Fior di Diavolo

Strongly founded! A marble tower! 

With those words, arms splayed in a stock gesture of defiance, I launched into Fiordiligi’s first-act aria on a makeshift stage in the winter of 2004. That production, a Così fan tutte (in English) organized and performed by a bunch of over-caffeinated Harvard undergrads, gave me my first opera role—and my first taste of what it might be like to let music this thrilling channel through me while everyone else had to stop and listen.

It was heaven, it was a mess, and it was deeply formative. That Così, more than anything else, pushed me into serious singing training after college. It’s a miracle I got the chance at all; I was a choir nerd, not an opera queen, and my listening habits leaned toward polyphony, Bach, Weezer, Stravinsky, Joni Mitchell. I had no inkling of how legendarily difficult people considered the role. But my friend Jim, conductor of Dunster House Opera, knew I had a sneaky way with coloratura, and one day he pulled me into a practice room with a stack of scores. We sight-read through a dozen iconic Mozart arias that afternoon, and Come scoglio was by far the most fun: I blazed out the high notes and honked out the low, wiggled through the crazy triplets with abandon, and laughed in delight at the absurd melodrama. It was settled.



Stunned that Kenneth Montgomery died yesterday.

Many knew him much longer and better than I did—but I feel so lucky to have known him for a few years, to have worked and learned and sung in his circle of light for a short while; and I feel heartbroken that I didn’t have more time, that we all didn’t, that a light like his has to go out.

It won’t, of course, not really. We’ll all be carrying it on, consciously or unconsciously. I thought of him often today. I was singing Brahms, Herzogenberg, Schumann and Korngold, and I tried to sing it with the rapture, focus, rigor, and zest that he would have brought to music of such extraordinary beauty. I tried to sing it with the gentleness toward myself and those around me that he would have shown. I tried to sing it with a soft sparkle in the eye, like his.

I will never forget singing Mozart with him—starting with my audition for Don Giovanni with the Orchestra of the 18th Century, one sunny May afternoon in his living room. I had been traveling since six in the morning and arrived late after a massive train delay, breathless and frantic that I’d blown my chance. But Kenneth smiled, sat at his Broadwood, beckoned me into its crook, and began to play. My breath slowed into the humanity I heard in each phrase he played, the compassion for every emotional shift. My love for and indignation on behalf of Donna Anna found a friend and champion in him before we’d exchanged a word about her character or her story: I could hear it in his music, see it in his face. And we kept going. We read arias together for as long as it gave him pleasure.

The picture above by Jan Hoordijk is from the Schauspieldirektor/Magic Flute mashup we did in the fall of 2021. I was singing the goofy role of Madame Herz, a caricature of a prima donna. What strikes me about the photo is that I look so much like myself under his amused smile, despite the exaggeration of the character.

I have all kinds of identity questions about myself to this day. Opera singer? Concert singer? Good girl or femme fatale? Nerd or diva? Singing with him allowed me to be all things at once—a fully realized version of myself as a musician and human, whatever the proportions. I think everyone who loved him felt that way. He was so extraordinarily, boundlessly generous of spirit. For him, all good music was good music; every singer or player was a delightful mix of music-making, soul, and sense of humor; and all stories were good stories, and weren’t we just so lucky to get to tell them?

Kenneth, it was an honor to know you.

child’s pose

Hi from a Rotterdam kitchen table strewn with empty coffee cups, scores of Polish songs I’m learning, and a laptop open to an article about airborne missiles (Russian? Ukrainian? deliberate? accidental?) killing Polish civilians.

