march 2011

Measha Brueggergosman: ‘I have other things to say, and other parts of me I want to share. One of those parts is to make people feel at peace, to make them feel connected to their romanticism, their sensuality, their peace, in a way.’ (Photo: Cylia von Tiedemann/DG)’

Classical Perspectives

Queen Of The Night

In ‘music lit by moonlight,’ Measha Brueggergosman ponders nocturnal matters

You might not want to have as dramatic a life as opera/concert star Measha Brueggergosman, but, on the other hand, to have a voice such as hers, which can subtly caress or rage against the heavens with equal impact, maybe makes everything else worthwhile.

As a follow-up to her appropriately titled 2007 album Surprise: Cabaret Songs by Bolcom, Satie and Schoenberg, a collection of cabaret-inspired songs from the 19th and early 20th Century, the acclaimed 33-year-old soprano, signed to Deutsche Grammophon, has gone nocturnal on her new, critically lauded long player, Night and Dreams, a collection of 21 ruminations on night drawn from the same period as the tunes on Surprise.

night dreamsIn selecting Night and Dreams as its album of the week on February 7, WQXR-FM in New York noted on its website; This collection captures a more refined and reflective side to her musicianship. The songs she has chosen balance thoughtfully between the familiar—Mozart's "Abendempfindung an Laura," Duparc's "Chanson triste," Hahn's "L'Heure exquise" as well as the lesser-known including Poulenc's "C'est ainsi que tu es," and Brazilian composer Francis Hime's "Anoiteceu."

For composers and poets at the turn of the 20th century, night was a time of heightened awareness, fascination and enchantment. Brueggergosman sometimes paints some of these nightscapes with a broad brush, as she does in her ravishing approach to Faure ("Claire de lune") and in the lushness of her Strauss ("Die Nacht"). But she also focuses her tone, applying a beguiling elegance to Debussy's "Beau Soir" and stunning romantic expression to "Sleep," by the English composer Peter Warlock.

Describing Night and Dreams an “an album of serenades, lullabies and music lit by moonlight,” Pierre Ruhe of observed: “The repertoire is strategically placed in her middle range, without soaring high notes or rumbling lows, and the premium is on language and subtle inflection.”

Explaining why the new album is a logical successor to Surprise, Ms. Brueggergosman told Jason Victor Serinus  of the San Francisco Classical Voice: “We were trying to figure out what kind of CD to make, and we wanted a strong statement, a philosophy, that would make people feel a different way than Surprise. That CD made people laugh and want to dance. There was a quirky, wacka-wacka vibe to it. What do we want to do now? we asked. I have other things to say, and other parts of me I want to share. One of those parts is to make people feel at peace, to make them feel connected to their romanticism, their sensuality, their peace, in a way. So we thought about dreams, night, nocturnal activities, the somnambulistic things. All things that happen at night don’t necessarily concern sleep. Come on. So we wanted to explore all facets of that time of day.”

measha2A native of Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada, Ms. Brueggergosman made an impact first as a 20-year-old in 1998, singing the lead role in the premiere of the opera Beatrice Chancy in Toronto. Sporting a nose ring and often performing barefoot (something as rare in the classical world as in the pop world, where the last star of any magnitude who performed sans shoes was Britain’s Sandie Shaw, who in 1964 recorded the definitive version of Bacharach-David’s “[“There’s] Always Something There to Remind Me” [it had been a mid-charting hit earlier that same year in its original version by Lou Johnson] then followed it with another moderate U.S. hit in the captivating “Girl Don’t Come”), the artist has since graced the stages of some of the world’s top concert venues, including New York’s Carnegie Hall, London’s Wigmore Hall and Paris’s Theatre des Champs-Elysees. She has been featured with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the London Symphony Orchestra and gave a Royal Command Performance for Queen Elizabeth II. A global audience of 3.2 billion viewers saw what she was all about when she sang the “Olympic Hymn” in English and French at the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games this past February. In Madrid she played Jenny in Brecht-Weill’s Mahagonny; in Houston, Sister Rose oppose Frederica von Stade’s mother in the Grand Opera’s production of the Jake Heggie-Terrence McNally stage adaption of Sister Helen Prejean’s Dead Man Walking. In a daunting challenge, last year Ms. Brueggergosman tackled Wagner’s demanding “Wesendock Lieder,” with the Cleveland Orchestra under the direction of its chief conductor Franz Welser-Most, and triumphed: praising the singer’s performance, a critic at the Cleveland Plain-Dealer said she sang as if “she’d penned [the Wesendonck-Lieder] herself. Tracking Brueggergosman’s every move from fierce declamation down to the faintest whisper, Welser-Most and crew nudge the singer’s performance into the musical heavens.”

