“Wiegenlied,” Performed by Helena Lackner

Universally known as “Lullaby” or “Cradle Song,” Johannes Brahms’ timeless classic “Wiegenlied” is surely ingrained in many minds as the quintessential bedtime song. Penned in 1868, the German composer dedicated this lied to his friend Bertha Faber, who at the time had just welcomed her second son. Since then, many a child has been pacified by their mothers, lulled by the original “Guten Abend, gut’ Nacht…,” lyric or by simply humming the soothing melody. And German soprano Helena Lackner is no exception. “My mother sang it to me and my sisters before we went to sleep; a lovely soothing cadence that would accompany us in our dreams,” says Lackner.

Like the protagonists of Richard Wagner’s opera “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg”, Lackner was born in the Franconian city of Nuremberg. She found herself drawn to music at an early age, upon hearing a family friend play the folk song “Dornenvögel” on the accordion. At age 7, the squeezebox would become her first instrument, complete with 6 years of lessons and a passion for tango. Irish folk music would later introduce Helena to the violin and, as a teenager, her love of pop music inspired her to try the guitar and to study drums and percussion. Her 19th birthday gift was vocal lessons with an operatic tenor who challenged the budding artist to tackle a variety of songs, chief amongst them Italian Baroque composer Alessandro Scarlatti’s “Sento nel core.” “I was so overwhelmed and touched that in that moment I decided that I needed to go to Italy and learn all about the secrets of belcanto.”

Landing in Rome as an au pair in 2004, Lackner would later enroll at the Conservatorio F. Morlacchi di Perugia in Umbria, under the tutelage of soprano Michela Sburlati. Upon earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees, Helena participated in numerous concerts and recordings, performing in prestigious stages across Europe and as far as China, where she performed Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg” and “Der Ring des Nibelungen” at Beijing’s Poly Theatre and the Shanghai Symphony Hall in 2015. But her travels were just getting started. In 2017, Lackner auditioned for Luna Rossa Productions and just a few months later, she would embark on her first Silversea voyage onboard Silver Shadow in Sydney. Temporarily grounded, Helena worked last year on the YouTube channel OperAcross with mezzosoprano Tiziana Fabietti, and is currently pursuing a VES®Trainer certification (Voice Evolution System by Andrea Bianchino), and degrees in Voice Didactics and Popular Music Vocals teaching diploma from West London University. “I am still excited to perform as an opera singer as soon as the stages reopen with live audiences, but in the meantime I’m more than happy to share my experiences with interested singers and students, because music matters more than ever,” says Lackner.

Helena Lackner in Perugia
Soprano Helena Lackner recorded Wiegenlied in the living room of her country home in Germany/Francesca Boccabella Fotografia

Where is home right now?

After many years in my beloved Italy and at sea, I am currently in my hometown of Untersteinbach ob Georgensgmünd, a small rural village of about 125 inhabitants, close to the Franconian Lake District in Germany. I arrived just in time before the global lockdown began a year ago. I recorded the video of “Wiegenlied” in the living room of my family’s country house.

Why did you choose to perform “Wiegenlied”?

When Silversea asked me to choose a song for our audience, preferably in my native German language, I was initially tempted to sing “An die Musik” by Franz Schubert, which is a wonderful ode to music. But thinking about the current situation, which affects not only music and arts but everyone around the world, I felt more compelled to sing a universally appealing piece.

Brahms has been one of my favorite composers during my classical singing career. He first caught my attention during the music specialization course at the gymnasium with his 4th symphony in E minor. But it was in 2010 when I joined a master class about Brahm’s art songs where I completely fell in love, especially with op. 43 (“Die Mainacht” and “Von ewiger Liebe”), and I had a flashback when one of my soprano colleagues was chosen to sing “Wiegenlied.”

What are some of your musical influences?

Nina Simone’s voice singing “Heaven belongs to you” from our old record player, as well as Maria Callas singing “L’amour est un oiseau rebelle…” and Bernstein’s “West Side Story,” have all influenced my longtime repertoire. When I was seven, my mother brought me to see “Die Zauberflöte” by Mozart, whose theatricality and music would always inspire me; I guess nobody knew women better!

I also owe an immense debt of gratitude to my voice teacher Michela Sburlati, who not only would share the secrets of belcanto and the Italian repertoire with me, but also helped me to discover and appreciate my own German cultural heritage, from Richard Wagner to Richard Strauss and Erich Wolfgang Korngold. I would also love to one day meet American soprano Renée Fleming. Over the years, she has been a great example of someone who started from a jazz background and eventually would go on to choose the most beautiful multilingual opera repertoire. She followed her “inner voice” and strikes me as being an artistically openminded, curious, humorous and humble person.

