Venera Protasova: “Riccardo Muti supposes a part must be performed as its composer wrote it”

The leading soloist of the Kazan opera theatre about luck, work on parts and love for Namdakov

Soloist of the M. Jalil Tatar State Academy Opera and Ballet Theatre Venera Protasova managed to be noticed by great conductor Riccardo Muti and work with him. The soloist told Realnoe Vremya about the cooperation with the maestro and how her career developed in the Kazan opera theatre.

“I just filed an application”

Venera, the story is like a fairy tale, a singer from a backwoods theatre suddenly gets to Riccardo Muti. How did this happen?

In 2016, I filed an application at the opera academy supervised by Riccardo Mutti, I sent my videos. I was invited for an audition to Italy, to Ravenna. The maestro and his family live in this city. I and an Italian woman who is also soprano were chosen from a number of aspirants after the audition.

What did the lessons in this academy look like?

One can learn about the academy going to the website to Riccardo Muti, there is a section “opera academy”. Soloists, four young conductors, four concertmasters are chosen. La traviata opera was chosen as material. We worked for some ten days, the maestro rehearsed with each of us. One of the principles of Riccardo Muti is to perform parts as their composer wrote them and not to say all this is already obsolete.

Does the maestro mean one must follow the score?

Exactly. He fairly supposes that a singer must not only demonstrate the voice but also show a character’s psychological portrait. And the exact following the score helps here. Speaking about Violetta, Verdi wrote a story about this woman, about her fate, tragedy, and we must deliver this to the listener.

How did maestro Muti work with you?

It was hard but very interesting. Probably it was early for me to sing Violetta in 2016, but I wanted to learn very much, I wanted to work very much!

We worked for some ten days, the maestro rehearsed with each of us. One of the manifests of Riccardo Muti is to perform parts as their composer wrote them and not to say all this is already obsolete

Then these ten happy days ended, what happened next?

Then there were two concert performances. On the first day, four conductors were behind the stand, Riccardo Muti himself conductor on day two. I sang on both evenings. I shared the material with my colleague. The Italian woman sang the first part of the opera, I sang from the ball to the final.

“Now Gilda is probably the most suitable part for me

As far as I’m concerned, you’ve worked with the maestro twice.

Yes, I got to the academy for the second time this March. The lessons were in Tokyo, the Japanese signed a contract with Muti for three years. This time Rigoletto opera was chosen as material. In the next years, the academy’s participants will work in Tokyo on Macbeth and Un ballo in maschera. And we worked for 10 days again. By the way, everyone could come to our rehearsals and watch the maestro work, they just had to buy a ticket.

Was it easier to work with Muti for the second time?

On the contrary, harder. Though now Gilda is probably the most suitable part for me.

Do you mean for the voice?

I mean both the voice and spiritually. But for a reason it was hard, I was very emotional. Then there was a performance, the opera was a concert performance, Riccardo Muti himself conducted.

Are you going to continue the lessons at the academy?

Macbeth doesn’t have parts for my voice, at the moment I don’t know what will happen to Un ballo in maschera.

What did the lessons at the academy give you?

It’s both mastery and promotion. The maestro’s wife remembered me who was in two of my performances, and she liked my voice, she is a director. She invited me to an audition, we signed a contract, and I sang Gilda in Rigoletto in Ravenna in 2018, in the theatre bearing the name of Dante Alighieri. I was in Ravenna when I received a proposal to go to Tokyo.

Now Gilda is probably the most suitable part for me. I mean both the voice and spiritually. But for a reason it was hard, I was very emotional

“I felt I should go to Kazan”

Venera, you arrived in Kazan, to the conservatory, from Ulan-Ude. Why was it Kazan because there were conservatories closer to you?

Generally speaking, I was born in Ashkhabad and lived there until I was eight years. Then the USSR dissolved, and we went to Ulan-Ude, to my mother’s homeland. When there was a question which conservatory to enter, for some reason I didn’t consider either Novosibirsk or Krasnoyarsk, Vladivostok. Neither did I consider Moscow nor Saint Petersburg, it was too far away. And I thought there was no room for me there. I decided I would go to Kazan, though I was talked out and advised to look for educational institutions closer. I had a feeling my heart that I should go to Kazan. Probably the fact that my relatives live here played a role, my father is half-Tatar. So I arrived and immediately entered the conservatory.

Who was your teacher?

