20 (PLUS) QUESTIONS WITH: Soprano Christine Brewer

Classic Arts Features   20 (PLUS) QUESTIONS WITH: Soprano Christine Brewer
This year one of the world's most beloved vocalists, Grammy Award-winning soprano Christine Brewer, released a recorded love letter to those who graced the stage before her. Echoes of Nightingales is now available on the Hyperion label.


The album presents the soprano and her long-time collaborator, pianist Roger Vignoles, in a nostalgic selection of the encore songs once favored by Kirsten Flagstad, Eileen Farrell, Helen Traubel, and Eleanor Steber. The disc pays tribute not only to four great sopranos from the past, but to an important musical tradition and part of performance history that has nearly been lost. As Brewer explains, "These little gems evoke an era of recitals not often encountered these days

Born and raised in a small town in Illinois, Christine Brewer began her career as a music teacher before embarking on a professional performing career. Getting her start in the choruses of the St. Louis Symphony and the Opera Theater of St. Louis, Ms. Brewer's life was transformed after winning the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in 1989. Soon thereafter, Brewer returned to St. Louis for her first major opera role at her home company; her now famous portrayal of Ellen Orford in Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes.

Christine Brewer is a regular on the world's great concert and opera stages and is a particular favorite at London's venerable Wigmore Hall, and the BBC Proms. Her prodigious discography includes over 20 recordings of a wide-ranging repertoire from Henry Purcell to Johnny Mercer.

1. A few works of classical music that you adore:

Richard Strauss: Metamorphosen; Britten's Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes; Bach's Brandenburg Concertos; Beethoven's Symphony No. 1 (I can't listen to the fourth movement without smiling)

2. Classical music recordings that you treasure:

Gundula Janowitz _ Four Last Songs with Berlin Philharmonic and Karajan; Glenn Gould _ Bach Goldberg Variations

3. Favorite non-classical musicians and/or recordings:

Trio _ Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt; Ella Fitzgerald _ Songbook Albums; Harry Nilsson _ A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night and The Point

4. Music that makes you cry _ any genre:

Richard Strauss's Metamorphosen; Dolly Parton _ Coat of Many Colors; the end of Mahler's 8th Symphony ... I'm usually boo-hooing the last five minutes of the piece.

5. Definitely underrated work(s) or composer (s):

Hugo Wolf

6. Possibly overrated work(s) or composer (s):

I don't think I can answer this one ...

7. Live music performance (s) you attended _ any genre _ that you'll never forget:

Eileen Farrell _ St. Louis Symphony in the mid-1970's: when she sang the "Liebestod" and the "Immolation" scene ... she stood in the middle of the orchestra and her voice just rang out in Powell Hall. I had NEVER heard anything like her singing before and I was transported!

8. A few relatively recent films you love:

The King's Speech; Winter's Bone (loved the film and loved the music in the film); Toy Story III (yes, it made me cry)

9. A few films you consider classics:

Annie Hall, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, To Kill a Mockingbird, Fried Green Tomatoes, Arsenic and Old Lace

10. A few books that are important to you (and why):

Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree: This was a book we read to our daughter, and the metaphor of the parent/child relationship is poignant and beautiful

Allison Pearson's I Don't Know How She Does It: I identified strongly with the protagonist Kate who is balancing raising a family and traveling for a living. There are parts of the book, which made me laugh out loud, but I remember finishing it on a flight to Boston a few years ago and couldn't stop crying.

Malcolm Gladwell's Blink: This book touched me as I thought about how we make snap decisions ... thinking without thinking. So many times in my life, I've had gut feelings and quite often made decisions on those feelings. This book makes an attempt to explain why this works and made me feel better about trusting my gut feelings!

11. Thing(s) about yourself that you're most proud of:

I'm very proud of my daughter Elisabeth. Sometimes in her formative childhood years, I wondered if I was getting it right. Thankfully, my husband Ross was the rock in our family and I think we raised a compassionate, intelligent and strong young woman! She is finishing up her nurse's training right now and I know she will make one amazing nurse!

