• The Exclusive Opera Lively Interview with Aleksandra Kurzak

    Opera Lively met the adorable and intelligent soprano Aleksandra Kurzak at the Press Lounge of the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City for a lovely interview, on the occasion of her performance as Nedda in Pagliacci. Aleksandra is outspoken and a straight shooter, unafraid of courageously spelling out her ideas. This Poland-born singer is notable for being fast-thinking and for expressing herself very well in English, a language that is foreign to her. She is very self-confident and charming, and one can understand why her husband Roberto Alagna spoke so highly of her during his extraordinary interview with us (read it by clicking [here]). Also see our review of Aleksandra's Pagliacci by clicking [here]. Read Aleksandra's interesting answers to Opera Lively's questions, below. You'll see how she comes across as very genuine.


    Artistic Biography

    Photo Credit Andrzej Błażejczyk

    Born in - Brzeg Dolny, Poland
    Date of birth - 7 August 1977
    Fach - lyric soprano
    Recently in - Opéra Garnier, Paris - La Clemenza di Tito (Vitellia), December 2017
    Currently in - Metropolitan Opera, New York - Pagliacci (Nedda), January 2018
    Next in - Concerts with Roberto Alagna in Puerto Rico, Budapest, and Szczecin, February 2018, then Wiener Staatsoper, Vienna, Otello (Desdemona), March 2018
    Website - aleksandrakurzak.com

    Photo Credit Andrzej Błażejczyk

    Polish-born soprano Aleksandra Kurzak began her musical education at the age of 7, playing violin and piano. She studied voice at the conservatories of Wroclaw and Hamburg. She made her professional opera debut at the age of 21 at the Wroclaw State Opera as Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro. Her mother and teacher Jolanta Żmurko performed the role of Countess. Kurzak is a laureate of singing competitions in Warsaw, Barcelona, Helsinki and Canton. In 2009 she received a PhD in Music.

    Between 2001 and 2007 Kurzak was a member of the ensemble of the Hamburg State Opera, where she sang numerous roles: Queen of the Night, Blonde, Susanna, Servilia, Marzelline (Fidelio), Nanetta (Falstaff), Ännchen (Der Freischütz), Gilda, Adèle, Gretel (Hänsel und Gretel), Maid (Powder her Face), Musetta, Cleopatra, Fiorilla (Il Turco in Italia), Marie (La Fille du Régiment)

    In 2004 Kurzak made her debut at The Metropolitan Opera in the role of Olympia in Les Contes d’Hoffmann. In the same season she debuted at the Royal Opera House-Covent Garden as Aspasia in Mitridate, Re di Ponto. The artist returned to the Met, singing Blonde in Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Gilda in Rigoletto, Gretel in Hansel & Gretel and Adina in L'Elisir d'amore. Since her first London appearance, Kurzak has returned regularly to the Royal Opera House, where she has performed roles of Norina (Don Pasquale), Adina (L’elisir d’amore), Susanna, Matilde (Matilde di Shabran), achieving a real triumph on this stage and most recently as Fiorilla (Turco in Italia), Rosina (Il Barbiere di Siviglia), Gilda, Liù and the title role in Lucia di Lammermoor.

    In February 2010 Kurzak made her debut at the Teatro alla Scala in the role of Gilda and returned as Susanna and Adele in Le Comte Ory.

    Kurzak has appeared as well at the Staatsoper in Berlin (Queen of the Night, Mimì), Deutsche Oper Berlin (Adina), Teatro Regio in Parma and Théâtre du Capitole in Toulouse (Gilda), Bavarian State Opera in Munich (Cleopatra, Adele, Rosina, Fiorilla, Adina, Rachel), Vienna State Opera (Rosina, Adina, Susanna, Marie, Gilda, Violetta), Teatro Regio in Torino (Vioetta), Teatro Massimo in Palermo (Norina), Teatro Massimo di Bellini in Catania (concert with arias by Bellini), Teatro Real in Madrid (Susanna, Marie), Chicago Lyric (Blonde), Salzburg Festival (concert arias by Mozart, Ännchen and Donna Anna), Arena di Verona (Rosina, Juliette, Gilda, Verdi-Gala), Los Angeles Opera (Fiordiligi), San Francisco Opera (Gilda), Palau de les Arts in Valencia (Adina), Mozart Festival in La Coruña as well as at the Welsh National Opera in Cardiff (Aspasia) and at the Theater an der Wien (Donna Anna and Amenaide), Finnish National Opera (Gilda), National Opera in Warsaw (Gilda, Violetta, Lucia) and Teatro La Fenice (Donna Anna), Opernhaus in Zurich (Gilda, Norina, Nedda), Opéra de Paris (Adina, Micaëla) and Lucia in Seattle.

