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Interview

Entretien avec Marina Rebeka

I am attracted by the challenge of testing my nerves and my technique and to bring out the most out of the character.

Entretien avec Marina Rebeka

Congratulations for your recent performance of Marguerite in Madrid and for the ‘Luisa Miller’ recording that I cannot refrain listening.

Regarding Alex Ollé’s Faust in Madrid, how did you approach such a crazy production ?

The production is quite modern, but it doesn’t change the spirit of my character. You can put marguerite in a different costume, change her hair, and paint her hands, but the essence stays encrypted in music and the relationships with the other characters remain the same, so it wasn’t difficult at all, really. What was difficult is the continuous change of costumes and look and the set – it is quite complicated and you need to get the timing right not to get in trouble. I still can enjoy all the innocence and freshness of marguerite no matter how she looks.

I really loved this production however I still cannot understand why you had blue hair … (laughs)

Yes, I often hear that question – why the hair and hands are blue. Well, what happens is that this marguerite is a laboratory assistant, so when I first appear onstage I have brunette hair and a blue cap, and I am wearing blue gloves. I just take that all very quickly because I want to look more beautiful to Faust.

But then Faust falls asleep and his reality gets completely twisted in a way which often happens in our dreams – normal things and normal people start looking different and weird, so my blue cap and blue gloves turn into blue hair and blue hands!! 🙂

It seems that the whole team was having a lot of fun during the performance, am I wrong?

It is hard to tell. Every performance is different but I can tell you that we definitely did not have fun on the mezzo streaming – everybody gets nervous and nerves get in the way. Now, generally speaking, in this particular opera is difficult for me to have fun- my story is a most terrible story: the betrayal of young girl who becomes an unhappy and abandoned mother, who in turn gets crazy and kills her own child, and if that wasn’t enough, in the end she dies in prison from a mental and emotional collapse. But we do play and the play is the best part of it all. My colleagues were great!

I have always wondered what is most difficult for a soprano while singing Marguerite’s character: the jewels’ song, or the improbable end that requires singing “forte” and covering the orchestra …

Forte is just a tool. Anybody can sing forte. It’s much more difficult to sing piano, pianissimo, and pianississimo with all the colors and a good diction. Marguerite is not a difficult role. In contrast, Norma, Maria Stuarda, and Anna Bolena are much more difficult.

Now, what was really difficult were the circumstances in which we had to sing: Madrid has an extremely dry air. If you look in your weather app, the humidity level in Madrid can easily be around 14% – a healthy humidity level would be around 30 to 50%. In those circumstances singing well can become very difficult. Plus, it is very hot (sometimes 38 degrees) so everywhere you go there is air conditioning which dries even more an already dry air. So Marguerite difficulty was dryness :)))

As for the parts – i like the jewel song the least and the “église scene” the most. My life starts from “il ne revient pas”

This season we are going to hear you next in Anna Bolena in Bordeaux, Mimi in Vienna and Palermo, Violetta in Scala, Imogene in Geneva and Nedda again in Vienna. There are some new heavy roles for you, I am thinking of Bolena, Imogene and Nedda. How do you approach these three parts?

Anna Bolena is no heavier than Norma, Nedda is short, like Mimi, and although Imogene is quite long, it’s in the same line as Norma – dramatic belcanto.

I approach them with curiosity, care, and attention. As I do every time that I take on a new role, I carefully explore the historical and emotional background of the character, and i go through all the score in order to get a good idea of the characters. Then I listen to relevant recordings, and finally I work with a pianist and start singing it in voice. From all these elements, something uniquely mine crystallizes in the role, and that personal approach is what the audience hears and see onstage. I generally do not accept parts which I have no interest in.

You are going to have a very busy schedule this season with likely a lot of work between the performances to learn the scores. When does Marina rest? (laughs)

Marina rests rarely, and when she is not singing, she is studying, planning travels, recordings, making concert programs, and being a mother, which is the most important part. Yes, I am very busy, but when I can, I forget that I am an opera singer and I enjoy being a mother, a daughter, and a wife, and these are some of the most beautiful and true moments for me.

