(Credit: Dragosh Cojocaru)
In 2011, Moldovian soprano Valentina Nafornița won the first prize at the Cardiff Singer of the World Competition and quickly became an ensemble member of the Wiener Staatsoper. From that moment on, she obtained a number of important assignments around the world, making debuts at the Salzburg Festival, Teatro dell’Opera di Roma, Opéra de Lausanne, and Opéra de Paris. She also got to headline the Wiener Opernball with her exposure furthered by appearances on numerous live streamed performances.
Almost one decade later, Nafornița is set to take her next step on the path to international stardom withe the release of her first album, which in addition to showcasing some of her well-known repertoire, will also shine a spotlight on her Moldovian cultural background.
OperaWire recently had a chance to speak with the soprano on her new album and the next steps in her ever-growing career.
OperaWire: Tell me about this album and what we can expect from it?
Valentina Nafornița: I am really happy and excited about this album. The album is called “Romance” and I thought about the best things to record on a debut album. It needs to be something that represents you and that is why I chose to record Mozart, Slavic works like music from Tchaikovsky’s “Iolanta,” songs by Tchaikovsky, as well as from Dvorak’s “Rusalka.”
And of course I introduced some Moldavian songs from my home. So I recorded three songs from the Moldavian composer Eugen Doga.
OW: Tell me how you came across each aria?
VN: Almost everything on this CD I have sung on stage and some of the works are from operas I want to sing like “Rusalka.” “Rusalka” is one I know my voice will grow into and I sing the aria in almost all my concerts.
The Mozart I recorded was Ilia’s aria from “Idomeneo,” Susanna from “Le Nozze di Figaro,” and Zerlina in “Don Giovanni.” Zerlina is a role that I did for my Salzburg Festspiele debut but I will not do it that often anymore because I want to move on and sing other parts from “Don Giovanni.” I also did a Mozart aria from “Zaïde” and it was really special to sing that for the first time.
OW: Tell me about the experience of going into a studio for the very first time?
VN: It is something different and as my first experience I would say it was a wonderful one that I would do again.
However, I didn’t know how difficult it was. It’s not easy to sing repeating the same thing and sometimes I would stay in the studio for five hours and I would need to refresh. And the thing is that if you sing for so many hours the voice will not be fresh at the end of the day.
The first day was probably the hardest and that is why we chose to record the things I knew best and was most secure with. The Susanna and Zerlina arias were first and it helped a lot that the orchestra was kind and helped me. They worked with me, giving space and breaks when I needed them.
What I really liked was that in a studio its really intimate and that helps a lot. You can concentrate on the music and you don’t have to act or deal with the audience or costumes. It’s all about the music and doing your best. The hardest part for me was to listen to myself at the end of the day. I would say “Oh my god, is this me?” They would all say its lovely but for me it’s not what I expected to hear. So it was something very funny and interesting and I would love do it again.
OW: Were you used to listening to yourself before this recording? You have obviously been on many live streams and HD recordings. Are you used to listening to yourself after a performance?
VN: I do listen to myself after a performance because I want to learn things and I want to be better and see what kind of mistakes I made and how it sounds. I don’t listen for pleasure.
Sometimes I do record myself but I know for sure that it is not the same quality that is in the hall and sometimes I like the video streams, I see the entire staging and it’s interesting and nicer. I watch the story and it’s easier to deal with it. When you are just listening, it’s a bit frightening because it’s a lot.
After I finished recording I said it was easier to sing an entire opera than to record a CD. It’s something else. When you sing a performance, it happens once but in a recording, it takes some other skills. In an opera you have one story and one composer. On a CD you have different characters and composers and you always have to adjust.
OW: You’re collaboration with Keri Lynn Wilson was important as she guided you through the album. How much time did you have to prepare with her for this recording?
VN: I was happy to record it with Keri-Lynn Wilson and we had a lot of fun speaking in Russian and making music in Munich. But we didn’t have much time to work together. I prepared alone with my mentor and with some coachings.
With Keri Lynn, we met one day before the recording and we ran through the arias and we talked about the tempi and arias. It was a three-hour session.
We had five days to record the album. We recorded two to three pieces a day so we had a lot of time to rehearse on the day of the recording and then we tried to record it as long as we could. It was easy to work with her and we had a connection from the very beginning.
OW: Tell me about your relationship with the microphone. What was it like to work with it?
VN: It is a little scary. But it’s good that we don’t have monitors like pop singers and they hear everything right away. I was trying not to think too much about it and I was instead counting on my sensations and not trying to give less.