Life has felt kind of high-stakes lately. Just me? I don’t think it’s just me. 2022 has been so heavy, in fact, that I ran out of things to say here for a while. It was hard enough to stay present in my work and in my relationships, and no kind of music chit-chat came easily. Music was dwarfed by the enormity of everything else: the pandemic; a breathtakingly destructive European land war; climate inaction and denial; borderline-fascist power grabs; the erosion of individual rights, safety, and autonomy in many places.


when they tell you the body is the instrument

The body:
The singer’s instrument

The body:
Recent Covid prison, achy, wracked with coughs

The body:
What I thought I was escaping by spending so many teenage hours making music, slipping into a plane of sound that was higher or more worthy (I thought) than my own solidity, despite the burgundy polyester choir dresses that showed everything we wanted to hide, despite the obvious inescapable physicality of creating sound from diaphragm and lungs and glottis

The body:

Edison Klassiek for Regards sur l’Infini

I am honored beyond belief to announce that my 2020 album Regards sur l’Infini has won the Edison Klassiek award (category: Best Debut). I offer my most heartfelt gratitude to my partners in this adventure, Sam Armstrong and Frerik de Jong, and to everyone who listened, supported us, and told us what the recording had meant to them.

Never in my wildest dreams did I anticipate that my quirky project would be such a hit. READ MORE

“boundless theater of the mind”: the fall 2021 concerts that could

I’m writing from my yellow couch, site of last year’s Covid stagnation, as a bunch of new regulations have just slammed hurriedly into place to protect the Netherlands against the Omicron wave. Our uncertain times aren’t over, and the rest of my winter is suddenly thrown into doubt again. So I’m feeling especially lucky that some lovely projects were able to go ahead in the fall with friends old and new. A roundup, so that I can look back later and remember:

I performed Debussy’s ravishing La damoiselle élue with Holland Upper Voices, my dear friend Drew Santini conducting, and pianist Flore Merlin—listen to the broadcast of this piece, or the full concert, on the Radio4 website.READ MORE

Raves for Madame Herz with the Orchestra of the 18th Century

I’ve never been accused of NOT wearing my heart on my sleeve, but goodness gracious, mein Herz did overflow every time I heard the opening bars of Mozart’s sublime “L’amerò, saro costante” last month. That’s an aria from his early opera Il rè pastore, and I recently got to sing it many times on tour with the Orchestra of the 18th Century, along with the short, goofy opera Der Schauspieldirektor. This project was meant to have been a full-scale Zauberflöte (in which I would have been First Lady) but had to be scaled down for Covid reasons. I sang Madame Herz a billion years ago in North Carolina; somehow, improbably, in 2021, after the weirdest and most challenging eighteen months of my adult life, here I was, playing her again on the grandest stages of the Netherlands, having a blast pretending to be an outrageous diva in an outrageous gold gown.READ MORE

wells of love, lasagnas of protection

There are different wells within your heart.
Some fill with each good rain,
Others are far too deep for that.

In one well
You have just a few precious cups of water,
That “love” is literally something of yourself,
It can grow as slow as a diamond
If it is lost.

Your love
Should never be offered to the mouth of a
Only to someone
Who has the valor and daring
To cut pieces of their soul off with a knife
Then weave them into a blanket
To protect you.

There are different wells within us.
Some fill with each good rain,
Others are far, far too deep
For that.



In late March 2021, after all the accumulations of the past year—

after mourning the people who died—

after commiserating with friends who lost loved ones—

after adjusting to the loss of most of my income—

after feeling almost unbearable gratitude for the work I managed to do in spite of everything, and the friends who supported that work—

after watching momentous political upheavals across the world on small screens—

after endless vulnerable conversations about how everything, everything, had been changed by Covid—

after making and re-making plans over and over and seeing most of them cancelled anyway—

after laboring for so long to keep my professional mask from slipping, because I knew that everyone in the performance industry was suffering more or less equally, and no one had any answers—

in late March 2021, after all this, I cried harder than I had in the entire pandemic.READ MORE

the things I am still, a year in, trying to tell myself

Someday, you will recognize how brave you were.

Someday, you will recognize that your grief was reasonable, whether it was connected to a specific loss or not.

Someday, you will (possibly) forgive yourself for your unearned privileges—a home, a few close people, tolerance of solitude, money and food enough, health care—that others suffered and died without.

