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Interview with mezzosoprano Ruxandra Donose

Saturday, 30 May 2009 , ora 10.52
 
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The Berlin State Opera presented, on May 20th 2009, the premiere of the opera Cinderella by Gioachino Rossini, with the main part played by the renowned Romanian mezzo-soprano Ruxandra Donose. The opera was directed by Peter Hall and the music was orchestrated by Guillermo Garcia Calvo. The cast also included the tenor Mario Zeffiri (Don Ramiro), the baritone Simon Pauly (Dandini), the bass Lorenzo Regazzo (Don Magnifco), the soprano Martina Welschenbach (Clorinda), the mezzo-soprano Lucia Cirillo (Tisbe) and the bass Wojtek Gierlach (Alidoro). Further performances will take place on May 30th and June 2nd. On this occasion, Ruxandra Donose has accepted to discuss the recent premiere in Berlin, as well as her future projects.


A few years ago, you said in an interview that the part of 'Angelina' from 'Cinderella' by Rossini is a true 'signature role' for you. What makes it so important for your career and what can you tell us about the current production in Berlin?

It's a part I've played several times along the years and it was also the part that introduced me to the Romanian public at large, via a TV5 broadcast almost sixteen years ago. It was my debut as 'Cinderella' and the broadcast was from Belgium. Ever since, I've played in various productions in Germany, the U.S.A. and Glyndebourne. The Berlin production is, in fact, a repeat of the one in Glyndebourne, which is available on DVD and, soon, on CD at Opus Arte. It's a classical and traditional Sir Peter Hall production. However, its modernity and uniqueness - unlike any other traditional productions - stems from Sir Peter Hall's vision which delved deeper into the opera's core, oblivious to the slap-stick aspect of this famous Rossini opus. He tried to underline the social drama rather than the well-known fairytale, which does not lack the morals, working, therefore, each character's psychology very carefully. This production enjoyed a huge success in Glyndebourne both at its premiere and the second time, two years ago, so that Deutsche Oper in Berlin took it up and presented it to its public this year, on May 20th.

The reviews I've read indeed point out that Peter Hall gave the portrayal some very strong characters; for example, Cinderella comes across as a very strong-willed woman, with a well-defined character...

Yes, he thought of her as not a mere victim, but a young woman who ultimately takes control of her life and doesn't allow herself to get defeated, never losing hope. Her beauty does not reside just in her looks, but also in the soul and her spiritual strength. That is what sets her apart from her sisters. In our production, the two sisters - Tisbe and Clorinda - aren't ugly, just superficial, self-absorbed, egotistic, and these are the elements which make them ugly. The difference between Cinderella and her sister is not so much physical as it is spiritual. That is how Cinderella becomes a strong person.


What can you tell us about the other artists who joined you in this Berlin production?

We were a homogenous team. Most times, Rossini and Mozart's operas need such a homogenous ensemble so that the scenes we do together be the product of our work as a team, not the work of every individual. The bass Lorenzo Regazzo, as Don Magnifico, realy stood out in this production. He is a famous singer of baroque music, bel canto and Mozart. We've met before, a few years ago, at Covent Garden at Mozart's Clemenza di Tito production. The part of Don Magnifico was his Berlin debut, as he had played 'Alidoro' in the same opera. He wanted a change of register by taking the 'basso buffo' part, as he is a very melodious bass, with a special musical and artistic sensibility. I was truly happy to have him as partner in this production. My other colleagues were younger or older, but very gifted nonetheless. I'd like to name the baritone Simon Pauly as Dandini, very vivacious and jocular, a very intelligent singer; the tenor Mario Zeffiri as Don Ramiro, who specializes in Rossini's operas; and the Polish bass Wojtek Gierlach as Alidoro, a wonderful voice, who has received many awards. Alidoro has a difficult aria towards the end of the first act, which Gierlach sang very well. And Angelina's sisters - even if they don't sing a lot - form a very important duo along the opera, keeping the action alive and creating a permanent contrast which is highly welcomed for Cinderella. The soprano Martina Welschenbach played Clorinda and the mezzo-soprano Lucia Cirillo played Tisbe, the latter being the only one I had worked with in the Glyndebourne production.


You've played Angelina quite a lot in your career. Have you done it in different productions also, for example, in modern productions?

Yes, one of the most daring performances was in Philadelphia, and was directed by Davide Livermore; the action was set in the fifties and Cinderella's best friend was a talking vacuum cleaner which walked around the house. This emphasized her loneliness, since her only confidant was this vacuum cleaner. In this production, Cinderella comes to the ball dressed up as an oriental princess, riding a shiny yellow motorcycle...and the opera ends in a sort of American variety show where everybody sings and dances, including Cinderella. So, I also had to dance, not just sing, the extremely difficult aria at the end...


In a recent interview you said that nowadays an opera singer must also be a good actor. What is your view on modern productions? You've sung Mozart in a production where the set was a supermarket...

Yes!... I like everything that tries to render the opera sincerely and faithfully. I understand many directors' desire of searching for various interpretation layers. It all depends a lot on the audience which sees the opera. Take America: its audience is more traditional, and that can be partly explained by its lack of theater opera tradition; for them it is important to stage the opera as it is, in order to draw them to it. But in Germany, on the other hand, cultural life is so rich that you feel the need of something else, something new. You've already seen La Bohème fifty times, so you want to see a different production.

