Q & A: Arianna Vendittelli On The Importance & Challenges Of Singing ‘Ermione,’ Interpretation & Career DevelopmentBy Alan Neilson
Arianna Vendittelli’s career is one that most singers would dream of.
She has an established reputation in the Mozart, Rossini and baroque repertoire, singing at the highest level in such roles as roles such as Fiordiligi, Zerlina, Cleopatra, Serse, Eurydice and many more. Moreover, she has been guided by such venerated artists as Ottavio Dantone, Riccardo Muti and Alessandro De Marchi. venues such as the Salzburg Festspiele, Venice’s La Fenice, Vienna’s Theater an der Wien and Innsbruck’s Early Music Festival.
OperaWire recently spoke with the Italian soprano the day before her debut in the title role of Rossini’s “Ermione.” This is a role she has been studying for some time and is emblematic of an artist not sitting on her laurels as she seeks to widen her repertoire.
OperaWire: When you were young you were learning the violin. Yet, you opted for a career in singing. Why?
Arianna Vendittelli: I decided to become a singer when I was five-years-old, before I started school. I had an audition at the Teatro dell’Opera in Rome for the children’s choir in “Turandot.” It was an amazing experience and I decided I wanted to live in the theatre. But when I started school I forgot about my dream and started to learn the violin, but I did sing a lot in children’s choirs.
I didn’t have my first singing lesson until I was 19, and it was then I realized that this is what I wanted to do. However, initially, I went to the conservatory to study the violin, but I was not really happy so I decided to study singing with a private teacher, and attended the conservatory as an external student.
Three years after my first lesson, I made my singing debut at the Salzburg Festspiele, with Riccardo Muti, which actually happened before I graduated from the conservatory. I sang Mozart’s “La Betulia Liberata.” It was a great experience.
OW: You have performed in a number of singing competitions, in which you always seemed to do well. Why did you choose this path?
AV: I chose to do two competitions for baroque music because I had never had a contract to sing baroque, but I knew I could do it, so it was a way to enter into this field. I won the audience prize at the Cesti competition at the Innsbruck Early Music Festival, and it opened up doors for me.
I met the conductor, Alessandro De Marchi, there and he liked my voice and he often calls me to perform roles. Now I sing a lot of baroque music, so I suppose it worked. But I want to say I still love Mozart, he remains the most amazing composer for me.
OW: How would you describe your voice?
AV: My voice is unusual, and it took time for me to find my repertoire. It has a wide range. I am a soprano, but the tessitura is little lower than a soprano. It is easy for me to sing in the middle of the voice, and if a role has a coloratura, it is good for me, I don’t have problems extending the voice. So in this respect, Rossini is the perfect composer for my voice.
This year I sang the title role in Handel’s “Serse,” which is usually sung by a mezzo, but it is okay for me. It is not too low, and it was a good experience. It allowed me to examine that part of my voice, and I found that I was suited to the role. It also enabled me to prepare myself for “Ermione,” a role I have always been interested in singing. Rossini wrote this amazing role for the legendary Isabella Colbran, so Ermione requires me to sing across two full octaves, with lots of coloratura, many long notes, with lots of variety. I love this kind of writing.
OW: What factors do you take into account before accepting a new role?
AV: I must see the score, and I can then decide in five minutes. If the tessitura is good for me, I can sing the role. It is not a question about whether or not I like the drama or the music. I have an open mind and I always assume that I will be able to learn from it, and that I will discover things from it.
OW: How do approach a role? Do you idealize the feelings of the character, or do you opt for psychological interpretation?
AV: For every role, I first study the technical aspects of the score with my teacher, Mariella Devia, who I can never thank enough for the work she has done and still is doing with me. Then I read the text to discover the meaning of the words. The intention is to uncover the personality of the character in both the music and the libretto.
But I am very open to other inputs, so if the director wants me to express feelings in a natural way, or to idealize the feelings, I’m happy to fall in with what they want.
I remember my performance of Eurydice, with the wonderful choreographer and director John Neumeier who wanted me to mix the two; he wanted me to idealize my feelings, but to add a psychological edge to them, often accompanied by choreographed movements or even dancing.
Whereas with “Ermione” my interpretation is more naturalistic. When I performed the role of Argia in “Merope” in this summer’s Innsbruck Early Music Festival, we used historical gestures, and it was very demanding. You had to change the weight from one leg to another leg in line with the sense of the musical phrases and it is not easy to sing like this, at least not at the beginning. But it was really interesting.
Ultimately, I love singing and I love my job and I am happy to go along with whatever the ideas behind the staging are.
OW: You have sung a number of times for the conductor and baroque specialist, Ottavio Dantone. What are your impressions of singing for him?
AV: I have recorded “Giustino” by Vivaldi as part of the Naïve label’s Vivaldi Edition with Ottavio Dantone, which we then followed up by touring the opera. I have also sung “Serse” with him, and will be singing it again in Ravenna in January.
He is an excellent musician, with a strong, but amiable, personality. It is actually very easy to work with him because he has so many good ideas. He writes the variations for the singers, and he is a very good at this, he knows how to write for the voice and this helps the opera work.
OW: What are the challenges of singing “Ermione?”
AV: Singing the role of Ermione is a jump into my own future. It is my first Colbran role, it is very long, very big and very dramatic. The character is intense. The opera failed when it was first staged because the public didn’t understand it; it was a new style for Rossini.
The great scene for Ermione is before the second act finale: the character has a 20-minute scene, with a lot of difficult technical phrasing, then comes a little duet followed by a second finale including a big duet with Oreste. Musically It is different from what Rossini had done before, and it is very demanding and dramatic. Rossini was taking a step forward in the history of opera. And it’s also a personal step forward for me. It is a long role and although I have sang long roles before, this is totally different, for the body, for the mentality. I am enjoying it so much! It is good for my voice. It is a dream come true: I have wanted to sing the serious operas of Rossini for a long time.
OW: You also perform contemporary opera. What attracts you to new works?
AV: I love singing and studying music and I want to sing so many things, and this includes experimenting with my voice, and contemporary opera is another avenue to explore. Also I really enjoy it.
OW: What are your medium and long term aims?
AV: Certainly, in the medium term I want to continue singing Handel, Mozart and Rossini. In the long-term it is more difficult to say. Maybe Donizetti. It depends a lot on how the voice develops, who knows I may end up singing Verdi one day. But at the moment I think will stick with baroque and early 19th century.
But however things turn out, I will always love my job. I look forward to doing it every day.