Soprano  Christine  Brandes

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


Noted for her radiant, crystalline voice and superb musicianship, soprano Christine Brandes brings her committed artistry to repertoire ranging from the 17th century to newly composed works.  She enjoys an active career in North America and abroad, performing at many of the world’s most distinguished festivals and concert series in programs spanning from recitals and chamber music to oratorio and opera.

Highlights of past seasons include Debussy’s La Damoiselle élue with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra conducted by Carlo Rizzi, a program of Bernstein’s Symphony No. 1, Jeremiah and Haydn’s Mass No. 10 in C major, Paukenmesse with the Santa Rosa Symphony led by Bruno Ferrandis, and performances at the 92nd Street Y in New York City with the Brentano String Quartet.  She has also given a series of important premieres including an Eric Moe commission entitled Of Color Braided All Desire with the Brentano String Quartet as part of the South Mountain Concert Series, and Jennifer Higdon’s In the Shadow of Sirius, based on poetry of former American Poet Laureate, W.S. Merwin with the Cypress String Quartet at the Herbst Theatre in San Francisco.

During recent seasons, Ms. Brandes appeared at Washington National Opera as Despina in Così fan tutte conducted by Philippe Auguin, and as Catherine in William Bolcom’s A View from the Bridge, and made returns to Portland Opera in Così fan tutte, to Central City Opera as Maria Corona in Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Saint of Bleecker Street, and to Seattle Opera as Pamina in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte under the baton of Gary Thor Wedow in a new production directed by Chris Alexander.  She also bowed with Arizona Opera in the title role in Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, conducted by Joel Revzen, and with the Lyric Opera of Kansas City as Cleopatra in Giulio Cesare and as The Governess in The Turn of the Screw.

Symphonic appearances have included concerts with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under the batons of both Pierre Boulez and Esa-Pekka Salonen, performances of John Adams’s El Niño with the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra, Mendelssohn’s Elijah with Michael Christie and the Phoenix Symphony, St. John Passion with Robert Spano and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, L’Enfant et les Sortilèges with Sir Simon Rattle and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Mozart’s Requiem with the Cleveland Orchestra and John Nelson, Vivaldi’s Gloria with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl conducted by Grant Gershon, Handel’s L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il moderato with the Mark Morris Dance Group at the Kennedy Center conducted by Jane Glover, Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 with Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, and Beethoven’s Egmont with Wolfgang Sawallisch, and Schumann’s Das Paradies und die Peri with Sir Simon Rattle, both with the Philadelphia Orchestra, Mozart opera arias and Strauss orchestral songs with the National Symphony Orchestra and Heinz Fricke, Bach Cantatas with the New World Symphony Orchestra, a recording and European tour of Jomelli’s Ezio with world renowned baroque orchestra Il Complesso Barocco under the baton of Alan Curtis.


See my interviews with Paul O'Dette, and Mary Springfels

Brandes has also sung Handel’s Messiah with the Toronto Symphony, the New York Philharmonic, Tafelmusik, and the Minnesota Orchestra, Carmina Burana with the Houston Symphony, Bach’s St. Matthew Passion with Jane Glover and the Music of the Baroque, Haydn’s Mass in the Time of War with Bernard Labadie and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater with Neeme Järvi and the Detroit Symphony, and Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915, and Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 with Andreas Delfs and the Milwaukee Symphony, the Canton Symphony, and paired with Berg’s Lulu Suite with the Santa Rosa Symphony. She also has bowed at Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival and at the Ravinia Festival with the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, as well as with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Ensemble Orchestral de Paris, Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Freiburger Barockorchester, and the Handel & Haydn Society, Pacific Symphony and Arion Baroque Orchestra in Montreal, as well as a residency with the Oregon Bach Festival with performances of several Bach Cantatas, and a semi-staged version of Honegger’s Jeanne d’Arc under the batons of Helmuth Rilling and Marin Alsop respectively, among others. She has also recorded Cantatas of Alessandro Scarlatti and other works led by Nicholas McGegan.

