If a list of engagements on a website is anything to go by, Heidi Melton is coming into her own. Toronto audiences are lucky to be able to see the young soprano at a time when she’s taking on all kinds of wonderful parts around the world.
For Deutsche Oper Berlin, that meant Gutrune and the Third Norn in one Ring Cycle, and Sieglinde, Gutrune, and the Third Norn in the other in 2013-14, with Elsa in Lohengrin for 2014-15, a role she also sang at Badisches Staatstheater Karlsruhe, as well as Didon in Les Troyens, Venus/Elisabeth in Tannhäuser, Ellen Orford in Peter Grimes, as well as revival performances of the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier. But I’m only picking a few things from a much longer bio that went from the Merola program at the San Francisco opera, to the Metropolitan Opera, companies in Europe and America, as well as concerts & recitals, including a recent one for the Jussi Björling Society in Voxna, Sweden (the wonderful people I met while walking through their museum this past June). Next item in that long list of exciting engagements is her upcoming Toronto debut as Sieglinde in the Canadian Opera Company’s Die Walküre that opens January 31st at the Four Seasons Centre.
I asked Heidi Melton ten questions: five about herself and five more about singing Sieglinde.
1-Are you more like your father or your mother?
If I am being perfectly honest- I would say neither! I am not sure who I am like, but if I have to make a guess, I would say that I have always had my family tell me that I favor my grandma, Frances, both physically and personally. Growing up she was my best friend and the person who I looked up to for everything. She began teaching me piano when I was 4, and we would have lessons almost every day after school. If I did particularly well, we would play duets. As I got older and got into singing, she would come to my lessons and accompany me. She always had the best advice, loved baking, giggling, going to movies and didn’t like getting her head wet. She gave the best hugs in the world, loved harmonizing and everything she did, she did fiercely. In my opinion, growing up and now, she was practically perfect in every way. I do not know that I am like her, but perhaps the question should be, who do I aspire to be most like? My answer would definitely be her.
2-What is the best thing or worst thing about being a singer?
Best- The music. The colleagues. The cities. The travel. Meeting amazing people. Trying new and incredible things. Did I mention the music?!
Worst- Figuring out the taxes. The taxes themselves. The travel. The loneliness. Getting sick away from home.
3-Who do you like to listen to or watch?
I like to listen to absolutely everything. Every genre has something to offer – my musical tastes look pretty crazy. I have everything from blue grass to hard core rap to country to rock to pop and dance. I do listen to opera- but I try not to when I am studying that role. As far as watching, I love movies and tv. I love relaxing at the end of the day and watching something. I just finished watching the first season of The Affair. Amazing ideas with storytelling. Just incredible!
4-What ability or skill do you wish you had, that you don’t have?
I was going to go with something deep and serious. And then I thought, no. The ability I want more than anything is teleportation. That way, I would never have to stand in customs lines, be searched because I am wearing an underwire, sit next to coughing people in tight quarters, and I could pack as many fluids as I want.
5-When you’re just relaxing and not working what is your favourite thing to do?
I love talking with my friends and Facetiming with my nieces. I love spa days. Going to movies. Walking around new cities. I love getting organized (when I can) and getting things done. And some days you just need a tv binge in pajamas. If I have a chunk of time free, I may even plan a vacation. This past summer, I took my nieces on a beach vacation for a week. Dolphins were spotted.
Five more about preparing Sieglinde for the upcoming Canadian Opera Production of Die Walküre.
1- Tell us about how you understand the personality & psychology of Sieglinde, a woman who suffers, yet a woman whose ecstatic expressions are among the highlights of the entire Ring cycle.
Sieglinde is one of my absolute favorite characters to sing and act. She is simultaneously one of the most complex and most primal characters in opera. She paradoxically begins the opera very passive and beaten- a result of being kidnapped and forced into marriage at a young age, and then she absolutely explodes into a passionate and vital woman when she realizes that Siegmund is the one who was sent to save her.
