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4 Feb 2014

OKSANA VOLKOVA: "There were times when I was invited after being listened to on YouTube"

The opera singer Oksana Volkova has become the first Belarusian to open the season at New York Metropolitan Opera. She performed Olga's part from Eugene Onegin on the one stage with the world famous Anna Netrebko in the role of Tatsiana.

This February the opera diva will perform Nabucco and Carmen for the Belarusian audience, and February, 20 she will sing again Eugene Onegin Olga's aria. TUT.BY has talked with the Belarusian opera star about her New-York breakthrough, further plans and has dispelled the myths concerning special diets for artists.

Opera singer Oksana Volkova interview

Do you still take part in any contests? Or has there already been chain reaction, you have got public attention and successful performances lead to some other attractive offers?

All singing contests have age limits - 35 years for men and 32 for women. If you have participated in prestigious contests, you wouldn't like to lower the bar. And there's no need for them now, as I've been very busy lately, so many countries, theatres... I don't feel interested in them anymore. But I take part in auditions and castings for a performance, aren't they kind of contests too? It's much more pleasant to win them now.

How do the castings work in the world famous opera houses?

Every theatre decides its own policy concerning the castings. Of course, there are some top singers, every theatre would consider an honor to invite. But their schedule is very tight and is planned for years ahead. Then theatrical agents start looking for new names, they go to prestigious contests, hold auditions, which are visited by the artists from every corner of the globe.

There's a net of international agencies, which have a database with different recordings of the performers and their work history. There were times I was invited just after being listened to on YouTube, without even knowing me by name. The agencies make life easier: it's your agent, who negotiates working conditions, which raises the level of arrangements.




Would you please tell us about your participation in the opening of season in New York Metropolitan Theatre?

Metropolitan Opera is often called the theatre of stars. You seldom see an unknown name, playing the lead role. And if it happens, then it's a future star. Metropolitan takes castings very seriously. I've been auditioned more than once both at the  performances and at the contests. I deliberately flied to New York to be cast as Olga in Eugene Onegin, and there were other singers at the audition. I have worked really hard to achieve some good results.

I wouldn't like to compare Metropolitan Opera with other theatres, because there're always different approaches everywhere. I value my connections with the theatres, at which I often perform. Metropolitan impresses me with its accurate organization of the whole process, starting from wig and costume selection to the working hours and rest period calculation. As a rule, there're 4 days off between the performances, and if you've caught a cold you have a chance to get better. Some theatres lack this system. If you take part in the performance, you sing 7-8 shows, which is important, because you concentrate on one material for a period of time, without being distracted.

I enjoy the environment of the theatre most of all. All the singers, working there are high quality professionals, and you constantly learn and communicate with them, thus making friends. There're a lot of Russian singers, USSR immigrants in New York, and it makes you feel at home. You can hear Russian far more frequently than English in the buffet.

I don't see any differences between performing in Minsk, Moscow or New York. Anyway It's theatre and public, and you always push yourself to the limit, whether it's a small theatre or Metropolitan Opera.


What would you like to achieve? Which role? What are the key performances you will take part in?

I've got many plans. I would like to broaden the repertoire, and also I would like to perform more lyric heroines. I want to perform the roles I often sing at the concerts. In 2015 I've got an offer from Beijing Opera Theatre to sing in the new performance of Samson and Dalilah. This opera is seldom performed. And my partner will be one of the greatest tenors, Jose Cura.

Next season I will again cooperate with Metropolitan Opera. The contract hasn't been made yet, but the offer has already come.

My disc is coming up soon, there will be 12 arias from the world famous classic operas for mezzo-soprano. We've recorded it together with Aleksandr Anisimov and the symphony orchestra. It's the recording of my solo concert, which was held last year at the Philharmonic Hall. It's the first experience of that kind in Belarus and I believe that it will be successful.


Oksana Volkova


What does define a good opera singer? Why do even those people who aren't so keen on opera know who Maria Kallas is?

No matter what career path you choose, your personal qualities always matter a lot. There're so many good singers, but somehow we love Pavarotti and emphasize with Kallas's heroines. So much time has passed, but we still can't forget about them. It means that there was something special in them, that nobody else could have, the exceptional charisma, the gift of self-devotion and the enormous talent. It's something that can't but touch you, some indefinable personal energy.

