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.


Höchste Lust: music as the opposite of social distancing

it is a necessity to have a plan, a manifesto, an alternative. it’s a question of life and death for our species. as a musician i feel i can suggest the musical poetic angle which is that after tragedies one has to invent a new world, knit it or embroider, make it up. it’s not gonna be given to you because you deserve it, it doesn’t work that way. you have to imagine something that doesn’t exist and dig a cave into the future and demand space. it’s a territorial hope affair. at the time, that digging is utopian but in the future it will become your reality.



Oh, hi. Weren’t we just chatting? Was it really only last month that I was here on the blog, smugly linking to positive reviews and broadcasts, projects I had in the pipeline? Was it really just a few weeks ago that my first performances were canceled due to the rapid spread of COVID-19 across Europe, and I was hoping (despite more emails and apologies coming in every day) that the loss might be limited to my March and April gigs?

… Well. Here we are, in a different reality. So many people are losing so much, so quickly. I am currently healthy, in a well-functioning country, riding out the uncertainty in a comfortable house with my husband and two close friends (one of whom is a wonderful pianist, so I can even carry on with music at home). I feel fervently grateful for my good luck, and guilty for being so lucky when others aren’t. I don’t know how to be adequately grateful for the doctors and nurses risking themselves every day to care for sick people, or for the public-health folks and epidemiologists who are working to lessen the blow around the world. The scale of it all is staggering.READ MORE

Wagner & van Veldhuizen with the NSO

I’m so grateful to have been involved in the 2020 Nederlands Studenten Orkest tour of a concert program fittingly titled “Extase,” which closed Sunday night to massive fervor in the Grote Zaal of Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw. The orchestra (made up of all university students, approximate ages 18-26, led by Manoj Kamps) worked for four weeks, I for three, with an intensive rehearsal period followed by 13 concerts in 15 days. It was exhausting, it was massively stimulating, and it was incredibly fun. It was my first time singing Wagner, the Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde; the kids of the orchestra made that a safer, more exploratory, more joyful experience than it might have been in another context. (I’m definitely a lyric soprano, not a dramatic or Wagnerian voice, but with this group, and this conductor, I didn’t have to worry about balance or Fach or long-term implications: I could just focus on making the most sublime, rapturous music I could, with everyone in full support.Judge for yourself below, where I’ve posted the recording, if you’d like.) And we built an exciting new piece from scratch: Rick van Veldhuizen’s unde imber et ignes, which I loved discovering and singing. Keep your eyes on his name, everyone—Rick is a star.


Reinbert de Leeuw, 1938-2020

The world is a less vibrant place today.

The last time I saw Reinbert was nearly a year ago, spring, a jump-in—Berg and Zemlinsky songs in gorgeous chamber arrangements he had made. I had enough notice that I could go to his house in Amsterdam on a sunny April day to go through the music. I had been cramming at home and was quaking in my boots when I arrived, because I was barely past the sight-reading stage with some of the songs, and how could I hope to please him, who knew so much more than I did?

I should have known better, but then I only worked with him a few times. He welcomed me in, made me a coffee, sat in his favorite chair in the sun, and then we didn’t rehearse at all—he talked about the music and the texts for an hour or two with such love, such depth of understanding, and such wonder and humor. He played me recordings and hummed and conducted along, his eyes sparkling at particularly beautiful harmonic shifts. He told me stories. He could not have been more generous. It wasn’t only generosity—this was also of course the most useful preparation together, because everything started from his fierce, uncompromising, entirely romantic commitment to the material, and this was what he cared that I absorb in our short time together, more than musical details, which I could manage on my own. I won’t ever forget that concert, or his spirit, although so many knew him much more deeply and longer than I did.

Rest well, Maestro.

The Guardian thinks I’m “worth discovering!”

My album of Clara Schumann and Rhian Samuel songs (with bass-baritone Paul Carey Jones and pianist Jocelyn Freeman) got a short mention in the Guardian. It’s a tiny review, but I’ll take it, especially as it allowed me to see my name in the Guardian’s instantly-recognizable typeface for the first time, which was maybe more of a thrill than the words themselves.

“There’s more by Samuel on the album Song Lied Cân (Ty Cerdd). This small Welsh label, doing quietly impressive work, has paired her songs with works by Clara Schumann, performed by Katharine Dain (soprano), Paul Carey Jones (baritone) and Jocelyn Freeman (piano). All worth discovering.” —Fiona Maddocks, The Guardian, 19 January 2020

thoughts on an itinerant Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving from me, an immigrant.