Sometimes when we see the microphone we think we don’t have to give our entire voice but this is not true because then you actually make it worse when you try to mark. You have to sing with your whole voice. You have to pay attention to your music and the roles and my technique.
OW: You included Moldovian works in the album. How did you go about choosing the specific pieces that would go into the album and the ones that were best to introduce to your audience?
VN: I actually had some experiences when I did concerts and song recitals. Sometimes I would introduce Moldavian songs at the end of the program. I had great feedback about it and the audience would come and ask me what I sang or what the song was about. They loved it and it is the reason why I thought it would be great to introduce them in my CD.
And of course you will not hear so many Moldavian songs and I thought why not present them to the world and show what other nations have in their repertoire. You will always hear Russian and Spanish songs in albums and I love my culture and country. I started my career singing these songs and I know the composer Eugen Doga really well. He actually said he wrote a few of them for my voice. So I am really looking forward to hearing what people think of these songs.
OW: What did you learn in your experience recording this music?
VN: At the end of the day even if I do a recording, I always try to do my best and I don’t want to do more than I can or try to do something I cannot do. It has been a wonderful experience and I am sure that at the end of the day, I am really happy with the result even if I could always do it better. You have to take it easy and know that it could get be better but you are who you are and enjoy the moment and let it go. Self-criticism can be destructive if you do to much of it.
OW: You have been performing for quite some time now and you have such a range of repertoire. Tell me about managing your career up to this point and how choosing such a diverse repertoire has helped you?
VN: I always like new challenges. I was grateful that the Wiener Staatsoper asked me to do Helena in Britten’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” That happened at the end of last season after “Iolanta” in Paris. I got an email when they asked me and I said yes. I looked at it a little on YouTube to have an idea about the music. But I knew that if they were asking me, it was because they knew it was for my voice.
I am really happy to do all these types of composers because we learn something all the time and it was an incredible experience to do Britten. We did it with Simone Young and she is just a perfectionist. It was wonderful to work with her and it was also great to sing in English because that was another big challenge. It’s fun to do new things and not to stay comfortable in one place.
For example, I was covering Péter Eötvös’ “Three Sisters” when it premiered and it’s really something I have never done. It’s modern and interesting and I am always happy to sing in Russian. The music is really modern and when it premiered I covered the role of Natasha and it’s actually sung by a countertenor. That was a really different experience and showed me a different facet of opera.
I want to explore the world of opera which is big and not just Donizetti and Mozart. I look at these great singers like Plácido Domingo and Anna Netrebko and they did many roles. So why not? I really like that. I am passionate about new music and it’s an interesting process because you develop your voice and technique.
OW: You are part of the Wiener Staatsoper ensemble. Has that been helpful in expanding your repertoire and experimenting to see where you want to go?
VN: Being part of the Ensemble at the Wiener Staatsoper was the best thing that could have happened to me. When I started I was actually a Fest from 2011 to 2016 and then I started as an ensemble member. Now I have more opportunities to travel.
When I started in Vienna it was the beginning. To start at 24-years-old with Papagena and Giannetta it was a clever thing. It was really like going to school with an audience and a huge opera house. I got to work with amazing conductors and singers that I learned from. Later on I got to do Oscar and Musetta in my second year and it was a singer’s dream. I would not change it and I was so happy.
In my five years in Vienna I did 200 performances with small and big parts. I did Adina, Pamina, Susanna, Gilda and Norina. This was great and when I think back it was an amazing experience that I would not get anywhere else. And what most people don’t know is that I got the Wiener Staatsoper contract before Cardiff but I started in Vienna after winning the competition in 2011.
OW: Now that you have accomplished so much in Vienna and recorded this debut role, what are some of your dreams left to realize in this career?
VN: I am really happy with what I am doing now but my next big dream is Mimì in “La Bohème.” I love the story and the music and when I was singing Musetta, I felt I could do more. After doing “Iolanta” in Paris, it became one of my favorite roles and it is one I want to do more. But I still have some other roles like Micaela in “Carmen” coming up next season and it is French which is new to my career. I sang Sophie in “Werther” but nothing really very important in the French repertoire.
Of course we have dream roles like “La Traviata” and these are some my favorites but there is still some time before that. It depends on my voice and what my age can do. I don’t want to rush things and there is still a lot of time and roles that I can enjoy. It is important to keep doing a role more than once. I want to establish my repertoire and know what I can do best.