Andrew Watts, countertenor and soloist in In Portrait: Olga Neuwirth talks about Hommage à Klaus Nomi, his ideal musical collage, and who he’d most like to be for a day…
On Saturday 11 February, you’ll be performing as soloist in Olga Neuwirth’s Hommage à Klaus Nomi. Can you tell us a little about Nomi’s character and how this influences your approach to the role?
Taking on the persona of someone like Klaus Nomi is almost impossible. Unlike such things as Stars in Your Eyes on the television the role is in no way meant to be an impression of Klaus Nomi (vocally or in a fashion sense!), it is more an evocation of the times and spirits of the period when Klaus Nomi was singing and performing.
My approach to singing this music is to treat it simply in a classical form even though some of the songs are based in the rock genre. Good singing along with a natural performance style is needed for these songs. The arrangements by Olga Neuwirth are incredible and full of musical nuances and detail.
Klaus Nomi used music to adopt a new persona. If you could be someone else for a day, who would you choose, and why?
I am fairly happy with being the person I am but if I were to become a person for the day I think I would like to be the President of the United States of America. I have become obsessed with the TV series The West Wing and carry it with me when away from home singing opera around the world. It is incredibly written and has a real insight into the working of politics in the US. Being President would give me access in to the most secure building in the world.
Olga Neuwirth has said that she has been intrigued by Klaus Nomi since the age of 13 and “was always a fan of his songs and his personality.” Which performer or hero, real or imagined, intrigues you?
I guess as a classical singer I am supposed to think of some other singer who has influenced me or who has inspired me. Most of the great singers have had some influence on me; I simply love the human voice. This is my healthy obsession. However if there was a person who intrigues me then I would have to say Diana, Princess of Wales. I had the pleasure of meeting her both publicly and privately and together with the rest of the world I still wonder what went on in her mind behind the smile and the gentle nature.
In Hommage à Klaus Nomi, Olga Neuwirth takes inspiration from 9 Klaus Nomi songs that were originally performed by a great variety of performers. If you were to create your own musical collage of favourites, what songs would you include?
This list can be endless! Looking at my iPod to see what I listen to all the time, I would include the following; The Carpenters We’ve Only Just Begun; The Weather Girls It’s Raining Men, Elton John’s Candle in the Wind, Defying Gravity from the musical Wicked This is the Moment from the musical Jekyll and Hyde, Isolde’s Liebestod from Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, Whitney Houston’s One Moment in Time and anything by Lady Gaga and Michael Jackson.
And finally… in a previous period of his life, Klaus Nomi worked a pastry chef. If you hadn’t become a musician, what would you be now?
Well I have done many jobs in my time before this music thing took off. I cleaned offices, put the jam in the middle of doughnuts in the local bakery, worked in the local grocers weighting out vegetables, worked in restaurants and pubs, played cocktail piano in a wine bar, and cooked pub food. I often wonder if I had not been a musician what would I have actually been doing now.