Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
I already wanted to sing when I was around 6 years old and in primary school. There were auditions being held for the “Tölzer Knabenchor” at my school and I desperately wanted to audition for this famous boys’ choir. That was not possible but I was unstoppable. I made the audition panel listen to me and they advised me that I would be very well-suited for the children’s choir at the Gärtnerplatz Theater in München. I auditioned for the coming season, got accepted and started to sing on a main operatic stage at the age of 8! Around this time I also saw one of my first operas at the Bayerische Staatsoper München – Turandot with Gwyneth Jones. Her powerful voice blew me away and at that moment I knew I wanted to become an opera singer.
For a very long time my biggest idols and inspirations were Lucia Popp and Edita Gruberova and I still adore both of them. The more I dived into the world of opera, the more I loved Christa Ludwig. She became my biggest inspiration and I felt so lucky that she picked me for her masterclass in Wörgl in 2009. After that I worked often with her and was lucky to call her my teacher and mentor. I was deeply saddened by her death a few months ago but I will never forget when she taught me to sing Leonore in Fidelio. I hope I will make her proud when I give my Glyndebourne debut in the role this autumn.
What have been the greatest challenge of your career so far?
I think that pursuing a career in the performing arts is a challenge in itself. Finding the most suitable singing teacher, learning how to sing, auditioning at a conservatoire, finding yourself as an artist, learning to deal with disappointment, coping with time pressures, being away from home, finding an agent, handling social media and, of course, performing well – this career is a huge never-ending journey. Which is also the attraction of it! The greatest challenge for me was to learn to wait and to be patient until my voice ripened. It took me years after I graduated from music college to finally be on a stage. I survived countless unsuccessful auditions, competitions and agent auditions. One German agent told me at one of my first agent auditions after I had just returned from the UK (I studied in London and Cardiff) “Dorothea, Germany doesn’t need you, maybe best you stay on the island”… as you can imagine, that was very tough but I persisted and never gave up.
Which performances/ recordings are you most proud of?
I am most proud of my first recording ‘Die stille Stadt’ (released on 10 September). The album deals with themes experienced during the pandemic (quietude, silence, introversion, sadness, hope) and expresses them through the songs of Korngold, Schreker and Alma Mahler. This CD was my anchor during lockdown and from the choice of repertoire to the translations of the booklet, I did almost everything myself. I am very proud to present my “corona baby” to the public.
Which particular works do you think you perform best?
That’s quite difficult to answer as I try to sing very varied repertoire. The main criteria for me is that it suits my voice and doesn’t put any stress on my voice. As a German and being blessed with a more dramatic voice, of course the German Fach is the most obvious one (Salome, Sieglinde, Senta, Elsa, Leonore etc) but I also loved performing Rusalka as well as Amelia in Un ballo in maschera.
What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?
I find inspiration everywhere but mostly in everyday life. Operas are compact life journeys filled with life experiences and almost all emotions can be found somehow in our daily lives. Personally I love to go to museums and art galleries and I find this a big feeder for my inspiration.
How do you make repertoire choices from season to season?
Mostly the repertoire chooses me and so far all of the roles that have come to me were at the right time of my life and career. In general I try to stay open, curious and flexible with the repertoire and choose purely what my voice and my gut feeling tell me.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
I loved performing at Semperoper Dresden. The acoustics are just breathtaking and knowing that so many operas were performed there for the very first time makes it even more special. But I am very curious as to what the future holds and where I will be performing in a few years’ time. I am sure that many more special places will be added to the list.
What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences/ listeners?
In my opinion it is very important that children are introduced to classical music and opera. Some theatres offer wonderful outreach work and performances to schools etc.. I am also performing one Fidelio show in Glyndebourne for schools which I very much look forward to. Hearing children go “ohhhhh” and “aaaahhhh” when they see the curtain open is truly touching. The other aspect is social media. It is becoming more and more important and it provides invaluable insights in the work of musicians and artists. We can take the listener and audience member on a socially-distanced informative backstage tour and introduce them to our world. Technology is therefore a wonderful tool to help grow new audience members.
