Schade, mein Idol!

The British soprano Kirstin Sharpin on favorite singers and favorite words.

This blog continues its series of profiles of young American, Canadian, and British singers who sing German repertoire. Their answers to a small set of questions show what it takes to pursue the career of their dreams. For soprano Kirstin Sharpin it means also to find her home in Berlin.

From where?
Scottish Kiwi or Kiwi Scot, depending on your point of view! Born in New Zealand, huge Scottish ties and family, moved there in 2001 and eventually gained British citizenship. My family is scattered all over the world, though.


Photo: Axel Michel

Your Fach?
Jugendlich Dramatisch Soprano

Since when in Berlin?
January 2015

Your favorite role:
That’s tricky! I’ve enjoyed different aspects of all my roles – Elettra, Tatyana, Suor Angelica, Vitellia, Leonore (Beethoven) are some of my favourites to date. Valkyries are fun, too.

Your hero in opera:
I grew up idolising Dame Joan Sutherland. Then she was replaced by Jessye Norman, Régine Crespin, Birgit Nilsson…. Sorry, Joan!

Your hero in real life:
I admire people who don’t choose the easy road, who break the mould and go for what they believe in. I’m very lucky to have a number of people like that in my life, and they are my heroes.

Best opera production you saw in Germany:
Lohengrin at the Deutsche Oper Berlin or Elektra at the Staatsoper – I can’t choose!

Idomeneo - Mozart - Blackheath Halls Community Opera - 14th July 2015Musical Director - Nicholas Jenkins
Director - James Hurley
Designer - Rachel Szmukler
Lighting Designer - Ben Pickersgill

Idomeneo - Mark Wilde
Idamante - Sam Furness
Ilia - Rebecca Bottone
Electra - Kirstin Sharpin
Arbace - William Johnston Davies

Pupils from Charlton Park Academy, Greenvale School, Year 5 from Beecroft Garden Primary School and Year 5 from Mulgrave Primary School

Blackheath Halls Chorus and Blackheath Halls Orchestra
As Elettra in Mozart’s Idomeneo. Photo: Robert Workman

Craziest opera production you saw in Germany:
There was a Fliegende Holländer I really couldn’t find the key to. Still puzzling over that one!

Your recent performance:
I had the huge privilege and pleasure of singing at a benefit for ‘Pulse of Europe’ recently. It was organised by Alban Gerhardt, and I sang a special arrangement of Wagner’s ‘Träume’ with some of the best musicians in Europe, if not the world. When you struggle to sing because the playing is so beautiful… that’s a real treat.

A thing or habit of Germans you find funny:
It’s very unfair of me, but I do find the use of “oder?” at the every second sentence amusing, especially when it gets translated literally into English!

A thing or habit of Germans you find annoying:
I’m not a big fan of the high specificity of much of German bureaucracy/rule-following behaviour – a little room to improvise/adapt/use your own judgement is sometimes necessary.

A story in which you were glad that you spoke German:
Every day! I started with almost none, and can now have reasonable conversations in most circumstances. I love being able to build pleasant relationships with the people I encounter regularly, and having a language in common helps hugely with that! You also get to find out how many Germans are huge opera fans (and often, why – the assistant at my local Apotheke has very strong opinions on Tristan & Isolde!)

Your favorite quality in a singer:
I love hearing singers who take risks to convey the emotion of their characters. Even if it doesn’t quite work out, or isn’t the most beautiful sound, there’s a truth in it I can’t get past.

Your favorite German word:
Schade! So useful to have an all-purpose, non-rude exclamation.

Listen to Kirstin Sharpin singing “Einsam in trüben Tagen” from Wagner’s Lohengrin.

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Bernd Hendricks. Born in Duisburg, Germany. Based in Berlin. Writer, German Language Educator. I was six years old when I went to the opera for the first time. My Grandma took me to Hänsel und Gretel at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Duisburg. The first time I met an opera singer personally was during my time as foreign correspondent in New York when at a Christmas party a baritone pelted me with questions about the language of Zauberflöte. He was preparing for his role as Papageno. After my return to Berlin in September 2010, I have been giving German lessons to singers on their audition tours. My workshops in Berlin, Vienna, and London are based on my widely read book Ach, ich fühl’s—German for Opera Singers in Three Acts: Studying, Speaking, Singing. My latest book, Die Frist ist um—Navigate the Language of 10 German Operas, takes you on a journey through the language of the most popular and often performed operas in the German-speaking countries. I am also the author of several non-fiction books and two novels.

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