Christine Brandes’ operatic career has been highlighted by engagements at Houston Grand Opera in Ariodante with Christopher Hogwood and in Falstaff with Patrick Summers, at Seattle Opera in Giulio Cesare, and at the Los Angeles Opera in L’Incoronazione di Poppea with Harry Bicket and in Hänsel und Gretel with Alan Gilbert. Additional performances of the artist’s distinguished career have brought her to San Diego Opera in Ariodante, Central City Opera in L’Incoronazione di Poppea, Lisbon’s Gulbenkian Foundation in Così fan tutte, Opera Theatre of St. Louis in Cimarosa’s The Secret Marriage, Portland Opera in Così fan tutte, Glimmerglass Opera both in Handel’s Orlando and Acis and Galatea, San Francisco Opera in Semele under the baton of Sir Charles Mackerras, the Opéra de Nancy in Alcina, New York City Opera in Acis and Galatea and Platée, and to the Opera Company of Philadelphia in Die Zauberflöte, L’Elisir d’amore, and Don Giovanni.  Brandes has performed Le nozze di Figaro with New York City Opera, Seattle Opera, Opera Pacific, and with the opera companies of Minnesota, Montréal, Philadelphia, and Québec.

Brandes recently appeared with West Edge Opera (Oakland) in Martin y Soler’s L’Arbore di Diana; the Boston Symphony Chamber Players in György Kurtág’s Scenes from a Novel, and Handel’s Israel in Egypt at Carnegie Hall with the New York Choral Society. As a conductor, Brandes has led operas by Haydn and Rameau for Victory Hall Opera (Charlottesville), and Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice for West Edge Opera. She is an Associate Professor of Voice and Opera at San Francisco State University, director of the UC Berkeley University Baroque Ensemble, and assistant conductor of the Oakland Civic Orchestra.

Christine Brandes has recorded for EMI, BMG/Conifer Classics, Dorian, Harmonia Mundi USA, Virgin Classics, and Koch International.

==  Biography mostly from the Kennedy Center website (text only - photo from another source)  
==  Names which are links in this box and below refer to my interviews elsewhere on my website.  BD  


In March of 1998, Christine Brandes was back in Chicago, and graciously took a bit of time from her schedule for an interview.  While sharing her profound knowledge and experience, she was bright and bubbly throughout, and enjoyed speaking about the topics which were raised.

Portions of the chat were used on both WNIB and WNUR, and now the entire conversation has been transcribed and posted on this website.

While most performers like the repertoire imposed upon them by their voices, a few do not, so that seemed like a good place to begin our discussion . . . . .

brandes Bruce Duffie:   Do you enjoy Baroque music?

Christine Brandes:   I do, oddly enough!  I sing a lot of it.

BD:   By design, or just because that’s the way it happens for your career?

Brandes:   [Laughs]  It’s a bit of both.  I have always been drawn to it, from the time I was tiny, and luckily I am well-suited to it not only as a musical spirit, but as a singer.  It would be deeply depressing if I were only suited to Wagner, and I had this burning desire to sing Bach.  So, I count myself among the lucky ones to have both a passion and a physiology for the right repertoire at the right time.  I enjoy doing lots of Baroque stuff, and more Classical stuff as time passes.

BD:   [With a gentle nudge]  No latent desires to do a Brünnhilde here and there?

Brandes:   Not that anyone would want to come and listen to it, and then actually pay real money to hear it.  [Laughs]  But certainly Classical stuff, with the occasional venture into the Nineteenth Century
Nanetta [Falstaff], for example, and then, of course, my voice is  well-suited to much of the Twentieth Century repertoire.

BD:   Why is that?  It seems that a number of voices do well with the Eighteenth Century and the Twentieth Century, with a big gaping hole in the middle.

Brandes:   Right.  It is a felicitous match.  Not all Twentieth Century composers, but many look for the kind of clarity of sound that one typically associates with so-called Baroque practitioners.  They also seek a wide variety in color, the palette in a singer’s sound.  This may be going out on a limb, but I think often times there is greater attention to use of color, and greater attention to intricacies of text in Baroque singers.  You’ll find that kind of obsession in their singing, and that’s also deeply appreciated by composers in our own time.

