Still Going Strong – Maria Guleghina Celebrates 30 Years On Stage, Work In Charity & Her Determined Mother

By Francisco Salazar

For 30 years Maria Guleghina has dominated the operatic stage. She has built a career singing a diverse range of repertoire from Verdi to verismo to bel canto and it has all brought her huge successes.

With a career that has taken her to Teatro alla Scala to the Royal Opera House to the Vienna State Opera and, most importantly, the Metropolitan Opera, Guleghina is an undisputed treasure to the opera world.

“Its been 30 years since my debut at La Scala and 28 from my Metropolitan Opera debut and the Met was the most important theater where did my most important roles and it is a city that I love,” Guleghina said in an interview with OperaWire.

Now as a celebration of her milestone Guleghina returns to New York where she will hold a recital at Carnegie Hall. “I can not go away from this fantastic city and public without doing something nice.”

And that special night promises to be memorable.

“I will be performing a little of everything and some of the repertoire that I did in New York on stage and a little bit of what I did in concerts. And I want to do some interesting things from Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky.”

A Milestone

It’s been two years since Guleghina performed in New York with her last performances in “Tosca” at the Metropolitan Opera. Those performances marked her 25th anniversary since her Met debut and it was in a production which the soprano learned to appreciate.

“In that moment I did this very different production. I tried to understand why it was different and I did it and people who were in the audience understood why it was like that. And I said that’s great.”

Now Carnegie Hall audiences will get to see her in some of her favorite arias and songs. “It will be a little bit of everything from operas I performed in New York to a little bit of music from concerts I did in the past.”

While this concert might have the makings of a last hoorah, Guleghina is quick to note that there may be more to come in the city that never sleeps.

“I cannot go away from this city and I hope to sing here until my 50th anniversary. Even if I don’t sing here I need to breathe the air of the city.”

Looking Back 

As Guleghina heads into the next phase of her career, there are special moments that she knows are unforgettable and will not be forgotten. Her debut was special as she was able to sing with Gianandrea Gavazzeni, Luciano Pavarotti, Leo Nucci, and Fiorenza Cossotto in a last minute call that challenged her to be better and better.

“I pushed myself more and more and even though I was a singer of La Scala and Metropolitan Opera and Vienna and Covent Garden, I always tried to be humble.”

To this day she only has gratitude for everyone she has worked with and for her every memory is special.

“I cannot give you one special memory. I will say that I never had the help of anyone and never had a label company. I did everything myself and I am very grateful for the fantastic teacher I had. I am grateful for the fantastic colleagues, conductors and stage directors who guided me and supported me.”

Meeting Her Match

Guleghina’s hard work pushed her into many territories audiences would never have imagined.

“I sang Verdi, Verismo and Belcanto. I did Norma and even Rosina when I was younger. But I have no favorite role because every role is special.”

But there is one that Guleghina does hold in great esteem and that is Violetta in “La Traviata.”

“I worked 15 years to do this role. Any light soprano can do this easily but for me, it was a great challenge. But only big soprano with a big voice can be real in the third and fourth act. The first aria is hell for a dramatic soprano but I worked because I wanted to do it.”

And Guleghina was able to make her dream come true and she even pulled off an E Flat at the end of “Sempre Libera.”

As Guleghina noted, she tried to have a career only in the Verismo repertoire but she was pulled towards other works that required Bel Canto singing. “I did ‘Trovatore,’ ‘Attila’ ‘Ernani,’ ‘Macbeth’ and ‘Nabucco.’ I knew that my voice was flexible but strong but it was very important to do these variations of characters.”

A Dream Come True 

Outside of her operatic work, Guleghina has always been grounded and she has become a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF as well as an Honorary Board Member of the International Paralympic Committee.

When she decided to do charity work it always brought her back to her beginnings. Though she has been very quiet about her private life for many years, Guleghina owes much of her life to the dedication of her mother after she was born with a hole in her heart as well as inward turned feet and other “disabilities.”

Though doctors said she would not live, her mother strived to raise her.

“When I was two they put special orthopedic boots and when I was four they gave me normal sandals and I will never forget that day. If my mom would not have been strong enough, I would have always been in a wheelchair or I would have died because I had heart problems. And afterward I became athletic and I did gymnastics. Now I have two perfect legs and that is thanks to my mom.”

With her experiences, Guleghina feels an obligation to help out with her music and charity.

“I try to do charity concerts for children when I can. And I also work with the Paraolympic and hand out medals. When I can I also try to speak with other mothers to show them it is possible to survive. This work is very important to me and we should never say never. Those with an unlimited willpower, strength and determination will always win.”

And with so many inspiring stories, Guleghina now feels she needs to share her story and continue to inspire others.

The Future 

With so many projects on board Guleghina will continue to do her charity and while she has sung most of the dramatic and spinto repertoire, she is not finished touring the world or learning new roles. This season alone she travels to Salerno for her acclaimed “Turandot” and will continue to give concerts at the Mariinsky Theatre.

And looking at the future Guleghina has some roles she has on deck. “I must do ‘Gioconda’ and I must do ‘Fanciulla del West.’ I am now bionic and complete. I had surgery that changed two valves and now I am complete. I need to do something new.”


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