    Kurzak has collaborated with many well known conductors including Ivor Bolton, Bruno Campanella, James Conlon, Sir Andrew Davis, Christoph von Dohnanyi, Riccardo Frizza, Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, René Jacobs, Fabio Luisi, Nicola Luisotti, Sir Charles Mackerras, Ingo Metzmacher, Daniel Oren, Antonio Pappano, Carlo Rizzi, Ralf Weikert, and Simone Young.

    Aleksandra Kurzak has an exclusive recording contract with DECCA.


    Aleksandra's voice is featured in 17 CDs and DVDs, including her own albums, opera recordings, and compilations. Her most personal albums are the four below:


    The Exclusive Opera Lively Interview with Aleksandra Kurza

    This is Opera Lively's interview # 246. All rights reserved. Reproduction in full is not authorized without consulting us first (scroll down to the Contact Us link). Short quotes are authorized as long as the source is mentioned and a link is provided to the full article. Questions by Luiz Gazzola. Photo credits are mentioned when known; many pictures were recovered from the singer's website and credits are not mentioned; we are consulting the singer about it and will update the credits when the information becomes available; meanwhile it is fair promotional use.

    Luiz Gazzola for Opera Lively – Thank you for spending your time doing this interview with us; we’re honored.

    Aleksandra Kurzak – Oh, you’re welcome.

    OL - Here are some interesting facts about Pagliacci: it was the first opera to be audio-recorded in its entirety in 1907, and then it was also the first opera to be filmed complete with sound, in 1931. It is important, and a beloved staple of the repertory. What is your overall impression of this opera, both from the musical and theatrical standpoints?

    AK – It’s absolutely a masterpiece. You look at it like a movie. It’s a double story line and in this case a triple one because Roberto and I are real-life husband and wife. Playing this on stage makes for an incredible special feeling. For me this opera is very important because it was the very first recording I ever bought, the Pagliacci and Cavalleria with Maria Callas. At the time I was a violinist. My mother is an opera singer so of course I was very familiar with the art form, and I completely fell in love with this opera.

    It was a big dream for me to sing and of course act this character of Nedda. I thought it wouldn’t be possible because I started as a very light and high soprano, singing the Queen of the Night, Zerbinetta, all these typical coloratura roles. So it was an absolutely beautiful surprise for me to sing this role here at the Met. It’s a very clever, wonderful production by David McVicar. It’s a Vaudeville setting instead of Commedia dell’Arte. With all these guys we have on stage, it gives you a lot of opportunities to be funny.

    This opera is spectacular. You have everything in it: the beautiful legato lines; you have a very, very difficult first aria. It sounds like a scherzo, like a bagatelle; it’s nothing, but it is very, very tricky, the way it’s written, because of the tessitura. You have to think really bel canto, because it is a very high tessitura, almost like Lucia. You know, the “Regnava [nel silenzio]” because the Mad Scene is actually an easy one to do.

    OL – The Mad Scene is easy?

    AK – It is spectacular, but absolutely, it is easy. There is nothing difficult about it. Much more difficult is the first aria. So, back to Nedda, you have the tessitura, the high notes, the trills, then a very violent duet with Tonio, which provokes you to give a lot. It’s almost like someone wrote in a review, that you could see the second act of Tosca. Like in the scene between Tosca and Scarpia, this is a very intense duet. Then you have the big lines in the duet with Silvio, and it causes you sometimes to give too much, so you have to be careful. And, there is a very playful, very leggero, almost soubrette-like second act when you play the Colombina, and then you have to change to power again when you face Canio, so you have really everything. And to play this girl! The youthfulness, the sexiness, the hot-blooded woman, there are so many faces you can show; it’s really a dream role.

    Aleksandra with Roberto in the Met's production of Pagliacci - photo credit Metropolitan Opera / Ken Howard

    OL – Wow. You have already addressed the vocal challenges. Theatrically, how would you describe Nedda’s psychological arc?

