sábado, 16 de junio de 2012

Interview with soprano Oxana Arkaeva

Photos: Oxana Arkaeva -copyright
Born in Ukraine into a family of singers and musicians, Oxana Arkaeva received there her first musical education studying piano and the russian folk instrument Domra.  After succesfuly finishing her high - and musical studies Oxana went to Moscow to study drama and music. She studied vocal technique with Ms. Angelina Trost and and at the Music College at the Moscow Conservatory and later at the Conservatory. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Oxana went to the USA, to New York, where she continued her studies at the Manhattan School of Music. She won numerous competitions and invited back to Europe by Marc Belfort, head of the International Opera Studio at the Opera House in Zurich.  Since then, she has continiously performed at different theatres, opera houses and concert halls throught Germany and Europe and also Venezuela, Mexico, Russia and the USA. She was a member of the opera ensambles of the Frankfurt Opera, the State Theatre in Saarbrucken.  Since the 2009-2010 season Oxana has been siging with the opera company in Ulm, Germany. Oxana is a winner and finalist of numerous international competitions such as: St. Hertogenbosch International vocal competion in the Netherlands, 1st Marian Anderson International Vocal Competition in Maryland and Olga Koussevitzky International, Belvedere Singing Competition in Vienna and Placido Domingo´s Operalia in Mexico City. The opera repertoire of Oxana Arkaeva includes more than 50 roles performed in opera and numerous concert appearances.
Josep Font
When did you discover that you had a “voice” and when did you decide to pursue a career as an opera singer?

My voice was discovered quite early, before I even went to school. My parents, both musicians were performing around the area we were living in Ukraine. Since there wasn’t always a babysitter available, I accompanied my parents to different concerts, where at some point I just was simply placed on the chair beside my father and we sung together some popular song. I was 6 years old that time and this was, if you wish, my official stage debut. After, in school and later in college I kept participating in concerts singing with different choirs, ensembles and as soloist, for I loved to be on stage and to express my emotions through my voice. Music was natural part of my life. Despite this fact, I was actually dreaming to become a movie actress and not an opera singer. The change of my mind came by an accident. In Moscow, when my father and I were once walking through the streets, we saw an advertisement for singing lessons with a soloist of Moscow Philharmonic Society Angelina Trost. My father took me by a hand and brought me to this teacher. 10 minutes later I sung an audition for her and again 10 minutes later, I become a singing student. That is how it started. In fact Ms. Trost  was very important for my career. She taught me all the important basics of a solid singing technique, which I keep till now.
How would you define your voice?  

I guess it is not easy to describe its own voice, since we singers, we feel and hear it in a different, introvert way. I can say: my voice is me – and I am my voice. When I am singing I connect and inject my own feelings, moods and emotions, with those of the role that I am singing, and vice versa. It is kind of a mutual understanding between me, my feelings, my moods and my voice, which means that it can be powerful and soft, dark and bright, flexible and persistent, full of temperament and melancholic.

What would be the first song, aria, role or opera that you would want someone who doesn’t know you to hear first?

If I think of a song it would be simple Ukrainian folk song that I love to sing a lot. The opera roles would be Salome, Cio Cio San and my future, dream role of Isolde in Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde”, that I hopefully will get a chance to perform soon.
How did your voice evolve from singing belcanto roles to singing more demanding roles in operas by Wagner and Strauss?

 It is interesting fact, but already my first teacher, Ms. Trost told me at the very beginning of my studies with her, that in 15-20 years I will become a lirico-spinto or even dramatic soprano. Considering the fact that I started out by singing pure coloratura repertoire, this prediction sounded very much distant to me that time. At the beginning of my career I sung Mozart, Rossini and Donizetti. Since my voice always had some dark sound quality I was sometimes confused with a mezzo-soprano. Although my voice that time had good agility, legato and piano skills, it already possessed certain spinning, dramatic power, especially at the top notes. After about 10 years of singing coloratura and lyric repertoire I started to feel that my voice is getting more and more comfortable in singing Verdi and Puccini roles. I had to make a decision for repertoire change, or how it is called in Germany “Fachwechsel”[1]. First roles were Elisabetta in “Don Carlo”, Cio Cio San in “Madama Butterfly”, Tatiana in “Eugene Onegin” and Lisa in “Pique Dame” by P.I. Tchaikovsky. To sing these roles felt great and I had success with audience and critics. So, after approximately 15 years of singing on stage I subsequently turned to sing more demanding, dramatic repertoire that includes beside Verdi, Puccini and Tchaikovsky roles by R. Strauss and R. Wagner. The solid and stable singing techniques and smart repertoire choice can enable a singer to less harmful and smooth transition from the light to a heavier repertoire. The most important parameters and component of so called belcanto technique like proper breathing, bright and easy quality of the sound, flexibility of the voice and ability to sing legato, messa di voce[2] and piano are absolutely applicable to heavy, dramatic vocal music. This is not for nothing that first Wagner singers were studying with Manuel Garcia II: a son of famous Manuel Garcia I, an exceptional artist and one of the favourite singers of G. Rossini.

[1] In Germany there exists a system of vocal specialisation for opera singers, that is called “Fach” and which is defined by the range, weight, and colour of their voices[2] Messa di voce is very advanced vocal technique that involves a gradual increasing and decreasing of the voice during a singing of a long note..

How do you feel about vocal competitions? Are they beneficial to the career of a singer? Tell us about your experience as a finalist in the Operalia Competition that took place in Mexico?

