Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?
My father was a blacksmith, but my American great-aunt was Helen Traubel, the legendary Metropolitan Opera star of the 1940s and 1950s. Also, my great-uncle from the German branch of my family was conductor Günter Wand. My earliest childhood memories involve constantly listening to Bruckner symphonies conducted by my uncle, and Wagner operas sung by Helen. When I was twelve years old, I attended an open-door day at our local music school; I wanted to sit in a wind instruments demonstration but the rooms got mixed up and I ended up in a classroom with a singer. I sat there staring at her, and knew immediately that I had to be a singer, too. I started to take lessons at once and, from the age of sixteen, was a student at the music conservatory.
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
I am deeply indebted to my teachers Barbara Bonney and Danielle Borst. I also have the privilege of working with Cheryl Studer today. But I also owe a great deal to the phenomenal conductors and stage directors with whom I was able to work, including Adam Fischer, Harry Kupfer, Daniele Gatti, Ingo Metzmacher, Joan Anton Rechi and others.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
I spent a summer vacation with my family learning one opera and two complete concert programmes of music, in the matter of a few days – all long and extremely challenging in themselves, and all very different from each other. That was stressful, in a good way. Still, I am happy if I do not have to do this too often!
Of which performances/recordings are you most proud and why?
When we brought together the music for my CD ‘Arias for Josepha’ (SONY Classical 2020), we made some incredible discoveries such as many arias which have never been heard since the times of Mozart. Also we found hand-written additions of coloratura by Salieri’s hand in music written by Righini. We found an aria with five high F’s in a row, to my knowledge the only piece of music history with such an amazing sequence of high notes. That we discovered this, and were able to record all of it, that makes me proud.
Which particular works do you think you perform best?
The voice of a singer evolves throughout her career, but some things stay the same. Many of my roles have been Mozart soprano roles, from Queen of the Night to Konstanze and Ilia, Donna Anna to Contessa. I am certain that many of these roles will stay with me for a long time. The Contessa from ‚Le Nozze di Figaro‘ especially is one of my all-time favourite parts. Also, I profoundly enjoy singing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, a work much feared by some singers. Then there are new roles coming, Agathe in Weber’s ‚Der Freischütz‘ in particular, but also Eva from Wagner’s Meistersinger. And I just love, love, love Richard Strauss.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
As a vocal artist, I have to listen very closely to my own instrument. I am in the privileged position that so far I could grow carefully, steadily with my roles and concert programmes. When I sang Brahms‘ German Requiem for the first time in my early twenties, I would not have guessed that one day I would sing Wagner’s Eva, or Beethoven.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
Zurich Opera is where my career began and I consider this building my home. The cosy atmosphere and the extraordinary level of artistry, the extreme kindness of people working there together for this wonderful art form which is opera, that’s something I will always carry with me.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
My first night at the opera, ‚La Traviata‘ at the famous Nationaltheater in my hometown Mannheim at the age of twelve. Also, a few years ago, an incredibly beautiful production of ‘Lucio Silla‘ at the Salzburg Mozartwoche Festival conducted by Marc Minkowski.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
I have no idea how to define ‘success‘ in arts. My work aims at executing the composer’s musical will as faithfully as possible and reaching audiences as deeply as possible.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Work hard. Seek help from the best. Work harder!
What is your present state of mind?
One of happy determination. The global COVID-19 crisis causes unbearable suffering for so many and is also a fundamental challenge for many arts institutions and many artists. Still, I feel very privileged to be surrounded by my family, to be healthy and working at new repertoire. I look forward to singing the music that I love most as soon as this nightmare is over.
ARIAS FOR JOSEPHA – Mozart’s First Queen of the Night feat. German soprano Sarah Traubel is available now.
Sarah Traubel is the grand-niece of Helen Traubel, the famous Metropolitan opera (and Hollywood) star soprano of the 1940s and 1950s. She holds a master’s degree from the Manhattan School of Music.