Saturday, February 14, 2015

ARTISTS CORNER: Soprano Maeve Höglund

Soprano Maeve Höglund
Maeve Höglund makes both her Sarasota Opera debut and her role debut as Susanna in this season's The Marriage of Figaro. She is described as a versatile artist who has been praised repeatedly in New York Times as “a striking soprano,” “outstanding,” and one who “stands out among singers.” 
She recently made her Carnegie Hall debut as soprano soloist in the New York première of Paul Moravec’s The Blizzard Voices with Oratorio Society of New York. Her recent engagements include starring roles in Gotham Chamber Opera’s production, “Baden-Baden 1927,” featuring works by Weill, Hindemith, Toch, and Milhaud, as well as the role of Atilia in Cavalli’s Eliogabalo.

Maeve Höglund is also a featured singer and vocal educator for Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Jazz Academy, a program offering online tutorial education to middle school students in the New York City area.  

Q. Where are you originally from and where do you make your home now?

A. I was born and raised in Olympia, WA.  Most notably known for its constant rainfall many don't know that Washington State is home to one of the largest temperate rainforests in the U.S. - the Hoh Rainforest located on the Olympic Peninsula.

Though Washington State will always be home, I have made a home in Riverdale which is located in the Northwest part of the Bronx in New York City.

Soprano Maeve Höglund (center) at Carnegie Hall
Q. You have such a unique name. What is its origin?

A. Thank you!  My surname is of Swedish heritage and hails the meaning: hög 'high' + lund 'grove'.  This most certainly had to do with the surrounding landscape of where my family is from.  As for my first name, that is a story I love to speak about.  The short version is the following: Maeve is the Anglicized version of Medb (Old Irish spelling) or Meḋḃ, Meaḋḃ (Middle Irish spelling). Maeve was the warrior Queen of Connacht who hailed from what is modern day Ireland but back then was occupied by the Celts.

Most notably, Queen Maeve was the warrior queen of Connacht, the western province of Ireland. Historically, she would have lived sometime around the years 50BC - 50AD. Because of the time period much of her story has become folklore.  I grew up learning that she was the Queen of the Fairies and little people.  It is said that her father was king of Connacht before becoming High King of Ireland and she became ruler of Connacht after him.  She had five recognized husbands, and ruled for over 60 years. She was also said to be the reason her husbands became kings, that to be the ruler of Connacht they had to be 'married to Medb' as in married to the land.

Q. What drew you to become a singer?  Was there a specific “Aha!” moment of clarity?

A. I would have to say that I was always drawn to singing, performing, music & theatre.  From a young age I would love to dress up, sing into the fan or tape recorder, and put on shows for my family.  However, the turning point of singing Opera and classical music was when I spent two summers at Boston University's Tanglewood Institute.  During those summers I heard and met Bryn Terfel, Dawn Upshaw, Angela Gheorghiu, Yo-Yo Ma, among others in addition to hearing my first live Brahms Symphony No. 3 (one of my favorites).  This ignited something in me that I'd never experienced before.  It was then that I was changed forever and that my destiny to be a singer found me and vice-versa.

Q. Did you have other career aspirations in the works before you decided on singing?

A. Even though I knew I wanted to go to school to study music after high school, I actually considered becoming a massage therapist.  I was accepted into New England Conservatory, where I ended up attending, and decided to desert my thoughts to be a massage therapist.  After I graduated the Conservatory I was looking at other arenas where I might bring in money and reconsidered massage school.  I even went as far as attending a pre-enrollment workshop for prospective students.  I actually was quite serious about going but then realized it cost just as much to get a massage degree as it did a Master's in Music.  It was another turning point toward my continued commitment to being a singer.

Maeve Höglund as Susanna with baritone
Philip Cutlip as her betrothed Figaro
Q. This is a role debut for you. What are you looking forward to most about singing this role?

A. It is my role debut for Susanna which I'm absolutely delighted about.  In all honesty, I am so in love with Mozart's music that part of me almost enjoys listening to it more than singing it!  Don't get me wrong, this role is absolutely food for a singer's soul, particularly mine.  Mozart was genius in that way, he knew the voice so well and brilliantly wrote notes to text that challenge and demand the highest caliber of singing & performing.

But for me, there are specific moments in the Opera that cause a transcendental & euphoric experience.  It's as if we get transported back into the time of Mozart and get to relive what the artists and audience of that time experienced. This is what I look most forward to as it makes all the efforts toward my work as a performer worth while.

Q. What can you tell us about this character?  What do you want the audience to know about her?

A. Susanna loves life; for a servant lady, she actually has a great one!  Susanna is not only clever but she is completely spontaneous with the ability to improvise on the spot in order to succeed in humiliating her boss (who of course is trying to take advantage of her through an abolished feudal right).  That takes a special kind of understanding about how to hold your body language, facial expressions and tone of voice.  Her ultimate goal is to marry the man she loves without interference.  All the effort she takes to make that happen says a lot about who she is.  A woman of strength, integrity, wits, passion, heart, and humor.  Who wouldn't fall in love with all that?!

