• The Exclusive Opera Lively Interview with Olga Peretyatko

    [Opera Lively interview # 128] On the occasion of the Metropolitan Opera's revival of its traditional I Puritani production in late spring 2014 (for our review, click [here]), the beautiful young Russian soprano Olga Peretyatko took New York City's operatic environment by storm, collecting glowing reviews in blogs and newspapers, and standing applause in curtain calls. Opera Lively heard first hand from Met officials that "this lady has a career and a future with us" which anticipates her frequent return to the Met stage. Other references to her talent had reached us before, from her European performances (we had heard positive comments about her from other singers and conductors we have interviewed), and she already boasts three CDs and four DVDs.

    Meeting Ms. Peretyatko in person for this interview was a pleasure, thanks to her lively, friendly, and engaging personality, and her charming facial expressions and body language. The interviewer understands why her agent balked at an initial proposal for a phone interview, saying "no, no, no, you must meet her in person; you'll see why!" Indeed!


    Singer: Olga Peretyatko
    Fach: Coloratura soprano with a wide range, able to venture into mezzo territory
    Born in: St. Petersburg, Russia
    Recently in: I Puritani (Elvira), Metropolitan Opera
    Next in: L'Elisir d'Amore (Adina), tour with Teatro Regio Torino, in Wiesbaden, May 24-25; Il Turco in Italia (Fiorilla), Aix-en-Provence, several dates, July 4-22. The next opportunity to see her in the United States will be with Washington Concert Opera in September, as Juliet in I Capuleti e i Montecchi.
    Web site: www.olgaperetyatko.com


    Artististic Biography

    From 2005 and 2007 Olga Peretyatko was a member of the opera studio at the Hamburg State Opera. In subsequent years she performed at the Deutsche Oper Berlin, the Berlin and Munich state operas, the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris, La Fenice in Venice, at the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, and at the Festival La Folle Journée de Nantes.

    Olga Peretyatko gained international attention as Stravinsky’s Rossignol in the acclaimed Robert Lepage production that premiered at the Aix-en-Provence Festival in 2010, followed by performances in Toronto, New York, Lyon and Amsterdam. She achieved great success in her role debuts as Adina in L’elisir d’amore in Lille, as Lucia di Lammermoor at the Teatro Massimo Palermo, as Gilda in Rigoletto at La Fenice in Venice, as well as at the Festival Avenches.

    In 2011, Olga Peretyatko debuted successfully as Giulietta (I Capuleti e I Montecchi) in Lyon and Paris. In Lausanne she made her debut in the title role of Handel’s Alcina, and in Amsterdam she had her role debut as Fiorilla (ll Turco in Italia). Substituting for a colleague at the last minute, her performance of Adina in L’elisir d’amore during the Pfingstfestspiele in Baden-Baden was highly acclaimed by the media and the public, as was her debut Lucia di Lammermoor at the Deutsche Oper Berlin. She also received the highest acclaim at the Rossini Opera Festival (in Pesaro, Italy) as Matilde di Shabran, which was released on DVD in summer 2012.

    In 2013, Olga Peretyatko’s commitments included performances at the Mozart Weeks, at the Salzburg Festival, and at the Musikfest Bremen (Giunia in Lucio Silla); she also performed at the Vienna State Opera (Gilda in Rigoletto), at the Berlin State Opera (Marfa in The Tsar’s Bride), and at the Hamburg State Opera (Adina in L’elisir d’amore, and Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos). She also debuted at the Arena di Verona as Gilda in Rigoletto.

    In 2014, performances include her debut at the Zurich Opera House (Gilda in Rigoletto), her debut at La Scala in Milan (Marfa in The Tsar’s Bride), her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York (Elvira in I Puritani); as well as performances at the Deutsche Oper Berlin (Adina in L’elisir d’amore), at the Festival in Aix-en-Provence (Fiorilla in Il Turco in Italia), and at the Bavarian State Opera in Munich (Fiorilla in Il Turco in Italia). She will also tour China with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, singing Vier letzte Lieder by Richard Strauss.

