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Corinne Winters

Soprano Corinne Winters

photo by Fay Fox

“An outstanding actress as well as a singer of extraordinary grace and finesse” (The New York Times), soprano Corinne Winters talks about self-care and favorite rep in our Artist of the Month interview. Corinne will return to NYFOS’s Mainstage series in García Lorca:  Muse and Magician on April 24, 2019.

You are especially known for your performances of Violetta in La traviata, which you have sung in opera houses around the world. How do you keep the role fresh when you return to it? What are the particular challenges of singing such an iconic role, one that is so familiar even to casual fans of opera?

Creating Violetta is like peeling back the layers of an onion. Each production reveals something new, whether it be through my own growth and experience, or through the interpretations of each cast and team. Daring to be flexible in my interpretation keeps the role fresh. There’s nothing worse than seeing a stock performance, especially when it comes to iconic roles more prone to cliché. While I have a deep reverence for the great interpreters of the past, the biggest challenge of performing Violetta is trusting my own interpretation. When I’m working from an authentic place, the vocal and dramatic challenges tend to sort themselves out.

Like many singers, you are very thoughtful about how you take care of your body. What elements of your routine do you feel contribute the most to your health and stamina as a singer?

Sleep is my number one self-care practice. I insist on my eight hours—no exceptions! When I’m rested, everything else is flexible. I eat a mostly vegan diet, which keeps me feeling light and energetic, and I move my body daily. I don’t subscribe to any particular exercise regimen, but my favorites are long walks and yoga. I meditate most days, but any activity that gets me off my devices and into the present moment works. I also vocalize at least five days a week, which, for me, is necessary. The vocal folds are muscles, and like any type of physical training, they need to be in shape before any art can happen.

You’ll be appearing with NYFOS in April 2019 in García Lorca: Muse and Magician, continuing your streak of singing primarily Spanish music with NYFOS. What is it about this repertoire that suits you so well as a performer?

Steve Blier introduced me to this repertoire and I’ve been in love ever since. Romance languages come naturally to me and fit well with my vocal aesthetic. Spanish music, in particular, has a certain uninhibited passion that makes me feel totally alive. I’m lucky to revisit Spanish repertoire twice this season, with NYFOS and the Tucson Desert Song Festival.

You work as a mentor with the organization Turn the Spotlight. What brought you to that organization and what do you tend to focus on with your mentees?

My publicist Beth Stewart is the founder of Turn the Spotlight, and when she shared her vision with me, I was so inspired that I immediately signed on as a mentor. Our mission is to “identify, nurture, and empower leaders—and in turn, to illuminate the path to a more equitable future in the arts.” Turn the Spotlight embodies its mission from the ground up through its mentorship program, which is by and for women, people of color, and other marginalized groups in the arts who are interested in service and social justice. My mentee, soprano Anush Avetisyan, is creating opportunities to perform music from her Armenian heritage. I’m honored to support her in building her career while she simultaneously uses her art to connect with immigrant communities.

When you aren’t making music, what is your favorite way to spend your time?

Doing anything simple and grounding! Reading in coffeeshops, watching Netflix with my husband, connecting with loved ones, cooking, and exploring cities by foot are some of my favorite pastimes.

NYFOS is devoted to ‘song’ and the wide variety of styles that term encompasses. What is special about ‘song’ to you? Is there anything about this particular form that is significant to you?

Unlike opera, which is almost always set to a narrative libretto, song is poetic. I love the challenge of coloring the poetry and using my voice in a delicate, spoken way. In opera, I’m often unable to use extreme colors because of the limitations of a large acoustic. The intimate nature of song brings out the subtlety in my artistry and allows me to connect on a more personal level with the audience.

What is your favorite song? (Qualify your answer to this possibly impossible question as needed.)

My favorite art songs are “Beim Schlafengehen” by Richard Strauss, “Le Spectre de la rose” by Berlioz, and “Maig” by Eduard Toldrà, which is featured on my album with Steve Blier, Canción Amorosa. I also love the songs of Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Rachmaninoff. The Russian repertoire speaks to my soul! My taste in pop music has changed a lot over the years, but songs by The Beatles, Joni Mitchell, and Amy Winehouse consistently rank among my faves.

