Conquering Verdi – Liudmyla Monastyrska on Dominating Verdi’s Most Challenging Roles for Dramatic Soprano

(Credit: Benjamin Ealovega) Monastyrska has dominated Abigaile in "Nabucco" for years.

Liudmyla Monastyrska is one of the most in-demand Verdi sopranos of her time.

Just look at her repertoire and engagements and you will see that the Ukrainian soprano has run the gamut of the great composer’s repertoire. From the earliest works to “Aida,” Verdi’s final dramatic soprano role, Monastyrska has deep knowledge of Verdi’s artistic development.

Among the roles that she has dominated over the last few years is Abigaille in “Nabucco,” which she first sang in 2013 at La Scala; since then she has been in demand to sing it all over the world. She is slated to reprise the opera in July in Munich before showcasing her interpretation in November in Los Angeles and throughout the 2017-18 season in Berlin.

Becoming Abigaille

The role is known for being so challenging that even great soprano Leonie Rysanek noted that it nearly derailed her career. But for the soprano who hails from Kiev, the role just keeps on getting more and more comfortable.

People often exaggerate the difficulties of this role. The keys to success is good health and a very good technique. Most singers can sing it,” Monastyrska noted in an interview with OperaWire. “It’s technically difficult, but it is very expressive dramatically and the character is wonderfully developed throughout the opera. She is one person at the start and another at the end.”

After performing the role in seven different productions and dozens of performances, the soprano knows the ins and outs of the score, her main aim at this juncture to deepen her integration with the character and the music.

“Each time I perform it, I try to make the piani more beautiful or to create more stable cadenzas,” she added. “I think that I now perform this role more honestly. It is closer to what I always intended. I can do it without thinking about it.”

She has had the luxury of performing the opera with such noted baritones as Dalibor Jenis and Dimitri Platanias. But two in particular have had a major impact on her growth as the power-hungry ruler.

 Leo Nucci is a different kind of singer. He has taught me a lot,” she revealed regarding the legendary baritone whom she performed alongside at La Scala in 2013. “His legato and his combination of vowels and consonants create this incredible bel canto style. He taught me this.”

The other artist who has taught her the most is tenor-turned-baritone Plácido Domingo. The duo has performed the opera together as the father-daughter pairing at La Scala, the Metropolitan Opera, the Royal Opera House, and Covent Garden and will take to the stage again at the Los Angeles Opera next season. Their performances at ROH were released on DVD, while the Met Opera run was featured as part of the company’s Live in HD series.

“Plácido Domingo is a real master,” the soprano enthused. “It is a real experience and challenge to work with him because I learn so much from him.”

Digging Deeper Into Verdi’s Repertoire

Though famous for singing such operas as “Aida,” “I due Foscari,” “Nabucco,” “Macbeth,” and “Attila,” among others, there are still some Verdi roles that the Ukrainian diva has not yet conquered. Among the ones she listed are Elisabetta in “Don Carlo” and Leonora in Il Trovatore.”

She puts a checkmark next to the former when she performs the famed opera at Deutsche Oper Berlin in just a few days.

And while “Don Carlo” comes late in the great master’s oeuvre, the melodic lines becoming far longer and more nuanced, Monastyrska is not expecting a massive challenge.

“For me, Elisabetta in ‘Don Carlo’ is much easier than ‘Macbeth’ or ‘Nabucco,’” she noted. “Of course, the music is very sophisticated, but for my voice it isn’t as challenging musically as in ‘Macbeth,’ ‘Nabucco,’ ‘I due Foscari,’ or ‘Attila.’ Those pieces are musically and technically very challenging.”

She will also be taking on “Il Trovatore” in Berlin in an upcoming season.

And while she is excited about essentially conquering most of Verdi’s great dramatic roles, she still hopes to perform one role yet again – Leonora in “La Forza del Destino.”

“I performed it in Valencia [in 2014],” she noted. “Leonora is a role I would love to incorporate into my repertoire on a regular basis, as I thoroughly enjoy all that the role offers. ‘La Forza’ has some of Verdi’s most dramatic music. The libretto is so complex, and the arias are so intimate, so full of emotion. The plot is fascinating and has so many twists – yet it revolves around just three characters whose lives were profoundly changed by one incident.”

Scaling Opera’s Mount Everest

The soprano has two more major role debuts coming up, including Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut,” but the one all eyes will be on will be the soprano Mount Everest herself – Bellini’s “Norma,” which she will perform at Houston Grand Opera.

While many view this role as the most challenging for any soprano, not only because of the constantly changing vocal lines but also because of the searing psychology, Monastyrska feels that she has all the preparation for the challenge ahead.

“Of course, it is different with every soprano. For some, this is the hardest role for their voices. But for my voice, I think that this role will not be more challenging than Abigaille or Lady Macbeth or ‘I due Foscari.’ Early Verdi roles are very similar to Bellini and he evolved that style more. He took what Bellini did and developed it further, so his roles are more challenging versions of what Bellini did.”

As with every soprano, Monastyrska has her idols, and for this particular role, she is turning to the pantheon of “Norma” interpreters for inspiration.

“Callas is the best in ‘Norma,’” she remarked before taking it one step further. “In my personal opinion, she is probably the best in everything. She is a very technical singer that can use her own voice and abilities very well.”

Monastyrska is currently writing her own history with her complete and utter domination of the dramatic Verdi canon.



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About the Author

David Salazar
Prior to creating OperaWire, DAVID SALAZAR, (Editor-in-Chief) worked as a reporter for Latin Post where he interviewed major opera stars including Placido Domingo, Anna Netrebko, Vittorio Grigolo, Diana Damrau and Rolando Villazon among others. His 2014 interview with opera star Kristine Opolais was cited in a New York Times Review. He also had the opportunity of interviewing numerous Oscar nominees, Golden Globe winners and film industry giants such as Guillermo del Toro, Oscar Isaac and John Leguizamo among others. David holds a Masters in Media Management from Fordham University. During his time at Fordham, he studied abroad at the Jagiellonian University in Poland. He also holds a dual bachelor’s from Hofstra University in Film Production and Journalism.

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