The Soprano Barbara Hannigan on Girl Craziness and ‘Lulu’

In the interview, Ms. Hannigan talked more about the album, her Armory recital and how she has become yet another victim of Lulu’s spell. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

What has your relationship with “Lulu” been like?

The first “Lulu” I did was in 2012. But in opera, you’re booked years out, so you know you’re going to start dating her a long time in advance. I was living with the score, but I deliberately tried to not get inside her head because I didn’t want to have any decisions made about her. I wanted options, but no decisions.

Lulu | Barbara Hannigan & Dietrich Henschel | La Monnaie 2012 (DVD trailer) Video by BelAirClassiques

It’s kind of like when you fall in love with someone, and you think you know them. But the most amazing thing about falling in love with someone is that you don’t know them, and you’re just constantly surprised by that person. That’s how my relationship continues to be with Lulu.

When has she surprised you recently?

In the first act, after her second husband commits suicide, she starts packing up all her stuff in the flat. And then she says to Alwa [the son of her longtime lover, Dr. Schön], “Come with me, I can’t be alone.” She just says it in passing, but it never hit me until earlier this year how important that is. It’s so strange that someone so autonomous, who has such personal power, can’t be alone. She needs to be around other people. That’s the center of the opera, in a way.

It seems that “Lulu” is pretty deep in your head.

I think anybody that has sung the role and really managed not just to get through it, but to feel a partnership with that character — you’re changed. It’s like people that have run marathons. That character became someone for me that I admire very much because of her self-knowledge. It had an influence on all the other roles that I did. So there’s always a little bit of her in other characters that I sing.

Can you talk more about the album title “Crazy Girl Crazy”?

The Berio piece is dealing with, let’s say, an unhinged quality. In “Lulu” there is a madness all around. Dr. Schön even has his madness theme. Then I wanted it to be a mirror image, like “Lulu.” There are a lot of different layers to it. And the word “crazy” and the word “girl” are applied to women in derogatory ways, and I wanted to take those words and use them in a way that I wanted. At one point I was considering Bernard Herrmann’s “Psycho Suite,” but I didn’t want Lulu associated with the word “psycho.”

Socrate: No. 3. Mort de Socrate Video by Barbara Hannigan – Topic

Your recitals at the Armory have some exciting rarities. What was behind choosing the songs?

I have to tell you: This whole program was made by Reinbert. I hate doing recitals; I hate the intimacy. But if it’s with Reinbert, I’ll do it. He just came to me with this. He didn’t say, “Would you like to do a recital program with me?” He just said, “I have a recital program for us,” and that was it. We both find it exhausting, but we can’t cut one single song out of it. If you lost one, everything would fall apart.

Is there going to be a little bit of Lulu’s character in your performance of these songs?

I started singing all this material before I sang “Lulu.” But of course she’s infiltrated.

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