MILLIARD SUN MAGAZINE Interview Marelize Gerber by Peter Fritz (January 2019)
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Mrs Gerber, as an introduction, it would be interesting for our readers to know your story. What led you to classical music and its interpretation? Was it a coincidence or a passion for classical music that culminated in your decision to become an opera singer? /// I was born into a family of musicians where classical music always played an important part of our lives. We were constantly listening to music, going to concerts and to the opera. I remember when my mother took me to a violin performance when I was four years old and asked me if I would like to play the instrument. I immediately started lessons. I loved playing the violin as I not only played solo but also had the opportunity to play chamber music and orchestral pieces with other children. I gave my first public performance as a solo singer at the age of four. I also took piano lessons and “Kindermusik” classes with my aunt. When I was six years old I attended Puccini’s opera “Madame Butterfly” for the first time at the State Opera.  The singers, the orchestra, the stage and of course Puccini’s wonderful music left a profound impression on me. When I attended primary school I was fortunate enough to have a teacher who was a member of the opera chorus at the State Opera. She inspired and prepared me to sing at different festivals, competitions and concerts. She also recommended that I join the Children’s Opera Chorus and I had the opportunity to be on stage working with professional artists. This experience paved the way to professional singing lessons with Ks Mimi Coertse (a renowned coloratura soprano at the Vienna State Opera) and studying Opera Performance and Music Science at the University. My parents, although not professional musicians themselves, supported and encouraged my sister and I in our pursuit to follow a career as professional musicians.

 Why did you not choose to go into popular music that is linked with more visibility, celebrity and popularity? /// The broad spectrum of music knowledge that we learn as classical musicians (from the Medieval times to the the 21st century compositions) inflamed my passion for the classical music genre. The immeasurable treasure of repertoire never awakened the desire to go in a different musical direction.

 What do you value most about music? /// In my opinion music is all about communication. Communication is a universal language. As an artist it is my ultimate task to communicate with my colleagues performing with me on stage and with our audience through music. We are the composer’s messengers or vessels. My goal is to touch and move the souls of the audience. If I achieve touching just one soul in a performance it is the greatest reward.

 Do you sometimes feel that although classical music is amazing and is a pure Art form, it’s popularity is declining because the music industry is killing it off? /// Of course classical music is only one branch of the bigger music industry. The music industry has changed dramatically during the past decade due to technological development. Many people that have never had the opportunity to attend classical music concerts, operas etc. can now be reached thanks to these technological innovations. In my opinion, classical musicians have never had such large audiences as they have at present thanks to technology. I also strongly believe in building and developing young audiences for the future through music mediation (Musikvermittlung) - introducing children at a young age to classical music, opera etc.

 I see Mozart is your favourite composer. What fascinates you about his music and his musical message? /// Mozart is definitely ONE of my favourite composers. I am always fascinated by his geniality - the uniqueness and exceptional beauty of his melodies, the intellectual and emotional depth, clarity, balance, transparency, artistic passion, childlike simplicity, humour, his progressive thinking for his time and the vast amount of works that he composed in his short lifetime. Mozart’s music is like balm for my voice. 

I keep my voice healthy by singing Mozart and it is an almost daily part of my vocal hygiene routine. I will never tire listening and performing his music as well as working on the Mozart repertoire. Although I have performed Mozart’s Requiem nearly hundred times now, I enjoy every performance anew.

In your career you have performed in many prestigious music festivals and you have met a plethora of musicians who have accompanied you. Which musical events made an extraordinary impression on you? Do you still remember some of musicians you have worked with? /// The most memorable musical events were the times that I worked and performed with musicians who specialized in early music. For example, working and recording with L’Orfeo Baroque Orchestra on a regular basis. The conductor, Michi Gaigg, always inspires and motivates me to create the opera role musically in a way I never thought possible. As a singer, specializing in early music, I’ve learned the most about the baroque style from instrumentalists, especially harpsichordist,s like Stefan Gottfried, Andreas Küppers, Erich Traxler and many others. Through music I was also fortunate enough to see the world, traveling to countries like Mexico, Japan, Hong Kong, China, the US, Turkey, Syria and almost all of the European countries. On these concert tours I had the privilege of seeing places that I might never have seen if I wasn’t a musician, meeting a myriad of people from different cultures, speaking a multitude of languages and making memories that will last a lifetime. Singing in the golden hall of the Vienna Musikverein will always be one of my fondest memories. This hall’s acoustics are breath-taking, and walking onto a stage where so many renowned artists have performed is an immense honour. Further highlights were concert performances in the Tokyo City Opera Hall, Tonhalle Zürich, Resonanzen at the Vienna Konzerthaus, Müpa Budapest’s and many more. Singing in the world stage première of Rameau’s opera “Zéphyre in Vienna” as well as “Nerone” (Agripinna- GF Händel), “Amital” (Betulia Liberata - WA Mozart) and the leading female role in “Fairy Queen” (H Purcell) will always stand out as operatic highlights.

When I visited your official website, the photos from your performances pleasantly surprised me. What interested me was the modern conceptualization of the productions, that can also be interesting for fans of contemporary music. What do you think of the contemporary operas, in which you perform – particularly Le Cinesi, Agrippina a Zéphyre? Can they reach a younger audience? /// Although I specialized in Baroque gestures and dance and have had the opportunity to work with one of the world’s leading directors, Sigrid T’Hooft , in this field, I also enjoy working with directors using modern concepts for their staging of Baroque operas. I find both concepts interesting. Audiences during the Baroque period knew the ‘language’ of the Baroque gestures which is not the case with our modern audiences today. With modern concepts, directors try to reach the audiences of today creating characters that the audience can identify with in today’s world and culture. They can definitely reach a younger audience in this way.

 The life of a successful artist is often under media scrutiny and can attract the attention of fans. How do you deal with the popularity that accompanies your career in the arts? /// To stay true to the art, and performing with excellence are my main goals. The attention, fans and popularity are part of the profession but should never be the main priority. In my opinion, there should always be a good balance - the attention and media should never distract the singer from their duty to be an artist and performer of the highest calibre.

Being an artist affords a lot of freedom but also requires discipline and limited free time. Do you manage to find time for yourself? What does relaxation means to you?  /// Yes, two of the essential requirements for being a professional artist is definitely discipline and continuous hard work. As an artist one also needs to recharge one’s batteries. Practising, creating, performing and traveling can be physically and emotionally exhausting and time to relax and recuperate are essential. Nature is one of the most refreshing places to relax. Going for for long walks in the Viennese woods with my Dachshund, Mimi, when I’m in Vienna is precious time that I can spend in silence, recuperating and also admiring life and God’s creation. I also relax just being with my family especially my sister, Anzél, who also lives in Vienna and is a cellist. We love to travel and visit and explore new places together.

 And lastly I would like to know about your idea of success. How would you describe it? What doe the success in your life enable you to do? /// Success for me is when I can be the best version of myself and bloom where I’m planted. Success means I continue to grow and develop and never stop learning as a human being and artist. Success also means I can appreciate the small things in life and be a blessing to other people.