Someday, you will (possibly) forgive the politicians who dismissed the importance of your life’s work during a crisis that stripped you and most of your friends of their livelihoods even as those politicians continued to ease their lockdown boredom with stuff made by artists.

Someday, you will look back in disbelief at having been able to devote months to a single project, a single album, and you will fully know the generosity of everyone who helped make it happen, everyone who listened and shared and wrote to you to tell you what it meant to them.

Someday, you will know that what you actually spent time on this year—making that album, listening to what others were making at the same time, movies and shows and books and podcasts and radio and streamed concerts, cooking and cleaning and sleeping and bathing and walking and resting and laundry, knitting, keeping a pet rabbit and some plants alive, yoga, learning about houses in general and yours in particular, taking things apart and putting them back together mindfully, clearing away old objects and anxieties, opening your home to two friends for months, opening your heart to many friends’ fear and grief, finding ways of sharing your own fear and grief and also bearing them on your own, huddling for long cold afternoons under a crocheted blanket that was a handmade gift—mattered more than what you didn’t spend time on and felt guilty about.READ MORE

Regards sur l’Infini: Reactions

Sam and I have been overwhelmed by the response to Regards sur l’Infini, our debut disc as a duo, the project that kept us both moving forward through the hardest months of 2020. We’ve heard from many friends, and critics (see below), and critics who are now friends because they sought us out to talk about what we made, that the album has helped others bear the uncertainty of the current moment, too, and has provided beauty and inspiration. We couldn’t have asked for a more sympathetic reception for our unusual and personal program of songs.

Here is a summary of the press response to the disc: reviews, radio programs, blogs, interviews. The album also made several best-of-2020 lists: Parool, Diskotabel, and Basia Jaworski all chose it as one of their top picks of the year.




The Guardian (Erica Jeal’s Classical Album of the Week): “Glowing, intriguing French chamber music … Katharine Dain and Sam Armstrong have used lockdown to produce a memorable, effortlessly polished album. … An extraordinarily polished and thought-through disc. At its centre is a glowing performance of Messiaen’s 1937 song cycle Poèmes pour Mi, Dain’s voice crystalline yet powerful when required, Armstrong’s piano effortlessly propulsive.”

The Times (Geoff Brown): “You could try gazing into infinity with Katharine Dain, an American soprano with scorching top notes, based in the Netherlands, and the incisive British pianist Sam Armstrong. As a virus album, Regards sur l’infini is impressively elegant and thoughtful, featuring cunningly chosen French song settings presented in palindrome form. … Penetrating artistry … perfect in every way.” (pdf)READ MORE

Concertgebouw Orchestra debut on four days’ notice

I was honored to step in this week as soprano soloist with the Concertgebouw Orchestra, one of the world’s greatest. A colleague had fallen ill just before the planned premiere of a piece by Bram Kortekaas. I was contacted on Sunday afternoon: could I learn the fourteen-minute score immediately? Would the piece be a good fit? Was my command of Dutch language good enough? I had worked once before with Antony Hermus, the wonderful conductor of this all-Dutch program, but the orchestra didn’t know me, and I know perfectly well what a risk it is for management to make a call like this at the last minute.

I looked through the score: some high Cs and Ds, some lowish notes, some quick tempi and big intervallic leaps, some lyrical passages, lots and lots and lots of Dutch. I called my friend Manoj, who promised to help with the text. Manageable. I took a deep breath and responded: Yes, I can do it.

The next few days were a blur.READ MORE

“merciless beauty”

Our album is out!! Regards sur l’Infini was officially born on November 27th, 2020. Sam and I performed a small CD release concert in the gorgeous concert hall in Nijmegen, the same space where we recorded, that night, and we are overwhelmed by the positive response to the disc so far.

The Guardian chose Regards sur l’Infini as their classical pick of the week: “a memorable, effortlessly polished album.”