BD:   [With mock astonishment]  Does that mean that the more dramatic music is boring?

Brandes:   [Laughs]  No, no, not by any stretch.  But in general, what you’re looking for in Romantic music
or at least in Romantic vocal musicis the long gorgeous spun line, which is endless and wide, and not wildly varied in color.  By comparison, the requirements are very different, musically.  That is not to say that it is not equally fantastic music.  Even though he is not known for writing operas, I think Brahms is one of the great, great, great composers, and Verdi is a great composer in his own right.  Thinking of Verdi as being the monolith in Romantic vocal music, it is great music, but it does ask for very different things from a singerand that’s all it is, just different.  There’s no judgment on my part about what those things are.

BD:   Now you say that the Twentieth Century composers are coming back to this a little bit.  Are they harking back to the Baroque style and necessities, or is it just because what they write requires the same kind of feelings, and the same kinds of techniques?

Brandes:   It’s a bit of both.  There are composers who deliberately harken backward.  Certainly, we find that in Stravinsky quite a bit, even though he’s no longer among us.  The Rake’s Progress is, in large measure, very much like a Baroque or an early Classical opera.

BD:   But that was by design on his part.

Brandes:   Yes, by design.  On the other hand, there are composers writing presently who have no intention, or there is no design about setting up some sort of Baroque ideal.  What they’re looking for often turns out to be exactly what one would find in the typical Baroque singer.  This is not to say that there are not plenty of composers writing today who also are writing with a more Romantic voice in mind
a broader loom, if you will.  There are also composers who write for neither of those, and who write for singers who take a much more mechanized approach to singing.  Those are people who are able to make leaps of fifths at the speed of light, which is not human, I venture to say.  So, there’s a wide range of vocal writing going on right now, and it’s really exciting because there are great composers out there, and it’s very interesting to track down pieces written by composers for specific singers.  When considering whether to do a particular role in, say, a Rameau or a Handel opera, all I need to know is for which stock singer the composer had written the role.  For example, if a role by Rameau was written for Mme. Fel, I don’t even have to see it.  I know that it is suited to me because of the likeness of her voice and mine.


Marie Fel
(24 October 1713 – 2 February 1794) was a French opera singer and a daughter of the organist Henri Fel.

Marie Fel was born at Bordeaux. She made her debut at the Paris Opera in 1733 and sang regularly at the Concert Spirituel. In a career that lasted 35 years, she sang in all the operas of Rameau along with Pierre Jélyotte, created roles in those of Mondonville, and participated in revivals of those of Lully and Campra. She retired from the stage in 1758, but continued to perform in concert until 1769. She died in Paris.

She had a long-term relationship with the painter Quentin de La Tour, who painted her portrait [shown at right]. "The greatest personalities of her age sought her good graces and gave her lively proofs of their affections," including men of letters such as the Baron von Grimm and the Encyclopédiste Louis de Cahusac.

The French actress and singer Sophie Arnould was one of her students.

BD:   Is there ever a case where you find out later that she had sung that role and said it was bad for her voice?
Brandes:   No, which is a God-send.  The same thing is true of present-day composers.  I seek out pieces specifically written for singers who have a voice similar to mine.  It’s very helpful, and I’ve also had the great privilege of having a piece written for me.  That has been an astonishing joy, to sing a song cycle that is so well-tailored.  That’s been great fun.

BD:   Does that give you a new appreciation of the Baroque composers?

Brandes:   Not directly, but there is an appreciation in that I understand more of the challenges that faced those composers in writing for those specific singers.

BD:   Are you difficult to write for?

Brandes:   No!  But there were occasions when I would say, “You know, dear, singing the word ‘music’ on a high C is a little difficult!”  I have a very high voice, but to make a text intelligible.

BD:   You needed an ‘open’ vowel.

Brandes:   Right!  [Much laughter]  You can only modify things so much.  But it’s been a real honor to be involved in that.

