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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 9, No. 6

Diva Diane Digs Weill

by Réjean Beaucage / March 6, 2004

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Diane Dufresne is often referred to as a diva, a tribute to her powerful voice and gift for incarnating the personalities in her songs. However, she is not the kind of diva that usually performs before an orchestra. Her music falls mainly under the category of rock, and her performances have filled Montreal's Olympic Stadium. Dufresne's upcoming concert with the Orchestre Métropolitain du Grand Montréal is therefore something of an unprecedented event. We talked to the rock diva about her part in this concert.

LSM: You're embarking on a genuine adventure.

Diane Dufresne: Yes, totally. An adventure that requires sea legs, because it's a huge ship!

LSM: The experience is very different from singing with a small group of musicians.

DD: Very different. I've done it at the Colisée in Quebec City with the Orchestre symphonique de Québec (OSQ) conducted by Gilles Ouellet in 1988, and at the Lanaudière Festival that same year with the Orchestre Métropolitain. This was the Symphonique'n'roll show that we later gave at the Maison des Arts in Créteil on the outskirts of Paris, with the Orchestre symphonique d'Europe conducted by Olivier Holt, and also at Bunkamura Hall in Tokyo in 1990, with the New Japan Philharmonic conducted by Gilles Ouellet. I did another show with the OSQ more recently. It's really something to sing like this, surrounded by such an orchestra. Also, the songs are all new for me, which doesn't make things easy.

LSM: It's true that you usually sing songs written for you, rather than look for works in the repertoire.

DD: I have done things from the classical repertoire--[Rossini's] "Cat Duet" or extracts from La Traviata or Mahler, but I used to say to the conductor, "I'll breathe before I choke for lack of air!" because I haven't the technique of a classical singer. A rock voice requires another breathing technique. It's different, but the discipline is good for you. I'm having a first run-through with the orchestra Monday, February 23. The musicians are being kind enough to record this first rehearsal so that I can continue to rehearse without them, before meeting them again a few days before the concert. Doing a program like this means you have to be really fired up. I think I am, but after the concert I'll have to take the time to cool down!

LSM: Yannick Nézet-Séguin told me that you were a bit surprised that he thought of you for this concert, although it seems a perfectly natural choice.

DD: Yes, I was surprised. I liked Kurt Weill's music, which I'd heard sung by Juliette Gréco and Pia Colombo, Catherine Sauvage and of course Pauline Julien. These are women I admire who have taught me a lot, but I didn't see myself doing this particular repertoire. That's why I was surprised when Yannick suggested it. But it was a nice surprise. I've never gone for what is easy, but I have to admit that this is a pretty tall order. Simon Leclerc's arrangements are absolutely sumptuous. I've imagined a plot, something for a mini-opera that would unify the people in the songs. They're not the same from one song to the next, but the same types, vaguely marginal. Weill was a real genius--his music is so good at transmitting the intention and emotion of Brecht's words, or Boris Vian's translations, that you don't need to force the feeling when you're singing.

LSM: Do you get on well with the conductor?

DD: I've only met him once, and we've also talked on the telephone. I think he's a very busy man! As for me, I'm more of a loner; I like working on my own. I found that he was as enthusiastic as a child, which is very good. People tend to think that the world of rock is very turned on, but in my view you see this most in classical music. I was delighted to find that he wasn't afraid to ask me to take part, even though I don't generally appear in this type of concert. I'm always ready to work which someone like him--intelligent, highly competent, and gifted with great talent... and that joy. He's filled with joy, and that's what motivated me to accept the invitation, which I might not have done with someone else. It's a pleasure to share with him the experience of making the public a little more familiar with this music.

[translation: Jane Brierley]

photo caption: Kurt Weill en 1934

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