From a young age I was drawn to the mysterious world of investigation and criminology, my uncle being a forensic scientist in St. Petersburg. And I was dreaming of working in homicide. My childhood and early teens were spent in front of a piano and in his forensic lab. Music and singing took over as I soon realised that the real mysteries lie in the human heart and that the voice is the best instrument to express the truth of the human soul.
Hoffmann lovers – Stella encapsulates three women in one.
Olympia- a rebellious teenager, rude, who smokes and swears, pushing the boundaries, girlie and innocent. She is an invention, a robot in our production, a robot/puppet. She coughs in a deep voice. Yet she sings stratospherically high notes! My inspiration for Olympia is a combination of Lolita, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Frankenstein!
Antonia– has a re
al polar split in her personality, neurotic and slightly schizophrenic. Tortured by inner voices, locked up for months in her father’s house. She is a true artist who has a beautiful voice and talent to be a singer, like her mother, from whom she has inherited a mysterious illness. Antonia is like a butterfly attracted to the light and is burnt by it. She is impulsive and like a leaf in the wind, changes moods. This combination is destructive. An inspiration for her character is a combination of Shakespeare’s Ophelia and Juliet.
Giulietta- Venetian courtesan. She is an expert seducer and manipulates all men around her. She is controlling Hoffmann and is controlled by Dappertutto, the villain. She plays all the men against each other, steels their reflections and goes off with the nemesis. An inspiration of her for me is Lara Croft and the devil. Stella- is Hoffmann’s woman, she has all three in her. She is a film star. Hoffmann sings ‘three women in one’. She is a real, complex woman.Inspiration is Marilyn Monroe and Greta Garbo.
I have sung innocent virgins and suffering teenagers, mature women and elegant prostitutes. But I have never yet acted and played all of them in one opera.In this production I am in charge of a puppet when I sing one of the most difficult coloratura arias in the soprano repertoire.
The challenges are in creating the characters as different and distinctive. Vocal challenges- how to pace myself through the entire Opera. For this I need to listen to my instincts and have faith in my voice and ability
Together with the director I am building a character from scratch. How she walks, touches, looks, kisses, everything. Our director James Bonas is a true creative genius and I love working with him and his team. So a lot of DNA and fingerprints go into the forensic development of each character 🙂
Tales of Hoffmann is an opera full of fantasy, but the characters are very human and real. Every woman has different aspects in her. She can be a rebellious teenager and a tortured young woman in love, she can be flirtatious and
she can be mature and wise – not robbed of innocence but awakened to the complexity of life -it’s all in us. English Touring Opera is a great company, caring and supportive. Its leader James Conway is a great man and its purpose is to reach the hearts of people. Opera brings human stories and looks into our emotions under a
are reaching far and wide into diverse audiences, from children to people who never experienced an opera
‘is it true? whatever you do with La Boheme always ends up the same’ hmmm…
A lot is written in Puccini music, and it makes it easier for the audience and actors when it’s simply honest and not overwhelmed dramatically. I feel that a lot of times opera is capturing the moment, looking at photographs remembering and seeing yourself in different times of your life.
In La Boheme the characters are remembering the turning points of their lives. Mimi came into everyone’s lives and changed it forever. That moment in their lives when Mimi died. When everything was a dream and an illusion, which was broken.
Mimi is immortal, she is the Catalyst, she causes a change. Her death is simbolic. Her story is a story of a great need to be loved, desperate search for it through Rodolfo and finally realising: ‘ Qui amor sempre con te ‘ almost saying to herself as well as to Rodolfo that love is always there, inside of you, it is free ,not needy or desperate, but content and she finds her freedom.
Mimi has youthful charm and innocence about her. She finds Rodolfo very funny. It’s the humour that makes her trust him.
Mimi is real, shy, and everything about her is natural. She falls in love with him for real, though this is not a long relationship. They meet in Christmas, they separate in May, she dies in June.
She is brave because she can’t change anything, she is dying. Her love is desperately needy, clingy afraid of loneliness and to be abandoned. She tries desperately to find love in many ways, she even tries to copy Musetta, but unsuccessfully.
I found Mimi’s role incredibly short, for the emotional depth of her intensity and almost not enough time to show her full story. But then trusting Puccini’s music everything made perfect sense.
I decided to create a clear contrast between first two and last two acts.
In the beginning she is innocent, hopeful and happy. In act two she is so exited, surrounded by all these men, alive and on high in the middle of attention, like a child. She shows signs of illness, but mostly she is alive. Her illness is forgotten, as adrenaline kicks so she doesn’t cough. A contrast to what to follow.
They meet at a desperate point of their lives, both curiously falling in love looking into each others eyes, holding hands. Simple things that matter.
