Leya_Gencer

THE STEPSISTERS OF MARIA CALLAS

Traviata Callas

Would we still love Callas so much if she had been an ‘ordinary’ happy person, like most of her colleagues? If she had been happily married and had had children, what she so longed for? If she didn’t suffer from bulimia and was not constantly fighting with her weight and body? If she had not fallen in love with Aristoteles Onassis, the super-rich Greek shipowner who left her to marry an even more famous lady? And if she had not lost her voice prematurely? Speculations, of course, but since even the most honest opera lover has something of a tabloid reader it keeps buzzing. People simply love gossip.

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Rumour, success, being in the spotlight, are the most important ingredients in the lives of people who find their lives boring and everyday and lose themselves in the stories of the ‘rich and beautiful’. It should be noted that they feast most on the dark sides of the stories, because there is no greater happiness than sorrow.

Maria Callas was a diva with a true cult status. She owed this not only to her singing, but also to her unmistakable acting talent, her attractive appearance and her, unfortunately, more than tragic personal life.

However great, famous, loved and adored, Maria Callas was, she did not invent opera, nor was she the greatest actress amongst singers. Not all singers were equally gifted actors, but the image of a fat lady standing motionless on stage fluttering only her hands is not at all accurate.

Just think of Conchita Supervia, Geraldine Farrar, Marjorie Lawrence or Grace Moore, but there were more.

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Conchita Supervia as Carmen

Geraldine Farrar as Carmen in a film from 1915:

What Callas truly was, was a pioneer in (dramatic) belcanto, and that happened more or less by accident (consult the DVD The Callas Conversations vol. II). It was a genre that at the time was a little neglected. It was she who gave us back the forgotten operas of Bellini, Donizetti and Spontini, but was she really the first?

There are many more sopranos from the time of Callas who sang at the highest level and deserve to be discussed. The sopranos I am going to talk about were all more or less Callas’ contemporaries and all sang almost the same repertoire (not counting spinto sopranos that sang mainly verist roles, such as Magda Olivero, Carla Gavazzi or Clara Petrella).

These divas missed the chance to be in the right place at the right time. Or: to meet someone who was important enough not only to boost your career, but also to give you a record deal.

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Maria Callas as La Gioconda in 1952

Cynical?

It has always been like this and nowadays it is no different, although we are dealing with another aspect: the ideal of beauty. If you don’t meet it, you can say goodbye to your career in advance – fat people are not even allowed to audit in many theatres anymore and a starting Callas would have absolutely no chance at all now.

 

                                         ANITA CERQUETTI

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Her career, like that of Callas, didn’t last long. She was born in 1931 and made her opera debut as Aida in Spoleto as early as 1951 (!). She became – typically enough – the most famous by stepping in for a sick Callas in 1958. While she was still in a production of Norma in Naples, she sang some performances of the same opera by Bellini at the opera house of Rome, instead of La Divina.

Anita Cerquetti sings ‘O re dei cieli’ from Agnese di Hohenstauffen by Spontini:

On the label Bongiovanni (GB 1206-2, unfortunately not on You Tube) you can hear her in the famous ‘Casta diva’ from Norma. For me this is one of the most beautiful performances of this aria ever. Goosebumps.

Cerquetti sings Norma. Recording from 1956:

 

                                     LEYLA GENCER

gencer

Born in 1928 in a small town close to Istanbul, Gencer, just like Callas, has a cult status, even today, but on a smaller scale. She had a Turkish father and a Polish mother, which made her proficient in that language. There is even a pirate recording of her with songs by Chopin in Polish:

Gencer’s real speciality was belcanto. She sang her first Anna Bolena only a year after Callas:

And unlike Callas, she also included the other Tudor Queen operas by Donizetti in her repertoire: Roberto Devereux and Maria Stuarda.

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Gencer as all three Tudor Queens

Besides all her Bellini’s, Donizetti’s and Verdi’s, and between Saffo by Paccini and Francesca da Rimini by Zandonai, she also sang some of Mozart’s songs. Fortunately, her Contessa (Le nozze di Figaro) in Glyndebourne was recorded and released on  CD some time ago. For the rest, you have to settle for the pirates.

