How did you discover opera?
My parents are music lovers and in our household we were always singing and collecting LPs. I started listening to operas that my father gave me, and the combination of drama and beauty just took my breath away. I just thought, “I want to do this” and I never doubted I would, not knowing then how much work this career involves! So somehow I’ve ended up here and I’m very happy.
Gun-Brit Barkmin. Photo © Florian Kalotay
Were you inspired by particular singers?
Of course I loved Maria Callas. No soprano can escape her, she is a legend. I also admired singers like Lili Lehman, who was actually a teacher of my first teacher, and of course Kirsten Flagstad and Birgit Nilsson. How these singers treated the language and their technique – they all share a sense of discipline that I really appreciate.
You made your Australian debut with West Australian Symphony Orchestra’s concert performance of Tristan und Isolde, stepping in at very late notice. How was that experience?
It was stressful, in a word. Very stressful! Obviously I’m not a coward [laughs]. You have to know I hadn’t sung Isolde before that concert for two whole years. I did a series of performances in 2016 but hadn’t touched it since then. But then this opportunity appeared and I thought okay, it’s Asher [Fisch, Principal Conductor]. We’ve never worked together but I’ve heard only good so I said okay. It was such a wonderful experience thanks to the orchestra and my colleagues. Asher knows everything about the music, he brings this kind of intellectual light to it which is kind of a miracle. He takes away all this cliché of heaviness and gives you the feeling that it is easy. And this made it wonderful.
You’re returning to WASO to sing a highly challenging recital of Beethoven, Strauss and Wagner. Whose idea was it?
It was Asher’s idea, I must say! I was kind of overwhelmed when I saw the program but he obviously trusts me so I can’t disappoint him. It’s the first time that I will sing from Beethoven’s Leonora, this very classical style, followed by Strauss’ Four Last Songs which is very different again. We have a break, do some Wagner, and we end with Salome! Again, I’m obviously not a coward [laughs]. It will be a fun challenge to explore all these different styles.
Are there any roles you’ve got your eye on?
Last year I sang my first Brünnhilde in Hong Kong. That was in Götterdämmerung so I’d like to go back and sing the operas in order. You can never sing enough Wagner because you never stop learning and getting rewarded.
West Australian Symphony Orchestra’s An Evening with Gun-Brit Barkmin is at Perth Concert Hall, August 23 and 25