Abigail Dyer, a dramatic soprano born in West Orange, New Jersey, is part of this year’s “30 Tage Kunst,” a cultural series in Berlin launched by the actor Hans Brückner in the year of 2009. This year it will be hosted by the orangelab located at Ernst-Reuter-Platz. Artists and people interested in art have the entire month of November to watch and enjoy a variety of different acts and performances. Stefanie Tendler of S2S met up with Abigail Dyer to discuss her passion for Wagner, the city of Berlin and a fortunate meeting that had an influence on the development of her early career.
S2S: You trained as an actress in Adler Technique, as well as a singer in Berlin. Has there been a tight connection between you and this city ever since?
Abigail Dyer: Berlin and my relationship has been building up over three years now, as I have been coming here to train in Adler Technique and singing: I feel a very strong connection to this city, partly because it’s the focal point of my professional training.
They say you can find anything in New York and, for the most part, that’s true. But I needed two very specific things that I couldn’t find anywhere in the USA, not even in New York: a native German-speaking acting teacher to help me interpret from a dramatic standpoint the Wagner roles I was learning, and a native German-speaking singing teacher who was a Wagner singer herself and who specialized in training singers in the Wagner Fach. I found the acting teacher first, Gabrielle Scharnitzky (whom I found by happenstance, from the United States, while watching German soap operas streaming online in order to better my German), and the singing teacher, Gundula Hintz, three years later. (I also found Gundula by chance when a friend of a friend mentioned in passing that she’d overheard some of Gundula’s lessons and had been impressed with her teaching.) Apart from the excellent training I’ve found in Berlin, I feel a strong instinctive connection to the city. It seems to vibrate on the same wavelength as I do. I feel at home here. I must look as if I feel at home here, too, because people come up to me all the time to ask for directions. I’ve even developed the illusion that parts of the city are “mine,” one of the willow trees in Lietzensee Park and the statue of the sea lions, for example…
S2S: When did you discover your passion for acting and singing?
Abigail Dyer: I’m told I sang myself to sleep at night in my crib as a baby. But my first awareness of a passionate desire to sing and act came when I was five years old at home watching a Public Television Broadcast of La Traviata starring Beverly Sills. I remember thinking it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen or heard. I wanted that music. I wanted that drama. I wanted that dress! I decided I wanted to be Beverly Sills.
S2S: How do you perceive Berlin and do you see similarities between the two metropolis New York and Berlin?
Abigail Dyer: One of the most wonderful things about recent arrivals in New York is that they are adopted as New Yorkers right away. It doesn’t matter if you’re not American or you don’t speak English or you are American but you and generations of your ancestors grew up in a corn field in Iowa. If you get to New York City and decide you’re a New Yorker, you are one. Period. Similarly, I have the illusion while I’m in Berlin that I am Berliner. Not that I’m German, just that I somehow have a micro citizenship for this city.
I find Berlin to be a remarkably beautiful, clean, spacious and welcoming. And I love Tegel Airport.
S2S: With the New York companies Amato Opera and Pacific Opera you have sung the roles of Santuzza, High Priestess (Aida), 2nd Lady (Magic Flute), and Mercedes (Carmen).
You have also premiered in the leading role of The Abbess in the world premier of the opera, The Veil of Forgetfulness. What has been your favorite part so far?
Abigail Dyer: The High Priestess in Aida. The Priestess sings a gorgeous, powerful, pure Verdi lines that feel very satisfying in the body. The best part is that the Priestess is an off-stage role, so you get to do passionate opera singing without having to bother with make-up and costume.
S2S: You said the AIDA has been one of your favorite parts yet, do you have other roles you would like to play?
Abigail Dyer: One of my dream roles is Sieglinde from the Walküre. But some of my favorite music is the music I am singing for 30 Tage Kunst. I chose the Beethoven song cycle and the Schumann Song Cycle and the Britain folk songs because I love them and I think they’re beautiful and if you have an audience that has come and payed you definitely should give them something beautiful. They deserve nothing else.
S2S: Is there an encounter in your life that has had a great impact on you and your career?
