Claudia Boyle in conversation with Irina Antesberger

She is young, she is talented and, to top it all off, ravishingly beautiful – Claudia Boyle. Born in Dublin, the Irish singer has gained recognition for intense portrayals and for her crystal-clear and yet strong soprano voice. Engagements have taken her from the Emerald Island all over Europe, from Berlin to Rome, from London to Zurich.

IA: It is a pleasure to be able to talk to you, Claudia! First of all, our readers want to get to know you. Could you describe your musical journey in a nutshell?

CB: I actually started as an instrumentalist, I played the cello and I even did my degree on the cello. Apart from that, I had always done singing and drama – I had been taking singing lessons and participated in amateur theatre groups. And at some point, I realized that singing was what I really wanted to do. After my master’s degree in singing, I got to do some productions with Irish companies and auditioned for, amongst others, the Salzburg Festival Young Singers Project in Austria. Salzburg is a wonderful place for a young singer because it’s so big and you get to audition for really good and important people there. Thus I was cast to do an opera and also an oratorio piece with Riccardo Muti and later on also a production as “Konstanze” (“The Abduction from the Seraglio”, Mozart) in Rome. And it somehow snowballed like that – someone saw me perform in Rome and brought me to Berlin and so on.

IA: What is the situation of opera in Ireland?

CB: Well, it is different. It is simply not in our culture. Here in Austria, for example, even a small town like Klagenfurt where I am singing “La Traviata” at the moment, has a great opera house. In Germany, nearly every village has an opera house, it’s similar to the pub in Ireland. However, we definitely do have an opera scene. There are some small independent companies and also Wexford Festival, which does have productions on a very high standard and also an amazing company in Northern Ireland. And there is absolutely a love for this kind of music in Ireland, but on a much smaller scale than here.

IA: Something singers often say is that in this business you have to know why you`re singing. Why do you sing?

CB: That`s simple. I love it. I love singing, I love performing and acting. For me, you cannot have one without the other. There are people who think the vocal part should be more important, then there are directors who say the acting is absolutely essential. I would say the two of them can definitely complement each other if you do them properly and respectful of each other.

Sometimes there are directors who tell you to do something that make it impossible to sing well. And that is when you as a performer have to find a way to do both things and make the best out of it. And that`s why I prefer singing opera – I do like Lieder and oratories, but the drama of opera definitely wins.

IA: At the moment, you are singing Violetta in Klagenfurt`s production of Verdi`s “La Traviata”. What is so special about this role?

CB: The opera, in general, is absolutely amazing, and Verdi is an incredible composer. He has beautiful melodies that move you, that you remember, and his music tells the story so beautifully. I mean, who does not cry when Violetta sings “Amami, Alfredo”, when she pours out her heart? And that’s the magic of Verdi. Violetta is such an interesting character. She goes through such an intense journey in this opera. At the beginning of the opera, she is in a pretty superficial community, but that’s simply the lifestyle she is in. She is a very strong woman, a survivor – she`s been able to survive in this world. And when she meets Alfredo, who breaks through her barriers, and suddenly you see her vulnerability. And I like seeing this. I think everyone has this vulnerable part of their heart – and even if they pretend they don’t, they do. Violetta is also such a selfless person, she loves Alfredo so much. When his father comes, she simply tries to do the “right” thing. She’s also very dignified and even before her death, she tells Alfredo to give his heart, his love to someone else. I really like all her facets and it truly helps when you like the character you sing.

IA: What does it feel like to receive all the applause and “bravas” after having put everything into your role and into the music for an entire evening?

CB: It is always a very rewarding and good feeling to step out there and hear the clapping and cheering. However, if you did it only for that, you did it for the wrong reason. Don’t get me wrong, it is lovely to receive a positive reaction, I won’t lie. But it should not be the most important part of the evening. Sometimes I have a great applause but haven’t been 100% happy with the performance myself. My philosophy as a singer is “Don’t compete with others, compete with yourself”, because if you’re proud of what you do and always try to do your best, you are going to feel good about yourself, no matter what others might say. Just because there are people who don’t like your performance it doesn’t mean you’re not good. They might not like the production, a certain scene or maybe your approach to the character. It is very important to know that and stay true to yourself. But as I said, it is wonderful to get good feedback. It is not even always the people clapping, I just love when they simply had a great night at the theatre, when I moved them. And I love when some of them cry, because then I know I absolutely touched them, which is a great thing to be able to do.

