Friday, July 25, 2014

Singer Profile: Christine Goerke, Soprano

You'll recalled I raved about the Glimmerglass production of Ariadne in Naxos. Once again the kind PR Diva at Glimmerglass has arranged for me to talk with a star of that production, Christine Goerke. Here is some of what we talked about.

Photo: Arielle Doneson
I loved Ariadne in Naxos. I loved the way you poked fun at the the Prima Donna character.
When do we get the opportunity to do that? Particularly in my rep! If I'm not killing my mother, I'm sleeping in a ring of fire. That's not as much fun as it seems.

I also saw Die Frau ohne Schatten at the Met. I was amazed at your sound there.
For a long time I tried really hard to just hold it all back. I had this idea in my head that there's an age when you're supposed to start singing my rep (dramatic soprano roles), and I was not yet that age. I was working so hard to reign everything in, and sing the repertoire that I thought was “safe”, but that is the most unsafe thing to do--to sing the wrong repertoire. It was a great relief to me to learn it's OK to have a big sound. I don't have to pretend to be something else.

Is is difficult going from a house the size of the Met to one the size of Glimmerglass?
I was terrified! I thought I would blow the doors off this place! I wouldn't be able to balance my cast! I'm very sensitive to what's going on around me, and that desire to balance what I hearing around me is sometime a help and sometimes a hindrance.

Christine Goerke as Ariadne
Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival
It's been great here because we have some big-voiced Young Artists. So it's been a really good experience to find my way of singing with my voice in this house. I had an opportunity to try out some really new things, and I learned to sing as quietly as I could without coming off of my sound, because of the size of the theater, because of my colleagues. I'm really happy with the opportunity to be in a house this size. It's not 4000 seats. I don't have to put out sound all the time. That was a bit of a gift for me.

How is it working with the Young Artists?
When I was a Young Artist here, I remember really wanting to suck every drop of information and insight out of everyone here, and that's how these Young Artists are. It's cool to be a part of that again. The first day I had a little breakfast meeting with all of them, and I said, “Ask me anything, and I will be completely honest about anything in the business. You might not like the answers, but I will tell you.” I thought that would be the most useful thing I could possibly do for them.

I was so impressed with American Tragedy (which was cast almost entirely with Young Artists)
I know! And that's not an easy score! The vocal writing is difficult, the tessitura is difficult! The part of Roberta is so high! C#s? Really? And Vanessa (Isiguen, who sang the role) does it like it's a piece of cake.

Not only are these kids fabulous vocally, but they're also all great on stage! I don't know that I had that kind of stage savvy at that age. That's a remarkable thing that I'm seeing this summer.

You say there are some big-voiced girls here?
Christine Goerke as Ariadne and Corey Bix as Bacchus 
Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival
We've got some big-voiced girls here and some big-voiced guys here. It's cool. This is the age where people are trying to find their way. Chances are at 25 or 26 it's not quite time to transition to dramatic rep yet. It's really great to have the conversations and to figure out what they do well right now. For all voices, they need to really trust the ears of their teachers and coaches--and they to learn which ones to trust, because they might hear conflicting opinions. It's been really very cool to be a part of that, if even for two months.

Tell me about being Heldenmommy (Christine's Twitter handle--translated literally, heroic mommy).
I wouldn't trade it for anything. Those two girls (5 and 7) are what I'm most proud of in this life, and I'm honored to be their mom. I get things wrong like every parent does, but I love 'em and they enhance my life more than they could possibly know.

I am really blessed and really busy. My kids have been with me all summer. We've been having a great time because it's stunningly beautiful here! They're having so much fun, and they want me to be a part of it. You know, they don't want us to be a part of things for very long. They're 5 and 7 and they still want me. Pretty soon they'll be teenagers and I won't know anything, so I'm trying to grab every moment.

How much time do you have to spend away from them on the road?
My husband and I talk about every single offer, and my manager is amazing, and understands how important it is to be with my kids. We try to keep my big travel during the school year. It's not any easier to be away from them, but the kids have a set schedule, and they're doing stuff during the week, and Dad's home all day on the weekends. Summers, I try to do things where I am away for a shorter period of time, or I can bring them with me. I try to keep my Europe gigs together, so it's one big stint but then I'm home.

