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Boxing Goddess Westbroek Takes on 45-Ton Met Monster: Interview

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Eva-Maria Westbroek
Dutch soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek. Photographer: Andrea Kremper/Royal Opera via Bloomberg

April 21 (Bloomberg) -- Wearing jeans and a hoodie, blond hair tightly tied back, Eva-Maria Westbroek met me backstage at the Metropolitan Opera, where she’d just gotten post-rehearsal notes from conductor James Levine.

“He loves passion, straightforwardness and beauty of tone,” she said. “And I love him.”

Tomorrow night, the Dutch soprano makes her Met debut as sad Sieglinde, who happily runs off with her twin brother in “Die Walkure,” part two of Richard Wagner’s “Ring” cycle.

During rehearsals, Westbroek is learning to maneuver around the moveable 45-ton set that dominates the new production of the cycle by Robert Lepage. The size of the thing didn’t leave much room for action when first seen in “Das Rheingold.”

We spoke in the Met’s press room.

Lundborg: How are you doing on the Machine?

Westbroek: It’s a very big thing and it takes a lot of people and a lot of thinking, but when it works, it’s magical.

Lundborg: Is there a tree and a sword?

Westbroek: The machine looks like a tree.

Lundborg: And the sword comes out of the hole in the machine?

Westbroek: Yes. They’re trying to really be close to the story.

Lundborg: How do the Valkyries fly around?

Westbroek: They have a great entrance. They don’t have real horses, but they look like horses.

Identical Wigs

Lundborg: What are your wig and costume like?

Westbroek: I wear a nice dress but I don’t look modern, and my hair is identical to my brother’s.

Lundborg: Does singing the role with Jonas Kaufmann make it easier?

Westbroek: It’s great to stand next to him and hear this gorgeous voice. This is his first Siegmund, and he’s a real romantic, so it all fits.

Lundborg: Your husband doesn’t get jealous?

Westbroek: He’s also a tenor, so he understands. I just did “Die Walkure” with him, which was wonderful.

Lundborg: You were Anna Nicole Smith in the new opera by Mark-Anthony Turnage. How did you prep for that?

Westbroek: Reality shows and YouTube for months before we started.

There’s something about Anna Nicole that makes people wild. It wasn’t just her looks, but also who she was and what she radiated.

Sex Goddess

Lundborg: Made up, you looked uncannily like her. Did you feel like a sex goddess?

Westbroek: Oh yes, it helps completely. I’m a lot shyer and then you put that blond wig on and it’s like “Woohoo! Bring out the party!”

Especially those tremendous boobs -- I’ve never had more friends in my life!

Lundborg: What does it take to grab an audience?

Westbroek: I think that’s a matter of pure concentration on what you’re doing, not on “Oh, there’s a pin sticking in my head.”

You wear these big costumes, and there are lights, stage people, there are things happening all around you, so you can be easily distracted. But when you have good focus, you can pull people in.

Lundborg: What’s the weirdest production you’ve been in?

Westbroek: God, I’ve been in lots of strange productions. I did Carlotta in “Die Gezeichneten,” which is a very perverse opera.

I ended up in a pool of blood being raped. I had to wear neoprene because I was lying there for so long I would get ill otherwise.

After the Show

Lundborg: What happens after a performance?

Westbroek: This time, I have some people to hang out with.

It’s depressing after you’ve had a big adrenaline rush and a big night to go home alone and stare at the wall.

Lundborg: What do you do in your off hours?

Westbroek: I do a lot of sports, especially boxing. My trainer in London asked if I wanted to try it, and I said, “Why not?”

I can recommend boxing to anyone, especially if you have a stressful job. It gets all your energy out and all your aggressions.

The cardio aspect of it is also amazing since a minute can become very long when you’re hitting a dummy.

Lundborg: What’s on your iPod?

Westbroek: Jamiroquai and lots of Tebaldi.

Lundborg: When asked what it took to sing Isolde, Birgit Nilsson famously said, “Comfortable shoes.” What does it take for you to sing Wagner -- or anything else?

Westbroek: I need joy. And comfortable shoes are not bad.

(Zinta Lundborg is an editor for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own. This interview was adapted from a longer conversation.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Zinta Lundborg at zlundborg@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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