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Mezzo-soprano Angelika Kirschlager takes us on a road less travelled and full of surprises, with her sensual voice, musical refinement and dramatic intensity. Here she speaks to us about opera, recitals and the role of culture in society.
The lieder which you sing during your recital are pearls from the end of the romantic period. Are you particularly attached to this period?
I do not really have a preference for the romantic repertoire – for the beginning or the end of the period. I chose these lieder because I find the music to be superb. When I compose a recital, I select above all lieder which I like. The connection with the history of music is not my priority. Furthermore, I enjoy singing these lieder because they are all very 'Viennese' and are connected to my opera repertoire, as I have sung many operas by Strauss.
< strong >You have had a wonderful opera career. Do you now wish to devote yourself to the lied repertoire?
Over the past twenty years, I have performed many operas, and I feel that the time has come to slow down somewhat. For the moment, I prefer giving recitals and chamber music concerts. Opera is dramatic, not only in the strict sense on stage, but also in the figurative sense backstage. One must work with so many people: stage directors, conductors, singers, etc. Everyone has a very personal vision of the production. Furthermore, I would like to travel less and organise my work myself, which is of course much more complicated with opera. When one is part of an opera production, one must submit to the wishes of others. In addition, staging an opera takes a huge amount of time. Although preparing and learning a recital of lieder takes just as much time, one may organise the work oneself and prepare it at home without having to spend six weeks in a foreign city, far from family and friends. The audience at a recital or chamber music concert is very different as well. It is calmer and has a more refined ear, as though it has sensors. In an opera, everything is more colourful and flashy, using thick paint brushes and bright colours, whereas during a recital, finer and more subtle tools are used, which thus go much deeper to reveal more varied psychological layers. A recital may appear calm and unspectacular, but in reality it is much more captivating. I consider it as an emotional rollercoaster.
< strong >Which emotions do you wish to share?
During a recital, I am a human being singing to other human beings. I wish to evoke many emotions. I want something to be different for the audience when they go home. The emotions which are brought out during a recital are very diverse, ranging from despair and sadness to joy. It is true that certain lieder are not joyful, but any expressed emotion is positive no matter what it is.
< strong >You recently claimed that 'culture is a foodstuff essential to man, being the potato rather than the sauce'. Is this still legitimate in certain countries which are deeply affected by the economic crisis?
I understand this remark, but do not agree with it. When one must fight to survive, in Europe or on other continents, I understand that culture is not a primary concern. But when it is not yet the case, or when this phase is over, culture must be stimulated even more. We must not wait until the economy and politics have regained stability and hope that there is still something left for culture. Let me mention Austria. In comparison with other countries – even in Europe – Austria is a rich country, but certain movements and political parties wish to keep culture in check. But when there is enough money to build shopping centres and football stadiums, it should be possible to organise recitals. When I refer to art, I am not only speaking of artistic expression in western Europe. Each community has its own cultural and artistic expression. This essentially involves the way in which citizens interact. If human relations were 'cultivated', the world would probably be a better place.
< strong >What are your projects for the future?
Each year I go on tour throughout Austria to sing lieder in little villages. I earn nothing for this, doing it on a volunteer basis like Médecins sans Frontières. In November, I will perform with Konstantin Wecker, who is not well known in Belgium, but who is a big star in German-speaking regions. The aim is to introduce a wider public to lieder. He writes new lieder and I perform the classic repertoire.
You also have to make time for your students.
My role as a teacher consists in teaching young singers to develop an opinion. It would be a shame if they just became machines who can sing very well from a technical point of view and strive to do their best without conveying anything personal. I find it important for singers to interpret Schubert in a way which is relevant from a contemporary perspective.
Interview by Frederic Delmotte