In conversation with Anne Sofie von Otter

In conversation with Anne Sofie von OtterAnne Sofie von Otter stars in Glyndebourne's 2002 Carmen (photo: Ewa-Marie Rundquist)

As the Glyndebourne label releases the first and only audio recording of Anne Sofie von Otter in the role of Carmen, we catch up with the mezzo soprano, asking her to cast her mind back 10 years to the 2002 production. Directed by David McVicar, the Glyndebourne Festival staging also starred Marcus Haddock as Don José, and featured the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Philippe Jordan in his UK debut. Find out more about the production on the Glyndebourne website.

Glyndebourne’s new Carmen recording was your first opportunity to play the lead role in the staged opera. This must have been very special for you and quite different to your previous staged repertoire…

I had sung Carmen in a couple of concert performances which I hugely enjoyed and made me want to do a proper production. It was indeed a new sensation to swing my hips instead of trying to look like a teenage boy. But apart from the female factor, I also relished the great work that this opera is - not a boring moment and a fantastic build-up of the drama.

What were the challenges of taking on the role of Carmen?

Being 181cm and Scandinavian looking was, and is, a problem for many people regarding this role - not so strange really, as Carmen will always be a smouldering dark Latin lady in our minds, even mine. Vocally, one also tends to think of darker voices. That didn't worry me though. I like to think I can get my way around that problem by really using the words and acting with the voice. There is nothing in the role that implies that the singer needs particular richness of tone or bel canto quality.

What was it like working with Philippe Jordan and David McVicar?

David McVicar had a great concept which worked a treat. I have watched the show on DVD and I really, really enjoyed what he did with the piece - superb direction and ideas concept. With the help of his team of course. He was extremely well prepared and never hesitated in what he wanted us to do. Philippe Jordan was just the best. I could not have wished for a better conductor - so positive, so very musical. He had (and has) energy, determination, sense of drama, sense of colours. Just lovely!

Did you particularly enjoy the Glyndebourne environment? How does this compare to other opera stages where you have performed?

Glyndebourne is different of course, being set in the English countryside. It was rainy the summer I was there, so perhaps the gardens didn´t have the appeal they would otherwise have had. The auditorium is excellent - and being not too big, it suits me and my voice well. Apart from that, I loved walking on the Downs and shopping with my family at Tesco in Lewes....

The Carmen recording was made in 2002 – 10 years ago. Has your voice and approach to the stage developed since then?

Has my voice developed since then... Hmmm, well yes, I am 10 years older of course and have sung many other things since Carmen: Berlioz, Wagner, Bartok... I still love my work as much as I did 10 years ago and hope to go on making music and singing for a long time yet. My approach to working on stage varies depending on the director. They are all so different!

You are featuring in the new film, A Late Quartet, both on the soundtrack and in the film itself. What was this experience like?

It was lovely to stand in a gloomy room in NYC with Christopher Walken sitting in a chair listening and reminiscing - I play his dead wife, a singer. I mimed to myself singing 'Marietta's Lied' from Korngold's Die tote Stadt. It was very moving actually.

You have had so many successes throughout your career. Are there other challenges and roles that you would like to tackle in the future?

Oh yes, I am forever finding new things to sing. I'm currently having a look at Erda, Klytaemnestra, Beethoven's Folksongs, Christmas carols, Swedish folk music and German popular music from the roaring twenties!

Listen to an excerpt of Anne Sofie von Otter singing the Habañera from Glyndebourne's 2002 Carmen on the Gramophone Player below:

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