Opera + Classical Music Features

Interview: Katherine Broderick

Soprano Katherine Broderick is still coming down from the most amazing week of her life, winning both the Kathleen Ferrier Award and Guildhall’s prestigious Gold Medal.

There hasn’t been much time for reflection, though, as she’s deep into rehearsals for her final GSMD production, playing the Countess in Richard Strauss’ subtle and sophisticated final opera Capriccio. It’s a work that is seldom performed in the major houses and poses an enormous challenge to students.“It’s really chromatic and the language is difficult but it’s wonderful and Strauss gives you everything you need”, she says. Broderick studied in Germany, at the Mendelssohn Musickhochschule in Leipzig, and her grasp of the language has really helped in preparing for the role. “Without my basic German, it would have been so much harder.”

Words are of course crucial to the work, which is often seen as less of an opera than a musical treatise on the art of opera itself. The libretto was finalised by Strauss himself in conjunction with conductor Clemens Krauss (Hofmannsthal had been dead for some years) and it explores the relationship between the component parts of opera the words and the music – something of an obssession for the composer. If he had played with these ideas to some extent in earlier works like Ariadne auf Naxos, here he stripped back everything but the discussion and came up with one of the most curious operatic works ever written. It is also stunningly beautiful.

“What Strauss finally wrote really messes with your head”, says Katherine, “as the Countess, you are playing a muse, almost more than a character. She is the inspiration that the Poet and Composer are both seeking. But you can’t play an idea. You have to have an awareness of the symbolism but, on one level, it’s just about a woman being wooed by two men. It has to be about real people. The opera gets to the essence of what art is all about – the striving to move people’s hearts.”

“The music and the text go hand in hand”

“And it is so well written”, she adds, “the music and the text go hand in hand”. Katherine is thrilled that one of her heroines, Dame Felicity Lott, renowned for her own performance as the Countess, has invited her for some personal coaching in the role.

Capriccio will be Katherine’s final production at Guildhall and she will then take up the one year course at the National Opera Studio. Before then, she will be appearing at the Royal Albert Hall as Woglinde in the Proms concert performance of Gtterdmmerung, alongside Christine Brewer and Sir John Tomlinson. She’ll also be playing Lady Billows, another formidable aristocrat, in Albert Herring for the British Youth Opera, which will play at London’s Peacock Theatre in September. Last year, she was an acclaimed Tatyana for them in Eugene Onegin.

“We’ve been talking about opera a lot”, she says, “but I want to stress that I’m also very keen on recital work.” She has had appearances at the Wigmore Hall and St John’s, Smith Square, often accompanied by her regular pianist Jonathan Beattie. She has also just finished recording the final stages of Graham Johnson’s Schumann lieder for Hyperion.

The Marschallin is “the role I’d be really disappointed not to play”

For someone not yet graduated from college she’s already in high demand and looks set for a busy career. Casting well into the future, she has her eye on Strauss’ Marschallin as “the role I’d be really disappointed not to play”. Another part that appeals she sang “Dich, teure Halle” as part of her Gold Medal award-winning performance is Elisabeth in Tannhuser, although she giggles at the prospect of daring to take on a major Wagnerian role and is quick to emphasise that she sees that as a long-term ambition. “Then there are the Puccini roles: Butterfly and Tosca one day. Doing Il Tabarro at college was really enjoyable. And of course all the Mozart operas”. She’s clearly not short on ambition or enthusiasm and is already showing the kind of commitment necessary for a career in the opera world, not letting her recent triumphs get in the way of the job in hand.

Singers she particularly admires include soprano Susan Bullock, who has been enormously helpful personally and very supportive of the young singer’s development. Felicity Lott’s name comes up again. “She has such a way with textual details, which is so important”.

This inevitably brings us back to the dilemma her character in Capriccio faces is it words or music that predominate? When pushed on the same decision, Katherine shows her obvious love of music but also holds a healthy respect for text and, like the Countess won’t be finally pinned down. With an attitude like that, plus an abundance of talent of course, she’ll go far and play her part in keeping the art of singing very much alive in the 21st Century.

Capriccio plays at the Guildhall School Theatre on 6, 8, 11 & 13 June and Katherine Broderick will play alternate performances beginning on the 6 June. A review will appear on musicOMH on 7 June.

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Capriccio @ Guildhall School Theatre, London
Interview: Katherine Broderick