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Interview with soprano Barbara Frittoli

Thursday, 6 June 2024 , ora 11.44

On the stage of the National Opera in Bucharest, the performance of Giacomo Puccini's "Boema" took place on Thursday 30th of May 2024, with soprano Barbara Frittoli in the cast. About her presence on the Romanian opera scene and not only, the renowned Italian musician talked to our colleague, Ioana Țintea. Also, on Tuesday, June 4th, at the Bucharest Opera, there will be a recital by the participants of Barbara Frittoli's master classes.

Mrs. Barbara Frittoli, our listeners are familiar with your performances from the recordings we play, but to better understand the story behind the music, I would first ask you how you discovered your passion for music and vocal singing?

When I was growing up my family used to listen to classical music on the radio only on Saturdays and Sundays, as during the week they were busy with their jobs. I listened to symphonic music mostly, because that was my father's favourite, so I grew up with that kind of music. At the age of 9 I got a toy keyboard, and on weekends, still listening to music on the radio, I would try to play too. Then I thought I would like to play a bigger piano, and my parents thought it would be best if I took a test at the Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory in Milan, because I lived nearby, a kilometre away. Although I had never done music before, and the exam was quite complicated for me at the time, I got in and that was that. Among the subjects I had was choral ensemble, and my teacher happened to be the assistant conductor of the Scalla Theatre in Milan and he noticed me. Later, at the age of 12, he put me in a choir that belonged to an important association, and by the age of 17 he kept asking me if I wanted to sing solo. I finally accepted. It was quite difficult with all the school subjects plus rehearsals for this choir. At that time I didn't know what I wanted, what I would do in the future... I also had a singing teacher who almost left me without a voice, she told me I was an alto singer...then I studied under Giovanna Canetti, an exceptional teacher. The first score I worked on with her was the aria of "Mimi" from Boema, and when I started studying this character, I'm talking about 1992-1993, because my debut was in 1989, in a supporting role...it was quite difficult because the way this role was sung was a Wagnerian one, which didn't suit me...it was hard for me. I sang "Mimi" at the Metropolitan Opera in New York and on other stages in Europe, and after that I didn't play "Mimi" for 13 years. It was my choice.

And how is "Mimi" today at the Bucharest National Opera? Did you keep the same approach or did you feel it was necessary to add or change some aspects of the character?

Essentially it is the same. "Mimi" is a normal, simple girl with whom you can identify. Before Puccini, all the main characters were of noble birth, but he turned the normal woman into a heroine. He created wonderful stories around her and I appreciate him very much.

How do you feel about Romanian musicians and how would you describe working with conductor Frédéric Chaslin? Have you had the opportunity to collaborate with the French artist in the past?

We played here in 2022 in "Mefistofele", but with another company. I had a great time then, and when they invited me back I was delighted. I've known Frédéric Chaslin for a long time, but until now we haven't had the opportunity to work together. He's fantastic!

How was the preparation for this production at the Bucharest National Opera, directed by Ionel Pantea?

Fast, very fast, but wonderful. It is a traditional staging and it was not difficult to work.

I would ask you to turn your attention to the vocal mastery workshops that you will be holding from the 1st to the 4th of June at the Bucharest Opera. What led you to get involved in this activity?

I remember 7 years ago I was talking to a pianist about a singer and telling him how I would see her playing, and he suggested I could start teaching. Initially, I said it was difficult, I could feel it in my skin, but later I decided to give it a try. For the first few months I was scared, it's a huge responsibility to work with the human voice. It's complicated and dangerous because you don't see the instrument, you just hear it and you have to be able to guide them to produce that right sound, to understand what's going on inside us when we sing. At the beginning I wasn't so confident, because I had natural pitch, and when I started studying everything unfolded organically and that's why I avoided working with people who had no introduction to the art of singing, plus I wouldn't have had the time. But with those who already have a foundation laid I work very well, sometimes I even advise some of my colleagues... Now I feel much more confident in my teaching skills. Of course, every country has a distinct way of singing, influenced to a large extent by its specific cultural and linguistic traditions. The position of the vowels is sometimes different and this aspect requires a lot of attention. So I try to explain the correct way to articulate vowels in each language, to find the right place... it's similar to the role of a speech therapist. I am very happy when I teach and especially when my students achieve something valuable. For example, two of my students have been accepted at the Accademia Verdiana in Parma, which is very good.

What advice would you give to singers to build a successful international career?

I can't explain how my career has developed so well so far, because I didn't set out to have a solo career from the beginning. You have to get lucky, work hard or have really good PR - and that works sometimes, but I didn't have the financial strength for it. Sometimes it's also necessary to be in the right place at the right time. I was lucky in that respect.

Interview by Ioana Țintea
Translated by Vlad-Cristian Dinu,
University of Bucharest, Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literatures, MTTLC, year I
Corrected by Silvia Petrescu