Abigail Dyer: The direction-changing meeting came in college. In between hearing that Traviata broadcast and freshman year of college I’d gone a more traditional route for American children who show an interest in performing arts. I’d focused on musical theater and developed a Broadway “belt”-style voice. During my first week away at college I felt lonely and overwhelmed I was looking for group activities to join when I saw a sign up about auditions for the college choir. So I went and sang. I’d never sung in a choir before and had only sung Broadway style music up to that point, but I thought they might be desperate and let me in anyway. I sang a Mary Martin song from South Pacific for my audition and the choir director, William Appling, had me sing it a second time through. Then he told me I should consider training as an opera singer because I was a Wagnerian. To which I replied, I don’t like opera and I hate Wagner. He asked if I’d ever heard Wagner before, and suggested, also, that I go to the opera and see what I thought. I went the following weekend. What was playing? La Traviata.
S2S: Would you have focused on musicals if it hadn’t been for William Appling?
Abigail Dyer: I doubt I would have ever have explored opera had it not been for Mr. Appling. Going on to a career in musical theater would have been unlikely either way. As it turned out, when I went on to graduate school I didn’t focus on musicals or opera. I’d misunderstood the advice people usually give teenagers who want to become performing artists. The advice is, “If you do anything else and be happy, do it!” All I’d heard was, “If you can do anything else, do it!” So I did. I became a historian and taught at a university for three years. It was a great job but it was wrong for me. I was miserable!
S2S: Hans Brückner has been organizing “30 Tage Kunst” since 2009, how did you get to meet him and be part of the event?
Abigail Dyer: I had the pleasure of meeting Hans Brückner, director of 30tagekunst, when I came here last year to see Gabrielle’s 30tagekunst performance. I was with her at the dress rehearsals, helping with a few technical things, when Hans approached me and asked what I did for a living. Then he offered me my own show, without having heard me sing! I insisted that he hear me before committing and came down to orangelab the next day and sang for him a bit. He liked what he heard and we shook hands. A contract!
S2S: Has there ever been a funny incident which happened to you with the German language?
Abigail Dyer: Yesterday! I was at a coaching with Klaus Sallmann, who coaches at the Staatsoper. We were working on one of the song cycles for 30tagekunst, Beethoven’s “An die ferne Geliebte,” and we got to the part about two swallows who mate and live happily together in May. I sang, “Nun wohnen die Gatten beisamen so treu,” and Klaus let out a roar of laughter. The line isn’t funny so I knew I’d done something wrong. Then he asked, “Do you know what you just said?” So I knew I’d done something really wrong! He gently explained, “Abigail, if you sing ‘bei Samen’ it means they live near semen. You’ve got to double the ‘m’.” I won’t make that mistake twice!
S2S: Do you sing in operas in New York?
Abigail Dyer: I sing a lot of contemporary music in New York for composers that have written new pieces and give the premiere. It’s very exciting to create something new and to be responsible for bringing it to life off the page.
S2S: What exactly can we expect from your performance within the cultural series “30 Tage Kunst”?
Abigail Dyer: What can you expect from my 30tagekunst performance?: Expect to be moved. The common theme throughout the program “Love to all is free!” (Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte, Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben and Folk Songs arranged by Benjamin Britten) is the longing for love. These are not “art songs as museum pieces.” They’re intimate expressions of the soul and they deserve to be sung that way.
S2S: Do you have expectations from 30 Tage Kunst?
Abigail Dyer: The audience at an art song recital shouldn’t feel like they’re sitting in an opera house, much less a museum. Art songs are intimate, and for the artist and the audience to be able to experience the passion of this music together in an intimate atmosphere is what makes these recitals so special. Art song recitals should give you the feeling that you’re in someone’s living room, or their bedroom, almost like you’re looking into their soul.
S2S: Do you have any other future projects in Berlin planned besides the 30 Tage Kunst?
Abigail Dyer: Not yet, aber “Drück mir die Daumen!” It is my first opportunity to perform in Berlin, so I am very excited.
30TageKunst im orangelab
Abigail Dyer with Andrej Hovrin
Love to All is Free!
November 24, 7 pm
Tickets 12.50 €
To reserve tickets: KartenReservierung