Q & A: Sergey Romanovsky & Enea Scala on ‘Elisabetta, regina d’Inghilterra,’ Bel Canto & LivestreamsBy Francisco Salazar
When La Monnaie was forced to postpone its planned “Bastarda” project, which would have featured the Tudor trilogy and Donizetti’s rarely performed “Il castello di Kenilworth,” the company had to opt for an alternative.
The company decided to perform two rare works by Donizetti and Rossini; “La Favorita” and “Elisabetta, regina d’Inghilterra.” However, it would only be highlights of the works and it would be in concert versions without an audience. La Monnaie invited the artists who were attached to the “Bastarda” project including Sergey Romanovsky and Enea Scala, two Rossinian tenors who have conquered the Bel Canto repertoire.
In a recent interview with both singers, OperaWire spoke to Romanovsky and Scala about Rossini, “Elisabetta, regina d’Inghilterra,” Donizetti, and singing for a live stream.
OperaWire: How have you been during this pandemic and how has it affected you?
Sergey Romanovsky: I’m facing this period with great serenity. I’ve taken the opportunity to spend more time with my loved ones, to take care of myself and my spaces, where I usually stay for a short time, always busy with something to do. This pandemic has strongly affected theaters, artists, and all workers. Many cancellations have been made and various commitments have been postponed. I strongly trust the vaccine and I hope that we can get back to making live music all over the world as soon as possible.
Enea Scala: During the pandemic, I stopped working for several months but, then luckily I worked for short periods. My last live show with an audience was “Roberto Devereux” at the Teatro La Fenice in Venice last September. I spent this time studying new roles, enjoying my loved ones and my home, and teaching young talents.
Of course, this pandemic has also affected my mood a lot, not necessarily in a negative way: optimism and hope have always been there!
OW: You’re now preparing The Queen and His Favorite. What does the concept look like and how is it being presented?
SR: First of all, both “Elisabetta, regina d’Inghilterra” and “La Favorita” will be in concert form and only the main musical numbers will be performed. Thanks to an idea by the director Olivier Fredj and the precious artistic collaboration of the director Cecilia Ligorio, a film shot by the entire cast of singers during the rehearsal period will be broadcast at the concert.
ES: I sing mostly in The King and His Favorite in the role of Fernando from Donizetti’s “La Favorita.” “Elisabetta, regina d’Inghilterra” and “La Favorita” were chosen thanks to an idea by Peter De Caluwe and his staff who decided to temporarily replace the “Bastarda!” The project, a Donizetti trilogy, which was to take place in this period but was postponed to 2023. The entire cast of “Bastarda!” will take part in these two new productions which will be in concert form. The common thread will be the visual story of a little girl and a teenage girl who are present in each work as the only members of the audience and who relate to all of our characters.
OW: You will be performing in a live stream? What is it like to perform without an audience and what kind of feeling do you get? Is there anything that you do differently from when you are performing for an audience?
SR: Honestly, live streaming is nothing new and has never been a threat. It must carry out its main function; to spread music. I think that it could never replace live music – that’s simply unimaginable. The presence of the public for us artists is fundamental. Our work is based above all on an exchange of emotions, the connection between the public and the artist is the main engine. Streaming is a useful medium right now, but it will never replace live shows.
ES: It is definitely not the same! Imagine that someone is watching and listening to you. Compared to a concert with an audience, we will have our eyes fixed on the camera during the most intense moments because, in this way, we hope that the music, the singing, and our emotions will reach our audience more easily. The saddest thing is not to hear the applause that usually comes after the most beautiful arias and duets or after the explosion of high notes: all this usually fills us with joy and makes us understand if we are singing well or not.
OW: Tell me about this score by Rossini. How does it differ from other Rossini Serio and how is it similar to other Rossini operas you have performed?
SR: The role of Leicester is part of the category of great baritenor roles. It is a particularly demanding role, it requires great control of the voice, which is taken to its extremes both in terms of extension and virtuoso difficulty. Each baritenor role always represents a great challenge from a vocal and acting point of view. Leicester is a general but he is also the Queen’s favorite: therefore, if on one hand, he is a heroic character, and this is evident from his triumphal return after defeating the Scottish enemy. On the other hand, he is a subordinate figure and at the mercy of jealousy and the queen’s decisions. Here, I believe that the great charm of this character lies precisely in the ability to highlight both aspects: the heroic and the purely human, never losing sight of what Rossini’s writing requires.
ES: The role of Norfolk that I will sing at La Monnaie will be reduced to an aria and a duet with Leicester, since the two concerts, for safety reasons, cannot last more than 1h and 20 minutes.
