[Dr.B: This interview came across my path, and I found it fascinating. I hope you enjoy it.]
Simone Kermes: "Sing in such a way that the people cry"
By Katja Engler
The soprano sings the artful, emotive arias of the Baroque. In November she guest performs in Hamburg. Simone Kermes is not only a charismatic entertainer, but one of the few sopranos who venture into the technically difficult baroque repertoire, into arias that were once sung by castrati, one of the most virtuosic and most expensive singers in the world. A conversation about a lifelong passion, her own research and the beauty of a simple melody. On November 4, she sings in the Pro-Arte concert in the Laeisz hall.
Hamburger Abendblatt: The bravura arias, breakneck coloratura and giant jumps of the baroque call for an extreme singer. How do you deal with the pressure of expectation in this genre?
Simone Kermes: If you are afraid or are nervous, it does not happen. I have a lot more notes to sing, than in romantic music. That's the extreme variations and cadences, there are indeed double the number of arias. To sing Baroque arias, is really hard. Few manage it. And the farther you go, the more people want. But as soon as it comes up at a concert, when the people feel what you are doing, there is a very special energy that enables you to do things that you otherwise do not always make. If you then get back that energy, you're very, very happy.
HA: Are you still working with the musicologist Claudio Osele, who was also the artistic consultant and significant other to Cecilia Bartoli?
Kermes: No. We have made two CDs, but it is always the time for disagreements ... I often notice in my life when it no longer fits. After this phase, I myself have researched in libraries, read a lot, worried about my notes. But once you make something, everyone notices ... However, I cannot sing from the old notes. And it's a hell of a job to set them up for your own voice.
HA: What are you currently working on?
Kermes: I just recorded a new album. Music by Claudio Monteverdi and Barbara Strozzi, so sensual, so deep! Brand new material with entirely new interpretations, entirely new arrangements. I burn just for this, and I am always working. The musical tells the story of a woman's life, from birth until death. It is pure, timeless, and the lyrics are amazing! Sometimes I find only lines, so beautiful, so touching! The composers in the time of Monteverdi were the pioneers for future generations. Then came the Baroque, then Rossini, who is only a poor copy of it.
HA: Why do so few dare to try what you sing?
Kermes: Because they do not have the technique. The castrati then studied seven, eight years. Everything they needed technically. Nowadays there is hardly a good education, the students sing the wrong thing, do not know what their voice needs ... My teacher was one that showed me technically how to do it.
HA: Some singers of earlier centuries have left writings. Do you study those sources?
Kermes. Yes. Every singer should read, for example, the Johann Friedrich Agricola, the singing school, which was written for the castrato Tosi. Everything in there is as exactly true until today. Suddenly you understand this science and this incredible technique of the singer at the time, and I have studied this. He wrote what you may need with language, breathing, coloratura, preparation ... Farinelli, for example, ate a sour herring before a concert ... you have to get to know your own voice so that it is natural and you can sing for a long time.
HA: The arias that you put together dive into extremely emotional worlds. What do you love about it? What does your public love in this time oriented to reason and efficiency?
Kermes: In baroque each beat has feelings. Not like in the Romantic period. Because it makes a click, then comes the change, and a totally different effect. Everything is in it! If you master the style, you can do anything, because everything builds on that. But it started earlier. The music of Dürer's time [1471 – 1528] was already so modern, so timeless! And the composer Barbara Strozzi must have been incredible. For the castrato the most beautiful arias were written. But Strozzi is simple, not just virtuosic. You do not always have to make a circus. I can also sing the slow, sad songs and make people cry.
HA: What does singing so very deep inside mean to you?
Kermes: I wanted as a child for people to see me. And they saw me, because I sang. My father died early, I had a lot to do with the death in my family, who all no longer live. Through singing I was suddenly there! That's the reason: To lift oneself up with something that is beautiful and harmonious ...
HA: Is the extreme ascending and descending of the notes not something like aspiring to heaven, like the clouds in the baroque church dome?
Kermes: I feel the same way. The quiet pieces I want to look deep inside myself. If anything comes up, it touches people in the moment where I go up. As with Handel's aria "Lascia ch'io pianga", "Let me have the freedom to weep over my fate". I sing this often as an encore. And my own life has brought me new depth with this song. I love this piece, it's mine. This simple melody that touches so deeply and so beautifully that people go home feeling kissed by beauty.