Danielle de Niese on the Ravel double bill

Posted On by

Just three months after giving birth to a baby boy, soprano Danielle de Niese is back on the Glyndebourne stage performing in L’heure espagnole and L’enfant et les sortilèges, Maurice Ravel’s only two operas.

We caught up with Danielle to talk about taking on both main roles in the Ravel double bill.

Photo: Richard Hubert Smith

You were the youngest ever member to join the MET Young Artists Programme aged just 18, and it was at the MET you first performed in the Ravel Double Bill. You’re now taking on both principal roles in this year’s Festival. What drew you back to these operas?

I’ve never done L’heure espagnole so this is a role debut for me. I performed the title role in L’enfant et les sortilèges when I was 23 years old at the Metropolitan Opera under James Levine.

I spent a lot of time on the piece then when I was so young. It was very meaningful for me to have been chosen by Maestro Levine, and the narrative of the story is told so beautifully through the child. His music is so sublime it was absolutely impossible to imagine doing any other role in the opera. I’m fortunate Glyndebourne took the risk of offering me this role.

How does it feel to perform as one of only two non-native French speakers in these operas?

When I was at Mannes College of Music and during my years in the Lindemann Young Artist Program, I was fortunate to be able to study or do masterclasses with so many great French singers, including Regine Crespin, Michel Sénéchal and Jean-Paul Fouchécourt, and work with some wonderful French coaches – Denise Massé, Janine Reiss, Gaït Sirguey.

I also studied French for seven weeks in Paris when I was 19 years old… so I’ve had a long history with the French style and French song.

I’ve really enjoyed working with a nearly all-French cast in these pieces. We worked in rehearsal almost entirely speaking French – the rehearsals were filled with laughter and there’s a great camaraderie amongst both casts.

Photo: James Bellorini

L’heure espagnole is a sassy, funny farce while L’enfant et les sortilèges is a touching morality tale with fantastical fairytale characters. As a singer and actor in these roles, how do you achieve the balance?

I’m not sure the key is to achieve balance between the two… rather the key for me is to separate the two and embrace the contrast.

The trick for L’heure is to treat it as a drama. We were reminded of this by Laurent Pelly after the pre-dress rehearsal – actually the situation isn’t funny at all! If you play “funny”, the piece is dead in the water. In my opinion, the piece only remains funny for the audience if the actors take it seriously.

For L’enfant the trick for me is not to overplay or overstate the boyish physicality, which is really easy to do when you’ve just played a sexy femme fatale role!

There are delicate balances to achieve within each role. With Concepción the balance is between frantic desperation and laidback, sexy Spanish sultriness. With L’enfant the difficulty is to maintain the razor-like balance – singing Ravel’s lines with musicality and elegant French phrasing while still portraying the simplicity of a boy in thought. The text is poignant and profound so finding this balance is like walking a tightrope.

With Ravel’s witty and stylish music, Robin Ticciati conducting and the London Philharmonic as the resident orchestra, musically the two roles must be a dream for you.

This Ravel double bill definitely gives me two dream roles in the most ideal setting. Robin Ticciati and I have been looking forward to working together for some years – this is our first project together.

I have a wonderful relationship with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, having performed L’elisir d’amore and Don Pasquale as well as concerts in London, and it’s so special to work with this particular team, not least because we’re creating this opera at Glyndebourne, which is now my home.

Photo: Richard Hubert Smith

The set designs for these two operas are surrealist and captivating in equal measure. The energy required for the choreography must be a challenge for anyone playing both roles – what’s your secret?

To be honest, I’m not sure myself where I get my energy from! It’s true that both shows are physically and mentally demanding. Also because they’re so different – just take the body language!

I think my secret is that I’ve kept my brain so actively involved in the shaping and creation of these two roles. I’ve not allowed myself any excuses, regardless of personal circumstances, and I’ve returned to my metier with the same energy, passion and desire to create and perfect that I’ve always brought to my work. So it’s “business as usual” for me!

Enrique Mazzola recently described the London Philharmonic as a ‘real musician’s orchestra’. What does that mean to you?

I completely agree with Enrique’s assessment: the London Philharmonic are a team of collaborators – it’s almost like working with a chamber group! They’re thinking musicians and very attentive to detail and everything that’s happening on stage. You never feel anyone’s jaded in the orchestra, which is a real gift – they come to each project as if it’s the first time.

Finally, Glyndebourne have just announced the Festival 2016 repertoire, confirming your role as Rosina in Il barbiere di Siviglia. What are your thoughts on teaming up with Annabel Arden and Enrique Mazzola once again?

I’m really looking forward to doing my first Rosina. I’m so excited to make this role debut with Enrique Mazzola and Annabel Arden as we had a great time together in L’elisir d’amore – our trio should make for an explosive Il barbiere! :)

You can see Danielle de Niese in L’heure espagnole and L’enfant et les sortilèges, staged together as the Ravel double bill, in performances till 30 August.

Have you seen the Ravel double bill? Leave a comment and let us know what you thought.