Soprano  Kari  Lövaas

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


The Norwegian soprano, Kari Lövaas, born May 13, 1939, began at 16 piano and singing studies at the Conservatory of Oslo. She was promoted in her career by soprano Kirsten Flagstad, and made her debut in 1959 at the Opera of Oslo as Nuri in Tiefland by Eugen d'Albert. Following that she was very successful there as Pamina, and then received a scholarship from the Norwegian state for two years to study at the Wiener Musikakademie.

In 1964 Kari Lövaas was engaged at the Opernhaus of Dortmund; in 1965-1966 she sang at the Stadttheater of Mainz. She had an international concert and guest performance career. In 1969 she sang at the Salzburg Festival Marianne Leitmetzerin in Der Rosenkavalier; in 1970 Barbarina in Le nozze di Figaro; on August 20, 1973 in the world premiere of Carl Orff's De temporum fine comoedia. In 1973, she sang at the Münchner Festwochen the soprano solo in Petite Messe solennelle by Rossini. In 1973, she embarked on an extensive Australian tour. She has performed in concerts in New York and Washington and at the Lucerne Festival. In 1976 she toured Japan and performed in the same year at the Staatsoper Berlin. In 1973 she sang her first Wagner role at the Opernhaus of Zürich Sieglinde in Die Walküre. On stage, she had her greatest successes in the lyrical vocal category; in the concert hall in a variety of parts, primarily as a Lieder interpreter. After her marriage to Manfred Gerber, she also appeared under the name Lövaas-Gerber.

Recordings: DGG (De temporum fine comoedia, Lieder), Berlin Classics (War Requiem of Benjamin Britten), HMV-Electrola (Orpheus in der Unterwelt by Offenbach, Boccaccio by Suppe, Die Opernprobe by Lortzing, Der Rose Pilgerfahrt by R. Schumann), Phillips (La fedeltà premiata and La vera costanza by Haydn, and Betulia liberata by Mozart), Obligat (C minor Mass by Mozart), Orfeo (Peer Gynt by W.Egk, Die Feen by Richard Wagner).

In February of 1996, Lövaas was in Chicago to perform Songs of a Wayfarer by Mahler with the Chicago Sinfonietta at Orchestra Hall and at Rosary College in River Forest under the direction of Paul Freeman.  While setting up, we chatted briefly about the special needs of a singer who goes around the world to perform . . . . . . .

Bruce Duffie:    We were talking about the need for a humidifier...

Kari Lövaas:    Yes.

BD:    Is the climate and the change of climate from city to country to continent a major problem that singers have to deal with?

lovaas KL:    Yes I think so, because of the time changing, also.  I have to struggle with jet lag.  I wake up at three o’clock at night and sleep a little bit again, and especially the air conditioning is something very, very bad because it dries out the throat and the nose and everything.

BD:    What about in the concert halls?  You go from, perhaps a comfortable place in your room and then out to a concert hall which may be dry.  Is there any hope for that?

KL:    [Sighs]  I always try to sing the same way.  You can’t use force and you shouldn’t go back, so I try to be very normal.  All concert halls are different.  Some of them are very good, and I think the concert hall here is very good, but I don’t know since this is the first time for me.  But it is necessary just to sing with your own voice.

BD:    Do you adjust your technique at all for the size of the house
a very small house or a very large house?

KL:    You can feel that.  When you start to sing, you can feel it.  I have to give a little bit more and a little bit less.  One knows this if you have sung so long as I have!  [Laughs]

BD:    You bring all of your experience into play!

KL:    Yes, yes.

BD:    Is it comforting to be an experienced singer?

KL:    Well, yes.  I’m always a little bit curious about everything.  I think it’s good to be that.

BD:    Do you expect your audiences to be curious about the music?

KL:    Yes, I hope so.  Every singer is singing the same thing in another way.  I’m singing the Songs of a Wayfarer.  I’m not a man, and I’m singing the high versions, so that’s not been done so very often.  Maybe the audiences are a little bit curious to hear how I can do that!

BD:    How do you decide which repertoire you are going to sing and which repertoire you will leave aside?

KL:    When you are a young singer you have to try everything.

BD:    [With a gentle nudge]  Everything???

KL:    [Smiles]  No, not everything.  If you have a Wagnerian voice you know what you are going to do, and if you have a little voice it is the same idea.  But I’m a little bit between.

