Q & A: Kate Lindsey On Her Second Album ‘Arianna’ & ‘Agrippina’ At The Metropolitan OperaBy Francisco Salazar
(Credit: Rosetta Greek )
In 2017, Kate Lindsey released her first album “Thousands of Miles.” The album was comprised of songs by Kurt Weill and was a cross between classical music and Broadway.
It was an experience that helped explore her voice and her technique in ways that she had never expected to and which posed new challenges that made her an even stronger artist.
Three years after that release, Lindsey opted for something very different for her second recording. This time she went into the baroque and classical repertoire and explored the character of Arianna best known in the opera “Ariadne Auf Naxos.” After having sung the composer in that R. Strauss work, Lindsey finally had the chance to take on lead character in three very different cantatas.
In our latest interview with the mezzo-soprano, Lindsey spoke with OperaWire about the album and her big return to the Metropolitan Opera.
OperaWire: Your latest album is based on the character of “Ariadne auf Naxos.” You have sung Strauss’ opera as the composer on many occasions and now you get a chance to portray the character. What was the process of discovering that character in these three distinct cantatas?
Kate Lindsey: It was very interesting because I have for many years sat and observed someone else exploring the character in a very specific opera with a very specific philosophical libretto. I have watched the process and often times first hand because sometimes I am staged into the opera portion of the work. So I am watching that process and sometimes the confusion of how to approach it because the libretto is so difficult for a director to pull it off.
What I enjoyed was that within these works and this album you experience the joy and then you discover the betrayal. It moves into fury and wanting to hurt the other person and then wanting to kill yourself. It’s all operatic but at the same time it’s so human. Having had my heart broken, we have so many thoughts and despair. So these emotions are human put to music. It’s also a good reminder that things change through the years but relationships don’t change.
OW: You have works by Scarlatti, Haydn, and Handel in this album and they have different interpretations to the character. Can you tell me about going through each of the texts and the similarities and differences of these works and the emotions of the character?
KL: We start the disc with Scarlatti and it starts out with a lighter tone and what is interesting about it is that within the recitatives you have an observant narrator that is explaining what is happening. Then when we go to the arias, Arianna embodies the arias and you are hearing directly from her. But then there is a specific shift in the story in one of the recitatives and all of a sudden the person that is telling the story shifts into Arianna and the discovery of the betrayal.
For me what I have realized, is that it is not necessarily a narrator but an older and wiser Arianna telling the story herself and I find it interesting psychologically. The first two arias are very much about love and the union about making love. And then the discovery is made and it is fury with coloratura everywhere and I love the final aria because it is a complete surrender to sorrow. It is surrendering to the grief and wishing for death. It’s amazing that over the course of 18 minutes there is a journey in music and the voice. That final aria was what completely sold me on that piece and then there is a final recitative after Arianna has decided to kill herself, in which Bacchus appears and there is this chord progression that appears. There is a tonal structure that takes Arianna up to heaven with each chord, each note slightly higher and that is how it ends. And it’s just a different and interesting way to end a cantata. It might be old music, but it’s still a new sound to us.
The Handel is not exactly based on Arianna but I put it in because I wanted to have Handel in the album and “Ah Crudel!” is all about betrayal and being rejected by a lover. I thought it worked text wise and sound wise as well. What I didn’t realize at the time was that this cantata was written at the same time as “Agrippina.” So there are a lot of little motifs within this cantata that you hear in “Agrippina.” I didn’t connect the dots until much later. But this cantata starts out in a place where she has been rejected and betrayed. So the perspective for this character is that she tells her former lover that he will “regret this. I was faithful for you. I love you and as much you reject me I will be there.” And throughout the cantata it’s not getting them anywhere.
But I love the sound and there is a lot of interplay with the players within the ensemble. What I feel in this cantata is that you have two characters emerging from the instruments around you. There is a lot of call and response. It’s an interesting new layer and it is sort of not all death and despair. The character comes away from that rejection knowing what she can be and what she wants to be and it’s her lover’s loss.
And the Haydn is interesting because it could be great in a semi-staged production because it offers everything. You feel the scene emerging as it starts. It’s really nice with orchestra. It was originally written for piano and then one of Haydn’s students orchestrated it. We were wondering how it was going to come out and thankfully after we got into it, you could feel the heat rise and people thought this could be quite interesting and dramatic.
It starts off really languid and dramatic like she is just waking up from a luxurious post coital and everything is wonderful. For the first little bit she says “I know he is near by and I’ll just call out to him and he’ll come back.” And when he doesn’t come back, she says “maybe I’ll go and see where he is.” And then she says “Maybe if I climb this rock.” And all of a sudden she sees the ship sailing away. It’s the most heart-wrenching moment. In a way it’s exactly the same way we feel when we have a moment like that. It’s the elevated image of what that is. He is sailing away and it takes her away in a place of fury. We really approached it like we were on the verge of completely losing control.
We wanted to perform it like the whole thing was about to fall apart. And then it moves into a place of deep sorrow and the cantata ends in a fury and anger and its powerful and visceral. What I am always amazed about with these pieces is that they are real. And it’s defined with an orchestra and an ensemble.
One’s life experience feeds that and Jonathan and I spoke about these emotions as we went through the process of recording each piece.
OW: The three composers are different in style. Stylistically how did you approach these works and how did you create a united sound for the entire album?
KL: Jonathan really helped me a lot with the baroque style because that is a style that I am less familiar with it. I have done quite a lot more in the past few years but I look at the specialists and I want to know more about it. I am not a specialist in the style but I can bring what I do know from other experiences into it. Because the repertoire requires a smaller ensemble, it requires a real communication between all the instruments. What I love about this repertoire is that I feel that I am one of the instruments within that ensemble. I am the instrument that delivers text and everyone is a true voice in the piece.
