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Opera will last till the end of the world

Conversation with Ryszarda Racewicz

– Trubadur: You are mezzo-soprano. Why, besides such great mezzo-soprano parts as Amneris or Carmen, you decided to sing Lady Macbeth and Turandot, parts written for a dramatic soprano?

– Ryszarda Racewicz: When I started to learn singing I had a voice which encompassed more than three octaves and the scale of both soprano and mezzo-soprano. I graduated from the Music Academy in Warsaw as mezzo-soprano. At the beginning of my artistic work I sung all mezzo-soprano parts that were in the repertoire of the Grand Theatre in Łódź and in Warsaw. In the mid-1980s the director of the Grand Theatre, Robert Satanowski decided to stage Verdi’s Macbeth and he was looking for the singer for the part of Lady Macbeth. Among others, he asked also me. Having sung the part of Adalgisa in Bellini???s Norma, I accepted his offer with pleasure. There were many sceptics among my colleagues and friends and they advised me against accepting this challenge. Difficult tasks always inspire me. To fulfil the requirements for the part of Lady Macbeth you have to cope with problems of singing in the high and low register, forte and piano, lyrically and dramatically, cantilena and coloratura. I knew that this pat had been sung by such mezzo-sopranos as Shirley Verret and Grace Bumbry. My participation in the premiere of Macbeth was my and the Theatre’s success. For 4 seasons I was the only singer performing this part.

– Lady Macbeth was not your only soprano role.

– At that time, the Grand Theatre had in its repertoire two Puccini operas: Turandot and Tosca. Both title roles had fascinated me for a long time. The music of Puccini is full of sensual heat, wonderful colours, has a subtle instrumentation, gives a dramatic dimension to the female characters. The role of Turandot is very special; it demands a perfect vocal technique and an objective realisation of the notes. For several seasons I was the only performer of this role among the singers employed in the Grand Theatre in Warsaw. Till this very day I can hear the applause I got after a performance in the Staatsoper in Berlin during the tour with the Grand Theatre.

– And your Wagnerian roles?

– The pivot of the operas of Ryszard Wagner is drama which creates a work „of the joined arts” by combining music, singing, spectacle and the acting. The musical means of the operas of Wagner include: the form strongly adapted to the story, harmonisation which psychological depth to the persons of the drama, and the instrumentation which is a play of suggestions. The orchestra becomes the centre of the theatrical expression. Thanks to the leitmotifs the symphonic groundwork is created, this constant the flow of events and emotions suggested by music. The voice of the singer becomes one of its elements. My repertoire included two Wagnerian parts – Brunhilde in Die Gotterdammerung and Kundry in Parsifal. From the German repertoire I also sang the Herodiade in Richard Strauss’s Salome. I prepared all those three roles with Mrs Janina Anna Pawluk, wonderful pianist, who knows all about German music and speaks the language perfectly. This is a wonderful singing, quite different from the Italian singing and equally wonderful.

– You started your career in the Grand Theatre in Łódź.

– During the season 1977/78 Bohdan Wodiczko, wonderful man and conductor, became the director of the Grand Theatre in Łódź. In November 1977 he organised an audition, after which I was the only person to be engaged from 1 January 1978. I was surprised by an offer to perform the title role in the Bizet’s Carmen on the 27th January. My fears that I was too young to sing this part were not justified. I had a professional help by the conductor, choreographer and director. I was taught to play castanets by a percussionist of the National Philharmonic in Warsaw, Jerzy Woźniak. In the Grand Theatre in Łódź I also sang Amneris, Eboli, Azucena, Adalgisa and Cześnikowa.

– Which mezzo-soprano part you love most?

– The closest to my heart is Carmen. It was my first stage love and it is very special to me. I was always very involved in the preparations of every new part. As far as the Verdi roles are concerned, I was most satisfied and happy with the part of Eboli. I could not omit the part of Amneris, which, especially in the IV act, requires the singer to reach the dynamic culmination with her voice (fortissimo) to express the great inner drama of despair and curse. My „export??? part was Maryna in Boris Godunov, thanks to which I visited many European capitals and Israel. One performance was recorded. A performance of Boris Godunov from Waldbuhne in Berlin was broadcast on the satellite television all over Europe. From the Russian repertoire I also performed Salammbo in the Mussorgsky’s opera. I also sang a ???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????pants role??? – Romeo in Bellini?????s Capuletti e Montecchi.

