Opera's Next Wave
When Amber Wagner sings, her voice pours out big, beautiful arcs of sound, making the operas of Wagner, Verdi and Richard Strauss seem like a natural fit for her. Although Elisabeth's "Dich, teure halle" was part of Wagner's winning turn at the Metropolitan Opera National Council auditions in 2007, she did not begin her serious exploration of the dramatic Italian and German repertory until she was a member of Lyric Opera of Chicago's Ryan Center, where she covered Brangäne, Santuzza and Elvira in Ernani. Since her three-year term in the Ryan Center ended in April 2010, Wagner has returned to Lyric for Elsa in Lohengrin and Strauss's Ariadne, both roles that bid fair to be among her specialties in coming seasons, and made debuts in Toronto (Ariadne), Savonlinna (Elsa) and at the Met (Anna in Nabucco). This summer, Wagner made her Frankfurt debut as Sieglinde and returned to the Savonlinna Festival for Senta in Der Fliegende Holländer. She sings Amelia in Ballo at the Met in December and takes on Aida at Tulsa Opera in February 2013.
"When I'm singing Wagner — any German stuff — I never seem to have a problem keeping it in line and keeping inside my cage. But when I switch over to Italian, I have to watch myself — I can get a little too free sometimes. The drama of Verdi, even in a piece like the Requiem, and the fact that it speaks right to your soul makes you want to sing with wild abandon. At least that's the effect it can have on me. There's the temptation to do things vocally in Verdi that you would never do in a Wagner opera, where you know that you have to sing for five hours.
"I don't want to get pigeonholed as a specialist in any one composer's music — I want to sing things that are healthy for my voice, and I want to sing them when I'm ready for them. I don't really understand the label 'Wagnerian soprano,' anyway. What does that mean? That you sing nothing but Wagner? That's not common sense. I want to sing as much Italian work that fits my voice as is possible for me — it's the only way to stretch yourself as an artist. I want to bring something specific to every role I sing. The worst thing would be to be singing, let's say, Elisabeth in Tannhäuser, and to have someone say, 'She sounds exactly like she did when she sang Elsa.' I don't want everything to start to sound bland."
Wagner, a big believer in hard work and the wisdom of long-term development, is wary of "skipping steps," as she puts it, on the road to success. "Believe it or not, I've been offered Isolde — more than once. Me. Isolde. And sometimes I think, 'Oh, I'm just going to look at it. I could just look at it, can't I? If it's in a small house, maybe I could do it. If it's a very small house? Maybe?' And then, of course, I'm talked in off the ledge by my manager, and I'll get back on track. 'Oh, you're so right. That's right. This is silly. What was I thinking? I must have had a day where I thought I was invincible.' Sometimes you get a crazy idea in your head — 'The heck with slow and steady. I'm just going to put a jetpack on, and I'm going to fly straight to the stars.' But this just doesn't work that way. Life doesn't work that way."
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