Leading mezzo soprano Michelle DeYoung joins us this June, returning to the Philharmonia to take on the role of Waldtaube (Wood Dove) in our performances of Schoenberg's masterpiece, Gurrelieder. Ahead of our concerts in Paris (26 June), and our 2017/18 season finale in London (28 June), she chatted to us about her love of Gurrelieder, and the joys of performing with us and Esa-Pekka Salonen.
Classical music fans might see a two-hour piece by Schoenberg and expect a ‘difficult’ evening of atonal music, but he wrote this piece in a late-Romantic style – how would you describe the soundworld of Gurrelieder?
Gurrelieder was begun early in Schoenberg’s career, and he worked on it for many years, well into his atonal phase...however this is not atonal. He was very dismayed at the enormous success of the piece, as he believed in his controversial, atonal works. This piece is very unique, extremely special. From the first chord, the listener is transported into a magical world. The musical journey of the piece describes the story.
The Wood Dove plays a crucial part in the drama, announcing the murder of Tove, King Waldemar’s lover, at the hands of his jealous wife Queen Helwig. What’s the most interesting thing about the role for you? And what’s the biggest challenge?
One of my favorite pieces to sing is the Waltaube. The aria is definitely a highlight in the Gurrelieder. The music is very exciting and beautiful, and it has a wide range, it’s rich and tender, loud and gentle. It is a challenge to sing, but very fulfilling as well.
The Wood Dove doesn’t sing until the end of Part I, 45 minutes in. What’s it like sitting on stage waiting for your big moment? Are you 100% focussed on the music, or do you let your mind wander?
Usually when I sing it, I haven't sat on stage the entire time before I sing. Usually I make an entrance...but if not, I adore the music..so I sit there and take it in. I have the best seat in the theatre!
The story of Gurrelieder would make a great opera, but Schoenberg decided to craft it into a huge cantata instead. What do you think are the pros and cons of telling a story without costumes and scenery?
I am a big fan of singing in concert... even operas... as it is entirely about the music... Productions should all be to enhance the story and music, not to take away from it. I have, actually, sung Gurrelieder staged, and it was beautiful...and a lot of fun...but it doesn’t improve the work.
You’ve worked with the Philharmonia and Esa-Pekka Salonen many times before, notably in Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 last October, which was live-streamed around the world. What are you looking forward to about performing with us again?
I have been very fortunate to work with the Philharmonia a lot, and of course Esa-Pekka... A few years back we did a big tour of Europe with Bluebeard's Castle that was just fantastic. I love the level of perfectionism that the orchestra displays, filled with fantastic soloists, that are also able to create an incredible ensemble. They are also a lovely group of people to work with, and always make me feel very welcome. Esa-Pekka is simply one of the best out there. He creates magic, and is true to the music.
Our performance clashes with the England v. Belgium World Cup match. How would you convince a keen football fan to give Gurrelieder a go?
Whoa.... being a huge sports fan I have to admit this is tricky! HOWEVER, unless you are going to the game live, it can be recorded...and there is simply nothing like hearing live unamplified music.