It's tough. It's what every working parent goes through. But we talk about everything and we somehow manage to do it. The girls understand that when I go away, I'm coming home. It takes work, but it's worth it. It's so worth it!

How often do you add a new role?
That is trickier now that I have kids. And adding a Strauss or Wagner role is not like adding a Mozart role. All of the stuff I do now is through-composed—no repetition of text. I have to be able to dedicate three months--not necessarily immediately beforehand, but I still need that time to be able to do the work. I work on the language first, then I have to work on the music, then there's memorization time.

Text always comes first. I can't do anything until I know exactly what I'm saying. Then I go to the music and figure out how the composer wanted to say it. Then I come to a compromise between what he wanted to say and what I want to say. Then I write all of the text down. There's something about putting pen to paper and writing text out that helps me. Then I might look at DVDs or listen to audio recordings of the work, and see how people get from point A to point B—that cements everything for me.

I feel like I have to walk in on the first day of rehearsals and be ready to do a performance. I know that's not necessarily the idea—they are rehearsals—but I feel uncomfortable if I don't start there. I'll start out with my own ideas and work with director and conductor and other cast members, and my ideas will change. But I start in a place where I have the ability to change things on a dime, and that doesn't waste time.

Talk more about the vocal transition you've experienced.
When I was singing the Mozart and Handel roles, my focus, my resonance was very high, very light. That is great—it allows singers to sing very high and very fast. But as my voice was growing in size, it became more difficult to sing that way. I started having problems because I was doing unhealthy things to preserve a voice that was no longer my own. I finally realized that what had worked so well for fifteen years wasn't wrong at all, but I was only using part of my voice. The minute I relaxed and breathed and allowed my voice to be itself, the vocal color changed, the voice size changed. It was as easy as discovering where the rest of my voice was. It sounds simplistic, but it really was that.

When you made that change, did you have engagements for the former rep that you still had to fulfill?
A few, but then I had about 18 months without much. I was able to really work through the transition.

I'm often asked if it was hard to go out and start auditioning again. I was terrifed! I thought I had to prove to everybody that I wasn't broken. Of course that's not what they were thinking. They only wanted me to succeed. It took me a good six months before I felt like I was able to do good auditions. But I was singing the rep really well, and once word got around, things started to happen.

The Met was amazing. They'd seen this coming when I was 25. They let me cover Elsa, Ariadne, Sieglinde, a lot of roles. I got to be part of the rehearsals and hear the orchestra and hear the singers who were doing this repertoire, and see how it all worked. For me that was a big gift. I was at home, I was with my teacher, I was with all the coaches who knew me and knew my voice, and I was able to get myself going that way. I wish that for everybody who has to make a transition. It was a real gift.

Who is your teacher?
Diana Soviero. [raised eyebrows] Oh yeah! Everybody has that reaction. People are confused because she never did any of my rep. I have coaches for my rep! This woman knows bel canto technique, and that's how you're supposed to sing all music. Diana still sings and still sounds amazing! That's the best validation for my choice.

I'm glad to hear you say that about bel canto technique! People think it's different for German music. 
It's not different! It's a necessity! Everything has to have line, everything has to have support, everything has to have the right attack, everything has to have spin! It's singing!

Do you do the big Italian roles?
We're having conversations about this right now. I do Turandot--I have a bunch of those coming up. We're talking about Fanciulla. We are talking about Forza, but Verdi is tricky for me. A lot of the Verdi soprano roles sit at the top of the staff and go up from there. My voice loves to live in the middle, and sing my high notes, and come back. That's why Eboli (in Don Carlo) is perfect for me. I did Eboli in Houston and in Toulouse.

In brief if there's one thing you'd like to communicate in this profile, what would it be?
Put yourself into your art. Don't try to be perfect! Perfect does not art make! Art is passion, is thrilling, is risk taking, is dangerous, is miraculous! And if you don't take chances, none of that will happen. I have said so many times, “That was so beautiful, but I don't care. Do it again, and it doesn't matter if you crack or say the wrong word—just be an artist!” I would rather hear a performer throw her heart into something and crack five times than to have her sing something perfectly with no passion. To me that's boring. I have to remind the Young Artists always that they have permission to be themselves. Everybody brings something really cool to the table. Why not really shine with what you have?

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