Guatemalan soprano Adriana Gonzalez is the first musician in her entire family, making her meteoric rise in the opera world all the more essential to her and her loved ones.
She has the potential to go even further this very week when she competes in the Operalia Competition, one month after appearing the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition.
Gonzalez has already worked with some of the top companies in the world, joining the Opéra National de Paris opera studio, where she sang the roles of Zerlina in “Don Giovanni,” Despina in “Così fan tutte,” and Sapho et Iphise in “Les Fêtes d’Hébé.”
Throughout her rising career, the soprano has received the Prix Lyrique 2017 du Cercle Carpeaux and won the first prize at the Otto Edelmann Competition, as well as the Oper Burg Gars Prize, awarding her the role of Pamina in “Die Zauberflöte.” In 2017 she was awarded 2nd prize at the Concurso Francisco Viñas at the Gran Teatre del Liceu, where a year later she debuts Corinna in “Il Viaggio a Reims.”
Gonzalez spoke to OperaWire about the competition, the challenges and what led her to the world of opera.
OperaWire: What does it mean to be competing in Operalia?
Adriana Gonzalez: This means a lot to me. I am from Guatemala and in my country, there aren’t many opportunities for opera. We don’t even have a company there.
As a child and adolescent, I would watch the competition and think about how these people are so great and their level was amazing. So it is an honor and a blessing. It is a great surprise to be chosen to participate in this competition and it’s also a sign that all the work that I have been doing is bringing me in the right direction.
I am very grateful and I am very scared at the same time because it is an important competition that has a lot of exposure. So I am preparing as much as possible to give and show what I have.
OW: You have done so many other competitions before Operalia. How did those prepare you for this one?
AG: It’s a great help because the level of preparation is much more intense. But it is all about how you prepare yourself no matter what competition it is. In many ways I think about the moment I was in in my career when I did those competitions and where I am now.
I also look at all the development that I have gone through throughout the years. It’s always relevant how you prepare yourself for a competition and I think that is the most valuable lesson. They’re always going to judge you but it will always be on how well you have prepared and that is the most important part.
Now it’s about giving the next step and working with someone like Plácido Domingo is such a pleasure. I look at all he has done in his career and I want to make sure that in Operalia I have done more in-depth preparation to give my all to such a great singer like Domingo.
OW: When you do a competition like this, how do you go about choosing the arias you will be performing?
AG: The first thing is to find a piece that will show my voice in the best possible way. I look at what will expose my voice and show its natural colors and then I can start to work on all the musical things. When I sing it, it should not be difficult. It should be able to go with my voice so I can prepare the musical aspects in the best way. I should be able to express what the composer wanted and be able to show his intentions.
So I go in-depth with the score and look at all the melodic movements and all the rhythms and see what the orchestra has written. I look to see what colors are necessary in each moment and then once the music is learned, I look at how I can do certain things technically and musically. When these two things are balanced, I add my interpretation to the part always with what is in the music.
OW: You have been in numerous opera studios like Opernhaus Zurich and Opéra de Paris. What type of preparation did these programs give you for these competitions?
AG: Being in the Opera studio in Paris I got a chance to see Anna Netrebko, Anja Harteros, Karita Mattila, and Jonas Kaufmann perform. These people have such dominance on stage and know exactly what they want to do with the music. They propose so much to the music with their interpretations.
I realized that when I am singing I have to be involved personally with what I am doing and what I have to give my own personal touch that no one else can give. There are so many great singers in the world and that is something that all these great houses teach you. There are so many people that can do a better job than you so you have to differentiate yourself and you do that with your experiences and the way you learn as well as what you have lived and how you develop. I realized that I have to find the special things that I can contribute to this music. When I realized that, I looked at what these great singers did technically and interpretatively. It was a great lesson.
One other thing I learned was to look at how these great singers managed their energy and stamina and it was a great lesson to be in these great programs. It taught me to see the standard that I have to put myself at and where I can get and where I can push myself towards. It’s a great motivation.
OW: Being from Guatemala, a country where opera is not widely known, how did you discover the artform?
AG: I don’t have much memory of how it happened but my mom tells me that when I was three, opera was shown on TV in Guatemala and they were showing “Rigoletto.” My mom sat me down and showed it to me and she said that it was the only point at the age where I was calm and concentrated. That was my first impression with opera and then I couldn’t identify with it because it was not popular.
