German soprano Marlis Petersen can sing everything. She is of course outstanding in Mozart : how could we possibly forget her Pamina with René Jacobs, or her Susanna at the Salzburg Festival ? But she is also Lulu for a generation, and is superlative in the French (Huguenots, Hamlet, Les Contes d’Hoffmann) and in the belcanto repertoire. Marlis Petersen is currently singing the title role in Beethoven’s Leonore in a European tour that will stop in Paris on November 7th.
Photos : www.marlis-petersen.de
Can you tell us about what decided you to sing and about your debut ?
When I was 16, I joined the church choir in my town and I found out about all this wonderful church music. After one year, the choir director asked me to sing the soprano solo in a Schubert Mass. I accepted and from this moment, there was no way out of dedicating myself to singing. After my studies in Stuttgart I auditioned at the Nuremberg Opera and was immediately offered my first beginners contract. After 5 years, I moved on to the Opera at the Rhine (Düsseldorf/Duisburg) for another 5 years, before I decided to continue as a freelancer.
You are currently singing Leonore in Beethoven’s first version of Fidelio. What do you expect from this production ?
For me, it is always interesting to know where the things come from and what the original idea was. To follow Beethoven’s Fidelio track is very exciting and, together with René Jacobs and the Freiburger Barockorchester, it really means « going to the deep roots » of the piece. And of course, Leonore is an amazing character, a woman who follows her aim with great strength and courage.
You have worked with René Jacobs at several occasions. How would you describe the collaboration with him ?
Working with René Jacobs is always very inspiring, because you are not only learning about the music, but also the historic background, many details, figurations, stories that happened in the time the piece was composed and everything around the composer struggling with his composition. When you work with René, the piece is nailed forever in your cell consciousness, because you have inhaled everything fully and had enough time to get it into your system.
Is it important for your to sing with period instruments ?
I like it a lot. With the unique sound of the period-tuned instruments, you get much deeper into the authentic feeling of the music at its time. And of course, it is much easier to sing with an orchestra of 60 people than with a modern one that has close to a 100. Imagine what these little two vocal chords have to accomplish to be heard over an orchestra !
Would you like to sing more baroque music, Handel or Vivaldi for example ?
Of course ! I was lucky to do some Handel in my steady engagements in Düsseldorf and lucky again to perform Alcina in the next season. Vivaldi might not be for my voice anymore because you need a very fluid coloratura and I am moving on to a more lyric-dramatic repertoire.
In January 2018, you will sing Maria Stuarda at the Theater an der Wien. Is the belcanto repertoire important for you ?
The belcanto repertoire inheres the most interesting stories of the past : queen dramas, love stories, family tragedies. As a singer, you can sneak into these roles and bring them back to life through music and your own approach and interpretation. I love it as a color in my repertoire, but as I am a German singer, I will never be so familiar and close with the language and the Italian style than an Italian could be. My future focus will be more the German repertoire.
Why did you decide last year to sing the role of Lulu for the last time ?
Lulu was and still is my absolute favourite opera, but I guess I call it like that because it has furnished my life for 18 years and became my signature role. The story is rude : the fate of the girl Lulu is a terrible one. The discussion about perpetrator and victim is endless. After creating all shades of Lulu in 10 different productions, the lady sneaks into your being and somehow sets the tone of your female way of looking at things. I decided to give myself a new perspective and let her go. Believe me, it was not an easy thing but the two of us managed it well !
What are your main projects today ?
At the moment, I work on CD trilogy called Dimensions, and the first CD with the title WELT will be released in early November 2017. It contains a hundred years of classic song, Schubert, Robert and Clara Schumann, Brahms, Wagner, Hans Sommer. It takes the listener on a journey to the beauties of our Earth, to the human being in it with his yearnings and his fate. This project will keep me busy for the next three years when the dimensions ANDERSWELT and INNENWELT will come to life. Besides, the opera path is moving into a new direction, and will bring new roles for the future. I am myself very curious where it will lead me.
Which artists would you like to work with ?
Believe it or not, I have no special wishes for that. I rather would step out of the arts and meet people that do something fascinating for our planet or with our co-creatures. I am thinking of people like Anna Breytenbach, who is an animal communicator or people that invent vehicles that collect plastic from the sea. I think it would be good for everybody to step out of their circles and widen the horizon, don’t you think ?