“The adrenaline!“

Elīna Garanča

Interview

  • TEXT SEBASTIAN HANDKE
  • PHOTOS FRANK BAUER

Elīna Garanča is currently the world’s most sought-after mezzo-soprano. In our interview, the Latvian operatic star talks about magical moments on stage and a diva’s sell-by date.

Ms. Garanča, You have two daughters, a five-year-old and a three-year-old. Who’s the biggest diva in the family?

My husband! He’s the only man. Even Carmencita, our cat, is a female. We spoil him as much as we possibly can.

Which role is more difficult: being a mom or an opera star?

If a performance doesn’t go so well, we rehearse and rehearse until we get it. There’s no rehearsal when you’re a mom – you have to improvise every time. I’m constantly running after things and always late. At home, we’ve agreed for my husband to cut back a little for now. A conductor can work well into old age, but a singer has an expiry date. A woman’s voice is in its prime between age 40 and 50 – so I’m right at the beginning.

Has your voice changed as a result of your two pregnancies?

It has become rounder, more feminine, more mature. Now I have to learn how to work with this maturity. It’s like a river that overflows its banks and has to be brought back on course.

Singing is very physical, like a professional sport. You train so hard, but you’re still always at the mercy of your body …

We singers naturally also have teachers, coaches, voice trainers, sometimes even physicians to help us. But today, for example, I’m simply drained. I had a performance last night. The adrenaline! It was like running a marathon.

Elina Garanca, playing Carmen at La Scala in Milan 2015
Marco Brescia & Rudy Amisano © Teatro alla Scala

And then you’re constantly traveling …

I am a wanderer. I get bored quickly if I stay in one place too long, and never like to stay anywhere more than six months. My family has gotten used to this. It’s something I cannot change.

Do you miss your home country, Latvia?

The older I get, the more I feel drawn to it, particularly in May, when it’s a lilac blossom paradise, but I couldn’t live there permanently. I can satisfy my longing for home in a single evening with a glass of wine. The next morning, I may be gone again. Incidentally, my father is coming to visit today and bringing with him some of the dark rye bread that’s so typical for Latvia.

You grew up virtually on a farm …

My one grandmother took care of our four horses and the other one was responsible for the sheep, chickens, goats, pigs and cows. In Soviet times, when there was nothing to buy, that’s what helped us through the winter. I learned how to ride and how to butcher animals at an early age – and also that hard work brings its rewards.

When you were performing Carmen in New York in 2009, you ran nine kilometers every morning. Why?

I wanted to be flexible enough not to have to think about my body on stage. Carmen sings and dances simultaneously, and that requires a good amount of condition. At our first rehearsal,
I thought I was about to faint! In the end, it was like I was hooked. My body demanded that I run.

Did you learn this kind of discipline as a child?

Yes, I probably acquired a certain determination back then, but it’s also in my character. It unsettles me not to know when, where, what or why. I need things to follow a certain logic. Certainty is liberating.

In opera, the same works tend to be staged over and over again. Do you sometimes feel like a pop star singing their greatest hit for the umpteenth time?

(She laughs) You never hit that dead end for the simple reason that each performance is so physically demanding. And you are always working with a different set of musicians, conductors and other singers. We interact and react to each other, so no performance is ever the same.

The audience is always different, too …

Yes, you rarely get a long standing ovation in London like you do in Munich. And in Hamburg, people do this foot-stamping thing. In Baden-Baden, people jump up at the first encore, which they rarely do in Vienna…

Elina Garanca with Matthew Polenzani in the opera Roberto Devereux
Ken Howard © Metropolitan Opera

What does applause mean to you?

I’m very thankful for it, but I don’t judge an eve­ning by the applause. What’s important to me is the special moment when everyone is con­nected – every fiber, from the stage to the auditorium. Nobody is thinking about anything else, nobody coughs or whispers, no one checks their phone. That makes me happy. It’s my reward.

Have you ever experienced an evening without that moment?

(She ponders) Rarely. It sometimes happens that it doesn’t come until the very end. Or you think this is it – and then it perhaps isn’t … The recipe for a successful evening is a mystery, but that’s what’s makes it so special.

As a singer, don’t you try to eliminate such uncertainties?

A singer who wants to be in control all the time has chosen the wrong profession. Using your voice to express yourself is not just a demonstration of strength but primarily a demonstration of emotion. When I’m on stage, I want to feel so free that the emotion can just pass through me.

Despite all the discipline, that sounds almost like surrender …

Absolutely!

Do you often lose control on stage?

There are magical moments when you forget that you’re performing, when something pours out of you and you don’t really know how or why. It’s like in a science fiction movie when a beam of light from a UFO scans you from head to foot and back up again. It’s so whoaaaaaaaa. That’s when you feel you’ve experienced something transcendental.


Video

Watch Elina Garanca singing Mascagni’s “Voi lo sapete, o mamma” from Cavalleria Rusticana

 

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