Kristine Opolais takes double role in La Boheme
Oct 23 2008 By Christopher Morley
Christopher Morley meets rising opera star Kristine Opolais at rehearsals for her Birmingham debut.
It was hard to do an interview through scarcely-dried tears, after wallowing in a tremendous rehearsal of the final act of Puccini’s La Boheme at the CBSO Centre on Monday.
Andris Nelsons conducted the CBSO with irresistible enthusiasm and insight, with his partner, Kristine Opolais, singing the role of doomed heroine Mimi.
Opolais, who was born in the town of Rezekne in Latgale, the easternmost region of Latvia, in 1979, is the daughter of amateur musicians, her mother a dramatic soprano and her father a classical and jazz trumpeter.
She studied at the Jazeps Vitols Latvian Academy of Music in Riga, joining the chorus of Latvian National Opera in 2001 and becoming a soloist with the company two years later.
In 2003, she was a finalist in the International Competition for Opera Singers Feruccio Tagliavini in Austria, and in November 2006 she was featured in a gala performance for the 26 heads of NATO states in Riga.
Musetta in La Boheme was her first-ever operatic role, so was there any problem for Kristine switching from that rather brassy tart-with-a-heart to the more delicate Mimi, a part she sang for the first time in Riga last year?
“Of course, Mimi is more beautiful with the romantic lines of her music. Musetta is a much smaller role, but very difficult, because of the high tessitura, and her character as a stronger lady,” says Kristine.
“It wasn’t a problem for me. I remember every time I sang Musetta it was always my dream that after some years I would sing Mimi. I have sung Tosca and Madam Butterfly, but they are much more dramatic parts, and I have left them for a while, for perhaps five or six years.”
Kristine is convinced she will be able to continue to take on both the Mimi and Musetta roles, including in New York.
“I have a debut in 2010-11 with ten performances of Musetta at the Metropolitan Opera House, so I start again with what was my first part at Riga Opera House in Latvia in 2003, and now also the next big step will be as Musetta.Because, maybe, I’m blonde! Maybe I look more like Musetta, but I feel inside of me that I’m Mimi.”
Andris Nelsons will not be conducting that Met La Boheme, but “sometimes it’s good, you know,” laughs Kristine. She has also sung Liu in Turandot, another Mimi-like Puccini role, but will wait a few years before tackling Minnie in the composer’s La Fanciulla del West.
“That’s a very heavy part, and very dramatic. But it’s my dream to do it.
“All the time I’m very often for Puccini, generally, because Puccini for me is just the best composer, because I’m very emotional, and I cannot think technically. Maybe sometimes it’s not good, but my emotions every time combine with the singing, you know, like Maria Callas, Renata Scotto... I like this line.”
At this still early stage in her career, Kristine is wary about the roles she undertakes. Not much Verdi as yet, though she has sung Violetta in La Traviata and the eponymous Aida – “but this was as a really lyrical, young girl, not a really dramatic Aida.
“I think it’s really important how a conductor tells you what he wants: a dramatic character, or more lyrical.”
There are many parts Kristine will not yet tackle: “Verdi’s Lady Macbeth, Abigail in (Nabucco), Leonora from La Forza del Destino. Wagner’s Brunnhilde, Sieglinde.
“I love Richard Strauss very much, but I’ve never sung him, apart from the Four Last Songs in concert. You need time, it’s like singing Mozart, I love Mozart.
“But you need to understand what you do. It’s not only what you do with the voice, you need to be clever with this music, to be ready for this music, and it’s not so easy.”
Will Kristine’s first role in Strauss be the young ingenue, Sophie, in Der Rosenkavalier? Her reply is surprising, and very quietly but firmly delivered.
“Much later. Not Sophie. I would prefer the Marschallin, because it’s character, and with colour – and, of course, Octavian, but not at this moment, not after two or three years...”
We discuss the mapping of Kristine’s future career, and then she helps me by volunteering the answer to a question I would have been reluctant to ask.
“And of course, for me also important is family! I would like to make a big family, you know, not only husband and wife and career. Because you never know when this career will finish, and the most important thing is to have people around you, your family.
“I just hope that everything will be OK. I’m ready for singing, and I’m ready for new parts and new possibilities, I like music, I like what I do onstage, but it’s not so important that I can forget about life!”
We agree that having children can actually improve the voice. “I just need to find time now. I know the next three years are busy, so for this moment I know it’s not possible, but I think about it, and I am sure that I will do it, and I need to do it, because I’m a woman firstly, and then a singer,” says Kristine.
I point out to Kristine that the last three principal conductors of the CBSO have all had sopranos as partners: Simon Rattle and Elise Ross, Sakari Oramo and Anu Komsi, and now Andris Nelsons with Kristine Opolais.
“Oh really? Oh no! This is a big surprise for me. Oh my God, it’s like tradition!,” she says, her laughter tinkling around the room.
B irmingham is extremely excited to have Andris Nelsons as music director of the CBSO, and now the city is excited to welcome Kristine as well. But does she ever feel in the shadows of her partner?
“In general for me this is very important. I’m really scared about things like ‘who will sing?’, ‘Oh, Nelsons’ wife.’ This is terrible, a terrible position to be in, because firstly I’m a person and I’m a singer, and I’m very happy to work with Andris because I think he’s a fantastic conductor, and I started my career with him,” says Kristine,
“We met when I sang in the chorus of Latvia National Opera and he was chief conductor at the Riga Opera House.
“We make music, and we love what we do, and I’m really happy to work with him, though it’s not happened very often. He more often does things without me.
“And this is a fantastic possibility to be together, to do something together – especially Puccini, we both love Puccini very much. It’s a big pleasure for me to be here, with this wonderful orchestra, fantastic. What they did today was like an opera orchestra who do it normally every day. Fantastic!”
* Kristine Opolais sings Mimi in a concert performance of La Boheme with the CBSO conducted by Andris Nelsons at Symphony Hall tonight at 7.30pm and Saturday at 7pm. Details on 0121 780 3333.