We are no longer divas.
- Reading time
- 6 min.
La Monnaie opens the 2018-19 season with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s iconic opera Die Zauberflöte in an original interpretation by Romeo Castellucci. The production boasts a five-star cast with, playing the part of the Queen of the Night, one of the leading European opera singers of the moment: Sabine Devieilhe, whose career we outline below.
A musical youth
The French coloratura soprano Sabine Devieilhe was born in 1985 in Ifs in Normandy, a small commune with a population of roughly 10,000. She began her musical education at the music school there before entering the Conservatoire de Caen, at the age of twelve, to study the cello.
After receiving her baccalaureate at the Lycée Malherbe, she obtained a degree in musicology and ethnomusicology from the University of Rennes 2. While she was studying, she joined the choir of the Opéra de Rennes. Her musical training all took place under the guidance of the conductor Valérie Fayet. Under the influence of singing teachers Jocelyne Chamonin of the Conservatoire de Caen, and then Martine Surais of the Conservatoire de Rennes, Sabine Devieilhe established her career as an opera singer. In 2002, she was a member of the chorus in a production of Richard Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer. Praised for her voice, she became a soloist and, in 2008, she entered Pierre Mervant’s singing class at the Conservatoire national supérieur de musique et de danse de Paris. There she also studied with Malcolm Walker and Elène Golgevit and, in 2011, was unanimously awarded first prize with special recognition from the jury.
At the same time as studying, Devieilhe started close collaborations with several musical ensembles. She sang with Pygmalion, directed by Raphaël Pichon. She performed music from a large repertoire ranging from early music to contemporary music with Geoffroy Jourdain and his ensemble Les Cris de Paris. Around the same time, she worked with Jean-Claude Malgoire and Alexis Kossenko on pieces from the baroque repertoire, from Bach to Rameau, the composer whose work would be the subject of her first recorded recital in 2013: Rameau – Le Grand Théâtre de l’Amour. The Orchestre national d’Île-de-France and the Orchestre de Paris also gave her access to other stages. Since then, she has also performed in concert with Les Arts Florissants, Marc Minkowski and Les Musiciens du Louvre, and many other well-known artists and ensembles.
The combination of her studies and her varied and precocious collaborations formed the basis of a glittering start to her career, which accelerated from the 2011-2012 season on. It was Jean-Claude Malgoire who gave her her first bel canto role as Amina in Bellini’s La sonnambula and then engaged her to play La Folie in Rameau’s Platée. In July 2012, she made her mark at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, where she played Serpetta in Mozart’s opera La finta giardiniera, directed by Vincent Boussard. That same year, the Opéra de Montpellier invited her to play the title role in Lakmé by Léo Delibes. She was crowned ‘Révélation Artiste Lyrique’ at the twentieth Victoires de la Musique Classique.
The year 2013 was one of transition for Sabine Devieilhe. For the first time, at the Opéra National de Lyon, she played the iconic role of the Queen of the Night in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, one of the parts that would open the doors to an international career. In 2013, she also signed an exclusive contract with the Erato music label which produced her first recital album with the ensemble Les Ambassadeurs, conducted by Alexis Kossenko. During the 2013-2014 season, at La Monnaie, she played the part of Eurydice in Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice for the first time in her career.
Since then, she has appeared in public in a large range of repertoires and characters. She played Constance in Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites at the Opéra national de Lyon, at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées where she replaced the original singer at the last minute, and at the Amsterdam opera house. In addition to Adèle in Die Fledermaus at the Opéra Comique, she also played Nanetta in Verdi’s Falstaff at the Opéra de Marseille and Mélisande in Debussy’s opera with Jean-Claude Malgoire. She also appeared at the Glyndebourne Festival Opera in Maurice Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges, in which she played, alternately, the Princess and the Nightingale. She also performed at La Scala in Milan for the first time, in Die Entführung aus dem Serail by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, in which she played the part of Blondchen. This season, she made her debut at Covent Garden in London with a new performance of the Queen of the Night in Die Zauberflöte, a part she will play once more at La Monnaie at the start of the 2018-2019 season, in the new production directed by Romeo Castellucci.
A string of prizes
Over the course of her budding career, Sabine Devieilhe has become the darling of the press critics, especially in France, where they see her as the inevitable successor to Natalie Dessay. The journal Diapason described the ‘charm of her svelte but rich soprano’s timbre, light, with flute-like accents, clear and nuanced declamation, and a mastery of effects that relies on instinct as much as on professionalism.’ In a concert review, ResMusica declared ‘the supremacy of Savine Devieilhe’ within the new generation of opera singers. The Guardian, in a critique of Mirages, the French coloratura soprano’s most recent recital album, wrote that the young artist has cemented her reputation as one of the most sought-after sopranos on the international scene.
These accolades are backed up by numerous prizes, many of them at the Victoires de la Musique Classique in France, where she won the prize for opera singer of the year in 2015. She also received this title in 2018, as well as the prize for recording of the year for her album Mirages, made with Alexandre Tharaud, François-Xavier Roth, and Les Siècles.
‘We are no longer divas’
Particularly fond of opera and lieder, she often performs with Anne Le Bozec, as she did in autumn 2017 at the Park Avenue Armory in New York and, later the same year, at Wigmore Hall in London. Nonetheless, despite her many successes, Sabine Devieilhe’s work ethic is far from the glitz and glamour associated with being in the eye of the media. On 28 March 2018, in an interview for Paris Capitale, she said, ‘Nowadays, our job is very different. We are no longer divas; we take the metro and do our own shopping. The generation of star opera singers – I am thinking of Callas, who sacrificed herself for her career – is well and truly gone. We are no longer stars; opera has become a niche that needs to become more popular.’
In the meanwhile, the French soprano’s calendar remains full. She played Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos by Richard Strauss this summer in Aix-en Provence and Cunégonde in Leonard Bernstein’s Candide in Marseilles. At the end of this year, at the Opéra Comique de Paris, she will once again sing the part of Ophélie in Hamlet by Ambroise Thomas. She has also already been announced to play Gilda in a production of Verdi’s Rigoletto in Marseilles in June 2019.