    AK – She is not a happy woman. Canio says that he found her on the streets and gave her a name; that means she became his wife, but that’s not what she was dreaming about. I think she wants to have a real life, a real home, a husband, children; let’s say, an ordinary life. Her life with Canio is not what she is thinking about. Silvio says to her “you don’t like your occupation, your job,” this traveling and performing. It is tough for her to choose between Silvio and Canio because she is very grateful to Canio. I think she loves him very much but is a kind of love one has for one’s father. He is like a father or a brother – someone who helped her a lot in her life, but there is no passion. He is much older than her, so her sexual love she has for Silvio makes her story very difficult.

    Aleksandra as Nedda in the Met's production of Pagilacci - Photo credit Metropolitan Opera / Ken Howard

    OL - Doing these wildly popular operas and extremely well-known roles, following the footsteps of great singers like Nellie Melba in the past, all the way to Patricia Racette who last sang this role in this production, might be challenging in terms of making the role unique and your own. How do you go about making sure that this is Alexandra Kurzak’s Nedda? What is needed for an excellent Nedda?

    AK – I never compare myself to other singers. Never. From the very beginning, when I started doing competitions, I never listened to other colleagues. It made me nervous. I didn’t want to know the level of the competition. I was focused on myself. I try to do my best. I’m trying to find… [pause], actually I’m not trying to find anything. I’m just going and doing it. I believe in my instinct. I was given a great compliment, that I am the best Nedda since [Teresa] Stratas, on the stage of the Met. This is what I heard from the director, the colleagues, and the chorus.

    OL – Congratulations!

    AK – Thank you. All the clowns said “you are so funny; it’s nice to hear Nedda with a fresh young voice.” So I believe in my instinct, and I give myself. I give everything. Each time I find a comedic new thing that I can use to surprise people. The last show, Roberto dropped me on the floor and I fell really hard – I was playing; I didn’t even tell him, but everybody got scared, and even the chorus went “Ohh!!!” That’s why Roberto and I love to perform with each other. Of course we keep the geography of the stage, but we always try to find a small something, something new, some tiny improvisation that keeps the show alive.

    OL – Very nice. You share with some excellent singers – like Placido Domingo, Elina Garanca, Aida Garifullina, and others – a background of having parents who were singers or voice teachers, instrumentalists, or chorus masters.

    AK – Oh, I didn’t know that about Aida.

    OL – Yes. These singers got their voices attended to at a very young age, often since they were three or four years old. I do believe that it translates into better technique when the singer becomes an adult. What would you say are the advantages of this, and are there any downsides to it?

    AK – I didn’t train my voice at all until I was nineteen. I was absolutely on the violin which I played for twelve years. I was quite good. I played solo pieces in concert with the orchestra, I was first violin in the orchestra. My parents at the time of Communist Poland thought it would be the best occupation for me, because maybe I’d be able to easily go to, let’s say, West Berlin, and find a job in the orchestra. They always need a lot of violin players. I was also in love with ballet. My biggest dream was to become a ballerina. My parents said, “no, no.” My father was a French horn player, and he used to play in the orchestra and in opera, as well. For me this environment was quite normal. Like our daughter now, I was three, four, and was going to the opera and watching mom on the stage. It was quite normal. “My mama is singing in the evening.” There was no feeling that this was a special, divine, wow occupation. The opera for me was normal, ordinary, a usual thing.

    Then later, I don’t know why, I started to listen to a lot of opera recordings at home. I always question, when the moment came when I said “OK, I really want to change professions.” I really don’t remember. It came very naturally; I think, one month after I finished my high school exams. Then I decided, “OK, the violin is not for me because I want to be a leader, and for the violin I need too much rehearsal and training time at home; I really love the theater. I love to act.” So I said to my mama, “let’s try voice.”

    I always had the voice. My mama said that when I was four, I was with her in a concert, she was singing, and I was in her room imitating her. The conductor asked “who is singing in your room?” She said, “my daughter.” He said “your daughter sings like this?” I imitated everything that my mother sang, Traviata, Queen of the Night, with an operatic voice. So the conductor said, “Please, I want to make a recording with her, of opera arias.” My parents said “no, we don’t want to put her through this kind of stress; and we don’t want a Wunderkind at home.”