Do you travel a lot or do you mostly stay in Minsk? Do you have a tough schedule at the Bolshoi theatre?

Every year it depends. When I only started my career, I had to sacrifice a lot. I had to spend nearly a year in the Youth Program of the Russian Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. Then other foreign theatres made me some offers, and I spent some time on showing myself, getting acquainted. I spent half a year in New-York. I sang at Colon Theatre in Buenos Aires, at Latvian and Beijing opera. This season I have made a decision to spend more time with my family. I've achieved some goals, I've got many offers for the next season, but I understand that I like staying at home. I've got an opportunity to organize my time more reasonably, not to get tired. When you're far from home for a long time, you get the feeling that your energy is just vanishing. And at home you store it up.
From January till April I will take part at practically all my performances at the Bolshoi Theatre.

How do you manage to combine the roles of wife, mother and a famous singer? And would you like your children to follow in your footsteps?

I don't wait for my children to follow in my footsteps. We're trying to give them an opportunity to fulfill themselves in different spheres. That is why it's a hard job to be a mother. My children attend many circles, additional classes, and you need to drive them there and pick them up. And my schedule allows me to do this by myself. We've had a baby-sitter before, but now we manage without her, our grannies are always ready to help. But I've got my duty to the children because of me being absent sometimes, that is why when I'm here, I try to take as many responsibilities as I can.

What was your dream job when you were a child? Why did you decide to become an opera singer and when did you understand that you were cut out for it?

I dreamed of becoming an animator, as far as I remember. I had all my school exercise books and my diary covered with created animated characters. But then my interest in this suddenly flagged. I've always liked singing. I imitated the singers I heard on the radio, and it seemed to me that I wasn't really bad at it. Opera singing was taught at my school, so I was lucky. And I entered the Academy of Music without compulsory secondary education, having saved several years. My passion for opera was formed while studying there.

Does an opera singer follow any diet? Is there some food you mustn't eat? What is your daily routine?

My way of life is completely wrong from an opera singer's point of view. I get up at 7, because I need to drive my children to school and kindergarten. I seldom have any days off, even before a performance. I get tired of idleness by the evening, that is why I always load myself with different things to do. I know that a lot of singers keep silent the day before a performance to spare their voice. It's impossible in my case. I eat a lot of ice-cream, I like sunflower seeds, salty, sour and bitter food - everything that is bad for the voice. I also enjoy grabbing something before going to bed, and I'm a great karaoke singer. If I feel that I start putting on weight and it brings discomfort, then I start exercising. But of course I'm not so thoughtless before some important performances.

Do you choose your parts according to your voice abilities or to your sympathy for a role? Is there any professional peak in opera singers, when after a certain age their voice reaches its zenith?

It always depends on a person. There're some great singers, who are, except from being very talented musicians, very clever people. They estimate their career as though they were mathematicians, understanding what is good and what is bad, and at what time, they can dictate their terms. There's always a certain fear: If I give up, anybody else will do this and I will be forgotten. And we're all taking part in this racing. If you're given something, take it. There're few people who can freely say "no". You should be really self-confident, understanding that your career isn't over after it. I know a lot of elderly singers, whose voices sound as though they were young. They achieved that not only because of their talent, but also due to their intellect.

A lot of talented young people don't see any career prospects in here and leave this country. Have you ever made such a choice? Why do you prefer staying in Minsk?

I like living in Minsk, I feel comfortable here. My family and friends live here, and my theatre is here as well. I'm treated kindly in here, I'm understood, nobody suppresses me or presents me with ultimatums. I don't know what I would do, if I had rigorous conditions at the theatre. There's a mutual understanding and good relations in the team.




Do you have a favorite stage of the preparation for a performance?

It's boring to do the same thing all the time. I always need some change. And all the preparation for a performance keeps me interested all the time. It includes costume preparation, trying-on, rehearsals, work in class with a concertmaster, when you plunge into your role, communication with a stage director, rehearsals with my partners, and then comes the apotheosis - premiere, flowers, public attention and the feeling that the work is done. That is why I'm interested in the whole process of the preparation for a performance.

TUT.BY

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