Album detail
Catalogue number: SU 4205-2

A magnificent opera magnificently performed. That is Bohuslav Martinů’s Ariane (SU 4205–2) as delivered by the Essener Philharmoniker, conducted by Tomáš Netopil, with the soprano Simona Šaturová portraying the title role. In a nutshell: Supraphon has in store yet another treat for connoisseurs, as well as those simply fond of good music. By the way, Simona Šaturová’s per­formance has also enthralled Tomáš Netopil, who has highlighted her amazing musicality, permanent engagement, immense concentration and interest in the work. The new (live) recording will undoubtedly delight everyone who hears it. In addition to Ariane, the disc features another Bohuslav Martinů masterpiece – the Double Concerto for Two String Orchestras, Piano and Timpani. Our interview with Mrs. Šaturová, however, naturally focuses on Ariane.

What do you deem the specificities of Bohuslav Martinů’s operatic music?
That is a difficult question to answer, as I have so far only sung Ariane. I have not overly devoted to 20th–century opera, since the core of my repertoire is works by Mozart, Donizetti and Rossini. For me, Martinů’s music is a sort of, I would say, icing on the cake. My approach is intuitive and I think that when performing it I have to above all remove the deposits of all kinds of mannerisms and clichés we singers tend to apply to Romantic operas, as these certainly do not work in the case of Martinů. I perceive his music as truly pure, in a way a bit similar to that of Mozart’s. That is my inner feeling, and I haven’t really mulled it over.

Tomáš Netopil too says that Ariane is, in the good sense, light, lucid music.
Absolutely. Martinů wrote Ariane when he needed to take a breather from The Greek Passion. And he duly created a real gem, a highly inspired piece. I am grateful to Tomáš for having familiarised me with the opera. Years ago, I first sang the Ariane aria at concerts, and it enchanted me. The National Theatre in Prague then intended to stage the opera, yet the plan, unfortunately, fell through and we only got to perform a concert version. Singing Ariane has always been a treat for me.

Tomáš Netopil has highly praised working with you. It would seem that you appreciated the collaboration with him too…
Yes. The chemistry between us works fabulously: without too many words exchanged we are able to get ourselves on the same wavelength. It is a great pleasure to work with him. Tomáš knows me very well, and he is literally breathing along with me at the performances. Singers can consider themselves lucky when they have such a partner.

How did you get along with the other singers during the concerts that were recorded?
With the exception of Zoltán Nagy, whom I met for the first time, I had previously worked with all the singers. And it was a very pleasant encounter. We didn’t have much time for preparations; hence, it was a very concentrated job, rehearsals from morning till evening. The score definitely isn’t easy for the singers and the orchestra alike, and Tomáš made use of the time we had to the maximum. And owing to that, we really enjoyed ourselves at the concerts.

Has Tomáš Netopil brought to this performance anything novel, anything you did not expect?
I don’t actually know any other account than Tomáš’s. Yet to speak generally, when you sing a work repeatedly, you always discover in it something that you didn’t see there during the first performance. I really like the moment when I am returning to something after some time and detect new connections. And working with new singers and a new orchestra certainly plays a positive role in this respect.

You said that the orchestral part of Ariane isn’t at all simple. How challenging is your vocal part?
Now that I know it, I do not find the part that difficult, but it did take me somewhat by surprise at the beginning. I had expected it to be easier to learn. I perceived many melodic lines as being tricky, that which seemed to be simple wasn’t at all. I had to spend quite a lot of time with the part, yet ultimately managed to figure it out. Now I deem everything to be entirely natural and pleasant.

Bohuslav Martinů also wrote Ariane in recognition of Maria Callas, even though she would never actually sing the role. What is your stance as regards the diva and her style?
Ambivalent. There are things about her that I admire, but there are others I find less admirable. Naturally, I marvel at her charisma, which was undoubtedly immense indeed. An acquaintance of mine from Vienna saw her at the Wiener Staatsoper in Tosca. He said that when Maria Callas came on stage she received a standing ovation before she had sung a single note. Enormous tension and vibration was allegedly felt even at the moments when she wasn’t singing but just listening to her colleagues. Callas’s recordings are a different matter, though. Some of them are indeed wonderful, yet when it comes to some of her later albums, I would venture to voice certain objections if I were bold enough to do so. Callas was an utterly unique and comprehensive artist. One cannot choose but to look up to her.

Let us now focus a bit on the past. Professor Miluše Fidlerová, a superlative singer herself, originally trained you as a lyrical coloratura. Today, however, you are also regarded as a superb dramatic soprano. When did you set forth in this direction?
I am still first and foremost a lyrical coloratura, and I have been consistently particular about remaining in this category. It is of the utmost importance to keep the voice in good shape. But I do occasionally sing more dramatic roles, that’s true. The most dramatic is Violetta in Verdi’s La traviata.

And you are also considered one of the finest Czech bel canto singers…
My relationship to bel canto is fervent. It is a style in which I probably feel the most at home. I enjoy negotiating vocal challenges. Nowadays, there is excessive concentration on the text. Everywhere you are told how relevant the text is, yet sometimes the fact that opera is mainly about the music is overlooked. This marginalisation of the musical component to a significant degree relates to the current general trend in staging operas. Some of the directors have no idea of the music whatsoever; they seem to be actually annoyed by it.

So “bel canto operas” may agree with you in this respect, may they not?
Yes, the texts in bel canto operas are often simple and not too weighty. This in turn affords the opportunity to better concentrate on the music itself, on working with the voice. On that which you can do with your voice, how you can handle it and how you are able to forward the emotions you are singing about. In coloraturas and various embellishments, for instance. That I really enjoy. The text is definitely important too, and you do have to draw upon it when performing a piece, but for me conveying the emotions through the music is of greater significance. It can make the performance’s con­tent more profound, in addition to the verbal communication. When I explore an opera in a language I don’t know very well, I don’t even read an exact translation of the libretto in advance. I strive to reveal all the mysteries and the various meanings in the music. And, in most cases, a verbatim translation then confirms that everything is indeed encompassed in the music.

Which bel canto roles do you like the most?
I have perhaps been most impressed by Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor. I have portrayed the role in two productions, with the Prague staging having been very special for me. I committed suicide in it, and it was such an overwhelming moment that it knocked me out not only for the rest of the evening but also for the whole of the next day. The feeling reverberated in me so boldly that I couldn’t make any appointments for the day following the performance. I simply wasn’t capable of doing anything. I have never experienced anything like that with any other role.

Now to the future… You have allegedly been contemplating performing the Countess in La nozze di Figaro by your beloved Mozart. How far have you gone in this contemplation?
Things have started to move, and I have already received an offer from abroad. So far, I have not begun exploring the Countess, but I am really looking forward to portraying this beautiful role. If everything goes to plan, the production will be conducted by the amazing Italian-French artist Antonello Manacorda. We met this year in Brussels, where we were giving a performance of Mozart’s concert arias. And it was an extraordinary encounter, one of the kind when you have the feeling that you have known each other for years and made numerous performances together. I’m talking about partnership again. Having such a partner when I’m learning a new role for a new production is simply ideal.

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