    In 2015, she will debut as Violetta in La Traviata at the Opéra Lausanne, followed by a new production of the same title at the Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden.

    In addition to her opera career she continuously gives recitals and concerts throughout Europe. Olga Peretyatko has an exclusive recording contract with Sony Classical. Her first solo CD ‘La Bellezza del Canto’ with arias from Rossini, Verdi, Donizetti, Massenet and Pucchini was released in 2011 and was highly acclaimed by the press and the public. Her second CD, “Arabesque,” was released in the summer of 2013, also to much critical acclaim.





    La Bellezza del Canto

    La Donna del Lago


    La Scala di Seta

    Die Entführung aus dem Serail

    Matilde di Shabran (also available in blu-ray disc)

    Sigismondo (also available in blu-ray disc)


    The Exclusive Opera Lively Interview with Olga Peretyatko

    © Opera Lively - Disclaimer: this exclusive interview is copyrighted by Opera Lively with all rights reserved, and is not to be reproduced without express authorization. Brief excerpts can be used after consultation (use the Contact Us form) as long as proper credit and a link to the full interview on Opera Lively are provided. Links to the interview can be posted without authorization.

    Credits - Questions by Opera Lively journalist Luiz Gazzola. Photos used with permission from the singer's web site and sent from the Metropolitan Opera Press Department; credits given when known (we'll gladly add credits if they are sent to us); fair promotional use.

    Luiz Gazzola for Opera Lively - Let’s start by talking about Elvira. Some singers play her as a bit deranged from the beginning so that the mad scene doesn’t appear like it is coming out of the blue. What is your take on the psychology of this troubled character?

    Olga Peretyatko – I think she is really not quite sane from the beginning. Think about this time when Elvira lived. The role of the woman was nothing; just nothing! Of course you have your riches and your love and this conflict between what you should do and what you want to do, and this all got to her in a way that I don’t think allowed her to be just normal. She was nervous from day one. I hope you have seen it in my performance. She was nervous but not quite mad yet; then she had her first mad scene in the finale primo which was just a psychological collapse. I believe she was thinking about what her life would be from that point on. She was left in the altar, and in Puritan society it was a catastrophe. Her life was over. If something happened to her wedding plans, it was supposed to be the woman’s every fault. It was thought to be Elvira’s fault that Arturo left her.

    Photo Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

    OL - I think there is some method to her madness. She starts by saying “I’m not Elvira” – it sounded to me like a battle cry to escape the fact of her being the plaything of men and only existing to be ordered around by her father or by the men who wanted to marry her. As a modern woman, how do you relate to this kind of character?

    OP - In our modern life now, in 2014, one can’t imagine what it was like for her. That kind of collapse, I can’t relate to it; I’m not Elvira.

    Photo Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

    OL - Do you always read the source for your roles, like in this case Sir Walter Scott’s novel?

    OP – Yes, I’ve read a lot about Elvira’s time and her society which was quite weird. I have read Sir Walter Scott’s novel and a lot of other books about the same topic, in Russian as well. A singer needs to be prepared, because everything you read and listen to, will be heard in your singing.

    OL - Elvira is a role with such extraordinary past singers like Callas, Caballé, Sills, and Sutherland… Who are the singers who inspired you in your preparation?

    OL – Mariella Devia. She was my teacher. Of course I have heard all of them that you’ve quoted, but when I’m preparing a role I try to refrain from listening to my predecessors upfront otherwise it will be a caricature of somebody else, which is exactly what I don’t want. The first part of my preparation, I like to study alone with my pianist or just on my own because I can play the piano. Then in a second phase I do listen to other singers to get a sense of the traditions. For example, this finale primo has some ornamentation that is not written but was started by Callas, so now everybody who has the high D natural does it. It is beautiful; it shows your expression and it is a very effective line. Then I do study what everybody else did. For example, I observed Georgio Pertusi, a wonderful bel canto singer. I remember him in 2006 when I was at the Accademia Rossiniana for the first time in Pesaro, and part of our study was to see the rehearsals of others. We were young students with wide open eyes. I was speechless after his performance in Torvaldo e Dorlisca. He was the bad guy there, with a slow aria that was amazingly sung. Now I understand that you should learn from every colleague.

