Siobhan Stagg is a highly regarded soprano who will perform French songs as part of a recial at Adelaide Festival. We had a chat to Siobhan Stagg about the composers whose songs she will sing as well as singing generally.
On 7 March 2020 as part of the Adelaide Festival, you will be singing four love songs by three French composers, namely:
- Poulenc: Fiançailles pour rire,
- Messiaen: Poèmes pour Mi,
- Debussy: Ariettes oubliées, and
- Poulenc: Les chemins de l’amour.
Of these songs which is your favourite and why?
These are actually larger song cycles, ie. sets of songs grouped by the specific composers. Altogether it’s around 22 individual songs. I love all of them but would probably cite the Debussy Ariettes Oubliées as my favourites, simply because I’ve been singing them the longest; they’ve travelled with me from my student days and in various different incarnations. I recently recorded them on CD with the Noga String Quartet, and performed a version with full orchestra in Lyon, arranged by the composer Brett Dean. It’ll be nice to come back to them in their original form with piano for this recital at the Adelaide Festival.
How do these songs differ from each other?
They are very different in mood and style. Poulenc’s Fiançailles pour rire comprises six quirky, humorous or touching descriptions of love in all its forms. Poèmes pour Mi is a set of songs which Olivier Messiaen wrote for his first wife, four years into their marriage. Her pet name was ‘Mi’. They are an affirmation of marital and religious devotion, and quite musically challenging and thus less often performed. I’ve been singing Debussy’s Ariettes Oubliées for over ten years now; they are an example of masterful word-painting. The Poulenc Chemins de l’amour is a lovely party piece to end – it’s a waltz with slightly melancholy lyrics about lost love, and is sure to send everyone out humming.
What are the challenges in singing in a language which is not your mother tongue?
Thankfully I’ve always loved studying foreign languages; it’s part and parcel of being a classical singer. French is my favourite language to sing; the nasal vowels lend themselves nicely to healthy vocal resonance. The challenges are that you have to invest many hours getting to know the text, and when it’s a complex poem by someone like Paul Verlaine, you have to not only translate the words and pronounce them authentically, but dig deep to discover the true meaning behind each phrase. By the time you perform the songs, you want it to feel like second nature, and be thinking the words as if they are your own thoughts.
Where did your love of singing come from and what drew you towards the classical music and opera world?
I always loved to sing from when I was a child growing up in Mildura in country Victoria. I would sing and dance along with Julie Andrews, Disney films and pop songs on the radio. My discovery of classical music and opera came later, when I moved to Melbourne for University. I love the expressive power of classical music. You can listen to the same symphony or opera over and over and never stop noticing new details in these richly beautiful pieces of music.
Has the language in which we sing about love changed much since these composers wrote these songs?
I suppose popular love songs these days have simpler tunes, designed to be catchy, sometimes with very few words. But the essence remains the same; they are all intended to move us and celebrate all it means to feel “in love”.
Who is your favourite French composer?
Oh that’s a difficult question. I love Ravel, Poulenc, Fauré, Massenet, Edith Piaf… but my favourite has to be Debussy. He wrote the opera Pelléas et Mélisande, which completely changed the history of French music. The role of Mélisande has brought me success in both Australia and in France, and allowed me to learn the language in a deeper way. It’s a masterpiece.
What has been your favourite recital to date?
Pure recitals (where I sing a full solo program with a pianist) are a less frequent part of my schedule than fully-staged operas and symphonic concerts with orchestra. An absolute performance highlight to date was playing Cinderella (in Massenet’s Cendrillon) for my American debut in Chicago. It was a stunning production by the amazing French stage director, Laurent Pelly, and was an absolute dream come true.
Apart from Australia, you’ve sung in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, England and the United States. Where and for whom would be your dream performance?
Any performance of great music, with an engaged audience and supportive and talented colleagues is a joy. I like how the French and Swiss audiences do the synchronised unison clap when they really like something. it’s such a buzz.
Who is the recital best appreciated by?
This recital will appeal to anyone who appreciates classical music and singing, or who has an interest in French poetry. The pianist, Timothy Young, is truly exceptional! We’ve included repertoire which is elegant and charming, and some which is more sophisticated, so there should be something for everyone.
Do people need to understand French to attend the recital?
It’s not necessary to understand French to attend the recital, though if you understand the poems it might enhance your experience. Often translations are provided in the program, or I will say a few words in an introduction, so you won’t be left in the dark. Personally I find the music beautiful on its own, even without the words. You can just close your eyes and be swept away by the harmonies.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Feel free to follow me on social media:
or at my website: www.siobhanstagg.com
Siobhan Stagg will perform as part of Adelaide Festival at 5pm on Saturday 7 March 2020 at the UKARIA Cultural Centre in Mount Barker. Tickets cost $59 and there are discounts available for Friends of the Adelaide Festival and concession card holders.
Who is your favourite French composer? Have you ever seen Siobhan Stagg perform?
You may also like to read our interviews with other Adelaide Festival artists: