When you reach a certain level, the technique stays at home…After her double debut as Abigaille and Aida in 2002, the soprano from Rome makes her debut at the Arena di Verona playing the role of Liù in Turandot.
How was your passion for opera born?
It was born when I was born, because I have always been singing, I started taking lessons as a child, at the Accademia Polifonica Romana. When I was 18 I finally could enter the conservatoire, and I took my diploma in voice, as a mezzo-soprano; I felt that my performance wasn’t too convincing, then I decided not to waste time, I went to another teacher and I ended up being a soprano. In 2000 I started winning some first prizes in those competitions that are considered crucial to debut in, as, for example, Spoleto, Busseto, le Voci Verdiane, and also in the International ones in Spain, the Vinas, the Aragall, and the one in Bilbao, all of which helped me to be well-known worldwide. This has been the evolution. It was like opera was part of my DNA. When I found out, for example, that I was a soprano instead of a mezzo-soprano, it was not easy, but I have always been determined, constant, I had this… vocation, even though it is an exaggerated word, but it is something really similar to vocation. I think I have never betrayed this idea. The year 2000 has been crucial for the passage between competitions and the great professionalism in theatre. Spoleto (an international showcase for newcomers) saw my debut with my first Verdi in Oberto, an opera which led me to be chosen to a certain type of verdian roles.
In 2001, after my victory at the contest Voci Verdiane, Maestro Arcà, the president of the committee, recommended me to Maestro Muti, thanks to whom my dream of a lifetime came true, after my recent performance of the opera Due Foscari in the Teatro della Scala in Milan.
But the moment Primo Verdi was not finished yet, because, after a lucky audition in the Arena, I was engaged for various concerts abroad, under the guidance of Maestro Fapanni, which led to the future collaboration for Nabucco and Aida, conducted by Maestro Oren.
After these plays, I received the Le Voci prize for best newcomer in the Arena di Verona 2002, and I was reconfirmed for Aida and Turandot in 2003.
Is this just a technical career, the kind of which one obtains by studying? Or does it depend also on the personal experience one has on stage?
It depends on several things, because when you reach a certain level, the technique stays at home… I mean that one has to take everything he had studied for granted. Training is crucial, but I think that, as time goes by, you get some sort of personal competence. There are many voices, which are beautiful and trained, but something more is needed. I have always had the necessity and the wish to focus not just on the quality, but also on making the difference, on showing my diversity, my strengths and weaknesses and excel thanks to them. In my job you have to be very confident, more than confident, and serious, very serious and professional. You have to deepen, catch the nuances and then arrive to your own point of view. On the stage many different worlds meet and get in touch, conductors, singers, directors, and there must be some kind of sharing. But if I give nothing personal as a singer, this sharing cannot take place: if you are not clear, if your point of view is not clear, it is easy to be left aside.
Is it talent the difference you are talking about?
It is something that you build up, it is talent too, but it is not fundamental: if I win over many other voices it is not just for the beauty of the voice itself, or maybe partly, but I am confident that it also takes something different, something more, a kind of digging into yourself that lets you entering seriously in a role. Humbleness and loyalty to what is written are essential: I am very loyal to the authors, I try as much as possible to avoid all the winds that are not present, for example in the aria “Cieli azzurri” in the Aida. In the famous passage “No, mai più non ti vedrò…” I try to sing without interrupting it, because if Maestro Verdi wrote it like this there is a reason, isn’t there?
Of course it is a personal risk, everytime you are not sure about doing it well, but if you do people recognize it, and experts do it as well.
Recently I had an audition in Turin with the artistic director Maestro Tutino, an important contemporary composer, he asked me to sing Aida, and after singing “Cieli Azzurri”, he said: “You undoubtedly have a great voice, but I also noticed a great sensibility and, mostly, different qualities”. For me, this is one of the best compliments one can get, and it is also a tribute to Verdi himself. It is clear that you have to study the technique to be able to do so, and there are some moments when you don’t feel confident and you take breath. But you have to study as hard as you can, trying to catch every nuance.
After your double debut in the Arena di Verona last year, playing both the role of Abigaille and Aida, is this year Liù’s time?
I have already played Liù’s part on a concert, but it is my real debut this year in the Arena.
What do you think about Liù’s character?
