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29. Nov

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Nine questions for ... Doris Soffel

Doris Soffel requests the pleasure for an evening of songs ranging from Mahler to Weill. The mezzo-soprano explains her choice of works and also reflects on the Deutsche Oper Berlin, New Music and more.

Song recital: Doris Soffel
Her last performance was as Madame Louise in Glanert's OCEANE at the Deutsche Oper Berlin. Now she shows her skills and versatility as an Lied interpreter with works by Gustav Mahler, Jean Sibelius, Richard Strauss, George Gershwin and Kurt Weill.
2 December 2021 / Foyer

Songs are quite an intimate genre. How do you connect with the audience?
I bare my soul. Which is exactly what people expect from me when I give a concert.

What do you love about the lieder of the 19th and early 20th century?
The Romantic period was an era of fantastic musicality. You had amazing poetry fusing with amazing music and producing little gems of uplifting art.

You’re doing Romantic lieder this time round, but you’re steeped in full-blown opera as well. What are the key differences between the two?
If you’re in the middle of an opera run, you shouldn’t try to slip in a quick concert of lieder along the way. Voice-wise, head-wise, heart-wise, they’re two distinct disciplines. If I’m doing self-contained songs, I usually want to be preparing on my own beforehand. I’m singer, director and dramaturg all rolled into one. I have totally free rein – and I select only songs that I love at that moment. So if you ask me, it’s all about intimacy and closeness.

Concerts are coming back after the lay-off. What are you most looking forward to?
To the musical life that happens onstage and backstage. All the fringe stuff is part of the music too, right down to the talking that goes on after a concert. During lockdown I held off from posting private performances on YouTube and Insta. I’ve always focused on doing concerts in the flesh and preparing for them accordingly – and now at last they’re back. It’s hugely inspiring, seeing the reactions on people’s faces.

You’re familiar with the world’s major venues. What sticks in your mind about the Deutsche Oper Berlin?
In my mind the functional architecture represents the emphasis placed by the venue on content and substance. There’s a tendency to opt for the spectacular in opera-house design, although actually it’s the music which should be the centre of attention. That’s how it is at the Deutsche Oper Berlin. The acoustics are out of this world.

What special memories do you have of the venue?
Götz Friedrich, who was Artistic Director and also the Principal Director for many years, was a very important figure for me. I sang in his PARSIFAL, I sang Fricka in his RING. I was part of two of his productions in Stuttgart: COSI FAN TUTTE and his first version of ROSENKAVALIER. He was old school, always knew exactly what he wanted, had done all his homework and expected nothing but the best from all of us. In a word: demanding – and I liked that.

You’ve always been a champion of contemporary works. What’s the significance of New Music to you?
I think people should be open to new ways of doing stuff. I’ve always been curious and wanted to hold on to my creativity. ‘New Music’ is perfect for that. To me it’s not that difficult – although you hear a lot of artists describing it as that. Aribert Reimann, the composer, wrote a coloratura role for me – Cassandra in his TROADES opera. That was one of things in my career that have meant the most to me.

You have often criticised the industry for burning through young singers too early in their trajectories. What advice would you give to young, up-and-coming singers?
Don’t rush things! A lot of singers take on difficult parts before they’re ready, when their voice actually needs time to mature. I mean, anyone who loves singing is going to be trilling away in pretty much all their waking hours; what’s important is that while you’re doing that you’re working on your technique. A young stripling shouldn’t be tackling Wagner right away. I, too, spent a long time graduating to Wagner. I did Händel and Rossini coloratura, honed my breathing, watched out not to strain my vocal cords. It’s like dribbling in football: you don’t train for that by body-building; you’re loose and relaxed, dancing almost, moving forwards step by step.

Many composers of lieder are known to have been melancholic or depressive. Mahler, Schubert, Schumann, etc. What’s your recipe for staying chirpy?
Singing! And anyway, being down is part of being alive. The poems that the great song composers set to music are drenched in sensibility and some of them are downright dark and desolate, but sad songs don’t necessarily make me sad singing them or people sad listening to them. The magic of the music always lights up our lives.

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