BD:    So then you have to try everything.  [Both laugh] 

KL:    I had to.  Many things were not good and many things were very good.  So I have sung a lot.  I have a big repertoire.  I tried even Sieglinde.  It was a great experience.  It was very good.  It is very good sometimes to go so far as you can without hurting yourself.  That must be so you can sing the next day.  I think you should always be able to sing Mozart the next day.

BD:    So that’s the test.

KL:    Yeah.  [Laughs]  Absolutely!

BD:    How do you divide your career between the concert hall and the opera house?

KL:    I started with opera when I was nineteen years old at the opening of the Norwegian State Opera in Oslo.  Kirsten Flagstad picked me from the chorus and said, “I’d like you to sing in Tiefland.”  That was also her first role, Nuri in Tiefland.  So we opened with that, and I was Nuri at nineteen years.  Then I sang Pamina and I started to go to Vienna to study more.  In Germany I sang a lot of opera.  Now I have a family.  I have a daughter and I’m still married with the same man.

BD:    Congratulations!

KL:    Thank you!  Then I started to do many concerts, more than opera.  I don’t like the stage director.  There are so many funny things you have to do these days, so it’s very comfortable to sing concerts.  I can do what I want to, if the conductor has the same opinion.

BD:    Do you seek out conductors who share your opinions?

KL:    No.  I never know that beforehand.  You come and say, “I’d like to do it that way.”  You show him, and usually it works.  I’ve had no problem.  Never.

BD:    You don’t find some conductors these days
who shall remain namelessgoing off on a limb or going out in the wrong direction?

KL:    No, no, I don’t think so.  The good conductors don’t do that.

BD:    You’ve been lucky!  [Both laugh]

KL:    Well, maybe.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Let’s talk a little bit about opera, and then we’ll come back to the concerts.  When you are involved in an opera, your voice dictates the roles you will sing.  Do you like the characters that are attached to those roles?

KL:    Oh, yes, for sure.  I have sung Tatiana, Mimì, Amina and Elvira, and I think it’s very good to go into another person, to try to be another person.  It is like the actors, and you have the music also.  For us it’s more easy than for the actors because we have the music.  The music says, really, everything you have to do, and also text, of course.

BD:    But you still have to bring something of yourself, do you not?

KL:    Oh, yes, yes, of course, and I like that very much.


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BD:    Are there any of the characters that you have sung that are, perhaps, too close to the real Kari Lövaas?

KL:    Maybe...  I don’t know.  People look at me and say, “You have to sing the very nice and the very good, things.”  But sometimes people ask me to sing something very special.  In Bohème, for instance, I sang Mimì and I sang also Musetta with the same cast the day after.  That was a quite new experience.  I like to do roles which are not like me.

BD:    Is that good therapy?

KL:    Yes, true.  We try to find out about this.  [Laughs]  Yes.

lovaas BD:    When you were singing the second part in Bohème, did you find yourself slipping into the wrong line in the ensembles?

KL:    No, no, no.  I did it my way, so thank God it didn’t happen.  [Laughs]  No, no.

BD:    Do you have more sympathy for the other character when you are singing the one character?  For instance, if you are singing Mimì, do you have more sympathy for Musetta?  Or when you are singing Musetta, do you have more sympathy for Mimì?

KL:     That’s an interesting question.  Yes.  Yes, it’s another thing then.  That was very interesting.  It was very good for both of the roles, I think.  Yes.

BD:    When you were singing Musetta, did the former Musetta sing Mimì?

KL:    No, no.

BD:    So you did not just flip the roles?

KL:    No, it was just me.

BD:    Have you sung more than one role in some of the Mozart operas
— in Don Giovanni, for instance?

KL:    Yes.  I sang Zerlina first, and then Elvira but never Donna Anna.

BD:    Why not?

KL:    I don’t know.  It’s a little bit too high for me.

BD:    Is there a secret to singing Mozart?

KL:    I think the most difficult thing to sing is Mozart — and Bach, of course.  But in the opera it’s because you can’t hide behind something.  You have to be there.  You have to be there in every note and everything.  You can’t play with it.  Mimì you can do a little bit up and down, and make a ritardando and all of this.  But Mozart is very strict.  If you can sing Mozart, you can really sing.

BD:    You don’t find Mozart confining, though, do you?

KL:    No, but you have to do the notes — every one!  You can’t cut off any of them.

BD:    But I would think that Puccini would also say, “Sing my notes.”

KL:    Yes, but it’s another thing.  You always have to have a clear head when you sing Mozart.  If you sing Puccini, you can have the feeling of everything; you can just let it go.  But that’s very, very dangerous for Mozart because of the end of all of the arias for everybody
soprano, bass, or everybody.  It’s very hard to sing it, so you have to have the control.

