For years Kate Lindsey has been dominating the operatic scene with her endearing characterizations in some of the most famous pants roles in the repertoire, particularly the character of Nicklausse in “Les Contes d’Hoffmann.”
This year, audiences will finally be able to see Lindsey in a very different light as she explores the world of Kurt Weill and his contemporaries in her debut album “Thousands of Miles” for Alpha Classics. The album sees the mezzo-soprano in a very different style of singing and exploring new facets of her voice. It also showcases a rare combination of a jazz artist with an operatic singer. OperaWire had a chance to speak with Lindsey on her exploration and the unique opportunity to record her first album.
OperaWire: How did the project come about?
Kate Lindsey: It came from deep conversations over a few months. Didier Martin produces all the albums for Alpha Classics. The company and he and I had been in discussion for quite a few months and I had been developing different ideas and picking up certain things and seeing how they grouped. And then it was a bit funny because we were having lunch one day and I was talking about all these things I was thinking about and then he threw out, “What about Kurt Weill?” And I said, “What?” All of the other stuff I was thinking about was in a totally different direction. Funny enough, I grew up with a lot of Broadway and a lot of musicals and so I had that sound.
OW: Were you familiar with Kurt Weill’s work?
KL: I did do some work with New York Festival of Song and I had been introduced to a lot of that repertoire. I thought about exploring the early 20th-century repertoire, like Korngold, and Mahler but I had never thought of Kurt Weill. And I never thought he would be the seed to it all. Especially because there is that famous Teresa Stratas album of Kurt Weill and I thought no one touches that.
OW: So what made you commit to the repertoire on the album?
KL: I thought, “I need to take a little time and look at this and see what grows out of this seed.” And so I went home and started reading about him and started to really figure out who were his contemporaries and who was he studying with. And then we started to look at these composers and people who were developing in the same time period and in the same place, studying with the same people. There is so much overlap during that time. And that started to get exciting to see what it could be and how the progression to hear harmonically how you can hear the sounds.
OW: How did you narrow the repertoire for the album and at what point did Baptiste Trotignon come into the process?
KL: When we get to the 30s and 40s you can hear the progression and how harmonically you can hear the future. It’s rather ironic and there is also such an attraction to the text. I’m always really fascinated to hear the text and understand why a composer picked a certain poet to set to music. The things going on in their lives and what is going on culturally. The sensibility that created that environment.
We started with piles and piles of music and then Didier introduced me to Baptiste Trotignon. He had worked with Baptiste before. And Baptiste had studied music classically but is very much a jazz pianist. We met in a hotel lobby in Paris and I packed up all my books and papers and we met for a few hours and tried to see if we had complimentary sensibilities.
Then Baptiste started to throw ideas back at me and he has a real sense of the sound that appealed to him and how things flow together and work. That is where he thrives. I come at it from the text. And so we worked really well together in that sense because we could direct each other based on our particular strength and it really turned into something. When you’re working with a jazz musician you could really improvise on so many things and even in a recording studio. I was really improvising and we really worked several months to build that rapport.
OW: Had you done a lot of improvisation before?
KL: I haven’t done a lot in a professional sense before. I grew up in a Broadway world and I grew up with Elza Fitzgerald and I definitely was in a massive phase so I had done quite a lot of listening. But Baptiste was really good to me about making interesting observations. In classical music, you reach the end of the music and there is a stretch in the phrase with a rallentando and back into the tempo and he struggles a bit with that. Whereas in jazz you fix a beat and that beat is going to stick with that. It’s not going anywhere and you jump into the beat and you can stretch but you always go back to the central beat. So it’s not that far out from Rossini per se and in coloratura. In that line of coloratura, you can stretch as long as you want. There is some similarities to it but he did encourage me to take risks in jazzy pieces and I think it’s going to be fun when we take it to a concert and to play with it further because it can take so many different forms. I think that’s what makes it very interesting and fluid and not so fixed.
OW: How did the preparation take from picking out the repertoire and going into the recording studio?
KL: We started that in the early autumn period and what was challenging was between my performing career and his performing career we were having to go back and forth with our calendars. It was comprised of four weekends working together. I traveled to him a couple of times while I was doing a “Hansel And Gretel” in Amsterdam and I went to him where we could work in his studio just outside of Paris. And then he came to London where I am based. It was really about doing a really great working weekend just before we recorded. So we already had some days of just the two of us just feeling that we were really free and we knew what we were doing before we walked into the studio.
OW: What kinds of adjustments did you make to each other?
KL: Baptiste has done this so much and for me, it is a much newer experience. But for him what was different was that when he works with a singer they are in a sound booth or somewhere else. It was organizing the difference of sounds. We worked over five or six sounds. We had to narrow down the songs and several of the Kurt Weill songs, we sort of put them together and each of them is from the same production. It had a nice flow. We put together the pieces so Baptiste also had enough to improvise. I am very grateful to Didier for really supporting us through this preparation process.
OW: How long did the recording process take?
KL: We recorded in Berlin over three days. We got there and the guy who did the sound producing and editing said, “We need to get through eight songs a day.” And when we knew that that was the goal, it all happened. We even did some songs that did not land on the album. And I think there will be some bonus track coming out. It seems like a big number that we had to get through but I think in the recording business, everyone realizes that there is something that flows very easily and there are some things that require more time. I definitely think that if it required more time, usually it gets people more stressed out. Sometimes I would say let’s leave this one and let’s come back to it. And I knew I needed to do it at the beginning of the day or something like that. But in general, it was just fun.
OW: What did you learn being in the recording studio?
KL: I had not had a recording experience like that where it was just me and piano. It was a liberating experience considering what we had to do was playful. As opposed to opera or concerts where you have to coordinate with a lot of people and follow a lot of directions, this is real communication between the two of us and the sound producer whose giving me notes on certain parts. It really teaches you how to listen to yourself. A lot of people say it makes them a better musician, player or singer because of the fact that they have to take notes and better themselves. If you’re given a chance like this you just have to embrace it and go for it. It’s not the same as it was 30 years ago.
OW: What did you learn about your voice through this process?
KL: Well, I’m still shocked how I did that in three days. For me, it just takes me to different places with my voice. Down to total bass level with a sort of a raspiness to the sound trying to capture what Kurt Weill wanted in a lot of his 1920 period and the sensibilities of his characters. Trying to find the balance between the operatic side and the sound.
OW: What was the hardest thing about recording this set?
KL: I think the hardest transition was to go to the Korngold, which really requires a much higher floating sound to the voice. And I mean it required a different approach. And trying to meld that. In recordings, you either make friends with the microphone or you live in fear of it. You could almost see it as an enemy because it is going to pick up everything. There is no hiding when that microphone is right there.
OW: So how did you overcome that challenge?
KL: What I decided was I was going to put myself right up to [the microphone]. I wasn’t going to step away from it and see if anything was masked. I wanted to be as close to the ear of the listener as I could. I wanted to offer as much color and bite to the text as was possible. Learning how to make friends with the microphone and making colors with your voice and see what comes of it.
OW: Tell me about the tour and what can audiences expect with it?
KL: We’re basically putting it into the next year and beyond because with a project like this people need to understand the concept and get the album ingrained. They have to sort of understand what it’s about. We have a long view of future concerts. We have concerts in France, Berlin, outside of Munich and then in the autumn, we have some more concerts that we’re building on. We’re trying the U.S but it has been a tough market but it’s on the agenda and it shouldn’t be too hard to do.