Soprano Danielle de Niese (pictured left, photograph courtesy of Decca / Chris Dunlop) will have her debut at San Francisco Opera today as Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro. Later this season she sings Despina in The Met's Così fan tutte, conducted by William Christie. In March de Niese will fulfill her dream of working with conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt, singing the title role of Rodelinda at Theater an der Wien. The Opera Tattler caught up with Danielle on Friday after a talk with students from the San Francisco School of the Arts and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music that followed the final dress rehearsal of Figaro.
Where did you grow up in LA?
Do you still consider it home even though you live in the UK and your parents live on the East Coast?
I do still think of LA as a big home for me, since I spent my adolescence there, in the 90s.
Is your family musical? How did you find opera?
My mother sang, not classical music, but she still always gets the final word on how I'm sounding. My dad's parents also sang. On the other hand, my brother is a pharmacist, and though I do have loads of cousins, 40 or so, but none of them are singers. My parents had me take tons of lessons, everything from dance to tennis to karate. I just took to singing like a duck to water. I remember when I was a kid I would look forward to taking my voice lessons on Saturday mornings; it was my favorite day of the week!
Does it help to be pretty in this industry? Perhaps you can't say, since you've been pretty all along!
[Laughs] That's so sweet of you to say, thank you! I wish I could give a yes or no answer to this one, but it is very grey. I think you have to have personality over looks, but you of course have to have a voice. Opera is about singing. I don't think it hurts to be beautiful, but it is more a plus than anything else. I know it sounds strange, but there are loads of pretty singers, so you have to have something more to give.
You've performed in a lot of Baroque operas, what do you find appealing about this music?
Baroque music is good for young voices, the orchestration is light. In Baroque music, you have the da capo aria, and as a singer you can compose your own ornamentation. It is only in Baroque music that you are allowed the freedom within the form this way. If you sing Mimì, Puccini's music is all written out, and though every performance is different, it is on the page in a way that something like Cleopatra is not.
In 1988 you won Young Talent Time, an Australian television contest, singing a Whitney Houston medley. Do you have a favorite song from Whitney?
The medley was of "I Wanna Dance with Somebody" and "Greatest Love of All," so I definitely love those two songs. "I Will Always Love You" is also one of my favorites, since I loved the movie The Bodyguard.
What sort of dance are you trained in?
Ballet, tap, jazz, modern, and folklorico. I concentrated most on modern, jazz, and tap though.
What is on your ipod that isn't opera?
I can't live without my ipod! Some of my favorite non-classical music includes Dave Matthews Band, Coldplay, and Beyoncé.
What sort of cardio do you do?
I used to run, because if you are pressed for time, running is very efficient. Unfortunately, I can't run right now because one of my knees is filled with fluid. So I've been on the multi-stride elliptical, which bounces and is easier on the joints. I'm even getting one for my house in England. I also swim and do some weight training.
How many pairs of shoes did you bring to San Francisco?
Let's see, 22 pairs? That's actually not too bad for me, I'm really my mother's daughter, and love shoes and handbags. But the weight restrictions are strict now, so my books outweigh my shoes.
What makes Bob Ross so awesome?
I just saw a re-run of Bob Ross on PBS, with his big gorgeous hair, exuding an effortless calm. He was just so sweet and I can't believe he is gone! Drawing is the one artistic thing I really can't do, and Bob Ross made it look so easy.
Do you like cupcakes?
Though I don't go out of my way to have them, I do like cupcakes.
Which scene in Figaro would look best depicted with cupcakes as singers?
Definitely the night scene of Act IV. I can imagine all the cupcakes peeking around the pines. You know they are half pines, right?
Yes, we have to pretend they go all the way around, but they are flat in the back!