The Russian coloratura is making her Australian debut at Hobart Baroque, but how did she get here from there?
This will be your Australian debut. What’s brought you to Hobart’s Baroque Festival?
Honestly, my first thought was that I could visit the zoo in and see koalas and especially wombats! I am in love with these creatures and really cannot wait. But seriously, I’m very excited. Australia is so far from Russia and Europe where I spend most of my time and, since I love to travel, I immediately accepted. I think the Hobart Baroque Festival has so much potential and I thank Leo Schofield and the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra for the kind invitation. I’m also really looking forward to singing with my pianist Mikhail Antonenko in Melbourne – I hear the Recital Centre acoustics are amazing.
What music will you be performing?
We’re performing a similar program to my Alleluia CD showing the evolution from the high Baroque (represented by Vivaldi and Handel) to the young Mozart. Instead of the Porpora on the CD, you get to hear Haydn’s Symphony La Passione, which is a nice link between the Baroque and Classical styles.
Elena Obraztsova has been important for your career. How did she come into your life and how has she helped you?
We first met during one of her masterclasses and she made the greatest impression on me. I was 15-years-old and had just learned Agitata da due venti from Vivaldi’s Griselda (after listening to Cecilia Bartoli’s CD and tracking down the scores!) Obraztsova told me – because afterwards we really became friends – that when I started singing the Vivaldi with all that coloratura she couldn’t believe it. She was really shocked because teenagers don’t sing that music. She encouraged me enormously so that I started to believe more in myself. Afterwards, I won the Award in her 2007 competition and from then on my professional career started.
You completed your education at London’s Guildhall studying with Yvonne Kenny. What did you learn from her?
It was Kiri Te Kanawa who advised me to go to the Guildhall to work with Yvonne. Studying with her was a constant delight. She really worked on my breathing and relaxation and she was a huge help with the body – I think she can relax any artist! Yvonne also inspired me to study more German lieder – Schubert songs like Die Junge Nonne, the Schumann cycles and many more. I’m looking forward to meeting her again soon.
You also trained in Cardiff with Dennis O’Neill. Was he a great influence?
Dennis O’Neill as a person and teacher has been so very important for me. I was abroad for the first time in my life at the tender age of 18. During those two years I studied English, and Dennis was a wonderful personal teacher. He invited many of the greatest conductors, singers and coaches to Cardiff so I had a chance to meet and study with Richard Bonynge, Kiri Te Kanawa, Ileana Cotrubas, June Anderson and others.
Dennis is probably the greatest singing teacher alive – he can teach any style, from Baroque to Verismo. He has extraordinary intuition and he is so gentle. I would recommend anybody who wants to further their vocal skills, or to have advanced studies in opera or lieder, to go to Dennis. It’s an experience I know will be of great advantage to me in the future. Bless you, Dennis!
You shared a concert stage with Juan Diego Flórez at the 2008 Rossini Festival in Pesaro. How did that come about?
Bruno Praticò recommended me after the 2007 Obraztsova competition where he was a jury member. I was offered several stage productions at Pesaro like Ermione – really difficult dramatic parts. I didn’t think I was ready for those roles so I declined nearly everything – I was only 18 years old and needed more study. Finally, they asked me to do the opening concert with Juan Diego as well as Rossini’s Stabat Mater so I got to study for two weeks at the Accademia Rossinia with Alberto Zedda, which I am so grateful for. I was very nervous performing, but I was so lucky to be there.
Your repertoire runs from Baroque, through Classical, right up to the bel canto. Do you have a favourite composer?
Really, I am fond of whichever composer I am performing or listening to at the moment. Just now I listen to Bach’s B Minor Mass, and Bach becomes my favourite – next day I am listening to the pianist Grigory Sokolov and any composer performed by this musician becomes my favourite. In my childhood it was definitely Bach and Handel who were, and still remain, the most touching composers, but my real passion for solo vocal music came with Vivaldi and that Cecilia Bartoli CD that I heard when I was 14. I guess then that it is impossible to say which one is my favourite – from Palestrina, Bach and Rameau to Schubert, Debussy and Penderecki, there have been so many geniuses who devoted their life to music.
You have performed with the best Baroque singers alive, many of them countertenors – Philippe Jaroussky, Max-Emanuel Cencic, Franco Fagioli, Bejun Mehta etc. What have you learned from them?
I am so grateful to have had the chance to work with all these countertenors – each of them are unique as well as others like Xavier Sabata, Terry Wey, Valer Barna-Sabadus and many more. I think all will have great futures and they are such true musicians. Cencic was a baby when he began, a wunderkind; to be friends with him is something you can be very proud of. You can feel what kind of experience he has had – as a human being. Sometimes the countertenor voice touches most of all and despite its physical ‘unnaturalness’, voices like Jaroussky’s or Cencic’s can sound most natural of all. I’ve just finished a tour of the Pergolesi Stabat Mater with Philippe and I have to say he left a huge musical impression on me.
What future plans to you have for the recording studio?
Definitely some more Baroque things – and I hope there will be some more world premiere projects too!
Julia Lezhneva appears at Hobart Baroque on March 30 and at Melbourne Recital Centre on March 19.