Your Met career so far has included roles that go from the comic to the tragic, including Lucia and Gilda. Which do you enjoy most?
I love everything I do the moment I’m doing it. And I think covering the whole emotional range is what my profession is all about. It gives me great joy to sing the black-magic Queen of the Night, but I also love the spirit of Rosina. I can’t wait to do Barber again, especially in this production, in which I made my role debut as Rosina. And Fille du Régiment again is a little bit different. The dialogue has been rewritten from the original and it really helps to show the characters and pull off the drama.
Laurent Pelly’s production also requires tremendous comic timing...
Yes, it’s like a play with bel canto. But the biggest challenge for me was [in the first scene] to learn how to iron! And to run around in the first duet, carrying things and playing with a gun and not fainting. The first time I did this production in rehearsal [last fall in San Francisco] I had to stop because I thought I’d have a heart attack! So I got on an exercise bike and did cardio workout by trying to sing my phrases. You really need to get it into the body, into the system, into the breath, so you’ll be able to sing with all the movement. Marie is a 15-year-old girl, she’s grown up among the soldiers, and she behaves like a mini-soldier. So it’s very physical. She’s a strong character, but she also has values, and at the end there’s this big embrace of friendship, love, and family when they all come together. That’s what I really love about this piece, it’s all so fresh and perfect to show these young characters.
What’s the secret to good comedy?
It’s about timing and listening to each other. It’s teamwork—you can’t do it on your own. You need your colleagues, it has to go hand in hand. It’s much easier to die alone on stage beautifully! But to do really good comedy is hard—to make people laugh and have a good time, so that it really opens their hearts and doesn’t look like slapstick or like you’re just making fun of something.
Your partner in this production will be Juan Diego Flórez, who also sang with you in San Francisco. What do you like about working with him?
First of all I love his voice and technique! It’s amazing how he can do all the coloratura fireworks and at the same time touch you with the lyrical bel canto moments. When he looks into your eyes on stage he really makes you believe that it’s not Juan Diego singing to you but that it’s Tonio, or Count Almaviva. The Met Barber [in 2006] was the first time we worked together, and we have since also done Rigoletto in Dresden. It’s great to be on stage with him, to make these stories grow and to make the audience feel them.
What was it like working on Barber with director Bartlett Sher?
It was a fantastic collaboration! He gave us so much support to always keep everything light and easy and quick. But we also tried to work out the moments of deep feeling. When the storm happens [in Act II] and Rosina thinks she has just found out that Lindoro didn’t tell the truth Bart gave me time to really show this—acting without singing. Normally Rosina is not on stage, but here it was possible for the set to change while Rosina is walking by herself. You can see what’s happening inside her, she’s angry, she’s sad. That was wonderful to work on. Bart is really aware of what’s going on between the characters, and he shows it in a poetic, beautiful, and also funny way. It’s great theater.
If you could pick your dream role, male or female, what would it be?
My greatest dream role is Violetta. It’s the peak of the soprano repertoire and I can’t wait to sing her. I waited a long time, but now I have engagements coming up for it. I think my voice and I are ready for it. But I also love the Grand Inquisitor [in Don Carlo]—although that may have to wait until my next reincarnation! —Philipp Brieler
This interview was first published online in January 2010 and (in a shorter version) in the Met's Playbill in February 2010.