, music and theatre would not have got very far. People need divas, otherwise we would all be alike, like the communists, the very idea!”

Gheorghiu was born in Romania, a country from which more great singers have come. The aforementioned Cotrubas, for example, with whom she may very well be compared. Both singers have a similar ‘white lyricism’ and a slight mannerism in how they sing the words forward. Their roles also are more or less the same, although Cotrubas had never ventured to a Tosca or a Carmen, not even in the studio. Once Cotrubas was the best Adina (L’Elisir d’amore), Mimi (La Bohème) and Violetta (La Traviata) of her time and in all these roles, Gheorghiu was the uncrowned queen at the end of the nineties. She became world-famous thanks to her performance of Violetta at Covent Garden under Georg Solti. The performance was broadcast live on television by the BBC, which even turned its broadcasting schedule upside down for it.

It seems that she had once suffered from hunger, when she still lived in Romania. And that she had been heavily guarded during her first performance (with a choir, that is, but as a soloist) in Vienna, so that she would not have the chance to flee and seek political asylum. After the fall of communism, she was offered her first contract outside Romania: a television recital in Amsterdam. And she auditioned for Covent Garden. Her first major role there was Mimi in ‘La Bohème’, with Roberto Alagna as Rodolfo. Their love was not limited to the stage and Gheorghiu and Alagna (who had just lost his wife to a brain tumour and was left with a small daughter) got married.

La Bohéme © Phil Cooper

In 1998, she left her former company Decca and signed a contract with EMI, the record label that included Alagna among its exclusive artists. Very convenient, because it enabled her to record not only solo recitals, but also duets and many complete operas together with her husband ( they had now already been married for years). Many of those CDs received the most prestigious awards: Gramophone Award, Diapason d’Or, Deutsche Schalplatten-Preise. And in 2001 she was named the female ‘Artist of the Year’ at the Classical Brit Awards.

Gheorghiu is an easy prey for the  paparazzi in the world of opera. It seems that she has a make-up artist come to her for the photo shoots. And then she has someone to iron her clothes.
“But isn’t that professionalism? No one thinks it’s strange if models and actresses have a limousine and a make-up artist. Do I have to take the Underground in all weathers with my dresses? Has anyone ever seen Catherine Zeta-Jones do that?”

© Europost

She is a natural talent, but even a natural talent doesn’t go far without practice, practice, and more practice. She worked very hard on each role, and unlike many of her colleagues, she worked without a coach. And she worked like an actor: first she read and repeated the words, and only then did she start studying the score.

Her big dream at the time was to meet a composer who would write a beautiful role especially for her, she envisaged herself playing Jackie Kennedy, for example. But she remained sceptical, because the world has much changed and, according to her, contemporary composers know little about singers and the art of singing. So for her, no Schönberg, nor Berg.

She prefers to sing in Italian and French, but she does not rule out the possibility of singing of (light) Wagner roles in the future. She is also interested in jazz, for which she considers her voice well-suited. She will gladly add some jazz to her repertoire, although she is not a fan of crossovers.

Her heart still beats in Romanian. In ‘Desert Islands Discs’, the well-known Channel 4 programme on English radio, she once presented her choice of favourite music. Enescu, but also a few Romanian pop and folk songs. And a waltz by Chopin, but played by Dinu Lipatti.

Below, Angela Gheorghiu sings ‘Ciobanas cu trei sute de oí­’ in Amsterdam, 2013. She is accompanied by Het Gelders Orkest olv Ramon Tebar: