Mezzo-Soprano  Michelle  DeYoung
A Conversation with Bruce Duffie

Many of the conversations in this series have been with singers who are firmly established and have solid careers.  A few have been with younger performers, and it is fascinating to see how well they have done since our meeting.

Michelle DeYoung was starting out when we met in 2000.  She had several important engagements under her belt, but the promise and prospect of a big career were still in development.

She was singing Gurrelieder with the Chicago Symphony conducted by Christoph Eschenbach at the Ravinia Festival, so we met in the office suite backstage in the pavillion.  [Names which are links refer to my interviews elsewhere on this website.]  This was not her first appearance in Chicago, nor, I am happy to say, would it be her last!

During our conversation, she was happy and exuberant and quite effervescent in talking about her voice and her ideas and her progress thus far.

Bruce Duffie:  Thank you for coming back to Chicago.

Michelle DeYoung:  Oh, yes, I love it!

BD:    I’m glad.  You’ve performed now in Chicago downtown, at Ravinia, and the opera.  Do you like coming back to places where you’ve been?

MDeY:    I like Chicago.  I don’t like going back to all places I’ve been, but Chicago happens to be one of the ones I really like.

BD:    Does that in any way influence whether you accept a contract — if you like the city or not?

MDeY:    No, it doesn’t, to tell you the truth.  That has much more to do with what the contract is and who it’s with.

BD:    Then how do you decide, yes or no?

deyoung MDeY:    It depends on the piece.  If it’s a piece that I know, or have done, then I know it’s okay.  If it’s a piece I like and it is appropriate for me or if it’s a conductor that I work well with, then I’m always willing to work with him or her.  It depends.  It depends on all the circumstances
if it fits into the schedule, what’s around it, how far away it is!  You have to consider the whole situation.  I was in Japan last week.  It was my first time in Asia, and I was blown away by the jet lag!  Seriously.  I let myself have jet lag when I go to Europe; I do that trip a lot, and give myself a couple days.  Usually by the second day I can sing pretty well, but I’m still a little wacked out.  By the third day I’m there, I’m fine.  This trip to Japan, for three days I felt sick!  [Laughs]  It was so interesting, though!  And so you learn.  You learn how close things have to be together and how far in advance you have to be somewhere.

BD:    So to accept something in Asia, then, you’ll give yourself a week?

MDeY:    It depends on what it was.  This happened to be Mahler Three, which is not a long, difficult sing.  I gave myself three days before my first rehearsal.  I was vocally fine, but those three days, it was very, very tiring.  It was actually worse last week when I came back into New York.  I’m still kind of wacked out.  I have no idea what time it is!  So you learn.

BD:    Does a singer really have to be conscious of what time it is?

MDeY:    Well, you have to be able to sing!

BD:    So that’s the main thing
being able to sing; keeping the vocal cords ready and able to work all the time?

MDeY:    Right.  With the long flights, you have to make sure that you drink tons and tons and tons of water.  And I find that if I drink so much that I’m just sick of drinking water, I feel much better and I sing better the next day.  Mostly my problems are dehydration.  But then there’s the whole tiredness.  You have to get enough sleep.

BD:    Do you make sure that you keep your schedule open enough, and not accept too many engagements?

MDeY:    Well, I’m learning.  I’m still at the beginning of my career, and I’m figuring out how to do that.  We’ll get a concert in Europe, and we’ll try to find something else to go around it so that I’m there for a little bit.  At first I used to get sick quite a bit; I would get sinus infections from all the flying.  So I’m just learning how to stay healthy and be able to do it.

BD:    After all the preparation, you need to be able to do it!

MDeY:    That’s right!

BD:    You do a lot of concerts, and you do some opera.  How do you divide your burgeoning career?

MDeY:    I do about one or two operas a year, and the rest is concert and recital.

BD:    Do you like concerts and recitals?

MDeY:    I do.  

BD:    Is there a special thrill being in front of the orchestra where you can see the audience?

MDeY:    No... well, yes, that’s wonderful, too.  It’s amazing when I’m done singing or before I’ve started singing, I’m sitting there and you have the orchestra just surrounding you.  That’s not why I do mostly concerts, but it is an amazing thing!

BD:    It’s a bonus!

MDeY:    Yes.  And in a recital, it is completely up to you to create, or to recreate the music.  It’s a wonderful outlet for a musician, for a singer, because with orchestras, really the conductor is in charge.  You have some say with the rehearsals, but they’re kind of in charge.  In an opera, so many factors come in, and I feel like music is not as important as it is in concert.  [Laughs]  People might terribly disagree with me, but in my experience, when it comes to opera, there’s just so many other things that are going on!  There’s your costume, there’s everybody else on stage, there’s your staging, there’s trying to sing over the pit.  There’s just so many different factors!

BD:    Is it too much?

MDeY:    I don’t think it’s too much, it’s that you cannot put as much time on just the pure music.  You can’t!

BD:    But you don’t want the music to be shunted off into a corner someplace?

MDeY:    Of course not.  It’s always still there, obviously.  It just seems that when you do concerts, that’s what it is about
the recreating of the music.  When you do opera, it’s about everything — which is also fun, which is why I still do them.  But also when it comes to opera, I have to be careful on what I do.  I obviously sing Wagner, but I don’t want to do too much Wagner, too soon.  It has to be a special project in order for me to do it.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Being a mezzo soprano, you are expected to learn a certain set of roles.  Do you like those roles?

MDeY:    I do.  The roles that I’m looking at, coming up, I’m very excited about.  I’m very excited to see what happens with my voice, because I definitely have a large range.  I think that for my entire career I will be considered a mezzo.  I hope to be considered a mezzo, but I think that soprano roles and pieces will sneak in, and that’s exciting.  Sometimes, like with any career, you’ll do something and think, “Oh, not again!”

BD:    [Laughs]  Sure!

MDeY:    So I’ve enjoyed it.  I love Tristan, doing the Brangane.  I loved that production!  It was a Francesca Zambello production.  I loved the way that she interpreted the relationships.  Everybody had relationships with everybody.  Isolde and Brangane were like sisters, and Brangane had a crush on Tristan.  There was just so much more going on than just Tristan and Isolde and the rest of the cast!  So it really made it fun for everybody in it.

BD:    When you get into yet another production, will you strive to make sure that you are integrated into it even more?

deyoung MDeY:    I’m not going to change somebody’s idea for a production.  I have the relationship in me now.  It also makes a difference that it’s Jane Eaglen [as Isolde in photo at right with MDeY], because she and I are really good friends.  It will be different, though; I saw the production at the Met, and she’s such a maid in that production.  It wouldn’t be as thrilling for me to do that, I don’t think, because this made it very special.  So, it was fun.  That makes a difference to me.  I like that!  I like to do things that I’m able to actually get dirty doing!  I don’t mean that pervertedly!  [Both laugh]  So it just depends.

BD:    Do you see yourself singing Isolde any time in your career?

MDeY:    We’ll have to see in ten years.

BD:    So you really are looking long range, then?

MDeY:    Yes.  Jane did her first Isolde when she was thirty-seven.  In ten years, I’ll be forty-one, so who knows?  Maybe.  It’ll be like, “Oh, this is something I should do.”  And maybe it won’t be.

BD:    But she, of course, was starting as a soprano.  You’re starting as a mezzo.

MDeY:    Exactly.  I don’t think it’s too out of the question, but Isolde is a huge undertaking!  I have always wanted to sing her.

BD:    You’ve done a tiny bit of it, having sung the Wesendonck Lieder.

MDeY:    That’s right.  I do want to do it and I love it!  I have been asked to sing Isolde...

BD:    Does it surprise you when a manager will ask you to do something that, in your mind, is outrageous or way too early?

MDeY:    The first one was when I was doing the Wesendonck Lieder in an orchestra concert.  The conductor got so excited, and asked me if I would do his Isolde.  I started laughing!  It never occurred to me that he was actually offering me a contract to do the role — and it’s a top house!  Then I felt very bad, because I had started laughing at him.  But it’s a huge compliment; it really is.  I take it as a compliment.  I have a very strong relationship with my voice teacher.  I trust her implicitly, and if she says, “Absolutely not!” or, “Maybe in ten years,” then I just go with that.

BD:    It’s also a huge compliment to you that you would be able to say
no to such a nice offer!

MDeY:    It’s very hard, yes, but that could end my singing.

BD:    Do you find yourself saying
no quite a bit?

MDeY:    I don’t want to say quite a bit.  I’m very careful in what I choose, and I’ve gotten quite known for doing a lot of Mahler.  So that, obviously, I will take, because I love Mahler, and it suits me quite well.

BD:    Did Mahler write well for the voice?

MDeY:    Mahler wrote well for mine!  [Laughs]  That’s definitely my forte.  But I’m planning on doing Sieglinde in a few years, so that will be my first teasing with the soprano repertoire.  It’s a good one to try, I think.

BD:    Will you purposely try it in a smaller house before going into a bigger house?

MDeY:    Yes.

BD:    Does the size of the house make that much difference when you’re singing something you know and something that you’re comfortable with?

MDeY:    As far as singing it, no, because I personally have never had a problem acoustically.  It really doesn’t make a difference to me.  I’ve realized that when I’m onstage, it makes no difference if there’s fifty people in the audience, or six thousand.

BD:    Obviously you hope for six thousand...

MDeY:    Yes, but you have different size houses.  You could be doing a recital at Weill Recital Hall, which holds about three hundred and is so intimate, and then Royal Albert Hall seats almost six thousand.  I’ve done both, and I don’t do anything differently.  I go into the same place to recreate the music.

BD:    The same place in the throat as well as the mind?

MDeY:    No, in my soul.

BD:    I see.  But the vocal production is the same?

MDeY:    Right.

BD:    So you allow the acoustics of the house to take care of your sound, good or bad?

MDeY:    Exactly.  You cannot do something with your voice that you can’t do!  Tor instance, I’m doing the Gurrelieder right now here at Ravinia, and if someone stood in the back of the pavilion and said, “I can’t hear you,” I can’t do anything about that!  My instrument’s in me; I cannot create more sound.  What some people tend to do is just blow, which doesn’t create more sound, it just makes you feel like you’re singing louder.

BD:    And usually makes the voice spread a little bit!

MDeY:    Yes, it gets out of focus.  It’s a terrible habit for singers.  There’s no way to sing louder than you can sing.  You either shouldn’t do the piece, or the orchestra should come down.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Do you like the way you sing?

MDeY:    Oh, tough question!  Wow!  I have come to appreciate my technique.  I don’t think it’s completely finished, but I don’t think it ever will be.  The technique constantly changes as we keep changing and growing.  I have a very hard time hearing myself sing.  When I started, my voice teacher always wanted me to tape my lesson, and I wouldn’t; I could never listen to them, so I just quit taping them.  I’ve made a few recordings, and always have such a hard time hearing it at first, because I have to get over, “Oh, God!  That’s my voice!”

BD:    That’s right; you have to approve them before they are released.

deyoung MDeY:    Exactly!  So it really taught me to listen objectively and think,
Okay, I need to do this and this, and I want to do this.  I have a wonderful voice teacher, and she has helped me learn to really be in control of my voice.  I have a lot of fun with that!  That’s also something you can do more in concert and recital than you can in opera, because often in opera you have to really sing out a bit more, whereas in concert, you can play a little bit more.  And I enjoy that!

BD:    Are you playing with the text, or playing with the composer, or playing with the audience, or playing with your ideas, or what?

MDeY:    Playing with the text, definitely; playing vocally, just being able to do different things.  When I came in, I think it was ’92, I joined the Young Artists Program at the Met, and at that time I just had this big voice!  I couldn’t do anything!  I had no control over it; I just had a huge voice.  I always wanted to do that kind of stuff, but I couldn’t.  So I would try, but it would never be right.  I really feel now that I have a good control over it, and can do things that I enjoy.

BD:    Let’s go back even farther.  When did you discover you had a big voice?

MDeY:    I always knew I had a big voice because I was always in choirs and things like that.  They put me in where they needed me.  They would say, “Okay, the sopranos are quiet.  Let’s get Michelle in there!”  I always filled in the voice type that they needed.

BD:    That’s versatility.  That’s great!

MDeY:    I also did that in band and orchestra.  They’d say, “We need an oboe,” and I’d learn the oboe.

BD:    You would just pick it up???

MDeY:    I did!  [Laughs]  It was very fun!  So I’ve played most instruments, and I took piano all my life.  I grew up mostly in a small town in Colorado.  My father is a minister and I have three older sisters.  They’re all a year apart, and I came five years later.  They would sing in church and I wanted to sing with them!  I wanted it so badly because it made me feel like I would be good enough to sing with them.  But my Dad would always say, “No, no,” because they had older voices.  When you’re growing up and you’re ten and they’re fifteen, sixteen, and seventeen, it’s a huge difference.  But I wanted to!  So it’s kind of interesting, because none of them are having a musical career, and I am!  [Laughs]  So it’s like, “Okay, I’ll show you!”

BD:    [Laughs]

MDeY:    But that’s not true!  They’re very supportive, and we’re a very close family.

BD:    I was going to ask if they come to your performances.

MDeY:    As much as they can.

BD:    They are proud of you.

MDeY:    My parents could not be prouder.  I talk to them every day.  We’re very close!  My father knows more about classical music than I could ever dream of knowing.  So, it’s fun.  They live now in Palo Alto, California, and I sing a lot in San Francisco with the symphony.  So they get to come to a lot of concerts.

BD:    So now we’re back to that which influences whether you accept a contract in San Francisco.

MDeY:    I will always accept contracts as long as Michael Tilson Thomas is there.  If he offers me something and I’m free, I will most likely do it... unless it’s something I shouldn’t sing.  I have a very strong loyalty to Michael.

BD:    Obviously, you believe in him, and he believes in you.

MDeY:    Yes, and he believed in me early.

BD:    So you trust him?

MDeY:    Very much.

BD:    So when he offers you something that is a borderline case...

MDeY:    It will depend on what it is; it depends on how much borderline.  If he offered me Isolde, I would not do it!  [Laughs]

BD:    Okay!

MDeY:    It just depends.  I’ve done many different things with him.  He gave me my real first opportunity, and has been extremely loyal to me since.  I’ve worked with him many times in San Francisco.  I just sang with him in Japan; I’ve sung with him in Amsterdam.  So, it’s wonderful!  It’s amazing to make music with him.  I like to sing Mahler with him, because he interprets Mahler from where I think Mahler should be interpreted from.  You have the notes, you have the music on the page, but Mahler has to be ciphered through the soul.  It has to be created that way.

BD:    And he understands that?

MDeY:    I think so.  I feel that.  We don’t always agree, exactly, on how it should be, but it doesn’t matter.  That’s not the point.  You can’t always agree with the other musician, but the fact that you’re both coming from a genuine place is what makes the difference.

BD:    But you have to both be pulling the same direction, even if you don’t agree?

MDeY:    Right, exactly.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    You mentioned that your father is a minister.  Does everything that you sing have a little bit of a spiritual quality to it?

MDeY:    A lot of what I do does.  A lot of Mahler does; I can’t think of anything that doesn’t.  Well, Das Klagende Lied is not real spiritual; it’s kind of a story.  Mahler Three, Mahler Two, Das Lied Von Der Erde, Mahler Eight.  They’re all that way!  The end of Songs of the Wayfarer...

BD:    Do you try to infuse whatever spirituality you can in each piece of music, whether it really is a spiritual piece or not?

MDeY:    I don’t try to feel something from a piece of music; I just feel something from a piece of music.  For instance, I just did Hamlet, and there was nothing really spiritual about that experience!  [Both laugh]  I didn’t feel that way; it didn’t move me in that way.  Maybe that’s another reason I like concerts, because concerts often do.  In opera, you’re a character and you’re recreating.  Even if you feel what that character is feeling, if you can relate and create it that way, unless it has something to do spiritually, it’s still a story.  But Mahler was so spiritual.  His pieces are so spiritual that it just brings me there.  I can’t help but go there.

BD:    Then is it your responsibility to bring the audience there?

deyoung MDeY:    I don’t know.  For me to say, “I try to bring the audience there,” means that what I’m doing is not genuine, because I am trying to make you feel a certain way.  All I can do is feel a certain way.  If that brings you to me, or brings you to the spiritual aspect of it, then that’s great, but once you try to recreate what you’ve done, that’s the scary thing about this kind of business.  For instance, if somebody does some look on stage, and the look is so beautiful, as soon as that person is complimented on that look, the person will try to recreate the look rather than going back to the feeling that created the look in the first place.

BD:    So don’t create it, let it happen?

MDeY:    Exactly.  So I really do strive for that.  Mind you, there are times when you’re really tired or you don’t feel well, but somehow you still get into it.  I have a harder time with some pieces.  When I was a Young Artist at the Met and I had hardly done anything, they really wanted to keep me under wraps.  They gave me small things at the Met.  Levine and I had a meeting, and he said to me, “Never do anything you don’t strongly believe in.  Never do something that you don’t,” and I didn’t understand it!  In fact, it really kind of hurt my feelings a little bit, because I thought he was saying that I couldn’t do it.  But he knew something about me that I didn’t know at the time.

BD:    That’s really excellent advice for anyone.  You must believe in it in order to do it!

MDeY:    It’s such good advice, and I know that for myself, because I don’t want to try to feel something; I want to feel something.  So when I take on new things, I often will listen to the CD first
because I don’t play piano well enough to really get an idea of it — and see how it moves me, if I’m moved, musically, by it.

BD:    When you listen to the recording, do you get a feeling for the whole piece, rather than for just your part of it?

MDeY:    I’m about to do Penelope, by Fauré, and it’s a huge piece!  It’s a huge role.  It’s never done, and they’re doing one concert in the Edinburgh Festival.  So of course initially I said, “Absolutely not!”  [Laughs]  Then I listened to it and I thought, “Well, that’s pretty.”  I walked away, and the melody of the aria would not leave me.  I had to listen to it again.  I listened to just that aria four times, and I accepted the job from that one piece!  So it can be either.

BD:    Will you let your agent know that anyone else doing Penelope should perhaps contact you?

MDeY:    They probably would anyway.  It’s rarely done, and people will probably come to see it if they’re interested in it.  We’ll see, though.  I haven’t done the performance yet.  I might do it and think, “I don’t need to do that again.”  [Both laugh]  That does happen.  Hamlet for me was a wonderful experience to work in French.  It was a wonderful cast
Tom Hampson and José van Dam and Natalie Dessay.  I learned a lot from the experience, but I don’t think I’ll ever do it again.  So it’s hard to say.  I mean, who knows?  In twenty-five years, I might want to do it again!  I don’t know!

BD:    When you prepare a new role such as Penelope, do you go back into the myths and think about the character, and try to become her as much as you can?

MDeY:    I try to figure out who she was.  She’s really such a noble character, and I like that.  I have a lot of respect for that, and for her.  She’s very strong, and I’m very strong!  So there’s a lot about it that I can relate to.

BD:    You’re a mezzo soprano, so you don’t get to play too many of these twittering little victims.

MDeY:    Oh, no!  Believe me, people would never hire me for that!  We joke about that every so often!  What if I was going to do Zerlina?  Sure, I could sing it, but who’d want it?  Nobody!  They’d laugh if it did Zerlina!

BD:    [Pondering the stage situation]  Well, you might be able to get the best of Don Giovanni, then!

MDeY:    It’s true!  My height does come into play a bit, with opera, because of casting.  I’m six-one.

BD:    You shouldn’t really tower over the tenor too much!

MDeY:    That’s true.  We’re getting some taller tenors, though, so that’s good.

BD:    That’s encouraging.

MDeY:    Yes, I’m encouraged!

BD:    When you walk out onstage, are you portraying that character, or do you actually become that character?

MDeY:    I have to say I feel like that person, I really do.  I feel those emotions, and I feel like I have become that person.

BD:    Do you like these people that you become?

MDeY:    Not all of them.  It also depends on how the director is having you interpret it.  It’s one of the reasons that Hamlet was hard for me; he wanted the character to be angry, and I don’t understand that.  I understand anger; I don’t understand anger all the time.  I don’t think that everything can be angry and hateful.  I don’t see that.  Even very evil people aren’t always evil.

BD:    Some people do seem to be ticked off at everything!

MDeY:    But I don’t relate to that, so I did not like the character because of that.

BD:    Let me go in the other direction.  Is there any character that you’ve played that’s too close to the real you?

deyoung MDeY:    Not yet.  There’s something in everything that you can relate to, really.  There’s a lot about Penelope that I can relate to.  I feel I would be that loyal if I were married, and I know I would be that strong because I’m very strong.  So I think there are things in every character that you can understand.  That’s how you have to do it, I think.  You take the character and find out about it
what is you — and then you take those emotions.  Even if that exact thing hasn’t happened to you, you take what the emotion is and somehow relate it to something that has happened to you.  So you feel that and then it does become you, genuinely.

BD:    So all of these characters, then, add to the real you as you go through life?

MDeY:    Right.

BD:    Good things, or bad things, or both?

MDeY:    Both.

BD:    In ten years, you’re going to have a lot of baggage to carry with you!

MDeY:    I don’t think so.  I think we learn.  I learn so much in this career, and it is difficult, because I travel a lot, and I travel alone.

BD:    No dogs or entourage?

MDeY:    I had a dog, and he is just so unruly!  He’s at my parents
house and is much happier!  [Both laugh]  Every so often my Mom has come, and I’m getting to know a lot of people, which is fun.  This past year Jane and I have been in the same town many times, just by chance, not in the same thing.  That has been wonderful!  I was at Chatelet in Paris, and she was at the Bastille at the exact same time!

BD:    [With a sly nudge]  So you two went out carousing every night?

MDeY:    [Sarcastically]  Oh, yeah!  [Both laugh]  In fact, I stayed by the Bastille and she stayed by the Chatelet, so every day I’d get done with rehearsal and just go see her.  It was great!

BD:    I would think it would be great to have friends in the business, because they understand.

MDeY:    Yes.  It’s great to have some, but it’s actually very difficult to have friends in the business, to tell you the truth, because singers — I can only speak for singers — are so insecure.  We all are, and it brings out the worst in us.  It’s very difficult to have a friendship with someone, and have it be a true friendship, and have it to be nothing to do with career.  I think Jane and I are extremely fortunate, because we hardly ever speak about the career.

BD:    But of course, you’re not competing for the same roles, so that helps.

MDeY:    That’s true.

BD:    You and another mezzo might have a little problem.

MDeY:    That could be.  I don’t know; I have mezzo friends, actually.  It just depends on the people.  I am not saying by any means that I am different than these people; I think it’s just difficult, and it’s one thing that I really work through.  I really strive, and I think that’s great that I’m in the situation to be able to work on this in myself.  You learn a lot about yourself, and you learn a lot about life and people.  I grew up in a very small town, a very small-minded town, so I’m learning a lot about love just by living.

BD:    And you bring all of this experience, then, with you on the stage each time?

MDeY:    Yes, I do.

BD:    Is it fun to find out something new about a character because you find it new about yourself?

MDeY:    It’s very interesting.  I will often have it in concert where I will be up there, and all of a sudden I’ll have an
Aha!  Something will click all of a sudden, and it’s such an amazing feeling!  It’s like when you’re in that music and you’re just deep in your soul, then all of a sudden you understand it.  It’s interesting.  I don’t know if I would have these feelings otherwise.

*     *     *     *     *

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

MDeY:    Yes!  This is one of my lessons right now
I am learning to love my life the way it is.  It’s good to have goals and it’s good to have wants, but it’s important to not let them become so important that you can’t enjoy your life.  For instance, when I went to college in Michigan, I went to find a husband. 

BD:    You wanted an M-R-S degree?

MDeY:    Exactly!  I had no idea what I wanted to do for a living.  I just wanted an M-R-S degree.  And that didn’t happen!

BD:    In the end, are you glad that it didn’t happen?

MDeY:    Yes.  I still really want to get married, some day.  I know that’s a weird thing to say, because I don’t even know what that means.

BD:    [With a re-assuringly, fatherly, big-brotherly tone]  You’re looking for a special love-relationship.

MDeY:    Yes, right.  It is not that I don’t want it to happen; I would like it to happen if it’s right, but boy, I’ve had relationships and it’s never been right!  I’d love to have children some day, but again, I don’t know.  I don’t know if that’s right for me.  However, I don’t want my want for that to be so strong that I can’t appreciate how great my life is.  I have great friends all over the country — all over the world, actually.  Not a lot, but very, very good friends whom I could call at any time if I needed them.  And I have an extremely supportive family.  I have a good career, and great agents that I trust, so I just feel really blessed.  I’m learning how to really be content, yet still strive.  You’ve got to keep moving.

BD:    I can see the smile in your eyes and the brightness in your face, so I’m sure it will all happen!

MDeY:    Well, we’ll see.  Often I’m in a place for a week.  Sometimes I’ll be in a place for a couple months, if it’s an opera, so even if I do meet someone and we start dating, it’s very hard to get to a point where it’s... I don’t know!  I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I’m enjoying life.

BD:    You’ll either wind up with a basketball player or a jockey!  [Both laugh]

MDeY:    That’s right!  I have a friend that’s convinced that I’m going to end up with someone shorter than me!  [Laughs]  I doubt it, I highly doubt it!

BD:    Let me ask you briefly about your recordings.

deyoung MDeY:    One was Rage and Remembrance, by John Corigliano.  It won a Grammy!  Next was Das Klagende Lied with Michael Tilson Thomas, and then Mahler Three with Jesús López-Cobos, and, of course, my Debut CD on EMI. 

BD:    Besides the Corigliano, do you sing any other contemporary music?

MDeY:    A bit.  I try to add some in the recitals.  I don’t do a lot of contemporary, mostly because I don’t get it.  That’s just my own self; it’s not that it’s not wonderful.  Actually, a piece is being written for me right now, which I’m very excited about.  It’s a song cycle on D. H. Lawrence poems, and the poetry is just phenomenal!  They’re beautiful songs, just being finished right now, so, I’m thrilled!

BD:    It’ll be nice for you to create that.

MDeY:    Yes!  I just saw the composer in Italy, and was blown away by them.  They’re really amazing!  And they were written for me!  He listened to those two CDs
the Debut and Das Liedand got my voice.  He said to me, “Anything you want to change, we’ll change,” but there was nothing I wanted to change.

BD:    Of course, as you get into rehearsals there might be a little tweak here or there.

MDeY:    Right, but basically it was fine.  I was just very happy. 

BD:    He obviously approached you and said, “I’d like to write something for you.”  Was that a thrill?

MDeY:    It was such a compliment!  I have to tell you.  He’s a young guy that’s been doing quite a bit.  He’s American, but lives in Germany; he’s gotten quite high acclaim for his stuff, and is often showcased somewhere in Germany.  He sent me a few things; I listened to it and thought, “This is interesting.”

BD:    Sounds like he auditioned for you!

MDeY:    Yes.

BD:    It’s nice that you believed in him and his work, rather than saying, “Well, leave it to someone else.”

MDeY:    I’ve had that.  People send me their stuff a little bit, and there’s some that just doesn’t do it for me.  I don’t understand it, and I have a hard time doing something unless I really get it.  

BD:    In order to make the audience believe in it, you have to believe in it first?

MDeY:    Exactly, right.

BD:    So that it comes from within.

MDeY:    Yes.  I’ve done Schoenberg and Berg, but I don’t think that’s what you mean.

BD:    They’re old hat!  [Both laugh]

MDeY:    Yes.  I really haven’t done a lot of modern stuff.

BD:    I’m glad you’re doing a little bit, though, just to keep your hand in it.

MDeY:    I find it interesting, but until I really understand it, I can’t do it.

BD:    I hope you continue to keep understanding more and more!

MDeY:    I’m doing Rape of Lucretia by Britten next year, which is kind of modern.  That will be at Glimmerglass, so that will be interesting.  I’m doing Bartók — does that count?  [Laughs]

BD:    [With eager anticipation]  Bluebeard?

MDeY:    Yes.  I love it!

BD:    Bluebeard is one of the great pieces.

MDeY:    If it was a beautiful production, I think that would be so much fun to do!  It’s a great piece.

BD:    But on stage, you need something else with it.

MDeY:    Yes, because it’s so short.

