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Interview with Elsa Dreisig: Love at second glance
What is it like for a young, successful, emancipated singer to take on roles from bygone centuries that may well differ sharply from her own idea of what a woman is and does? It is a problem familiar to Elsa Dreisig, 25, winner of multiple awards and since last season a member of the Opera Studio of the Staatsoper Berlin - a rising star in the opera firmament. Yet she also knows how to address the problem. The soprano of French and Danish stock begins, however, by revealing the language she prefers to sing in:

French! I know pretty much the entire repertoire. Danish is also great to sing in, but there simply isn’t that much material. But my next role at the Staatsoper will be in Italian, which I love too.

You’ll be singing Eurydice in Jürgen Flimm’s production of “Orfeo ed Euridice” by Christoph Willibald Gluck. Hardly your typical Italian opera, right?

Right, although the belcanto operas have some roles, like Rossini’s “Semiramide“ or his Desdemona from “Otello”, that I’m really interested in and where I think I can bring something to the part. “Orfeo ed Euridice” is quite different, though. I should say that I had my doubts about Euridice at first, both musically and due to her character. But Jürgen Flimm’s production has been an enormous help to me. It gives Euridice a modern quality. It would never have occurred to me what a great role Euridiceis. It’s a joy to sing and act the part!

What kind of a woman is Euridice, then, personality-wise?

A very intense, courageous person. She won’t be pushed around. When Orpheus frees her from Hades she doesn’t just meekly accept it. She can’t understand why Orpheus won’t look at her. She doesn’t want to go with him just because he tells her to; she wants to understand. I like that. Eurydiceis complex and actually slightly lost. She was happy in Elysium but also glad to see Orpheus again. But if he doesn’t want to look at her, what’s that about? Has she lost her looks? Doesn’t he like her anymore? Jürgen Flimm has nailed the whole doubt issue. First it looks as if everything’s ok, but then we gradually realise how unpleasant and severe Eurydice can be. In the end she’s hysterical to the point of madness. It’s a fascinating thing for me to act out, but it’s also very tiring.

Are you saying you came to really appreciate the role of Eurydice through Jürgen Flimm?

Definitely. Obviously I work on the character on my own, too, usually in front of a mirror, in a room on my own, to sort out the physical aspect. But with “Orfeo ed Euridice” I also had the good fortune to be involved in Jürgen Flimm’s production. Because it can be a real grind if the production is poor and you have to work everything out for yourself.

And what if that doesn’t work? What if the production isn’t a good one and you can’t find anything in the character to grab hold of? Does that happen?

That can happen, but I’ve learnt what to do in that situation. The role of Pamina in “the Magic Flute“, which I’m also singing here at the Staatsoper in December, has been a great help to me in that respect. Musically, the part is incredible, but you can’t really be innovative with it. I can’t give a dramatic rendition of Pamina. That’s only possible with the great roles like Puccini’s “Manon“ or Violetta in Verdi’s “La traviata”. I can naturally bring a lot of my own character to those roles. With Pamina that’s not possible - musically maybe, but not dramatically or theatrically.

How do you plug the gap between the musical Pamina and the theatrical Pamina?

The trick is, you don’t have to! I tried to at first and discussed with my teacher how to make Pamina interesting from a dramatic angle, but he told me I didn’t have to. Mozart was intelligent enough. You have to have faith in his music and feel it. Then something special happens all by itself. So when I’m playing Pamina I try not to think about how other people sing her role and how I can do something different. No, I’m really immersed in the music. And what the music brings is enough. Obviously you can’t be dull when you’re singing Pamina, but I can trust the emotions to come all by themselves. Pretty simple, don’t you think?

Interview: Renske Steen

Photo: Elsa Dreisig | © Stephanie von Becker
Foto: Elsa Dreisig | © Stephanie von Becker