Music critic and journalist
     Cheryl North :: Interviews

Cheryl North Interviews Laura Aikin

ANG Newspapers Classical Music Column for February 18, 2005, under headline, Super Mon, super Singer -- that's soprano Aikin

"THE voice of an angel" is an oft-used phrase used to describe soprano Laura Aikin's singing.

Aikin, the unforgettable blue angel with only one wing in the San Francisco Opera production of Messian's Saint Fran�ois d'Assise a couple of years ago, wowed audiences and critics alike with her amazing crystalline voice and playfully mysterious interpretation. The role required athletic ability and balance, both of which she had in abundance, as she sang while suspended on wires and platforms high above the opera house stage.

Once again, Aikin is doing the angel thing in San Francisco � albeit this time it's a "fallen" angel � in the San Francisco Symphony's performances of Robert Schumann's Das Paradies und die Peri. The last of three performances of this lovely, lyrical piece, which Schumann himself termed "an oratorio for happy people," is at 8 tonight.

Aikin was born and raised in a rural suburb outside of Buffalo, N.Y. "I was the youngest of five girls growing up in a house with only one bathroom," she told me during an interview Monday in her San Francisco hotel room. She described her father as a foreman at a metal casting plant and her mother as a dedicated stay-at-home mom.

While in high school she became proficient playing trumpet, baritone horn and piano. She was also interested in acting. Although she was aware that she could sing rather well, she didn't take it very seriously until one day, while auditioning for a high school musical, the music director asked her to sing some scales for him. The small 15-year-old straightend up, took a breath and proceeded to pour out three octaves of gorgeous tone, ending up with a ringingly perfect high "C." It was something she had never done before. He was shocked � and her life was changed forever.

The first person in her extended family to go to college, she spent the next 10 years earning four diplomas from three universities and a German government fellowship (DAAD) to study in Munich. She soon earned several contract offers from opera houses throughout Germany. The one she accepted was the ensemble of the Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin, where she spent six years.

Besides performing a variety of operatic roles in Berlin, Aikin earned a reputation as one of Europe's leading young sopranos. During that time she married Gianluca Pojaghi, a handsome young lawyer from Milan, and in the final year of her contract gave birth to Marcello, now 7.

Aikin keeps on developing her rare mettle. In addition to having become a gold-standard opera star, she's also one of the rare women able to combine the rigors of child rearing with a full-blown operatic career.

After arriving at her San Francisco hotel for our interview, I was courteously ushered into her room by her elegant Italian mother-in-law. Dressed in pants and a colorful sweater, Laura was sitting cross-legged in the middle of her bed tenderly cradling a tiny pink-clad ball of fluff in her arms. She motioned me in, asking if I minded working while sitting on the edge of bed while she finished nursing her 4-week-old daughter.

With a smile that can aptly be described as "angelic," she introduced wee Virginia and said, "She's the third 'Ginny' in my family. Virginia was my late mother's name, too." She added, "Although we live in Milan, I went to Berlin to give birth, since there is a very good natural childbirth program there. When I first felt serious labor pains, I went in to the piano and sang through the whole of my 'Das Paradies' part, not knowing how long it would be until I could practice again."

The birth went well; Aikin showed me a picture taken an hour or so after the birth in which she's sitting in her hospital bed holding Ginny, with husband Gianluca smiling triumphantly on her left and Marcello grinning broadly on her right.

"Maybe Ginny will grow up to be a conductor. At just 15 minutes old, she stopped crying and listened with great attention as I played a recording of the 'Adagietto' movement from Mahler's Symphony No. 5. It could have been because she had heard it before. It was part of a special recording of baby-friendly music I put on my computer and played all during the pregnancy."

Plucky gal that she is, Laura was even lauded for her portrayal of Konstanza in Mozart's Die Entf�hrung aus dem Serail in October and November (eight months into her pregnancy!) in Frankfurt. She said the cast had great fun with the production by acknowledging her "condition" and implying that, just maybe, the papa might be the Pasha.

After tonight's performance in San Francisco, Laura, Ginny and "Nana" will head for New York City, where Laura will begin rehearsals for Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier" scheduled to open March 7 at the Metropolitan Opera.

But lest Laura be forever typecast as an angel, her favorite role happens to be "Lulu" by Alban Berg � a lady about as far as possible from the angel category. She said, "Vocally, Lulu is a dream � and psychologically, it goes to the core of the human side of being a woman."

Guest conductor Ingo Metzmacher conducts the San Francisco Symphony and Chorus in Schumann's Das Paradies und die Peri" tonight at Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco. Other vocal soloists are Kristine Jepson, Christoph Pregardien, William Dazeley, Jane Archibald, Ronit Widmann-Levy, Sonia Gariaeff and Catherine Cook.

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