    OL - What vocal challenges exist while singing this role? Is the Veil Song difficult?

    Photo Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

    OP – I can’t say it’s difficult. If you are prepared, if you have the right technique and the right voice, it’s not a difficult role. It’s similar to Rossini roles. It’s long. It can’t be sung by a pure coloratura soprano because in some parts it’s written low and you need to have this power in the middle register and downstairs. You must have the extension and it can be a bit of a challenge, but if you have it, then you have it. I think the difficulty is more because it’s long and there are changes in your mood, and you have to stay credible; otherwise someone will tell you “you are technically perfect but you are cold.” But I laugh about it because I’m in good company: they said the same of Sutherland and Devia and Gruberova and so on. In this kind of staging you can’t just jump into the orchestra pit. The previous production I was in was directed by Dmitri Tcherniakov and it was an absolutely different way of recitare and acting it. But here in this production we did what is right for this kind of staging. But regardless of the production, the connections between the protagonists are always the same. It’s about passion, it’s about love, it’s about power. So, in summary, everything can be difficult, but it is easy if you have the voice for it.

    OL - I Puritani is said to have a huge gap between the quality of the libretto and the quality of the music. Bellini famously said the plot didn’t matter. What’s your overall opinion of the piece?

    OP – I can’t say that the libretto is weird or stupid, because it is very theatrical. There are lots of different images from the beginning. The first scene we sing from behind the stage. It’s church singing and is very special for 19th century opera. It is something new. Then you have the usual duets and scenes and so on, but it is a rare case of an opera for my voice type in which I don’t die at the end. [laughs] It’s a bit weird, but every bel canto opera is weird. You need to think that nowadays, Lady Gaga is the freak that entertains the public. At that time, Giulia Grisi was that kind of freak. The public wanted to see something strange on the stage. Madness was not something you’d see quite often in that time because the entire society was about etiquette. You couldn’t show something like that in public. Then, the public came to the theater, to see it on stage.

    OL – Fantastic! I had never thought of it this way. It’s interesting!

    OP – Yes! [laughs]

    OL - What do you think of this veteran production of I Puritani by the Met? It is older than you are. [she laughs] What are its strengths? It’s very traditional. Is it boring? Do you prefer the more modern productions, or one like this one?

    Photo Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

    OP – I did a lot of productions. Here, everything is about the singing. I enjoy this production. The painted background is beautiful and you have wonderful historical costumes. To put I Puritani in our time doesn’t work. The problematic of this piece is about the Puritan society. That’s why I think it is pretty correct, what they did. I like it. Being a veteran, old production, doesn’t mean it is boring, no. We bring our own personality into it.

    OL - I’ve interviewed Larry Brownlee and met him twice more; he is a wonderful man and a great singer. What can you tell me about the experience of working with him?

    Photo Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

    OP – I adore Larry! He is such an amazing colleague! Our generation of singers, we are all kind and we love each other. It’s team work. It’s not about “ah, who is the diva?” [laughs] It’s not about who is more prominent or anything, we work as a team. He is nice. It’s not our first meeting on stage. We did Il Turco in Italia together in Amsterdam, and his first Nemorino was with me in L’Elisir d’Amore. This is our third opera together, and next we do a fourth one in Aix-en-Provence which will be Il Turco in Italia as well. The bel canto world is so small, it’s all the same people. [laughs]

    OL - Being conducted by your husband maestro Mariotti – is there any funny story to tell us about it?

