Q & A: Eleonora Buratto on ‘Ernani,’ Livestreams & the Prospect of Performing for a Live Audience

By Francisco Salazar
(Credit: Dario Acosta)

In the fall of 2020 Eleonora Buratto made a trimuphant role debut as Elvira in Verdi’s “Ernani.”

The soprano’s performance at the Verdi Festival were one of the few opportunities for Buratto (and almost any singer) to perform for a live audience. Critics raved about her “stylistic purity” and her “intensity.” There seemed to be hope at the time that things would slowly but surely pick back up and that live performances would be a major possibility in Europe to kick off 2021.

Fast forward into the first two months of 2021 and the picture remains bleak. Italy and most of Europe have gone into full-blown lockdowns with opera houses closed for at least three to four months.

But Buratto has found herself with opportunities to embrace opera’s other major evolution over the past year – online streaming. In December, she was part of the Teatro alla Scala gala as well as a production of “Così fan tutte” in Milan. Buratto will also headline “Ernani” at the Teatro Massimo di Palermo in concert form making it the second time she performs the opera.

And for Buratto, there remains hope of an upcoming live performance when she heads to Barcelona in March to perform her first Desdemona with a live audience.

The Italian soprano spoke with OperaWire about Elvira, the challenges of online performances, and the prospect of returning to a complete performance run with an audience.

OperaWire: You recently made your debut as Elvira in “Ernani” at the Verdi Festival. How has the role grown in your voice since taking it on?

Eleonora Buratto: Like every role debut, the second time around you feel more sure of yourself. My Elvira has certainly grown in terms of expressive performance and ability to interpret Verdi’s phrasing.

OW: What are the challenges of the opera in comparison to other Verdi works you have done particularly “Luisa Miller,” which you performed in Barcelona?

EB: They’re both very difficult roles. Both begin with arias which are very difficult from a technical point of view, but while Luisa grows in intensity on the high notes, a crescendo so to speak, with Elvira the difficulty decreases, without losing any of the beauty or intensity. Both roles demand vocal agility and dramatic phrasing, but also the need to seek out a softer sound, variety of timbre, and expressive dynamics.

OW: Tell me about Verdi’s early writing. It has been described as some of the most challenging music ever written. How do these early Verdi operas feel in your voice?

EB: I am following a carefully planned path for my development, but one which is agreed on and adapted depending on the roles I’m offered by theaters. “Ernani” wasn’t one of the planned works on my schedule, but I decided I would take up the challenge and put my voice, my skills, and my limits to the test. I passed that test, with full awareness that this was just the first step and that my performance could only improve in successive productions. I couldn’t say whether Verdi’s earlier works are better suited to me, because I’m going to make my debut as Desdemona too and I’ve already sung as Alice, as well as looking forward to debuts as Elisabetta and Leonora. I only consider whether the Verdi role I’m offered is a lyric or a dramatic one and of course I mainly go for lyric roles. In my view, every Verdi role is a challenge and performing it carries responsibility.

OW: How do you see the character of Elvira and what kind of modern touches do you bring to her?

EB: Elvira is a very strong woman and her values and love for Ernani are immovable. I draw on my own strength to express hers as a woman. I’ve always seen her in this way: noble and brave.

OW: The last time you performed the work there was an audience. Now there will be no live audience. Tell me about the experience and how does it change your energy and the way you perform?

EB: The audience is an essential part of a performance. These streamed performances without an audience have the feel of a dress rehearsal. A key component for reaching the absolute top level of performance and emotion is missing. It’s the energy conveyed by the audience which we, as performers, project back from the stage.

OW: You started out singing lighter lyric rles like Norina and Adina and are now starting to go into the heavier roles while still keeping Mozart central to your repertory. How have these lighter Bel Canto roles helped you in taking on these heavier Verdi works? Does keeping Mozart in your repertoire help maintain the voice’s flexibility? How do you think your voice has evolved and do you see yourself moving into the more dramatic works?

EB: My voice has changed but I’ve always worked with that change thanks to my technical studies, gradually getting closer to the lyric repertoire. Mozart has definitely helped me with this change and will be part of my repertoire for a long time to come. The only true help, however, comes from studying technique and respecting my voice, including allowing it to rest. It’s important never to lose sight of objectives, to know when to say no, and to make intelligent choices with roles. My voice development is on track, there are plenty of Verdi roles waiting for me, but I wouldn’t rule out taking on Tosca and Adriana in 10 years or so.

OW: Next season, if all goes according to plan, you will add “Madama Butterfly” while continuing to sing “La Bohème,” “Turandot,” and Rossini. Do you think Bel Canto is important especially when singing Verismo? How does “Butterfly” compare in vocal writing to these other Puccini heroines?

EB: When I choose I always take into consideration the choices of the great singers of the past that I love the most. I really hope to be able to debut in “Madama Butterfly,” but it won’t be central in 2022. For now, it’s a role that I won’t allow myself more than once a year, because it’s so much more demanding than, for example, Liù or Mimì.

By fitting together debuts, previously performed roles, and rest periods, it’s possible to range carefully from Verdi to Rossini, from Puccini to Mozart.

OW: Finally you will sing Desdemona in Barcelona. Spain is one of the only countries performing with an audience. What will it feel like to finally sing a full run with an audience once more? What do you miss about performing regularly?

EB: It will be wonderful to have an audience and to be able to sing in more than a single performance of any one production. It’s very sad to be able to give just one performance after a month of rehearsals. Follow-up performances are always a stimulus to bring something extra to each one. I’ve learned that I can’t do without music, the stage, and discussions with conductors, directors, and colleagues. The theater compensates you for all the sacrifices you have to make. We’ve had to get used to social distancing and a lack of physical contact on stage and in everyday life. It definitely limits the overall effect of a performance but we’re confident that we’ll be back and we will be able to embrace and join hands.


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