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The Deutsche Oper Berlin is like a home from home for me. Why? Because I’ve always been able to sing as loud as I like. I’ve always had a very loud voice. After every audition at the Paris Conservatoire my teachers would say “Clémentine, you’re just too loud, way too loud! You’ll never sing Mozart with a voice like that. You’ve got to tone it down!” I had, like, this amazing tool within me and I continually had to damp it down. It didn’t feel right! I was in my mid-20s and impatient and it felt like I was being stifled. I had to get out of France. A key moment for me came in Magdeburg: I was in a French production, it was winter, cold and gloomy, I was bored. I called my then manager and asked him to get me an audition, anywhere, it didn’t matter.
He got me an audition with Christophe Seuferle, the director of opera at the Deutsche Oper Berlin. I’ll never forget that day. As I began to sing Christophe Seuferle’s face kind of lit up. Everything about him said “Wow!” He offered me a string of roles right off the bat and made me a member of the ensemble. For the first time ever my voice wasn’t too loud. It was exactly the right volume. I jumped at the opportunity. It was the best thing that could have happened, a dream come true.
In my two years at the Deutsche Oper Berlin I was completely immersed in music. It was almost like I lived there. I had my own key, I could go wherever I wanted, poking around here and there. A colleague of mine had got some fitness course going, so I would arrive in the early morning. After the workout the rehearsals started. I also used to slip in to rehearsal rooms and listen in on other people practising. If I wasn’t singing myself, I would look at what other people were doing. Then we would go to the canteen. On top of all that there’s all the music events happening in Berlin. I spent two years going to performances almost every evening, at the Deutsche Oper Berlin or the Staatsoper or the Philharmonie.
My favourite place in the Deutsche Oper Berlin is the stage. I’m very familiar with the acoustics and know how best to use my voice to hit a particular area of the auditorium. The Deutsche Oper has the biggest stage and the biggest auditorium in Berlin and, if you ask me, one of the best set of acoustics to be found anywhere. It’s predestined for grand opéra – and, well, for powerful voices. I sang Carmen here once and there were people from the Chicago and Washington opera in the audience.
After that I got some very good offers and I moved on. I’ve now worked at most of the world’s great opera houses. It turns out that you need a strong voice to fill out the auditorium at the Met. Even when you’re singing Mozart. So my teachers in France were wrong when they told me my voice was too loud.
Now I’m back here singing Dulcinée in DON QUICHOTTE. I count myself lucky, because the opera isn’t mounted that often! Which is a pity, because the work is like a lovely breeze, wafting but refreshing at the same time, cheerful but also profound. Dulcinée behaves like a cow throughout. Only in the end does she reveal her fragility to Don Quichotte.
It’s fantastic to be back. And in springtime, too! I can already see myself sitting outside the opera house. It feels like I’m revisiting my childhood home. In fact, I think my white pushbike is still locked up in the yard where I left it.