As an artist, I've never held back from experimenting, nor have I recanted the wish to search, to discover... I think it is the best way to avoid limitation - as long as this modern production does not completely break away from the opera, the story and the music itself... Regardless of the production, one must do it in the cause of the opera, the music, and not as an experiment in itself, to display your merits as director.


Sometimes, under the pressure of 'novelty', opera directors are in search of all types of experiments. What happens when the director's view isn't at variance with your vision, as a performer, with your aesthetical or even moral norms?

First of all, it is my duty to try and grasp the concept I'm engaging in. If I don't understand it then of course I'll tell the director and together we'll try and come up with solutions in which we can both trust. A solution that works for everyone must be reached. There's also the question of an artist's flexibility as many times one's tempted to say: 'I can't do this', 'I can't do that' or 'I've played this part fifty times, but never like this...' However, this is one of the worst answers a performer can give. Having played it fifty times does not justify one's lack of interest in other artistic perspectives, in other solutions. So, first and foremost, one must open up one's mind to anything new and, subsequently, if the offer does not correspond, work or simply isn't - as I've said before - true to the opera and the part itself, things need to be talked out and solutions have to be searched for.


Your ascending career has given you the chance of singing on the world's greatest stages, from Europe to America and Asia. What is your view on today's audience? Does it enjoy the opera? Do you think we're witnessing a crisis in the opera? Which audience seemed the most enthusiastic to you?

I don't think the opera is undergoing any kind of crisis. Man yearns after beauty as much as he did before; he wants to live unique spiritual moments, to be overwhelmed by something, and the opera is the tool which can help him accomplish that. There is always a full house if the performance is of very high quality indeed.

It's true that each audience has its own behavior: some applaud at the end for half an hour, other applaud to the echo for five minutes after which they rise to take their coats, go and get the car out of the garage...I don't know if one can draw a line, or a general conclusion. I've had incredible experiences with the European, American and Japanese audience, so I think the people's reaction depends on what they're offered.


How do you prepare a new part or one you've played several times, but which you have to perform in a new version?

In order to learn a new part, the first stage is to try to know it and understand it very well, before the first day of rehearsal. Not only do I read my part, but also the entire opera, very carefully. I collect information on the opera, the composer, the age of the respective story, how it came to life and so on, in order to better understand the subject and identify myself with it and the respective part. If it's a part I've already played, of course I try to have it refreshed in my mind and get ready for the first rehearsal. It is fundamental to attend the first day of rehearsal ready, so as not to consider the rehearsal period your own process of preparation. Of course, during the rehearsals, you keep on studying, taking in the part from all points of view, but often much time is lost when some colleagues come unprepared; so, the time you're supposed to spend deepening and building the relations on stage, learning new things and so on, you spend trying to learn your parts or others learning theirs instead. I persistently try to avoid this type of situation.


You've played an impressive number of parts, very passionately, which have always had excellent reviews. What parts is your current repertoire aiming at? What can you tell us about your projects?

My repertoire isn't heading in a certain direction, but instead tries to be as diverse as before. It's one of the things I love: the ability to sing lieder, opera, classic and modern composers, bel canto and Mozart and so on. And I intend to go on like that. For example: after Cinderella, I'm playing an almost completely different part in a new production in Cincinnati, America, which will end this season. In the season to follow, I'll play Cinderella again and I will have a night of lieder by Brahms at the Bruckner Festival, in Linz. Then concerts with the Elias Oratorio and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Kurt Masur, then cantatas by Bach and Haydn still in London, with Vladimir Jurowsky, after which I will return to an opera very dear to me: Idomeneo by Mozart, as Idamante, at the Turin Royal Theater. However, after ending the last performance of Cinderella in Berlin, I'll come to Bucharest for my father's birthday [ musicologist Vasile Donose ] who is turning eighty and on this occasion I'll give him a musical gift.


This brings me to my next question: when will we have the privilege of hearing you sing again in a Romanian performance?

It's not really a performance, it's more of a musical bouquet which I'm offering my parents, in a more intimate circle. I can't say when I'll perform again in Bucharest...my only answer is the same as every time: I will honor gladly any occasion that arises, on the condition that I have the time for it. I hope it comes soon.


At the end of this interview, what advice would you give youngsters who wish to embrace a singing career? How important are competitions and auditions in making a singing career these days?

Any contact with the international world of singing, the world of the stage has its importance. The culture and the penchant one has for the stage, one's ability to understand depends a lot on this permanent intercultural change. Competitions are a good thing, even if you don't win anything, because a prize is something that...doesn't always do justice to the way you present yourself. But the mere participation at competitions or international courses is essential. The more you participate, the more you know...Regardless of what happens, you shouldn't be discouraged, because this profession requires a permanent and endless enthusiasm; it's this enthusiasm which must help you fight. Passion and love for your profession are the key aspects.
Cristina Radu
Translated by Alina Miron
MA student, MTTLC, Bucharest University