 You told me recently that Maria Stuarda is the most difficult role of Bel Canto for you. Can you explain why?

Yes, sure. The reason is that Maria Stuarda is written in an unevenly manner. In Norma and Bolena the soprano part stays mostly in the central high register, but in Stuarda is moving from up to down and again back. The beginning is quite dramatic, the duet with Leicester is written high and intense, the scene of confrontation with Elisabetta is on the center of the register but it also has low moments. Then the final gets high again. After the first act the voice gets in a higher position but you need to reposition it back to the lows as the next duet with Talbot has dramatic and low parts, but then again, the long final scene starts without a moment to rest. It is mostly central but has lows and tops as well. Surely if we look on it the way it was written- with no top notes – it makes it possible for mezzo sopranos to sing it – like Joyce di Donato or dame Janet Baker, but I think if you are a soprano and have those tops you should go for them as they add tension and emotional drive.

Another iconic part : are you scheduling Norma next ?

I already did Norma in 2016 in Trieste, in 2017 in Riga, and in 2017 also at the metropolitan opera in New-York, a new production. In the next season (2019 – 2020), I shall sing the part in Hamburg, also in a new production.

In general, what attracts you in bel canto? And what other roles would you like to cover in this “repertoire”?

I am attracted by the challenge of testing my nerves and my technique and to bring out the most out of the character. In this style you are completely naked on stage – in some recits you have to change tonality, mood, and character all by yourself, not supported by the orchestra nor any other character – it is a big challenge for me as an actress also – to find that emotion onstage and to deliver it in the right musical colors. It also trains stamina a lot – all the final scenes are huge. In order to not make this music sound nice but boring you need to bring all of your acting skills and all your vocal skills to perfection. In my schedule I have more Normas, Anna Bolenas, Maria Stuardas and also Roberto Devereux, I would also love to perform in Lucrezia Borgia, la Vestale of Spontini and Cherubini Medea.

Let’s stop for a moment on your next bel canto disc “Spirito”. It has a special background, firstly because it inaugurates your own label; and after, because, as you did for Rossini, you will present some alternative versions. Can you tell us more?

For a long time now, my desire to get right to the source – manuscript or, correctly said, autograph versions – has been a driving force. The first recording I did based on an author’s manuscript was “Amor fatale” Rossini arias, which came out in the summer of 2017. Now, with “Spirito” I wanted to continue this line as I found it extremely fascinating to get closer to the composer and trying to bring to life his first ideas. As we know, often after the first score was written, the composer had to modify it because of the singer’s whims, the impresarios’ wishes, maybe because of the success or lack thereof of the premiere, and many other factors. Later on, musicologists studied these elements and this is how critical editions of a same piece were created. But my idea was to get to that first version, the source. Then I wrote my own variations, where required by style, based on my understanding of the style and my own vocal abilities.

The idea of creating my own label has a long story. But to make it short – I had planned the recording of “Spirito” a long time ago, and I was in contact with several labels, but in the end they showed no interest as they were busy with other artists they had. The idea started as a wish – why not create my own label. Obviously, creating a record label is not that easy.  It’s a big undertaking in terms of investment, time, effort, organization, legal matters, etc. But we succeeded. My husband is a sound engineer, and he is running the business side of it.

We also built a recording, mixing, and mastering studio. Another very important reason to start our record company was the freedom in terms of time to get the closest to perfection in a recording – very often labels hire studios and sound engineers payed hourly to edit, mix and master an album. So, some labels may or may not be interested to go through every detail and take the recording to the best shape it could have been because that would require many hours of work, meaning more expensive. Our approach is different. We own our studios and we work until we are happy with results, without watching the clock. We also want to bring the listener nearer to the singers and to the orchestra, so our sound will slightly vary from the standards. There are certain rules how a classical music recording is done and microphones are set – and we change those rules according to the quality of the sound that we want to achieve. We believe that every stage of a recording process should have a creative initiative: from choosing a photo for the cover to choosing the right orchestra and conductor that are a good fit for the repertoire, choosing the edits, the mix, the overall sound, etc.

