lunes, 25 de noviembre de 2013

Sarah Connolly: “Leaving Agrippina will be like a divorce”

Versión en español.
Marta Vidán. Sarah Connolly
Connolly had rehearsals at the Liceu theatre for five weeks before the premiere.

MARTA VIDÁN, Barcelona.
She is smart, mean, arrogant and wears ten centimeter heels. She is emperor Claudio´s wife and will do anything so that her son Nerone gets the throne. Agrippina (Händel) has arrived at the Liceu theatre for the first time and will stay in Barcelona until next Friday. Stage director David McVicar brings this baroque opera to modern times: the cesar plays golf, Nerone snorts cocaine, a harpsichord is played in a bar while people dance and drink...
   Ruthless Agrippina and mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly (County Durham, England, 1963) don´t have a lot in common. However, they had met eachother before -English National Opera, 2007- and she has learnt to understand and appreciate her character, so saying goodbye to this role will be quite hard. She is also a mother, but she won´t let her ten-year-old daughter Lily see her perform this opera. “It is too sexy”, she explains.
   Connolly´s career has not been a conventional one. She studied piano and singing, she used to play jazz, she was in several choirs... But she began to realize that there was something else she would want to do and her first important role -Charlotte, from Massenet´s Werther- arrived when she was in her early thirties. It was just one of many roles that she has played since then.
Do you like being Agrippina?
I think it is the best female role I have ever played, a fantastic challenge.
Is it because she is so different to your own way?
Yes. And yet I understand the frustration she feels and I can really appreciate how her mind works, how she is terrifying until the end. I like her ruthless nature and I love the way somebody asks her: “What excuses do you have?” and she says: “I don´t need excuses”. She uses the words that she is given, like a lawyer, and that is very clever.
Which one is your favourite part of this opera?
Pensieri is the greatest gift from Agrippina. It "sucks" my voice, because it is more lyrical and this aria requires fast movings.

 Pensieri is an aria from Agrippina´s second act.


Were you happy after the premiere?
I am never happy with everything. I am happy when I sing correctly and the energy is right, and I felt it pretty much in the premiere. In the second performance I found a couple of arias where the energy was low: I was tired because we have been singing every day the previous week, with just one day off. Maybe I would have needed two, so at the begining of the show I was not hundred per cent. But it is only me who notices these things. Anyway, the show went better and better and we were more relaxed.
When you started your career you used to get nervous when facing the audience.
Because I didn´t know what I was saying. Now when I teach master classes I point at the importance of that: when you sing you have to identify with the meaning to make it your own. Why am I singing Pensieri? What is Pensieri? They are not just Händel´s words, I have to think about what they mean to me, Sarah, how do they make me feel, how do I respond physically to the text... And when you know that -some people call it a trick, I call it musicianship- you don´t worry about why you are singing: you just do it.
What is it like to work with David McVicar?
Incredible, he is inspirational. He, like me, needs to know why you are doing something. And he is brilliant to demostrating, he can play all the characters. I can´t understand all about Agrippina, for example, when I have to jump and dance as if I was swimming or when she is being really aggressive. She is a terrible person. McVicar showed me how to become her and gave me tips like “Don´t care about what the audience think: in part, if they dislike you it is a good thing”. 
But she is also so attractive and funny.
She was ruthless and Händel made her attractive. She was horrible, so in order to make her real there has to be depth. You can´t just be superficially funny and just do silly. To play comedy is actually a very serious business, you have to understand the person and to identify with her, to ask yourself: “Who is this person and why is she doing that? Could I do that?”.
What about playing a male role?
I don´t play the gender, I play the person. If it is Octavio [from Der Rosenkavalier, by Richard Strauss] I am being an eighteen-year-old aristocrat who lives a secret life. I let my body through the experience that I take from the character, but I don´t make myself move like a man: it just comes out from what is going on in my head. It is a big mistake when young singers try to be a man, they fail because they do silly walking with stiff shoulders.

 Sarah Connolly as Octavio in Der Rosenkavalier.

You have to think about your sense of gravity and notice that when elegant women like Agrippina walk they hold their shoulders. When you play a bloke your gravity is in your hips so you tend to control your walk from your legs. They become heavier and so your upper body is loosen, but you have to keep your shoulders back, that´s the only physical difference. Sometimes when I´m playing Agrippina and she is being aggressive I have to pay attention and take little steps like a woman, not big steps like a man. On those silly shoes I have to be careful [she laughs].
Ten centimeter heels. Do you usually wear them?
Just for parties or concerts. Normally I use boots. I have to take care not to fall over on the stage because it is black, the side lighting is very strong and I can´t see where the steps are. It has been hard for my legs and my hips, and my lower back hurts after six hours a day on that shoes, so I stretch and go to the gym.
What else do you do in your spare time?
At home I go for walks, exercise is very important to keep brain going. We have a new dog and we live in the Cotswolds [South West England], in the countryside. It is a place with lovely hills, an area of natural beauty.
Is it possible for you to go home often?
I am home mostly, actually: I only do one foreing opera a year because it is unfair to be away for my daughter, it takes almost eight weeks.
Does she sing or play any instrument? 
Lily plays the piano and the saxophone and she sings American and English pop songs all the time. She knows all the words and then I realize how oll-fashioned I am [she laughs]. She sings very beautifully and tune. I think she might be an actress, she is very interested in words and characters (well, she is only ten).
Does your husband have something to do with the music business?
Not at all. We bought some houses cheeply and he is restoring them, he builds houses. And he looks after my daughter when I am not home. But he likes reggae and folk music. We used to go to festivals together when we were younger.
You also used to sing jazz.
Now I do it just for fun, when I want to relax, I don´t like to do it in public any more. It is lovely to sit down at the piano,  it´s still my main instrument, very much part of me. But now it is just a hobbie.
Your career as an opera singer started a bit late.
Yes, because I didn´t know what I wanted to do. I was in lots of choirs -Monteverdi, The Sixteen…- and I didn´t know whether I wanted to be a soloist. But I got bored of being in a choir, I saw my colleagues sing solos and thought: “I want to try that”. And then I did and got very nervous (everyone does). I think that was what delayed my start: I was not sure this was my thing.
   I began to do opera with semi-professional companies and realised I love being on stage. I didn´t worry about singing, specially when I sang contemporary music. I felt less nervous, so I moved to modern music for a bit and that helped me to feel more comfortable.
   In 1995, when I was 32, I played Charlotte in Werther (Massenet) with English Touring Opera, which was wonderful. It was very scary, but I did enjoy it and thought: “That is a position, keep going now” and I got work, people came to see it… It was a slow beginning but it has to do with me, I was not very confident and you need to think: “I am the best”. I still don´t belive that, I know it is not true anyway. I recognize I have something to say but I would never raise myself, I would never put myself next to anybody.

