Soprano Elza van den Heever (pictured left) is currently an Ensemblemitglied at Oper Frankfurt, but as been in San Francisco this month for Vier letzte Lieder at San Francisco Symphony and a recital presented by San Francisco Performances. She sings Elsa in Bayerische Staatsoper's Lohengrin this January, the Composer in Ariadne auf Naxos and Leonora in Il Trovatore at the Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux from February to April, Vier letzte Lieder with the London Symphony Orchestra next March, Antonia in Les contes d'Hoffmann and Vitellia in La Clemenza di Tito at Oper Frankfurt in April through June, Verdi Requiem with the Frankfurter Opern- und Museumsorchester at the Alte Oper Frankfurt in May, and finishes the season as Fiordiligi in Così fan tutte at Opéra national de Paris in June and July. The Opera Tattler caught up with van den Heever before a rehearsal.
How are you enjoying San Francisco?
It is great, this is where I lived for more than 10 years, so it is like coming home. I spent one week in San Francisco just to be here, and the rest of my time has been rehearsing, first with San Francisco Symphony and now for the recital on Sunday. Sheri Greenawald is still my primary teacher, so I have spent a lot of time with her.
Where did you live in San Francisco?
Out in the Sunset for 6 years, because that's where the San Francisco Conservatory of Music was, and in Civic Center for 5 years.
What do you miss most about this city?
Climbing hills, you don't realize what a difference this makes until you move away and see how flat other places are. You get into this fit zone! There is such a health conciousness in the Bay Area, and an awareness about how what you put into your body matters. San Francisco is also so close to nature, in a couple hours you can be in Point Reyes, for instance.
How was it singing with San Francisco Symphony this time around?
Michael Tilson Thomas is one of my mentors, he gave me such particular care, since he knows Vier letzte Lieder so well. Since there is only one soloist in this, unlike the 8 in Mahler's 8th, Michael Tilson Thomas really took me under his wing.
How are you liking Frankfurt?
It actually has a lot of greenery. In a way it is like a provincial town with high-rises, as soon as you get out of downtown it is less urban than you would think. At the same time, it is the banking capital of Germany, so it is comsompolitan and diverse.
How about Oper Frankfurt?
It is wonderful. It is an important house and I feel lucky to be able to try all these big roles there for the first time. For new productions we get 7 weeks of rehearsal, and then 8 to 10 performances, which is great.
You were the first-prize winner in the 2008 Seattle Opera Wagner Competition. Are you planning on going in that direction as far as repertoire?
That was a lot of pressure! It was my first and last competition! I was really glad to win, especially based on just the arias I did from Tannhäuser and Lohengrin, the only Wagner operas I will sing from right now. As far as repertoire, I want to keep all my options open, to sing as much as is right for me. I'm only 31 so I have lots of time, and I'd rather be prudent with my voice.
Do you have a favorite composer?
Right now I am really enjoying Verdi, he really lets the voice fly and I feel a special affinity for him. I am working on parts from Otello, the Requiem, and Il Trovatore at the moment.
Who do you look up to?
I look up to my colleagues, especially the ones that are of the same age as me, because they make me want to work harder and strive further. My absolute favorite singer is Maria Callas though. I know it is a cliché, but she was truly great.
Your San Francisco debut in Don Giovanni has been in cinemas and was broadcast on public television. How do you feel about live simulcasts?
That's right! The Met HD Broadcasts are amazing, they are so impressive. They do make me a bit nervous, I hope people don't cancel their subscriptions and watch them instead of going to the opera house. As a performer, it does make you all the more nervous to be recorded live, since most of media we see or hear are edited to perfection.
Do you feel pressure to be able to move and act well?
Yes, there is pressure. This was one of the great things about being in Merola, we had movement lessons. But I still can't dance, I have two left feet, and I always find I want to lead!
Are there singers in your family?
No, but my family is artistic. My mother was an actress and now a producer and my father is a film-maker. I have a photographer, a painter, and a chef as brothers.
I heard you also wanted to be a chef? How did you pick singing as a career?
Yes, I didn't know what I was in for! [Laughs] I figured I could a chef at any age but if I wanted to be a singer I would have to start training young.
What do you like to cook?
I like to go to the grocery store with no idea of what I'm going to get, so I can see what is in season. I like to be creative with vegetables, but I don't specialize in a particular type of cuisine. I never follow a recipe!