It becomes rather tragic then, in the second act when she is on the run from her husband, and she has a complete break down. She has finally discovered love and, because of her clairvoyance (a gift she shares with her half sister, Brünnhilde), she knows that Siegmund will die in battle and be separated from her. Then in the third act, after her visions have been fulfilled and Siegmund is dead, she quickly changes from suicidal dejection to absolute ecstatic rapture when she is told that she is pregnant with her brother’s child, who will become the hero of the world. Sieglinde goes through about every emotion that I can think of in this opera but if I have to say just one word about her (brevity is not my strong suit)- I would say that she is a fighter.
And I love her for it.
2-It may be a cold month in Toronto, but that might keep the focus on Wagner & Walküre. Please talk about the joys of working with this cast on this opera at this point in time.
So far, this has been a complete and utter joy. The company itself is absolutely amazing to work for and I am loving my time in Toronto.
Atom is astounding. He looks at this opera with such fresh and open eyes. He really challenges us to bring new ideas and trust ourselves. He believes in the power of the music in a way that most directors don’t and it makes me giddy. At the same time, he doesn’t have all of the pre-conceived notions that so many directors have about it- he has really found new and unusual takes on this and I am so excited to portray his vision of this story.
Maestro Debus is amazing. He is attacking this for the first time and is so clear and focused on his ideas and what he wants the architecture of the piece to be. He’s also incredibly kind and beautifully collaborative. It’s pretty incredible. I can’t wait to do this with the orchestra!
Clifton is unreal. He has done this role over 100 times and still every time we sing and rehearse it is new and different and fresh. He is incredible and I’m so fortunate to be working with him.
Dimitri is one of the kindest and sweetest colleagues but is absolutely a terrifying Hunding. It’s amazing. He will throw me around and then smile and teach me Russian words. And Christine is just rad. She is down to earth, very funny and sounds like a rock star. She is an incredibly intense and giving actress and also a pretty amazing Friday-night- post-rehearsal buddy.
I’m so fortunate to be in this cast. I pinch myself daily.
3-What’s your favourite moment in this Die Walküre?
I can’t choose! That’s horrible to ask. I have a few! I would have to say, one of my favorites is the end of act one. The whole build up to the pulling the sword out of the tree and the realization of who they are and what they are about to do, and then the orchestral postlude. I really don’t know that there is any sexier music. If I smoked, I would need a cigarette break.
I also love the Todesverkundigung (even though I am always passed out during the entire thing), of course the end of act three and the fire music is amazing, and I would be completely remiss not to mention the “O herrstes wunder” and the redemption theme.
Can I just say the whole thing is my favorite? Because it is.
4- The arts often feel very precarious in this country, spoken of as a luxury even as they starve alongside wealthy sports teams. Please comment on the business and how you observe it unfolding as an artist and as a citizen.
I have just spent quite a bit of time over in Europe and I will say, I love that the arts are considered very important by the government and the citizens. It’s a thing people do from a very early age. It is just part of life. I love that. I believe that we have to fight hard to keep them important. Please note, I didn’t say relevant. No one argues that Rembrandt is relevant for being Rembrandt. Or that the David is relevant as it is. Opera is relevant for being opera. Please don’t think that I am trying to say that we don’t need new ideas or new stagings, etc. What I am saying is that it is relevant. It is alive. This music is incredible. These voices that have trained a lifetime to sing this music are incredible. We need to focus on the music and telling the stories and the relevance is there. I have to believe that, in the end, the art form will survive.
5- Is there a teacher or an influence you’d care to name that you especially admire?
The teachers/mentors that have been most important to me are- Matthew Epstein, Mikael Eliasen, John Parr, Sheri Greenawald, Hilde Zadek, Cesar Ulloa, Rhoslyn Jones, Steven Moore, Melissa Percy Drumm and most importantly, my Grandma.
Singing influences- Astrid Varnay. (I’m pretty sure she was perfect.) Kirsten Flagstadt, Birgit, Jussi Bjoerling, Nicolai Herlea, Johnny Hartman, Barbra Streisand, Sarah Vaughan…you really don’t want me to get started on this.
We could be here forever.
Sigh, i wish….(!)
But in the immediate future Heidi Melton’s portrayal of Sieglinde as part of the COC production of Die Walküre begins January 31st at the Four Seasons Centre.