Chatting With Kate Miller-Heidke About Wildly Controversial Klinghoffer Opera

Though chart topping success and numerous awards have marked her almost decade long career at home, Aussie pop chanteuse Kate Miller-Heidke is only now beginning to make a significant splash Stateside.

And while the enigmatic rocker has played plenty of big rooms here, she’s just taken to her biggest stage yet. You see, Ms Miller-Heidke is also an opera singer; and Monday evening marked her debut at the ne plus ultra of operatic establishments, The Metropolitan Opera, this week.

But this is an opera gig that is awash in controversy, as witnessed by vocal protestations about the subject matter from none other than our former mayor Rudy Giuliani. Said opera, The Death of Klinghoffer, John Adams’ story about Palestinian terrorists’ 1985 hijacking of the cruise ship Achille Lauro, and the gruesome execution of one of its Jewish passengers, is being declared ‘disgusting’ and accused of giving voice to terrorism. There have been massive protests outside Lincoln Center.

At the same time, Miller-Heidke is also in town for a couple of plain old club shows that promise to be protest free, most likely, and where she will be showcasing material from her brilliant new album O Vertigo!. We chatted with the diminutive songstress just before the art and politics hit the fan.

Kate Miller-Heidke Photo #1 Photo Credit Jo Duck

(photo by Jo Duck)

Congrats on the amazing new album. O Vertigo! is quite upbeat and happy; was that the frame of mind you were in when making it?

I wouldn’t describe myself as happy [when making the record]. I was wired and burnt out and had a lot of frayed nerves, I guess I was looking for the songs to bring me some happiness. I needed it; I craved it actually.

Did it work?

It did actually, it was a pretty empowering thing to discover. This record is in a lot of ways about self empowerment, liberation from a label and the self determination to make something by myself without Keir [Nuttall] as a big collaborator, as he had been in the past.

You left Sony before making this album and helped finance it through a Pledge campaign; I heard that fulfilling all the orders can be daunting.

Luckily I have fantastic management and they literally stuffed hundreds of envelopes. We paid half the school kids on the block 20 bucks an hour to put my vinyl in envelopes; it was a huge operation. On my end I’ve had to make 100 happy birthday phone calls, but that’s mostly a joyous task. No one wants to see music as a business, but what it is for the audience is partly the old fashioned idea of patronage, but on a small scale; and its also guilt for having BitTorrented the previous record. So it’s to absolve their consciences. Both of which are good things.

Lets talk about doing the opera.

I play a trashy cruise ship dancer who tells herself jokes to distract herself from the horror of being hijacked. I do one solo song but am on stage for most of the time getting terrorized. Its quite electric, the story has been attracting quite a controversy, protests. Its amazing to be in an opera that has modern relevance. When does that happen? Never, ha! And I’m amazed at what a huge production it is.

Is this mega for an opera?

I think this is normal for The Met. There are about five or six operas running, its amazing backstage; there’s a bit of Magic Flute and there’s a bit of La Boheme. It’s awesome. But this production will have a further life. It’s the same production we did in London, this time around just bigger and better.

A little different from playing club shows.

To be suddenly at this level is just kind of ridiculous. Next week I’ve been asked to go the 5th Avenue mansion of these very rich people and sing for an audience that includes [minimalist composer of Klinghoffer] John Adams and Philip Glass—and its like, ‘what the fuck am I gonna sing’? It’s a little like being dropped via parachute into Borneo, but I’m just enjoying it.

Kate Miller-Heidke will be at NYC’s Rockwood Music Hall November 3rd, before heading out on a European tour.

“Share Your Air” (featuring Passenger)

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