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Chatting with Tom Nicholson, baritone, and featured artist in Songs of Love.

Baritone Tom Nicholson is a 2022 Melba Opera Trust Artist and graduate of the Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University. Winner of multiple competitions and critically acclaimed for his latest operatic performance as Frank Maurrant in Kurt Weill’s Street Scene, Tom is a versatile performer making waves on the Australian opera scene. In Songs of Love, he will delight audiences with a performance of Schumann’s Dichterliebe Op. 48. Tom recently chatted with us about his connection with this song cycle as well as his past experiences performing it.

Photo courtesy of Ronan King-Rose Photography @rkrphotog

A Poet’s Love

If you are a lover of the art song genre, you know that nothing says Schumann better than Dichterliebe. Regarded by many as the highest point ever reached in the song cycle form, it was one of many pieces composed by Schumann in his “year of song” in 1840. Using poems from Heinrich Heine’s Lyric Intermezzo, this 16-piece cycle portrays a young man’s unrequited love. Heinrich’s beautiful imagery of nature, fairy tales, and love is heightened by Schumann’s exquisite accompaniment and melodies. Like in any performance, each artist has their own interpretation and artistic input, staying of course within certain performance traditions. Dichterliebe, in comparison to other song cycles, has been performed by all types of classical voices. Who wouldn’t love to sing the delicate “Im wunderschönen Monat Mai” or the dramatic “Ich grolle nicht”? Yet, the beauty of this cycle is that no matter who sings it, soprano, bass or mezzo, it will always sound extraordinary.

Can you tell us in your own words, what is the story behind Dichterliebe?

The story is of someone who is quite deeply in love with another person. The story begins with love blooming, but it is snatched away quite harshly when the beloved person confesses their love for someone else. This is then followed by a flurry of different emotions with love still present, but denial, hate and betrayal start to come across as well. The character then witnesses the marriage of this person, and it becomes less of a story of a real love scenario, but more of dreams and emotions, taking us into the headspace of the main character. In the end, some kind of closure is made in which all of the feelings are put into a coffin, larger than a bridge, and sunk in the ocean.

Tom Nicholson as Frank Maurrant in Kurt Weill’s Street Scene - Courtesy of Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University, photography Justin Ma.

You have performed Dichterliebe previously, how are you finding it to revisit the piece and is there anything new you are learning from the process as a performer?

Yes, I have taken more focus on the text this time, more so than before. I have been trying to bring out a more rounded, three dimensional character. I think that having done it before, it has given me a good basis to build on my previous understanding of the story and character. I can now delve a little bit deeper and make something more complex.

Is there a particular moment or song in the cycle that you enjoy most as a singer? Is there any special connection to any of the songs?

I have always loved the music that accompanies me more than what I actually sing. For me, my favorite and most emotional moment is after the 12th and 16th songs. There is this piano outro, same theme for both, and it is such a perfect moment to put aside the singing and build this expressive musical context for everything; considering as well how the story develops.

Of course, my other moment is a very popular one. The opening piece, “Im wunderschönen Monat Mai” , is a perfect way to bring out all the colors, emotions, and everything happening in the entire cycle really, with nice, and almost haunting, music.

Tom Nicholson as Frank Maurrant in Kurt Weill’s Street Scene - Courtesy of Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University, photography Justin Ma.

Do you have a favorite recording or interpretation of Dichterliebe that you would recommend for someone interested in learning more about the work?

I would always, a hundred percent, recommend Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau performing this cycle, and any German lieder in general. I actually often listen to other performers, to hear different ideas, but that interpretation is always the best one in my eyes. There are some moments in other performances where I cannot stop reminiscing about Dieskau’s performance. It is just so good.

You can hear Tom perform Schumann’s iconic Dichterliebe in our upcoming performance, Songs of Love, on Saturday 5th March at Saint Andrew’s Uniting Church.


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