Melba Recordings

"... a label of fragrant distinction"

There are no products in your shopping cart.

News from Melba Recordings

Go behind the scenes for insights on our recordings, our artists and our future plans. Follow our artists' schedules and share the excitement of their journeys.

Terry Lane Interview with Lisa Gasteen, Melba Foundation Raheen Event

Thursday, 24 July 2008 - 12:00am

Transcript of Interview:

TERRY LANE: Is a night on the stage as Brünnhilde a day’s good work?

Lisa Gasteen: Yes. If I’m in the first act of anything I like to get in two hours before curtain up. In the Götterdämmerung because I’m in the prologue, so I’ll arrive in the theatre around 3:30 in the afternoon, curtain up 5:30. Curtain down, final curtain down about midnight so it is a long night, yes.
TL: And so you go off the stage exhausted? Or exhilarated?

Yes, exhausted but unable to sleep or rest or settle. Just completely charged with adrenalin and very hungry.
You might rehearse a scene twenty times in a day and you might do that scene again, then three weeks later several times, then you associate the move with the music with the words. And that’s when you start to overlay it with your own input. I mean at first we have to be very open to what the directors want and not to cringe outwardly, just listen and think "Ah, ah, okay well right, we’ll see about that!" and you just sort of have to learn to be a bit clever really. Then as you progress with the rehearsals either you can offer them an alternative that suits you better and therefore suits them better or they really stick to what they want and then you have to work out how you are going to handle it.

TL: Who does have the last word? You, the conductor, the director?

I don’t know – who’s ever got the most fight in them I guess. It’s usually not the singer because really it’s so long and it requires so much strength both physical and emotional that it’s better just to leave the fighting to other people.
TL: Have you ever said "no"?  Has a director ever asked you to do something that would have made it physically difficult, if not impossible, to sing?

Ah yes, and I’m stupid.
TL: What, you do it?

Yes, but I’m not going to be stupid anymore.
TL: The danger of injuring your voice, is that an issue?

Yes, and that’s where you need a really good conductor. Because, you’ve got, I don’t know, over a hundred musicians and they can drown us out like that if they want to, or if they’re not held in check. You really need someone who is working with you in these big pieces because it really makes it a very long arduous night if you’re fighting, if you’re fighting a battle with the conductor and with the orchestra.
TL: At what stage in your development as a singer did somebody point to you and say you’re Brünnhilde.
Year dot.
TL: What, right from the start?

Yes. I was at the Con in Brisbane and it was my first year there and one of the – actually he’s an old family friend who was also teaching – and he had suggested that I look through the role of Brünnhilde because it might interest me one day and I thought "Aargh, that stuff. Yuck." And then I did my final year exam and apparently they were all saying "Oh it’s Wagnerian" so that was the first year. But always, always. And so I always had to fight against that actually because I didn’t want to sing the big stuff before I was ready and it really was a battle.
After I won the Cardiff 'Singer of the World' Competition I chose my program very carefully and I sang exactly what I thought represented what I could and should be singing at that time so that if anyone heard me they could offer me any of those roles represented in my program and I’d be ready to do it which I thought was sensible but after that and there was some Wagner – the lighter Wagner – after that competition I was offered so many Brünnhildes I lost count.  And so as a result of that I actually stopped singing German repertoire for about eight years because when people heard me sing German they only ever wanted me to be doing Brünnhilde and I guess I’m just pig-headed. I didn’t want to be used by a hungry industry. And I wanted to have the fun of doing Desdemona or Amelia in A Masked Ball or have a bit of fun. I mean those girls, my God, an aria here, a couple of duets, a quartet and they’re off! 
I didn’t realise that at the time but now, as we’re sort of filing out of the theatre propping ourselves up against the walls because of our aching joints and things, you see all the girls who’ve been singing the Italian are leaving the restaurant which is just closing down, yes, and looking like they’ve got too much energy!

TL: So when, there you were, a mere girl and somebody said: "Wagner for you". Did you listen to what the other great Wagnerian sopranos had recorded?

No. Not at the time.
TL: Do you now?

No not now, no.
TL: I mean apart from yourself.

I don’t listen to her either! 
I did when I was learning the roles. I listened to Birgit Nilsson because there was really only one person I could listen to over and over again and that was Birgit Nilsson. I try and choose someone who has as few mannerisms as possible and someone preferably whose voice is not like mine because I don’t want to absorb some else’s sound. Like I can aspire to sing like Birgit Nilsson all I like but we have such totally different voices that that will never happen. So I hope I’ve been able to pick up the best of what she represents in the Wagnerian singing.
You want to hear that story!
TL: Yes.

Oh my god!
TL: Yes. Tell us the story of the bad one.

I actually stopped reading reviews. I really stopped reading reviews.
People say they don’t read reviews but some times it’s very hard you know because they’re up on orchestra noticeboards and stuff, so. But really honestly, cross my heart [I] have because the review of... he is writing for something in London... and his critique of my performance in Götterdämmerung was that he puzzled all night, he couldn’t understand why I was costumed so appallingly and he decided at the end of the night that it must be because I was so completely unsexy. And I never read another review! I think there are still some of the shards of the knife in my heart.
TL: We do like to hear disaster stories – of strange and amusing things that happened on the opera stage. And I’m told that you had an experience with indolent ravens.

No, no. It actually wasn’t my experience but it's a great story.
The director of the first Ring Cycle I was in in Germany, she was telling how she was assisting someone at Bayreuth and he had this great idea that they were going to have two real ravens for Götterdämmerung and when Brünnhilde waves to the ravens and sends them off to Wotan that they would fly off and so they got two raven chicks and they thought they’d tame and train them but the thing is that rehearsals at Bayreuth last forever and these little raven chicks were fed and loved by everybody in the theatre, they got so fat that they couldn’t fly.
So that was whole production R-r-r-ruined!  
TL: There are times when you sound uncannily like Anna Russell.

I know – and Barry Humphries I’ve been told that too!  While walking to the company office at Covent Garden they say –"you know I shouldn’t say this but you always remind of Dame Edna!"
I am looking at doing different repertoire and I have made a conscious decision to cut down. I’ve cleared a lot of time in my calendar and I’m looking at songs by Australian composers and am hoping to do some recital work so I’m looking at doing different things. And I’ve cut back my work commitments in Europe so that I can accommodate the singing but on my terms.
You know, it really can just swallow you up and I think that for a lot of people that’s okay, if that’s what they want, they don’t have families. Most singers don’t have children and most singers with an international career don’t come from Australia and I don’t know anyone who’s done what I have done in terms of family and leaving them and going and running off and "joining the circus".
You know it’s – you get to a point where you think it’s all a bit mad really. So I’m just trying to claim a bit of it back for myself.
TL: Thank you Lisa.

Lisa Gasteen AO