What is your most memorable concert/opera experience?
One of the most memorable opera experiences was the opening night of my debut as Rusalka on 15 March 2020, the night before the first corona lockdown. On the day of the dress rehearsal we were told that we wouldn’t be allowed to play in front of a live audience. Management made the decision to go ahead with the opening night without an audience but with a live YouTube transmission. It was a very surreal experience to be performing for an entirely empty theatre but knowing that there are so many people sitting and watching in front of a screen. When the curtain opened I forgot that the theatre was empty as the music immediately catapults you into the drama. In contrast, when the curtain came down, it was extremely emotional and lonely. In this particular production Rusalka does not die but is fully lost in life and left in despair and hopelessness. Dorothea and Rusalka completely became one in that moment and I was sitting on an empty stage crying.
As a musician what is your definition of success?
Success is for me being able to do what I love every day and earn a living by doing it.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
The most important concept for a music career is determination and a good teacher. Never let anyone tell you that you cannot do it – but still be open to constructive criticism and guidance as this will help you grow as an artist. We all need guidance and another good pair of ears that tell us if we are still on the right track. Therefore having a good coach and/ or teacher throughout your career is vital. My voice changed so much from the end of my studies to the day I first stood on stage and sang Senta in Wagner’s Der Fliegende Holländer that, without my teacher’s help and support, I would not have succeeded.
Dorothea Herbert’s debut CD ‘Die stille Stadt’ is available now. Dorothea makes her Glyndebourne debut as Leonore in a new production of Fidelio, opening on 8 October.
German soprano Dorothea Herbert’s artistry has inspired critical praise and plaudits. The ‘Westdeutsche Zeitung’ commended her for owning “a lot of passion in a voice that … shines very charmingly, which has warmth in the middle but also glows beautifully”.
A finalist in the 2014 Wagner Society Singing Competition in London and a Richard Wagner Scholar in 2016, she was one of the youngest students in Germany ever to be selected for the Young Student Programme at Munich’s Richard Strauss Conservatory. Dorothea went on to graduate from Trinity College of Music in London, and completed her studies at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama and the Opera Studio at Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama in cooperation with Welsh National Opera in Cardiff, where she was supported by the Leverhulme Foundation. She has taken part in masterclasses with some of the world’s leading singers, Christa Ludwig and Dame Anne Evans among them.
In recent seasons, Dorothea Herbert has become established on the stage of many European opera houses. She made her house debut at Semperoper Dresden in Weber’s Der Freischütz in 2019 and covered the role of Eva in the Salzburg Easter Festival production of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg at the Semperoper conducted by Christian Thielemann. Dorothea made her first appearance at the Nationaltheater Mannheim in 2017 as Amelia in Un ballo in Maschera and returned there in the 2018-19 season to perform Donna Anna in Don Giovanni. In the same season she was second cast in the title role in Christof Loy’s new production of Das Wunder der Heliane at the Deutsche Oper Berlin, and made her debuts the following season as Salome at Theater Krefeld Mönchengladbach and as Gerhilde in Wagner’s Die Walküre at Dutch National Opera in Amsterdam under the baton of Marc Albrecht. In 2020, Dorothea made her debut at Theater an der Wien in Christof Loy’s production of Zazà.
Rave reviews followed Dorothea’s debut in the title role of Rusalka at Theater Krefeld in March 2020, prompting the Neue Ruhr Zeitung to predict that she “is on the brink of a really great career” and Opernmagazin to conclude that “she convinced throughout the evening with a wonderfully balanced voice”.
Dorothea Herbert is set to make her UK debut in October 2021 as Leonore in Glyndebourne Opera’s new production of Fidelio, and will release her first recording, ‘Die stille Stadt’, an album of songs by Alma Mahler, Schreker and Korngold, on the independent Dutch label 7 Mountain Records on 10 September. Other highlights of her forthcoming season include Wagner’s Sieglinde in concert performance at Staatstheater Darmstadt. She will also return to the role of Senta in Der Fliegende Holländer as her house debut at the State Opera in Prague in 2022.