Angelika Kirchschlager: I like wearing the trousers

Angelika Kirchschlager is playing the page in Figaro - and that suits her down to the ground

Lynne Walker
Tuesday 29 June 2004 00:00
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"I am not a nice little girl at all," says the Austrian soprano Angelika Kirchschlager. "I can be, but I need to feel I am the right kind of character for my roles. The voice has to go with the parts, which in turn need to match my personality."

"I am not a nice little girl at all," says the Austrian soprano Angelika Kirchschlager. "I can be, but I need to feel I am the right kind of character for my roles. The voice has to go with the parts, which in turn need to match my personality."

The reputation she has attracted, mainly for trouser roles, still seems to surprise her. Her debut as the young lover Octavian in Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier, a little more than 10 years ago, was a sensation. Slim and boyish, with a distinctive, sensuous voice, she slipped naturally into pants parts, though she is adamant that she does not try to think like a man.

Acclaimed for her interpretation of Mozart, she is currently playing the sexually overheated pageboy Cherubino in Le Nozze di Figaro. She finds that the tomboy in her responds instinctively to the male persona. "Men are more direct, with fewer quirks and fewer confusing branches off the path; they walk straight, without all that hip-swinging."

So, all those Mozartian female roles in which she has won the hearts of critics and public alike - Dorabella in Cosi Fan Tutte, Susannah in Le Nozze di Figaro and Zerlina in Don Giovanni - are not terribly interesting, then? "They're not my preference, and they're certainly not as challenging as the trouser roles of Idamante in Idomeneo or Sesto in La Clemenza di Tito, say, or the Composer in Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos, or Octavian."

Curiously, she compares her mezzo drag roles with the houses where she has felt most comfortable living in Vienna. "I like apartments with not very much on the wall and nothing much around. Maybe just one big modern picture, leaving the decor simple and clear, giving me lots of space to breathe. Male roles are like that, but female ones are fussier, with too much clutter and exterior decoration, like having bits of porcelain all over the place.

"I think now that singing is actually a sideline and that my main interest is drama. Straight from the opera stage in Paris, this concert version of Figaro we're giving in London is ideal, allowing me to act in the mind. Limiting gestures becomes like condensing something, reducing a sauce, so that the less diluted the meaning, the bigger the impression."

Separated from her singer husband and her young son, Felix, when she is working out of Vienna, she's no stranger to deep and often complex feelings. She had to feel a great deal as the Holocaust victim Sophie in the world premiere of Nicholas Maw's opera Sophie's Choice at Covent Garden. She also had not to feel a great deal when the opera was widely and quite wrongly dismissed as a flawed work, despite its melodic interest, harmonic colour and vocal parts - especially Kirchschlager's - which soared over dense orchestral textures.

"I would call the whole experience a turning point," she remarks; "not that the notes were a problem, but finding the essence of the character was the hardest thing I've ever had to do. But I don't think you can be inside any part without feeling a lot, suffering a little and exposing yourself to life."

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Angelika Kirchschlager sings Cherubino in 'Le Nozze di Figaro' at the Barbican tonight (0845 120 7550)

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