Or am I an expat? There’s a huge difference in connotation between those two words. The word “expat” usually implies a temporary state: a state of privileged displacement for a period of months or years, a chosen state of non-integration. Expats might have gone abroad for an interesting job; expats don’t always bother to learn the local language; expats only hang out with other expats. Some people start off thinking of themselves as expats but stay long-term. Some who thought they were moving permanently actually find the transition to a new place too difficult, and return. The word “immigrant” is often used negatively, unfortunately, to otherize people who flee dangerous or hopeless circumstances and try to improve their lives somewhere else.

I’ve lived in the Netherlands for more than seven years, and I’ve gone through multiple bureaucratic processes at the IND (Immigratie- en Naturalisatie-Dienst, the Dutch agency that processes foreigners trying to settle in the Netherlands). I’m an immigrant in the eyes of the law. I wasn’t forced out of my home country by oppression or war or danger, thank goodness, but I am originally American, and now I live in the Netherlands, and I plan to stay. I applied for dual citizenship when that became possible, and now I am “Dutch-American soprano Katharine Dain,” a phrase I put at the beginning of my bio to indicate both my hireability throughout the EU as well as an aspect of my identity. Artists are sometimes put idealistically in a different category—citizens of the world, drawing inspiration from everywhere, etc.—but whether we study abroad (as I did in London from 2004-06) or permanently relocate (as I now have), we’re still immigrants, or expats. We still submit our paperwork at the IND like every asylum seeker. We still grapple with feelings of cultural displacement, loss, and loneliness, and never more so than around the holidays.READ MORE

Boccherini and Mendelssohn in Brussels

In a very last-minute change, I will be replacing the Spanish soprano Nuria Rial tonight in a concert presented by Bozar Brussels with the Auryn Quartet and bassist James Munro. The repertoire is Boccherini’s lovely Stabat Mater for soprano and strings, as well as music by Bach and Mendelssohn. I wish Nuria a speedy recovery and am grateful to my new colleagues for their generosity and beautiful playing in our rehearsal today.

On the early trip down from Rotterdam this morning, I was also treated to a stunning winterscape from the train window. Perk!

great press for Don Giovanni

I’ve been hugely enjoying singing Donna Anna with the Orchestra of the 18th Century under Kenneth Montgomery, a semi-staged production that is touring the Netherlands and Belgium in October. With a dream cast and a group of players that take as much interest in the storytelling as the singers, I’m finding new colors and possibilities in the piece in every performance. The press has been very positive.

“Donna Anna … was in handen van Katharine Dain, een heel fraai optreden. Haar twee grote aria’s ‘Don Ottavio, son morta!’ en ‘Crudele Non mi dir… bell’idol mio’ waren van grote klasse; verrassend, met een paar extra coloraturen.” (“Donna Anna was sung by Katharine Dain, in a very fine performance. Her two major arias ‘Don Ottavio, son morta!’ and ‘Crudele … Non mi dir’ were first-class, surprising with extra coloratura.”) –Place de l’Opera

“Bij de dames overtuigde vooral de sopraan Katharine Dain als een lyrische en beheerste Donna Anna, het enige adellijke slachtoffer van Don Giovanni.” (“Of the women, the soprano Katharine Dain was especially convincing as a lyrical and controlled Donna Anna, Don Giovanni’s only victim of the nobility.”) –OpusKlassiek

“Bij de zangers zijn de uitblinkers … de sopraan Katharine Dain als Donna Anna, die haar krachten spaart voor de
schitterende aria Non mi dir…” (“Outstanding among the singers … soprano Katharine Dain as Donna Anna, who kept her strength for the beautiful aria ‘Non mi dir…'”) —Het Parool

“Du côté des femmes, l’américaine Katharine Dain domine avec beaucoup d’aisance les aspérités de Donna Anna, et impose un phrasé des plus expressifs.” (“Among the women, Katharine Dain gracefully smoothed Donna Anna’s rough edges with most expressive phrasing.”) —Opera Online

“Donna Anna, de jonge vrouw die zich niet laat pakken, krijgt het vuur in de keel van sopraan Katharine Dain.” (“Donna Anna, the young woman who doesn’t let herself be caught, blazes with fire in the throat of soprano Katharine Dain.”) –Volkskrant