    So, I have the voice, but my first vocal lessons were one month before the entrance exam at university, and I sang Konstanze from Entführung, the first aria, “Ach ich liebte.”

    OL – It’s a difficult one.

    AK – Very difficult one. I picked it because I had almost nothing in the first octave but I had high notes up to the high C above high C, one octave more. The higher, the easier it was for me. And I passed the exam and placed first.

    If it’s an advantage… I mean, it depends on the mom. Sometimes you have good contact with the teacher, sometimes not. It’s easier because you can have vocal lessons every day, not twice a week like at school. For the first four years I never opened my mouth alone. Mother was always next to me and would correct me immediately, so it was very important. But the other side is that with a teacher who is not your family you are more polite and you listen more. With mom I was arguing, slamming doors, fighting, so it wasn’t easy [laughs]. Then she would say “OK, I won’t give you lessons” and I’d have to say “OK, mom, I’m sorry, you are right.” But of course, everything that I know now, 95, 98% is from her. And then of course in different roles you have to know your body, discover what is good for you, and believe in your instinct but otherwise, everything is from her.

    OL - Your very first professional role was at the Wrocław State Opera in Poland, as Suzanna in Le Nozze di Figaro. Your own mother Jolanta Żmurko was the Countess in that production. Did this make you feel nervous, to be on stage with your mom and having your debut, with her presumably watching with a loving but critical eye, everything that you were doing?

    AK – It was beautiful. I was 22. She was the Contessa. I remember, I was OK, I was the student. She was more nervous than me. When I came in the second act and she sang “Vieni, cara Susanna, finiscimi l'istoria!” she absolutely lost the pitch, like, I don’t know where! She was so nervous! I looked at her and told her through my teeth “Mom, come on, what are you doing?” And she said “OK, think about yourself!” We still have the tape of this performance at home. It was beautiful. Because like you said, there are lots of mother-daughter relationships in opera but I had never heard of one in which you have the daughter who sings, and the mother who can still sing. In her 30th jubilee we sang together as well, Adele and Rosalinde, second act [Die Fledermaus].

    Photo credit unknown, fair promotional use

    OL – I saw video clips of your mother; good singer too!

    AK – Yes, wonderful.

    OL - You hold a doctoral degree in music which is relatively rare for singers who often stop at the Masters level; we should address you as Dr. Kurzak!

    AK – Yes, I am a doctor in music, and in Poland there is a second degree called Habilitation that is needed to become a professor, and I did this second one as well.

    OL – I assume that this is helpful. You played piano and violin since the age of 7. Does being an accomplished musician and scholar help you with your voice, in terms of musical phrasing, and in terms of being able to read music better than many of your colleagues?

    AK – I don’t know how well my colleagues read music, but of course it is easier when you start your musical education at age seven. Education in Poland at the time was a very good one. We didn’t have a lot of freedom so they had to give us something instead, and musical education was very good and free. I never worked with a coach. I never worked with a pianist. When I study a new role I just play the piano myself, or I don’t even need to play; I am very good with musical reading.

    My father for eight or ten years was sitting next to me when I played the violin, and as a French horn player he was very strict with the rhythm. He was crazy with the rhythm and insisted in all the small notes being played like with the French horn. So this gave me a lot of flexibility, of course. Actually the PhD degree was his idea. He said, “Aleksandra, I work now at the university and I see singers who no longer have their voices, struggling to find recitals to sing to make their careers longer because they don’t have anything else. But if you have a degree, once you finish your career maybe you can teach. You will need the degree, so do it now while you have the voice, because now it is easier for you.” I said “you are right.”

    OL – Do you think of becoming a professor, later?

    AK – Who knows? One never knows. I like to have the possibility, in case. I see my mother, now. Last year she had to stop singing because of the law in Poland. At 66 you have to stop, and her voice is still marvelous. At 67 she has no wobble, nothing. She was so depressed, when she had to retire from the opera! So now she teaches, and she has so many students! It keeps her alive, gives her an occupation, and she can feel very helpful. One never knows.