Her round and clear voice – with the famous pianissimi, which only Montserrat Caballé could match – is so beautiful that it hurts. If you have never heard of her before, listen below to ‘La vergine degli angeli’ from La forza del Destino, recorded in 1957. Bet you’re going to gasp for breath?

                                          VIRGINIA ZEANI

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Have you noticed how many great singers come from Romania? Virginia Zeani is one of them, born in Solovăstru in 1925.

Zeani made her debut when she was 23 as Violetta in Bologna (indented for Margherita Carossio). That role would become her trademark. There is a costly anecdote about her debut in Covent Garden: it was in 1960 and she was a last minute replacement for Joan Sutherland, who became ill. She arrived late in the afternoon and there was hardly time to try on the costume. Before she went on stage, she asked very quickly: ‘Which of the gentlemen is my Alfredo?

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The soprano sang no less than 69 roles, including many world premieres. In 1957 she created the role of Blanche in Dialogues des carmélites by Poulenc. Her repertoire ranged from Handel (Cleopatra in Giulio Cesare), via Bellini, Donizetti, Massenet and Gounod to Wagner (Elsa and Senta). With of course the necessary Verdis and Puccinis and as one of her greatest star roles Magda in The Consul by Menotti:

I myself am completely obsessed with her Tosca, but also her Violetta should not be missed by anyone. Her coloratures in the first act are more than perfect. And then her ‘morbidezza’… Do it for her!

Below her ‘Vissi d’arte’ (Tosca), recorded in 1975, when she was over fifty:

                                           CATERINA MANCINI

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Never heard of her? Then it’s time to make up for the damage, because I promise you a voice out of thousands, with a beautiful height, pure coloratures (all ‘al punto’) and a drama that could make even La Divina jealous.

Mancini sings “Santo di patria… Da te questo m’è concesso” from Attila by Verdi:

Mancini’s career also lasted only a short time. People talked about health problems, but what really happened? The fact is that the soprano, born in 1924, stopped working as early as 1960. Although her name can still be found in 1963, as contralto (!) at the concert in memory of Kennedy.

Mancini made her debut in 1948, as Giselda in I Lombardi. At the Scala she already sang Lucrezia Borgia in 1951. Donizetti, Rossini and Bellini are not lacking in her repertoire.

The Italian label Cetra has recorded a lot with her; difficult to obtain, but so very worthwhile to look for!

At her best I find her as Lida in La Battaglia di Legnano by Verdi. Below a fragment of it:

                                     MARCELLA POBBE

pobbe

Marcella Pobbe may be a bit of an outsider in this list, as she had fewer belcanto roles in her repertoire (Gluck and Rossini, but no Bellini). But the Verdi and Puccini heroines she more or less had in common with La Divina.

Pobbe sings ‘D’amor sull’ali rosee’ from Il Trovatore:

She also sang a lot of Mozart and Wagner. But what made her really famous is Adriana Lecouvreur from Cilea

Pobbe was exceptionally beautiful. Elegant, elegant, almost royal. And her voice was exactly the same: her singing flowed like a kind of lava, in which you could lose yourself completely. Nobody then thought it necessary to record her. We already had La Divina, didn’t we?

Pobbe sings ‘Ave Maria’ from Otello by Verdi:

Listen below for example to ‘Io son l’umile ancella’ from Adriana Lecouvreur and think of that golden age, which is irrevocably over.

In Dutch: DE STIEFZUSSEN VAN MARIA CALLAS

see also: OPERA FANATIC: road movie met opera sterren

Translated with http://www.DeepL.com/Translator

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DE STIEFZUSSEN VAN MARIA CALLAS

 calas

Zouden wij nog steeds zo ontzettend veel van Callas houden als zij een “gewoon” gelukkig mens was geweest, zoals de meeste van haar collega’s? Als zij gelukkig getrouwd was geweest en kinderen had gekregen, waar zij zo naar verlangde? Als zij niet aan boulimia leed en met haar gewicht en haar lichaam voortdurend aan het vechten was? Als zij niet verliefd werd op Aristoteles Onassis, de superrijke Griekse reder die haar liet zitten om met een nog beroemdere dame te gaan trouwen? En als zij haar stem niet voortijdig kwijt was geraakt? Speculaties, uiteraard, maar aangezien zelfs in de meest integere operaliefhebber iets van een Privé-lezer schuilt, blijft het gonzen. Mensen houden nu eenmaal van gossip.

