Q&A: Adela Zaharia On Winning Operalia & Her U.S. Debut At The LA Opera

Photo by: Liviu Popa

It has been a whirlwind year for Adela Zaharia.

The Romanian soprano won the Operalia competition in 2017 and since then her profile has risen. She made a surprising debut at the Bayerische Staatsoper, where she returns this summer for a new production. She was also featured as an ensemble member at the Deutsche Oper de Rhien, returned to the Komische Oper and recently joined IMG artists.

Now she is making her LA Opera and U.S. debut a year before she was expected to in the role of Gilda in “Rigoletto” and will appear in Guadalajara for the inauguration of the “Placido Domingo” concert hall, together with Maestro Domingo, and tour in Japan in the role of  Pamina in “Die Zauberflöte” .

Zaharia had a chance to speak with OperaWire about Operalia, Munich and her U.S debut.

OperaWire: How did Operalia change your life?

Adela Zaharia: It’s changed it completely. Before winning the competition I couldn’t imagine what an impact it would have on my life and my career. In the last 10 months more has happened than when I started professionally.

OW: What is it like to work with Maestro Plácido Domingo during the competition?

AZ:  I met Maestro Domingo for the first time in the competition. I was extremely nervous knowing I would get to meet him and work with him. I was meeting a living legend!  But it all went away the moment I shook his hand. He has such a positive energy and is so friendly, that you can only feel good in his presence.  We had two rehearsals together and it was so inspiring.  I could only think of all the roles he has sung, his career, all the historical performances he gave and the stage partners he has worked with! I tried to catch everything I could from his indications – phrasing, interpretation, technique solutions. It was a very humbling experience, and the same was the entire Operalia experience for me. I literally couldn’t believe what was happening. Everything came as a big, extremely pleasant surprise to me – from being selected amongst the 40 contestants, to passing every round, and culminating with the prizes.

OW: You are making your LA Opera debut a year before you were expected. How did you feel when you got the call to do this production of Rigoletto?

AZ: It is very exciting and this is part of everything that has happened since Operalia. If I had not won Operalia, Munich would not have entrusted me with such a responsibility, and LA would not have known me at all. First came the big surprise and honor of being invited to sing “Traviata” next season and then things just got better when we found the opportunity to come one year earlier than initially planned. I said “Yes” immediately when I got the call and I am very lucky to have an opera director in Dusseldorf that supports me and has released me from a few performances, so that I can come and do this.

OW: Did you get here for the beginning of rehearsals or did you get here in the middle of the run?

AZ: I came here in the middle of the run. We started slowly getting acquainted with the production, did all the necessary fittings, and did a second run of rehearsals with the entire cast.

OW: Tell me about the experience of working with the LA Opera thus far. 

AZ: Everybody is so warm and welcoming, they are really making me feel at home. And I am amazed by the precision and professionalism that every department has. The costume department for example is doing such fantastic work.  They want everything to be perfect, to look and feel exactly as it would in that era, ornaments and stitches done by hand, and so on. I am very impressed!

OW: You’ll be performing onstage with Michael Fabiano and Ambrogio Maestri. What have you learned from working with them?

AZ: I am a singer at the very beginning of my career, while they both have such great careers – so many roles under their belt, in major houses, so it is such an honor to work with them. I am trying to learn from everyone I work with and absorb a bit of their knowledge musically, vocally, and career wise.

OW: What are the major challenges of performing Gilda?

AZ: I will start with the musical side because for me the first act is a huge challenge. It is not as comfortable for my voice and it feels sometimes like singing with the break on. But then I start feeling better in the second and third act. I love the third act, the torment in the storm scene with Maddalena and Sparafucile and I love the dying scene. I find it to be one of the most touching scenes in the opera repertoire. And stage wise it’s the first traditional production I am doing. The last production I did was very modern in which all the relationships were twisted. The challenge now is to come back to the core of what Verdi and Piave intended for the opera.

OW: Since you first sang the role, how has it developed?

AZ: I first sang Gilda when I was 22 in the musical academy where I was a student. I was offered to sing the part at the local opera house for my Bachelor’s degree. So that was part of my exam. It was only one performance and I was lucky enough to rehearse a lot for that performance and to have a lot of time to learn it. And then there was a huge gap of eight years. I just sang it at the Deutsche Oper Am Rhein in February. Honestly, looking back I ask myself how on earth did I sing it when I was 22. It’s a miracle I survived it. It challenges so much of ones technique and the second and third act have quite some dramatic moments. You have to fill that out both vocally and scenically. But now I think it’s the ideal moment for my voice to be singing Gilda.