But at 16, when I graduated from school, my mom asked me what I wanted to study. I was scared but I told her that I wanted to study music. My mom comes from a banking background and it is not that evident that when you come from that type of background you will study music. And to my surprise, she started looking for a voice teacher and told me I needed to learn how to read music. I was thrilled and I found my first teacher, Barbara Bickford. It was with her that I started to discover the operatic and classical composers because I was singing the Rolling Stones, The Beatles, and jazz. That’s when I started to really get involved in opera.
OW: Was there any singer or performance that inspired you throughout your early years?
AG: It’s hard to say but the first time I heard Franco Corelli, I was impressed by the timbre of his voice and the fact that he could produce such a beautiful and consistent sound. There was also Cecilia Bartoli, who musically I think is one of the most interesting musicians nowadays. She was one of the first singers I ever heard. She and Dmitri Hvorostovsky were great references in the first years I studied.
I have to say Maria Callas as well but not for the vocals but for her respect towards the score and how she defended what was written. Her interpretations always respected the composer’s intentions.
OW: You’ll be singing two lead roles next season, La Contessa in “Le Nozze di Figaro” and Micaëla in “Carmen.” What excites you about your role debut as la Contessa?
AG: First and foremost because it’s Mozart and my voice fits the repertoire well., even though it’s not the most obvious because I am Latin American and we are very passionate and therefore Romantic music would be the most obvious. And that is why I am always giving 1000 percent when I perform.
With Mozart, you have to be a little more reserved to find the elegance in the phrasing and the rhythm and respect the music. You also don’t want to oversing the role. Looking at Contessa and comparing it to Liù, its a completely different approach. With Liù, I focus on the sound while with Mozart I am focusing on the breath control so that the phrasing can be elegant. Being 27, I am happy that I am given Mozart because that helps maintain the voice.
Then, of course, the music is incredible. It’s inspiring and I am excited to show and give life to this character.
OW: Do you have any favorite moments in this opera?
AG: I would say “Dove Sono” and the finale to the work. In “Dove Sono” you should her duality of the character where she is a woman who is being abandoned by her husband but at the same time, she finds the strength to forgive him and to find the love with which they started. It’s really a demonstration of a very strong woman and we see it there and then at the end when the count asks for forgiveness and she gives it to him. She is noble and mature and one who looks for love instead of her pride.
OW: Micaëla will be your first lead role in Opernhaus Zurich. What does it feel like to come back to this company in this lead role?
AG: I am so thankful. When they asked me to do the role I said yes without even thinking about it. I didn’t care about the conditions because it is a role that I love because it is the first lead role I sang in my career and Zurich is a house that made me grow in such a small space of time. Its a house that helps you in all ways and it is an experience that makes you realize how grateful you have to be that they believe in you. It’s a huge responsibility and to be the age that I am, I am super grateful.
OW: What is the most complex part of singing Micaëla?
AG: It’s small but really important. When she is on stage you can not hide and you have to give 100 percent. It’s not the same with Rosalinde in “Die Fledermaus” because she is always on stage and always singing and it’s unforgivable. With Micaëla, you sing the duet and you leave and then you sing the aria and then you sing the last scene and you leave. You have the luxury of giving it all because you don’t have as much as Carmen. You have time to rest your voice and the music that is written is so beautiful.
OW: How do you view this character?
AG: I think she’s like me. I believe in strong women and you can see her as a rounded character. She is sentimental but she is very strong. Being a Latin American woman, there is a standard for how women have to be and I believe that there are women who have their own voices and there own dreams and strengths.
Micaëla travels to see this man and its a long trip for a young beautiful woman all alone. For me, that is a sign of strength and she knows what she wants. She goes because of Don Jose’s mother and even though she is in love with him, it all goes beyond that love. It’s about an obligation for her. You see so much about her actions. I think with all the characters I sing I try to find the strength in every one of them.
OW: With your career on the rise, what is your biggest dream in this profession?
AG: I have so many dreams. The first I had was to sing a full opera with a production and orchestra and I have already done that. Then when I knew I was the opera studio in Paris, I accomplished another one. Then I was able to sing Micaëla, Liù, Contessa, and soon Mimì and those were all important for me. Those are dreams that you want when you start this career.
Now the most important thing for me is to be loyal to what made me want to be an opera singer. I want to express all the beauty in this music and defend what was written. I want people to see how much value this music has and what it can contribute to our society. I never thought opera could teach me so much as a person and that is probably the biggest lesson I have learned doing this. I want to inspire and share this with everyone in the world.