Claire Antoine
© Eduardus Lee
A few months ago, Claire Antoine was designated as a major classical talent by the French performing rights organisation Adami. Now, she has joined the Opera Studio at Dutch National Opera. How so? Nothing had predisposed the future soprano to music in general or singing in particular. Even if, as a child, she absolutely loved music-making, the first extracurricular activity that was set up for her was judo! This is simply because Antoine comes from the Creuse, a region in central France where access to culture isn't always easy and a place where vocal concerts barely ever happen. It was during her adolescence, when she was trying, unaided, to find her musical universe, that Antoine happened upon Strauss' Waltzes and a Maria Callas anthology. It was like a bolt of lightning, leading to a fascination for voice and opera that gradually took shape and morphed into a passion which has never left her. 

Antoine would sing karaoke secretly on the family hi-fi and then one day, miraculously, her voice “came out” all on its own, with its full power and vibrato. “I scared myself,” she says. “For a moment I thought I'd forced my voice too hard and broken it!” Seeing that music was playing an ever greater part in her life, her mother prompted her to “make something of it” and signed her up to the regional conservatoire in Guéret, initially against the wishes of her naturally timid and reserved daughter. But then, one thing led to another, and quickly the decision was made: Claire was to become a singer!

Antoine refined her artistic and musical training as she passed through the conservatoires in Toulouse and then Lyon. A number of meetings became crucial: pianists and répétiteurs Sylvie Leroy and Hélène Lucas first of all, but also Jacques Schwarz, with whom there was “a kind of artistic love at first sight”: this teacher, a renowned bass in his day, understood how to start from the singer's vocal potential and lead her steadily towards mastery, both of her instrument and interpretation. “He really built me up in every aspect: musical, vocal and artistic.” As well as these meetings, Antoine was fascinated by some of the great voices of yesteryear, who became a sort of Platonic ideal which she strives to approach. There's Christa Ludwig, “a mezzo with a very wide range which allowed her several forays into soprano territory; I always used to consider myself a mezzo and it's only recently that I've been told that I'm actually a soprano!” Or José van Dam and Régine Crespin: “how natural these two artists are! When they sing, you feel like they're speaking to you”, for their beauty of timbre, their stylistic accuracy, the attention they pay to the text. “I greatly admire many singers from 'the old school', let's say, from after the war up to the 80s. It was a time when everything ran at a slower pace, when one took more time to train, to make progress, to build oneself up solidly. Today, the opera world can be pretty stressful for a young singer, which is expected to be fully formed at 25 or 26 years old! After the war, it was a time when errors and imperfections were still permissible. It makes one wonder about today, a time where softwares like Autotune get us used to a form of perfection that is somewhat unnatural and dehumanised.” Indeed, when it comes to singing as a profession, it's that humanity that matters most to Antoine: “So, to preserve the humanity, one has to relearn to free oneself from that nearly sanitised perfection that society is trying to impose on us.”

Claire Antoine
© Joep Hijwegen
Two recent events have given a boost to Antoine's still young career. Each year for the last twenty, the Révélations Classiques Adami have highlighted eight classical artists: four singers and four instrumentalists. This renowned badge is particularly useful for young artists just setting out on their career, and many French singers whose careers are now well established (Ambroisine Bré, Fabien Hyon, Sahy Ratia, Éléonore Pancrazi, Jérôme Boutillier, Marie Perbost…) are former “Adami Talents”. The second event has just happened: her acceptance into DNO's Opera Studio in Amsterdam, “an organisation headed by Rosemary Joshua which is more or less equivalent to the Académie de l’Opéra de Paris, apart from the fact that there are only five of us singers, so we're particularly pampered. The fact that the Opera Studio isn't a giant factory allows us to be given a programme that's virtually made to measure: the idea of the Opera Studio isn't to keep us at DNO but to push us and give us visibility in the singing world.” The Opera Studio offers its members the chance to be seen in concert (one concert of Russian music has already taken place and a programme entitled “Lieder and mélodies” is scheduled for springtime) as well as taking part in various operatic productions. Antoine has just finished singing the First Servant in Zemlinsky's Der Zwerg, conducted by Lorenzo Viotti at DNO last September.

In July, at the Festival du Haut-Limousin where the Talents Adami Classiques had a residency, Antoine sang Liù's “Signore, ascolta” and Salome's “Il est doux, il est bon” from Massenet's Hérodiade. On the airwaves of France Musique, her choice has been “O mio babbino caro” from Gianni Schicchi and the Countess' “Porgi, amor” from Le nozze di Figaro: clearly, the voice type we're dealing with is that of the lyric soprano, and when asked about future roles, or at least, those she dreams of today, it's exactly those ample, flexible and luminous roles that come to Antoine's mind: Berlioz, Massenet, some Wagner. “Obviously, not too heavy and rather more in the future: Elsa, Elisabeth” (we're heading into Régine Crespin territory, here!) Also Lady Macbeth, a role that Christa Ludwig also sang. But Antoine loves poetry and is also clear about her desire to do French mélodies and German Lieder, genres that fascinate her because they allow her to work on the fusion between words and music and the way one lights up and completes the other – more so, for sure, than in opera. “I adore French mélodies. But I'm also extremely attracted to Mahler or Strauss' Lieder, and I'd love to be able to interpret them one day.”

Whatever the future that awaits this young singer, and whatever repertoire she will choose, one thing is for sure: Claire Antoine was not mistaken in refusing to ignore what was, in the beginning, an adolescent passion. “Every day I marvel at having been able to turn my passion into a career – it's an unbelievable stroke of good fortune.” A good fortune that audiences in Amsterdam will soon be able to share with her, awaiting the international launch of this young career that cannot come too soon.

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With the Young Artists To Watch project Bachtrack aims to shine a bright spotlight on deserving artists from all over the world that might not be getting as much visibility as they would have without the limitations caused by the pandemic. 

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Translated from French by David Karlin