Q & A: Maria Jose Siri on ‘Adriana Lecouvreur,’ Performing for a Live Audience & Verismo

By Francisco Salazar

On March 25, María José Siri made history at the Ópera de las Palmas in Spain by becoming the first woman to give an encore at the opera house.

The soprano was not only taking on her first performances in the role of “Adriana Lecouvreur” but was also making her house debut at the prestigious Spanish theater. The production was even more special as Siri was singing for an audience for the first time since the fall of 2020.

And now, after weeks of uncertainty of whether she would be performing for an audience or a camera, the soprano is at the newly reopened Maggio Musicale Fiorentino ready for a fully staged production with a live audience.

In a recent interview, Siri spoke to OperaWire about “Adriana Lecouvreur,” the historic encore, and returning to the stage for a live audience.

OperaWire: How have you been during this pandemic? You sang your first opera production in September and actually performed for an audience. Tell me about returning to the stage with an audience and then having to go back into quarantine?

María José Siri: It’s been very hard. However, I took advantage of it to study and do other things. I took it as an overdue vacation for my voice, body, and mind. I didn’t start in September to sing in front of an audience; previously I had sung at the Arena of Verona. I took part in the inaugural concert with the stage in the middle and then in July I participated in the Puccini concert.

Then I was lucky to sing “Nabucco” at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, finally, a staged opera production in front of an audience, albeit reduced. This was a wonderful experience as it was my debut in the role of Abigaille, to Plácido Domingo’s “Nabucco.” So it was a three-fold gift for me: a new role in front of an audience and next to Domingo. The hardest part was to sink down again a strict lockdown for Christmas and New Year.

OW: How was the return to the stage for La Palmas different from the return in September? How did the emotion differ and what do you think changed between September and now?

MJS: It was wonderful because it was a place I didn’t know; I had been briefly there last year: we had just started rehearsals for “Aida,” where I was supposed to sing Aida next to Elīna Garanca’s first Amneris, when theaters were closed down in Spain. The second lockdown was for me harder from a psychological point of view.

OW: Tell me why “Adriana Lecouvreur” and why it was the perfect role to return to the stage with?

MJS: As I said I did Adriana last month in Las Palmas and right before that we had recorded “Il tabarro” at the Filarmonico in Verona but with no audience. Doing two “Adriana’s” back to back gives you additional musical and interpretational enrichment; it’s one of the most beautiful and fulfilling soprano roles.

OW: What are the biggest challenges of this role and how does it compare to Puccini and other verismo roles you sing?

MJS: It’s a relatively long role, but not as much as others I have already sung like “Francesca da Rimini” or the original versions of “Madama Butterfly” and “Manon Lescaut,” three very long operas. I am used to singing very long roles. For me, Adriana’s challenge lies in her monologue, the heart of the opera. I am not saying other parts such as her two arias are less beautiful, but I do think that Adriana’s real challenge is to make the monolog truly personal. I am working on creating a very particular and intense monolog.

OW: Adriana is also a diva and an actress. Do you identify with Adriana and her struggles or are do you feel you are very different from this character?

MJS: I don’t see Adriana as a diva; Tosca is much more so, in my view. Among the divas who play divas in an opera, Adriana is the most human. Metatheater gives the possibility to interpret the human side, the passage from the actress to the real human being backstage. This is something that often happens to me in real life. There are moments when I feel as I was speaking about my life and therefore I can say that it is the character is very similar to my personality and my way of feeling.

OW:  Tell me about your favorite moment in the score and why?

MJS: There are so many moments I like in this opera that it is truly difficult to choose. The most striking act is the last one, which highlights Adriana’s frailty. Her frailty is touching, it is what makes me love her so much. The fourth Act is a trip to this world that is already on another level, and in this particular production, the passages into reality are much fewer than those projected onto another level. The production in Florence gives prominence to an angel who could be either the angel of life or death and who interacts with Adriana. Cilea showed great sensitivity in creating this finale.

OW: You made history with your first “Adriana.” Tell me about this moment when you did an encore. What did you feel and how did you know you wanted to do it? How do you feel to be the first woman to make an encore at Las Palmas?

MJS: It was an honor that I was requested an encore, which I decided to grant because at the first performance they had already asked for it, but we didn’t expect it and then I thought I could do it if I were to be asked at the second performance as it is one more gift I can give the audience. After all, I had never sung there and they didn’t know me unless some of them had traveled to mainland Spain or Italy to hear me. At any event, their reaction moved me to tears and I am honored to be part of such a tradition which so far had concerned only male singers. I am truly flattered and have a special place in my heart for the Las Palmas audience.

OW: Adriana and the Princess have a very intense rivalry. You sing “Norma” and “Aida,” how is this rivalry different and how are they similar?

MJS: I think the rivalry between Adriana and the Princess is much more intense than the ones you have just mentioned. “Norma” is much more powerful than Adalgisa; this isn’t the case between Aida and Amneris, but, as Adriana, herself says “e perché mai discendere a tanta scortesia,” Adriana is not able to comprehend the full extent of the Princess’ cruelty. Adriana dies because she defies a much more powerful person. In their duet Adriana challenges the Princess, in the monologue she seems to have the upper hand, but on the contrary, the Princess at the end removes the obstacle out of her way.

OW: You will perform the role at the Maggio Musicale for an audience. What do you think you’ll discover and what do you want to bring to the role that you may not have been able to in the first production? How do you think the role will evolve in your voice?

MJS: I believe this “Adriana” will be a wonderful experience. It’s a great pleasure to sing for the first time under the baton of Maestro Daniel Harding. Since it is a new production, we have created it from scratch thanks to stage director Frederic Wake-Walker’s generosity and an exceptional team.

It is a particular, very beautiful “Adriana,” with such breathtaking sets and costumes. It is well choreographed, studied in every detail; every moment, each phrase has its meaning. It’s not a traditional Adriana, but rather a modern one that respects the libretto and the characters’ essence. We have talked a lot about it and the stage director was very clear: this “Adriana” works on many levels and never stands still. This is very important also for the vocal parts, so rich with recitatives. Then, as singers perform in more productions, they choose what to keep. From operas such as “Tosca,” “Andrea Chénier,” and “Aida,” operas I have performed many times, I have always retained something and brought it to other productions.

Our jobs as singers is one of utmost humility; we must “reset,” cancel all we have learned about a character we already know. It’s like creating a new dress each time: this creating part is for me the most beautiful phase of the process until we start orchestral rehearsals and then the true magic begins.


InterviewsStage Spotlight