Danielle De Niese: 'I'm the only opera singer who loves Take That

The Glyndebourne star appreciates her music, whether it be boy bands, R&B, musicals, soft rock...
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The Independent Culture

What was your cultural passion at 14?

I was making my debut at Los Angeles opera in the lead role of a new opera they'd commissioned, Journey to Cordoba, by Lee Holdridge. I remember the day I found out I got it I cried, I was so excited. And I was also hosting a television show, LA Kids, which was an arts show for teenagers. I won an Emmy for it when I was 16. And I had dance classes and music theory classes to go to, so I was quite busy!

What do you cling on to from childhood?

One of the things I loved about my childhood was that I didn't feel like I lost my innocence too young, like some children these days. They know the tooth fairy doesn't exist and Santa doesn't exist, they find out these things when they're six years old. I think there's something wonderful about keeping the mystery. I believed in Santa Claus until I was 12!

What are you reading in bed?

It's a book called The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. My two best friends and I recently decided that, even though we're spread all over the world, it would be good to have something we can do together, so we've started an online book club, and this is the first book.

What book have you been meaning to read since you bought it in a fit of enthusiasm?

In a fit at the bookstore one day I bought all my favourite composers' biographies: Schubert, Massenet, Wolf. I've still not had a chance to read them, it breaks my heart. But when you travel so much you just can't take that many books with you. Scores alone weigh so much. The one book I read straight away after buying it was the Bridget Jones book. It's wonderful, I love Bridget Jones, she's so adorable.

What have you re-read most frequently?

One of my favourite books of all time: The Great Gatsby. I just think it's so well written. There's a wistfulness to it. Each of the portraits of the people is so finely drawn, with such subtle, human qualities, that you really feel you're there. It's not a suspense-filled book but it's gripping. And I would have loved to live in that era.

What music are you currently listening to?

In my car I've got a CD of a really fantastic new R&B artist called Ne-Yo. A young guy, and he writes his own songs, which I think is fabulous. I also have Cole Porter in my car, who I totally adore, and I'm listening to Stravinksy's The Rake's Progress, Cosi Fan Tutte, The Marriage of Figaro... Music can colour any experience - it's such an integral part of my life that I almost feel that my life is a soundtrack.

What's the least disposable pop song?

"Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen. I think it's a fantastic piece of music and almost operatic. It's a moment of genius that I think should be remembered for all time.

What's the most disposable piece of classical music?

Holy moley! That is so tough. Each composer puts heart and soul into it as they write. The first thing that came to my mind was John Cage's 4'33". That's something you could get rid of because it doesn't have musical notes, it's silent. But then I found it quite a thrilling experience to see it performed. In fact I wouldn't want to get rid even of that, it would break my heart.

Do you have a hole in your cultural life?

I've always wanted to understand pottery and ceramics. When I was in high school you only got to pick two electives for leisure classes, so I always picked dance and music. But I always wished I'd had the choice to sit at the potter's wheel.

Do you have a secret cultural passion?

I love movie soundtracks. One of the very first soundtracks that I really liked is Braveheart, which is fantastic. The soundtrack to French Kiss is absolutely charming. I also like some boy bands. I loved Take That; I also like Westlife. It's very abnormal for an opera singer. I don't know any other opera singers that are more than barely into pop music.

Which painting most corresponds to your vision of yourself?

The Starry Night. After Van Gogh moved to Paris, his whole colour palette changed and those vibrant colours he started to use seem to me to herald a new artistic age. I feel we're a bit on the brink of a new artistic age ourselves, in the sense that technology is moving so fast. Van Gogh painted Starry Night when he was in a mental institution and a lot of people think the swirls are associated with his mental state, but I don't see it that way. The swirls are a fluid response to the fact that he felt he was confined.

Do you like parties?

Yeah, I'm a pretty social person. I like parties with dancing. Dancing is really fun. I could probably go dancing all night. But do I have the time to? No!

Would you call yourself cool?

I don't think of myself as conventionally cool. Even in high school I never was able to belong to just one clique. I found myself being able to relate to everybody. It comes from being from a mixed background, born in Australia but with Sri Lankan parentage, and being brought up in America and studying in Europe. I guess I'm cool in the sense that I'm very open-minded.

What's the most fashionable thing you own?

My new Bulgari sunglasses. Love those. They're bejewelled with flowers. They are so glamorous and sassy.

What's the most uncool thing?

I still own a few scrunchies. They don't damage hair in the way some hair ties do.

Who should play you in the Hollywood version of your life?

Maybe Halle Berry? I loved her in Monster's Ball. It was so gritty and so real and it takes a lot to be able to bare yourself that way on film. I thought she completely deserved that Oscar that she won. Taking risks always pays off in performance - maybe not in life, but in performance.

Would the depiction of your life be gritty?

No, probably not. I think it would be a comedy drama of some kind. I feel like I've had a charmed life, the fates have shone upon me. I'm a very lucky girl.

Danielle de Niese appears in Handel's 'Giulio Cesare' at Glyndebourne: 01273 813813, www.glyndebourne.com

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