Now hair this

Rising soprano Measha Brueggergosman does things her own way.

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Photograph: Paul Elledge/DG

There’s nothing small about Measha Brueggergosman. There’s that mouthful of a name, a combination of her husband’s surname and her own; her architectural Afro, which would make Pam Grier jealous; her size 11-wide feet, the cause of so many shoe traumas that she now regularly performs barefoot; and, most importantly, her voice—an expansive, dramatic soprano with lofty top notes and a dusky lower register. The 30-year-old Canadian makes her Carnegie Hall recital debut on Wednesday 28, hot on the heels of her first solo disc on Deutsche Grammophon. Titled Surprise, the album is exactly that: Instead of the standard arias usually found on a soprano’s major-label introduction, Brueggergosman performs cabaret songs by William Bolcom, Schoenberg and Satie. We reached her by phone in Germany, where she talked about the art of recital and dying onstage.

Tell us about the music you chose for Surprise.
I knew I wanted to record William Bolcom’s Cabaret Songs. Bill had written some orchestrations of them for a concert I’d done, and he welcomed the opportunity to both rework the orchestrations he’d already done and also add a few. So that really formed the core of the album, and then we looked for composers whose work would be compatible with, and complementary to, Bolcom’s.

You seem more interested in the art-song repertoire than in opera.
The art of the song recital just kind of ended up being what I really love, this kind of bottomless pit of repertoire that is really uncharted. I love the recital programs that I’m able to create with my collaborators. And Surprise is a massive reflection of the kinds of choices I’ve made professionally, as well as artistically. I enjoy the opera rep, but it’s not a reflection of where I currently am artistically, nor is it an extension of who I am—spiritually, personally, all that stuff.

When you do perform opera, what kind of roles do you like to sing?
First of all, I have to be dead at the end. That’s a prerequisite. It’s very important that I’m either murdered, or accused falsely, or die for love, or commit suicide, or am unjustly hanged—I don’t like anything twee. The first opera I ever did was written by James Rolfe for me called Beatrice Chancy, and in that I was raped by my father, murdered him and then [was] hanged. So everything kind of has to measure up to that level of drama.

What roles would you love to tackle later on in your career?
Strauss’s Elektra, definitely. I also think that Judit in [Bartók’s] Bluebeard’s Castle is pretty phenomenal. And of course [Janacek’s] Jenufa would be a really, really exciting part to sink my teeth into.

You’ve got a pretty serious ’fro. Do you wear it as is for your performances, or do you try to pull it back into a more traditional style?
It all depends on the neckline of the gown and the jewelry I’m wearing. I can also sport the fauxhawk, which I think is a very good look, depending on the audience and the repertoire. Sometimes it’s really fun to juxtapose the fauxhawk on a Wagner song cycle, or to infuse a little rock & roll into Mendelssohn duets.

What kind of music plays around the house?If I’m cleaning or unpacking, it’s gonna be one of my beloved Canadian songstresses, like Jann Arden, Loreena McKennitt or Molly Johnson. If I need to really kick it, then it’s Boston, Journey, Blue Öyster Cult, Foreigner.… I also have a bit of a Dolly Parton fetish. But when I’m making risotto or frying fish, there will never be classical music playing in the background. I can’t have anything else going on when classical music is playing, because it forces me into a whole other mind space. I can’t actually wield a knife while listening to classical music, or I’ll cut my own hand off.

Measha Brueggergosman is at Zankel Hall Wed 28. Surprise is out now.

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