A native of Nuremberg, Helena Lackner embraced music at an early age/Francesca Boccabella Fotografia

And never will I forget my dear grandmother, who had the most beautiful voice and sang joyfully wherever she was. She left us far too early, but any time I feel sad or discouraged in my career as a musician, I hear her saying: “Keep on singing!” and I feel blessed.

A production cast is part of the Silversea crew; socializing with our guests is nearly as important as performing.

Helena Lackner

How does it feel to perform on a Silversea cruise?

Performing on a Silversea Cruise is very different from singing in an opera theatre or a concert hall. I remember the first show with my production cast aboard Silver Shadow. The voyage from Sydney to Hobart, Tasmania was quite rocky. We could barely manage to maintain our balance on the stage. But Silversea guests are true seafarers and nothing can hold them back from joining us in the Show Lounge and supporting us with their applauses.

As a classical singer, I was delighted to see how many opera lovers we have among our Silversea guests. Many of them have already seen the biggest stars at prestigious venues like the Met Opera, the Royal Opera House or the Sydney Opera House, to name just a few. Silversea audiences are ready to be moved and inspired, and very thankful for our performances.

A production cast is part of the Silversea crew; socializing with our guests is nearly as important as performing. This gives you the chance to get to know each other better. Guests are interested in your life and your career, and always share their personal feedback, which makes performing even more special and, why not, even more challenging.

Helena Lackner posing in Via Baglioni, Perugia
Helena Lackner joined Luna Rossa Productions in 2017, becoming a member of the Voices of Silversea ensemble/Courtesy of Helena Lackner

Is there any particular ship or destination that you enjoy the most?

I loved Silver Shadow. I will never forget our first sailing from Sydney harbor, viewing the Opera House. It was the beginning of a life-changing adventure; experiencing new cultures in New Zealand, strolling through the streets of Ho Chi Minh City, exploring the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River in the Philippines, walking on the Mendenhall Glacier in Alaska… And when we left our last port behind – Skagway, in Alaska – it was a very emotional moment. I felt so thankful because music had given me the chance to see the world and meet wonderful people all around.

Also, Silver Spirit has indeed a very different spirit and brought me to the Caribbean. Cuba, San Juan (Puerto Rico) and the America’s Cup regatta in Philipsburg (Sint Marteen) were definitely the highlights of my itinerary during that voyage. And Silver Whisper brought me back to the beautiful Mediterranean, and gave me the opportunity to enjoy “Les Contes d’Hoffmann,” at the opera of Bordeaux and “Porgy and Bess” at the Met in New York.

Are there any standout anecdotes of your experiences onboard?

Well, apart from anecdotes involving fast costume changes behind the curtain that would create some very funny moments (like half-dressed appearances), the shore excursions brought some of the most memorable moments. One such instance happened in the port of Hong Kong. We went on a junk boat tour to the famous Stanley Market, which required extensive walking. However, one of our guests insisted on joining the tour even though he needed his walker. On the junk boat, he told me how much he loved singing and asked me to fulfill his wish, and we sang a little concert on the junk boat. He was the star!

On one particular excursion to Jost Van Dyke, the guests asked me to sing for them on the boat ride to the island. I promised them a little performance on our way back. On the return journey, I sang the Neapolitan song “Me voglio fa’na casa” by Gaetano Donizetti. Everyone was clapping along, and at one point, the captain shouted: “Dolphins, dolphins!,” as we saw a pod accompanying us. This was the crowning conclusion of our excursion and living proof that dolphins are attracted to music!

Also, a lovely Venetian Society member once asked me if I could perform “Guarda che luna” for her, and she provided me with the score. She loved Milva’s version of the song, which starts with Beethoven’s beautiful Mondscheinsonate. Pianist Liliya Akhmetzyanova provided the perfect accompanying melody, but I still needed a beat. That was when I decided to end my personal show singing “Guarda che luna” behind the drum kit (15 years after the last time I had played that instrument!), and the standing ovations that followed were priceless.

Helena Lackner playing the drums
Helena Lackner playing the drums during her show Fraganze in Silver Shadow/Astrid Harris

Once cruises resume, where would you like to visit?

There are so many marvelous places around the world that I would love to visit or revisit. But I would be thrilled to go on a South American cruise, especially Argentina, the homeland of my beloved tango argentino, to sing, dance and fall in love with it all over again. And also visit places like the Patagonia, Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru and Colombia, to name a few.

There are countless beautiful countries and regions to visit. Antarctica, Ireland, Scandinavia, Iceland, Greenland, Jordan (Petra), Egypt and so many places in Africa. A lifetime wouldn’t be enough to explore them all.
For now, let’s hope for the best: may traveling, singing, and joining together for a cocktail on board become a reality again as soon as possible. A presto rivederci!