ANJA HARTEROS Hugh Canning Harteros sings her first Marschallin at
San Diego Opera next month
The history of opera is littered with the burnout careers of gals—and guys— who can’t say ‘No!’, but the German soprano Anja Harteros is not one of them. She won the Cardiff Singer of the World competition in 1999, yet it took her the best part of a decade to establish herself as one of the most sought-after lyric sopranos of her generation. Unlike some of her Cardiff predecessors, her win did not result in instant stardom, but her patience has delivered rich rewards. Already established as Germany’s most lustrous leading soprano in the major houses—Munich, Berlin (Staatsoper and Deutsche Oper), Hamburg and Dresden—she is increasingly an important international player, with debuts at the Met, Vienna Staatsoper and Covent Garden under her belt. Her London operatic debut was belated and accidental—a fairly late replacement for Nina Stemme as Amelia Grimaldi in the 2008 revival of Simon Boccanegra—but, as she revealed when we met at the Nationaltheater in Munich, where she is a genuine home-grown star, she has plans for Royal Opera appearances aplenty in the coming seasons, mostly in Italian roles.
Next month, however, she takes on one of the biggest challenges for a German soprano, the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier, at San Diego Opera in Lotfi Mansouri’s stylish facsimile of the original Alfred Roller sets for Dresden’s Court Opera. It is just over 100 years since Strauss’s and Hofmannsthal’s ‘comedy for music’ had its sensational premiere, an anniversary that seems to have been largely overlooked by the world’s leading houses. Munich, still one of the important Strauss cities, had planned a new production this season, also for Harteros, but financial considerations, presumably, mean they are sticking to the sumptuous but almost 40-year-old Otto Schenk-Jürgen Rose staging. Harteros sings in a Neueinstudierung in June and there are two performances in the July opera festival.
The Italian bass Ferruccio Furlanetto—who should have been singing Baron Ochs in the San Diego Rosenkavalier, but announced his decision not to tackle the role at the beginning of the year—told me once that he loved singing in San Diego because of the wonderful golf courses. I wondered if Harteros was a golf fan? ‘No! I’m an Ian Campbell [the general and artistic director of San Diego Opera] fan. After my win in Cardiff, he asked me to sing my first Amelia in Simon Boccanegra and my first Traviata. Most of the Intendants offered me either Mozart or crazy things like Puccini’s Manon Lescaut, but he said to me, “I can hear that you will be a wonderful Violetta”, and so I decided
Opera, March 2011 to make this very long journey to San Diego. I like the weather there, and I like the sea, and it’s possible to work in a relaxed and helpful atmosphere.’
Even today, when she is close to the top of her profession, Harteros remains a canny career-planner. Taking time out to rehearse a new production of such a long and complex work as Der Rosenkavalier is typical of the soprano’s forward-thinking and serious approach. At 38, Harteros will be a bit older than the 32 years Strauss prescribed for the Marschallin after he had experienced several senior sopranos taking on the role, but not by much. ‘Well, 32 would have been a bit too young for me to do this role, but I think now is the right time, because I don’t think the Marschallin should be too old. When she speaks about the time passing and becoming old, this is part of her character, not of her age. You can be 15 and think about these things if you have that kind of character.’
That, in essence, is the watchword of Harteros’s life and career. Born in Bergneustadt, about 60 kilometres from Cologne, to a Greek father and a German mother, she is blessed with natural gifts that surely must have impressed the Cardiff judges in 1999: she’s tall with a mane of raven hair, sultry Mediterranean looks and a warm, limpid timbre which sounds equally alluring in such diverse roles as Handel’s Alcina, Wagner’s Eva and Elsa, Verdi’s Amelia and Puccini’s Mimì. I ask if her decision not to embark, immediately after her Cardiff win, on an international career was a conscious one. ‘Yes,’ she replies, ‘I wanted to have a slowly and gradually managed career, but I wanted to find my own way as a singer. I had no wish to be a so-called overnight star.’
My first experience of Harteros, in 2001, was her Fiordiligi in concert performances of Così fan tutte at the Edinburgh Festival, conducted by Andras Schiff. She was still in her late 20s and her soprano was already an unusually large voice for the role by recent standards; it was perhaps not completely under control, but her striking stage presence suggested potential star quality. Success in Cardiff clearly did not go to Harteros’s head and she had no illusions about the hard work needed to succeed as a singer. ‘Even today,
■ Anja Harteros as Amelia with Plácido Domingo as Simon Boccanegra at the Berlin Staatsoper in 2009