Measha Brueggergosman and Marc-André Hamelin perform Wagner’s ‘Im Treibhaus’ from ‘Wesendonck-Lieder’ at the Risar Chamber Music Festival, June 2010.

She was awarded the Grand Prize at the 2002 Jeunesses Musicales Montreal International Competition and was a prizewinner at The Dutch International Vocal Competition’s Hertogenbosch, the Queen Sonja International Music Competition in Oslo and the ARD Music Competition in Munich, among others.

And in 2009, for the heck of it, she nearly died of a split aorta, the same physical disaster that killed U.S. ambassador Richard Holbrooke late last year.

It happened incrementally, beginning with a stabbing pain in her throat as she was dining at a trendy Toronto restaurant. She had to cancel a June 10 appearance with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and that night the throat pain spread to her jaw and shoulders. By the time her husband returned home, her arms were going numb and she knew she needed to go to the hospital. Before she was taken to St. Joseph’s Health Centre, her blood pressure was recorded at “something like 260 over 180. It was ridiculous,” she told the Toronto Star’s John Terauds in a June 25, 2009 interview.

After an overnight stay at St. Joseph’s, she was sent home. Still not feeling right she visited her family doctor, who took her blood pressure and immediately had her admitted to Toronto General. Five hours later she was on her way to surgery. Her blood was pumping so fiercely through her heart that the aorta had begun to give way; she literally had only hours to live.  Emergency open-heart surgery repaired the split aorta; then the artist began repairing herself.

Three years before her cardiac calamity, Ms. Brueggergosman dropped 145 pounds after undergoing gastric bypass surgery, a procedure she elected to undergo owing to her family history of heart problems and diabetes (her father had a quadruple bypass a few years ago) but which was delayed itself by her high blood pressure. “I’m the poster child for neglecting my blood pressure,” she told the Star’s Terauds.

Measha, before and after her cardiac calamity

There is more drama still. In 2009 she split amicably with her husband of ten years, Markus Brügger. They had met in high school, when Brügger was an exchange student in New Brunswick. When they married they combined her maiden name, Gosman, with his family name and became the Brüggergosmans (or Brueggergosman, as it’s spelled now).

The grastic bypass procedure and the adoption of a healthier lifestyle has resulted in striking changes in Ms. Brueggergosman’s appearance. With the weight down, her chubby cheeked round face is more oval, the cat-like eyes more alluring and penetrating; she’s still buxom and still sports a distinctive but now close-croped afro (it once stood some two feet high) but the overall effect of her self-styled makeover has produced the seasoned, glamorous look of a mature woman. (She also credits her discovery and commitment to Bikram yoga—which she was practicing before her heart episode—with not only helping her lose weight but also with fostering her understanding of mind-body wholeness, saying, “What I didn't expect was how my body would realign itself and how my mind would align itself with my body and with my spirit. There's a sense of accomplishment that comes with the end of every class, and I want to share it. It's made my technique as a singer a lot more efficient because you learn that there's an economy of movement that I think this particular practice hones.”) The voice has not suffered at all, and the artist has a fresh perspective on what matters in her life and career. As she related to Bryan Borzykowski at Canadian in a September 27, 2010 interview: “You get to a point in your career where things hum along. You get used to that platinum card, all of a sudden there's this black card. With the open-heart surgery, it was almost like now I have a bit of perspective, though I haven't completely figured it out. I came to my 30s being very satisfied with my 20s, and then I'm here sitting in my house with cats and scores and binder of all my reviews and articles. I've never sat and looked at them—they just get compiled by assistants and managers and someday maybe I'll look at them—but I wonder now, after having almost died, what it would really matter. What would I be most proud of? It really wouldn't have anything to do with singing. I'm proud I have a good relationship with my parents. I've had the same best friend since kindergarten. I have relationships that are older than my relationship I have with my voice. These relationships are really more important, more foundational to me in deciding how I think than any vocal technique.”