OW: You sing a lot of Bel Canto. How does Verdi compare to Bel Canto writing like Donizetti?

AZ: Donizetti had another style of composing. He builds the phrases differently, which suits my voice the best at the moment, and also the orchestration is quite different, especially in musical numbers that include the soprano. I can sing a lot of Bel Canto repertoire, but not as many Verdi roles. I feel like Verdi takes my voice one step further. He keeps the Bel Canto line but adds more dramatic moments, more middle range and fuller orchestra, which makes it very easy to get carried away. Verdi is for me the next step after Bel Canto, but a step that I am taking slowly. I want to let my voice do what it does best, and let it take the pace that it needs to develop to its fullest potential. And all this not because I am planning to spend 50 years on stage, but because I am a bit of a perfectionist, and want to always offer the best possible version of myself on stage.

OW: You’ll be making your role debut in “La Traviata” next season. What are you excited about for that role?

AZ: I’m excited for each and every note from the beginning to the end. I don’t think there is anything that is not important. It is a milestone for every soprano, at least I see it that way. But I will confess that I find the duet with the baritone especially touching.

OW: What comes next after “Rigoletto” at the LA Opera?

AZ: After “Rigoletto,” Munich has invited me to do a premiere in their festival. I will sing a new production of “Orlando Paladino” by Haydn, an offer that came after jumping in for Diana Damrau in “Lucia di Lammermoor.”

OW: What was the experience of jumping into that the performance of “Lucia” and what was it like working at the Bayerische Staatsoper?

AZ: That was a very crazy week – or three days to be more precise. I was actually there only for the dress rehearsal. They wanted someone who already knew the production, which made perfect sense, but then in the rehearsal I was asked if I would like to sing the performance. I was also a bit sick from the very beginning, but hoped it would go in a good direction. The chances are always 50-50 at that point. But it got worse and I basically sang the performance sick. It was the most stressful evening of my life. But otherwise the colleagues were fantastic. It was a dream come true to have such partners on stage and I learned so much from them. Watching Piotr Beczala and Ludovic Tezier sing was a continuous singing lesson for me. I was also extremely lucky to have Maestro Antonino Fogliani in the pit, who I sang Lucia with and that contributed greatly to my success. It was such an honor being there and I wish I could have enjoyed it much more. Another stressful aspect was that in Lucia you sing one number after another. It’s a very long evening especially when it is done with only one intermission. I was so glad it ended well, and I am extremely happy to have established a relationship with Munich. They have a wonderful acoustic, fantastic orchestra, and some of the highest level of singing.

OW: Are there any idols that have inspired you throughout your early career?

AZ:I cannot say I have idols, there were and are so many exceptional singers, and of every voice type. I like different things about different singers. For everything that I listen or study I have someone in particular who I prefer. I take something from each of them that I think would help me develop. I also try to identify things I would want to avoid. We all have our strong features and our flaws, and I am trying to observe everything and absorb as much information I can. I am very receptive, and I can give you an example – I saw Anna Netrebko live as Leonora in Berlin when I was in the young artists program there, and for the next few days I sang so much better than the usual! It was like magic! But just like any charm, it sadly went away after 3 days.

OW: As a young artist, what are some of your big dreams?

AZ: I don’t think I ever had big dreams. I most certainly never dreamt of winning  Operalia and then further singing in such good company! So I only wish to be as healthy and fit as possible, to always sing as good as I can and to be able to offer audiences evenings that are memorable. I don’t have dreams and goals like getting to sing there and getting to sing that. My path has always been very complicated, with a lot of struggles, and at every point I tried to do the best with what was offered to me. And this is what I am planning to continue doing. Whatever comes my way, I want to get the best out of it. And I think the rest will come by itself, just like it has so far.

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About the Author

Francisco Salazar
FRANCISCO SALAZAR, (Publisher) worked as a reporter for Latin Post where he has had the privilege of interviewing numerous opera stars including Anita Rachvelshvili and Ailyn Perez. He also worked as an entertainment reporter where he covered the New York and Tribeca Film Festivals and interviewed many celebrities such as Antonio Banderas, Edgar Ramirez and Benedict Cumberbatch. He currently freelances for Remezcla. He holds a Masters in Media Management from the New School and a Bachelor's in Film Production and Italian studies from Hofstra University.

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