Skip to main content

PREMIÈRE LOGE: Marina Rebeka, Vestal and Priestess of opera!

France loves Marina Rebaka, and always gives her a warm welcome, whether in recital, in Verdi (Il Trovatore or La Traviata at Bastille, I due Foscari in Aix) or in bel canto (Anna Bolena at the T.C.E.). She returns for a highly anticipated concert: Spontini’s Vestale in the original French language at the T.CE., on Wednesday 22 June 2022. Meet one of the most remarkable sopranos of the moment…

by Nicolas Mathieu for Première Loge

Nicolas Mathieu : How did you meet the lyrical arts?
Marina Rebeka : When I was 13 years old, my grandfather brought me to ‘Dailes’ Theater to hear Bellini’s Norma. I was so deeply shocked that I said to him I would be singing this someday. All my family laughed, obviously, because I was just playing piano and was not studying music professionally. But I found a music school where you could learn at any age and went to it! The coincidence is that 23 years later, Norma was programmed at the Latvian Opera house, and it was me on the role!

When did you know you would be a professional singer?
Then I entered the conservatory in Italy, I started searching for possibilities to work and to develop. So, I was looking through all the roles, and then I had this first experience of debuting on stage, in Teatro Reggio di Parma, with a Barbiere di Siviglia project for children. It was the first time I sang Rosina!
In Rome I had 2 teachers: the first one was guiding me like a light lyric soprano, so I was singing I Puritani, and The Queen of the night, because I had the high notes. The other teacher was guiding me full lyric. And in the end, I lost my voice completely. It was a big crisis in my life because I had no job and no money. My parents gave me so much already, and everything seemed in vain, because I had the feeling nobody could help me.
I went to Riga for a 3-month recovery, watching masterclasses, reading books, exploring my body, and then I started building my extensions until I had the whole range back. I knew I had to work on myself because I knew nobody could help me. In the end, I returned to Rome, and built my repertoire as I participated in various competitions. So, I did auditions until I was successfully cast for Traviata in Erfurt, which was my real debut on stage.

Apart from your singing activity, you created a label 4 years ago with your husband…

As for singing, I couldn’t have teachers who would guide me from the beginning. It was the same for the recordings. My first one was at my own expense: I paid for the orchestra, the conductor, and I produced the CD myself. I gave the rights to EMI, they released the CD giving it very little visibility. They did not guarantee me any recording deal, only some probable options, and for that I would have to sign exclusivity with them for 5 years. It did not quite work for me.
Then followed a great DG recording of La Clemenza di Tito, a BR recording of Luisa Miller and my solo album ‘Amor fatale’, also a NAXOS DVD recording of my La Traviata.
The main concern was the sound. I was never happy about it. I wanted the quality of the old recordings of Callas or Pavarotti that I never had. If you listen to the Mozart recording and one of my label, there
is a huge difference between them. What is the point of recording anything if I cannot hear my voice with the sound I want? It needs to be elaborated in the way the engineer knows your voice. I remember when we collaborated with Edgardo on Gounod’ s Faust. I heard the recording of my voice and cried. It was truly the way I believe it should have sounded. Later we created a record label. This year, we will be 4 years old and have 11 albums already. Many albums got many enthusiastic press reviews, critics’ choice, and important mentions. We were even reviewed by The Sunday Times and Le Monde.
You see, I wanted to be a classical singer who has the same teacher who guides you through your life, but I didn’t have it. I wanted to have projects with the big labels, but it didn’t happen, and I had to play myself. My way is my way, not because I wanted it, but because life pushed me to do it.

Is your label devoted to promoting artistic diversity?
The big labels only promote a handful of singers. But what about all the other great artists who have been singing for 30 plus years at the most prestigious opera houses and do not have any albums? It is the story of Jean de Reszke and Caruso. They had the same level. Caruso agreed to work with the ‘gramophone’ and de Reszke didn’t want anything to do with recordings. Now, who remember him? It is the same for us! It is important to leave recordings as an evidence of the artistry of our times.
I love discovering new talents and helping existing talents to leave their artistry in recording. It is exciting to do casting and to be creative in every step of the recording process, starting with the cover design and finishing with booklet text and repertoire.

The CD ‘Elle’ demonstrated your skills in French language…
After you do 5 operas in French, you speak French! (laughs) It took years, to be honest, and I am thankful to the coaches I met on my way – Jocelyne Dienst-Bladin, Florence Daguerre De Hureaux and Mathieu Pordoy being the producer and language coach of album ‘Elle’. It is not only about the French pronunciation, but also the style of French singing, which is different from Italian. How I work on it today? I am writing all the pronunciation, then I check it with my language coaches, then I listen to recordings and read literal background. It is always a process, but now, looks like 95% of my notes in terms of pronunciation is correct!

As La Vestale is concerned, is it important for you to sing it in French, and not Italian as it is often done?
I think the Italian version is inferior because many things are cut from the original version, which is in French! As for the recordings, the existing ones are mixing things up. So, the Vestale coming at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées is the first one which will be recorded with the actual order and in actual pitch (430)!
With Palazetto we worked lately on a new CD ‘Voyage’, which will be released by our label in September this year. It is my first chamber music album. It is made of French composer and women composers’ (Viardot, Chaminade) works written in French, German, Italian and Russian languages. All of them are dedicated to the Orient (Chanson Indienne, Chanson slave) and most of them have never been recorded. The first single will come out in July!

The question of highlighting women composers is a major issue in our musical ecosystem today. What is your position on this subject?
On one hand, I agree on this movement, as for women conductors. It was very unfair to give first-hand to males. And today is a time to reveal music that was kind of not allowed at those times. But we cannot take responsibility of history. Moreover, when people ask me about women conductors, I answer that talent has no gender, no nationality, no skin color. If there is a talent, it will stay in history.

What are your new projects coming on the recording or the repertoire?
It is mostly bel canto, some sacred and definitely more chamber music. Last December, I debuted Butterfly and it was quite a success. I will come back to this role, but after some time. I also plan more debuts in Verdi operas.

Does the study of contextual information help you interpret the roles?
Absolutely. You must understand the music, the composer, and the times when it all happened. If you portray a role like Butterfly, you must understand how a geisha became a geisha. When did it become that it is mingled with a prostitute? You also must know the first version of Butterfly, where Butterfly says in the Duetto with Pinkerton that when she got an offer to marry an American soldier, she thought she could marry him, not because she is in love with him, but because she was conscious she could go away from her place. It is a wish of a person to go away from circumstances where she is pushed, as a woman in her culture.

What is your position on the modern stagings?
There can be classical productions that are boring and modern ones that can make no sense. It must be logical. The most important thing is trusting the music. The music has so much potential. People don’t always need something to interfere. Why do we need the staging? We need to get it better, deeper, not singing one thing and doing another thing because the stage director wanted to do it for himself. We should always serve the art.

A final word?
A lot of people think opera is dying, that it is an old art form, not modern. But when people approach opera, they get in a process of transition, like when going to the church. You feel purified. It is scientifically proven that classical music has a positive influence on human mind and psyche. So come to the opera and stay happy and healthy!

article published on June 16th 2022