This month, we explore the world of Lieder. What makes a good programme? How should audiences approach Lieder recitals? We talk to today’s leading exponents of art song to gain an insight into a world that can sometimes be difficult for audiences to crack. Next up is soprano Anna Lucia Richter.

Anna Lucia Richter © Matthias Baus
Anna Lucia Richter
© Matthias Baus

Bachtrack: What criteria do you use when putting together a programme for a song recital?

Anna Lucia Richter: That depends on the guidelines – only rarely do you get to create a concept freely. I like to choose two or three composers for a theme and spin a golden thread around it. I particularly like it when a programme is so conclusive that it really tells a story. The connections with regards to keys are important too, of course. Then you mustn't neglect the arc of tension, the dramaturgy, and you also need to keep in mind the stamina of the singer and the pianist. Ultimately everyone has their favourite pieces, and they like to include one or another in their programme.

What advice would you give audience newcomers to Lieder recitals to help them approach the repertoire? Should performers talk to their audiences during recitals?

Just jump in at the deep end! Go to a Lieder recital or matinée completely open, without prejudices or expectations. Perhaps make sure that it's a shorter programme for the first time. It can't hurt to have a look at the texts beforehand. Maybe you choose three songs that you like the words of and listen to a few recordings if you can. This gives you something "familiar" to recognise during the concert. And: patience! Classical music is often more demanding to listen to, because the pieces are longer and more complex than most songs in the pop charts. But if you allow yourself to get immersed, Lieder will offer you something new to discover for decades. And if it does get boring, set yourself tasks: concentrate only on the high or low voice in the piano, for example. Or: Does the piano part comment on the voice? Do they agree? Or maybe not? Is this connected to the words?

In my opinion you can't generalise whether or not a singer should talk to their audience during a concert. It depends on the repertoire and the situation. There are singers who don't mind switching between singing and speaking, and there are others who find it too tiring, vocally and mentally...


How does it feel to see heads buried in programmes following the text during a recital? Would surtitles help? Should the audience read the texts beforehand?

The rustling of pages turning can be disrupting, of course. On the other hand it's important to understand what's being sung. Having surtitles for everything can deprive the audience of the magic of the music, of the "letting yourself go and fall into the music". I think something in between would be good: two lines of summary for texts in your native language, and surtitles for words in a foreign language. Concert introductions certainly can't hurt either. But much already has effect when you understand vaguely and let yourself be carried by the music and the atmosphere. And if you want to, you can always read up on things later so you're in the picture next time.

What advantages are there to the Lieder platform from the operatic stage?

Art song is much more fine-meshed and more delicate than opera. It tells big stories in the smallest (temporal and physical) space. At the same time it leaves a lot of space for the listener's fantasy because it's "only" interpreted by the musicians and not by a director as well. Perhaps this makes it a little less diverse on the other hand, because there isn't as much to look at.

Song is a very intimate affair. A pianist and a singer tell a story and the audience listens. Full stop. And yet there is an infinite number of stories that can be told in an infinite number of ways, because each and every artist understands them differently and conveys them differently.

What is your favourite song/Lied to perform?

In every programme I sing, I encounter songs that I elect as my favourite songs in that moment. It is a very big treasure chest in which there's a busy coming and going. I very much like Schubert's Erster Verlust, for example, Der Zwerg or Viola. Robert Schumann's song cycle after Eichendorff also is at the top of my list. And Hugo Wolf enchants me time and again with his little song gems. But Wolfgang Rihm's cycle Das Rot or Berio's Folksongs never fail to captivate me.


Which languages do you prefer to sing in?

Is there any singer who doesn't prefer to sing in his mother tongue? It's what's most familiar to you, thus I prefer to sing in German. I consider myself very lucky that there is so much wonderful repertoire in German. I also like to sing in other languages, of course, it only requires a different kind of preparation.

Do you have a regular pianist to partner you in recitals? What are his/her best qualities?

I really enjoy working with Sir András Schiff. He is one of the most intelligent, sensitive, musical and humorous pianists I know and does what only few achieve: with him, the music making always succeeds at that moment. With him there will be new interpretations every time, it's never routine... It's almost like there is an invisible band of understanding between him and me, he listens that closely and yet gives his own impulses.

I also enjoy working with Michael Gees. We have a mutual project – improvisation – through which we've grown together. He also is a particularly imaginative and sensitive listener, a wise anticipator, a sound magician.


Translated from German by Hedy Muehleck.