Recording an album in studio is becoming an increasing rarity for many classical musicians.
This has not only limited the availability of new listening experiences for audiences, but has also limited the opportunity of showcasing rare and obscure works. However, there are still many who have the great fortune of not only recording in the studio, but also selecting their repertoire. Soprano Corinne Winters is one of them and she recently released a wonderful recital album entitled "Cancion Amorosa: Songs of Spain" alongside pianist Steven Blier.
Winters recently spoke to Latin Post about the release of her new album and also talked about her other major projects.
Winters, a Fredrick, Maryland, native, noted that the opportunity arose through Blier. The pianist first heard her sing during an audition on the stage of the New York City Opera and expressed a desire to perform with her in a recital. More specifically, he wanted to do a recital of Spanish Songs.
"We went through some of the songs together, and I was blown away that some of these gems were undiscovered," she said before expressing the obscurity of the pieces. "[Teresa] Berganza had recorded them and [Victoria] De Los Angeles had recorded some, but they were kind of brushed under the rug by everyone else."
They performed some of the songs in a recital, and in 2012, Blier approached her about doing a CD.
The CD is made up of 15 songs in numerous dialects, ranging from Castilian Spanish to Basque to Catalan to Sephardic.
Winters said the greatest challenge in making the album was in learning the numerous languages.
"We knew people in the different regions, and I would have Skype coachings to help me learn the languages."
And which songs did she connect with the most?
"I connected with the Catalan songs. I found the poetry particularly poignant," she said. "I also loved the musical sonorities and harmonies, particularly 'Maig' by Eduardo Toldra and also 'Cançó amorosa' by Xavier Montsalvatge. That one was special because it has a line about the summer nights in August. And Steve and I actually rehearsed this CD in August in his beachside house in New York. So we were excited about singing about nature while being in this beautiful place. I don't think I will ever forget that."
"Cancion Amorosa" is Winters' first album, and she said the recording studio offers some unique challenges that differ greatly from her usual milieu, the theater.
"Recording in general requires you to be close to perfect because it is going to be immortalized," she said. "I found recording much more challenging. When you sing in a carpeted room with a low ceiling, there aren't really any acoustics, and you aren't getting anything back. ... Usually in a recital hall and opera hall you get acoustics. There were a few tracks we had to cut from the CD because they didn't work in a recording setting."
Winters did a recital in Santa Fe, which came after the recording process, and she said she was happy to have the chance to perform the program before the album launch concert in NYC.
"We've only done the full program in Santa Fe and it was really amazing to put it out there," she said.
"In live performance, you are in the moment and you act organically. And you sound different everyday. It also has to do with your accompanist. Steve and I understand each other and we know the nuances of how we perform. So we know how to adjust if one of us slows down. In a recital, you could probably expect a more spontaneous rendering of what you hear on the CD."
Winters will perform the songs from the CD in a recital in New York on Nov. 17 and in Tuscon in January. However, she is currently engaged with a production of Puccini's iconic "La Boheme" in Washington in a new production that she called, "Exciting and fresh."
"It is set in 1919. It's right after World War I. The artists are discharged soldiers and they are kind of rebelling against war and enjoying the artist's life," she said. "There was a big threat of Spanish flu and tuberculosis at the time, as well. So it explains the disease epidemic. It was also a time of excess for people which I think works really well. I think it is an era people can connect to bit more than the late 19th century."
Some major luminaries from the period, including Gertrude Stein and Charlie Chaplin, make appearances in the Act 2 scene at the Café Momus.
"It's really cool that we have these figures as part of our world," she said. "I think that it will really resonate with audiences. It still retains the intensity of the story but shows people in a new way."
Speaking of showing people in a new way, Winters said she is particularly excited about playing the eponymous character of Mimi in a more nuanced manner.
"I think that she's a bit more modern. I don't like when Mimi when she is played as a ditz," Winters said about the traditionally meek and sickly heroine. "She can't be one dimensional."
So how exactly is this Mimi more modern?
"I like that Mimi flirts back when she sees the Vice Count in Act 2 at the Café. I think setting it in this era of liberation opens it up a bit and allows Mimi to not be an innocent, perfect little girl."
Once "La Boheme" and the recitals are finished, Winters has a host of new roles to take on in 2015.