BD:    But you always come back to singing Mozart?

KL:    Yes.  I think it’s a test.  I should.  Every singer should do that.

lovaas BD:    When you are singing opera — Mozart or anyone elsehow much is the music and how much is the drama?

KL:    I think it should be 50-50.  It must be 50-50, and then it’s 100 percent.  But the text is very important for me.  I am singing a lot of lieder recitals, and then you can’t just bring just the music.  You have to know what you are singing about.  If it’s songs or if it’s opera, you always have to know what you are singing about.  Then, of course, you give your own personality to it.  That’s a most important thing
— how much you have or how little you have, but give that.

BD:    Do you like giving lieder recitals?

KL:    Oh, yes.  Then I can really do what I want to do!  [Both laugh]  The pianist has to do what I will.  So yes, I like that, very much.

BD:    When you are selecting repertoire for lieder recitals, do you go mostly to the poetry and find the texts that you want?

KL:    Sometimes I do that because the text is very important in a lieder recital.  You have to mix it and you have to make a whole program of twenty or twenty-five songs.  So it should be a little bit of that and a little bit of that, not only drama and not only lyric and not only funny things.  So yes, you have to look at the text.

BD:    So it’s a whole menu?

KL:    Mm-hm, the whole menu.  Every song is a whole opera, isn’t it?  You have to change all the time.

BD:    Does it ever become too much to change, change, change all night?

KL:    If you sing Hugo Wolf, for example, Italienisches Liederbuch, in every little song there is really a life story.  So if you don’t know how to bring that, you shouldn’t sing it.

BD:    How does one learn that?

KL:    I think you can’t.  That is really something you have gotten from God or nature or tradition.  I don’t know, but I don’t think you can learn to sing a song.  You can say, “Here is the piano and here is the forte, and here is the sad and here you should be a little bit more funny,” or all these things.  Then you have to feel it, and you can’t tell people how to feel or how you should feel that.  I don’t think so.  You have to have it inside of yourself, and find out how much or how little.  I like to do that, to experiment a little bit.

BD:    Do you find that your choices of how much and how little change over the years?

KL:    Oh yes, of course!  Songs I sang when I was twenty years old were quite good, but it was just like there’s this word and this word after.  Then you have a long life behind you and things happen.  So you put it into your songs and into your interpretation.

BD:    Can you do the same thing with operatic roles to learn and make them deeper?

KL:    Oh yes, sure.  If you sing the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro at twenty-five, you will sing it at forty in another way, I am sure.

BD:    Having your own family and your own child, I assume, alters that?

KL:    Yes!  And experience and everything, yes.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    A number of the characters that you sing are victimized in the story.  Is it easier or harder these days to bring the story of the victim to audiences in the 1990s?

lovaas KL:    Yea, I think that.  When I started in my young years as a singer, the people were coming to the theater and were sitting there listening and looking.  Now you have to do so much other things!  Directors seem to feel it shouldn’t be real, it shouldn’t be natural, it shouldn’t be something very special.  If you sing a high C, you should stand on your head, or I don’t know what.  It’s a little bit hard to do things like that!  Also, the picture on the stage doesn’t take place in that century given by the composer.  You can’t play Wagner like Wagner did because we are developing, but I think it’s going a little bit too much the other way.  So it’s hard!  For the young singers today, playing opera is very hard because they have the same feeling that we had, but they have to do other things to make the people understand.  The people want some spectacle.

BD:    So you’re competing, then, with film and with television?

KL:    I think that, yes.  Television is not always a very good thing.

BD:    Speaking of the tube, does opera work on television?

KL:    No, not really because you can’t feel it.  How shall I say that?  It’s no atmosphere.  I think you need to be nearer to the singers and the whole thing.  I don’t like to look at opera through the television.  I did some myself, but they were specially made for it.  If it’s specially made for television, it’s better.  When I take it from the stage, I don’t think it’s so good.

BD:    It’s not good to mix the media?

KL:    No, no.

BD:    You’ve made a number of recordings.  Are you pleased with the recordings that you have made?

KL:    I never listen to them!  [Both laugh]  Because when I listen, I say, “Why didn’t you do that and that, and that could be much better.”  Well, some of them are quite good, I think.  Some of them are quite good, yes.

BD:    Do you sing differently for the microphone than you do for the live audience?

KL:    Yes.  It’s a very hard thing to make records and to be on radio because you are alone.  You have no public, so I always feel like being in a little box.  I have to put all of this feeling into that, and do the most I can do.  Maybe, sometimes you overdo it because you have the feeling that I have to do more because nobody’s there!

