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Once again we welcome this young Belgian singer to the stage at La Monnaie. She is giving a very original recital which has as a common theme the work and spirit of the French poet, Paul Verlaine. It was here, in a room in the rue des Brasseurs, that one of the most tragic moments in his life took place: he fired two shots at his lover, the genial Arthur Rimbaud in July, 1873. Sophie Karthäuser combines works by Gabriel Fauré and Reynaldo Hahn with tunes from two contemporary composers, much-loved at La Monnaie, Benoît Mernier and Bernard Foccroulle, the latter being instrumental in getting her started on her career several years ago.
Could you please talk about the programme for the recital you are giving on 16th January, 2012, here at the Monnaie. What prompted the choice of an entirely French programme?
It is largely the contents of a recording that will be released in the months to come. I have always loved singing in French, particularly the tunes. When I first had the idea to make this recording I thought of Arriettes oubliées (Forgotten Songs) by Debussy which I love and have sung for a long time, and that made me think of a programme centred around Verlaine. Of course I know the work of Debussy and Fauré but it was also fun to bring out from the shadows some top quality pieces. As to the French, it is true that the nasal sounds (‘on’, ‘an’, ‘in’) can be difficult because they are closed sounds. But, apart from that, the way I approach a song is no different than in any other language. What is of utmost importance to me is to deliver the words the best I can.
How did pieces by Bernard Foccroulle and Benoît Mernier come to be included in the programme?
With Verlaine as my common theme, I had already chosen very well-known pieces (Debussy, Fauré), and other less sung pieces (Caplet, Lacroix). I then considered including some contemporary pieces and I immediately thought of Bernard Foccroulle who played such an important part in the early stages of my career. It was he who started me off at La Monnaie. He was one of the first to believe in me and support me. It was therefore obvious to me that I would go to him for these pieces. As to Benoît Mernier I had already worked with him (Un hémisphère dans une chevelure from Baudelaire in 2009). I very much like the way he writes for voice.
Is singing in Belgium a challenge?
Compared to other countries, I can’t see a big difference. It’s true that I was lucky to be supported by La Monnaie at the very beginning of my career. My national and international reputation has certainly benefitted from this and it was a valuable help. An even greater piece of luck is that Bernard Foccroulle invited me to sing roles that were perfectly suited to my voice which meant I could grow and mature naturally without forcing it. I can particularly recall the production of The Magic Flute conducted by René Jacobs. For the following two weeks my agent received so many offers of work from abroad, from Germany but especially from France. I can never thank René Jacobs enough for what he taught me, musically and vocally.
How is it going, working with Cédric Tiberghien?
One or two years ago we worked together on several recitals. I immediately took to Cedric, both for his kindness and his simplicity; he is an artist without artifice. When we are working together to prepare a recital everything happens simply. We understand each other without too many words and the music sorts itself out. I have to say that his vast experience in chamber music helps a lot. The music on the recording immediately spoke to him, this is music he loves and understands spontaneously. He is full of enthusiasm and is already talking to me about another recording!
Could you tell us about your plans for the months and years to come?
As well as the Verlaine recording, I have just recorded Finta Giardiniera, in which I sing the part of Sandrina under the baton of René Jacobs. After that Cédric and I are giving recitals in Montreal (23rd January) at the Opera Bastille (8th February) at the Wigmore Hall (19th February) and at the Berlin Philharmonic (26th March) with the Verlaine programme. I am coming back to La Monnaie in April for Orlando, still with René Jacobs. In the summer I shall be at Glyndebourne to sing Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro. Next autumn I’ll be singing Charpentier’s Medée at the Champs Elysées Theatre in Paris and also in Lille. And finally there will be Handel’s Radamisto at the Theater an der Wien for the 2012 New Year celebrations, once again with Rene Jacobs.
How important are recitals in your life as a singer?
When we talk to our agents about recitals they usually tell us that they are difficult to place and programme. Perhaps they attract a smaller audience than opera. However, for me, there is a complementary balance between recital, opera and oratorio. In opera we work on a larger scale. Recital allows you to do things that are more intimate, to be closer to the audience, to go into more detail. I can tell you that this recital on the stage at La Monnaie in January will be a very emotional occasion for me: it will take me back, in some ways, to my very beginnings.
Interview by Benoît Jacquemin