    OL – Very nice! I got your CD “Gioia!” and I found it to be extraordinary. You show very impressive command of the musical line, and you act with your voice in a way that brings to mind the full picture of the characters you sing even though you are doing isolated arias out of context. I would like to ask you a question about the selection of the musical numbers. All the tracks are great, but I thought that you did even better when you sang an aria from The Haunted Manor, one of the best Polish operas. Regretfully, this delightful opera which I very much enjoyed when I saw it in a production by the Polish National Opera, is not very well known outside of your country of birth. I know that recording companies want you to sing arias that the public recognizes which is good for the diffusion of the CD, but would you have liked to insert more Polish repertory into your CDs? Do you feel a sort of obligation to divulge Polish classical music? I do realize that your CD “Hej, Koleda” does focus on Polish repertory, right?

    AK – Yes. When I listen to “Gioia!” I think “oh my God, is this me?” because my voice has changed so much! Have you seen the show, or are you going to see Pagliacci?

    OL – I’m coming to the next one, on January 25th.

    AK – You will see. My voice is a lot different from what it was years ago, and now I’ve changed the recording contract, and we will record now a new CD with a new repertoire, absolutely. It will be soon, in a few months. The Polish thing is pretty because we have so many beautiful operas, and they are not even played in Poland. We just play all the time these two Moniuszko operas, Halka and Haunted Manor, and of course Król Roger is a bit more famous, now, but there are lots of beautiful operas. Of course I would like to do it; why not? I’ll do it one day, because there are lots of beautiful songs as well.

    I did once a whole recital at La Scala. It was Liederabend and part of it was nightingale songs by different composers, and the second part of it was only with Polish composers. It was a big discovery for the Italians. In the beginning of the recital they were screaming “Viva Verdi!”. I’m sorry, you came for Liberabend; it’s not Viva Verdi! [laughs]. It was really like this, even for the encore, but they were surprised with Szymanowski, Lutosławski, Karłowicz, Nowowiejski, Żeleński, a lot of beautiful composers.

    I try sometimes to insert some Polish arias. We will do now, this summer, the entire recording of the two Moniuszko operas. The Halka, there is an original Italian version, and we will record it with Roberto as Jontek; it’s a great, great tenor role. I think it will be a nice surprise. Another recording I did had incredible reviews on the BBC in Britain; it was the Szymanowski’s Stabat Mater, and the Litany to the Virgin Mary, with the Polish National Philharmonic Orchestra. There is a lot of beautiful music to discover in Poland.

    Photo Credit Johanes Ifkovits

    OL – How is opera doing in Poland right now, in terms of funding? Italian is my other citizenship; I’m a dual citizen, and in Italy it is really a tragedy. How is it in Poland?

    AK – In Poland there are no private sponsors. It’s a problem, it doesn’t exist. Everything is covered with governmental money, so that’s why it is not easy. I think the only opera company that can really afford to bring good singers and do good international co-productions is the one in Warsaw [Polish National Opera - Teatr Wielki - Opera Narodowa]. The other ones are not as good but are not bad either. They can do good productions but they don’t have the money to engage the star singers.

    OL - You have when I last counted (maybe more by now) seventeen recordings on CD and DVD.

    AK – This many? [laughs] I hadn’t noticed! You are counting the compilations as well, right?

    OL – Yes, including full opera recordings where you had a role, compilations, your albums, and DVD, I counted seventeen recordings featuring your voice.

    AK – Wow! I’m surprised!

    OL - You are probably very fond of three of them which seem like more personal projects: “Si, Amore,” “Bel Raggio,” and “Gioia!” Which of these recordings (or maybe some others among the other fourteen) gave you the most artistic pleasure, and why?

    AK – It’s the “Gioia!” - the very first one. It was a dream come true. It was my first recording with Decca where there are all the big names, and I thought “oh my God, I’m the very first Polish opera singer to sign an exclusive contract with them!” Historically it was the most moving and important thing for me, but now I’m very happy with my new contract because I can develop my new voice and new path.

    OL - As your voice matures, you seem to be moving away from the soubrettes and the light roles with very high notes, to a deeper repertory. Sure, voice evolution and acquiring the means to broaden your career are good things, but is there a sense of sadness when you drop a role? Are there roles you’ll be no longer doing that make you very nostalgic?