Marta Vidán. Sarah Connolly. Agrippina, Barcelona, Liceu.
She is already studying her next role in Fantasio (Offenbach).
So being Charlotte gave you new opportunities.
Yes, then I played Monteverdi´s Orfeo and L´incoronazione di Poppea, Händel´s Xerxes, Ariodante and Alcina, Rape of Lucretia (Britten), which has just come out on DVD… I did contemporary opera as well. It is a mix, but it is important to have a bit of everything: if you are singing an operatic role, the way you dissect a poem is in great detail because you have to present a mini-drama with every lied, every song. Schumann´s compositions like Frauenliebe und –leben or Maria Stuart are mini-operas and if you can performe those in great detail you will bring that detail to the opera´s stage. And there´s something changing with Händel´s music in the last twenty years: conductors are letting singers be more free. People like Harry Bicket [musical conductor in Agrippina] are expecting us to come with our own ornaments and to have knowledge. 
   Twenty five years ago singers didn´t know what they were doing, just what the conductor said. And that´s not yours, it is just a copy. These days they want you to bring your own ideas, but they didn´t like it before. For example, Charles Mckerras, a very famous conductor of Händel who revived the composer´s movement in the 1970s. I got to trouble with him several times and in the end we had a big argument. Most people didn´t argue whith him, he was an icon, but I had to because I went mad. It was that kind of things that made me stronger, I realised I did have something to say: just because he said “No” it was not the end of the story.
   I worked with Philip Herbeck through the 1990s and he gave me a tremendous understanding of baroque rhetoric, style and performance practice. So when Mckerras told me “Don´t question, just do what I say” I had to answer: “Sorry, I don´t work like that, I have to understand what you want”. Anyway, we ended up friends, I made sure of that: I cooked him some biscuits!
Not everything is easy for a singer. What is the hardest part of this profession?
Doing it all and having a family: I have no time off, I am always learning the next role. And you can´t fail when you get a reputation. You can´t stand on the stage and sing badly because it is just not expected. It is wonderful to be in work, I am very lucky, but I have to be carefull I don´t do too much and that my daughter sees me.
Has she ever seen you on stage?
Yes. Not Agrippina, because it is too sexy. She loved
L´incoronazione di Poppea and he thaught that the countertenor Dominique Visse was wonderful as a woman -as Nutrice-. She loves also Julio Cesare on DVD and Danielle de Niese. She gets to know people, she attends rehearsals, but she can´t go to something like Agrippina or anything by Calixto Bieito [she laughs]. 
And what is the best part of being a singer? 
Working with great colleagues, with musicians like Daniel Fuster, the oboist: we are always improvising in Pensieri, the decorations are different every night and his job is to copy me. That is the greatest gift: a musician like him who enjoys making music, as Harry Bicket does, and also Liceu wonderful orchestra. Everyone in this cast is very generous: Malena Ernman (Nerone), Danielle de Niese (Poppea), Franz-Josef Selig (Claudio), Dominique Visse (Narciso)...
Do you learn from them?
Yes: my reactions, my character becomes defined by them. They give me something else to do and this is so good at acting, they make me think. That is the joy of working with great colleagues: they make everything more energized.
Do you make plans together?
It is difficult because I have been too bussy. In the past I have visited all the museums in Barcelona and I have done all the sightseeing, I like the beach. But this time with this particular job I just have been trying to get in my mind all the details.
Even when you finish rehearsals?
When I arrive at my apartment at nine o´clock at night I am still learning words, I am always perfecting the mistakes I made in the day time. I sit with a cup of tea, a pencil and the score and correct them for an hour, and then I take a shower and go to bed. In order to put on a show like this you can´t go out and get drunk (Agrippina would!). The most alcohol I would allow myself to have is two glasses, just one two days before a performance, because it dries your throat and you feel tired. Being an opera singer is very boring. I have just seen a couple of films recently. Gravity was the last one. I enjoy food also, I like the tapas.


Imagine you are out for a walk: are you still “playing” Agrippina in hour head?
The other day Harry Bicket was showing me around the street but I didn´t see it because in my mind I was singing something. I unconsciously focus on my job. And what will be really hard is when I leave Agrippina on the 29th of November and have to change to Fantasio (Offenbach): you just leave, it will be like a divorce, it´s horrible. I get quite sad because I am leaving this precious characterization into the mist, fading like a ship leaving without me. And then it´s gone and I stay on the beach and wonder when I will see it again, it could be years. It is like everything I do is gone, it just disappears and I moan because characters are personal creations, it is like a part of me is leaving.
I´m sure you will meet Agrippina again.
I really hope so!