A woman matching the following description: "tall and willowy, yet perfectly proportioned, with thick, Nordic-blond hair cascading down her back, large sky-blue eyes and a radiant smile animating her face" -- could likely be a cover girl, film star or fashion model, yes? Or maybe even the personification of a Disney princess?
But it so happens that just such a description perfectly matches a California-born, Bay Area-educated dramatic soprano with a voice that can soar with steely power to the rafters of the largest of the world's opera houses. Yet that same voice can also purr seductively into King Herod's ears or shimmer with girlish rapture while painting a portrait of a fate-wracked Dutch sea captain in Wagner's "The Flying Dutchman." To top that all off, just last month she sang the daunting role of "Turandot" for the 100th time at the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden in London.
This operatic paragon is Lise Lindstrom, a lissome 47, and she is currently home with her family in the Bay Area while performing the role of Richard Wagner's "faithful unto death" heroine, Senta, in "The Flying Dutchman."
Last year, she received rave reviews following her debut with the Vienna State Opera in the title role of Richard Strauss' "Salome." A review on The Opera Critic website rhapsodized, "Here's a soprano with a model figure and the ideal deportment to depict Strauss' teenage princess" who has "the capacity to soar over the composer's most intense orchestration with ease and beauty" yet manages "to maintain seemingly endless stamina throughout."
This stamina certainly came to the fore during her San Francisco Opera debut last week as Senta in the company's current production of "Dutchman." At 3 p.m. on opening day, the house doctor had diagnosed her with strep throat. But in courageous "go-on-with-the-show fashion," she declared she wanted to go ahead as planned. Even after S.F. Opera General Manager David Gockley offered to make an announcement of her situation prior to the curtain, she stoically refused and went on to deliver a stunning performance.
Her singing did seem somewhat muted at the beginning of the opera's "spinning scene." But the intensity of her remarkable acting made her portrayal of a shy, idealistic young girl with a "crush" on the beleaguered Dutchman convincing. And she did manage to summon all the power and glory of her voice for a magnificent finale.
During a post-performance telephone chat, Lindstrom, the daughter of two accomplished singers, related a few of her previous onstage adventures. During the opening scene of the "Tannhauser" staged by the Greek National Opera in Athens in 2009 (with the sets and staging borrowed from the San Francisco Opera), the whole stage caught on fire. Thankfully, the flames were quickly put out, and she finished the opera in heroic fashion, singing both the roles of Elizabeth and Venus.
Another example of her performing grit occurred in Turin, Italy, during a rehearsal for the Teatro Regio di Torino's production of Wagner's "Die Walkure," when she fell for a drop of 6 feet off the stage. "Perhaps the scariest thing about that whole experience was the ride to the hospital in an Italian ambulance," she quipped. "A sense of humor helps a lot in opera!"
Although she was born in Alameda, Lindstrom was raised in Sonora, in the heart of the Gold Country. After graduating from Sonora High School, where her mother taught music and drama, she went on to get her bachelor's degree at San Francisco State and her master's at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music in 1996.
When asked what role she most wants to inhabit before reaching retirement age, Lindstrom singled out a particularly scrappy heroine with a serendipitous name. "I think I would like to sing Minnie in Puccini's 'La Fanciulla del West,' " she noted.
Lindstrom's two grandmothers were both named Minnie. "I can relate to her character!" she said.
Contact Cheryl North at email@example.com.
San Francisco Opera presents soprano Lise Lindstrom and bass-baritone Greer Grimsley in Richard Wagner's opera
When: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 31,
Nov. 7 and Nov. 12; 2 p.m. Nov. 3, 8 p.m. Nov. 15
Where: 301 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco
Tickets: $23-$385, 415-864-3330, www.sfopera.com