Q. How do you prepare a role for performance?

A. The first thing I do is translate my text.  This is not always literal,  as commonly when translating, phrases can mean something completely different when in another language.  This also requires me to translate the other character's text so that I am certain of the context of our conversations.  For me, the text comes first and then the music.  I actually speak the words as if in a play before I sing it. Once I've got the text down, I then add the music, that way there is a flow to the conversation happening.  I then dive into what actions are taking place and doing a bit of character development.  What is Susanna's background and what did her life look like before the moment that the Opera begins.  What are her relationships with all the character's onstage and what are their histories together.  I also do a bit of reading; for instance, The Marriage of Figaro is an adaption of a play carrying the same name by Pierre Beaumarchais. I also do a bit of research to gain a context for the time period.  Once I feel comfortable with all those elements, I'm ready to get the direction and coaching of a Director and Maestro in addition to working moments out with my colleagues.

With all the elements put together and I'm ready to go!

Q. Are there any famous Susanna’s from the past whose interpretations you admire?

A. Yes...I would say Alison Hagley, Anna Moffo, and Mirella Freni.  All were amazing artists in their own right but dissected the Da Ponte text (Mozart's librettist was Lorenzo Da Ponte) like it was a Shakespeare play.  Most importantly, all had incredible interpretations of the text in addition to being Mozart specialists.

Q. In addition to performing, it sounds like you dedicate a significant amount of time to teaching and education. Can you tell us about the type of work you do and why you enjoy it so much?

A. Yes!  Once I finished my Master's degree I wanted to diversify my activities and was encouraged to become a Teaching Artist.  It was a perfect fit for me because I was able to continue my studies and performing while passing along the tradition of music to those schools and programs in need.  As a teaching artist, we would work in underserved communities and/or New York City schools that had eliminated their music programs or only had weekly after school programs.  There is nothing better than to bring music and a creative outlet to kids and adults who yearn for self expression.  This flowered into doing other outreach work with Jazz at Lincoln center alongside my work privately with vocal students.  I really do love how teaching brings full circle all the knowledge and craftsmanship that has been so generously given to me.  As my performing schedule gets more and more busy, I can't commit as much as I used to but I have made amazing relationships with those programs and students I have been so lucky to serve.

Maeve Höglund as Hélène in Hin und züruck
at Gotham Chamber Opera
Q. Thus far, what is the most bizarre experience you have had during a rehearsal?  During a performance?

A. That's a great question.  I'd have to say that the most recent bizarre experience was while singing Hélène in Hindemith's Hin und züruck with Gotham Chamber Opera.  The whole premise of the Act I piece is a line of actions and conversations leading up to the discovery of my unfaithfulness and ultimate murder by the hands of my husband.  Then, it all goes in the reverse.  The whole scene is played out backwards, like an old VCR on rewind.  Talk about not only a bizarre experience but a tremendous mind trick!

Q, Do you have any pre-performance rituals?  Performance superstitions?  Good luck charms?  If yes, why?

A. Hmmm....I would say the biggest ritual on performance day is to have a relaxing day at home with limited talking and personal interaction.  Prior to curtain call, however, I do a quiet gathering of my mind and allow for all the pieces of the puzzle to take me over.  I end it with a prayer and invitation for all those great singers who have come before me to guide and support me.

Maeve Höglund in The Last Duchess by
Robert Sirota at Symphony Space
Q. How do you relax in between performances?  What hobbies do you enjoy at home and “on the road”?

A. Physical activity!  Nothing is more relaxing and recuperative for me than getting out and being physically active.  I'm athletic and grew up playing sports & doing many outdoor activities.  I love to workout with weights but also love to run, swim, water/snow ski, wakeboard, hike & play tennis.  Many of those fit into the Florida lifestyle but I will unfortunately be missing out on my cold weather activities such as snow skiing. That has always gotten me through winters in New York and I even began instructing last year at a nearby mountain in New Jersey.

Outside of sports I love reading and have brought several books I've been meaning to catch up on.  There is, of course, nothing better than sitting on the beach and getting some good old vitamin D!  I'll certainly be taking advantage of that as often as I can while in Sarasota.  I'm also a big social bug and love being with friends and family.  I happen to have many family friends & friends in Florida and am looking forward to getting to spend time and catch up with them.

Q. How do you stay connected to family and friends when you are “on the road”?  Do you keep a blog? Website? Facebook?  Twitter?

A. I have my performance website ( which is great for family, friends and fans to keep abreast of my performance schedule.  Facebook and Twitter are certainly the most current interfaces that I use to post updates and stay connected.  I am currently working on putting together a blog section onto my website and will hope to have that up in the near future.  Otherwise, FaceTime, Skype, text, and the phone are such amazing resources we traveling artists have to stay connected.


Ms. B said...

You are awesome, Maeve!!

Lauren said...

Thanks for sharing this great interview! Maeve Höglund is definitely very talented and I admire her work! It was interesting to read about how she got where she is now and how she prepares for the role!