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A rare bird in opera

Christine Rice, a scientist-turned-mezzo soprano

Michael Church | March/April 2015

When Christine Rice launches into the “Alabama Song” in Covent Garden’s new production of Brecht and Weill’s “Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny”, it’s a fair bet she’ll make it as compelling as did its original dedicatee, the great Lotte Lenya. Yet, ubiquitous as she is in avant-garde opera, this formidable British mezzo is not somebody many people would recognise in the street. She goes so deeply into whatever role she plays that her own personality is completely subsumed.

Rice is a rara avis in other ways. Growing up in Manchester, the daughter of a chemistry don, she became an Oxford-educated physicist herself and was destined for quite another life. Her Damascene moment came while she was working on her DPhil research project on reflected light from clouds. She had begun to feel isolated, so decided to take a year out. Having had a few casual singing lessons and sung in some Oxford musicals, she got a place at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, and that was the end of her scientific career. Still at heart a scientist, she recently wrote a quasi-scientific article for the Guardian entitled “How to write the perfect song”, but as the outlaw Jenny in “Mahagonny” she will come into her own. ~ Michael Church

Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny Royal Opera House, London, Mar 10th to Apr 4th


CLASSICAL AT A GLANCE

La Donna del Lago (Met, New York, broadcast in HD Mar 14th). A new production of Rossini’s romantic Scottish fantasy has the great Joyce DiDonato as Elena and Juan Diego Flórez as Giacomo. Paul Curran directs, Michele Mariotti conducts.

Total Immersion: Boulez at 90 (Barbican, London, Mar 21st). Not just 90, but still composing. This day of concerts and talks starts a month-long look at his life and work.

Parsifal (Staatsoper, Berlin, Mar 28th). Dmitri Tcherniakov, who can be relied on to be original, directs and designs Wagner’s ever-controversial “farewell to the world”. Wolfgang Koch and René Pape head a fabulous cast.

Wigmore Hall International String Quartet Competition (Wigmore Hall, London, Mar 29th). Of many such events, this is the one where you’ll spot the stars of the future. ~ MC

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