Why “Spirito”?

Because all the “ladies” featured in it were spiritual persons – believing in extra forces (Norma, Vestale), god (Stuarda, Bolena), being noble in heart and soul (Imogene). The stories of Maria Stuarda and Anna Bolena are still known nowadays and a Vestale temple is still found in Rome. So, some of these are stories have survived in time, and some of them became legendary in opera history. Their spirit never dies (smile).

 Your Rossini record is absolutely remarkable. But it seems that you are not planning these roles on stage…

These are rarely staged operas. I am not a casting director. If I were, I would definitely plan in performing them. This is a question to casting directors of opera theaters.

You used to sing a lot of Mozart. Currently, it seems like you’re moving away from it …

I used to, yes. Mozart requires a very different singing technique compared to dramatic bel canto, and than let’s say Puccini, or first Verdi. Yes, I am moving away from Mozart at the moment, also because between performances and my first Mozart CD recording I have sang most of them (die entführung aus dem serail, Pamina, the queen of the night, the contessa, Donna Anna, Donna Elvira, Fiordiligi, Vitellia, Elettra).  Also, if you want to move on to the different repertoire you cannot constantly stick to past.

You have already sung Marguerite, Thaïs and Antonia; Do you have any other roles planned in the french repertoire?

I have sung also Juliette, Micaela, Leila, there is not so much left i guess 🙂 i would love to do Manon, more Thais, Debussy L’Enfant prodige, and much later le Cid

It seems that you are also planning Trovatore’s Leonora and Tatiana, great pleasures coming for us … In which direction are you going for your next roles : Bel Canto’s repertoire of soprano dramatico – coloratura? A wider Verdian repertoire? Puccini? Or a little of each ?

I’ve already done Tatiana in 2008, so it’s no debut. My direction is full lyric with coloratura. Exactly what is needed for the bel canto queens, and for the early Verdi. I do not think I should face Puccini, verismo and late Verdi (with exception of Otello). I will do also lyric roles like Rusalka, Iolanta, Mimi, Tatiana, Thais, and young and middle Verdi – Trovatore, Vespri Siciliani, and see how the voice develops. Little steps but sure ones.

Do “risorgimentali” Verdi’s roles like Giselda (I Lombardi) or Odabella (Attila) attract you?

Maybe, but not now, it’s too early. I could do “I lombardi”, but we are talking about a minimum of 2 to 3 years from now. in Italian there is great saying – chi va piano – va lontano!

Obviously, the French public wants to hear you. You will be in Bordeaux in November and for a Paris recital at the Elephant Paname in April with Antoine Palloc. Can we hope to see you again in Paris soon for an opera? And in another big French opera house?

Yes! I will be in Paris again with Trovatore in future seasons. I have no plans for other french opera houses yet.

We cannot help asking this question to a young artist: which singers have been models for you?

There are many : Callas, Tebaldi, De los Angeles, Sills, Arleen Auger, Olga Borodina, Elena Obraztsova, Dame Janet Baker, Leila Cuberli, Virginia Zeani, Cecilia Gasdia, June Anderson, Leyla Gencer

Finally, because of the pleasure that your already released recordings are providing us, what are your future projects for recitals or integrals CD?

 Unfortunately, I cannot disclose specifics about our future cd recordings. However, I can tell you that our next four projects, in which we are working now, involve not only me but also other artists and they will not be only solo CDs.

Thank you very much Marina. For sure we will follow you with big pleasure on these various projects. See you soon!

Thank you for supporting my art! it was pleasure to meet you in Madrid. Au Plaisir de se revoir en France.