The Latvian soprano takes the title role in a recent recording of Puccini's poignant opera Suor Angelica, appearing with the WDR Symphony Orchestra Köln and conductor Andris Nelsons, who is also her husband. She took some time between rehearsals to talk to us about singing this challenging role.
What was it like to sing the role of Suor Angelica?
This was the first time I'd sung the role and as Puccini is one of my favourite composers it's always a pleasure to sing his wonderful, conversational music. It's very difficult vocally. But when you really feel all the pain and emotions in the music, then that helps a lot. You forget about the vocal lines, and you're just living the music.
I had a great experience doing this recording, and I hope I'll sing this on stage. Of course then you also have to act, which is more difficult than just standing and singing. Also, on this recording I was just five weeks pregnant. Both my husband, the conductor Andris Nelsons, and I were so excited and happy, the feeling was fantastic. But obviously with Puccini's story being about women and babies, it was difficult.
How would you describe Suor Angelica's character?
It's a tough story about a young woman who was in love and fell pregnant. She came from a rich family, and they sent her to live with the nuns. She knows she's given the baby a peaceful life by being sent away, but all of the time she's thinking of her child. Any woman can understand what it must be like to live without any news of your child for seven years, to have no news. But then she finds out her baby has died, which is very painful, of course. It feels like life is ending for Angelica, so she makes herself some tea from a medical man, using some flowers. It's a drink which will kill her.
So it's a difficult character, but the music is fantastic and beautiful. And actually, you know, I'm a person who likes stories about tragic destinies, like Puccini's Madam Butterfly or Janáček's Jenůfa, because I then understand how life is beautiful. I can see how I'm happy in my real life and that's all the better to play all these tragic characters I think.
You mention that Puccini is one of your favourite composers. Why does he appeal?
First of all there is everything in the music. It's about love, about relationships, passion… It's absolutely fantastic music, think of Madam Butterfly, La bohème, Tosca, Manon Lescaut. You can relax, cry, smile; you have everything there. And this is very romantic music, the lines are about joy, love and also tragedy. It's music that really opened my soul, my heart. When I sing it, I feel like a butterfly between all this fantastic brilliance.
And you're making your debut at the New York Met in Puccini next year…
I’m like La Fanciulla del Puccini! Next season I have a lot of Puccini: I’m back with Tosca at Covent Garden in March. I make my debut at the New York Met in January in La rondine, as Magda, which I'm studying now here in Zurich between my performances. I’m so happy that I sing a lot of Puccini's music and that in the future I have new productions in great houses in the greatest, huge roles of Puccini.
Puccini's 'Suor Angelica' starring Kristine Opolais, on the Orfeo label, was our Opera Choice in November