Opera in the Time of COVID: Superstar Soprano Ermonela Jaho

By David Salazar
(Credit: Frances Marshall)

“Opera in the Times of COVID” is an interview series in collaboration with photographer Frances Marshall of Marshall Light Studio. We talk to notable figures from around the opera world to get their perspective on how they feel these challenging times may change opera’s present and future.

Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho is one of the most passionate opera stars on the planet. Any performance by Jaho, whether it be one of her famed interpretations of “Madama Butterfly” or “La Traviata” is infused with a potent energy that lives with you long after you’ve had the opportunity to witness it. Even across the screen, you can’t hide from Jaho’s intensity. Don’t believe me? Then watch this:

Jaho has often credited her intense performances not only to her artistry, but to the energy that she receives from her audience and fans. In this interview, she makes very clear how essential that is to her not only in performance, but especially during this time of quarantine when that energy is very difficult to impossible to come by.

OperaWire: What have you done during this time to keep yourself positive and productive?

Ermonela Jaho: I have tried to maintain my usual rhythm, working out which keeps me in shape and it is an important ingredient for my singing technique. Also I’m studying, reading, and above all, being with my family and being more grounded.

OW: What do you feel will be the greatest impacts of COVID-19 on the opera world moving forward? What are some new developments that you feel are here to stay?

EJ: I think one of the greatest impacts will be the understanding how immensely vulnerable this profession is. I hope that the public will realize now what sacrifice it takes from all the artists to be on stage and make a living from their art.

The new development will be in streaming services as we have seen. Although nothing replaces the pure emotion of being so close to the artists as they perform and also the energy that gets generated from the public that gets transmitted to the interpreters, we will manage to find a way to have our art. After a few weeks of being alive and eating and sleeping everyday we understand that we need way more than these to have a fulfilling life, and art is a big part of that fulfillment.

OW: As you noted, one of the major developments of this time are the emergence of streaming and connecting with fans and followers more directly via social media. How has this impacted your time in quarantine?

EJ: To be honest, I can not sing via social media. Maybe I need more time to adapt myself to that but at the moment I cannot. I am enjoying very much the streaming that Opera houses around the world are doing to the performances that I have been a part of and that has been very rewarding emotionally for me and the fans that follow me.

However, I do need to feel the energy of the public and I am not sure how I will deal with it over time.

OW: What is an outcome of streaming that you didn’t expect?

EJ: The outcome I didn’t expect was the number of people around the world that follow my art and that was very moving and emotional. I did not realize I would miss the public soo much, even the criticism at this point.

OW: What do you enjoy most about this new development?

EJ: The only thing I enjoy from this situation is when people write to me and tell me how much my performance impacted them. It kind of feels like what would people say about you when you are done but you are not exactly done yet.

OW: How can opera companies and artists around the world learn from the current crisis moving forward?

EJ: First of all this sudden preponderance shows that humankind needs music, the language of our souls and everyone needs to hear it or find themselves in performances.

I think the Opera companies can continue their productions as they did before but with smaller public to maintain distances and start streaming more performances live. We still need to have some testing done on the employees and hopefully that will be possible soon.



OW: What challenges lie ahead in your view?

EJ: In my view this will be difficult for all parties. Everyone is connected with each other in some form or another. Economic impact will absolutely hit first the arts. Artists are vulnerable during normal times, so you can imagine the impact on pandemic times. As soon as testing becomes available and artists can be proven to be safe to work around each other that will solve this problem I think.

OW: What are you most excited about doing once the quarantine officially comes to an end and we are allowed to resume a “normal” life?

EJ: To continue my dream, singing and sharing my soul with my colleagues on stage. All I want to do is sing.

OW: Who have been the people you have relied on most to help you through these challenging times?

EJ: My best friend, my husband, and my managers.

OW: What activities do you miss the most?

EJ: I miss performing and feeling the energy of the orchestra, colleagues and the public. These are things that cannot be replaced. I often daydream about productions that were supposed to happen but never did.

OW: Most people in quarantine are actively engaging with the arts via either music, TV, film, reading, literature. Etc. What have you been watching or reading during this time?

EJ: I am doing the same. I work out, study different repertoire, make sure I improve my technique, read books about psychology, watch movies with my husband, take care of my family etc. This too shall pass…

OW: Speaking more globally about the pandemic, what can the world learn about this experience? What do hope to see from our leaders (political or even industry) in order to build a better future that enables us to better manage any similar type of situation?

EJ: An ounce of prevention is worth more than ten pounds of medicine. I hope we learned to listen to scientist and prepare ourselves for future pandemics and catastrophes of this nature. We cannot live always on the best case scenarios. Disasters are never a question of if but when.