BD:   Not necessarily for the one who was writing for you, do you have any advice for composers who want to write vocal music these days?

Brandes:   [Thinks a moment]  One of the first things would be to listen to as many tapes or CDs of the singer for whom you are writing, to really become familiar with all of the nooks and crannies of the voice, all the possibilities, all of the deficits, all of the colors.  Then, find a text which is meaningful and inspirational to both you and the singer.  I would also say to really study the vocal works of Purcell.  In this case it was a piece set in English, and English is one of the more difficult languages to set reasonably well for intelligibility of text.

BD:   Because of all the consonants?

Brandes:   Yes, and also the odd stresses.  It is not the most regular of languages, and Purcell is still one of the great tutors in setting English.  Eric Moe is the fellow who wrote this piece for me, and I don’t know that he actually did go and stare at Purcell, but I have to say that his settings struck me as being very akin to Purcell’s attentiveness to the movement of language, and the stress of the language.  So, I was really pleased.

BD:   He learned his studies well.

Brandes:   Yes, I guess somewhere along the way.

BD:   Have you learned your studies well in singing and interpretation?

Brandes:   I can continue to learn.  [Laughs]  It is a never-ending adventure.  I learn a lot every time.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   I asked you what the composers look for in the voice.  Let me turn it around.  What do you look for in the music?

Brandes:   From new composers, or any composer?

BD:   Any composer.

Brandes:   I look for a harmonic palette that supports and illuminates the text, and along with that goes a certain amount of rhythmic interest.  I can’t say that it’s any one thing.  Certainly, the most drab texts have been set in the most remarkable way to make them come up with really remarkable pieces.

BD:   Then you look for enough of those things?

Brandes:   Yes, text, harmonic language, in the case of accompanied things, what the sort of color combinations are.  Then, just the really basic things, such as the range, the suitability, or am I out of mind to attempt this?  [Laughs]  That’s about it.

BD:   Now you sing in all kinds of halls.  Do you change your technique for the size of the hall?

Brandes:   No, not in any appreciable way, or in any conscious way.  It is always a challenge in a large, dry, basically dead Kleenex-box to avoid singing like a pig, and really pressing the voice and throwing it out, trying to fill the hall with sound, and pushing into the non-acoustic in a way.

BD:   [With a gentle nudge]  You can’t wear a little sign that says, “It’s the acoustic, it’s not me!”?

Brandes:   [Laughs]  Right, exactly!  The real challenge at that point is make a conscious effort to really just sing the way I know I can sing, and not get into some funky false place.  I think often of a tale about Glenn Gould.  He arrived at a concert hall somewhere, and the piano was just unbelievably horrible.  He left the rehearsal quite depressed, and went out and sat around somewhere, and basically visualized himself playing his favorite piano from home.  He was determined that he would go back that night, and do the same thing at that keyboard, and it allowed him to play in the way that he wanted to play, and not surrender into banging at this horrible instrument.  I often think of that tale when I’m faced with a grim acoustic.

BD:   It’s a good mental trick?

Brandes:   Yes, absolutely.  It
s really good training not to listen, but just feel.  The big problem is that we rely so much on what we hear.  We’re constantly listening, and in that circumstance you cannot begin to listen and judge what you hear coming back, or not coming back to you.

brandes BD:   It's all by feel?

Brandes:   All by feel, and all by muscle memory.

BD:   I would think it would be horrible to tell a singer, “Don’t listen!”

Brandes:   Yes, but that’s ultimately what you have to do a lot of the time.  Don’t think, just sing!  [Both laugh]

BD:   That begs the question of what singers should normally think about.

Brandes:   Absolutely.  You need to always be two steps ahead of where you are.  Singers are much more thoughtful than many people give them credit for.

BD:   What about little halls?  Are they often good, or often bad?  You probably have sung in some strange places with Baroque ensembles.

Brandes:   Yes, they can be equally horrible, because if you’re in a small stone chapel that seats maybe 200 people, if you’re wailing away on some wild late Seventeenth Century cantata, it renders everything pretty unintelligible.

