(Photo : Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera)
On Thursday, April 17, 2014, Russian Soprano Olga Peretyatko will make her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in the role of Elvira in Bellini's "I Puritani." The soprano recently spoke with Latinos Post about her excitement over the debut as well as her other upcoming projects.
"I Puritani" was not always the opera that Peretyatko was slated to sing in her debut this season. Back in 2009 she was contracted to sing the role of the Fiakermilli in Richard Strauss' "Arabella." The role features a rather virtuosic passage that rises into the soprano's vocal stratosphere; however the character's part lasts all of three minutes.
"At the time I was happy. It's a beautiful role and everyone will remember it, but its only three minutes," said Peretyatko before noting that she was ready to fulfill the commitment despite wanting to sing a more substantial role. "I am the kind of person that will do it because I signed the contract. But I wanted something more powerful like Lucia or Gilda to make my debut."
And that is exactly what she got. The soprano noted that the opera companies have people everywhere watching out for future artists and how to cast them.
"In Boston in October 2012 they saw one of my three concerts with the Boston Symphony," she narrated. "I waited for the reviews and they were excellent. And two days later my agency received an offer and told me that they changed the role and that they were offering me Elvira.
"My reaction was 'let me think about it,'" she joked. "But I was obviously happy. Elvira is something that will completely satisfy you. It is one of my favorites."
But singing Elvira was only part of the treat. She also got a chance to perform with a conductor that she trusts immensely - her husband Michele Mariotti.
"When I told Michele about my debut he said, 'Wait, I am conducting it,'" she stated with tremendous enthusiasm. "It was amazing."
She also revealed that if everything goes according to plan, she will be singing at the Met again with her husband in Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor."
"The same will happen in four years and the next project together here is Lucia," she revealed. "We each had different proposals and then we put our schedules together and realized that we will perform Lucia together. I am so happy."
Peretyatko will be taking on the role of Elvira on stage for the first time in her career. However, she already had a taste of it on the concert stage back in November 2012.
"We did three concerts with [conductor] Evelino Pido and Michele Pertusi. It was my first time and we had a different edition. We sang every note," she explained.
Regarding her upcoming run at the Met, she expressed tremendous admiration for the production by Sandro Sequi. "This production is so beautiful. It is very conservative and beautiful. I feel like a princess in those dresses. It is a fairytale. You should keep some stories like Puritani in their time because in our time it doesn't work."
The soprano went on to elaborate about the importance of the time period in understanding the character of Elvira who goes crazy for most of the opera.
"She starts to be crazy at finale primo. But for me her craziness is a result of the role of the woman in this society. Can you imagine how crazy it was?" she explained before taking a pause, almost as if she were stepping into the world and experiencing it. "The woman was nothing. She was like a table. An object. Your brothers and fathers own you. There is conflict between what I want and what I have to do. It is rather depressing."
She revealed that her intention was to make Elvira more than just a victim.
"She is very sensitive from the start. I try to give her strength. It is boring to be young girl on the stage," she explained. "She is strong because she wants forbidden love. This is shown in the first duet with Giorgio, who respects her. He talks to me about my love and supports me.
"After finale primo, she collapses because Arturo leaves her on her wedding," she continued. "Imagine how she feels after this? All these women and men will tell me that it is all my fault. I have read a lot about the Puritan society and this time. It's terrible. Now we can't imagine that. Thankfully we are born in this time."
For Peretyatko, Elvira remains crazy for most of the opera. Even in the famous love duet, the Russian soprano believes that the character remains on the brink of madness.
"As Elvira, I have seen Arturo everywhere. He is my personal ghost. I have spoken about him with every flower. So it is normal for me to see him everywhere. For me he still doesn't exist even when I see the real one for the first time. You are on the edge."
In addition to making her debut in the role, the soprano will also be trying out a rarely performed rondo at the finale of the work, something she did not get the time to showcase in her France performances.
"The Met has decided to give me the cabaletta at the end and I will do it with every variation possible. I will do a high D with Larry [Brownlee] at the end," she noted.
The soprano will be singing alongside an all-star cast that includes tenor Lawrence Brownlee, baritone Mariusz Kwiecien and one of her personal heroes Michele Pertusi.
The soprano sang with Brownlee in Donizetti's "L'Elisir D'Amore" in Hamburg in early 2013 and stated that they have developed a friendly competition on stage.
"We have this friendly competition about who holds the note longer. I love high notes and he is a great singer. When we did 'Elisir' we are holding the notes to the end to see who could hold it longer."
But her admiration for the tenor extends beyond their joy of high notes.
"He is so simple. He is a great person and professional. He can be a diva because he has every quality for it. But he isn't. The biggest names in this industry are simple and confident. They are normal people," she stated. "Larry's voice is wonderful. He has a beautiful timbre and has a great middle register, which is not normal for most tenors of this type.
"And of course his high notes are amazing. He is singing re and then fa. It is a lot of pressure because from the beginning a lot of the chorus members were asking him if he was going to sing the high F. Even if you have it, you have to have the nerve. His technique is very steady."
