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Opera Lively has interviewed Russian baritone Vasily Ladyuk, who sang the title role in our partners Opera Carolina's performance of Tchaikovsky's opera Eugene Onegin
in Charlotte, NC, on March 17, 22, and 25, 2012. [Opera Lively interview # 13]
Mr. Ladyuk is a singer of vast international experience in the greatest opera houses of the world. His Metropolitan Opera credits include Andrei Bolkonsky in Prokofiev’s War and Peace
and Silvio in Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci.
Last year he made his debut at Teatro alla Scala in the title role of Eugene Onegin and performed the role of Giorgio Germont in Verdi’s La traviata
at the Teatro Fenice in Venice. Other credits include Onegin at the Paris Opera Bastille, Puccini’s Madame Butterfly
at the Gran Teatro del Liceu in Barcelona, and Shchelkalov in Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov
at the Théâtre Royal de La Monnaie in Brussels. Recent engagements included performances of Onegin
at the Royal Opera Covent Garden with a visit of the Bolshoi and a return to the Metropolitan as Harlequin in Richard Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos.
In his native Russia his credits include Belcore in The Elixir of Love
at the Mikhailovsky Theater in St. Petersburg and the title role of Eugene Onegin
at the Mariinsky Theater and the Bolshoi Opera.
Upcoming are Marcello in a new production of La boheme
in Oslo and a debut at the Ravinia Festival with the Chicago Symphony under James Conlon. For our numerous Norwegian readers, it is to be noticed that Mr. Ladyuk was at the Norske Oper in Oslo in a new Paul Curran production of Onegin
In the United States, other than the Metropolitan opera, Mr. Vasily Ladyuk made a highly successful debut with the Houston Grand Opera as Prince Yeletsky in The Queen of Spade
Prestigious singing contests success have included first-prize and audience choice award at the Francisco Viñas International Singing Competition, and a first prize at the Shizuoka International Opera Competition in Japan.
Mr. Ladyuk has been a regular guest soloist of the Bolshoi Theatre since 2007, and is an alumnus of the Moscow Academy of Choral Arts, where he studied both voice and choral conducting.
OL - Would you tell us about your personal understanding of your character, Eugene Onegin?
VL - First of all, this role is very dear to me because it was my very first role in opera about eight years ago, since it was the one I started my career with. Year by year, I feel that I'm finding new things in this character; I'm adding something, and of course I have to really submerge myself into it, I have to run through my own feelings and emotions, searching for new things and finding new things. So, in order to present those new emotions and those feelings of the character I have to find those within me.
OL - Let's talk about some specifics of the character's psychology. Is Eugene just bored during the first act, or is he truly disillusioned and jaded?
VL - You have to realize that those were different times. Nowadays in the 21st century the time flows differently. It really only takes nine hours to get from Europe to America. It didn't use to be that way. Eugene Onegin is 24 years old. He did have enough time to actually see the world and do things. He experienced a lot, he lived through a lot. To him, that motion of Lensky to bring him to the house where his childhood memories are and where his first love is, really those emotions are no longer new to Onegin. This particular event, he really feels that he's bored with that because of all the other things he's experienced. There's nothing new there for him so he's not interested in going through that again and again.
OL - Why doesn't he do more to stop the duel with his best friend?
VL - You have to understand that according to the etiquette of the 19th century you could not really refuse a duel when a public offense had happened. It really was a public offense when Lensky had thrown his glove at Eugene Onegin. It was something that he really had to take upon, and he had to accept that. Even there and then, number one, he was trying to prevent that public offense, he was trying to stop Lensky at the time, and even as Lensky had thrown his glove at him he was still having doubt, was still trying to find a way out of it.
It was a very difficult psychological moment that hopefully we'll be able to demonstrate in the opera, what Onegin was going through. He was still trying to see what he could do, he was still having his doubts. The way he was thinking about it, Lensky was really a boy to him. He was thinking of him as a young boy, because Lensky was significantly younger than Onegin. Yet, he made a decision to really accept it, because he felt that he had to teach that young boy. But even then, he was late for the duel.
According to those rules, if someone was late for a duel, the duel could really be considered invalid. Yet Lensky had insisted that the duel should take place. So you can see that moment in the opera where there is still doubt, there is a question still, "shall we begin?" "Yes, well, we shall." So, you have to realize that he did
actually do a lot of effort. For that time, he did a lot. He was really trying to go through some additional thoughts and trying to prevent it.
OL - Do you feel that he is sincere in the last scene? Does he truly love Tatyana at that moment, or is he just trying to get another conquest under his belt?
VL - This is a very interesting question, because really the way I see this, is that they exactly change places towards the end. One of the very important moments is when Tatyana's letter is presented, and Tatyana's letter is filled with emotion and a very strong feeling of love. You can see that her love is true and sincere, that her feelings are there. Eugene refuses that, and says, "well, it is not because of you; you are wonderful, you're really sincere, I see all these qualities in you, but I can not accept it because of me
, because of who I
Later on when you see the opera developing, Tatyana is married to Gremin, which is not really a marriage of love. It's definitely the way it was very common for that time: her family needed money, and Gremin was providing her family with that. The family had a lot of debt; it was a very commonly made arrangement for her to get married to an older man who provided her family with money and her with a position in society. So she now becomes a lady of high society, and she now has that position that put her in a completely different stage, while Eugene travels around, he travels to Europe, he travels to many different places.