BD:    It’s tough to find something that will go with that piece.

MDeY:    That’s true.  And, it is short, but it would be an expensive production.  But I’m fortunate; I’m doing it in concerts next summer.  I’ve done it once before.

BD:    It works well in concert.

MDeY:    Yes, it really does.

BD:    Thank you so very much for coming back to Chicago, and we look forward to more performances as you go along with your career.

MDeY:    Me, too.  Thanks.

Michelle DeYoung has already established herself as one of the most exciting artists of her generation

She has appeared with many of the world's leading orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Minnesota Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, The Met Orchestra (in Carnegie Hall), the Met Chamber Ensemble, Vienna Philharmonic, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, Orchestre de Paris, Bayerische Staatsoper Orchestra, Berliner Staatskapelle, Sao Paulo Symphony, and the Concertgebouworkest. She has also appeared in the prestigious festivals of Ravinia, Tanglewood, Aspen, Cincinnati, Saito Kinen, Edinburgh, Salzburg, and Lucerne.

The conductors with whom she has worked include Daniel Barenboim, Pierre Boulez, James Conlon, Sir Colin Davis, Stéphane Denève, Christoph von Dohnányi, Gustavo Dudamel, Christoph Eschenbach, Bernard Haitink, Manfred Honeck, James Levine, Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta, Kent Nagano, Seiji Ozawa, Antonio Pappano, André Previn, David Robertson, Donald Runnicles, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Mariss Jansons, and Michael Tilson Thomas.

Ms. DeYoung has also appeared with many of the finest opera houses of the world including the Metropolitan Opera, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Houston Grand Opera, the Seattle Opera, the Glimmerglass Opera, La Scala, the Bayreuth Festival, Berliner Staatsoper, the Opera National de Paris, the Thèâtre du Châtelet, and the Tokyo Opera. Her many roles include Fricka, Sieglinde and Waltraute in The Ring Cycle; Kundry in Parsifal, Venus in Tannhäuser, Brangäne in Tristan und Isolde, Dido in Les Troyens, Eboli in Don Carlos, Marguerite in La Damnation de Faust, Judith in Bluebeard's Castle, Gertrude in Hamlet, Jocaste in Oedipus Rex, and the title role in The Rape of Lucretia. She also created the role of the Shaman in Tan Dun's The First Emperor at the Metropolitan Opera.

In recital, Ms. DeYoung has been presented by the University of Chicago Presents series, the Ravinia Festival, Weill Recital Hall, Alice Tully Hall, San Francisco Symphony's Great Performances series, Cal Performances in Berkeley, SUNY Purchase, Calvin College, the Pittsburgh Symphony, Roy Thomson Hall, the Thèâtre du Châtelet, the Gulbenkian Foundation (Lisbon) the Edinburgh Festival, London's Wigmore Hall and Brussels's La Monnaie.

Ms. DeYoung's recording of Kindertotenlieder and Mahler's Symphony No. 3 with Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony for SFS Media was awarded the 2003 Grammy Award for Best Classical Album. She has also been awarded the 2001 Grammy Awards for Best Classical Album and Best Opera Recording for Les Troyens with Sir Colin Davis and the London Symphony Orchestra. Her growing discography also includes a new recording of Mahler Symphony No 3 with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Bernard Haitink; Bernstein's Symphony No. 1, "Jeremiah"; with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Leonard Slatkin for Chandos, Das Klagende Lied with the San Francisco Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas for BMG,and Das Lied von der Erde with the Minnesota Orchestra for Reference Recordings. Her first solo disc was released on the EMI label.

This season, Ms. DeYoung makes her debut at the Basel Opera as Amneris in Aïda, sings Das Lied von der Erde with the Met Orchestra and Oedipus Rex with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, both conducted by James Levine, and appears in performances of Bluebeard's Castle with Esa-Pekka Salonnen and the New York Philharmonic.

--biography from the artist's website, March, 2011 

© 2000 Bruce Duffie

This interview was held in a conference room backstage in the pavillion at the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park, IL, on July 27, 2000.  Portions were used (along with recordings) on WNIB in January, 2001.  The transcription was made in 2010, and posted on this website in 2011.

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.

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.