“magnifiek … kippenvel” (“magnificent … goosebumps”) –Trouw

“Sopraan Katharine Dain bracht een mooie kordate Donna Anna…” (“Soprano Katharine Dain was a beautifully resolute Donna Anna…”) –Opera Gazet

astride a comet

We’ve all read Khatia Buniatshvili’s bio, right? If you haven’t, treat yourself. She’s a pianist (apparently a good one—I’ve never heard her), and her bio is riveting. It lends itself well to dramatic recitations over dinner; it could be a drinking game. The last paragraph is particularly great: “Khatia Buniatishvili, shining pianist at the height of her abilities, came into this world in a shower of light during the summer solstice. On a human level, she is attracted more to equinoxes, being smitten by justice and seeking day and night in equal share.  By lifting one’s eyes skywards one might notice her playing hide-and-seek with either Venus or Mercury. The cosmos is her garden and it is in its movement that she feels alive, astride a comet.”

Maybe we should all rewrite our bios! The thing is, hers is working on some level—I’m talking about her. Although they’re necessary, bios are generally the worst, somehow both boring and irritating. I’ve been a professional performer with a bio (written by me, about myself) for about fifteen years, and the genre still makes me cringey and self-conscious; either it’s too detailed and list-like, which is dry, or too descriptive, which is braggy and subjective and easily veers toward the ridiculous.

Look at Khatia, though. What if we stopped worrying and embraced the epic? What if we pulled a Spaceman Spiff, a Stupendous Man, and channeled our inner hyperactive six-year-old as we talk about ourselves in the third person? This industry thrives on individual responses to individual work. It’d be one thing if there were objective, peer-reviewed, double-blind, clinically-tested measures of quality in performance, but there just aren’t. We’re all flailing about in the emotive soup together, seeking day and night in equal share, playing hide-and-seek with Venus or Mercury. (Has Khatia played Vivier or read Calvin and Hobbes??) Maybe we should all be taking more risks, in our bios, in our repertoire, in our lives!

On that note, happy Equinox, everyone. Don’t worry, I’m not actually going to write a new bio that begins “we join the fearless SPACEMAN SPIFF, interplanetary explorer extraordinaire, out at the farthest reaches of the galaxy…”READ MORE


Hi from France.

At the end of summer 2018, my partner and I planned six days of hiking in Germany as our only real vacation of the year, which had been very stressful. Four days in, I got an urgent message about a jump-in, and after some discussion, sadness, and a final lovely evening together, I left early to take the job. Ever since, I’ve felt I owed my partner a real vacation.

I didn’t realize how much I also owed myself one. Now, a year later, after ten days of hiking in the Pyrenees and a week at a yoga retreat in the countryside near the mountains, I finally remember what it’s like to not feel close to burnout. It’s the first time in ages. I almost don’t recognize myself.READ MORE

several lovely reviews, plus the Choc de Classica!

I’ve been slow to post reviews this spring, but I’ve had particularly kind words about several recent performances, and I’m delighted to announce that Damask‘s debut album, O schöne Nacht, has received a prestigious award: the Choc de Classica.

Here is an excerpt of the glowing review of Damask’s disc (translated from the French): “Brahms’ writing, which weaves voices together so naturally that each seems born of the others, is a perfect fit for the spirit of Damask Quartet, an international vocal ensemble founded in 2014 in the Netherlands. Katharine Dain’s agile, round soprano, the voluptuous and vibrant mezzo-soprano of Marine Fribourg, Guy Cutting’s flexible and lustrous tenor voice, and the deep warmth of baritone Drew Santini are all portals to the composer’s shimmering sound-world. From pianist Flore Merlin’s first arpeggios, Brahms’s Vier Quartette Op. 92 envelop us in the warmth of the night, its romantic possibilities and its sensuality.” The review will be in the June 2019 issue of Classica magazine. We are so pleased that our hard and careful work has been consistently rewarded with great press since the CD was released in the winter; receiving such an award feels like a real milestone.

In April, I jumped in for an ill colleague in songs of Zemlinsky and Berg in Austria’s Osterfestival. It was an utterly beautiful experience—the meeting of musicians, repertoire, location, and concentrated atmosphere was inspiring, and I couldn’t believe that it was all put together on such short notice. The Kronen Zeitung agreed (translated from the German): “Alban Berg’s ‘Seven Early Songs’ [were] sung by soprano Katharine Dain, who made these strange melodies seem completely natural with her vocal coloring and soulful dynamics. In Zemlinsky’s ‘Six Songs after Maeterlinck,’ she and the musicians meshed the simplicity of the vocal line with sensual instrumental sound.”