    OP – Funny? Not at all. [laughs] No, to sing with him is quite normal for me, because we met like this. He was conducting, and I was singing, in 2010 in Pesaro: Sigismondo. That was a strange opera, I’ll tell you! To sing with him, is like to breathe; something normal. This production is the second one since we got married. All in all, we worked together three times. Now it’s a happy time for us because we are together. It’s not easy to be together with our lives and parallel careers. He is here, I’m there, and for months we don’t see each other. That’s why I’m so happy! [laughs]

    OL - This is the first time you sing at the Met. What are your thoughts about the house and the audience?

    OP – I love to sing here! The audience is great, the acoustics are great, everything is great! I enjoy it every day, being at the Met. The house is big but the acoustics are wonderful! You know, after I sang Rigoletto at the Arena di Verona for 16,000 people, open air… if you can sing there, you can sing everywhere. I enjoy working here, really!

    OL - Now, let’s turn to you, Olga, rather than Elvira. You started singing at age 15 in the choir of the Mariinsky Theater, but what happened before that? At what age did you get interested in classical music, and why?

    OP – My father was an opera singer. He is in the choir of the Mariinsky Theater and has been there for almost 35 years. He started singing in the conservatory, and then I was born. So, he needed to earn money; that’s why he came to the Mariinsky. So I came as well, and I was singing all the time, actually not just when I formally entered the choir at 15, but rather since I was 3. I enjoyed the public and the parties at home. I danced as well. I just needed the public; until now, I still do! [laughs] My first diploma was choirmaster. Actually it is very good because it gave me the musical base. I can read the music and play the piano, I’m good in solfeggio; everything I learned there is very important for my work now. All that happened to me was the right thing.

    OL - So, you first wanted to be a mezzo, right?

    OP – Actually I was a mezzo. My voice is quite low for a coloratura soprano. It’s not a unique case. I extended my voice up and now I’m a soprano. I have a long range. It helps, and I try to work on it and keep this range. This is my exercise everyday: three octaves of arpeggio, to keep it. Now my voice is more mature, but in a natural way. That’s what my teacher always said: don’t push. Don’t try to sing too dramatic roles too early. You’ll have everything, but take your time.

    OL - You are a Karate fighter, and you say it helps with opera. Tell us more about it.

    OP – Well, I was. [laughs] Yes, what Karate is about is that you should have power. We singers are athletes. It’s not hard power like that [grunts] but very elastic. The art of Karate is to be protected but not to initiate fights. You are very powerful but you will never fight somebody spontaneously. If somebody attacks me, I will win! So, it’s quite peaceful. It’s not about fighting, it’s about art. So to be on stage with all these live broadcasts and the media and so on, you should have the nerves for that. Also, to be able to concentrate is very important, and I learned it with Karate.

    OL - When I think of Saint Petersburg I have goosebumps, with all the great composers having their graves at the local cemetery. I imagine the city as this extraordinary epicenter of classical music. Maybe I’m romanticizing it a little. I’ve never been to it, but I plan to.

    OP – You should!

    OL - How was the experience of growing up in St. Petersburg?

    OP – Oh, we should take two hours for that! In St. Petersburg there is this background: it’s an amazing city! To be there is something very special, but in different ways. It can be very cruel, the city, like New York, but it is beautiful at the same time! The winter is very long… Of course we have almost two months of white nights, and everything is magical. You don’t have nightfall, almost, and it does something to your head. You get crazy in that period!

    OL - What can you tell us about the Mariinsky as a cultural institution?

    OP – Gergiev did a great job. He created it. I mean, the Mariinsky Theater as a brand was there for hundreds of years before him, but he made of it what it is today. Now there are three theaters there; or two theaters and a concert hall, one of them brand new, and they are always full. Sometimes there are two full opera performances per day and the house is packed. Of course, there are many tourists but our people also goes there to listen to the music, and that’s amazing. Yes, you should come to St. Petersburg, just to feel it! [laughs]

    OL – So, from being a choirmaster, you went to Berlin to study singing?

    OP – While being a choirmaster I was also singing all the time as the second alto. I did small solos too. Singing in a choir, it gives you the possibility of listening to your colleagues as well; that’s important.

    OL - Was it difficult to go to Berlin all by yourself at age 22?

