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Danielle de Niese: how I prepare for a role

As the countdown to Festival 2019 gets underway, we asked our resident soprano Danielle de Niese what makes the rehearsal process at Glyndebourne unique

Rehearsals for Glyndebourne Festival 2019 began this week.

Danielle de Niese will be taking on the titular role of Cendrillon during this year’s Festival. We caught up with her to ask what makes the rehearsal process at Glyndebourne so unique and how she prepares for a role.

When you are chosen for a role how far in advance do you start preparing for it?

The timing of my preparation for a role will always depend on how difficult the role is and how easy it is to prepare. For example, if I’m doing a world premiere I will start my preparation much earlier than if I was doing an opera I’ve performed before such as The Barber of Seville, but the work is the same.

I pore over my score, learning, looking and discovering. I look at the history of the composer, the history of the piece; I translate the entire score. I work on and sing the role with my teacher under his watchful eye. By the time rehearsals begin, the role is memorised and in my veins, but not to the point where I cannot change or develop ideas. This is the wonderful balance I go for: of knowing a role inside and out and knowing what I feel at the core of myself as well as at the core of the character – but also marrying that to the vision, ideas and guidance of the director and conductor.

This is your role debut as Cendrillon, what are you expecting from the part?

I have been very familiar with Massenet, and Manon is one of my favorite operas of all time. Cendrillon has been a wonderful discovery for me. For quite a while, people I trust in the music business, as well as teachers and coaches have said to me, ‘Cendrillon is a role for you’, so this is the perfect time for me to be delving into this magical piece.

How do you find performing at Glyndebourne given it is also your home?

Performing at Glyndebourne is pure pleasure! I know the Glyndebourne audience well, having done six roles here, and I take great comfort and joy in that familiarity. Every single person I am working with is like a family member to me. This had quickly become the case from the first season I debuted here (before Gus and I became a couple). Now that I am ‘married’ to the family and the place, it is even more profound, more endearing, more twinkly. For example: When I go on stage to do my own little warm-up before the show, and I see Jules Crocker briefing the ushers before the show, there’s always a sweet little wave between myself and the ushering team. They know it’s my intimate moment, and I know it’s theirs, and I always get a knowing smile from Jules. It’s a beautiful little dance, it’s just so meaningful to me to have the support and love of a whole group of people who have seen me grow into the artist I am.

What is special about the rehearsal period at Glyndebourne?

Glyndebourne is so famous in the business for their ‘loooong’ rehearsal period! Those who don’t want to rehearse for a long time will say, ‘yeah but they rehearse for so long!’ but those who like sinking their teeth into a role and always digging deeper, are the brilliant artists we get coming to Glyndebourne, precisely for that long period of exploration.

So much attention goes into the rehearsal process, as well as the time in crafting the costumes, wigs, makeup looks. At every corner of Glyndebourne I find people at the very summit of excellence, beavering away, each playing their integral part in making a show come to life for the public. As an audience member, you could even hate a particular production at Glyndebourne, but you absolutely cannot deny the brilliant attention to detail and the level of excellence in a show (even if you didn’t agree with it!). In this way, I really feel you are getting the best of the best at Glyndebourne, and the intimacy of the theatre means you will see all of this detail up close. The payoff for the audience and the artists is just magnificent.

What is your favourite moment during the rehearsal period?

My favourite moment in the rehearsal period is the first run through of chunks of the opera, when you’ve been piecing together the scenes, but you don’t know how the whole show flows. It’s the moment when you stop and look up and say, ‘Okay, what have we put together here?’ and the result can make you get so excited and happy and antsy to keep going, to keep creating.

Is there anything you do to take care of your voice when you are rehearsing and performing a lot?

Try and shut up! But it’s very hard with all I have to do as an artist and as a wife at Glyndebourne!


In this short video Danielle de Niese gives her top tips for vocal warm ups

How to warm up your singing voice

Cendrillon is on stage at Festival 2019 8 June–2 August

Image credits: Il barbiere di Siviglia, Festival 2016, photo by Bill Cooper | Danielle de Niese with Björn Bürger in rehearsals for Il barbiere di Siviglia, Festival 2016, photo by Richard Hubert Smith

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