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Viktória VizinViktória VizinDuring the interview mezzo-soprano Viktória Vizin was talking about her operetta role and the performance of The merry widow as passionately as she was singing and acting on the stage. I made this interview with Viktória Vizin after the premiere of The merry widow about operetta, her recent opera roles and her plans for the future.

 

 

 

Although it is opera, by definition, which is performed most often at the Miskolc Opera Festival, this year an operetta was also played making the program of the festival even more colourful. Still, it was not so exceptional, as in the previous years musicals, ballet performances, even symphonic rock shows were also performed, not to mention the several other programs from puppet theatre to folk dance. This year it was the Miskolc National Theatre to stage an operetta, The merry widow - Lehár’s masterpiece - with the world-famous Hungarian mezzo-soprano Viktória Vizin in the title role. This event was special not only for the audience, but also for the singer, because this was the first time she sang in an operetta. And she was singing it beautifully, the peformance was fantastic. Though I knew less about her partners on the stage, I am completely sure that the presence and the performance of Viktória Vizin inspired them to a great extent - everybody did their best. The first act may not have been so powerful, but during the 'Vilja-song' the atmosphere was already electrifying, becoming more and more intense leading to a superb finale. Many opera-lovers have reservations about this genre - so do I, to be honest - but it is undeniable that a piece like The merry widow can almost be regarded as an opera. (In the next season, for example, the Metropolitan Opera in New York will also present it with Renée Fleming in the title role.)

 

Today you have sung your first operetta role. How do you feel now?

Very well, though I rehearsed for three and a half days only, because I could not come earlier. Until now I have always regarded operetta as a very conventional genre, where prima donnas sing and act in a single style. However by getting to know it more profoundly I found it much more interesting. Hanna Glavári is a huge role, and I needed this operetta so much! I think, the audience enjoyed it as much as I did, at least that was my impression after hearing the enthusiastic applause.

I already noticed at the rehearsal how much you feel at home in the prose scenes, as well.

In the past I studied acting, went to drama schools, and planned to go to the University of Theatre and Film. But at the age of twenty I had to make a decision and decided to become an opera singer. Of course, I am an actress on the opera stage, too, but tonight it was the first time I could really enjoy my speaking voice. By the way, I stand for opening: those who have the ability vocally, mentally and emotionally, should take several different roles. As to myself I will be glad to sing roles in grand operettas in the future, as well.

You started your career as a lyric soprano, then changed to the mezzo-soprano repertoire. However, Hanna Glavári is another soprano role.

Yes, ’normally’ Hanna is sung by sopranos. But I like to sing what I enjoy and what I am technically able to perform, of course. I do not want to say categorically that I only sing soprano or mezzo-soprano roles.

Viktória Vizin in The merry widowViktória Vizin in The merry widowWhy is singing operetta different from singing opera?

Mainly because of the speaking parts, the prose, which is a great risk for the singer on the stage. You have to be able to speak in a natural voice, then suddenly go up very high and continue to sing there. It is a big task, which you can only carry out by starting to learn the music parts in time. Only when I have learnt these well, can I be sure to sing it confidently, even if I have strained my voice by shouting a lot. This is because I give my best in the prose parts, too, and speak very loudly where it is necessary. For example, in the performance tonight I had a scene, where I had to shout, though originally it is not written in the score. Then I held back, because I had to finish a beautiful duet. So it is a kind of a balance-game: if I am carried away, and give too much at a certain point, I have to counteract later. However, in this operetta, singing is not easy, either. There is Hanna’s entrance, for instance, written by Lehár in a very difficult tessitura. In general the part of Hanna is not difficult for me, but here I have to move up step by step to the B-natural, which is very demanding, and I have to work hard to be able to do that. It reminds me of some Rossini parts, in which I practiced it a lot.

In The merry widow your partners are not opera singers. Were you holding your voice back?

Yes, I was singing with a little bit different technique, but also because in operettas the spoken words are especially important. In an opera I sing on every note, though even then I also like to wander a bit… However, if I did the same in The merry widow, then, together with the spoken parts, it would be very difficult. This work is so dense, that it is almost an opera, in particular its finale.

Let’s turn to your opera roles! The last time I saw you at the Hungarian State Opera you sang the role of the Composer in Ariadne auf Naxos last year. But this year you did not sing at the opera house of Budapest.

In the last two seasons I was so busy that I got tired, I admit. Though I undertook the role of Venus in Tannhäuser, I had to cancel it in the end.  

You sing in the most prestigious opera houses of the world. Why do you like being in Miskolc?

There are also other places for me similar to this one. For example Central City in the United States, which is a tiny town in the mountains with 200 inhabitants but which has a charm. There is also a festival there. At the same time there are bigger places where I feel uncomfortable. Those places are often ’snob-smelling’. We, singers also need to have a good time and Miskolc has a fantastic atmosphere. I often spent my holiday here when I was a child, and my mother’s family still lives here.

In our interview last year you said your favourite role was Charlotte in Werther. Is it still your favourite?

Yes it is. But I rarely meet the ideal tenor I imagine as Werther and who is passionate enough. It generally seems to me that my male colleagues fear me, because I act so unreservedly. But in my opinion this is the only way to make theatre. I usually ’die’ in Act IV of Werther, since I am mourning for the love of my life. Of course it is indispensable that the tenor should sing beautifully but I don’t want to see that he is singing. I want to see him communicating, that he is in love with me.

Viktória Vizin in The merry widowViktória Vizin in The merry widowLast year at the Kecskemét Art Festival in Hungary you made your debut as a librettist in a new work called Witches. Would you tell us more about it?

I wrote it together with composer Gertrúd Andrási. The stage director was Róbert Koltai and I wrote the libretto, which is about my life and my sentiments. I was telling the story and Gertrúd Andrási was composing the music for it. I also improvised some music, so I have something to do with the music, as well. I did not want to classify this work into any of the genres, maybe ’musical play’ would be the best definition of it. It is made up of ten parts, and besides me there is also a narrator in the role of my father who is recollecting my life. The story begins when I am five years old, and it tells about my first teenage rebellions, my first love, the relationship with my father, the family, the successes and failures. The climax of the piece is the ’Dance of the witches’. At this point I am not singing. I was unwilling to sing it, because it is more than words can say. By the way I was amplified in this performance because this was necessary to really make the intimacy of this work felt. All the songs are written in a different style, including jazz, couplet, blues and opera aria. The orchestra of 12 members is also an integral part of the performance, they are playing on the stage. They are me, parts of my soul. We worked very hard on it for a year. Now we are translating it into English and would like to perform it at other festivals, too.

Where are you going to sing next?

I am going to sing Dulcinea in Massenet’s Don Quichotte in Denmark.

When will you sing in Hungary again?

I will come back to Budapest in February to sing in Ariadne auf Naxos at the Opera House. And I will have a premiere at the Palace of Arts in a new piece which we will continue to perform in several other places of the country. The Bohemian Ragtime and Jazz Band invited me to take part in it. I will sing traditional jazz, blues, couplet and chanson songs of the 1930s and ’40s and will also be responsible for the dramaturgy of these performances. I haven’t done this before…

When will you come back to Miskolc?

Hopefully there will be other performances of The merry widow. And there is a series of photographs taken of singer Krisztián Cser and me by Vera Éder. The pictures are connected to the story of the Bluebeard’s castle illustrating the relationship of woman and man in 26 images. They have already been exhibited in Kecskemét and Százhalombatta. As I know, next year this collection will be brought to the Miskolc Opera Festival, as well.

Balázs Csák
(www.operaportal.hu)

 

 

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