On Thursday 8 February, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra will be joined by British soprano Jennifer France for a performance of Richard Strauss' Six Songs After Poems by Brentano in Southbank Centre's Royal Festival Hall. We asked France a few questions about the piece and the key influences that have shaped her as a musician. Read on to find out what she had to say...
Can you tell our audience about the German Lieder tradition and where it came from for those who might be new to it?
The German lied is a Western classical music tradition and is a term for setting poetry, often centred around pastoral themes or romantic love, to classical music. The earliest Lieder date from the 14th or 15th century, but it has now become synonymous with settings of romantic poetry of the late 18th, 19th and 20th centuries by composers such as Mozart, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Wolf and of course, Richard Strauss who wrote the beautiful songs we will perform in this concert.
© Nick Cutts
Which among the Six Songs after Brentano by Richard Strauss do you enjoy the most?
I have never sung the whole set of the Brentano Lieder together before (very few people have!), so I am enjoying the challenge. I first learnt and became fascinated by these songs when still an undergraduate at RNCM (Royal Northern College of Music). It was at this time I discovered my love of Strauss and realised I was developing into a lyric coloratura soprano. To help develop the flexibility in my voice, my teacher at the time, Sandra Dugdale, gave me the song “Amor” to learn. It is the 5th song in this cycle and my very favourite to sing. It is a real showpiece, filled with vocal flourishes and fireworks, but it also tells a charming story about the naughty Cupid who burns his wings when he plays too close to the fire.
© Clive Barda
What advice would you give to an aspiring singer?
It is no surprise to hear that starting a career in the classical singing world has never been more challenging. With a lack of funding available and music in schools not being a priority, we are facing a difficult time. However, this job is about passion.
The biggest piece of advice I can give to any aspiring singer is, if this is truly your passion in life, do everything you can to hone your craft. Work on your technique, study your languages, develop your communication skills through singing and always try and love what you are doing. As I am a mother to a toddler and very nearly another little girl, I would also encourage singers to realise that it’s important to have a good work/life balance. It is easy to let this job become all-encompassing, but never forget your family and friends at home too as these relationships can actually inform and help your singing to develop.
© Catherine Ashmore
Who have been your greatest influences growing up?
Growing up, I was not from a classical music-loving family, nor did either of my parents play any instruments. My Dad was and is however a huge music fan and I was brought up listening to the Beatles and Bob Dylan. Next came a huge love of musical theatre! I actually went to a performing arts school with the goal of performing on the West End. It wasn’t until I was about 18 and decided to apply to music college that I really discovered opera, but as soon as I did I was hooked.
This is music that has the power to move you and transport you to an entirely different place and that is so powerful. When I found my voice and discovered I was a coloratura soprano, I was hugely inspired and influenced by other coloratura singers including Edita Gruberova and Diana Damrau, both of whom have recorded the whole Brentano Lieder. I hope to use these wonderful singers as inspiration for this concert and do justice to the stunning text and music by Brentano and Strauss. It’s going to be a real pleasure to sing these songs with the incredible RPO for the first time, under the expert guidance of Vasily Petrenko.
You can watch Jennifer France perform with the Orchestra in our Icons Rediscovered: Rachmaninov’s Symphony No.2 concert on Thursday 8 February at Southbank Centre's Royal Festival Hall. For more information and to purchase tickets, click here.