With Scarlatti it was five of us in a room. It is an intimate work and within that what I loved was to hear how the voice could get absorbed with the instruments and the instruments were looking to imitate the color of the voice based on where the vibrato starts to emerge. It’s just a really fascinating way of working in detail, color, and the ability to have more flexibility.
With Haydn, I felt more at home because I had done a lot of Mozart and stylistically I knew where that was from the start. For Jonathan that was the aria where he felt more stretched. And so we complimented each other. With the Haydn there was a bigger orchestra so it had to be more measured and more precise. But that landscape with the orchestra allowed my voice to explore different colors.
But ultimately I felt that they were not as far apart from what we expect.
OW: On the first album you worked with a pianist and this time it was with an orchestra. What were the differences with working with a pianist the first time around and working with an orchestra, even though it was still an intimate and smaller ensemble?
KL: I liked the fact that I got to do the first album with one other person. I was on a big learning curve with “Thousands of Miles” and I had to learn about the process of recording. Just recording a piece that’s been done a lot was difficult but working with Baptiste Trotignon was really good because he was a leader and knew what we were doing and he has recorded in studios where people are working with headphones. But I think it was a good way to do an album because we could work together a lot before we recorded and we had the ability to really work off of what was happening in the moment. And that is liberating.
And with this album, I have worked a lot with Baroque orchestras for ten years so over that time I have gotten to know a lot of players. What I have found in these orchestras is that because these players are all freelance, they are really focused on giving excellent and thought-out performances. Performing with the Arcangelo in this album I didn’t feel scared coming into it with orchestra. We put in such long hours and they worked tirelessly to get the sound right. In the Scarlatti for example, the two violins had to play in unison and it was hard to achieve the two sounding like one. They were really working with a new depth and nuance.
What I liked about this was just the fact that there was that level of communication with the players and I really enjoyed that in concert and I wanted to be able to put that on a disc as well. And you can take risk with these player because they know what they are doing and there is a depth of trust in the room and they are ready to do it. And I am all about taking the risks and you never know what will happen.
OW: This month you will be in a new production of “Agrippina” playing the character of Nerone, which you had previously done in Monteverdi’s “L’Incoronazione di Poppea.” Having played the character before, how does Handel approach him?
KL: In the Monteverdi, you see Nerone in a different place in his life at that point because Agrippina has achieved her role and he kills his mother. We see the stages that grow into the complex guy that he becomes.
In this production, he is a teenager who is totally entitled and we’re playing him as a tattooed former boy band kind of guy. He is rebellious and partakes in drug use. He doesn’t care because he doesn’t have to but the one person who dominates him is his mom psychologically. And the one person who he has a total weakness to is Poppea and that it does not necessarily mean that he is in love with her. But there is something about the unattainable nature of her that for him is completely seductive. We see him already a messed up kid and the relationship with his mom explains why he becomes the Nerone that he becomes in Monteverdi’s “Poppea.” It’s interesting to explore now after having done Monteverdi.
OW: Would you consider this a sort of Prequel to Monteverdi’s work?
KL: Sort of but I think it will always differ on how the operas are staged. Even in different sorts of stages and settings, I am still able to make sense of it. The text tells us so much and what is interesting is that in Handel ‘s text, you can soften him. What I like in this staging is that you are seeing the total entitlement of a life lived without any awareness or concern for anyone else.
I just saw the HBO series “Succession,” which looks at this family of people who are entitled and disgusting and none of them are likable and yet you find yourself rooting for them. I thought about the show and found a parallel to the opera that I am using for my interpretation.
OW: Baroque opera is intimate. In performing this work at the immense Metropolitan Opera, how do you create that intimacy and style?
KL: We have talked about that in staging rehearsals. But in this production we are doing it with modern instruments and the pitch is higher. The speed with which we would do something in a smaller house also doesn’t work as well in this house because you have to have a little bit of time for things to sound as well. We’re not doing any major changes but I think going into the house will definitely affect how we do certain things.
With Harry Bicket at the podium, he is an expert who has worked at the Met a lot and specializes in this area and he will be instrumental and a guide for us.
OW: Tell me a little about the production and what audiences can look forward to?
KL: This production has been done in Europe in smaller houses so they have rebuilt it and restyled it for us and it will be interesting to see it in the house. This take on Nerone is very physical so that is informing a lot of how I sing this work. There is a lot of running around and rolling around the stage.
OW: Joyce DiDonato is playing your mother in this opera. What does it feel like to be performing alongside her?
KL: It has been a lot of fun because we don’t get to work with each other a lot and the first day we said to each other how fun this was going to be. And we are excited to play with the mother-son elements. It has been very lovely because I love to watch her close up and I feel like I have the best seat in the house and it’s very active working and talking through things. And she is dynamite and I am having a great time.
But I just love watching and working with my colleagues because it informs you and it’s great to find it together. It is a good room and all the artists show up and are ready to work and that counts for everything. I think this show will be great because of how everyone is so invested in the process.
OW: You are returning to the Metropolitan Opera after a couple of years. What does it feel like to return to the house you grew up in?
KL: I go through so many memories because I did so much of my training here. My 20s and early 30s were set in this house and there are so many memories in this space.
What’s also nice is that I have gotten out and worked in many places and that has been good for me as an artist psychologically. There is always a need to go to take in other information and see how things are done in other places. That informs you. Now coming back it is wonderful to see the faces that you knew for so many years and it reminds you of what a family the Met is for me.
This is such a special environment and I feel very lucky that the projects that I am doing are the ones that I want to do.