Dublin Theatre Festival | Interview with Miriam Murphy | Tristan und Isolde
Coming to the Bord Gais Energy Theatre this September for only three performances, Wagner’s epic opera ‘Tristan und Isolde’ promises to be a highlight of not only the Dublin Theatre Festival, but the theatre year as a whole. Featuring the chorus of Wide Open Opera and the 85-member RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Fergus Sheil, this opera is the must-see event and features leading Irish singers Miriam Murphy in the role of Isolde and Imelda Drumm as Brangäne. We caught up with leading lady Miriam Murphy ahead of her homecoming for her first full performance as Isolde, and what very well be a world first as an Irish soprano takes on the role of the Irish princess.
Miriam it’s an absolute pleasure to talk to you. How are rehearsals going?
Very well, we’re deep into the production now and just finished Act Two, and we’re moving very quickly through it which has been great.
For those who might not know, could you tell us briefly about what goes on in Tristan und Isolde?
Isolde, an Irish princess with magic powers, gets visited by Tristan to heal his battle wounds who in turn falls in love with her. When Tristan returns to Cornwall he tells King Marke all about her, and then Marke decides that he wants to marry Isolde, so he sends Tristan back to get her for him. In the meantime, Isoldes mother gives her a love potion and a death potion, the love potion to be taken when she arrives in Cornwall so she will fall in love with King Marke. However, on the boat, Isolde decides that she doesn’t want to go to Cornwall and marry the king and tells her maid to prepare the death potion so she can give it to Tristan and herself. The maid purposely mixes up the two potions and Tristan and Isolde drink the love potion and fall further in love so by the time they arrive in Cornwall, there’s no way she’s going to marry Marke. And tragedy then follows.
You started singing at such a young age, what was it that made you so passionate about classical music and how did you get involved in it?
Well I wasn’t aware that I enjoyed classical music at first, when I was growing up it was just country music and singing in church choirs around Tralee. And then Dr. Veronica Dunne came to Tralee to give masterclasses, and I went along and she decided I had a fantastic voice and encouraged me to come to Dublin to study with her. So when I came to Dublin I started going to the symphony concerts with her and really began to explore the world of classical music and I realised I just loved it.
From there, your career has just skyrocketed, with acclaim following acclaim and numerous awards. Was this something that just happened to come to you or was it all through hard slog?
Well it’s a combination of two things, of course a lot has come from hard work, but for me, I think the success came from the fact that when I was on stage, I always connected with the audience because I absolutely love singing, and communicating and I love the music. To me, the most important thing is not showing myself off, it’s about wanting the audience to love it as much as I do. Which in turn enhances my ability to communicate.
Did you have a big break or turning point where you knew you’d made to a different level?
There were two I suppose, one was when I went on as Lady Macbeth at Covent Garden, that was really a huge moment for me, and also when I won the International Wagner Seattle Competition because Seattle is renowned for Wagner and to have won a competition there was a big turning point for me.
What is it about Wagner's music that has been so repeatedly successful and lauded amongst classical music and other opera?
Well Wagner harmonically changed music so dramatically, and the nature of his operas as well, they’re such sweeping love stories. But the music is just great, and to hear it live, you actually have a physical reaction. I always, when I’m sitting in a theatre listening to an orchestra play Wagner, have a physical reaction to it because it has everything. It can be amazingly loud and extremely soft and when you have a good orchestra playing this music, it’s simply the greatest music ever written.
The length of of Tristan und Isolde is phenomenal, how are you preparing for the five hours that the performance takes?
Well thankfully that five hours includes breaks, but for the singers when you’re learning a role like this it’s far more difficult when you’re learning it on your own without hearing the other person singing parts as well so it gets much easier once you have your colleagues with you. So like I would do before every role, I’ve stopped drinking and started eating loads of vegetables and getting loads of vitamin C and wrapping up and making sure I don’t come in contact with anyone with a cold!
Isolde, as you said, is an Irish princess. Do you have a special connection to the role as an Irish woman yourself?
I’m so pleased as this is the first time I’ll be playing the role onstage, and it’s just fantastic that I get to do that in Dublin. Anywhere in the world that I’ve been before and performed excerpts from the opera, everyone is so excited about having an Irish person perform the role of the Irish princess. We’re not sure if there ever has been any other Irish Isoldes in history so this could be a first!
Would you say it’s your dream role?
I would say this and Elektra are the two dream roles for me, because I enjoy so much developing a character throughout an opera, and Isolde when you first meet her is an extremely angry lady, and the development from that through to the love duet to the grand finale is an incredible journey for the character and it’s always a challenge to portray that to the audience.
As a soprano in the classical world, is there a glass ceiling that you want to break, or are there other arenas in theatre or music that you would like to move into at all?
I think when you’ve hit singing Wagner repertoire at the highest level you’ve broken the glass ceiling because it’s a very specialised area and there aren’t that many people out there that can do it successfully so I’m looking forward to breaking that glass ceiling. And I wouldn’t change my profession for anything, I absolutely love singing and it’s not about the money for me, it’s about the joy of standing on stage and being in a rehearsal room and going through the creative process, that’s what it’s all about for me.
If you had one piece of advice for young classical singers, what would it be?
Find the right teacher for you, that’s the most important thing. Follow your instinct when it comes to your voice and if you feel a teacher is not the right teacher for you, find the right teacher because whatever happens around you, if the voice is not working properly you won’t get the work. Make no mistake, it’s not a glamourous life. The glamour is about 10%, and the rest is hard work, spending a lot of time on your own, a lot of time travelling and looking after yourself. So it’s not an easy lifestyle but the rewards are there, and completely outweigh the challenges.
Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde runs for three performances only, Sunday 30th September, Wednesday 3rd October and Saturday 6th October at the Bord Gais Energy Theatre as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival. Tickets from 15 on sale now. For more information, see www.bordgaisenergytheatre.ie
Story by EI Team | 09:00 | Tuesday 18th September 2012 | Theatre
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