Living life with Richard Strauss (Cologne 2011)

Extract from Interview with Anne Schwanewilms in Concert programme

‘Der Schone Sang’ in the Wallrafplatz Radio House, Cologne, February 2011. Interviewer, Sabine Jager.


You were born and grew up in Gelsenkirchen. The Ruhr is not exactly an area where you would be spoilt for art and culture. How did you come by music?

Through the Church. For thirteen or fourteen years I was a member of the Church choir. My father had rebuilt the choir after the war, and was himself a member, together with my uncle and my grandfather. The Schwanewilmses were always known in the community for their powerful voices.

Were you happy when you realised you had the talent to become a singer?

I wanted to study landscape gardening, and in between came a place to study veterinary medicine. But somehow I thought that there was something else in me, and  that I should try to discover what that something was.

A few years ago you were more focussed on the Wagner repertory, and then you discovered your love of Richard Strauss. How far was the journey between one and the other?

Not very far (…) Elsa, Sieglinde and Leonore (Fidelio) all suited me well, but through them I had jumped up three levels, both professionally and psychologically, and  there was always a lyrical Fach that I still wanted to look for (…)  I knew I had to find  a softer sound, and not just a Wagner sound.

What attracts you to the female characters  in Strauss’s operas?

First, I wanted to make the most of my real lyrical talent, which is to sing in long, high arcs – the longer the better. The spinto voice in Strauss is set out in enormous lyrical arcs, which is tremendous for me. I wanted to put the Wagner roles a bit in the background of my biography.

Will you go back to the heavier roles again in the future?

I must comply with what my voice tells me. I’m not the type to ignore that. I’m also fairly genial, want to have fun, even on stage, want to enjoy myself and if possible to understand how to shape also in the dynamic sphere. If my voice grows with the years and I can practice the higher pressure required for the dramatic roles, then I certainly wouldn’t say no.

So far you have sung all the roles that you wanted to sing. Do you have a good sense of  what is within your reach?

No. I take small steps. I always look around me, to make sure that everything else is in place, that I’m happy and am having a good life. Then, and only then, can I also sing well. If you plan in great strides, you often overlook the smaller steps that perhaps you should have taken.

You are one of the world’s best opera singers. You sing in all the biggest opera houses. And yet it seems as if you have never lost your grip on the road. How have you managed that?

Those small steps! Just taking small steps, seeing good fortune left and right. Seeing the joy in my profession, which can sometimes be hidden by stress and by the expectations that I have of myself and that others have of me. But after that: getting on with my life!