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20 (PLUS) QUESTIONS WITH: Soprano Sandrine Piau

By Albert Imperato
30 Sep 2009

Sandrine Piau
photo by Antoine Legrand

The French soprano is the latest to contribute to our informal questionnaire series. Piau's new Handel album Between Heaven and Earth was released Sept. 29, and she makes her New York recital debut on Oct. 9 at Carnegie Hall.


Sandrine Piau is one of the bright lights of the Baroque music scene, though she can be heard singing such lyric roles as Pamina (Mozart's Die Zauberflöte), Titania (Britten's A Midsummer Night’s Dream) and Servilia (Gluck's La Clemenza di Tito) to equal acclaim. Her many and diverse recordings for the Paris-based naïve label – with whom she records exclusively – include a new all-Handel recording, Between Heaven and Earth, featuring her personal selection of arias from Handel’s oratorios. Her previous Handel recording, a duets album with Italian contralto Sara Mingardo, was CD of the Month in the July 2009 issue of Gramophone.

This past summer, Piau appeared at the Salzburg Festival. Highlights of her 2009-2010 season include her New York recital debut (Carnegie’s Weill Hall on October 9) and performances at recital and concert venues across Europe including the Theater des Champs Elysées in Paris and Berlin’s famed Philharmonie. She recently won the Victoire de la musique, a major French music award, and last year was awarded the Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture.

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

Couperin’s Leçons de ténèbres, Britten’s Les illuminations; Shostakovich’s Concerto No. 1 for Piano, Trumpet and Strings op 35; Berg’s Altenberg Lieder.

2. Classical music recordings that you treasure:

Mozart’s Piano Concerti Nos. 19 &23 (Murray Perahia); Britten’s Les Illuminations and Serenade for tenor, Horn and Strings (Felicity Lott and Anthony Rolfe Johnson); Schubert Lieder (Margaret Price / Wolfgang Sawallisch).

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

Charlotte Gainsbourg; Rita Mitsouko; Nina Hagen Band; Homogenic (Björk); Big time (Tom Waits).

4. Music that makes you cry – any genre:

Largo of Shostakovich’s Concerto No 1 for Piano, Trumpet and Strings op 35; “Soave sia il vento” (trio from Mozart’s Così fan tutte); the voice of Sara Mingardo.

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

I don’t know if Berg, Schönberg or Britten are underrated but they are not so easy to propose to promoters. With Mozart, that’s different….

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

If I say Mozart. I will be killed! Some pieces are amazing. Some others…

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

Björk in Montreux; Margaret Price in a recital in the Theater des Champs Elysées; Lully’s Atys at l’Opéra Comique with Les Arts Florissants and William Christie.

8. A few relatively recent films you love:

Das Leben der Anderen (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck); Little Miss Sunshine; Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain [a.k.a. Amélie] (Jean Pierre Jeunet). Nothing very new I’m afraid…

9. A few films you consider classics:

Brazil (Terry Gilliam); The Big Lebowski (The Coen Brothers); Les invasions barbares (Denys Arcand); Europa (Lars von Trier).

10. A book (or two) that is important to you (and why):

Le Testament amoureux by Rezvani. I read this book when I was 20 years old and I keep it on my table for years; the first time I had the feeling that somebody else could find the words to explain my own feeling.

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

My fight to preserve family and friendship in this nomad life

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

My impatience (but life is so short!)

13. Three things you can’t live without:

Friends, love and light

14. “When I want to get away from it all I…”

I go on the beach and look at the sun setting on the sea

15. “People are surprised to find out that I…”

I eat so much…

16. “My favorite cities are…”

Lisbonne, New York, Sydney, Paris and Marseille, of course

17. “I have a secret crush on…”

That’s a secret!

18. “My most obvious guilty pleasure is…”

Lots of bread with a lot of butter on it!!!

19. “I’d really love to meet – or to have met…”

I met Felicity Lott. She’s a wonderful person and singer – a real lesson in life.

20. “I never understood why…”

I never understood why people are talking on their mobile phone when they are dining with friends!


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

Q: What motivates you to sing – the beauty of the music?

A: I sing not just for the beauty of the music, but more to escape from our terrestrial every day existence. For it’s like another world: the body stays fixed to the ground, but the voice and my spirit are elsewhere, floating through the air. Another motivation to sing is a fascination with the possibility to communicate emotions. How can one take ones emotions that only oneself are feeling and transfer them so that others can share in them? Here there is no clear answer, no recipe.

For more on Piau's upcoming New York concert, visit Carnegie Hall.

Past installments of 20 (PLUS) QUESTIONS:

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."





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