For years, Swedish born Nina Stemme has been considered a leading singer of the most challenging parts in major dramas: Isolde, Brünnhilde and Kundry, Salome and Elektra, Fanciulla and Turandot.
That she initially shied away from these staggering heights of the soprano repertoire is a noteworthy – if not the defining – characteristic of her career. Mozart’s Cherubino is a far cry from Isolde and Turandot, a leap only few have mastered. Nina Stemme made the leap successfully by taking the time a development of this kind requires. When she was offered the part of Isolde, to be performed at the 2003 Glyndebourne Festival, she already had fourteen years of on-stage experience, having first taken lyrical parts such as Cherubino, Pamina, the « Figaro » Countess, Agathe and Eva, before moving on to increasingly lyrical-dramatic roles such as Mimi, Butterfly, Manon Lescaut, Tosca, « Tannhäuser » Elisabeth, Marschallin and Senta.
Isolde would have been the next step, but it was not until she had conferred with Birgit Nilsson that she took the offer. To her surprise, the legendary Wagner singer offered to help her learn her part. Nonetheless, Nina Stemme felt she was not yet ready to sing Isolde. When she did take the stage as Isolde for the first time at Glyndeborne, her performance was met with enthusiasm and she subsequently made a record with Plácido Domingo singing as Tristan and Antonio Pappano as conductor. Even then, she remained cautious: « You are never ready with these gigantic roles », she said in retrospect in her interview with the « New York Times ».