    AK – No, not at all. I sung them so many times that I’m really happy to drop them! [laughs] You really need to be young and fresh, to be twenty-something to have the joy of life, and the youthfulness for the characters you play. Then when you become more mature and you become a mother, really it changes your head a lot. I wouldn’t feel comfortable now to play Susanna even though I love this role so much. It’s a very clever, beautiful character. It’s because in real life as a person I am a bit of a drama queen with ups and downs. When it’s normal life, I get bored. Maybe this comes like this since I was a small girl, because I went to the opera and saw all this dying, all this stabbing on the stage. Maybe this created somehow my personality. I always loved the Verismo, the Puccini operas, Verdi, so I’m absolutely thrilled that my voice allows me now to move to this repertoire.

    OL - I also got your DVD as Gilda in Rigoletto. Your rendition of “Caro nome” caused me goosebumps; it was phenomenal, I kept rewinding and listening to it several times.

    [Readers, see it here; pay attention to the crystalline high notes, the perfect trill, the advanced acting - this is a phenomenal rendition of this aria:]

    AK – Thank you!

    OL - You sang divinely, in this modern production, with that table as the only piece of set; it was very clever, I thought.

    AK – Yes, it was a difficult production in the very beginning. When I approached it I thought “what is this table and these twelve chairs? I don’t know! The whole night like this? What do I have to do to fill this production with personality? There is nothing there!”

    OL – I thought it was very interesting when you climbed on the table and wrapped yourself with the table cloth.

    AK – Yes, you have to find a way to do it.

    OL – I loved that show.

    AK – You know, Roberto was in the audience and he said at first he thought “no!” but then it was very interesting, very captivating. He liked it even more.

    OL – Yes. So, the thing is, does it make any difference for you if you are in a Regie production with strong directorial concept, versus a traditional staging? What I’m trying to get at, is if the traditional productions allow you to focus more on the music, as opposed to the Regie ones that might be a bit distracting. Most singers reply to this with a generic “both are fine as long as there is respect for the music” and of course they don’t want to be type-cast in one kind of production, and prefer to be open to everything, and I know that you can do both styles very well, but I’m just trying to get at more details about you personal preference and level of comfort with different concepts. I’d love to see you reply to this a bit more, instead of using a standard answer.

    AK – Yes, of course! I can talk about this. [emphatically:] I prefer beautiful productions! The logic of the story has to be there. If you are in the audience and you ask yourself “why is she doing that?”, it’s not good. I used to say as well “it’s not important if it is modern or traditional, blah blah blah” but now I say I’ve changed my mind. I did so many of these Regietheater productions when I was in the fixed ensemble of the Hamburg Opera for so many years, and I’ll say, I’m sorry; sometimes this is garbage on the stage, really.

    OL – Can I put this opinion in the published interview?

    AK – You can, of course. Sometimes it’s too much. You want to believe in the story. You want to see something nice. It doesn’t mean it must be gold and diamonds and sparkling because that could be cheap as well. But I like to see an alternative life on the stage, like a movie. I don’t know, I think that people who go to a show want to see a different life, to forget about the mess you have in your real life. I don’t want to see the Nazis, the Auschwitz thing, and all this stuff, please! I want to forget my life; I go to the opera to entertain myself, to be in a different world.

    I think that slowly, a time of changing is coming again. Even Hollywood is again doing époque movies with beautiful costumes, and we are seeing again the more beautiful opera productions. Sometimes these Regie directors don’t understand what opera is.

    OL - I know that you get asked this every time but our readers haven’t necessarily heard your answer to this, so I’ll ask you anyway. Does performing on stage or recitals with your husband Roberto increase to some degree the level of stress? I know that when you are working on the operatic stage or the concert hall, you are professionals and your private life is outside and shouldn’t intrude, but I mean, maybe singers who are fond of their on-stage colleagues for additional reasons on top of the natural friendship and well-wishes, might be tenser when they perform together because they not only want to do well, but they are also particularly interested in seeing their beloved partner doing well too. In your case it can’t be a huge problem because you are both accomplished singers, but still, even great singers like the two of you can have a bad day due to some respiratory illness, and so forth, which then would make the other one be more stressed out – or else, he or she will be afraid of catching the same virus, hehe.

    AK – Yes, absolutely. The first time we sang together was in La Juive. It was Roberto’s role debut, and my role debut. I was scheduled for Eudoxie but I changed to Rachel. I learned this part like crazy, in two weeks while I was singing Lucia in London; two different worlds. Roberto was sick. It was a role debut and he didn’t have the time to practice it. Of course you are nervous. You keep thinking of it when you are backstage, but when you get to the stage you no longer thing about it. I have to focus on myself, or else it doesn’t work. When he is singing an aria and I’m backstage I’m more nervous. I want to see if everything is fine and if it is going well. But on the stage, no, I swear, I don’t think of him as my husband. I am into the character. I love to play the character that I am doing.