The first stop will be Tatiana in Tchaikovsky's masterpiece "Eugene Onegin" at the Arizona Opera. Winters is not new with the Russian master's work, as she previously performed "Iolanta" at the DiCapo Opera in 2011. Critics raved about her performance, and Opera News' Joshua Rosenblum wrote, "In the title role, soprano Corinne Winters displayed a pliable and heartfelt tone that projected naturally without losing sweetness. Winters blossomed ... singing with passionate lyricism and a deep burgundy coloring."
Winters said Tatiana presents other challenges, but learning Russian might be the greatest of all.
"When I was in school, we had a Russian concert every year, so I would participate in that," she said, regarding her experience with Russian repertoire. "I don't really speak Russian, so I'm working on it as part of the process."
After Tatiana, Winters heads to Belgium to take on Donna Anna in Mozart's "Don Giovanni" at the Vlaamse Opera. And then she heads to St. Louis to take on the role of Magda in Puccini's "La Rondine."
Winters notes that singing Donna Anna is actually the best way to prepare her for the Puccini opera.
"First of all, because [of] having mostly Puccini and Tchaikovsky this year, it will have a nice palette cleanser to reset," she said. More importantly, she said, singing Mozart would actually aid in prepping her for the sophisticated phrasing required of the Puccini opera.
"'La Rondine' can sound a bit schmaltzy if you overdo the Puccinian nature of it," she said. "Technically it's an operetta, but it's Puccini and the story has a lot of depth."
Winters' enthusiasm for the role of Magda could not have been greater, and she explained that she feels that the character, along with Verdi's iconic Violetta, expressed her personality better than any other operatic roles.
"Magda's incredibly sentimental but pragmatic. She leaves Ruggero at the end because she knows that she is a free spirit. She wants to stay because she is so happy. But she doesn't want to break his heart down the road when it is too late and would ruin him. But she also dreams of being in love when she was young."
Magda's conflict extends to her role in society. She is afraid that because of her past affairs, she might not be acceptable to Ruggero's family and idealized world of romantic love. In the case of Violetta, the courtesan also struggles with a sense of identity and knowing where she belongs in society. Winters said the struggle is one that she also tackles every day of her career.
"We feel this dichotomy between freedom and the passion and the intensity of the career, but also the other things in life we want outside of the career," she said. "So that 'Forse lui' in Traviata, instead of 'lui', I turn it on myself. I want the career, but I also want the home life. That is my subtext at times.
"The career is a big part of me, but it is only one side. For example, there's Callas and there is Maria. I'm obviously not at that status, but it's that idea. There is a performance side of me, but there is also the side that wants to go home and watch TV. It is a conflict that dominates your life."
Winters did not always know that she wanted this life, though her childhood seemed to hint that music was always in store for her. She sang from her infancy and was a member of the school choir throughout her early education. Her father was an amateur musician who taught himself how to play the guitar, piano and played in rock bands throughout college and was an early mentor for her.
"He taught me how to harmonize. We would listen to the Beatles when I was young. He would sing John, and I would sing Paul."
When it was time to pick a college, she realized she could not give up on music. So she took a voice lesson at the end of high school to see if it was worth her while.
"My teacher said that I had a serious operatic voice that I needed to cultivate. So I auditioned for colleges, and I ended up going to school for music. "
Corinne went to Towson University for her undergraduate studies (initially studying psychology, then music) and then Peabody Conservatory for her Masters of Music degree in vocal performance. She eventually wound up as a resident artist with the Academy of Vocal Arts.
But the challenge still lay ahead. Winters had never grown up with opera and admitted it was actually quite "foreign" to her. But the more she explored the world of opera, the more she became fascinated by it.
"The more I learned about it, the more I became fascinated by it and I realized that it is for normal people," she said. "It's about raw emotion, love, jealousy and death. You don't know that when you think about the stereotypes of opera. So I had to break all that down."
Another important challenge she had to overcome was actually finding out her true voice. She started off as a mezzo soprano, but slowly found she was actually a soprano. And it was this realization that sealed the deal for her.
"I think that finding my real voice and my temperament was huge. My temperament didn't actually suit the mezzo roles. So once those things were in place, I realized that this was what I wanted to do," she said. "Once I got on track, things started happening effortlessly. I continued to work very hard, but the doors started opening and it showed me that I was on the right path.
"Those are the moments when you realize, 'I can really do this.'"
Winters said the challenges, however, do not end because the doors start to open. In fact, more opportunities mean more challenges.