    OP – It was my very first trip to the West, in August 2001. I was totally in love with the city, because it is so special! You feel freedom in the air. A friend of mine was studying in the Berlin conservatory, the Hochschule für Musik Hanns Eisler, and I had just started to take private lessons in St. Peterburg with a soprano, and my friend told me “go to Berlin for an audition!” I did, and the professor told me to come again for an exam. Six months later I went back for the exam, and they took me. From 2002, my Berlin era started, and until now. It was a really difficult time because I didn’t have any support and any money. I did everything to earn something. I mean, I wasn’t washing the dishes at the restaurants, but I was taking every singing job everywhere I could. We created a quartet, and we sang a lot of small concerts, for example in hospitals and hospices. I’d earn 50 Euros to do this, and it was great money for me because I didn’t have any. But it gave me experience, and now I can be thankful for that time, because it led me to everything that I have now.

    OL – Then, when did you have your first lucky break?

    OP – I count it from Pesaro, in 2007. I was there in 2006 for the Accademia Rossiniana, and I told you about Pertusi, and then the great maestro Alberto Zedda took this risk of giving me this big role of Desdemona in Otello in 2007. It was with Juan Diego Flórez and Gregory Kunde and it was a great success. Of course it was very dangerous for everybody – for me, and for the Festival, because I was young at 27 and I had a relative late start in operatic soprano singing which I started at 22. It was my fifth year, overall. After that, it was Aix-en-Provence with Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol which was my first role in Russian. Robert Lepage did an amazing work there and we took the same show to Toronto and also to New York at the BAM, Lyon, and Amsterdam. In Toronto, it was where Peter Gelb heard me for the first time, and he engaged me here for the Metropolitan, for another role, a small role, Fiakermilli in Arabella. There are three minutes of music. Then they changed their minds with my career growing, and asked me to do Elvira. Of course I was happy, happy!

    OL - Was it difficult, psychologically speaking, to deal with your escalating success?

    OP – What success? I mean, I am doing what I’ve always done. It’s the same work. Maybe I sing better now, because I do try to be perfect. It’s not possible, but I try. Where I’m now, it’s because of a lot of hard work I did before. Therefore, somehow you expect something, yah? [laughs] If you work so hard, for me it’s just normal. I work hard now, I worked hard before, and life is long.

    OL – Oh, you said “what success?” I think the whole operatic environment in New York City is crazy about you. All the blogs and newspapers are saying great things about you.

    OP – Thank you, thank you!

    OL - In 2011 in the midst of a string of bel canto operas, you did Handel’s Alcina. How do you compare the experience of singing Baroque versus bel canto?

    OP – Eh… Baroque was a bit too much for me. Alcina was a great experience for me, but I did it just once. Maybe someday I’ll do it again, who knows? They told me my voice was too big for the role. But you sing with your voice, you can’t just change it. I don’t believe that singers can sing it all. Therefore you should just choose your way and do your stuff, your Fach. Maybe if I had to sing Handel again, I’d rather sing Cleopatra, maybe. That’s interesting. I mean Alcina is a great role, really great, but I don’t know, nobody else offers me something like that anymore. [laughs]

    OL - Even though you were lovely in your Sigismondo DVD, I particularly disliked that production due to its stereotypical depiction of mental illness, given that I’m a psychiatrist, with all the people drooling and twitching... Any comments?

    OP – I thought it was interesting, because Sigismondo has a really strange libretto. Who is who? [laughs] And why did the stage director decide to do it in a madhouse? I think it was because in the first aria, Sigismondo sings to somebody who is not on stage, who is not present. He ordered someone to kill me because he thought I was not faithful. And it was not true, of course, and I was very faithful, but I was not killed because a good man saved me. For fifteen years I was somewhere else, and then I came back. That’s strange. That’s really strange. So I thought it was quite interesting to make it in a madhouse.