BD:    So if you had an audience to feed off, you would feel more relaxed?

KL:    Yes, sure.

BD:    You can’t pretend there’s an audience out there?

KL:    No.  I tried to put this into the songs and the music, but you do it and it’s really something.

BD:    Singing to the engineers!

KL:    Yes, if they are nice, and a lot of them are nice; most are very nice.

lovaas BD:    Have you done some teaching of singing?

KL:    Yes, and I am still doing that.  That’s a very interesting thing.  Every person is different, so every person has his own difficulties.  You can’t just say, “Now we do this and this, and now you do this and this.”  You really have to go into the person and listen and feel and hear because you can’t see anything.  I wouldn’t say that teaching piano is easier, but you can see the fingers and see how they are doing.  But these two vocal cords in here [points to her own throat] you can’t see.  You have to watch the whole body.  I think it’s very interesting, and I am happy to do that.

BD:    Are you pleased with the sounds you hear coming out of your students’ throats?

KL:    Sometimes.  [Both laugh]  Not always!  Like myself, we have to work hard, and I am a very hard worker.  They know that.

BD:    What general advice do you have for young singers coming along?

KL:    I don’t know how it is in America, but in Europe they forgot to tell the young people about the breath.  The breath is doing everything.  I am speaking now, and I am saying everything with the breath.  If you just sing, vocalize up and down and forget the breath, you never could be a good singer.  It’s the most important thing, and it’s a most important thing to tell
— just take the breath naturally.  Of course the singer has to do some more intense things, but it should be done naturally.  I also think the way you sing should be natural — not try to be Schwarzkopf or Siegfried or all of the great singers.  Do the things you want to do yourself, and do it with your own breath.  Then it will be right.

BD:    Without naming any names, are we getting singers today who are on the same level as the great singers of yesterday?

KL:    Oh yes, I think so.  Oh, there are many of them.  Oh sure, but we don’t have so many big voices anymore such as the Wagnerian singers like Flagstad and Nilsson, and also the big tenors like Melchior.  They have disappeared.  Maybe they are singing these hard works too early.  That could also be.  You can sing one day in New York and in Chicago tomorrow, and next day you can fly to Copenhagen and sing there.  That’s not good for the voice and for the body.  Really, our instrument is in the body, so that’s a problem.

BD:    Is it possible to get the young singers today to restrain themselves and go a little slower?

KL:    If you start a career and everybody is saying, “You are the great singer,” and the next day you can sing in Munich and everywhere, it’s very hard to stop them.  Some of them are clever, though.

BD:    But you need to instill in them the idea of a long career.

KL:    You never know how long a career can be.  It is because of the body.  You can have an illness, and you can be mentally not so good.  That’s very important, to be mentally good in there, to be positive.  Try to be positive in any situation.

BD:    Do you ever wish you could take the voice out of the body and put away like a violin in a case?

KL:    Yes, and buy some new strings sometimes.  [Both laugh]  That would be fine.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Have you sung some new music, also?

KL:    Yes, a lot.  The most interesting thing I sang was Schoenberg’s Second String Quartet.  The two last movements include a soprano.  It’s very, very, very difficult to sing, but that was maybe the most interesting thing I did because I was the fifth instrument.

lovaas BD:    Did Schoenberg treat you like an instrument, or did he treat you like a voice?

KL:    You have to be the fifth instrument, because it’s so difficult.  The meter is 16ths and 32nds and 64ths, so you can’t do any rubato.  It must be with the four other instruments.  The text is very heavy, also but that helped me a lot to get into this music.  It was great.

BD:    Of course, believe it or not, the Schoenberg is not particularly new work.

KL:    I know, but I never sang another work which I had to treat my voice like that, so I couldn’t sing Mozart the next day.  Sometimes they write music from low C to high C and you need to put the text into it.  If you can’t mix the music with the text, I think it’s no use.  I know singers especially dread that.

BD:    Is this the advice you have for composers
to write more for the voice so they begin to understand it?

KL:    Yes.  Absolutely they should know more about singers.  [Laughs]

BD:    Should they take some voice lessons?

KL:    Why not?  The very good conductors do that.

BD:    Conductors or composers?

KL:    Conductors, yes.

BD:    Conductors have studied voice???

KL:    Yes.  They know what we are doing and what we can do.  It’s very important.

BD:    Is it important for the audience to know and understand the technical difficulties of the voice, or should they just get the music?