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Roem, succes, in de schijnwerpers staan, zijn de belangrijkste ingrediënten in het leven van mensen die vinden dat hun leven saai en alledaags is en zich in de verhalen van de ‘rich and beautiful’ verliezen. Daarbij opgemerkt dat zij het meest van de donkere kanten van de verhalen smullen, want er bestaat geen groter geluk dan leedvermaak.

Maria Callas was een diva met een ware cultstatus. Die dankte ze niet alleen aan haar zangkunst, maar ook aan haar onmiskenbare acteertalent, haar aantrekkelijke uiterlijk en haar, helaas, meer dan tragische persoonlijke leven.

Hoe groot, hoe beroemd, geliefd en aanbeden, Maria Callas heeft de opera niet uitgevonden,  noch was zij de grootste actrice onder de zangers. Niet alle zangers waren even begenadigde acteurs, maar het beeld van een dikke mevrouw die bewegingsloos op de bühne stond en alleen met haar handen wapperde klopt van geen meter.

 

Denk alleen maar aan Conchita Supervia, Geraldine Farrar, Marjorie Lawrence of Grace Moore, maar er waren er meer.

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Conchita Supervia als Carmen

Geraldine Farrar als Carmen in een film uit 1915:

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Waar zij waarlijk de echte pionier in was, en dat ook nog eens min of meer per ongeluk (raadpleeg de dvd The Callas Conversations vol. II ) was het (dramatische) belcanto, het genre dat in die tijd een beetje een ondergeschoven kindje van de rekening was. Zij was het, die ons de vergeten opera’s van Bellini, Donizetti en Spontini terug heeft gegeven, maar was zij werkelijk de eerste?

Er zijn veel meer sopranen uit de tijd van Callas die op het allerhoogste niveau zongen en het verdienen besproken te worden. De sopranen waar ik het over ga hebben, waren allen min of meer Callas’ leeftijdsgenoten en zongen allen vrijwel hetzelfde repertoire (spinto-sopranen die voornamelijk veristische rollen zongen, zoals Magda Olivero, Carla Gavazzi of Clara Petrella, laat ik buiten beschouwing).

Deze diva’s misten het geluk om op het juiste moment op de juiste plaats te zijn. Of: om iemand tegen te komen die belangrijk genoeg was om niet alleen je carrière een boost te geven, maar ook om je een platencontract te bezorgen.

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Maria Callas als La Gioconda in 1952

Cynisch?
Het is altijd zo geweest en tegenwoordig is het ook niet anders, al hebben wij nu met een ander aspect te maken: het schoonheidsideaal. Voldoe je er niet aan dan kan je je carrière al bij voorbaat vaarwel zeggen – dikke mensen mogen bij veel theaters niet eens meer auditeren en een beginnende Callas zou nu absoluut geen schijn van kans hebben.

 

(meer…)

OPERA FANATIC: road movie met opera sterren

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In 2008 bracht Arthaus Musik een bijzondere, onbeschaamde documentaire uit: Opera Fanatic. De excentrieke Stefan Zucker trok door Italië om diva’s van weleer een bezoek te brengen.

“We leven in een tijd van Barbiepop-operazangeressen, die er goed uitzien, mooi bewegen, maar met een gebrek aan uitstraling. Wat we nodig hebben zijn zangeressen met haren onder de oksels!”

Het is maar één van de eigenzinnige uitspraken van Stefan Zucker, een operafanaat van de eerste uur, en, volgens eigen zeggen de ‘hoogste tenorale stem ooit’. Of het waar is? Ik zou het niet weten, maar zijn fluisterstem klinkt ronduit lachwekkend. Zou hij wellicht ook een echte castraat zijn?

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Hij is ook een zeer irritant mannetje die op zoek is naar roddels en sensatie, maar dankzij hem komen we op bezoek bij de grote diva’s van weleer: Anita Cerquetti, Fedora Barbieri, Giulietta Simionato, Magda Olivero, Leyla Gencer, Marcella Pobbe …

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Marcella Pobbe

 

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Fedora Barbieri

Niet alle dames hebben er zin in om met hem te praten of zijn onbeschaamde vragen (eerlijk is eerlijk: daar kan ik toch wel echt van genieten) te beantwoorden, maar met een paar grappa’s op gaat het ze opeens van een leien dakje. Hij verleidt ze tot de meest opmerkelijke uitspraken en we worden getrakteerd op beeld- en geluidsfragmenten van hun optredens.

