Danielle de Niese
The brilliant young soprano tells us about taking on Mozart's Marriage of Figaro at the New York Met
When you sing Susanna at the New York Met this September, you’ll be returning to the stage on which you made your debut…
It’s a big moment for me. I dreamt about singing Susanna [in Mozart's Marriage of Figaro] when I was 19. When I sang Barbarina there they gave me a list of people who’d come back to sing Susanna and even the Countess, so I dreamt about it. And it’s the same production, by Jonathan Miller. It’s stunning, with costumes by James Acheson, who’s an Oscar-winning designer. It’s beautifully set – it’s not modern, it’s very period but that’s very refreshing. I’ve only done a modern production before, which is often the way with the younger generation of singers.
What draws you to the role of Susanna?
I love the role. She’s a modern woman – she’s a smart, pure, kind-hearted, loveable, vivacious person. But she’s also wise and knows how to read people well. She’s at the centre of this whole series of intrigues that happens, with the Count going after her at the start of her marriage. The whole plot revolves around how they go about avoiding this. And there’s her loyalty to the Countess, her love for Figaro, and then Cherubino who she’s adorable with; Susanna’s a woman who has so many qualities that make her stand out from the rest, attractive and alluring. She has no ulterior motives.
Do you feel an affinity with her?
Yes – there are some characters that when you look at the music you just feel them flow through your veins. Cleopatra was a role like that for me, and Susanna’s another. Norina in Donizetti's Don Pasquale, Anne Truelove in Stravinsky's The Rake’s Progress – some pieces just suit your voice, it’s like when you wear the perfect dress, you know.
Your second disc is ‘The Mozart Album’ – how did you come up with the programme?
The programme was quite difficult – there are a lot of pieces on there I’ve known since I was a teenager, like Exsultate, jubilate and Despina’s aria. Susanna’s aria 'Al desio' was written for a woman called Adriana Ferrarese del Bene, and she wanted more of a concert aria. This alternative aria will never replace the original ‘Deh, vieni’ but it is a gorgeous aria. Then there are pieces like ‘Per quell paterno amplesso’ which is a complete unknown, but its astounding and profoundly beautiful. ‘Laudate dominum’ I’d never performed before and was nervous about doing but it went beautifully and the Apollo voices were fantastic. That’s one of my mum’s favourite tracks.
What was it like to work with conductor Sir Charles Mackerras?
He is one of the most respected Mozartian conductors of our day, and with his 50 years of experience his wise sense of and sensibility to Mozart is clear, but he also brings a freshness to it. I didn’t know if there would be a sense of 'been there, done that' for him but it was fun to explore things together. And I left myself in his hands in terms of ornamentation and cadenzas. I don’t consider myself experienced in understanding Mozart ornamentation. I understand it in the Baroque sense, but he has impeccable taste in Mozart and I think we’ve got just the right amount of ornamentation in there.
What puts Mozart’s music above the rest for you?
Whenever I listen to Mozart I feel like I’m listening to music for the first time. It’s do distinctly his but so distinctly original at the same time. I have a sensation that this music was written for god, that there couldn’t be a piece of music better or more sublime. And to do that in opera, symphonies, small songs is astounding. If I could go back in time, I’d go back and sit in his brain and see how he came up with melodies, with ideas. His music is not of this earth. I am religious, not strictly, but I do believe music has a godly power and to bring people together to appreciate sublime beauty. You don’t need a degree to understand and be moved by music, and Mozart’s proved that over and over.
Interview by Rebecca Franks
Audio clip: Mozart: 'Una donna a quindici anni' from Cosi fan tutte