Regarding Pertusi, the soprano noted that she first heard him while studying at the Academia Rossiniana back in 2006.
"He is a Belcanto lesson. He is amazing. The way he sings. The way he articulates the line," she enthused. " When I heard him I was wondering how it was possible to sing so beautifully. He was amazing."
Regarding Kwiecien the soprano added, "I have heard him in Paris and now he is even better. He is such a wonderful artist."
The musical journey for the Russian soprano started right from her childhood.
"I was singing since I was two. They put me on table at every party," she said. "When I was three or four years old my mother told me that I would read everything by singing it."
At age seven she went to live in Lithuania with her mother Ludmila in Snečkus (modern-day Visaginas) and remained there for seven years in what she calls her "Lithuanian period." During that time the soprano-to-be noted that music was not the main focus of her life; instead she became intensely involved with karate.
"I would do it for four hours, three times a week. Full power."
At age 15 she returned to Russia with her father Alexander, a baritone in the Mariinsky Choir. She dedicated herself to music school and developed a deep voice that placed her in the alto section of the Mariinsky Children's Choir. She also gained a lot of weight.
"In one year after stopping Karate I gained 30 kilos because I stopped doing the physical activities," she said before noting that the experience of gaining weight has helped her understand her physical limitations and what is best for her. "I was skinny. I was fat. And now I understand that something in between is the best way."
She noted that she is physically active and enjoys playing tennis or jogging. But do not ask her to go to the gym.
"I hate the gym. It is so boring."
During her teenage years, she resolved that she wanted to continue doing music as a profession especially because she was hoping to sing the role of "Carmen." But it was not meant to be. When she was almost 20, her voice teacher Larisa Gogolevskaya told her that she would never sing the role.
"My first voice teacher that I had when I was almost 20 told me that I was not a mezzo soprano. She said I was a soprano," said Peretyatko. "And I was depressed because I wanted to sing Carmen."
But that did not deter the soprano from her career path.
"I decided that if I was going to be soprano I would do the best I could," she said before relating her difficult time in Germany when she went to study at the Eisler Hochschule für Musik under Canadian Brenda Mitchell. "In Berlin I did not know anyone. I had no support and no money. I knew no German, I spoke three words."
How did she overcome the financial and cultural difficulties standing in her way? She got involved with every possible musical venture at her disposal.
"I was super enthusiastic and did every project for young singers and students," she revealed. "I sang in a quartet and we did a lot of concerts in hospitals just to earn 40 euros. For me it was a great. I am very grateful because that teaches you what success means. Either you do it with 300 percent of yourself or change your job."
Since then she has flourished and built an international career that has taken her to all of the major opera houses in the world. But at 33-years of age, the soprano knows that there are still a lot of challenges that she will need to continue overcoming.
"Staying healthy is the hardest part about doing this job," she noted. "We are always on tour and the temperature is always changing."
She also stated that being away from her husband for extended periods is another major obstacle.
"The other thing is that it is essential to know that traveling is a big part of the job. You have to be a top manager with your schedule," she stated. "To be away from my husband for a month is hard. He was in Chicago for two months and I was in Europe with an important debut in Zurich and La Scala. He was a 10-hour flight away. You cannot do it for a weekend."
Another huge challenge for Peretyatko is getting sufficient rest before and after a performance.
"With pressure, I cannot sleep before or after an important performance. I have trouble falling asleep because I am thinking and analyzing the performance," she noted. "I am critical of myself. I am a control freak with my performances because even though I know that I will never be perfect, I always want it."
After "Puritani," the soprano heads to Aix-en-Provence where she will sing Rossini's "Il Turco in Italia." She noted that she will also start learning French in order to expand her repertoire.
"I have to talk French to sing French opera," she stated "I have a linguistic block to overcome. In Aix-en- Provence I will take a teacher. I learned Italian by doing two hours every evening and I think I will do the same with French. It helps."
What French operas would she like to sing?
"I would like to do Thais and Manon. Massenet is beautiful" she said before noting that she had great admiration for another rarely performed composer of French Opera. "I would love to do Meyerbeer but no one does it anymore."
The soprano is also slated to make her debut as Violet Valery in Verdi's "La Traviata" in Baden-Baden in May 2015. She remarked that she had been asked about doing the role since 2008 when she made her first bow as Gilda in the composer's "Rigoletto." But she revealed that not everyone was warm to the idea of her taking on either one of the tragic heroines.
"The funny thing is that when I was preparing Gilda they all said it was too lyrical for me. And then I was singing it everywhere," she revealed. "And now with Traviata they think it is too dramatic. But I still want to do it. It needs time to come into your body. It is important to start studying it early enough. In 2008 I said that I would wait seven or eight years and that is what happened.
"It will be one of my favorite roles," she added. "You cannot be Violetta without life experience."
But she also dreams of adding another Verdi role into her repertoire.
