Danielle de Niese

The American soprano on mixing opera and reality TV for BBC Four's Diva Diaries

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What was the experience like of being in a reality TV show?

It was really cool! I don’t feel like it’s reality TV in that the cameras aren’t following me in the most banal aspects of my daily life, they’re following the busiest moments.

Diva Diaries covers the modern singer’s life, which isn’t just the show and rehearsals, it’s also about meetings, outfit fittings, interviews, promotional responsibilities for my record company, and the educational aspect – finding time to talk to kids about singing. 

The cameras follow you through an important period in your career…

I finish my performances as Cleopatra in Handel’s Giulio Cesare at Glyndebourne and prepare the role of Susanna for Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro at the Met. It’s a big return for me, as I debuted as Barbarina in that same production when I was 19.

Susanna is one of the longest soprano roles in the repertoire so you have to have stamina. She’s canny, smart and genuine,  and the centre of the opera. I’m filmed right up to going on stage, so it’s a behind-the-curtain view.

Did being on TV before help you for Diva Diaries?

I hosted LA Kids when I was a teenager, and I won an Emmy for it when I was 16. This is slightly different because as a presenter you’re in front of a camera with a scripted dialogue, though as we were live we often had unscripted moments.

For this show I allow cameras to be with me, but I’m not held captive by them. It took a bit of bravery to do what you do in your daily life and let that be filmed.

Do you keep a diary?

Yes I do. I used to keep diaries all the time as a child, and then I stopped when I started travelling and became really busy. But since around 2007, I’ve started to keep a diary again. It’s funny for me to look back at them.

I’ve also kept musical journals, to jot down my thoughts about what I’m focusing on. Diva Diaries is the video version, a docu-diary. And there are diary moments in the show, when I’m in a diary ‘space’ giving my thoughts on things to camera, like in Big Brother.

Interview by Rebecca Franks

Diva Diaries is on BBC Four on Wednesday 26 May at 9pm
Image: Chris Dunlop

Related links:
Meet the Artist: Danielle de Niese on singing in The Marriage of Figaro at the New York Met
CD Review: Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea, starring Danielle de Niese
CD Review: Arias from Handel operas including Giulio Cesare, sung by Danielle de Niese