Five Questions with soprano, Ariadne Greif

 PHOTO: CAROLINE MARIKO STUCKY

PHOTO: CAROLINE MARIKO STUCKY

ARIADNE GREIF, praised for her "luminous, expressive voice" (NYTimes), her "elastic and round high notes" (classiqueinfo), and her "mesmerizing stage presence" (East Anglian Daily Times), is Alterity.co's featured soloist for Abandon Waiting on March 22, 2018.

In this Interview, Esteban Meneses asks Ariadne five questions about the upcoming concert, her time in Orlando, and her approach to contemporary works. 

E. How did you first make contact with Alterity about the possibility of collaborating?  

A. Chris Belt and I met more than five years ago in New York at a concert with the ensemble Contemporaneous—I think it was an oratorio about Moby Dick! I met Natalie Grata in 2016 during the Orlando Philharmonic’s Magic Flute, I believe, and we have been sending each other cat videos on Instagram ever since! The last time I was in Orlando, for Elixir of Love, they told me they were poised to launch Alterity and asked me if I would be interested, and I think I responded yes before they had even finished the question! 

E. Have you performed “The Pieces that Fall to Earth” before? 

A. Never! I had heard it before, and I know Chris Cerrone a little bit socially. He sent me another absolutely gorgeous song cycle several years ago, and I have been thinking about singing it ever since but have never actually performed any of his other vocal music.

E. Cerrone describes Kay Ryan’s poetry as “a kind of monodrama, where the work becomes more and more personal as the piece proceeds.” It seems very open-ended or ambiguous at first, opening with “One could almost wish they wouldn't; they are so far apart, so random. One cannot wait, cannot abandon waiting…” How do you think the form and meaning of the poetry come together for you, as a performer who has the power to interpret the poetry? How does it come together, while serving the music, to a more concrete climax in the end, if that is the case?

E. This poetry is totally fabulous; I didn’t know about Kay Ryan before this. I think in this case the musical interpretations Chris has made solidify the level of personal emotional involvement in the text about ten notches higher than I would have dared to take if I were an actress performing the words by themselves! That is so satisfying! It is the whole reason we come to music. There is a lot of extreme, upset screaming in this piece; I think was brave for Chris to have written both for emotional and practical reasons. He is so clear with emotions that I almost think the piece requires zero extramusical interpretation. That being said, art is autobiographical for everyone involved, in this case, performers, composers, and audience, and although I know how the piece feels to me, I am very interested to hear him talk about it!

E. What has been the most challenging part of learning this piece so far? 

A. Chris wrote this for the soprano Hila Plitmann; we have an immense overlap in repertoire, but we have profoundly different voices on every level from size and range to color! Some small things Chris asks for technically are perfect for her, but run the risk of sounding contrived or difficult in my voice. I have a million of my own alternative assets to bring to the table, so I’ve been working on ways to obey the spirit and the letter of the piece, but as myself in my most fabulous form! I talked it over with Chris months ago and I am excited to see what he likes and what he hates!

E. We’ve seen you perform in Orlando in operas like Elixir of Love and The Magic Flute. You are also known for your interest in new operas and contemporary pieces, like Cerrone’s. How do you approach the performance of new music, especially when specific performance practices might not yet have been established? Does it help when you have access to a composer who is still alive?    

A. Working with a living composer is absolutely the best! I cannot recommend it more. You can ask all of your questions, you can work together to make a piece fit you better idiomatically (especially if it is being written for you), you can know definitively when you are taking too much liberty or not enough with the spirit of the piece. I am singing my first Pierrot Lunaire next month, and I wish I could shake ol’ Arnie and make him tell me all the answers to my questions! As for performance, I do have an agenda, which is that I want people to have a chance to get the same emotional fulfillment from contemporary music that they do from the old music and the non-classical music they love. I feel like there are so many under-funded and therefore underrehearsed, under-practiced, under-cared-for performances of contemporary music, and great musicians do their best under the circumstances but give disastrous or mediocre or simply wooden performances of fabulous music. Performers and audience members alike see this a few times and feel that they’ve accurately confirmed that they dislike the genre. On a specific topic, I hate gratuitously syllabic singing and find it can often suck all the pleasure and understanding out of a piece. Many singers are taught by their voice teachers in school to avoid all contemporary music for a variety of pseudoscientific reasons, but it turns out that contemporary music is a part of every modern career! I think that this lack of experience makes singers fearful later, when they are confronted by a new piece, and often I feel they don’t know they could practice a piece just a little differently to feel liberated from counting beats and panicking. It certainly doesn’t always happen, but ideally, I would like to have the same freedom, speech-like text delivery, and emotional connection in all classical and contemporary music that I would in a cabaret show! So I do notice that my default approach is to try to sing any piece I get with almost reactionary lyricism and as much emotional connection as possible, to a fault, unless the composer explicitly asks me to be dispassionate.

For more information on Ariadne, please visit her site http://www.ariadnegreifsoprano.com/