First Listen

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

(Soundbite of opera)

Ms. DANIELLE DE NIESE (Opera Singer): (Singing in foreign language)

SIEGEL: This is a big season for Danielle De Niese. She's a 30-year-old soprano who's returning to the Metropolitan Opera to sing a starring role in "The Marriage of Figaro." And she has a new CD of songs by Mozart.

(Soundbite of opera)

Ms. DE NIESE: (Singing in foreign language)

SIEGEL: Danielle de Niese joins us from the Metropolitan Opera studio in New York. Welcome to the program.

Ms. DE NIESE: Thank you, Robert. Lovely to be speaking to you.

SIEGEL: You made your Met debut 10 years ago, when you were just 19. It was also in "The Marriage of Figaro," but in a smaller role. What's it like to return to the Met?

Ms. DE NIESE: It's unbelievable. I've come back to the Met a couple of times since then, but to actually return in the same production in which I made my Met debut, which was such an emotional moment. Obviously, as a 19-year-old, it's quite unbelievable when I think back now. And when I was singing Barbarina back then with this incredible cast of Cecilia Bartoli, Renee Fleming, Bryn Terfel, Dwayne Croft, Susanne Mentzer, Jimmy Levine, it was just - it was unbelievable. But to sing Barbarina with them, I remember at the time dreaming about having an opportunity to sing Susanna in this same production, and I used to go to the wings, actually, and watch Cecilia and Bryn getting ready during the overture. And I just thought of that, what that moment would be like, to be there preparing to play Susanna at the Met. And, you know, now here I am. It's going to be amazing.

SIEGEL: How different is your singing or your voice today from 10 years ago?

Ms. DE NIESE: Oh, my God. It's - gosh, I wouldn't even be able to compare it. I mean, it's a funny thing singing because you feel as if you're always absorbing and learning how to do what it is that you feel you naturally know how to do. And you have to examine the technical aspect of what it is that you do naturally - and that's the study of technique.

So it's a very funny thing. I remember even from the first Barbarina to the second year when I did it, I had made so much improvement vocally that I thought, well, what I did the year before must have been awful. And I went and watched one of the PBS broadcasts of it, just ready to cringe.

And, actually, it wasn't at all. It's just that when you learn how to understand your voice and your body, you sort of grow with your technique. And so that's what's changed. And also as an artist sort of dramatically as well, growing on stage, learning to be in my skin, which is something I probably have felt from a younger age than most.

SIEGEL: Speaking of a younger age than most, you decided to become an opera singer at a very early age, I gather.

Ms. DE NIESE: It was unbelievable, really. I decided that I needed to be an opera singer at about 8, eight and a half…

SIEGEL: What…

Ms. DE NIESE: …which was shortly after my first classical singing lesson. I was completely bitten, as they say, by the bug, and it felt like the most natural way of expressing myself, you know, with a classically produced sound.

SIEGEL: When you say it struck you as the most natural way to express yourself, natural is the last adjective I would expect.

Ms. DE NIESE: Really? Yeah, I suppose so because, you know, it is an art, so it requires study and practice and dedication and understanding. But there is an element of just being. When you understand all of the things technically that you need to do to put your voice in the right place, you can then just be. And I think as a younger singer, you only know how to be, and then you have to understand the technique behind it.

I mean, it's a little bit like, you know, they talk about Tiger Woods sort of re-analyzing his golf swing halfway into his career. And when you have to break and deconstruct something down, you can sort of, for a moment, forget how to do it naturally, and then you build it up again with that technical understanding.

SIEGEL: There's one track on the Mozart album, your new CD, in which you sing with the great Welsh bass baritone, Bryn Terfel…

Ms. DE NIESE: Bryn, yes.

SIEGEL: …and you sing the duet "La ci darem la mano" from "Don Giovanni." I want to listen to that for a moment.

(Soundbite of aria, "La ci darem la mano")

Mr. BRYN TERFEL (Opera Singer): (Singing in foreign language)

Ms. DE NIESE: (Singing in foreign language)

SIEGEL: Did I hear you singing along for a moment?

Ms. DE NIESE: Was I being taped?

SIEGEL: Well…

Ms. DE NIESE: Oh, I'm so embarrassed. Yes, I was singing along.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DE NIESE: I didn't realize anyone could hear me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: What was it like singing with Terfel in that?

Ms. DE NIESE: Oh, it was incredible. You know, we met in the studio and it was so funny. He's such a wonderful artist. He's so relaxed. And, you know, he was saying to me, well, you're very Zen in the studio. And I said, no, not as much as you are, Bryn.

SIEGEL: Meaning contained?

Ms. DE NIESE: No, just relaxed.

SIEGEL: Relaxed.

Ms. DE NIESE: You know, it's so easy to get worked up in the studio because you're going in there, and there's all these people staring at you, and they're all waiting for you to sing. And, you know, for me, every experience that I'm having in the studio, I'm on a very, very steep learning curve because I'm learning everything for the first time. You know, I've only made two recordings. So, you know, it was very relaxed. And it was a wonderful way to go into the studio when we were doing this duet.

(Soundbite of aria, "La ci darem la mano")

Mr. TERFEL: (Singing in foreign language)

Ms. DE NIESE: (Singing in foreign language)

SIEGEL: Well, Danielle, just before you go, tell me about what it's like being 30.

Ms. DE NIESE: Oh, Robert. I don't know what I think about it. It still feels very young, obviously, because, you know, I've been already, for more than 12 years, at least since my Met debut, working in the opera world and singing in various different opera houses all over the world. Now, I'm meeting more people that are around my age because, of course, it's all going to level out in the end.

SIEGEL: You mean they're catching up with you is what's happening.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DE NIESE: Yeah, or that I'm finally sort of - working people with people within the same decade as me, which is quite funny, actually. I didn't realize how young I was until I saw some other young singers understudying Barbarina in Amsterdam, and they were 18. And I looked at them, and I thought: Oh, my God, you're a child. You're a child. And I didn't realize when I was 18 what that must have looked like for others because, you know, when you're that age, you're very best to be as professional as possible. And I did come into that situation wanting to put my best foot forward, as I maintain with my work ethic now. So I'll just continue to do more of the same and wait for 40, right?

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: It does come around.

Ms. DE NIESE: It will.

SIEGEL: Yeah. Well, Danielle de Niese, thank you very much for talking with us.

Ms. DE NIESE: Thank you, pleasure.

SIEGEL: Soprano Danielle de Niese stars at the Met in "The Marriage of Figaro," beginning September 22. And her new CD is titled simply "The Mozart Album." You can hear the entire album and download a free track at the new npr.org.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. DE NIESE: (Singing in foreign language)

BLOCK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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First Listen