Article Title:Meeting a true diva: Soprano Margaret Medlyn
Author or Credit:Larry Jenkins
Published on:20th September 2007 - 08:26 am
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Story ID:4966
Text:Margaret Medlyn Margaret Medlyn has been a busy diva lately – a Wellington concert of the music of Wagner with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra last week is being followed this week by her debut in the taxing role of Princess Turandot in Puccini's last opera of that name. Medlyn was a fellow mezzo-soprano of her Auckland-based sister, Helen, but somewhere along the way a coach and colleague started her on the potentially slippery path to becoming a soprano, and she's never looked back. You've been known as a soprano now for nearly a decade. Would you compare what has happened to you to the transformation of the world's most famous transsexual, Jan Morris, who, as James Morris, always felt herself to be in the wrong body? Margaret Medlyn: That's a very interesting question. Once the notion was put in my head, yes, I felt that I was in the wrong voice. At the end of 1998, I was contracted to sing mezzo parts in the Adelaide “Ring” and had to turn down the plum part of Lady Macbeth, and having decided I was ready for it and learned it, I really felt deprived and vowed to do no more mezzo soprano parts. I still have yet to sing Lady Macbeth. Even in the soprano repertoire, this analogy with being somewhere wrong could be furthered, couldn't it? After forays into Verdi and Puccini, you're now concentrating on what the Germans call the hoch dramatische Fach, the music of Wagner, Strauss, and others which require a big sound and a different sort of vocal emphasis. Does your voice now feel it's in the right body? Well, I realized that in my training I had concentrated, like most New Zealanders, on singing musically and was undersinging too much. People in New Zealand don't often understand big voices. In many respects it's the opposite of being musical, though musicality is always necessary. The body takes over in this repertoire and you're swept along with the physicality of singing these roles. You had a great success singing Strauss's 'Salome' in Australia, a role you're going to sing next year in concert with the APO, I hear. Is it more demanding than, for instance, the “Immolation” from Göttedämmerung that you sang in concert last week? Oh, the entire part of Salome has to be more demanding, and I have yet to do an entire Brünnhilde. The tessitura [the average compass of the notes] of both the Strauss and the “Immolation” is about the same, and both require great stamina as well as intense commitment to the text and its meaning. And how does “Salome” compare with “Turandot”, the opera you're singing tonight with the NBR New Zealand Opera. I believe this is your first go at the aptly-titled Icy Princess? Yes, it's my debut with the role. First of all it's in a different language. I need to work harder when singing Italian than German, though my approach to singing German is based on Italian bel canto style. Turandot is a strange one, isn't she? - really one dimensional and hard to take seriously, especially that sudden capitulation to love in the last act. How do you go about making her more sympathetic to modern audiences? I feel that she wants to be released from this law-imposed tradition of posing three riddles to her suitors and watching them beheaded if they cannot solve them. She says to Calaf, the successful one, “…the others I despised, but you I feared.” The status quo changes and the virgin is toppled from the pedestal. Who would have been your role model in the part? Birgit Nilsson, the great Swedish soprano who died only last year, I think. I like her singing. Is there any aspect of this production, borrowed from Welsh National Opera, that you'd like to highlight as giving us new insights into the work? The emphasis in this production on power politics makes it more "relevant" if you like, and its similarity with some of the political power plays going on right now make it useful as a reminder that they've always been part of the life's struggle. Margaret, what next? I know you're spending lots of time abroad preparing the role of Isolde. Are you singing closer to home? Oh yes, next year I'll do the role of Kostelnička in Janacek's wonderful opera 'Jenůfa' with NBR New Zealand Opera. And you already mentioned that I'm singing a concert “Salome” next year with the Auckland Phil, and then there's a concert performance of Bartok's 'Bluebeard's Castle' in Wellington with the Vector Orchestra.   Book at Ticketek for The Genesis Energy Spring Season of Turandot Auckland's Aotea Centre 20 - 25th September Wellington's St. James Theatre 13 - 16th October
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