Vocal competitions are definitely very good and practically useful thing for prospective young opera singer. First of all, you get to meet, to talk with living legends and to sing for great professionals, famous artists, agents and critics, which is a good way to get extensive, short-term publicity, to connect to important personalities and maybe get some engagements. You meet your competing fellows and get an opportunity to compare yours and their performance.  You can try out new repertoire and see if it will become yours. The chance of winning a money prise is another attractive and pleasantly rewarding side of any competition. All that I said above applies in triple, if you wish quadruple way to “Operalia”. The word that I would use to describe this competition in Mexico City is – an event! An unforgettable event! The competitions final was broadcasted throughout countries in North and South America and Europe. We were treated like super stars and I personally felt welcomed whenever I went in Mexico City. The competitors were chosen as much as I can remember from about 700 contestants from all over around the world. “Televisia” built an opera house in one of their Studios that looked like a real theatre. Its personal was friendly, good hearted and helpful. Meeting Placido Domingo and performing with him impressed me in special way, as I experienced him being extremely professional singer and colleague, and someone who possesses attractive and modest personality. But, despite all this wonderful experience, my excitement was obscured by a fact that even though you call me a finalist, I actually become one of the winners of “Operalia-94”. There was some miscalculation of points in the final round and my name was not called in the inauguration ceremony. Some hours later in a press conference Mr. Domingo announced that there was a mistake made and that I am a winner. This fact was described in Mexican and international newspapers. Unfortunately, after putting things straight and after announcing me as a winner of “Operalia” I still didn´t receive my winner medal. Well, I hope one day, maybe, my medal will find its way to me.
What are the roles in your current repertoire that challenge you the most?

I would say Princess Salome in “Salome” by R. Strauss, Cio Cio San in “Madama Butterfly” by G. Puccini and my next, new role of Emilia Marty in “The Markopoulos Case” by l. Janacek.
How much emphasis and care do you think should be given to the acting part of role vs. the singing part? Are they equally important?

I would answer this question out of my very personal point of view. Since I consider myself an actor-singer I cannot even think of splitting my own performance to just singing or acting. For me it is about everything: music, drama, notes, text, and personality of a role that I am singing and those of other characters. I always have to completely understand and absorb the meaning of the text and the story: Who, where and why? These are the questions that I always ask me while preparing the role. Nowadays, at least in Europe, and especially in Germany, the acting part of the role interpretation is extremely important and actually inseparable from modern opera stage performance: doesn’t matter if it is a baroque, belcanto, romantique, verismo or modern opera. Audience these days is very much influenced or I would even say spoiled by all the numerous and easy accessible audio and video samples of so called “perfect” recording that you can stop, rewind and fast forward according to your wish and mood. This development we cannot ignore and escape. But, when the acting part of the performance comes from a singer with strong personality and demanding stage presence, who has an ability to leap over his or her own shadow and ideas about good and evil, together with staging that clearly reflects the message of director, combined with sensible and singers-loving conducting, then we will have an unforgettable performance/ happening/event that even media spoiled audience would understand and appreciate. During my career I often experienced  that the most crazy and at first sight completely illogical staging can at the end show out the true core of the piece and make the rigid and sometimes ordinary story a gripping and moving performance. We have to understand that if we want the opera as a genre to survive we should go together with this evolution and make opera accessible to everyone and especially to the young people.

Who has influenced your career in a positive way?

There are some to name. But I would single out my  parents and my first voice teacher Ms. A. Trost; Betty Allen, American mezzo-soprano, director and president of Harlem School of Music in New York, who personally took care about arranging my studies in USA; Richard Duncan, voice coach and my great friend from New York; Stephen Wadsworth, my teacher from Manhattan School of Music in New York and highly sought-after stage director; Marc Belfort, former director of the International School of Music at the Zürich Opera House.

Is there a particular staging or production that stands out in your mind? 

 There are some, but I would highlight “Don Giovanni” staged by P. Mussbach and conducted by G. Rumstadt, “Fidelio” staged by Chistoph Marthaler and conducted by Sylvain Cambreling, “Elektra” staged by Chris Alexander and conducted by Leonid Grin, “Salome” conducted by James A. Gähres and “Madama Butterfly” conducted by Timo Handschuh  and both staged by Matthias Kaiser.
What do you consider to be the most difficult and most satisfactory moments in your career?

 The most difficult moments in my career happened during periods when I found myself in the situation that didn´t allow me to accept or undertake some engagement because of residence status situation or when I had to go an earn money to help out my family in Russia instead of giving more time to my singing. Now, when these things have stabilized and as a citizen of EU and am free to travel, I sometimes still feel sad about these missed opportunities. But it all belongs to life and I am sure I am not the first and not the last one these things did or will happen to. There is no reason to cry over the “spilled milk”. One has to keep moving and I can only hope and trust that there are more chances and opportunities for me out there. The satisfactory moments are those that make me feel accepted and understood as an artist; When I have a luxury to completely devote myself to my work and my art; When I feel and hear that audience and my colleagues understand what I am creating on stage and appreciate it. But also when my family, in rare moments, can be part of it and share my success and my life.
Are there any, new roles that you would want to sing in the next few years?

Those would be Isolde in Wagner´s “Tristan und Isolde”, Turandot in “Turandot” by G. Puccini, Nedda in R. Leoncavallo´s opera “Pagliacci”, Katia in “Katia Kabanova” L. Janacek, Leonora in “Trovatore”, Abigail in “Nabucco” by G. Verdi and Fl#oria Tosca in “Tosca” by G. Puccini.

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