MusicWeb International has given us a sublime review and one of their coveted “Recommended” labels.

Beautifully recorded, exquisitely performed. … Katharine Dain is perfection itself. Her tone is light but not insubstantial, flexible, expressive and colourful, with a natural vibrato that you can listen to forever. Sam Armstrong’s accompaniment is sensitive and equally expressively communicative, an ideal mirror to Dain’s voice. … A superbly curated programme of French music. … This is the kind of recording that reminds us that there is not only beauty in melancholy, but also a wealth of inspiration.

—Dominy Clements, MusicWeb International, 25 November 2020


Ruth Falcon, 1942-2020

I was shaken to learn last night that soprano and legendary teacher Ruth Falcon has died.

I was lucky to study with Ruth at Mannes for three years. She was an exacting technician, a force of nature, someone who could be both boundlessly generous and terribly difficult. Although we haven’t been close in many years, it’s hard to believe she’s gone.

I remember our first lesson. I had been accepted to Mannes and was trying to decide on a teacher. Ruth worked me hard for an hour; I felt things unlock that had never been free. The feeling was physical and thrilling, and the resulting sound was one I had never heard come from my own body before, unstable, full of color. After I breathlessly thanked her at the end of the lesson, she told me with satisfaction that she had heard something teachable in my high C during my Mannes audition. Nothing else was good yet, she hastened to add, but we could build down from that pitch. It was my first squirming encounter with her notorious directness, but the thing was, we DID build down from there. In the next year or two especially, she gave me technical tools I am still using.READ MORE

Mahler, Berg, and Schubert with Grammy-winning Ludwig

Most of my concerts this spring, summer, and fall were cancelled. But not this one, which went off last week without a hitch, and thank goodness, because it was a complete pleasure from start to finish. Scroll down to listen to our Mahler and Schubert.

Ludwig is a Dutch chamber orchestra that almost exclusively plays without conductor. (A notable exception is whenever they work with Barbara Hannigan, who sings and conducts; their 2018 album Crazy Girl won a Grammy.) I’ve sung with them a few times before, but this project felt extra-special. It was my first time singing Mahler’s Fourth Symphony, a piece on my wish list for the longest time; it was in TivoliVredenburg, a concert hall in Utrecht that feels like home, for an actual (distanced) audience; and it was one of only a few live performances I’ve gotten to do lately, and perhaps the last for a while. The program also included three of Alban Berg’s luscious Seven Early Songs and a ghostly, stunning arrangement of Schubert’s Nacht und Träume.

But back to the Mahler, which felt almost unbearably poignant under the circumstances.READ MORE

Regards sur l’Infini: Back Story

It’s been a rocky few months for the performing arts, which makes it all the more strange and wonderful to announce my own news: Sam Armstrong and I are making an album.

Sam and I been close friends and collaborators for a long time, but we’ve never recorded together. Now, finally, we’re planning a disc of French songs, titled “Regards sur l’Infini” after a gorgeous early song by Dutilleux. The program is a compact, symmetrical meditation on restlessness and longing, including two complete cycles (Messiaen Poèmes pour Mi, Debussy Proses lyriques) and songs by Claire Delbos, Dutilleux, and Saariaho. We will record in the second week of August in Nijmegen’s stunning Concertgebouw de Vereeniging. Frerik de Jong will be at the helm, and the disc will be released on 7 Mountain Records in November of 2020.

But wait! How did this project evade the jaws of the pandemic?

It didn’t. “Regards sur l’Infini” will be a direct result of the Covid-19 lockdown. Like most performers, I’ve been virtually unemployed since mid-March; although some work is flickering back to life, the industry is still in major trouble. But meanwhile, I’ve been quarantining with a pianist. We’ve been making music together at home all along—at first just to cope with the uncertainty and loss, and later with a defined goal. I’m so glad that the album will serve as a permanent record of this work: a document of deep thought and assimilation and trust, a personal silver lining to a global catastrophe.