He is not a good poet, he is jealous maybe because he doesn’t see her innocence, though he falls in love with it. Perhaps he doesn’t see her at all.
In act 3 she is desperate, like a scared caged animal, hurt, in pain but too weak to let go still clingy. She is scared of being abandoned. Marcello is her last hope to influence Rodolfo to stay with her, because she needs him, his closeness.
She overhears that Rodolfo wants to leave her while he knows that she is dying. This makes her angry. Addio senza rancor…she expresses surprise and pain : How can you leave me when i am dying ? Yet in the duet they still cling to each other.
I found singing Mimi an incredibly healing experience. I grew with her together an an artist and a woman.
My grandmother died two weeks before the beginning of rehearsals and I had a terrible cough, remains of a flu I caught traveling to bury her. But unlike my grandmother, my Mimi died free and happy, loving herself and everyone around her. ‘Mimi doesn’t died of a cold..’ said our wonderful director, so I went on line to look how did people die of consumption.
Being on tour builds yoir stamina, it is demanding and can be tough, and I am grateful for all experiences and for sharing singing my Mimi with most wonderful,, caring, fun and passionate collegues. And to James Conway his deep analytical understanding of the human soul ,passion and humour in guiding me mindfully and wisely to create my very real and human Mimi.
My son came to see the entire show, sitting on the edge of the chair. His words moved me deeply.
‘I liked the whole opera, especially when Rodolfo and Marcello burnt the papers into small pieces. When the children sang, the puppets, the snow, when the men danced and fought with animals on their heads. The story of these people made me think how lucky we all are. They were so poor and unhealthy and we have everything we want, food and computers. They lived in the darkness with candles!!! And mummy, I don’t want you to die at the end, I was glad when you came alive and smiled so I could clap.’
I have chosen the Myth of Persephone to look at the ages/phases of womanhood and I am illustrating each stage in my new CD with Operatic heroines.
I am going beyond the simple minded dichotomy of virgin/whore/mother or lover that afflicts women in patriarchs. Each stage has complex archetypes, besides each woman has within herself myriads variations.
My Operatic women and their voices help me to examine their journeys and choices.
The vitality of a woman can be restored by digging into the ruins of female underworld, where one can face the more wild and innate instinctual self. This is my own journey and this CD project very much reflects that. What intrigues me is how different women find the balance between the darkness and light and what are their journey into the Renaissance.
Besides, we are all children when it comes to stories. I think that stories are like medicine. They have such powers, they do not require to do anything, but only listen, the remedies for healing are contained in the stories. They awaken the excitement, sadness, questions, longing, and understanding. Exactly like music!
But putting mythological forensics aside, I want to tell about the recording experience 🙂
Few days before the recording, I sat quietly and thought about all the heroines that I am about to sing. I created an image for each one of them as if they were standing in front of me, as if I am looking into their eyes. Incredible warmth spread over my body and I realized that they are all bursting to speak, wanting their voices to be heard and it is through me that their stories will be sang.
The recording lasted 3 days, with 2 previous days of rehearsals. Each day was as different as the phases of my women. I am grateful for each one of the experiences in this week.
I discovered freedom, surrender, I discovered huge new strengths and how good it feels to really connect to myself, listen to my own voice and to what I need and want. I felt that to surrender makes you feel the way life is, beauty is, nature is.
At times the recording presented challenges and tested my stamina to its limits. It has stretched my vocal ability to the farthest I have ever went, mainly because of the intense and demanding schedule.
I discovered that the less I gave, the more I had. I learnt that some emotions are better to put aside, as they can only stand on the way and block the freedom of your mind and soul.
The more complex situation was, the simpler the solution appeared. All I had to do is to listen to my body and my voice and understand what they needed.
I had to access my deepest resources of hope, energy, confidence, trust and faith and beauty of surrender and go on, and the results took me by surprise and brought a lot of joy 🙂
I was taking inspiration from people around me, young musicians, who were there with me and for me.
I am sure this CD is one of many, and they all will be different, they will probably present a phase or a fascination of my own life. But I will always remember this first opera CD with the youngest orchestra I have ever sang and the discovery of surrender.
Singing is like a form of dance. It begins in the body, the heartbeat, the rhythm is where the meaning begins. Music of your own body, your own mind. The dance with many partners, your soul, the words, the music, the conductor and orchestra. This recording was a dance of many voices and an exhilarating one.
Ilona Domnich Soprano
Leo Nucci Bariton
Simon Over Conductor
Rupert Coulson- producer, at Air studios Hampstead
programme: arias and duets from Snowmaiden, Rigoletto, Figaro, Manon, Fortunio, La Voix Humaine, Linda di Chamounix, Il barbiere di Siviglia, La Rondine