Lyudmila Tserkovnikova. When I graduated from the conservatory, I was Albina Shagimuratova’s intern.

Did Albina help you prepare Gildas part? By the way, its one of her best parts.

She did, of course. And not only she. Our concertmaster Alsu Baryshnikova, Venera Ganeyeva, our coach and conductor Alessandro Bicci. It was wonderful to work with Shagimuratova. It was great luck I got to her class, this made me reach another level.

“Frasquita was my debut”

How did you get to our opera theatre? It’s far from being a piece of cake to get to the company of the M. Jalil Tatar State Academy Opera and Ballet Theatre.

Probably it was luck. The head of the opera theatre company came to the conservatory, she heard my performance and invited me to the theatre for an audition. But I didn’t agree right away because I was going to Astana, a new theatre was opening there. As a result, I went to the opera theatre, I was auditioned and accepted to the company.

What was your debut?

I sang Frasquita in Carmen. And Gilda was the first key party.

Everything worked out well, you see.

Yes, well. Probably everything in our life is predestined.

Do you believe in God?

I do.

Are you Buddhist?

No. I am going to convert into Orthodoxy. My husband is Orthodox.

You said you lived in two cities…

Yes, my husband lives in Yoshkar-Ola, he is a singer, too.

How do you feel in the Kazan opera theatre?

Good. You were correct to say that not everyone gets to our theatre. Sometimes young singers get into a theatre but haven’t sung anything significant over the years. It’s different here. So I began to be entrusted key parts by Gulnora Gatina, it’s cool, I had great luck.

Sometimes young singers get into a theatre but haven’t sung anything significant over the years. It’s different here. So I began to be entrusted key parts by Gulnora Gatina, it’s cool, I had great luck

“I liked to work with Pandzhavidze very much”

Where do you find it more interesting to sing, in Russia or abroad?

The most important thing is that a play have good casting, a good conductor and director. If talented people create a play, if I get something from working with them, if I overcome complicated, my personal moments as a singer and I learn something, I want to sing in such a play, it’s interesting for me.

What directors do you like to work with?

I’ve had many minor parts, entries. I’ve so far fully rehearsed only one part with the director in a premiere play. It was Marfa in The Tsar’s Bride by Mikhail Pandzhavidze.

How was it to work with Mr Pandzhavidze?

Pandzhavidze is a very good psychologist. We carefully polished the whole psychological side of the role with him. He made me plenty of remarks, suggested what else I should do, how to work on myself. He taught me a lot, gave me a lot, I liked to work with him very much. Mr Pandzhavidze helped me look at myself from another perspective.

“I adore Dashi Namdakov’s works!”

Do you participate in some projects apart from the work in the Kazan opera theatre?

Yes, I have an agent, she’s Italian. With her help, I sang in Romania, I sang Lucia di Lammermoor in Italy. I sing this part in Kazan, too.

You are a laureate of the third award of the M. Glinka International Competition. Do you have a desire to try your hand again at a competition?

Sometimes you see guys who participate in competitions and think: “Oh, I also could do it now.” Then it passes. It’s obvious I don’t have a strong desire. Perhaps I am not the person who likes to compete. And then different things happen in competitions. Sometimes winners of a prestigious competition can then disappear, their career may not develop. I know such cases.

I was said about the sad statistics of the P. Tchaikovsky competition when laureates of the first award don’t develop their career sitting on their laurels, while laureates of the third and fourth awards, on the contrary, get a stimulus, start to work hard, and everything works out well.

It seems to me that it isn't even linked with places. One just has to be in the right place at the right time. One should understand there is a job and one must do it.

Do you believe in work or luck?

Nothing will happen without work, but luck is also needed. A person who will be interested in you has to see you.

What else makes you glad apart from the theatre?

My hobby is to make something with my own hands, for instance, adornments. I love nature, go to botanical gardens. If I go to some city, I look for such a garden. I love exhibitions. I’ve recently been in Naberezhnye Chelny with my husband, there was an exhibition of dolls by Dashi Namdakov. The entire family of his made these dolls using natural materials, for instance, leather, hair. I adore Dashi Namdakov’s works! We learnt about this exhibition and went there. But I reached out to the organisers, and they told me these dolls would probably be brought to Kazan, but when it will happen!

What are you going to perform in Kazan next season?

Perhaps it will be Leïla in Les pêcheurs de perles. I have to see how my voice will perform this part. I try to choose repertoire not to do harm to my voice.

By Tatiana Mamayeva