Soprano superstar Danielle de Niese, sought after in opera houses and major concert halls all over the world, steps into the intimate Recital Hall at Birmingham Conservatoire on Monday to give a lunchtime concert.
She tells me how this very special engagement came about.
“I’m a great friend of Julian Lloyd Webber. He invited me to perform Villa-Lobos’ Bachianas Brasilieras with him to celebrate his birthday in 2011 with a huge Gala at the Royal Festival Hall in London, and we have always kept in touch. We also share a lot of concerns about music education today. So when he asked me, I jumped at the chance to support his work in Birmingham at the Conservatoire.”
How will this very close proximity with a small and highly appreciative audience compare with being in the opera house?
“I love it!” Danni enthuses. “Formal performance spaces have larger barriers between singer and audience. A small scale performance space takes all the distance away and really allows me to connect with audiences in a much more intimate way.
“My musical life is made up of not only opera, but recital and chamber music as well. I have performed in Birmingham once before and I do remember the public being extremely warm and appreciative – I look forward to what will be a very intimate experience.”
Many of us will remember Danni’s incredible Sound of Music sequence during a recent Last Night of the Proms. She brought as much artistry to that gorgeous chunk of Rodgers and Hammerstein as she does to her more “classical” repertoire, ranging from Handel and Rameau, through Mozart and beyond. Is there any difference of approach across these fields?
“Technically different repertoire presents different challenges, so I will always approach everything I do with this in mind. There is, for instance, a huge gap between Handel and Rameau which you really have to think about and get your voice into the right place when approaching a role.
“The other thing to consider is how the voice develops over time and match roles to suit. I would say that I started life as a Mozartian/ Handelian, but am gradually moving into heavier repertoire as time goes on. When it comes to Rogers and Hammerstein and musical theatre, this is another ball game entirely. It’s an easy trap for opera singers to fall into, assuming their voice can work exactly the same. But I feel musical theatre is a different technique again, and deserves a seriously considered approach. This repertoire s not as easy as it sometimes sounds.’’
Danni goes on to describe how her heritage has informed the way she approaches her work.
“As a Sri Lankan of mixed Scottish and Dutch ancestry, growing up in Australia and America, studying languages in Europe, and then settling and marrying an Englishman in East Sussex, it’s fair to say that I have quite a mix going on there!
“What I can say is that it gives me a very broad perspective across many different cultural landscapes, and I hope this informs me as an artist, and makes me open minded to a massive cross section of influences. It’s also rather fun, because I feel like a sort of ambassador to the world as I ‘fit in’ to so many different places.
“I’m going home to Australia next season, for example, which is going to be incredible fun. On a more serious note my experiences also give me huge empathy with the issue of migration today. As the child of migrants, I know what it takes to move and settle and make a success of life in a different country. I am most honoured if people see me as to be carrying the banner for the greats like Nellie Melba and Joan Sutherland who came before me.”
Then comes the perhaps predictable question: how does Danielle de Niese manage to juggle family and professional life?
“I can’t say it’s easy, there are a whole new set of challenges out there as a working mother,” she admits. “And I decided to confront these head-on, by returning to work three weeks after Bacchus (my son) was born. And I haven’t really stopped since!
“Success is all about organisation and really great teamwork. One thing that I have strongly felt since becoming a mum is that yes, I may not be able to do every single thing, and I have to make more choices, but I never feel any of my choices isn’t one I want to make. I am always where I want to be. My husband and parents are so supportive of me, so this close family network makes a lot of things possible for me.”
* Danielle de Niese performs at Birmingham Conservatoire on Monday December 12 (1.05pm).
* Tomorrow: K’Antu bring a programme of 16th-century music and dance to the atmospherically medieval Lord Leycester Hospital in Warwick (7.30pm).
* Saturday: Birmingham Contemporary Music Group celebrates the 25th anniversary of its revolutionary crowd-funding Sound Investment scheme at the CBSO Centre (7.30pm).
* Saturday: Halesowen Orchestra brings the Elgar Violin Concerto to the town’s Cornbow Hall, the immensely talented Charlotte Moseley the soloist (7.30pm).