BD:   The sound would bounce all over?

Brandes:   Yes, and all of a sudden you do sound like Brünnhilde to yourself.  But there are some pieces that you have no choice.  You have to throw your entire being into it.  You can’t do a ranting and raving cantata with half a voice, trying to accommodate the boom in the room, and not wanting to scare everyone out.  But at that point, you just have to throw your hands up and say, “This is the way it has to be.”  There’s no way to get through this, otherwise.

BD:   Are there times when the site will dictate the repertoire, or at least influence it?

Brandes:   Yes, but often it is a surprise to me what the site is.  So, the program is not always well-suited to the hall, because I’m not always aware of what the hall is going to be.  Sometimes the halls are determined at a slightly later date.  For example, if you go to a university like Oberlin, which has many concert venues, it wasn’t clear initially, when the program was set, where the concert was going to take place.  In fact, it ended up being a remarkable chapel, which would have been much more suited to a lute song concert, for example.

BD:   You couldn’t change the program?

Brandes:   No, there was no way to change the program at that point.

BD:   [With a wink]  You don’t
dream you dwell in marble halls’?  [Reference to the aria I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls from The Bohemian Girl by Balfe]

Brandes:   No, definitely not!  [Both have a huge laugh]

BD:   Do you ever give concerts outdoors, in backyards or small gardens?

Brandes:   Interesting question... not in places like that.  The closest thing is a series I sing on almost every summer, up in the wine country in the Sonoma and Napa Valleys in California.  The concerts are often given in vineyards, and many have small interior courtyards, sort of cloistered areas.  I’ve given concerts outdoors in a well-tiled garden-like setting.  I’ve also had the wild experience of performing in the Armstrong Grove, which is just outside of Guerneville in Northern California.  It is an enormous and ancient amphitheater, used for the first time in the teens and twenties for Isadora Duncan-like dancing events, and then was later used for things like A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  It has its own little orchestra pit.  I remember walking in and thinking, “Holy God!  No one is going to hear a peep that comes out of me!”  This was a concert with an orchestra, and I was thinking, “This is hopeless!  Where is the microphone?”  In fact, because it is a natural amphitheater, it had the most amazing acoustics, and you could hear me well through the forest.  It was a great pleasure.  I sang The Voices of Spring [Johann Strauss, Jr.], with birds swooping down from Redwoods.  It was quite an experience!

BD:   Is the music that you sing, for everyone?

Brandes:   Absolutely!  I do not buy into this elitist monkey-business in the slightest.  It is for everyone, and it’s a matter of de-mystifying it, and helping people make the connections to their own lives.  The relationships of the texts that I sing, and the universal human truth that lies in all of those texts is easily applied to anyone’s life.  A lot of what has to happen is just the eradication of this idea that it is an elite art.  I’ve had amazing experiences working with various Baroque groups that go into school systems in New York State.  I’ve done some here in Chicago, and with a Baroque ensemble in a classroom in Birmingham, Alabama.  It was wild.  In two days I sang for probably six hundred little first and second grade kids in Birmingham.

BD:   [With a big smile, having been a grade-school teacher for a couple of years early in his career]  Isn’t it wonderful to see their eyes light up?

Brandes:   It was amazing, and we’re talking French Baroque music!  This is not the most immediate stuff on the planet, but all you had to do was explain to them what a recit was, what an aria was, and make connections into their own lives.  Is recit all that different from rap?  I don’t know if we call rap music, but it is like that.  It is fast and facile recitation.  It is the narrative.  It’s not the meat of the emotional content, which is what you get in the song, or in the longer form, and the non-rap form, but they get mythology.  One of the great avenues into the hearts and minds of the youth of America is myth, traditional Greek and Roman mythology.  It is fabulous.  It is fascinating.  There is great music based on it, and once you get them into the various family trees, they are curious and they’re hooked.  There’s basically sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll in all of it, and murder, and mayhem, and happy endings.  There are also very practical things to be learned from great standards of the various myths.

BD:   Do it all under the heading of “Rap with Rameau!”