IA: What do you think of critics and reviews? Bad ones as well as good ones.

CB: Oh, well, it is a tough profession, anyways, because all your emotions come out in your voices – your anger, your sadness, your happiness, maybe your insecurity… everything. And it takes a lot of courage to go out and sing and bare your soul to the audience, this is a really hard thing to do. The point is – you will never be able to please everyone. And you can put that to anything in life. It is impossible. But again, I won’t lie, every singer wants to get a good review. Personally, I don’t read reviews during a run. If you’re happy with what you’re doing, everything’s perfect. And if you get a bad one, you just mustn’t take it to heart, because it is simply one person’s opinion and not the end of the world.

IA: I can imagine you’re away from home a lot – how do you cope with this situation? And how do you stay healthy and sane while you’re on the road?

CB: I am, indeed. I try to book flights home as often as possible, you just have to make it work. My husband comes and visits me, then I travel back home to see him, and so on. And apart from that – FaceTime, Skype, etc. every night, every morning. Staying healthy abroad is hard. Yoga is really great, it is something I would advise any singer, any person, in general. Sometimes you wake up and you are in a bad form-you miss home, your family, your environment. And you just take half an hour for yourself. You will feel the change. Quiet time is so important. Nowadays everyone is so busy, especially with their mobile phones and computers. Yoga truly centers you. Moreover, I read a lot, watch movies, listen to audiobooks and I do a bit of jogging as well.

IA: You are a perfect example of the so-called “new generation of opera” – you are not only talented and smart but also good-looking. Do you think the stereotype of the “fat lady” singing opera had its day?

CB: That’s a tough question. You know, there’s a huge difference between being too slim and too overweight. I think being happy with yourself, that’s the most important thing. Being a good singer does not necessarily mean being slim and skinny, but rather being healthy. And on stage you have to know how to move well, that is so important. Looking good definitely helps, but that applies to every profession, I would say. For example, when Anna Netrebko appeared, she came along and just exploded on the scene – she was so beautiful and talented and had this big, gorgeous voice. In my opinion, it is always about the whole “package”.

IA: Do you have a favourite role?  And are there roles you want to sing that you have not done so far?

CB: Well, I am actually very lucky, because my favourite role is Violetta. Being able to perform your favourite role is great. I am a lyric coloratura soprano, so I am neither too light nor too heavy, which means I cannot only sing rapid coloraturas but also beautiful lyric passages. And that is simply perfect for the repertoire I love – Lucia di Lammermoor, Adina in “L`elisir d`amore”, Konstanze in “Die Entführung aus dem Serail”, … I am doing my favourite roles at the moment and I couldn’t be happier. Next year I’ll probably sing all of the three characters in “The Tales of Hoffmann”, which is a great challenge as well.

IA: If you had the chance to talk to your ten years younger self, what would you tell her?

CB: Stay true to yourself. Don’t try to please everyone. And know your worth.

Word Rap with Claudia Boyle

A word or phrase I use too often is…

“You know”. That’s probably an Irish thing.

My three travel-essentials are…

Let’s say I already have my phone and my dog with me – my steamer, my humidifier and my perfume. Oh wow, I am such a soprano.

On a day off in a foreign city I…

Try to find a good jogging route and good coffee.

The weirdest thing I had to do on stage was…

When I had to be in a cage with a dog collar around my neck. Modern production, you know.

If I won 1 000 000 € in the lottery, I would…

Pay off my debts. That’s such a boring answer, but it’s true. The rest I’d spend to go on holidays with my family.

If I could have starred in a movie, it would have been…

The English Patient. Great story, great actors, great script.

If I weren’t an opera singer, I’d probably be…

An actress.

What I love most about myself is…

Irish people are not good at saying what they like about themselves. But it’s probably that I always try to have fun. Always.