A Mezzo on a Mission: Ann Hallenberg interview

Ahead of her LSO debut this Sunday, mezzo-soprano Ann Hallenberg tell us a little bit about what it's like performing to thousands via the LSO's Live Stream, working with Sir John Eliot Gardiner and her mission to perform lost and forgotten pieces. 

Hi Ann, thank you for so much for taking the time to speak to us. You’ve worked with Sir John Eliot Gardiner quite a few times before. Do you remember what it was like the first time?

Well the first time you meet and work with a conductor is always memorable. I first met Sir John Eliot Gardiner in Stockholm in 2008 when we did Mozart’s C minor mass at the Nobel Prize Concert. It was rather daunting to work with such a legend and I was very nervous! I enjoy working with him because his interpretations are always so well connected to the music and always so elegant. Demanding, but wonderful!

Ann Hallenberg performs Mozart's C minor mass with Sir John Eliot Gardiner on Mon 8 Dec 2008
Full concert available on medici.tv

The concert this Sunday will be your debut with the LSO, are you looking forward to performing with the Orchestra?

In a way, I’m still at the very beginning of singing symphonic repertoire, after doing mostly Baroque music for many years. So it's a real treat to sing with such a wonderful Orchestra as the LSO.

Hallenberg photo by Örjan Jakobsson 10 1000pxOf course, the concert will also be live-streamed on the internet. How does it feel to have thousands of people across the world watching you perform?

I'm honestly trying not to think too much on that! And, after all, it doesn't really matter how big (or small – that can be even scarier!) the audience is. It's still my audience and I still will have to do everything I can to reach into their hearts and make them feel the stories I am telling.

You will be performing Berlioz’s Les nuits d'été. Can you tell us a little bit about the piece and what it is like to sing?

It's six lovely songs, charming and melancholic and one is even a ghost story! The music is quite playful and very elegant. This is my second time around with Les Nuits and, as it often is, it's interesting to come back to a piece after some years. The nuances of the text and the build of the music becomes clearer, and, hopefully, so does my ability to pass that on to the listeners.

Last year you released Carnevale 1729, a CD almost entirely made up of world premiere recordings from a single Venetian concert season in the eighteenth century. Do you have plans to dig out any more lost gems?

I always have new plans! There is an almost never-ending supply in our archives and libraries of wonderful, forgotten music, and I have made it my mission to uncover them. There is a new cd project on the way, but I can't say much more at the moment than it has a Scandinavian theme. And if I could dream a bit; a romantic program with a great orchestra would be fantastic to do!

Do you have any pre-concert rituals? What do you do to prepare on the day of a concerts?

No, I don't have any specific rituals, if you do there is always the danger that your pre-concert preparation will fall to pieces if small things happen and you're not able to perform them! Cancelled flights, strikes, lost luggage, earthquakes, power cuts, bursted waterpipes etc, etc, etc! Instead I try to save my energy and keep my nerves, that's all!

You have performed a great deal of the concert repertoire in your career. What has been the biggest challenge that you’ve come across?

That depends so much of what kind of music we are talking about. A baroque recital, like my Farinelli or Carnevale is a real marathon because of the length and amount of music (around eleven arias – each meant to be the highlight of the opera they were written for!). Then of course there's the extreme acrobatics my voice has to perform. But on the other hand there's the symphonic repertoire like Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde or les nuits, which aren't so difficult in themselves, but the interpretation is exhausting! And there's also the pressure of knowing that whatever I do I will be compared to every big singer who has sung it before; Ludwig, Baker, Von Otter and so on!

And finally, what’s in store for you over the coming seasons?

Well I am, as I mentioned, at a point where I want to explore the symphonic repertoire more than Opera. I will still sing a lot of crazy baroque coloraturas, never fear! But I feel it's the right time to look more into Mahler, Brahms and Elgar. I’m looking forward to it!

Ann Hallenberg makes her LSO debut at the Barbican with Sir John Eliot Gardiner on Sunday 11 March, singing Berlioz's Les nuits d'été in a concert also featuring Schumann's Symphony No 2. Find out more and book tickets.



Images by Örjan Jakobsson