Q & A: Natalya Romaniw & Lada Valesova on Their New Album & Collaboration

By Francisco Salazar
(Credit: Patrick Allen)

This May, soprano Natalya Romaniw and Lada Valesova will release a new album on Orchid Classics marking rising singer’s first album and the latest collaboration between the soprano and pianist.

Romaniw has been called the “British Anna Netrebko” and has garnered praise for her stellar turns in Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” and “Tosca.” She has performed all over the United Kingdom and is set to make her mark on international stages in future seasons.

Meanwhile, Valesova has worked as a vocal and language coach at the Royal Opera, London, Kungliga Operan, Stockholm, Staatsoper Hamburg, Norwegian National Opera, Oslo, New Zealand Opera, Scottish Opera, Opera Holland Park, Garsington Opera and Glyndebourne Festival Opera, among others. She is also an acclaimed pianist and conductor.

OperaWire had a chance to speak with both soloists about their collaboration on their upcoming album.

OperaWire: Tell me about how the idea came about to record this first album together?

Natalya Romaniw: Lada and I first met when I was a student at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and Lada was my coach for the term. Immediately she had me singing for her Russian concerts and I remember never enjoying music as much as when I was singing in Russian. Ever since we have gone on to be dear friends, with Lada also teaching and coaching me through all of the Slavic heroines I’ve had the good fortune to have played.

It made perfect sense with our friendship and our strong musical passion for the Russian and Czech repertoire, that we should record our first CD together with this music that we hold so dear to our hearts. We began planning the CD while working together on Onegin for Scottish Opera in 2018 and now we are finally very proud to be releasing our first CD together.

Lada Valesova: We have started the journey towards this recording all the way back at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and from the start for the two of us it has been connected to our Slavic heritage and musically to the Russian and Czech repertoire. After Natalya returned from her two years at the Houston Opera Studio we started working together regularly again. The idea occurred to us both naturally and simultaneously. This is Natalya’s debut solo album and I am delighted we have recorded it together.

OW: What was the experience of choosing the repertoire? Was there anything you knew you guys wanted to record?

NR: We sat down many a time and Lada, who has a broader knowledge in the background of this repertoire, played me some songs/song cycles by various Slavic composers that she thought I would have an affinity to. Lada knowing me, my personality and my voice as well as she does is like having a personal stylist for me in this repertoire! She introduced me to a lot of new songs, which I’m very excited about.

We knew we wanted to include the key composers who have aided me in my operatic career path so far, so the obvious ones were Janaček, Dvorák and of course Tchaikovsky. It was also a very personal touch for us to add the repertoire we first collaborated together on, which includes Rachmaninov and also a very special Rimsky-Korsakov song.

LS: It is a special gift to witness a talent such as Natalya’s flourish from the first steps at the Conservatoire to where it is now. One of my aims in choosing the repertoire for the recording with Natalya was to select songs which would most illuminate her voice and give the listeners the best image of her passionate innate artistic temperament. We also looked for our personal connections with the songs, or whether they in some way reflected our journey together. One of my personal “pet” song cycles on this record might be the beautiful “Fairy-tale of the Heart” by Novak, which Natalya sings ravishingly.

OW: Tell me about the collaboration process before and during the recording process Did you guys get to rehearse before hand and how much time did you get while recording? What was a normal recording times?

NR: Firstly, the key was deciding on which composers and which songs we were definitely going to do and why, what it means to us and how we could tell a story and really capture the essence of the CD. The collaboration process was always fun, even the more stressful moments where we knew we had to steal time from our busy schedules, because we knew we were creating something special and unique to us.

The recording process for me was firstly a bit strange. I’ve never recorded much before now and certainly not of my own standing. Having the mic ‘on record’ was a little new to me initially but we recorded in the most idyllic and inspiring of grounds at Potton Hall, with our wonderful engineer, Patrick Allen, who really captured who we are as artists.

LS: Selecting the repertoire was the first step, and that took place over some time through many meetings and sing-throughs at the piano in various venues and even different cities, wherever we happened to be working together. Similarly, we rehearsed over a period of time allowing our work to grow and mature.

The recording itself took three full days in total. We would start with a morning session which would take up to two hours but usually not more, as maximum concentration and freshness needs to be maintained throughout the sessions. In the afternoon we would continue with perhaps another two or more hours with short breaks to listen back and return to the studio for next takes. Recording is a pretty intense process which puts different type of pressure on the artists, and as we have recorded nearly thirty songs in total, we can honestly say we’ve put the best of ourselves into this album.



OW: How did your working relationship change and how did it grow during this process?

NR: I think if anything, our working relationship strengthened during the whole process. It was always abundantly clear that this CD would be a product of the fruits of our labor and so the passion and drive behind it was always very intense and we became extremely aware of one another and how each other works, even more so than ever before.

LS: I completely agree with Natalya’s words above. Knowing each other so well before the recording was of course wonderful, but the recording has brought another level of new and deeper connection. I would also add that this was a first time that we have worked together on a long-lasting project rather than a performance, which was just about two of us as artists, colleagues and friends. I think we were both very aware of it even if unconsciously and we felt a great responsibility to do it justice.

OW: What was the experience of recording a first album? What did you guys learn about recording and what was the experience of working with the microphone?

NR: Well, Lada is a bit of an old pro by now at the recording game but as I touched on briefly before, for me it was very much my first time flying solo and having the microphone initially was a bit of a daunting experience! However you get into the flow of things and the beauty of course is that you can always do another take, if you so wish. We recorded the album in two parts and I remember the sweet satisfaction and gratification when we wrapped up the very last song…we’d finally done it and made it happen!

LS: For me this was all about transferring and pouring our very natural musicianship which we always have together into the less natural setting of the recording and capturing on disc that particular vibrancy of our communication both as musicians and friends. I hope we have captured that in the great variety and many facets of our songs.

OW: How do you think recording helps for live performance and do you think it helps to listen more?

NR: I think recordings of live performances are very much a different beast to planned recordings in a studio. You have an audience to bounce off and the feeling of it being very intimate, so that you can actively tell your audience the story. It’s always nice to hear a recording of a live performance because you can still sense the excitement through the breath and the reactions of both the artists and the audience, it can be quite a magical experience to listen to as you feel somehow as if you are directly transported there.

LS: If we step away from the business side of the recording industry, we can say for sure that recordings have a great importance for the promotion of live music. The audiences who buy the disc would expect to hear at least some of the repertoire live in that particular artist’s concert. If we record some unjustly overlooked composers or pieces the performance is always a great opportunity to play them live and for listeners to arrive having heard the piece before, and being able to savor it more, appreciating finer details. It can and should also inspire both listeners and colleagues to be more curious about the vast overlooked repertoire and be daring in their choices and tastes.

OW: Do you plan on touring the album?

NR: Absolutely! Once we get our schedules together, we would love to take it everywhere.

OW: What do you hope to bring to audiences?

NR: For me personally, I hope the combination of the integrity and our passionate musical chemistry can transport our listeners to escape the world for just a moment and that they can sit back and really feel like they were taken on a journey through our music.

LS: The world of many-faced musical beauty, of wonderful stories transmitted in songs and their narratives, the moments of Slavic melancholy and bitter-sweet longing, followed by passionate love outpourings. The moments of storm and watery stillness with the alluring song of the Nymph, and the lament of a simple Russian peasant woman. The moments of a Moravian village wedding followed by the sophisticated poetic decadence. There is something for everyone and we can’t wait to share it!