Interview with Vasilisa Berzhanskaya about her debut in Norma

Interview with Vasilisa Berzhanskaya about her debut in Norma

Vasilisa Berzhanskaya, a 29-year-old native of Essentuki, has become an international opera soloist in the last few years: in 2019 she sang Diana in Orpheus in Hell with Barry Kostka in Salzburg, in 2021 she sang Rosina in The Barber of Seville on the stage of the Vienna operas. Nominally, most of her current roles are mezzo-soprano, but more recently she sang in Genoa and Bologna Norma in Bellini's opera of the same name - one of the pinnacles of the soprano repertoire. On the stylistic, historical and even physiological facets of his work Vasilisa Berzhanskaya told Vladimir Dudin.

— Are you satisfied with the debut, will you repeat this experience?

— Certainly, it was one of the most important and interesting debuts. And I already know that a sequel is coming. But, interestingly, very soon I also plan to perform Adalgisa in the same opera. Responsibility before the debut in Norma was increased, many asked the question, how is it possible: the mezzo performs one of the most difficult soprano roles. But my decision was backed up by historical fact. When studying new roles, I always pay attention to who the composer wrote this or that role for. Norma was written for Giuditta Pasta, who also sang Amina and Rosina and Tancred and Sextus and Anne Boleyn. In those days there was not such a strict division into types of voices that we have now.

Stefania Bonfadelli, who staged Norma, a famous opera singer in the past, convinced you as a director?

Stephanie is an absolute professional in her field. As a singer, she was primarily concerned about making the soloists feel organic on stage, realizing that Norma is the pinnacle of vocal complexity and it is important that the singer is comfortable on stage. Stephanie and I did a lot of work with the libretto. Some moments were absolutely unexpected in her idea, but, importantly, she had answers to all questions.

- At one time, after winning the Elena Obraztsova competition in the Soprano nomination, you suddenly switched to mezzo-soprano, and today you successfully sing "for two" in both roles. Is it passion?

“Of course, there must be some risk involved. But, oddly enough, the love of thrill is, rather, not about me. I like everything to be calm and according to plan. If I have to deal with extreme situations, then I thoroughly weigh everything before making a decision, I always listen to myself, my voice, intuition, trying to understand what is convenient for me and what is not, what is suitable and what should be postponed for some time or forget for a long time. Or what needs to be developed. When doubts arise or the next new stage is brewing, I turn to people I trust for advice. And I was offered to try myself as a mezzo-soprano by Dmitry Yuryevich Vdovin, to whom I got in the Youth Program of the Bolshoi Theater. I agreed to this without fear and doubt, we began to practice, and everything turned out pretty quickly - I went on stage in a new role and soon after that I went to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, to the Rossini Academy. This, as you know, is the main Rossini festival in the world, where every year all the casting directors of various opera houses come together to watch new productions and watch the appearance of new singers.

“Did you find Alberto Zedda there?”

Yes, he was still alive then. My Rossini began with meetings with him and also with Ernesto Palacio, an outstanding tenor in the past, and now the director of the Rossini festival. I learned the Rossini style from them. Maestro Zedda invited me to sing Marquis Melibea in Journey to Reims, and there I made my debut in this part. When you learn style immediately from professionals of this level, progress comes much faster, it inspires and inspires. It gave me confidence and clarity on how to develop further.

So what is bel canto?

I probably won't say anything new. First of all, full possession of your vocal apparatus: breathing, legato, virtuosity, mastery of the range. To master this style, you need to get as close as possible to perfect singing from all sides, in all aspects. If you have problems with technique, you won’t be able to hide the flaws in bel canto.

— Do Russian music and bel canto have common ground?

- In my opinion, these are very distant styles from each other. Also, the difference in languages ​​entails various kinds of performing difficulties. Russian music cannot be sung like bel canto, and vice versa. But common ground can still be found.

- But besides bel canto, you also sing baroque, for example, "Meropa" by Giacomelli. How is it technically arranged for you to switch between styles from different eras?

- The main thing is to keep yourself in shape. And take at least a few weeks to “switch” from one repertoire to another. Now, in addition to bel canto and baroque, I am gradually including French music in my repertoire - Charlotte in Massenet's Werther, preparing Bizet's Carmen, Niklaus in Hoffmann's Tales. I have always had the coloratura technique, by nature, which allowed me to perform various baroque repertoires. At the very beginning of my journey, I simply listened to the recordings of all the great baroque players, learned a lot through them, and then a lot of work began with conductors, pianists, and coaches. Now I work a lot with Andrea Marcon, one of the best baroque conductors. He is an absolute genius at what he does. A very warm and open person, at the same time incredibly demanding. Until he achieves the result, we do not finish the rehearsal, he rehearses a lot, paying attention to the smallest details, and with absolutely everyone, be it his student or a baroque star. As for French music, I was waiting for a certain moment, which finally came. For many years I did not take on large French roles, although they were offered quite often.

- In the autumn of last year, your son was born. Do I understand correctly that at the end of the summer you were actively performing at the same time?

- Even in the ninth month I sang! Yes, while we were waiting for the little one, there was a lot of work. Thanks to the health that allowed me to do this. Everything is very individual. I decided that while singing, I will sing. And I didn’t give myself any concessions, I didn’t work full-time, I don’t like this in principle. Fortunately, the voice was what it was, and remained so for all nine months, I did not notice the changes. Unless, for a long time, she began to control her breathing more, because the load on the diaphragm increased every day.

- And how did the theaters react to your position? Did you have to correct something in the performances?

- The people around me helped me a lot so that, God forbid, nothing happened, they allowed me to change the mise-en-scenes so that I was comfortable. And, for example, at the Arena di Verona, where I sang in Nabucco, I was assigned a person who accompanied me in all mass scenes, who controlled that no one pushed me, didn’t hurt me, because it was very there were many people and there were even live horses. It was very pleasant that theaters at such an important moment for me were treated with understanding and care.

But at the same time, insurance was provided for me everywhere, in all theaters, we discussed all the risks in advance. I was calm, I knew that if I had to cancel something, I would not let anyone down. And after the birth of a child, two weeks later I sang the first concert, and two months later I went to a production in France.

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