Article Title:Opera: Prima Donna from the Steppes
Author or Credit:Larry Jenkins
Published on:6th July 2007 - 03:10 pm
Story ID:4625
Text:Elvira Fatykhova in 'Lucia di Lammermoor' (Photo: Neil Mackenzie) Elvira Fatykova is diminutive, and when we meet I can imagine her as the ideal 16-year-old Bride of Lammermoor from Sir Walter Scott's gothic novel of the same name. She's here to portray Lucy Ashton transmogrified into the heroine of Donizetti's most popular opera, whose interpreters have often exceeded so much in size and age this ideal that all belief has had to be suspended – the most recent to come to mind is the legendary Dame Joan Sutherland, a strapping lass to say the least, whose stellar career was launched in this role, which she continued to sing until she was in her sixth decade if memory serves me. Other great interpreters of the role have included Luisa Tettrazzini, such a gourmande that her bulk was made even bulkier by the chicken dish named after her. Elvira, as she graciously allows me to call her, has none of the airs and graces of your average diva – she's dressed in jeans and wearing no makeup for our encounter, and is eager to talk about the ill-fated Lucy before the NBR New Zealand Opera production centred around her opens next Thursday. But first I wanted to ask her about a statement she has made in her publicity blurb that she feels her exposure to music that her mother listened to while carrying her in the womb may have pointed her towards a musical career. GayNZ: What kind of music did she listen to, your mother? Elvira: Oh, it was all kinds. Television had just come to Russia but she listened to the radio mostly and to every musical programme she could. She was besotted with music. GayNZ: And so you feel that this had a profound influence on your life and career? Elvira: Yes, and I did the same with my son, who is 16 now, and he plays the piano and loves music, but not necessarily classical music. Elvira was born in the city of Ufa, in Russia, educated there and somehow wound up in the Ankara (Turkey) Opera Company and sings mostly there and in New Zealand and Australia. Two years ago she sang Violetta in “La Traviata” here and was wildly praised for her performances. She's gone on to sing Manon in Sydney and Violetta in Perth and will sing the latter with Opera Australia this year. In the 2006 Queensland Opera Season she sang Lucia under conductor Richard Bonynge. GayNZ: Do you feel that Lucia as a dramatic role is less satisfying than Violetta? Elvira: It is different. I love Violetta because she is a woman, subject to a woman's passions. She is strong and confident in the beginning. But Lucia is a young girl, weakened by her position and her inexperience. GayNZ: You worked with Richard Bonynge, husband and mentor of Dame Joan Sutherland, recently in the role of Lucia. Did you learn a lot from the experience? Elvira: Certainly. He was so helpful and, unusual for him, worked with me one on one in preparing for the role. He introduced me to Joan Sutherland, who came to my dressing room full of enthusiasm after the performance (the production for Queensland Opera in which I was singing was mounted for Dame Joan) and nearly in tears. I was very moved. GayNZ: Perhaps you can clear something up for me. In some of the reviews I've read of your Wellington performances, the strange statement appeared that to you (or to the director Lindy Hume, it's not clear who gets credit) Lucia is not mad in the “mad scene,” but has killed her husband with a clear head. Elvira: Oh, no, she is mad, but in her own mind is separated from reality to the point that what she has done seems rational and logical. She imagines her wedding with her lover and relives it all over again, having got rid of the obstacle of the man she was forced to marry. Elvira has a very small and specialized repertoire – Lucia, Violetta, Konstanze (Mozart) Norina, Gilda and Massanet's Manon as well as Rossini's Rosina. GayNZ: Do you have any plans to include more bel canto heroines in your list? Perhaps “Norma” or “La Sonnambula”? Elvira: No, not Norma, but certainly the heroines of “La Sonnambula” and “I Puritani”, which are lighter and right for my voice. I would also like to sing Susanna and am preparing Donna Elvira, though it is heavier than the rest of the roles I sing. I would also like to do Gounod's Juliette. GayNZ: What do you understand the Bel Canto style of singing to be? Elvira: Goodness! It's hard to define. It depends on a sound technique, but it is much more than just notes, just voice. It is a stretching, an elongation, and if you have some insight into the dramatic situation, you can build an interpretation that is both musical and definitive. GayNZ: How does the opera scene in Turkey compare with Australia and New Zealand? Elvira: Well, they are not very enthusiastic about Violetta or Lucia, but they love Mozart's Konstanze and the whole “Abduction from the Seraglio”. They do it every year. GayNZ: Because of the obvious Turkish connection presumably, with harems and Pashas? Elvira: Exactly. It speaks to them more directly than the Western operas. GayNZ: And is there a definite “gay” presence in the audience, as there is in so many opera houses? Elvira: No, not identifiably so, but they seem to love performers who are identified as gay, especially pop music stars. Elvira's career may soon see her too busy in Europe to come here as often, so best catch this lovely, talented prima donna in the five performances in Auckland that are her last before returning to Turkey. I'm certainly looking forward to being there on opening night. Catch Elvira Fatykhova in ‘Lucia di Lammermoor' – five performances in Auckland from the 12th until the 21st of July 2007. Larry Jenkins - 6th July 2007    
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