    With Roberto, it is fantastic, because he is warm, full of passion, open-minded, and very helpful to the colleagues. He gives himself. Of course you always think about the technique; you try to correct yourself and be cool inside. But for me, he is the best partner ever, on the stage.

    OL - I know that there are many upsides in being married to a colleague – such as better mutual understanding of the hardships of the profession and the hectic schedule, more opportunities to be together when you travel for an opera or concert, etc.

    AK – Yes, of course, because we are together; we are a family, we are husband and wife. There has to be special chemistry, right, if we decided to be together?

    Aleksandra with her husband Roberto Alagna, photo credit Kasia Paskuda

    OL - I’ve interviewed singers who are married to singers, like Matthew Polenzani whose wife is mezzo-soprano Rosa Maria Pascarella. He told me that she is his most trusted voice coach because she will tell him with no hesitation what he may have done less well, on stage. Do you and Roberto function as voice coaches for each other?

    AK – We talk a lot with each other and we listen to what the other has to say, not as an adviser, but as a critic. Yes, it’s normal; we talk about opera, otherwise what would we be talking about? [laughs]

    OL – As you know I interviewed Roberto as well and loved him. He is such a great guy! And he said so many good things about you! He said, “she re-invented my life.” That’s sweet!

    AK – Yes! [she laughs]

    OL – So, I got the gentleman’s perspective, so now I’d love to hear about the lady’s standpoint as well. How did you meet? How did your story evolve? It’s personal so maybe you won’t want to answer, but if you do…

    AK – Yes, of course, I’ll answer. We met in London during L’Elisir d’amore. So everybody who knows about our story laughs and says “Did the love potion work?” Of course, it did work! [laughs]

    Curtain calls, L' Elisir d'amore

    OL – That’s nice!

    AK – Yes, L’Elisir d’amore… we met, and in two weeks Roberto asked me to marry him!

    OL – Two weeks?

    AK – Two weeks! And I said “What is this?” [laughs] “Crazy guy, let me escape, it’s impossible!” But he said, “You know, I’m almost fifty, I have no time for dating, now. We are not teenagers! So let’s cut to the chase and get married!” I was very straightforward. I said “I want a family. I want a child. If you are not ready for it, we don’t start this relationship. Let’s leave if like it was. It was nice, but if you are not serious about starting a family then there is no continuation, I don’t want to waste my time.” So we put all the cards on the table… and it worked! Everything happened without planning. It was funny. It’s the L’Elisir d’amore effect, because during another run of the opera in Barcelona, I discovered that I was pregnant.

    I like to imagine that in this scene of L'Elisir d'amore, Aleksandra is saying to Roberto "I'm pregnant!" I showed this to Aleksandra and she found it funny.

    So I had the baby and we went back to Paris for another performance of L’Elisir d’amore, and we got married during that run. There’s something with this opera, it’s incredible. I guess it’s because it is really intimate.

    So last season we were both called back to London to do L’Elisir again, because the first run when we met was so successful that they invited us back. So, I said, “Roberto, what will happen now when we do this again? Will we get divorced? Because there’s always something that happens when we do this opera!” [laughs hard] And we got so sick! For the first time in my life – and for Roberto as well in thirty-five years of career – we canceled the show, because of the illness. Both of us were sick, and our daughter gave the virus to us. So I said, “OK, we have the answer now about what was supposed to happen this time: the first cancellation, during L’Elisir d’amore.”

    About reinventing his life… I think we both changed our lives. Because the life of an opera singer is not the “wow!” people think it is. You go to social media and you upload a photo to Instagram or Facebook of the beautiful cities you are performing in, and people think “this life is just a miracle!” It’s not true at all! Sometimes you upload that photo in two seconds, and you say to your fans “look, I’m great” and then you go back to your hotel and you cry because you feel lonely, you have no family, nobody to talk with. It is really a difficult occupation. Very difficult.

