We are excited to have the fabulous Donatienne Michel-Dansac joining us from Paris very soon. Come hear her sing Bernhard Lang’s DW 16: Songbook 1 as a part of the Austrian Cultural Forum’s 10th Anniversary Series at the Bohemian National Hall on February 17th. Get to know her here first!
You joined a chorus at your Conservatory when you were 11, but had you always been drawn to singing or was that a new phenomenon for you?
I joined a children’s choir in the opera house of the town where I lived when I was 11. The theater was my second home; I spent so much time in it! It was not singing which was new at that time, but singing in choir: I adored it. My very first experience onstage was singing in the choir in “Carmen” and I have been addicted since…
At what point did your fascination begin with contemporary literature? Was there a certain piece that got you hooked?
My mother used to listen to a lot of music at home- mostly classical and jazz. Then in the 70′s and 80′s, there was a big contemporary music festival in Royan, France. My mother took the car and we went there to listen to lots of creations. It was more than three hours by car to go there which at that age seemed like an eternity!! I remember going to a recital of Cathy Berberian when I was nine years old. It was amazing. I’ve always listened to music at home but also going to a lot of concerts. On average, I think I went more than six times per month to the concert or opera since I was six years old. My very first experience as a singer which made me fall in love with contemporary music was meeting Pierre Boulez: I was 22 and it was for “Laboryntus 2″ by Berio, in Paris. Looking at such a big conductor, so calm, so easy, so smily, who conducted this music. It was a new experience for me, but I deeply wanted to interpret it. Since this experience, I always think about my time with Boulez when I work on any new piece. “Laborynthus 2″ hooked me, but it was also meeting Pierre Boulez.
What has been the strangest requirement from a composer/piece of music that you have had to meet?
In dealing with complex new music, I’m sure that with work, patience and intelligence, we can do lots of things!! The strangest request of a composer that I ever had was that he asked me to copy my voice which had been transformed by a computer… I just didn’t understand why because it was done (and very well!…) by the machine. I’m not a machine, so I didn’t do it, but it was very hard to explain because the composer didn’t understand that I was not a machine. His requirement was not strange, it was just ridiculous. No more to say…I work with great composers who are great human beings who write very difficult things but although it’s a lot of work, it always teaches me something about the possibilities of my voice.
What is your process as you are getting to know a work?
When I first get to know a work, I always work first in my mind. Just in my mind, no humming, no mimics, just in the head. To hear inside, to simply read also, to be closer and closer to the score and its own style. This process can take months for certain pieces (for example some “récitations” by Aperghis took me 9 months of this type of work, for finally 4 minutes of music… haha!) But the reward is that when you work so hard with your mind and intelligence, as soon as it’s time to sing (because the deadline of the concert arrives) more than 80% of the work is done. It always is astonishing to me but it’s real.
What is most interesting for you about singing DW16?
Receiving a score is always a present!! Everything is interesting in this score: the difficulties are very interesting because you have to look for solutions and I think I’m born to always look for solutions (even if I don’t find them which can also be very interesting…). In regards to DW16 Songbook I, I like the principle of Chamber Music, to work on a score entirely, understanding all of the instruments, what they do, where they are, where I am suppose to be inside their line etc… I like the repetitions of texts because you’re obligated to always say the same thing but never the same way… It’s a score where everything is written, I just have to do what is written. And last but not the least, there is a lot of humor in this piece.
Georges Aperghis: Récitations (excerpt)