De film is in 1999 door Jan Schmidt-Garre gemaakt en heeft ondertussen behoorlijk wat prijzen op verschillende filmfestivals gewonnen. Terecht. Het is een beetje een road movie geworden, maar dan met operasterren in de hoofdrollen.

Tot mijn grote schande en schaamte moet ik bekennen dat het de eerste keer was dat ik van Carla Gavazzi heb gehoord, maar inmiddels heb ik de schade ruimschots ingehaald.

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Carla Gavazzi

Wat een stem, wat een zangeres! En voor mij beslist de beste Santuzza (Cavalleria Rusticana) ooit:

 

Zeer, zeer aanbevolen!!!!!!!!!!!

Trailer van Opera Fanatic:

Opera Fanatic
Regie: Jan Schmidt-Garre.
Arthaus Musik (101 813)

Interview with Carmen Giannattasio

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Photo: Victor Santiago

She is a strong woman. Like Leonora in Il trovatore, the role she performed in October 2015 at the National Opera in Amsterdam. A conversation with the Italian soprano Carmen Giannattasio. “I don’t owe anybody anything. I did it all by myself.”

Unter recently Dutch operagoers mainly knew her as the strict museum director in Damiano Michieletto’s production of Il Viaggio a Reims for the National Opera.

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Photo: Clärche & Matthias Baus

Trailer from Michieletto’s production:

But Carmen Giannattasio’s fame extends far beyond that. She is one of the most famous belcanto sopranos emerging over the last few years.

The soprano, born on April 24, 1975, in Avellino, southern Italy, has a repertory consisting of dozens of familiar and less familiar roles, and her discography is much larger than one would expect. In October 2015 Giannattasio returned to Amsterdam for Leonora in Verdi’s Il Trovatore, a role she has sung previously in Zürich, Venice, and New York.

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As Leonora in Amsterdam with Francesco Meli as Manrico. Photo: Ruth Walz

Giannattasio studied the role of Leonora with Leyla Gencer, her teacher and mentor. It was also Gencer who prepared her for her La Scala debut in 2001, while she was still a student at the conservatory.

“Leyla Gencer perhaps was the most important person in my life. She coached and stimulated me. She believed in me unconditionally, and gave me the extra push I needed to go to La Scala. She was present when I made my debut there as Giulietta in Il Giorno di Regno.

Music in the convent

“I was two years old when I first discovered music. I’ll never forget that day, it will be etched on my memory forever.”

“It happened in a convent. I went to nursery school there, and was bored to death. You have to understand that I was a difficult child at the time, not very social. “Peculiar” would probably describe me best.  Our family had just been blessed with a new child, and I was fiercely jealous of my baby brother. I teased him, and nothing could be done with me. My parents wanted me to become more sociable, and learn how to get on with other children, that is why they sent me to nursery school at such an early age. And right there, in that convent nursery school, I heard music for the very first time.”

“It came from behind a closed door. When I opened it, I saw a piano. Sitting at it, was mother superior. It was she who was responsible for those divine sounds. I wanted to be able to do that too: I wanted to be part of the enchantment. So I kept begging for piano lessons at home until my parents gave in.”

“It was my piano teacher who discovered my voice, and who sent me to the conservatory. I was not so certain myself.  It did not help I did not care much for opera, which did not really touch me. I greatly preferred the piano! My father agreed with me: as a piano teacher at least I could make a living. It took three years before I suddenly saw the light. From that moment on, I acquired a real taste for singing.”

“Music was never enough for me. I also studied English and Russian literature, and even got my degrees. I speak Russian very well, and would love to sing Russian operas. Unfortunately, I am never asked to do so. Apparently people think those works can only be sung by Russians, and Italians can do no justice to them. A pity!”

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Photo: Opera Base


Operalia and Opera Rara

At the Operalia-contest in Paris in 2002 Giannattasio won both the first prize, and the audience prize. Did this help her to get on?