Eduardo Toldrà: Maig

This week I’d like to focus on some of the singers I’ve accompanied over the years. A collaborative pianist—the word “accompanist” is out of vogue these days, thank God (I don’t play the “accompano”)—can only realize his/her musical vision in tandem with like-minded vocalists. We are always seeking that magical moment when our hands and the singer’s breath become one entity. I’ve been blessed, especially in my NYFOS partnerships.

So let’s start with a love story: soprano Corinne Winters, whom I first heard when she auditioned for New York City Opera. A recent graduate of AVA in Philadelphia, she sang Manon’s entrance aria “Je suis encore tout étourdie,” and the third-act Bohème aria. Her voice intrigued and puzzled me. It was dark but very free at the top. While she had the lightness to soar up to an easy high E in the Massenet piece, she also demonstrated the rich timbre of a Verdi singer. There was already a fair amount of sound coming out of what seemed like a diminutive body. She had passion, she had control. I was fascinated by all the oppositions colliding in one artist—a kitten soon to grow into a tigress.

I invited Corinne to NYFOS’s Caramoor program that spring, where we’d be doing Spanish songs—Castilian, Catalan, Sephardic, Basque, Galician. I didn’t know how she’d respond to learning a lot of unfamiliar repertoire in all those new languages. I needn’t have worried—she immersed herself in all of them and rapidly became a kind of Iberian polyglot. Corinne went on to make her Santa Fe début singing a role in Mandarin Chinese, which makes singing in Basque look like child’s play. Her standard repertoire includes Desdemona, Fiordiligi (for her upcoming Covent Garden début), Mélisande, Donna Anna, Liù, and her signature role, Violetta, which she has sung all over the world. Check out her website, where you can watch her in action. (Oh my, that Mélisande video…)

Corinne and I developed a strong bond at Caramoor, and I soon had my heart set on making a CD with her. It took a few years, and the path was strewn with crazy challenges, but our recording finally came out (it’s on Roven Records, and you can find it at iTunes). I had originally wanted to call it “August Nights,” a title drawn from one of my favorite poems on the album. But wiser heads prevailed, demanding a straightforward Spanish-language title with an explanatory subtitle in English. It became Canción amorosa: Songs of Spain. Here is one of my favorite songs from the album: Eduardo Toldrà’s “Maig,” a hymn to the beauties of spring—and the preciousness of life itself. It is both a balm and a warning in this volatile period we’re living through.

This is the exquisite poem by Trinitat Catasús, in my translation:

Earth in bloom,
Sea enchanted by the flowering,
Sweetest breath
Of life in exultation.

Crystalline raindrops,
Waters reflecting
Tender children
Laughing with joy.

Deep, reverberating brightness,
Cloud dispersing,
A breeze that wafts
The moisture from the tender green shoots.

Soft buzzing
Of the bees, deep
Silent peace
Of a bountiful hour.

The world rejuvenated,
Love flourishing,
Delicious oblivion
Of silver-edged nights

When the full moon
Of May, silent,
Seems to be telling the flowers
Of an impending misfortune.

Blier’s Blog: “Letters from Spain” / Day 5

DAY 5:  April 26, 2015

I do most of my programming staring at my computer screen. I don’t sit down and play through the show before finalizing my NYFOS concerts. I just…gaze at my Mac…and imagine how it’s all going to work. This method seems to be working for me. The last bunch of shows have been very strong, and these days it seems best to work by instinct.