    I remember, the first time I went to a new city to perform, I’d drop my bags in my room and would start crying like hell, because I had to be alone, there. All the singers complain about this. We never go out together to spend time with each other, because as soon as we finish a rehearsal session, we think “oh my God, I have to be careful, I can’t go out and catch a cold, because if I get sick and have to cancel, I’ll lose the money. I have to pay expensive rent and I’m not getting paid for the rehearsals.” So you have to always think about your shape, about your voice.

    So being together, traveling together, taking our daughter with us, having a home and not an empty space in a hotel, is a beautiful thing that happened to me. And that’s for Roberto as well, because of course he sacrificed so much his life, before! When his first wife died and left him with a small child, the child had to grow up with Roberto’s parents, the child’s grandparents. So Roberto told me that having this child again with me was his second chance at being a father. It is difficult for him right now to think of how Ornella, his first daughter, didn’t have the opportunity to spend as much time with him as our daughter Malèna is having, now. Ornella didn’t have her mother, and wasn’t able to come to Roberto’s bedroom in the morning to say “I love you so much, we are a family” like Malèna can do. So these are new father feelings he can have, and it makes him very happy. This relationship gives you the power to be in a good mental state, and that’s hugely important for a singer. The happier you are in our personal life, the easier it is in your professional life.

    OL – True. How do you define yourself in terms of your personality and your take on life, or life philosophy?

    AK – Boy, I would love to be more positive. You know Roberto; he wakes up every morning with a smile on his face. I’m gloomy in the morning. I say “No, leave me alone, I need one hour; don’t talk to me.” Maybe it’s not that I am negative, but I always see the empty half of the cup. “I didn’t achieve anything, I have to do this and that, I didn’t arrive there when it was meant to be” - not only about profession, but about everything. When we do renovations, I don’t focus on the beautiful things, but rather on the ones that are not right.

    OL – I don’t want to stereotype, but could this have to do with a sort of mournful national soul in Poland when you were growing up and things were gloomy there behind the Iron Curtain?

    AK – I don’t know. I don’t have this kind of complex at all. Maybe it’s a more Slavic thing. We are more sensitive and melancholic. But you can’t say we are all like this because I know a lot of people who aren’t. I’m a generally happy person but sometimes I’m looking for trouble. [laughs] I’m always looking for something to say “this is not OK.” I don’t mean looking for trouble as in trying to have problems, but more in the sense of trying to correct things that are not right; I’m always looking for more and more.

    OL – My impression of you – after practicing psychiatry for 37 years…

    AK – Yes, you can say your impression of me; I’ll listen.

    OL – I think you are very intelligent.

    AK – Thank you.

    OL – I was impressed with your verbal articulation and speed of thought expression in a foreign language. So, smart people sometimes are very critical of things.

    AK – Maybe there is something to it. Yes, I am intelligent. I thank you for saying so but I will admit to the fact that I’m not a stupid one. I know what I want, and maybe because of this it makes me more critical of the things that don’t fit my standards.

    OL - What do you like to do as a hobby or for fun outside of classical music?

    AK – Nothing. I’m sorry, I have nothing. I can’t tell you that I love painting or collectibles or any extraordinary things; I don’t. I like opera and I love music. I love theater. I don’t even like to go to the movies. I’m so into opera and theater, and all my life since I was very young was focused on music. I didn’t have time for anything else. I think I’ve been to a night club only once in my life. I watch TV, but not all those series. You know what I like and watch on TV? I’m crazy about renovation. I like it when we buy an apartment and I renovate it, so I enjoy watching HGTV [Home and Garden TV channel]. I’m crazy about it. Roberto says “stop it, it’s insane!” I like to see ugly things turning into beautiful ones. This is the one thing I like to do beside music. Otherwise I’m just normal, I like to spend time with my family, to go for walks with them, and have an ordinary life; nothing special.

    OL – Do you want to add anything that I failed to ask about?

    AK – No, it was perfect.

    OL – Thank you for this lovely interview.

    AK – Thank you very much.

    Photo Credit Andrzej Błażejczyk


    To finish, let's listen to this short fragment of one of Aleksandra's rehearsal sections for the Met as Nedda in Pagliacci - it seems to be an amateur recording with focus issues and less than ideal sound, but it does give us a sample of how good her Nedda is!


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    Comments 1 Comment
    1. MAuer's Avatar
      MAuer -
      Another great interview!

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