KL:    Oh, no, no, they shouldn’t know anything about that!  [Laughs]  That would be terrible!  “Oh no, the piano is coming, and how did she do that?”   No, they shouldn’t know anything about the difficulties.  They should just come in and sit there and relax, hopefully, and enjoy the music.

BD:    In the music that you sing, how much is art and how much is entertainment?

KL:    That should go also a little bit hand-in-hand.  That’s important, yes.  Sometimes you have a very good audience and I have the feeling I could play with them a little bit.  I get something from them also, so that’s very nice.

BD:    Do you find that more with a lieder audience than, say, and opera audience?

KL:    Yes sure, because in the opera you are busy with all of the colleagues and other singers, and have to do a lot of things.  But if you sing songs, you have to do everything yourself.  Then you can try to speak to the public, sing to the public.

BD:    Let me ask the big question.  What’s the purpose of music?

KL:    Oh, my God!  I think it should be to make the people happy.  That’s our work and we should try to do it like that.  Then the people will be happy with the music, and I think it’s that.  Music has a lot of things to give, including happiness.

BD:    You are from Norway.  Do you make a special effort to sing Norwegian pieces?

lovaas KL:    Oh yes.  On a recital I always have a Grieg or some Scandinavian things in Norwegian or in Swedish.

BD:    There seems to always be a closeness between Norway and Sweden.

KL:    They’re nearly the same language.  We understand each other.  Also the Danish people.  Yes, nearly the same language, like dialects.

BD:    I see, so in Scandinavia there really is a family relationship?

KL:    Yes, yes.  The trio, not the Finnish, because nobody understands Finnish.  [Laughs]  It’s a wonderful language, but you can’t just pick it up.  You have to learn it.  It is quite another thing.

BD:    Is singing fun?

KL:    Yes.  If it wouldn’t be fun, I wouldn’t do it!  [Laughs]  Oh, yes.  It’s hard sometimes, of course, but when I am on the stage, I really have fun.  Sometimes I am nervous, but I think that is normal.

BD:    Do you like being booked one or two or three years in advance?

KL:    No.

BD:    Why not?

KL:    I don’t know how well we can do it, then.  Nobody knows, but you have to be booked at least one year or two years ahead.

BD:    Here you are singing Songs of the Wayfarer of Mahler.  Did Mahler really understand the voice?

KL:    Yes, I think so.  With Mahler, the text is also very, very, very important
especially in these songs, of course, but in other songs also.  In these songs, the text and the music are so close together, so it opens your heart.  I always say it brings a little tear.  When he goes from one to another note, suddenly it’s gone directly to your heart with a little tear.  He had a very difficult life.  These are not very happy songs, but still lovely to sing.

BD:    So you try to bring the tear, then, to the hearts of the audience?

KL:    I’ll try.  I hope I can!

BD:    Are there other composers besides Mahler who can do the same thing?

KL:    Oh, yes; Strauss, I think.  There are so many good ones.  I love to sing Hugo Wolf because this is absolutely where word and music is one thing.  You can’t take just the text, and you can’t take just the music.  You can do that with Schubert, but not with Hugo Wolf.  I like that very much.

BD:    Have you been able to sing all of the roles in all of the songs that you’ve wanted to so far in your career, or are there some that you wanted to but never had the opportunity?

KL:    There’s one I really would like to sing, but I think it’s too late now, and that is the Marschallin in Rosenkavalier.  I would have loved to have done that.

BD:    Did you ever sing Sophie?

KL:    No... Yes!  I sang it in the opera school, but it was never in my professional career.  But I have sung such a lot of wonderful music and roles, so I think I can be satisfied with all of these things.  I am very happy about all of the things that I have done.

BD:    You’ve had a wonderful career so far; I hope it continues for a long time.

KL:    Well, we’ll see.  If I’m healthy and lucky.  You need much luck in this profession.

BD:    Thank you for coming to Chicago and bringing your artistry here.

KL:    Thank you so much.  I am glad I’m here


To read my Interview with Kurt Moll, click HERE.

To read my Interview with June Anderson, click HERE.

To read my Interview with Wolfgang Sawallisch, click HERE.


To read my Interview with Hermann Prey, click HERE.

To read my Interview with Gary Bertini, click HERE.



To read my Interview with Anna Tomowa-Sintow, click HERE.

To read my Interview with Peter Schreier, click HERE.



© 1996 Bruce Duffie

This interview was recorded in Chicago on February 22, 1996.  Segments were used (with recordings) on WNIB in 2001.  The transcription was made and posted on this website in 2013.

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.