Still, there is a scary moment of truth at the first run-through when I actually hear the concert in order. D-Day was Friday. And yes, I was surprised—but in a good way. The program order works pretty much as I had predicted, but on an emotional level Letters from Spain packs much more of a punch than I was expecting. For one thing, I hadn’t foreseen how much drama and color Alexey was going to bring to his Shostakovich songs. On the page they look like a delicious appetizer course; in his hands, they are more like dinner at The Four Seasons. I also hadn’t quite absorbed the scope of the Bolcom Canciones de Lorca, super-saturated music done to a turn by Theo Lebow. Let me just state that the boy has cojones. So does Bill Bolcom, who found a way to bring Lorca’s passion and sensitivity blazing into life. Like a lot of Bill’s music, these songs work on so many levels: a brilliant reading of the poems, a multifarious exploration of Spanish musical styles from flamenco to tango to Cuban dance, and a mini-biography of this iconic writer.

cast for April 28th

We were originally going to do this recital without an intermission in New York, but we’ve decided to give the audience a 10-minute breather before Corinne’s exquisite Guastavino songs. Hearing her sing “Se equivocó la paloma,” I remembered why they call this composer “the Schubert of the Pampas.” The two composers share the same kind of elegance and transparency, along with those heartbreaking changes of harmony when melodies repeat.. It takes real mastery to write something so simple and so perfect, and it’s a special treat to hear them sung by such a colorful, warm voice. When the cast sang the encore—another Guastavino tune—I started to tear up. So if you’ll excuse me, I’m going into the other room to have a good cry.

–Steven Blier

Blier’s Blog: “Letters from Spain” / Day 3

DAY 3 April 23, 2015

There are some recipes that require you to mix ingredients in two different bowls and then combine the contents before cooking them. That’s what happened this week: Alexey could work Monday but not Tuesday, Corinne and Theo could work Tuesday but not Monday. Wednesday we poured the two brews together.

Corinne was singing when Alexey tiptoed into my apartment. I didn’t see him come in, but I could tell he’d arrived just by listening to Corinne. She subtly went from “I’m rehearsing” mode to “I’m performing mode,” as if her Guastavino song had put on heels and lipstick when company arrived.

april full ensemble

I thought it would be smart to get to the three trios as soon as possible, because everyone had been spending the lion’s share of their preparation on their solo material. Michael and I plowed into the intro to Lorca’s “Anda, jaleo,” in which Alexey has the first of the three verses. In the spirit of “I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house down,” Alexey let out with a roar that practically knocked me off my chair. In the opera world, size matters; it is the men’s locker room of music. Corinne and Theo have their feet squarely in that world, singing opera all over the world. Exerting exquisite muscular control they kept their eyebrows from hitting the ceiling, and then made their own counteroffer—“No, by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin.” They belted out their verses at the top of their lungs, and we suddenly had a team—and a great one. What a blessing these three singers are, one of the best casts we have ever had at NYFOS (and the bar is high).

For me, yesterday was a huge relief. Tuesday had been a long, long day at the piano, totaling out to about 6 hours of playing—and none of them very beautiful or comfortable. By evening my arm was sore, my spirits were low, my mood was grim. But by some miracle I had not worn myself out to the danger point, and I recovered to have quite a decent day of music-making. There are five spots in the Bolcom that still need repair, but on Sunday there were only five spots that sounded decent at all. Now, that is progress.

–Steven Blier

Blier’s Blog: “Letters from Spain” / Day 1

DAY 1 – April 21, 2015
We’ve had two days of rehearsal on LETTERS FROM SPAIN, a program about which I had some trepidation. No surprises there—I am always freaked out before I start a project, certain that I have miscalculated in some fatal way. So my dominant feeling right now is relief, for two reasons: the music and the cast, reassuringly great in both cases.

It began yesterday when baritone Alexey Lavrov came in for his first rehearsal. He’d auditioned for me about a year ago and I was struck by the aliveness of his singing, his theatrical daring, his burly voice. So I should have been prepared for the tidal wave he unleashed when he sang the Shostakovich Spanish Songs for Michael and me. In his hands these simple folksongs became vivid dramas, filled with more charm, humor, and emotion than I ever imagined possible. This guy is a life force and he sings from the gut. You don’t need to speak Russian to understand what Alexey is saying.

