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An Operatic Career With Intermezzos

Music: Angelika Kirchschlager would rather sing duets than get into a rivalry, and raise a family than be a diva.

September 20, 1997|CHRIS PASLES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Austrian mezzo-soprano Angelika Kirchschlager is not as well known in this country as mezzo Cecilia Bartoli, but that could soon change.

A member of the Vienna State Opera, Kirchschlager, 31, has worked with Riccardo Muti, among other conductors, and recently earned high praise for singing Octavian in Strauss' "Der Rosenkavalier" at Seattle Opera in her American opera debut.

Her first CD, a recital of songs by Alma Mahler, Gustav Mahler and Erich Korngold with pianist Helmut Deutsch, is winning critical applause.

Her Metropolitan Opera debut will take place in November when she sings Sesto in Mozart's "La Clemenza di Tito" under the baton of James Levine. And she will have her first Alice Tully Hall recital in the same month.

But Laguna Beach gets her first, on Tuesday, in a recital with pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet under the sponsorship of the Philharmonic Society of Orange County. The buzz on Kirchschlager is out: Every ticket has been snapped up.

Opera fans hoping for a Bartoli-Kirchschlager rivalry on the order of the famous Callas-Tibaldi feud, however, will probably be disappointed. The two are friends, sharing the same New York agent.

"We've never, never had any problems," Kirchschlager said in a silvery voice during a recent phone interview from her Vienna home. "Mezzo-sopranos generally aren't competitive. I know only a very few who have problems with competition. We are much more quiet and peaceful and fun-loving."

Besides, each steers clear of the other's repertory.

"I'm really very much concentrated on German repertory," Kirchschlager said. "I have years to work on the German repertory. I will drop Rossini. I'm still a young mezzo-soprano. I don't have to sing everything. Still, I wish we could sing duets. Yes, [Rossini's] 'Cat' aria, but also in opera. 'Cosi fan Tutte.' She does lots of the soprano roles."

A Salzburg native who has lived in Vienna for 13 years, Angelika Kirchschlager pronounces her name on-GAIL-ica KEERKH-shlogger. She studied first at the Mozarteum and later at the Vienna Music Academy.

"I started [studying] singing very late, already 18," she said. "I didn't know what to do, like many young people of age of 18, but I knew I definitely wanted to do something with music. If I wouldn't have passed the entrance exam, I would have done something else."

*

No one confused her with a soprano. "I always sang the lower voice. There was never a real doubt about it. If you could hear some tapes when I started, I only sang 'Samson,' Carmen, [Massenet's] Cherubin. [Mozart's] Cherubino was impossible."

Cherubino is doable but "much more difficult," she said, than Octavian, for example, "because of the range and because it's so delicate.

"It seems to be so easy, so melodious, so easygoing. But it's not easy. Mozart is always the composer you have to control yourself the most to sing in the right way. You can't cheat. . . . Maria Callas said once, 'Singing Mozart is like walking on eggs.' "

Kirchschlager has made walking on eggs seem effortless lately.

"I was very lucky," she said with a laugh. "I always had fun with singing, and never was it so important to make a career. I never thought about it. Then it started--one thing came after the other, and it came really quickly. I hardly auditioned. I did some competitions, but I never won."

The selection of repertory for her first CD came very slowly.

"It took 1 1/2 years to find it all," she said. "I started with the Alma Mahler songs. I knew them and liked them very much. I decided to build a program around those songs."

The inclusion of Gustav Mahler was also an easy choice. But the decision to include Korngold followed months of careful thought, in which Zemlinsky was also considered.

"It's such Viennese music. . . . Vienna is my favorite city in the world. Maybe this was one of the reasons; it was not a conscious reason. [Those composers] lived in Vienna. You can still see the places and houses and everything, and the whole surroundings where the music was born. There's a spirit you can feel."

*

Kirchschlager met her husband of five years, baritone Hans Peter Kammerer, while they were students at the Vienna Conservatory. He is also a member of the Vienna State Opera. "He travels as well, not as much as I," Kirchschlager said. "We will have to work our careers out somehow."

The couple's 2-year-old son, Felix Octavian, is not named for the Strauss hero. "I'm not such an opera freak, not at all," she said.

"I always wanted to have a child, when I was 22 already. But I was, what is the word?--vernunftig[rational]--enough not to have a baby when I was 22."

Felix is a happy traveler, she said. "When we went to Seattle, it took 20 hours. The planes were late. It was horrible for me. But he didn't cry. He ate, he played, and he slept. He was very, very good."

Raising a child, Kirchschlager says, helps to keep her work in perspective: "When you are a mother, it doesn't make a big difference what you do on a day of a concert," she said. "You have to get up in the morning to prepare food for the baby, go for a walk, go to the playground, do everything I have to do. I hate it if someone says, 'I have to rest my voice.' I have to live my life as a life. If I can't, it would be better not to sing.

"Sometimes you're desperate, though. He wakes up in the middle of the night. He is happy and wants to play. I have a rehearsal with Muti at 10. Sometimes you think, this is not how it should be. But it always works out OK."

* Angelika Kirchschlager will sing in recital Tuesday at 8 p.m. at the Laguna Beach Artists' Theatre, 625 Park Ave. Jean-Yves Thibaudet will be the pianist. The recital, sponsored by the Philharmonic Society of Orange County, is sold out. (714) 553-2422.

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