    Psychologically it was interesting, but of course in terms of singing, when I saw all those people there acting crazy, they were not quiet. During my beautiful aria at the beginning there was this madman and he was yelling quite loudly while I was supposed to sing my beautiful line, piano piano. Then I yelled at him, “can you stop it?” Then I had to talk to the stage director and say that it wasn’t possible. Of course, sometimes it is difficult when they want something that doesn’t match the music, but we should speak with them. I had no complaints. I just told him about my doubts. I said, “I can’t do that. Why should I do that?” But then he explained his thoughts and his ideas to me, and convinced me. If I wasn’t convinced, I wouldn’t have done it. In this case, it was a nice production. It was very hot. In Pesaro in August it was 35 degrees Celsius, which is how many, 100 Fahrenheit? [laughs] My costume was made from wool and it was so hot on the stage! During the dress rehearsal I lost my eyelashes because I was sweating so much, it was like I was in a shower! Ah! [laughs] But I like this production, because that’s how I met my husband! [laughs]

    OL - Your The Tzar’s Bride at La Scala was in a very modern production, rendered as a TV studio. What did you think of the update?

    OP – Oh, that production I liked very much! Tcherniakov is a very intelligent stage director. He convinces you, really. First I did it in Berlin, and then at La Scala, almost with the same cast. In Germany, you know, Regietheater, they are all used to seeing this stuff, and that was very interesting. The idea was that everything was happening right now. He made it very contemporary. I liked it very much.

    OL – But the public at La Scala is very traditional, so how was it received there? When they don’t like it, they boo it.

    OP – Oh yes! Oh, yes! The singers, they received us well, but the stage director was booed so much, you can’t believe it! Tcherniakov’s Traviata was booed too, to open the La Scala season. Actually it is suicide to take such a production of Traviata to open the season at La Scala! From the beginning, it was clear that he would be booed! [laughs] So it happened again with The Tzar’s Bride, but in Berlin six months earlier it was a great success for him. You know, it’s a different public.

    OL - Tell me about your CDs La Bellezza del Canto, and Arabesque. How did you select the tracks?

    OP – La Bellezza del Canto, they wanted to make this mix of everything. It was my first one, so I think it was good to present me from different sides. Arabesque, I liked it very much. I’m quite pleased with the result. Of course I wanted to show Mozart, because I do a lot of Mozart. There was some bel canto for sure, and the French repertoire that I put there, is actually the direction I’m going into, because for my voice it is perfect. It was a mix as well. It was Sony’s strategy; they wanted something like that.

    OL - Tell us about your personality and your take in life.

    OP – I’m very positive [laughs] as you can see. I try to live every day and enjoy every minute of it, because life is long, but it is also short. My grandmother is dying at this moment. We should be grateful for everything. If you aren’t, you start to be arrogant. I try to sing every performance as if it will be the last one, and that’s exactly the way I think about my life. Live today!

    OL - What do you like to do other than classical music?

    OP – I like to read. Actually my life is what I always wanted it to be. I’m always on tour, and every two months I am in a new country, a new city, a new life. I can take it like this, and I’m doing what I love to do. Singing is what I wanted to do, and I’d like it to last for a long, long time like this.

    OL – You don’t have children yet, right?

    OP – No, I don’t.

    OL – So probably it will become a bit more difficult, when you do.

    OP – We’ll see. I live today. When it comes, it comes. Then, I’ll think about how to manage everything.

    OL – Well, it’s exactly the time you said you had to leave, and we got to the last question!

    OP – We were perfect! [laughs]

    OL – Thank you so much, it was very interesting.

    OP – I thought so too! Thank you!


    Let's listen to the singer:

    Since we've been talking of I Puritani, this is one of the best musical moments of this piece, and her voice here is just luminous:


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    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Clayton's Avatar
      Clayton -
      Absolutely stunning performance of Elvira. As she sung, Olga disappeared and on stage was Elvira; she was no longer singing but just drawing me in to her world. The wife now says this is her favourite opera. Thank you Olga Peretyatko for a treasure of a memory and also Opera Lively for the insight.

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