Indeed, a sense of community remains the touchstone of Ms. Brueggergosman’s reason for being. Musically she remains indebted to her parents for many reasons, not least among them for disdaining pop culture in the Gosman home. “There was no secular music in my house when I was growing up,” she told Borzykowski at “One could argue there are many secular themes in classical music, but I wasn't exposed to pop culture until later in life, really until university. For me, the music of my church and Saturday Afternoons at the Opera, that is my pop music. I hear it as the soundtrack of my youth.”

More important, she added, “My parents made it their mandate to discover and apply the gifts we had as kids. No one in my family is a full-time musician, but they're all musical. So I started lessons when I was seven. We were in a small town, [and people were] very supportive. I'd get hired to sing at funerals and bar and bat mitzvahs and all that stuff, so I had lots of opportunities to perform and work. My parent have  always been very supportive and encouraged us to be very goal-oriented, which we all are. My sister was an international gymnast; my brother is a pastor now and has 18 degrees or something crazy. My church, whether providing me with ample opportunities to sing in public or my high schools where I did my first stage role—half the role of narrator in Joseph and Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat. It's things like that you only find in smaller communities.

Part 1 of a four-part interview with Measha Brueggergosman conducted by Toronto Star music critic John Terauds at the Bram & Bluma Appel Salon at the Toronto Reference Library, November 9, 2009. In this part Ms. Brueggergosman discusses her early attraction to classical music and why she invests time in ‘causes outside classical music that serve classical music.’

“There were two wonderful men in Fredericton, Harry McFarlaine and Sid Grant, who started the Friends of Measha Fund so I could go to university [to study music]. I did have a scholarship, but it was the extra fees, staying in dorms and the full meal plan that needed to be covered. I wouldn't have been able to afford it. The term is ‘humble beginnings.’ No one wants to say ‘poor.’ But yeah, we were poor. The fund was a very integral part of my support system financially. The support to this day continues. Now the fund is a scholarship at the Fredericton Music Festival. People continue to contribute to it.”

Having been blessed with benefactors herself, Ms. Brueggergosman is intent on giving other young, aspiring artists the same opportunities as came her way. Beyond the concert stage and the recording studio she lends her voice, passion and energy to social and environmental causes as a Canadian good-will ambassador for three international organizations: African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF); Learning Through the Arts; and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Her commitments to these organizations have taken her on a broad spectrum of missions, from primary schools in New Brunswick, Canada, to internally displaced persons camps of northern Uganda.

Measha Brueggergosman performs Chausson’s ‘Le Temps Des Lilas’ from Night and Dreams, ‘an album of serenades, lullabies and music lit by moonlight.’

Joanne Bozeman, who teaches in the voice department of the Lawrence Conservatory of Music, in Appleton, WI, says Ms. Brueggergosman’s success is no accident but rather the upshot of her versatility and her impassioned emotional commitment to her music and her muse. “She not only has a fabulous, beautifully colorful lyric soprano voice, she performs convincingly in a broad range of genres, languages and venues,” Ms. Bozeman observes. “Her public image seems to be that of a young, free spirit, but it belies her intense musical sophistication and ability to elicit subtle tonal shading in her singing. She has strong and compelling ideas about the texts of what she sings—perfect for the intimate genre of art song.”

The artist herself, quoted in the San Francisco Classical Voice interview, assesses her aims in pragmatic, self-deprecating terms: “I wanted it to sound easy,” she says of the development of her singing style as it would be experienced in concert. “I didn’t want people to worry about my technique, or look at me and wonder if I would make it. I wanted them to feel secure; when they buy their tickets and put them bums in the seats and I’m being paid to entertain them, they should be able to relax. I am trying to be there and present and really invested in the experience. But there are a million things to think about simultaneously. So what I always wanted was a technique that would make things look easy, even if I’m kind of dying on the inside.”—David McGee

Measha Brueggergosman’s Night and Dreams is available at

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024