12. Thing(s) about yourself that you're embarrassed by:

One time I told a little white lie and said that I made some "killer fried chicken" when I was being interviewed about some renovations we had done on our 1870's home. When another writer saw the story and asked for my recipe, instead of coming clean about the lie, I just made up a recipe and sent it to him. He was going to write an article and call it the KFC (Killer Fried Chicken) Diva ... pretty clever, huh? Well, he tried the recipe I sent and then e-mailed me asking if I had made a typo or something in the recipe and asked about the salt brine. I had seen my grandma and my mom make fried chicken all my life, so I just dug into my memory. Again, I made something up and didn't hear from him about the article for a couple of years! When I finally came clean with him, he laughed and said he wondered how many people I had actually KILLED with that recipe, because it was the worst fried chicken he had ever eaten!

13. Three things you can't live without:

The love of my husband and daughter, laughter and my iPhone

14. "When I want to get away from it all I..."

organize "field trips" for my girlfriends to local spas, restaurants and even hosted a "day o' beauty" for about ten of my girlfriends when I had two massage therapists come to my house and we each got massages and gave each other manicures and pedicures ... oh, and there was lots of good food and of course, great wine!

15. "People are surprised to find out that I..."

... host a Hootenanny with my husband in our back yard every summer. We have people who come from as far as Iraq and as close as next door. Everyone brings a little food to share and my brothers and husband barbecue. We have gut buckets, wash boards, fiddles, guitars, mandolins, harmonicas ... we sing and play bluegrass and gospel music all evening. We've had over 100 people attend for the past several years and it is a highlight of my life to sing with my daughter, niece and brothers and my mother when she was still alive. What a "hoot" it is every year! Oh, and I play a pretty mean harmonica!

16. "My favorite cities are..."

San Francisco, London, Paris, Chicago and New York

17. "I have a secret crush on..."

Hmmm ... is it too clich_ to say George Clooney? My husband Ross was an extra in his film Up in the Air (his scene ended up on the cutting room floor, unfortunately) and I was SO jealous that he got to spend a couple of days in the same room with George Clooney.

18. "My most obvious guilty pleasure is..."

Watching movies that make me laugh out loud like Planes, Trains and Automobiles with John Candy and Steve Martin.

19. "I'd really love to meet..."

Michelle Obama _ I admire her greatly. I think she is such an intelligent, elegant and beautiful woman. I met her husband when he was running for president and was immediately smitten by him and admire him so much. I would love to meet her and thank her for what she is doing as our First Lady, thinking of the health and welfare of our nation's children.

20. "I never understood why..."

... school boards and administrators think that cutting art and music from the curriculum is a good thing.


21. Question you wish someone would ask you (and the answer to that question):

Q: Ms. Brewer, we need you in Washington, DC! If nominated, will you run?

A: Hmmm, Madame Senator ...very interesting!

Past installments of 20 (PLUS) QUESTIONS:

Soprano Kate Royal

Baritone Paulo Szot

Baritone Nathan Gunn

Bass-Baritone John Relyea

Pianist Yuja Wang

Pianist Kirill Gerstein

Organist Cameron Carpenter

Choreographer Peter Martins

Soprano Diana Damrau

Pianist Simone Dinnerstein

Pianist David Fray

Violinist Sarah Chang

Pianist Ingrid Fliter

Mezzo-Soprano Joyce DiDonato

Pianist Yefim "Fima" Bronfman

Soprano Sandrine Piau

Soprano Natalie Dessay

Harpsichordist and Conductor Christophe Rousset

Guitarist Xuefei Yang

Tenor Giuseppe Filianoti

Soprano Nicole Cabell

Pianist Jonathan Biss

Tenor Ian Bostridge

Soprano Danielle de Niese

New-Music Sextet eighth blackbird 

Composer and Violinist Mark O'Connor 

Composer Jake Heggie

Composer Ricky Ian Gordon

Pianist David Greilsammer


Albert Imperato, a music promoter who co-founded 21C Media Group in January 2000, writes frequently about the arts for various publications and blogs. 

His new series, 20 (PLUS) QUESTIONS, is his take on (and nod to) Vanity Fair's "Proust Questionnaire." Email him at aimperato@21cmediagroup.com.

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