And in May, I sang my first Brahms Requiem. The Boston Musical Intelligencer wrote a nice piece on the concert, including the following: “Brahms surely was thinking of his late mother while composing the fifth movement, Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit (You now have sorrow), a rare expression of tender consolation set for solo soprano with the chorus largely in an accompanimental role. The soloist’s very first phrase is a stern test of the singer’s breath control, a long ascending and descending melody that is entirely exposed over a silky cushion of muted strings. Katharine Dain was appropriately seraphic, seemingly beyond the tiresome bodily necessity of breathing, and the strings were equally ravishing. As with the earlier baritone solo, the interplay of soloist, chorus, and orchestra was handled sensitively, with exemplary balances and unanimity of expression. Dain had an especially radiant moment ascending to a high A at “[I] have found great comfort,” and the ending was sweetly maternal (“I will comfort you, as one whom his mother comforts”), capped by a celestial high pianissimo chord in the wind instruments.”

on ambiguity, Donna Anna, and growing up

Sometimes, when I was an undergraduate at Harvard, I’d walk through campus on a brooding overcast day and spot the towering steeple of Memorial Church (usually quite imposing, a striking white spire against the brilliant blue of a New England sky) receding into the muted light, its sharp contours softened and made less visible by the texture of the clouds behind. For some reason, I’d feel an unexplainable pang of satisfaction whenever the steeple was the same color as the sky.

What was it about that image of the gently receding spire that I liked so much? I’m still not sure. It’s a lofty wooden affair that always looks like it’s just gotten a fresh coat of white paint. The church itself is brick, dignified and columned and grand, and it anchors one of Harvard’s grassy quads. I’m looking at the church now as I sit on the massive stone steps of Widener library opposite. It’s a windy spring afternoon, and several banks of clouds have already scuttled across the sky; in a short period of watching, I’ve seen the steeple change moods several times according to its backdrop.


Berg and Zemlinsky at the Osterfestival

I’m jumping in for an ill colleague at Austria’s Osterfestival in the heart of the Alps. The program is Berg’s luscious Sieben frühe Lieder and Zemlinsky’s little-known and absolutely gorgeous Maeterlinck Lieder, performed in an arrangement for chamber orchestra by Reinbert de Leeuw. Reinbert (the founder and conductor of Asko|Schönberg, the Netherlands’ most storied new-music band) also conducts the performance, which features players of the Belgian ensemble Het Collectief. I wish my colleague a speedy recovery; my adrenaline is high as I dive into this gorgeous repertoire that evokes the world of Klimt and Art Nouveau. (It was almost exactly four years ago that I jumped in for a recital in the Concertgebouw’s Kleine Zaal in similar repertoire of Marx, Korngold, and Strauss; read the glowing review of that performance here.)

coming to light

… as heimlich [familiar, homelike, or surreptitious, secret] progresses through its shades of meaning, it eventually coincides with its opposite, unheimlich, which the German writer Schelling defined as “the name for everything that ought to have remained … hidden and secret, and has become visible.” … In the annals of etymology, where heimlich and unheimlich reveal themselves as one and the same, we find the secret to this very particular kind of anxiety, Freud tells us, which arises from the encounter not after all with something new and foreign but rather with something familiar and old from which the mind has been estranged by the process of repression. Something that ought to have been kept concealed, but that has nevertheless come to light.

-Nicole Krauss, Forest Dark

Y’all, it’s been a WINTER: ten weeks of intensity, of newness and of return, of hibernating and of shedding—of things long concealed or suppressed that have nevertheless come to light. I’ll elaborate, but first, here’s a summary of how that’s manifested in my work since the beginning of the year.

Right after the start of 2019, I went back to France—Reims, this time—for the last Konstanzes of the Clermont-Ferrand production of Entführung. It was so wonderful and so sad. I performed the opera both better (I can really sing the role now) and worse (as old habits clashed with new ideas and upswellings of feeling) than ever before. It was the end of many stories, the beginning of others, both a celebration of what the team has made and experienced together over the last year and a vulnerable bringing to light of new aspects. I’m deeply mourning it, and I’m also happy to take everything it’s given me into new projects, to move on.READ MORE