"I would like to sing Leonora [from 'Il Trovatore']. It is written very 'belcantistic'," she stated. Incidentally she is not alone in this assessment of the opera as a whole. Opera scholar Charles Osbourne once noted that the second work in Verdi's middle period trilogy (which is actually flanked by "Rigoletto" and "Traviata") was "the veritable apotheosis of bel canto with its demands for vocal beauty, agility and range."
The role of Leonora does descend into the grave register of the soprano; something that Peretyatko feels comfortable with, as she possesses a meaty tone in her lower reaches. "But the role also has a lot of coloratura that is similar to the writing of the bel canto composers," she noted. "That does not mean that everyone can sing it. You should have the voice for this type of Verdi but you do not need to be a tank. We will see how many years I need for that."
She noted that many reasons why lighter sopranos like her do not sing this kind of repertoire is because of the traditional expectation of hearing a heavier voice. Peretyatko stated that she had a similar experience with Richard Strauss' famous "Four Last Songs" which were written for a lighter soprano but are traditionally sung by a more dramatic voice.
"It was written for Maria Jeritza but she would have been singing Barbarina in our traditions," she explained. "Strauss wanted someone very famous for this and so he got Kirsten Flagstad. Since that time everyone expects a Dramatic soprano.
"I sang the 'Four Last Songs' in 2011," she stated before noting that she also faced opposition regarding taking on these pieces. "Everyone will tell you it is too much or too early and then it will be too late. So just try when you feel it is right. Every voice is so personal.
"I tried it with a Russian orchestra. When I got to the first rehearsal I heard the violins playing very heavy so I stopped the orchestra and stopped the situation," she elaborated. "I asked them to play with two pianos when the soprano starts to sing, as it is written. It is rarely done that way. But, they were so wonderful to follow me and it worked out."
After her performance of the "Four Last Songs," all the doubters became believers and the offers to sing it again came constantly. However, she turned them down.
"I couldn't do it. Some of the bigger orchestras would not do it that way," she stated before noting that she would be singing the piece again in China in October under the baton of Kent Nagano. "I think he will do it very well because he is a very sensitive musician."
Peretyatko revealed that she also hopes to take Donizetti's three queen roles in the future.
And what are her dream roles?
"Carmen would be my dream but I will never sing it. Tosca is another one that I will never get to do it even though I want to do it."
Peretyatko is also one of the few lucky singers in the modern opera world that is able to commit her artistry to recordings. She recently released her second album "Arabesque" with Sony, which features what she calls "the many faces of Olga."
"The title and cover was my idea. I wanted to show something else. I have a lot of faces and I think it is interesting to show different ones," revealed Peretyatko. "Arabesque is a mixture of stylistic lines and that is exactly what happened here."
The album features a wide range of repertoire including arias by Rossini, Mozart, Johann Strauss Jr., Bellini, Verdi and Gounod among others. The soprano noted that her desire was to give listeners a taste of some of the important composers in her current repertoire.
"I wanted to show more Mozart because Mozart plays an important role in my career. It is perfect for my voice," she stated; the soprano recently took on the role of Giunia in the composer's "Lucio Silla" in Salzburg and noted that it was one of the more difficult works she has performed. "Giunia is the most difficult part of all because you need to breath without ending. There is coloratura for 17 seconds without a chance to take a breathe. I practiced a lot!"
"Arabesque" also features a rarely performed aria from Rossini's "Le Nozze di Teti e di Peleo," an opera that Peretyatko performed back into August 2010. Interestingly enough, the composer actually utilizes a melody for the aria's cabaletta that he also utilizes in "Il Barbiere di Sivilgia" and most famously as "Non Piu Mesta" in "La Cenerentola." For Peretyatko, Rossini makes up a huge part of her repertoire and stated that she has sung 10 roles by the composer.
"It started with Rossini. Therefore for me it is something important," she stated. "What I like in Rossini is that he gives you freedom to decide where to breathe, how to move the line. That is most important. Mozart does not give you that kind of freedom. In Mozart you are one of the orchestra members. In Rossini you are completely free. And I love that. It is something I want to sing as long as possible."
She noted that while the works on the album might not come off as major technical challenges, the execution could be maddening for the singer tasked with bringing them to life.
"All these songs seem to be simple. It is not difficult when you listen, but it is so tricky," she emphasized. "It is like a ballerina. The tiptoes seem so simple, but just try it. Not so easy. The same goes with the tracks."
The Russian soprano did note that recording this album was far easier than her first project "La Belleza del Canto," which was released by Sony in 2011.
"In my first album I thought I would die. To sing for six hours a day is not funny at all," she revealed. "I did not know how it worked because it was my first album. You record from 10 until 1 and then you get one-hour break and then you go back to it again from 2 to 5. And then the next day you do it again.
"I don't know how I did it."
However for this recording, she made sure to find a better schedule that would suit her voice.
"For the second album I asked that it be at least four hours between sessions and not everyday. This time it was much easier. It also helps that I am technically better and my voice has also changed," she noted.
The singer stated that she enjoys working in the recording studio because it allows her an opportunity to utilize her voice in a way that was not always possible in a large theater setting.
"The most important thing for recording is that you use different colors. No one sees your face or emotions; it should all be in your voice."