Interview: Amber Wagner

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Published: 21st November, 2016

Soprano Amber Wagner will sing the role of Sieglinde in the Melbourne Ring Cycle which opens tonight.

She first performed in Melbourne in 2013 when she sang the Verdi Requiem under the baton of Sir Andrew Davis with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.

“I love Melbourne,” Ms Wagner says. “It’s such a great city; easy to navigate and lots to do.” She is looking forward to exploring more of the city during her time here together with her young son.

The soprano has already performed the role of Sieglinde, most recently in Germany with Opera Frankfurt in a production that was filmed and released on DVD – a definite career highlight, she says.

“Sieglinde is a somewhat tortured but strong soul; she doesn’t have too much of a say in her life, but that hasn’t diminished her strength. She’s trapped in a loveless, and I would say abusive, relationship with Hunding, but even in that she hasn’t lost her way. She knows who she is.”

Ms Wagner says she primarily sings Wagner so she spends “quite a bit of time” in his music!

“It’s taken me several years to really dig into Sieglinde’s story and find ways to throw off convention and inhibitions and really let her emotions soar throughout the evening. She’s extremely passionate; flinging herself into this forbidden love with Siegmund and then denouncing the same love in Act 2 out of the shame she feels, all the while knowing that it’s saving her somehow. By Act 3 we see her spiral into total despair and sorrow and grief and then renewed joy with the announcement of impending childbirth.

“The arc of her journey through this show is a long one and one that requires district emotions and vocal colourings from me. It’s really marvellous and I find her incredibly rewarding. Sieglinde’s music is so richly textured and every time I come back to this part I find new things about how Wagner wrote her; how he expressed her passion in music. It’s remarkable!”

It takes a certain kind of voice to be able to express the significant demands of German dramatic repertoire. Ms Wagner is no newcomer to these types of roles having also performed Elsa, Senta, Elisabeth, Branngaene and the title role in Ariadne auf Naxos, perhaps most notably at the Bayerische Staatsoper opposite Jonas Kaufmann and conducted by Kirill Petrenko.

Praised in the Chicago Tribune as possessing a remarkable voice with a “ gleaming, ample and effortless sound” as well as a “ gorgeous creamy tone,” Ms Wagner says that, simply stated, “your voice lets you know when it is ready” to tackle such roles.

“There are certain colours, stamina, power and sound required…Wagnerian singers have these (qualities) in spades…the voice yields itself to each vein…it’s natural. It bends and moves and grows where it’s most comfortable. I think Wagner singing requires stamina and sound; hugely so.” It is vital to be able to “sing over his extremely textured orchestrations and be heard but at the same time also making it sound effortless. Also colours; mixing vocal colours to bring out the nuances in the music.”

Ms Wagner says that it has been a joy putting the Opera Australia production together. “We have had such fun! It’s been a really amazing experience. This is a very special company and I am reminded of that every time I turn up for another rehearsal. A Ring Cycle is a huge project for any opera company but it seems effortless somehow with Opera Australia; you can tell its special to each person working on it and that there is a collective desire to make it special for our audiences.”

She describes being part of a production like this one as similar to being part of a large family. “We are all integral to the story. We each bring a facet to the table that is crucial and important to the overall story but that alone wouldn’t mean as much. It’s so fulfilling to work on something like the Ring and be there to witness the greatness and the moments of passion and enormous emotional singing. It makes me so incredibly grateful to have this opportunity. It’s very surreal at times. You think, is this really my office? This giant, gorgeous auditorium? It’s very humbling.”

The feeling of belonging and being musically connected makes being away from home for long periods of time so much easier. Travelling is part of the job, Ms Wagner admits. “We adapt to that part because our love of singing requires it. I don’t always manage it well; it can be incredibly daunting packing for long engagements, trying to close up your house, and I travel with my little boy so that adds another dynamic as well. I keep on getting better at the travelling part; packing less, learning not to stress before leaving, being ok with a minimal wardrobe approach rather than taking my entire closet … it’s a huge learning curve.”

But she says it has all been worth it. “We have had a great time putting this production together and we are all excited to share it with you.”

 

In the 2016/17 upcoming season Ms Wagner returns to the Metropolitan Opera as Senta, sings the title role in Ariadne auf Naxos for the Opera National de Lorraine a Nancy and makes her recital debut in New York with the George London Foundation at the Morgan Library.