I usually sing baritenor roles. Norfolk is an antagonist tenor role – as it always happens in “serious” Rossini: think of Oreste in “Ermione,” Rodrigo in “Otello,” Giacomo in “La Donna del Lago” or “Gernando in Armida.” Usually, these roles have a great scene and aria, characterized by extended weaving, hectic coloring, a heroic look with a slightly evil and revengeful tone to face the rival or the woman, in this case, Elizabeth.
OW: Rossini wrote for multiple tenors in an opera. Tell me about the experience of singing with another tenor. How does the writing compliment both voices? What are the challenges of singing with another tenor?
SR: There are several Rossinian operas in which we can witness the presence of more tenors. I am thinking for example of “Otello” or “Armida.” In this case, the two great male antagonists are Leicester and Norfolk. Rossini wrote for both of them pages of great charm and extreme difficulty: the role of Leicester is characterized by the presence of several octave jumps, the role of Norfolk beats fairly steadily on a mostly acute register. It is fascinating to see how Rossini manages, through his music, to explicitly contrast the personalities of the two characters. It is no coincidence that the contenders often belong to the same vocal category, although they have totally different characteristics. Rossini creates competition with his writing, but it’s a healthy one, amplified when you are lucky enough to have an artist of great artistic generosity at your side. In this case, it happened in Brussels, where I had the pleasure of sharing the stage with Enea Scala.
ES: As I said before, the two tenor voices – protagonist and antagonist – are and must sound different; generally the second (Norfolk) is lighter than the first (Leicester). In my case, the way in which the part is written and the plotting attitude of the character doesn’t make it dull. In the duet, each of us shows his own personality. We, Rossinian tenors, are always used to singing with other tenors, it’s nothing strange. In “Armida” there are 5 tenor roles! Performing duets or trios with singers who have similar voices is always exciting and challenging. For the audience, these are unforgettable moments and they also have lots of dramatic tension. Vocal competitions like seeing who will sing the longest high note or the highest note always galvanize the listeners.
Here at La Monnaie, I am lucky enough to sing with Sergey Romanovsky for the first time and it has been a happy meeting both from an artistic and a human point of view.
OW: What are some of your favorite moments in the score?
SR: One of the most evocative moments is when Leicester sings his wonderful aria “Of blind luck …” and expresses the purity of his feeling towards Matilda. A beautiful duet with Norfolk follows which is an energetic and virtuoso moment.
ES: I like Leicester’s aria a lot as well as Elisabetta’s aria and the duet with Leicester. In “La Favorita” I love the two duets with the mezzosoprano Raffaella Lupinacci, Leonora’s aria and, of course, my aria “Spirto gentil“.
OW: Sergey, how does it feel to make a role debut without an audience? In this case, you will perform the same role at the Rossini Opera Festival. Do you think it is helpful for when you sing the complete role?
SR: La Monnaie offered me the great opportunity of measuring myself with such a demanding role, which is surely perfect for my voice and consistent with my artistic career. But every time you step on stage it is a new challenge, even if the role is the same. Continuous research is part of our work – vocal, technical, and emotional research. I am sure that both stages – La Monnaie first and ROF next summer – will give me great emotions and a rush of adrenaline, probably for different reasons, but it will still be intense.
OW: Enea, you will sing also in The King and His Favorite. How does it feel to move from Rossini to Donizetti? What are some of the stylistic differences?
ES: Fernando in “La Favorita” is the lyrical role par excellence but also presents lots of high tessitura in the arias. There are great pages of lyricism but also big orchestrations and there are heroic moments in the tirade against the king and Leonora. It is a complete role but also very long and demanding. In Rossini, the voice must be more controlled and less generous in some moments. You have to be able to control the emission as much as possible and obtain a more homogeneous color. In Norfolk’s aria, however, there are nuanced moments in the dialogue with the chorus and with himself.
OW: Finally, what do you hope audiences will get from watching these upcoming live streams?
SR: All of us artists will try to give our best. I hope I’ll be able to offer people some light-hearted and beautiful moments in such a difficult period. I think the opportunity of listening to a rare opera like “Elisabetta, regina d’Inghilterra” can be wonderful for opera lovers and Rossini fans in particular.
ES: The audience will be thrilled because the casts of both works are of the highest level and all the voices are perfectly suited to the roles.
Furthermore, “La Favorita” will represent a rarity for the public because it will be presented in the Italian version and not in the original French one. I am sure that we can convert some purists. In the past all the best Italian singers performed it in the Italian language, doing justice to the Italian spirit that Donizetti gave to this wonderful “grand’operà”.