Questions for Heidi Stober

Soprano Heidi Stober sings Eva in THE MASTERSINGERS. Here she explains what she, as an American, thinks of this quintessentially German opera.

Eva is the prize awaiting the winner of the song contest. How can a person really get behind a role like this?
At the end of the day it’s also about the relationship between a father and daughter. When I decided to make a career in opera, I had to overcome the opposition of my father, who is ex-army and quite conservative. That’s where I’m coming from when I tackle the role.

What are the demands that the role makes of the singer?
Wagner is quite a leap. As part of my preparation for the role I flew to see my singing teacher in Houston, who’s not a particularly excitable character. His response convinced me that now was the time to do it.

Has the idea of the artist as a romantic figure had its day?
In the early days of the pandemic I toyed with the idea of a career switch. But then I realised that, whatever happened, I’d never lose that deep urge to express myself artistically. Romantic, no?

How do you see the passivity inherent to your role? Isn’t all that objectivisation of women by men a bit old hat nowadays?
Well, luckily it’s 2022 and we’ve come a long way. But if we’re honest, there are still many areas where men far outnumber women when it comes to power and decision-making, which puts women in a position of dependency – in my line of work, too. But in my eyes Eva isn’t someone who just accepts her fate. Once she’s fallen for von Stolzing, she becomes totally focused on the two of them as a couple. She’s following a strategy, as it were, which in my view is a kind of self-empowerment.

You’re saying Eva is really in love with him and doesn’t just choose him because she’s got to marry one of the singers?
I’d go as far as saying that she even has a soft spot for Hans Sachs and he’s not just the lesser of two evils for her. When Walther von Stolzing comes along, she sees that love is relative and he is her true love. Wagner gives us real people with credible feelings.

Do you know what is meant by ‘Deutschtümelei’?
I do, and the opera was received very much in that spirit of exaggerated emphasis on Germanness, especially in the Nazi period. It’s a hard burden to bear. But we can also view the mastersingers as a group of people preserving an artistic tradition. And I also like the way people from wildly different occupations get caught up in the music and meet in big gatherings as a direct result of it.

Who are the modern-day mastersingers?
I’m guessing that kind of grouping doesn’t exist nowadays, but there are still masses of people pursuing their passion for music in their spare time. I’m thinking of my tax adviser in the States, for example. She’s loves singing and it’s what she does outside of her day job. I love that. It’s like, it was actually down to chance that I became an opera singer and she went into accounting. If the circumstances had been different, it might have been the other way round.

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