01 May 2013

Kate Lindsey at Glyndebourne

It would seem a logical step for the mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey to take on the role of the Composer in Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos.

With a voice that has been described as full-throated and vibrant, Lindsey has assumed Mozart and Offenbach travesti roles in her career thus far. The trouser role in Ariadne will mark both Lindsey’s Glyndebourne and role debuts, not to mention her first Strauss opera, when the production opens on 18 May 2013.

When we met up at Glyndebourne, I asked if she had plans for future Strauss roles (Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier and Zdenka in Arabella spring to mind). She said she hoped so, a measured and careful response from a young singer who clearly takes an admirably considered and well-paced view of her career, rather than rushing into new roles. At the moment, she is simply concentrating on the Composer, she explained. She feels it is important to get this iconic role debut right, pointing out that you only get to do a role debut once and that she wants to enjoy every moment. She has been preparing for the role for over a month, pacing herself and studying, wanting to feel secure.

Lindsey has found an exciting freshness and vitality to the character of which she is trying to take advantage. She points out that once you have done a role, you always carry what you’ve done with you, and that there is a certain beauty in having a blank canvas. She is relishing Strauss’ music as she gets to know the role.

Her preparation has included reading the history behind the opera, notably the relationship between Richard Strauss and his librettist Hugo von Hoffmanstal. Lindsey finds that understanding the lives of the creators informs the spirit of the character she is playing.

In fact, when Strauss and Hoffmanstal talked about expanding Ariadne auf Naxos and writing the prologue, Strauss said that he did not want the character of the Composer to be based on himself. The character was written so that it was closer to Mozart, which made Strauss more comfortable. But Lindsey feels, having read the letters between Strauss and Hoffmanstal, that the character of the Composer is rather like Hoffmanstal. He could become inflamed about things, whereas Strauss was a calmer, more grounded character.

Asked whether she found it frustrating not to be in the second part of Ariadne auf Naxos, the opera proper, she said she found it so rewarding to do the prologue that there was no use fretting about not being in the second part. Also, in the new Glyndebourne production (which is directed by Katharina Thoma and conducted by Vladimir Jurowski), her character has been staged into the second part—though she does not provide details. This, of course, entails extra rehearsals, but this is the sort of work that Lindsey loves: simply being in the room during the production process.

Glyndebourne Opera, with its location on a country estate far from London and with long rehearsal periods, is a very particular experience and one that is also new to Lindsey. She has found Glyndebourne gorgeous, commenting that from the moment she arrived, everyone was smiling and learning her name; it made a big difference that there were friendly faces and a family atmosphere. Her three-month stay at Glyndebourne will be the longest she has been in one place in several years.

Lindsey has worked at Santa Fe and Saint Louis, both of whose opera festivals were founded on the Glyndebourne model. Lindsey has found it fascinating to see the original. Having read a history of Glyndebourne, she finds John Christie’s founding of the festival in the middle of the countryside in the 1930s simply inconceivable.

For the duration of her stay at Glyndebourne, Lindsey is living in a cottage nearby, close to the South Downs. She has been taking advantage of the location to take lots of walks, relishing the English countryside and in its network of marked footpaths.

After Glyndebourne, Lindsey will be taking some time off. Then she has new roles to study. In autumn, she will appear in Berlioz’s La Damnation de Faust and has a busy concert schedule. After Christmas, she will be returning to the role Niklausse in Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann in Munich and has a tour with Thomas Hengelbrock in what she describes as a “Handel pasticcio,” a semi-staged production created from the composer’s arias.

Lindsey would like to do more baroque opera. Give that she is comfortable in travesti roles, she would be successful in such repertoire. But Lindsey points out that there is a lot less baroque opera in the United States than there is in Europe. She attributes this partly to the size of the theatres, that the right voices for the repertoire do not always fit the houses.

There is also the dramatic challenge, particularly in the da capo arias. One needs the right artist to perform them, but also someone ready to dig deep into the work. For Lindsey, such music requires a firm grasp of the subtexts necessary to give the music life. She finds it a challenge to breathe life into music, to build new ideas whilst still respecting tradition.

The future will bring several new roles while reprising existing ones such as Niklausse. Lindsey finds it helpful to hold onto roles she knows. At the moment she does not find that she gets bored or frustrated with repeating roles. She points out that she is still young, yet adds that she never wants to feel that she could not repeat a role.

For her, each experience is creative — different performances may push you in different directions. You may not always connect with a director, but even in difficult moments you find something that you have not accessed before. Also, she does not stop when she leaves the rehearsal room, spending time mulling over things, going over the interactions with other characters. She will still be thinking hours later. Quoting Billy Joel, she found his comments about his career not being 9 to 5 very helpful. Even once they have passed opening night for Ariadne auf Naxos she will continue to think about her character and find ways forward.

Lindsey finds it helpful to listen to recordings, adding that it is fascinating to hear how other people have approached passages—that it can be a voice lesson. She also appreciates being able to watch and observe performances on DVD. With a role like the Composer, which has been assumed by both mezzo-sopranos and sopranos, there is the added interest of hearing how the different voice types navigate the music. In places, the vocal line goes high; when learning the role Lindsey was curious to hear how someone with a much thicker voice made it work.

For her, the Composer is such a physically intense character that it is a challenge to find the relaxation necessary to float some beautiful lines. She also points out that nowadays, it is harder for singers to experiment with roles because performances can quickly find their way onto the internet after people film with their phones. This creates an interesting pressure, Lindsey says, feels there is no opportunity to try things out in the way singers in the past were able to.

As a singer you now have to be your own protector, she continues, which is no easy task for the young. You have to learn to say no. But the results of saying no, of knowing yourself, can lead to wonderful opportunities and hopefully people will respect you.

Mozart has featured very strongly in her career so far. She has performed the Second Lady in Die Zauberflöte, Idamante in Idomeneo, Zerlina in Don Giovanni, Cherubino in La Nozze di Figaro, and Annio in La Clemenza di Tito, with plans for Sesto next year. Lindsey feels connected to Mozart’s music and that his roles are a challenge to sing with their inherent humanity; they offer dramatic life, and that is where she likes to start. Lindsey finds that when she goes back to Mozart, the music tells you where the balance is in your voice. Mozart’s music is like medicine for the voice.

Lindsey is a graduate of the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, a program which she found very helpful indeed. It was an intense three years of study, but working with and observing some of the top singers in the world; taking small roles in productions; and sharing the rehearsal space with major singers allowed her to learn what opera really was all about. There was glamour at some level, but also an intense process, which was very educational and helped her to define some of her artistic priorities. Her time on the Met program also included working with James Levine, enabling her to delve into the music in all its intensity. She found the period a goldmine, and is forever grateful for the opportunities it gave her.

Lindsey admits to having no grand plan. There are roles that she aspires to sing, projects she wishes to create and people she would like to work with creatively, adding that working in a creative environment is the most important thing. Fixed goals are not Lindsey’s style; she says that there is grace in allowing things to unfold. She doesn’t consider it just her manager’s job to get her work but her job to do the best work possible. The only thing she can control is the present. Her goal for now is to give everything to the current project. After that, other things will come.

Ariadne auf Naxos runs from 18 May to 11 July as part of Glyndebourne Festival. For more information visit www.glyndebourne.com or call 01273 813813.

Robert Hugill