Perhaps nothing epitomizes the histrionics of opera more than Puccini's masterpiece "Turandot."
After all, it starts with a beheading and ends with a wedding, and the underlying psychological motivators (neuroses?) are desire, anxiety and competition.
Such tumult could well be the description of the realities of life as a contemporary opera singer.
"It always sounds glamorous and groovy, but the lifestyle is truly challenging," soprano Lise Lindstrom says. "It requires a certain insanity."
Lindstrom sings the titular role in Austin Lyric Opera's presentation of "Turandot," which opens Saturday. The production comes from the Lyric Opera of Kansas City, where it opened the new Kauffman Center last fall. Lindstrom sang the lead in that "Turandot," sharing the stage with three-time Grammy Award-winner Samuel Ramey.
"As performers, we not only have to suspend disbelief on stage," Lindstrom says of the craft of performing, "but we have to suspend disbelief in our life and maintain some sort of optimism that's only loosely — very loosely — grounded in reality. If you were to start counting the rejections and the challenges, you wouldn't get out of bed in the morning."
Lindstrom has plenty of experience playing the edgy, icy, unpredictable Princess Turandot. In 2011 alone, she sang the role in seven productions, including those at Deutsche Oper Berlin and the famed Teatro alla Scala in Milan.
"This role is so dear to my heart," Lindstrom says.
Lanky, blond and looking alert yet relaxed while she drinks coffee during a recent morning interview, Lindstrom embodies none of the neuroses of the Puccini character that's become something of her professional calling card.
She credits a sense of discipline and focus. "A certain mental, spiritual and physical balance needs to be maintained at all times in order to perform," she says. Staying healthy, staying fit — and always carrying her lucky bag full of throat remedies, vitamin C packs and the ever-present water bottle — is the secret.
"I'm trying to make peace with it," she says with a smirk, nodding toward a large, filled-to-capacity handbag. "I don't have too many superstitions, but I have everything in there if I need it."
Lindstrom's truly life-imitating-opera experience came in 2010 when she stepped in at the last minute to sing Turandot at the Metropolitan Opera when the scheduled star took ill.
A Met Opera debut is a career pinnacle for any opera singer. Making one last-minute is the stuff of lore.
Lindstrom, a native of Northern California, was an understudy for Russian soprano Maria Guleghina in Franco Zeffirelli's opulent Met production for the first two weeks of performances before taking over the role.
But when Guleghina came down with a cold on opening night, Met opera officials made an announcement to the audience from the stage: Lindstrom would be performing instead.
Though she had been through rehearsals, Lindstrom had never had the benefit of rehearsing on the Met stage with Zeffirelli's complicated multi-platform set. And she had never tried on the weighty costume nor the elaborate headpiece Princess Turandot dons in seemingly every production.
"I wasn't terrified so much of singing the actual role," Lindstrom recalls. "I was so preoccupied with the costume, the headpiece, the number of stairs I had to climb onstage and whether I was going to trip on my dress."
She didn't trip. The stairs proved no problem. And the reviews from even the grumpiest of New York critics were complimentary.
When Lindstrom took her first curtain call, she was greeted with an enthusiastic standing ovation from the notoriously hard-to-please Met audience.
And then she broke with any traditional diva behavior.
"I just jumped up and down, clapped my hands, squealed — I couldn't contain myself," she says.
And why should she?
"It was overnight success after years of trying," Lindstrom says.
In other words, it was opera.
Contact Jeanne Claire van Ryzin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 445-3699