In my opinion, all the puccinian heroines are modern and strong, not only does Liù protect the old wise Timur, but she also goes against a princess’ will in a very strong way, in some verses, in fact, she’s very determined and this is underlined also by the music itself. I don’t see her as a weak woman, and I must say that the director supported me in the creation of this kind of character. The first thing he told me was: “ I don’t want to see the same old Liù, crying from the beginning of the opera to the end”, and he is right, because she is not like that, only the music may suggest this feeling. Liù is simply praying, to prevent Calaf from trying to solve the three riddles, but it is a prayer, not a cry. Crying is an emotional act, while praying has some reason behind. Liù is very determined: she made a long way in order to protect the old Timur, to meet Calaf and dissuade him from that action. Even in the last aria “Tu che di gel” I see her very similar to Madame Butterfly, because of the very enveloping music repeating. The theme “Prima di questa aurora” is always repeating, but every now and then there is a change in motivation: when Liù is singing for the second and last time “Prima di questa aurora io chiudo stanca gli occhi per non vederlo più” she stands up, takes the dagger and kills herself. This gesture has a very strong motivation in itself: she did not want to talk, she died to defend Calaf’s will, her love to him is wholehearted and brave.
Have you found any difference between the Arena and other indoor theatres?
It’s completely different, the Arena is really human, because she welcomes you a bit at a time. I am not talking about the Arena as an audience, but as a place: there is a sort of sharing, and then there is the magic moment in which she replies back. The rehearsal itself are magical in the Arena: here you can create a kind of suspence while you are singing, it is a place that allows you to freeze the time. And also the fact of being in this place that belongs to the past is so evocative, and listening to this beautiful music, all these things lead to a particular sensation, which is rarely immediate, you have to look for it. This thing happened to me last summer, for example, in the Nabucco, when I sang there for the first time it was a fantastic experience: I went out to the stage and I immediately felt this sharing. The audience perceives what is happening, so it is important to feel the place and the music at first, then share it with the audience.
Can the Arena frighten too?
Last year I wasn’t frightened, I don’t know if it was a bit of unconsciousness, mostly because I had the role of Abigaille!
Obviously I was very excited, but not afraid… I don’t know for this year, I will tell you after my debut with Turandot. But I feel really protected here in the Arena, I feel comfortable, both for the scenery and for the sound. Distance and dimensions are not the major causes of fear.
Which role is your favourite – Abigaille, Aida or Liù?
The voice through which I will perform these characters is always the same, I don’t try to disguise it, the only difference is the tenor for whom I will die, and surely it is easier if he is Cura.
In this year’s Turandot, Liù is more static compared to the roles I played in the last years. There is movement, dance, the erotic dance, games, but Liù is a firm character, also inwardly, even though she is a strong woman. Abigaille, instead, enters the stage with the swords and she must terrify, even physically, and Aida herself, even though she is a deeper character, has some rage impulses and runs on the stage. In the Aida and Amneris duet there are some fierce moments, and here the space cannot frighten, it helps you instead.
I don’t have a favourite role, maybe there is an author I love the most. Everytime I interpret a character, it is 100% with me, as a woman I try to understand it deeply, to get into it and love it as it is, and consequently I love the opera I am singing. I should say there are some roles I would love to play here in the Arena, for example Leonora in the Trovatore or in La Forza del Destino, or singing in the Don Carlo.
The opera is teamwork, what is the importance of conductors and directors?
I believe in a collaboration with the conductors and in the preparation that lies behind the opera. I often try to attend the orchestra rehearsals to be in tune with the conductor’s gestures.
The Aida by Franco Zeffirelli in Busseto was another important experience. I carry that opera as a treasure, everything Zeffirelli told me was like a revelation. It was a complete job, not just musically speaking, and I had time to listen to every other person, singers, the other roles, and underline the details. In an opera it is necessary to get in contact with everything. It takes a long time to do this, but after that you will remember it forever. Compared to this Aida in Busseto, which we played in many theatres in Italy and even abroad, the Aida by Zeffirelli in Verona definitely has a different direction, but the motivation is the same. I know that the Maestro has his way of thinking and I try to express it, even though the gestures change according to the space; I know what he thinks about a particular character and all the characters in the Aida, then it is clear that, for me, it is easier to approach this role having him as the director in the Arena.
What do you think about this Turandot direction and set design?
I think it is very beautiful and suggestive. The director himself, the Russian Alexandrov, is a great person, very impetuous, he can mime movements and gestures very accurately. Despite of the words we don’t understand, he is able to make things clear, and here stands his cleverness, in showing his intentions: having motivation and some fixed appointments with our characters is really important for singers.
20th June 2003