“Let me put it this way: everything you achieve, you do by yourself. Plácido Domingo is very kind and supportive, and after I won, he invited me to Los Angeles to participate in a gala, where I sang Desdemona in the fourth act of Otello, with Roberto Alagna. But in fact I don’t owe anybody anything. I did it all on my own, without any help from others.”

Carmen Giannattassio at the Operalia 2002:

The phrase ‘nobody has ever helped me, I did it on my own’ is repeated like a mantra throughout our conservation. Giannattasio repeats it once more when we discuss the unfamiliar Belcanto roles she has recorded for Opera Rara.

“I am really very proud I have done those recordings. Not everyone is willing to, for a good reason. You have to work extremely hard for just one performance, and one recording.”

“It is rather weird to study roles you will never sing a second time. You know it is a one-off, and after that, basta. Well, in most cases, anyhow. But I did it with a lot of pleasure. I was very young then, and more than willing to do it.  And I am really proud of that. I did it!”

Carmen Giannattasio discusses her recording of Bellini’s Il pirata for Opera Rara:

Elisabetta and Leonora

One of her most important recent roles is Elisabetta in Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda. She sang the role in London and Paris, in the same production, but with two different partners: in London, mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, and in Paris the (light) soprano Aleksandra Kurzak. Does she sing and colour the role differently with another partner?

“No, of course not. The role remains the same, after all. You sing the notes and the words, and your partner is just your partner. Nothing changes. Well, perhaps a little, but not for me. DiDonato is a mezzo, and they transposed the score down for her. To me, that did not matter at all. Kurzak is a very temperamental woman. She is bursting with energy, and I like that very much, because it is important to have a partner who challenges you.”

Giannattasio and Kurzak in Maria Stuarda:

Giannattasio’s interpretation of Leonora reminds me a lot of Leyla Gencer, and I am not alone in that. On YouTube an admirer wrote under a video from Zürich: “Degna studentessa della Gencer… È stata una Leonora belissima. Finalmente una voce veramente verdiana. Mamma, è divino senza più aggettivi.”

I am particularly struck by the determination in her voice. Is Leonora a strong woman?

“O yes, certainly! But more importantly, she is young, not older than seventeen, eighteen at the most. Leonora is a teenager, and teenagers are the same throughout history. The moment they are in love, they think it is the most important thing in the world. Their love is everything to them! On top of it, they are impulsive, and think the world comes to an end when something stands between them and their love. And of course they all want to die, to die of and for love. Adolescents! Don’t forget Leonora is extraordinarily fascinated by a mysterious man she hardly knows anything about, not even his real name.”

‘The fondest memories I have of Il Trovatore are of a Metropolitan Opera production in 2012. David McVicar is a director I greatly admire. He is not really traditional, quite progressive, actually, but in his case, everything makes sense.  I have nothing against updating, by the way! It just as well possible to sing a role in a T-shirt and jeans, that does not affect the character at all.”

“I love to be challenged, otherwise things can get monotonous. You cannot endlessly repeat yourself. There are limits, however. Don’t touch the music or the libretto, those things should never be tampered with. Also, I don’t like extremes. I don’t think I would do anything a director asks of me, but I am willing to go far, yes. Fortunately, I have never been asked to cross my own boundaries yet.”

Trailer from Il Trovatore in Amsterdam:

 

Fashion and the future

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Photo courtesy The IT Magazine

Giannattasio is one of the few opera stars who also works as a model. She is the face of Alberta Ferretti, Antonio Riva en Antonio Grimaldi, amongst others.

“Yes, I guess you could say I am a fashionista. I am fortunate there are people around who want to invest in me, and that certain brands have made me their ambassador. I am not really a model, and do not look like a model. I am a normal woman, like millions of others.”

Future plans? Dreams?

“I speak Russian, English, French, and Spanish. Not German, so no German repertoire for me. I could never sing an opera in a language I do not speak. Doing that, you are nothing more than a parrot, which is not for me. But I am still young, and who knows what will come on my path.”

“Norma always has been my dream role, because you can prove yourself with it not only as a singer, but as an actress as well. Now I have learned Norma, I don’t have any big wishes left anymore. One day I might sing Lady Macbeth, or Tosca, but not for the moment.”

Giannattasio sings ‘Casta Diva’ from Norma:

“I am more than happy with how my life, including my personal life, looks right now. I am also extremely proud of myself, because I did everything myself, no one ever helped me. Life is short, and I don’t want to plan anything.  I live by the day, and it feels just great like that.”

