An interview with Danielle de Niese

Danielle de Niese, Don Pasquale 2013. Photo: Clive Barda

Following your acclaimed debut as Adina in the 2011 Festival production of L’elisir d’amore, you have returned to Glyndebourne to explore more of Donizetti’s comedic approach to opera, what do you think keeps drawing you back to these roles?

I think these roles are perfect for my growing voice at this stage of my development, Bel Canto singing is very difficult and very exposed so these two roles are a starting point for me in this style, they are perfectly suited to my voice whereas the more serious Donizetti operas are a few more years away in my vocal development. They are beautifully written and very challenging to sing which is exactly why I waited until now to explore this style, I needed my voice to be the right size. I love comedy and I love Italian repertoire so this is a perfect fit for me.

Don Pasquale is a complex plot with detailed twists and turns keeping the audience on their toes, the comedy is second to none and shines through in the staging, are the cast having as much fun staging the production as the audience are watching?

I can tell you with certainty that the answer is a resounding YES! Also, we are a cast of 5 principles so the action and plot is played out very intricately but very intimately. It's like a Month Python sketch- all about the intimacy of the troupe and the perfect comedic timing!

The Don Pasquale cast is a diverse and celebrated team, can you tell us a little bit about how the cast and creative team have collaborated on this production?

We have been given a chance to really explore the story and create new twists and turns with Mariame Clement our wonderful director who is smart, intelligent, funny and flexible. My great pleasure has been working with Alessandro Corbelli who is a genius of Italian comedy and Italian style. It's also a second collaboration with the wonderful Maestro Enrique Mazzola (after creating L'Elisir together), Enrique and I have a wonderful relationship and you can see the joy of music that we share, in the result of our work together. I adore making music with him.

Your recording career sits happily alongside your operatic roles, how do you find time to fit that in around your charity work supporting young people?

I am not sure how I do it exactly- well, actually I think it is about making time for the people and the things you love. I love my family, I love music, I love sharing music with as many people as possible through my recordings, I love giving back and reaching out to new audiences and young audiences to share my love of music, so I will always find a way to make time for these things that are so important to me, that make my life worth living.

Singing in Italian is second nature to most soprano’s and preferable to many other European languages, do you have any tips of the trade in terms of overcoming language barriers when it comes to learning new operatic roles?

My advice is to learn the language. I think with certain core languages of our repertoire (Italian, French, German), that you can tell when a performer doesn't know the melody of a language and the very innate nuances of a languages, so it really pays to spend a couple of months studying at a school in the country and absorbing the language completely. This is what I did with Italian French and German as I wanted to be able to speak three languages before I turned 21, it has really made the difference in my ability to communicate the nuance of a language.

Don Pasquale is known for its wit and humour but the opera is also known to have a darker, more complex side in its deception and conceit. Is it challenging to play the humour and the darker side in a role?

It's not challenging to play the humour and the darker side of this piece because it's all there in the music and the text. Even the guilt Norina feels when she goes too far in her impersonation of Sofronia by slapping Pasquale (provoked I might add!), is shown in the writing of Donizetti. This is the magic of Donizetti- everything is there in the score, the key is to make it live and breathe within you. In this particular production there is an added twist in the story with the relationship between Malatesta and Norina being explored even further. This presents its challenges but it's also made it really interesting and exciting too!

The Glyndebourne Chorus have a significant role to play in this opera and many of the Glyndebourne chorus have been cited as names to watch. As Glyndebourne is renowned for supporting aspiring singers through the chorus and on to principal roles are you able to support and mentor singers through the rehearsal process?

I am a young singer too, so I fear it may be too soon to be mentoring singers so close to my own age but when asked I am happy to impart advice on my experiences in my career thus far and always enjoy working with the wonderful talented members of the Glyndebourne Ensemble.

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