While he travels he really contemplates his life, he gets new experiences, but towards the end he comes right back to those feelings that he had. He realized and admitted that Tatyana was something that he really passed by in his life and he didn't pay that much attention to her. He comes back to that, and as he comes back from all his travels he sees the new Tatyana, and all these feelings really arise in him, and he reaches out to her. And she pays him back with exactly the same that he did to her, way back then. She really also refuses him although we can see in that moment those pangs of feelings, because her love was true and was still something that was inside of her. But she pays him right back with what happened to her, so now they change positions. So of course Eugene has sincere feelings for her then at that time.
OL - How do you plan to portray the character? Do you have any particular style that you want to impact on the character? Are there any ideas you have to make it unique for this production?
VL - This is a difficult question. You can't really answer it. There is a saying, "it's impossible to enter the same river twice." So to me every production is something new. I'm always looking for new things, it's a new stage with new colors, new feelings, so I'm really just looking for whatever it feels. This particular production at Opera Carolina, I think it's going to be great, I have really great partners, conductor, director. I think that with all this collaborative effort it's going to be a great production, it will be really good to see.
OL - When you are preparing to sing this role, do you listen to the great singers of the past who sang this role, or do you prefer to create your own style without being influenced by others?
VL - I can't really say that I'm doing anything in particular. In order to play Eugene Onegin correctly, one really has to relate to the original literature source, which means that I really need to read Pushkin in the original to see what exactly he wanted to say and what he meant, how he wanted to portray that character. On the other hand, to say that I get my inspiration from certain particular pieces or if I listen to other singers before I go out, no, that doesn't happen. I listen to any kind of music that I find enjoyable. It could be classical music, or rock, or pop music, there is no particular kind of listening for me.
I think that what really does play the biggest role is that moment when you actually step in front of the audience, when there's this really highly intense feeling; the adrenaline pops up and you feel that drive. This is the moment that takes you out from this reality into some other reality. You become your character, you put it all out there for the public, and this is what makes a great performance.
OL - What do you think is needed for a baritone to sing well the role of Eugene Onegin? What are the qualities that need to be there to make a successful Eugene?
VL - This is another question that I don't think it is possible to answer. It is not a matter of that particular role. It goes for opera singers just as much as for drama actors, it goes for anyone who is there on stage. You have to have the qualities; of course for opera you have to have a voice, but overall it is all about being truthful, being really what you want to show. It is impossible to portray anything so that viewers would see it and feel it, if you're not truly what you are, if you're using anything false. For that matter, you just have to be honest, you just have to be professional, you have to be honest to your profession; that goes for any role, really.
OL - Do you see differences between the way this opera is given in Russia as opposed to Western Europe and the United States?
VL - To be honest, I don't see that big of a difference. We are all professionals first of all. It is really important that all those relationships, those feelings be placed in the text and the music; it is important that they be valued. We see that in the concept, and in the way the team, everybody who is involved in the production is really doing it. To me, even if it's a modern interpretation, as long as it goes along with what was written originally, it's valid. The only thing that could be difference is this very normal language barrier, because it can be challenging for some singers to really master the Russian language.
But overall, to be honest, I just feel that it is really all the same. Here we have a great team, and everybody is collaborating so wonderfully, and they are all such wonderful professionals, that I don't see that big of a difference, really.
OL - Please tell us about the state of opera today in Russia. Are there new composers of contemporary opera? Do you sing contemporary opera? Is there a movement there to renovate Russian opera, or are the companies just giving the classics?
VL - This is a good question, but the truth is that after the 50's and 60's of the 20th century, after Prokofiev and Shostakovich, nobody really did anything significant in opera. The truth is that whatever is being written nowadays by most contemporary composers is not really suitable for vocal arts. The operas that are being still produced anywhere - I feel that it is the same for Russia, America, or any other countries - are still along the lines of Rossini, Verdi, Puccini, and others, and in Russia Tchaikovsky, Glinka, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, and others. You don't see many new interesting operas.
On the other hand, I'd really like to see less of the extreme modernizations of opera productions, because sometimes some things that are happening on the stage really I don't consider appropriate at all, because it goes completely away from what was originally put on those notes and those texts and was designed and thought of as a concept of the opera. I'd really like some of that to go away, so that we'd go back to the way an opera is designed to be.
OL - I agree with that. Aging of audiences is a problem in the United States. I wonder how popular and relevant opera remains in Russia. Is it still very alive and very popular there, or is there a fear that it may decline?
VL - What I see is really that this problem is not a problem just in America, it is a problem everywhere around the world where you see that the average age of the audience increases and the public declines. But the good thing is that there is a tendency around the world to actually come out and bring opera to a younger population by putting productions on YouTube, by broadcasting them on the radio and in movie theaters, which is all more appealing to younger populations. In Norway recently there was an experiment, a broadcast performance in cinemas, radio, and the Internet, like the Met has been doing for several years. All this is done in part in order to attract the attention of young people to the opera!
Recently the Bolshoi theater has started to place some of their broadcasts on YouTube. I think it's a very positive tendency, a very positive movement, it can bring more people to listen to opera. Hopefully this will bring more audiences to the opera. Maybe not as much as in the 19th century, or even the 20th century, but maybe close.
OL - Thank you for your time and for very thoughtful and interesting answers, I believe that our readers will love them.
here is a sample of Mr. Ladyuk's singing (he's on the left):
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