– Should lieder be sung with an operatic voice?

– Depending on the kind of music we are performing, we should choose the right colour of the voice which consequently leads us to the truth. A singer performing an operatic pat should not use only one, no matter how beautiful colour of the voice. He or she has to paint different moods, climates, impressions with the voice, has to show the whole complexity of the character portrayed and has to be honest and authentic. The hearts of the listeners are won by the rich personalities, creative artists who leave their own mark on each performed part. Songs which are in fact miniature lyric and narrative works need different means of expression. Their texts are not based on the great masterpieces of dramatic literature, they are usually poems written by great poets. Songs require the performer to create an intimate, chamber atmosphere, to show all nuances of the text and to establish a close relationship with the listener. I have a great satisfaction when I sing concerts and recitals of whole cycles or separate songs. I love songs of Polish composers: Chopin, Szymanowski, Moniuszko, Karłowicz, Paderewski, Niewiadomski. You cannot limit yourself to the works of one composer or works from one period. My musical education has been greatly influenced by listening to recitals and recordings of the greatest artists whose interpretations are an impulse to widen my repertoire, to learn different performing styles and different forms of musical aesthetics. I have made recordings of Polish, German and Spanish songs for the Polish Radio and Television. For Bayerishe Rundfunk in Munich, I recorded Szymanowski’s cycle Holy God and eight songs by Niewiadomski with the pianist Bogna Hałacz.

– And what about vibrato? What do you think about singing without vibrato?

– The quality of sound is the base of the workshop of every musician, instrumentalist or singer. Vibrato is only one of the elements. It is now accepted to limit or even to eliminate it in performances of early music, including baroque. But I cannot imagine myself performing the music of 19th and 20th centuries with a pure voice without a natural vibrato. Of course, the vibrato cannot dominate in the sound, it cannot become the most important element. The listeners admire most those artists who have beautiful, rich sound with almost unnoticeable vibrato which is just one of the means the expression.

– You also teach singing…

– I must say that teaching gives me the same satisfaction as singing on the stage. It is a very hard work. Introducing young person to all secrets (shaping the artistic personality) requires a lot of concentration, great involvement, effort, knowledge and experience. I have to pass all my energy to another person. Because I usually teach soprano voices, I have to prepare myself very well for the lesson in order to sing beautifully and to demonstrate with my voice the arias of Tosca, Liu or Lauretta.

– Is it possible to teach singing without demonstrating what you want to teach with your own voice?

– I do not think so. I have seen many masterclasses and almost every time the teachers were showing themselves how to sing. Of course, the point is not to imitate the teacher but to show in practice many technical problems. The theory is not enough in this case. A teacher should be like a „doctor” who first diagnoses the problem correctly in order to start the „treatment” that will lead the young singer to the proper path.

– Opera has just celebrated its 400th anniversary. In recent years, a question whether or not opera is dying has been very fashionable. Do you think that opera is coming to its end?

– In my opinion opera will develop more and more. New, valuable works are still written. But the core repertoire, for instance La Traviata, Aida, Tosca, is still performed and it will never be boring. Modern, often very controversial and shocking stagings give new look at the operas. Of course, those attempts are sometimes successful, sometimes not, but it is important that people try to read dramas contained in the music in different ways. The vocal technique is also developing. Opera will last till the end of the world.

– What do you think about modern stagings of operas?

– I am not against modern stagings. If there is an idea, if the performance is thought-over and interesting, then it is very good. Everything is developing and the opera theatre cannot stand still, Both the directing and the scenery have to develop. In European theatres monumental scenery is very rare nowadays, and the modern means of expression are searched for. I have seen a Parsifal where the scenery consisted of TV sets and it was really very interesting.

– Thank you for the conversation.

Danuta Grochowska i Krzysztof Skwierczyński