Friday 19 April 2013

An encounter with Kate Lindsey

Kate Lindsey © Dario Acosta
The American mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey made her UK debut last year as Zerlina in Don Giovanni at Covent Garden. On May 18, 2013 she makes both her Glyndebourne debut and her role debut as the Composer in Katharina Thoma's new production of Richard Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos which will be Vladimir Jurowski's last project as musical director, with Soile Isokoski as Ariadne and Laura Claycomb as Zerbinetta. I travelled down to Glyndebourne to meet Lindsey and interview her for Modern Glyndebourne with its combination of new and old buildings, is something of a maze. Once the cab had dropped me at the stage door, I was welcomed and then taken on a circuitous route, circumnavigating some building works, through to the old building which was once the green room of the old theatre but is now the artists' area. A pleasant courtyard led to the artists' canteen, where over coffee I chatted to Lindsey.

Dressed all in black, with very striking black cowboy-style boots, Lindsey is slim and attractive, with long dark hair, so it is easy to understand why she has been making something of a success of travesty roles. Niklausse in Les Contes d'Hoffmann is something of a speciality, she returns to the role next year in Munich, and she has a growing roster of Mozart travesty roles, Cherubino and Annio with Sesto (La Clemenza di Tito) to come. But she has also been performing Angelina in Rossini's La Cenerentola so clearly she does not plan to stay permanently in trousers.

As this is her first Richard Strauss role, I asked her whether there were plans for future roles in his other operas. She gives a measured response, saying that she hoped so, but that at the moment she was trying to give everything to her debut, pointing out that you only get to do a role debut once and that there was something beautiful about having a blank canvas to work on. This carefully considered view seems to reflect the singer, later in our conversation she talked about how young singers nowadays had to learn to be their own protectors and must learn to say no. She talked of how she wanted to have a long career, and did not want to risk pushing too far too quickly and developing a wobble. I only wish more young singers had such a clear sighted attitude.

Our talk was interrupted with tannoy announcements for the stage rehearsals, and with other staff members coming and going, but it was somehow rather satisfying to be talking there rather than in some anonymous room.

Lindsey has sung at Santa Fe and at Saint Louis, both are festivals founded on the Glyndebourne model but she was clearly enjoying her experience of the original, finding everyone friendly and liking the feeling of being in a family. Her three months at Glyndebourne (actually three months and ten days) are the longest she will have had in one place for some years. She is staying in a cottage in the grounds and doing a lot of walking, taking clear delight in the way the English footpaths are marked.

Lindsey is clearly a great reader, at various times she talked about understanding the background to roles. She is currently reading a history of Glyndebourne itself, and has been reading the Strauss/Hoffmanstal correspondence, finding it helpful to fill in the background to the Composer and to finding parallels between Hoffmanstal and the intense, emotional character of the Composer. This filling in of background and digging deep is clearly something she relishes, she returns to the topic a few times in our conversation notably when we touch on baroque opera performance.

She is a singer who likes to listen to other singers in the role, and she has been listening to various voice types singing the Composer, naming such varied singers as Christa Ludwig, Lotte Lehmann and Alice Coote. She was particularly interested in how the darker, richer voices coped with the role, commenting that you had to combine the Composer's intense physicality with the need to be relaxed to sing the high notes. She mentions Janet Baker's performance of the Composer and how she has not been able to find a recording of the singer in the role and I comment that I actually heard Baker singing in Ariadne auf Naxos in Scotland in the seventies. 

We also touch on baroque opera, something Lindsey clearly enjoys. She talks about the challenge of digging into the music to find the subtexts underneath and mentions the challenge to directors of the pieces, notably the da capo arias. That she has not sung as much baroque opera as she would like is down to the fact that it is less common in the USA than in Europe. Partly this is familiarity and a greater appreciation, I point out that the 1985 centenary celebrations was a particular tipping point in the UK. But she also mentions the size of the theatres in the USA, citing the difficulty of finding the right voices who can sing the baroque pieces and fill the houses.

Lindsey is a singer who clearly enjoys the creative process itself. She found her time on the Met's Young Artist Program extremely instructive, simply being able to be in the rehearsal room with major singers working on a piece was an experience and she also cites being able to work in pieces with James Levine. For Ariadne auf Naxos at Glyndebourne, Lindsey's character is also in part two though she does not sing. This of course entails extra rehearsals, something she seems to relish.  She talks about how in future plans and goals, that the most important thing for her is to work in a creative environment.

But though she has goals and aspirations, she has no grand plan and feels that the only thing you can control is the present so that her goal is to give everything to the current project and hopefully other things will come.

We had only just started to touch on her background in a family who were musical but for whom music as a career was a foreign idea when my 45 minutes were up. There were many areas we did not touch on, Lindsey's experience of playing comedy, her performance of contemporary music and her experiences playing Britten, they will all have to be kept for some future interview.

My return journey back to the stage door is via another, different, circuitous route and gives me further insight into complexities of the facilities at the opera house and I also bump into Julia Müer who has designed the set for Ariadne auf Naxos.

Lindsey is a singer who seems to combine a vibrant voice and stage manner, with a calm and centred view of her career. She does not seem to be one to make decisions lightly and I look forward to hearing how she develops. We will be catching the new production of Ariadne auf Naxos at Glyndebourne part of the way through the run, and I will be reporting back. The production opens on 18 May 2013, further information from the Glyndebourne website. Glyndebourne will be streaming Ariadne auf Naxos on-line on June 4.

My full interview with Kate Lindsey appears on

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