"I think being a soprano is so tough because it is hard to stand out when there are so many," she said about the greatest challenge for her. "The American system teaches a very solid homogeneous technique. I think that while American singers are the best technically trained [singers], I think a lot of American singers lose that individuality in the sound that I think a lot of European singers have. Maybe Europeans have other issues, but they have an individuality to their voices that allows you pick it out.
"And I think that, first and foremost, is essential for making a career. I think you need to find out what makes you special, whether it is your vocal quality, your repertoire, your stage persona, all of the above, your linguistic skills, your musical skills. You have to take everything that makes you special and figure out what repertoire maximizes that. How can you showcase yourself?"
So how does she try to make herself stand out from the many sopranos?
"I try to really find out what is unique about my voice. I had a conductor who told me that you have to keep the vocal quality of the voice. The moment you do a trick that compromises the quality of your voice, then you won't stand out to the audience anymore. That really stuck with me."
She also said she loves delving deeply into the repertoire from all possible angles.
"I am also big on digging into the work and internalizing it. My work comes from passion and loving this art and music. Especially for the repertoire I sing. These are tragic heroines and they have to be believable and make people cry."
Helping her overcome those challenges and finding her unique artistry is a group of people that Winters keeps close. Prominent among those people is her teacher Diana Soviero, who she called a "truly consummate artist."
"She has had an amazing career and sang many roles for the Met Opera for many years. She has been an incredible mentor for me and her ability to be just as great of actress as a singer. She is technically flawless," she said. "She is so committed, that you almost feel like she's delivering lines from a play because she is so engrossed. She is so holistic in her teaching.
Regarding the process she has with Soviero, Winters said, "We find the colors in the voice and then we figure out how to translate it to the body. She always tells me to start with technique because technique brings confidence and confidence brings truth of stage persona.
"That rings true because as I have gotten older and older I have become a better actress. Finding that confidence has allowed me to free up on stage."
Winters also said there are other artists she looks up to for inspiration. Among them is Maria Callas.
"I don't think there has ever been a better consummate artist to ever live. It is true that her voice was not always beautiful, but she knew that. And because of that, she learned how to sing inside and out and do anything with it. She didn't have the natural beauty of Mirella Freni or Renata Tebaldi. So she had to know her voice so well."
Other singers she placed among her favorites included Renata Tebaldi, who she said had a voice of "liquid gold," Renee Fleming in Mozart repertoire and superstar diva Anna Netrebko.
"I am on the Anna Netrebko train. I think she's absolutely bonkers, but she is so great and fantastic."
She also mentioned one of her colleagues from from the Academy of Vocal Arts, Joyce El Khoury.
"She is an up and coming lyric soprano and she is absolutely amazing. I don't get to work with many lyric sopranos often, but she is truly great. "
She also said an affinity for tenors, particularly the late Luciano Pavarotti.
"I look at tenors a lot because they have the hardest technique to master. Baritones have it easy because they sing in the speaking voice. And sopranos are mainly in the head voice," she said. "But tenors have to basically scream in chest voice. It is like a cultivated scream. How they do that and make it sound beautiful is beyond me. But it is so beautiful and must be so difficult. I love Pavarotti, Corelli, a young Carreras."
She said one of her dreams roles is that of Desdemona in Verdi's "Otello" and that she will be singing it in Europe next season. But the role she desires most of all is another famed Puccini heroine.
"I think that, a while down the road, 'Madama Butterfly' is my mecca. But that will be about five to seven years down the line."
With 2014 drawing to an end, Winters reflected on the major highlights. The biggest of all? Working with famed director Terry Gilliam in Berlioz's "Benvenuto Cellini" at the English National Opera.
"The whole experience was mind-blowing. If every show was like this, I would never need anything else. It was the best thing ever," she said. "Working with him and bridging the gap between the pop culture world and opera world was cool.
"He'd have more energy than me, times 10. It comes from a dedication and inspiration in the moment. He has a production he has in his mind, and he works with everyone. But if he finds something interesting that one of us presents, then he will go with it.
"He is great at being in the moment," she said.
"I learned a lot about that in the sense of being a person. I think that is what really keeps him young and passionate and excited. He just takes the world as it is right now and plays with it and doesn't get too stuck in his way. He could have had his idea and stuck with it. But he was playful, malleable and gracious with all of us. He is one of the most incredible souls I have ever worked with!"