Later on we were working on a song by Antón García Abril set to a Lorca poem. Rather unsure as to whether this was a smart move on my part, I blurted out, “You know…this poem strikes me as very gay.” Silence. “Of course, most of Lorca’s poems seem that way to me.” Michael Barrett started to run interference. “Well,” he said, “that would be your perspective of course…” But Alexey was not fazed. He took a moment and then said, “Oh yes, yes—I see what you mean. Something intense, something private, something forbidden, something you couldn’t say just anywhere, something that you wait for the right moment to share.” The three of us talked about cultural mores in early twentieth century Spain, sharing stuff we’d read. Then Alexey sang the song again, this time with such startling intensity and longing that I literally began to shiver. When Alexey rehearses he likes to sing right at you, turning you into his scene partner. It’s a kind of musical “truth or dare,” and you need to summon your strength to face him down. “More like that?” he asked. “Yes,” Michael and I said. “Exactly like that.”

Lebow, Winters and Blier rehearsing

Today we saw Corinne Winters and Theo Lebow. I’ve worked with both of them before, and I would say there were no surprises…but after the shock of yesterday’s encounter with Alexey I was especially alive to their singing—their tremendous musicianship coupled to an amazing vocal aesthetic. Corinne has to have one of the most opulent voices on the current scene, and it’s a treat to hear her lavish that beautiful sound on Hugo Wolf and Guastavino. Theo is tackling four of Bolcom’s Canciones de Lorca, an insanely brilliant piece of music that has colonized our lives for the last few weeks. It was originally written for tenor and orchestra, and the piano reduction is dauntingly difficult. (The vocal line is pretty demanding too.) But we’re getting our act together, and Theo’s first reading was nothing short of stunning. That boy can wail, and it turns out that he has Latin hips after all—something he let loose in the last song, a salsa in praise of Cuba. I was dead tired and running on fumes as I heard myself say, “Can we just do the Cuba song one more time?”

Blier’s Blog: September 30, 2012

This past summer was not a cornucopia of bliss. Yes, I connected with a lot of extraordinary people over my break from school, and enjoyed my annual fill of local corn, tomatoes, and outdoor chlorine. But I was grappling with what I can only describe as an existential dilemma, a foggy point in my path. Just as I was on the verge of attaining a bit of clarity, there was an unanticipated family tragedy—the sudden death of my beloved sister-in-law Liz, one of the lights of my life. Jim and I devoted August to reminiscence and healing. We’re still working on that. Saying Kaddish at Yom Kippur this year was intense.

Steven Blier and Corinne Winters rehearse.At the end of August, however, there was a true ray of light: we had a visit from Corinne Winters, whom you may remember from the Caramoor Spanish Gold concert in 2011. She came out to Long Island to work on a CD of Spanish songs we’re going to record next May for GPR Recordings (with Glen Roven as producer). We got to do something very few musicians get to do these days: rehearse for a project that is still nine months in the future. What a balm to play Montsalvatge, Toldrá, and Turina while bathed in that beautiful sea air—and without the looming pressure of a performance or the intrusion of a microphone. Corinne is a dream colleague. She has an opulent voice that can shake the rafters, or float, or do both at the same time—over a two-and-a-half octave span. Her voice is amazingly free and colorful, almost a guilty pleasure like Teuscher chocolate. And she is lovely to spend time with, as sweet and generous as they come. I made Corinne sing Montsalvatge’s “Canço amorosa” every day because Tomás Garcés’s poem talks about taking a boat ride at the end of summer: “What happiness at your side/To see the land receding/And to follow in the August nights/The stars that make us dizzy with pleasure.” (I always take an unwritten tempo stretch over that phrase.)

Steven Blier and Corinne Winters on the shore.After the summer’s rocky beginning, I hadn’t expected to be dizzy with pleasure. My goals were less exalted: stabilize, find my compass. Thanks to music and poetry, and one special human voice, I remembered the true joy of life. I am deeply excited about this CD with Corinne Winters, and glad that we still have eight months to follow those August nights, even in the dead of winter.

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