Q & A: Maria Bengtsson on Quarantine & Returning to the Stage at the Oper Frankfurt

By Francisco Salazar
(Credit: Monika Rittershaus)

On May 29, Oper Frankfurt will reopen its theater with its first concert in nearly 3 months.

To celebrate the occasion, the company chose acclaimed soprano Maria Bengtsson to lead the performance in an all-Strauss program. The soprano was supposed to be performing a production of “Der Rosenkavalier” in Frankfurt.

Bengtsson is a well-known soprano who has performed at the Teatro alla Scala, Royal Opera House, Opéra National de Paris, Komische Oper Berlin, and Berlin State Opera, among many other important theaters.

OperaWire spoke to the soprano in anticipation of the reopening performance about her preparation for the recital and life in quarantine.

OperaWire: When did you find out that Oper Frankfurt was interested in putting on a recital and what was your reaction when they asked you to do it?

Maria Bengtsson: I was asked a week after my birthday which is in early May. It was almost like a late birthday gift. I was overwhelmed and thrilled to be considered to perform as one of the first singers after the lockdown.

OW: What does it mean to return to the stage after nearly three months especially at the Oper Frankfurt, a house that you have performed at for many years?

MB: It is a unique feeling because it is strange and exciting at the same time. I am fortunate to sing my first concert for the musically well-oriented and inspiring audience in Frankfurt. Returning to the stage with the outstanding Sarah Tysman after our very well received Liederabend in February makes me so happy.

I was supposed to be singing the Marschallin in Claus Guth’s production of “Der Rosenkavalier” right now until mid June. It was a complex staging with an intriguing twist. The production tells the story of a seriously ill woman. I was looking forward to working with all my fantastic colleagues at the Frankfurt Opera and the brilliant Sebastian Weigle, who has conducted so many of the operas I’ve sung in Frankfurt. I have so many delightful memories and great experiences at this prestigious opera house. It is like winning the lottery to sing here!

OW: How much singing did you do during the quarantine?

MB: I tried to work two to three hours per day, five days a week to keep the voice and body in shape. There are so many exciting roles scheduled for the next few years and I wanted to keep some of my old parts fresh. I even looked at music that I haven’t sung for years just to check how my voice has developed. For example I looked at Konstanze in “Die Entführung aus dem Serail” and I did quite okay with the coloraturas!

OW: Tell me about the program and what you have selected to perform? Do these pieces have a special significance?

MB: Herr Bernd Loebe suggested that we do a Strauss program because I was supposed to sing the Marschallin. We agreed on songs for the first half and opera in the second half. Sarah (Tysman) and I wanted to present a few songs from our Strauss CD, that we didn’t include in our program in January. In the second half of the concert I will be singing with Cecelia Hall. She will be my Octavian as we perform parts from “Der Rosenkavalier.”

At the end of the program we decided to perform the Sextet from “Capriccio” with members of the Frankfurter Opern- und Museumsorchester. I will also do the Countess monologue at the end of “Capriccio.”

During the last weeks of this season I was also supposed to sing Countess Madeleine in “Capriccio.” So the idea and choice to sing her monologue at the end wasn’t so far away.

OW: Tell me about your collaboration with Sarah Tysman and the work you have done together? What excites you about working together again particularly to reopen a theater?

MB: Sarah Tysman and I first met and started working at the Komische Oper during Kirill Petrenko’s era. But then our paths went in different directions and in 2017 we reunited for our Strauss CD. Then we started to work again more frequently. Sarah is an excellent musician, a splendid and true companion. It is a great honor for both of us to reopen the theater and I am grateful to have Sarah by my side.

OW: The audience will be limited to 100 people. How do you feel about this regulation and do you think this is a good start for the performing arts?

MB: We will have to try and perform as if the hall was full, but it will probably take a few seconds to get “used to” the situation. But I don’t know yet. These regulations were made and it is not for me to say whether it is right or not.

I just find it extremely absurd that passengers on an airplane are allowed to sit next to each other. That regulation I cannot understand.

I hope this is a good start for getting back to performing and I hope, like all of us who are thirsting and longing for art, that it won’t take too long to get back to normal.

OW: During quarantine, what is something that you learned about yourself? Has it changed the way you see the art form? What did you miss most during lockdown?

MB: I learned that discipline, determination and creativity helps to get through difficult times like this, especially when you feel a bit useless with your singing.

Music training, sports and reading on a daily basis was important for my whole family. My husband, who teaches math and music at John Lennon gymnasium in Berlin taught his pupils online for certain hours of the day and my son who is 14-years-old is still doing homeschooling with a lot of engagements and discipline.

Our youngest girl who is five-years-old also needed her hours of attention with different crafts, painting, exploring nature like never before and riding her bike. She is now lucky that she can go back to kindergarten for a few hours every day.

During the lockdown and even now, I miss my parents the most. I don’ t know when I get to see them because they live in Sweden.


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