Brandes:   Exactly!  There you go!  [More laughter]

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   We talked a little bit about changing technique for the size of houses and venues.  Do you change your technique at all for the microphone?

Brandes:   [Thinks a moment]  No.  I hesitate in answering simply because just before I came to Chicago, I was making a recording with the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, with Nicholas McGegan, and it was this very odd piece by Thomas Arne called Alfred, from which we get Rule, Britannia.  On a couple of occasions within the piece, I have to sing songs that are somewhat akin to Gilbert & Sullivan, in that they’re verging on patter songs.  They are rather low, quite low, actually, for my voice, and are thickly accompanied, full orchestra, two horns, so a serious amount of noise is going on.


BD:   But still he wanted your sound?

Brandes:   Yes, in fact it’s very odd.  I was called in on this gig at the last minute because the soprano who was to do it, came down with the flu.  So, on a day’s notice I ended up doing four concerts and a recording.

BD:   I hope you knew the material...

Brandes:   No!  I learned it rather quickly.  But the soprano who was to do the show, has a voice very similar to mine, so it was very odd.  In the concerts, I felt obligated to go a little bit beyond, and sing a little louder in that really low range than I might have otherwise.  But once we were recording, it was possible for me to sing at a reasonable level, and sing for my own comfort, and sing for the mike, so that was a little easier.  But that is a great exception.

BD:   Have you been pleased with the recordings you’ve made so far?

Brandes:   Yes!  It’s always amazing to me.  There’s always a certain amount of lag time between when you record and when it actually makes it out into the world.

BD:   It’s about a year?

Brandes:   If you’re lucky it’s a year.  Sometimes it can be even longer, so it’s often a little frustrating to me because in that time lapse, I will have made leaps vocally, both through my own efforts and simply through getting older and maturing into my own voice.  So, it’s a little frustrating.  You hear something and you think “God, if I could have another crack at that now, I could...”  All of a sudden you realize how many things you now have available to you as expressive devices, or colors, or sounds that you didn’t have a year or two years ago.

BD:   Then, if you remade the recording, a year later you’d say exactly the same thing!

Brandes:   Yes, exactly the same thing!  But that’s nice.  It’s better than listening and saying, “Wow, could I sing then!”  I’m sure that day will come, but not too soon, I hope.  But yes, I’ve been very pleased with them.

BD:   That’s good.   

Brandes:   But they’re scary to make.

BD:   Why?

Brandes:   Because it really captures you in a moment, and it’s slightly distressing sometimes to face up to what you hear as deficits.  Singers, as with any other musicians, are staggeringly critical of themselves, much more critical than the public, or even the producer for that matter.

BD:   Are we, the public, expecting too much?

Brandes:   No, no, no, I don’t think so.

BD:   Are you expecting too much of yourself?

Brandes:   No, I don’t think so.  [After a moment]  Absolutely not.  I don’t expect to sing Vissi d’Arte [from Tosca] any time soon, and I don’t expect to sing for five minutes without a breath.  But I have a realistic idea of what I’m capable of, and sometimes there are great surprises.  You hear something on a disc and you think, “Wow, that’s me, and that is really good!”  There are moments like that, so it’s not all grimacing.  Then there are bits where it goes just fine and you think, “Hey, that’s nice.  I can’t argue with that.”  Then there are moments when the light bulb goes on, and the shades are drawn, so it’s a real mixed bag.

BD:   In the end, though, do you enjoy making records?

Brandes:   Yes, it’s becoming much more fun as time goes on, and as I become more comfortable with the general experience.  The first one is often the hardest, simply because you don’t know what to expect.  You don’t know what the protocol is.  I remember being so unbelievably tired at the end of each day that I thought I was going to collapse.  Now I have a better idea of how to spend my energy when I’m in there.

BD:   You pace yourself?

Brandes:   Yes, especially for a solo disc, where you have only three days, or two and a half days, to make it, and they generally run at least seventy minutes of music.  That’s a lot of hard work.  You end up easily singing six hours a day, and that’s a lot of singing under that sort of circumstance.  So, it’s a definitely like pacing yourself though a long race.  You know when you’re really going to need to use up all of your Wheaties, or when you can get by on half a banana.