English translation: Remko Jas

CARMEN GIANNATTASIO

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Carmen Giannattasio als model voor Grazia Fortuna Ward. Foto: Victor Santiago

 

Ze is een sterke vrouw. Net als Leonora in Il trovatore, de rol die ze in oktober 2015 bij De Nationale Opera ging vertolken. Een gesprek met de Italiaanse sopraan Carmen Giannattasio. “In feite heb ik aan niemand iets te danken. Ik heb het allemaal zelf gedaan.”

De doorsnee Nederlandse operaganger kende haar tot voor kort voornamelijk als de strenge museumdirectrice uit de Damiano Michieletto´s productie van Rossini´s Il Viaggio a Reims bij de Nationale Opera.

Trailer van de productie:

 

Maar Carmen Giannattasio’s faam reikt veel verder dan dat. Ze is één van de beroemdste belcantosopranen van de laatste jaren.

De op 24 april 1975 in Avellino (Zuid Italië) geboren sopraan heeft tientallen bekende en onbekende rollen op haar repertoire staan en haar discografie is veel groter dan men zou kunnen vermoeden.

In oktober 2015 kwam Giannattasio naar Amsterdam voor Leonora in Il Trovatore van Verdi, een rol die zij al eerder heeft vertolkt in o.a. Zürich, La Fenice in Venetië en de Met in New York. Een rol die zij ooit heeft ingestudeerd onder supervisie van Leyla Gencer, haar lerares en mentor. Het was Gencer die haar klaarstoomde voor haar debuut aan de Milanese La Scala in 2001 toen zij nog aan het conservatorium studeerde.

“Leyla Gencer was misschien wel de belangrijkste persoon in mijn leven. Ze heeft me gecoacht en gestimuleerd. Ze geloofde onvoorwaardelijk in me en heeft me de ‘push’ gegeven die ik nodig had om de stap naar La Scala te maken. Ze was er zelf ook bij, bij mijn debuut als Giulietta in Il Giorno di Regno.”

 

Muziek in het klooster

“Ik was twee jaar oud toen ik voor het eerst kennismaakte met muziek. Die dag vergeet ik niet, die staat voor altijd in mijn geheugen gegroefd”.

“Het was in een klooster. Ik zat daar op een kleuterschooltje en ik verveelde mij dodelijk. Nu moet je weten dat ik best vervelend was, toen. Ik was alles behalve sociaal, je kan rustig zeggen dat ik behoorlijk raar was. Ons gezin werd net verrijkt met een nieuw kindje en ik was dodelijk jaloers op mijn pasgeboren broertje. Ik pestte hem en er was geen land met mij te bezeilen. Mijn ouders wilden dat ik socialer werd en met andere kinderen leerde omgaan, vandaar dat zij mij al zo vroeg naar de kleuterschool hebben gebracht.”

“En daar, in dat peuterklasje van het klooster hoorde ik voor het eerst muziek. Het kwam van achter een gesloten deur en toen ik de deur opendeed zag ik een piano. Daar zat moeder overste achter, zij was het die voor de goddelijke klank verantwoordelijk was. Dat wilde ik ook, ik wilde bij de betovering horen.Thuis ben ik net zo lang blijven zeuren tot ik op de pianoles mocht.”

Het was mijn pianolerares die mijn stem heeft ontdekt en mij naar conservatorium heeft gestuurd. Daar was ik niet zo zeker van, ik twijfelde… Bovendien had ik eigenlijk niets met opera, het raakte mij niet echt. Piano vond ik veel mooier! Mijn vader was het eigenlijk met mij eens: als pianoleraar kon ik tenminste mijn brood verdienen. Pas na drie jaar viel het kwartje, toen kreeg ik pas de smaak te pakken.”

“Muziek was voor mij niet genoeg. Ik studeerde ook Engelse en Russische literatuur. Daar heb ik ook een graad in behaald. Ik spreek goed Russisch en ik zou graag Russische opera’s willen zingen. Helaas word ik daar niet voor gevraagd. Blijkbaar denkt men dat die rollen door Russen bezet moeten worden en dat Italianen het niet zouden kunnen. Jammer.”

(meer…)