BD:   [Musing]  Loneliness of the Long Distance Singer.  [Reference to the short story and film entitled Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner.  The film depicts Britain in the late 1950s and early 1960s as an elitist place, where upper-class people enjoy many privileges while lower-class people suffer a bleak life.  The film poster
s byline is you can play it by rules... or you can play it by ear – WHAT COUNTS is that you play it right for you...]
Brandes:   Exactly! [Much laughter]

*     *     *     *     *
BD:   Are you at the point in your career you want to be right now?

Brandes:   That’s an interesting question.  [Thinks a moment]  Yes!  There’s always a little portion of me that wishes certain things were further along.  I wish I were further along in some respects, but the overwhelming feeling I have is that I am in the right place.  I have had the good fortune in my career, and in my life so far, to be basically in the right place at the right time.  Certain challenges and opportunities have been presented to me at just the right time, and they’ve always been either absolutely in line with what I was capable of, or challenging enough to put me over a hump, either musically or technically.  So far [knocking on wood], I have risen to the occasion, or been able to fill the occasion in the right way.  So, I would say I’m mostly quite content with where I am, and look forward to the future.

BD:   Do you leave enough time for you?

Brandes:   Yes!  Actually, you’re catching me at a time when I can say that.  If you were speaking to me over the past six weeks, or two months, I would be saying absolutely not, but right now I’m coming off a time when I’ve had quite a bit of time at home, and the good fortune of working in the Bay area.  So, not really needing to travel, that’s been very restorative.  Right now, this is the beginning of a chunk of time that keeps me trotting until basically the end of June.  Then, I will be at home in California cramming an opera into my brain, and doing it at the same time.  So, that will not exactly be restful.  Once July comes, I have every hope of getting another break.

BD:   Do you like being a wandering minstrel?

Brandes:   More or less.  It’s important for me to take time, whenever I can, to be at home, or to be just restful, and not up to my ears in learning music when I have that time off.  That’s hard to do, and now, as this next couple of years are starting to fall into place, I’m becoming aware of the need to put my little foot down and say, “No, there can be nothing in this week.”  I can be gone for six weeks doing X opera, and I have to be at home for at least three weeks just to balance it out.

BD:   How do you divide your career between opera and concerts?

Brandes:   Up until this point, it’s been mostly concert work
oratorio and chamber piecesand low and behold, more opera is creeping in.

BD:   Baroque opera?

Brandes:   Actually, in a little bit more than one week, I go off to do my first Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro, which is so thrilling and so terrifying, I cannot tell you.  So, Mozart, Handel, Rameau... those are the main ones.

BD:   I think you’d make a wonderful Susanna because you’re so perky.

Brandes:   [Laughs]  Well, I hope so!  I just hope I remember it all.  Oh, my God, it is so enormous.

BD:   It’s a long role, and you wait all evening to do the aria.

Brandes:   Right, but at that point you’ve spent every ounce of energy.  Everyone keeps telling me this is not the aria to do in an audition, because the only time it is ever really fantastic is when you’re exhausted.  You’re at the end of this opera, and you think, “What the hell, why not sing an aria now!”  It is that mindset that one needs at that point.  But in the future I hope to have a healthy mix of opera and orchestral music and chamber pieces.  I really want to make sure that it remains a strong part of my musical life.  The collaborative nature of chamber music is the most nurturing for me in some ways.

BD:   Good.  I hope you don’t lose that.

Brandes:   No, God, no!  No chance!

BD:   Thank you for being such a fine singer.

Brandes:   It
s my great pleasure.  Thank you for being such a fine listener!  [Speaking to the radio audience]  I wouldn’t have a job if all of you were not listening, that’s for sure.



© 1998 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in Chicago on March 22, 1998.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB later that year, and on WNUR in 2003 and 2014.  This transcription was made in 2021, and posted on this website at that time.  My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.

Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.