dateJanuary 14, 2013
categoryOpera Carolina News
The Queen of the Night at Opera Carolina: Maria Aleida
As part of our coverage for Mozart's The Magic Flute, opening on 1/19/2013 at Opera Carolina (sung in English), we have interviewed the young Cuban coloratura soprano Maria Aleida, who will be singing the role of the Queen of the Night...
Opera Lively – Let me start by asking about your background. You were born in Cuba, right?
Maria Aleida – Yes, I was born in Cuba, but I left my country in 1997. I lived in Venezuela for ten years then I came to the United States in 2007 to study.
OL – Were you already in contact with classical music and opera in Cuba, or did it happen in Venezuela?
MA – When I was little in Cuba I used to go see zarzuelas, which is the Spanish version of opera. But I didn’t train in Cuba. When I went to Venezuela I was 14 years old, and when I was 18 I started the [Vicente Emilio Sojo] Conservatory, but not in the voice program. I used to sing arias on my own. I only started formal vocal studies when I came to the United States.
OL – Was your family in Cuba connected to music?
MA – I do have an uncle who is a musician but he never did it professionally. My father also; they used to play the guitar and drums when they were university students, but they didn’t dedicate their lives to music, they started different careers. I’m the only one. [laughs]
OL – How did you get interested in voice and opera?
MA – The teacher from the voice major at the conservatory in Venezuela recommended it to me. She said I should study voice. I wanted to be a pop singer. Then, she gave me a CD of Maria Callas and another one of a bel canto singer, Eva Mei, and also a book, and she told me to learn the arias. I just learned by myself and started liking it.
OL – Getting out of Cuba, was it difficult?
MA – No, it was not difficult, because my father left Cuba in a very legal situation. We went to Venezuela on grounds of family reunion because I had an uncle who lived there. We didn’t have trouble to leave the country, but we did have to wait for the papers for more than a year. But it wasn’t traumatic or anything.
OL – And what made you decide to come to the United States?
MA – I had a masterclass in Venezuela with Mirella Freni and after that I realized that I needed to train my voice properly. I decided to leave in April 2007. I came to Miami to study with a Cuban voice teacher who helped me a lot.
OL – Wow, Mirella Freni! Do you have memories about her to share with us?
MA – I worked with her for a month, but I’m actually more thankful to my Cuban teacher, Manny Perez. I think he helped me more, and was more instrumental in building my voice, when I came to Florida to study with him.
OL – And you also had contact with Montserrat Caballé, right?
MA – I went to her voice competition in 2008. I made it to the finals and got the audience award. I sang for her for one day, in a masterclass. She was very nice and very positive, but I can’t say I studied with her like I did with MIrella Freni for a month. With Caballé, it was more like singing for her.
OL – How was it for you, when you won that audience award in Montserrat’s competition in Zaragoza?
MA – It was very nice. It was actually my first competition ever. It was amazing for me to get the audience award. I have the citizenship from my father, I’m also Spaniard. I’m half Cuban, half Spaniard. There were so many other Spanish singers there, and I could really feel that the audience really liked me. That’s the most important thing for an artist, that’s who you sing for. You just sing for the public.
OL – So, later, you participated in other competitions, right?
MA – Yes, I made it to the District Finals of the Met National Council Auditions in Boston, and also in New Orleans. This past year I made it to the finals in Plácido Domingo’s Operalia in Beijing. That was a very important experience.
OL – Your international career has been developing mostly in Italy. You sang at the Rossini Festival in Pesaro.
MA – Yes. In 2011 I made my Italian debut at the Martina Franca Festival [Valle d’Itria] where I sang another queen, Zenobia in Rossini’s Aureliano in Palmira. It was a very beautiful opera. I’m really happy about that experience, which was my first in Italy. After that I went to the Rossini Festival where I did Il Viaggio a Reims. Then this past year, last summer, I went back to Pesaro and did Il Signor Bruschino, then I Puritani at the Teatro Pergolesi di Jesi. Italy is a great country; I really love performing there.
OL – And then you trained at the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia.
MA – Yes, I graduated from the Academy in March of last year. The AVA is a great experience for singers who want to go face the real world. When you go out and sing, coming from there, you are really well prepared. I miss school, from time to time. I live there in Philly still, but I haven’t been able to really be there because I’ve been really busy, but it’s the place where I’m still based. But I do go back to the school from time to time to meet some people - friends and teachers. I made good relationships with them. I had a great teacher there, Bill Schuman.
OL – Let’s talk about the Queen of the Night. Is this the first time you sing her?
MA – It is my first time.
OL – How did you prepare for the role?
MA – [laughs] Well, I’ve been preparing for a while for this role which is not very easy to sing. I must say that now, at this point, I feel very good about it and I think that hopefully it will be very nice. It’s a great production and I feel very confident right now.
OL – You have probably trained for the role in German and now you’re singing it in English. Does this make a difference?
MA – Since it’s my first time doing the role, I learned it like this. I mean, I did know the arias in German before, but I never did the role in German before, so this helped me a little, the fact that I didn’t do it in another language. After this production in Charlotte I’ll be doing the Queen of the Night again in Italy, in December of this year. I still don’t know for sure, but I’m assuming it will be in German.
OL – Well, it’s not a very long role, but it has two arias that are wickedly difficult.
MA – Yes, It’s like those roles in Der Rosenkavalier with just one appearance that is more than enough. The Queen of the Night is pretty much the same thing. The role has two arias, but in those two arias you have everything. It’s a very demanding role. Her character is very strong and aggressive, evil, and at the same time seductive. It’s a very rich personality that you have to show.
OL – Which of the two arias you find more difficult?
MA – Hm… Although the second one is the most popular, I think the first one is harder.
OL – What are the difficulties? Is it a question of agility of the coloratura, or the range, or is it the breathing?
MA – It’s a combination of things, because it’s not just a question of the notes. For some people the high notes will be more difficult, for others it will be the low notes. This role is written for a dramatic voice that also must have agility. It’s a character that demands a lot of range and to put it all together can be difficult. But if you work enough on it, you can do it.
OL – And her angry spoken dialogue requires good acting.
MA – Yes, there is this one spoken dialogue where you have to scream without damaging your voice, to express all the emotions of the character.
OL – And then right after that you need to jump into high coloratura.
MA – Right, because the last word she says in the dialogue is very strong, and then she starts singing right away. It doesn’t give you time for anything.
OL – The interesting thing about this role is that sopranos are often the good girls, and the mezzos are the evil ones.
MA – Yes, true.
OL – So maybe it’s a welcome change for your acting range.
MA – Yes, actually I am enjoying it very much, to be in that evil role, it’s the first one that I do. [laughs] I hope to do it well because it doesn’t have anything to do with me, with my personality in real life. [laughs] Because I must say, she is not shy at all, you know? She goes for what she wants. Yes, it’s a bit of a stretch for me, but it is good; that’s when you prove, exactly, that you are a good actor; you are able to play characters that are different from what you are.
OL – Right. What do you think of this production?
MA – Oh, this production is really wonderful, very colorful. It has one hundred projections behind you, while you are singing. It is really amazing; I think the public will go crazy about it. It’s funny and it’s fresh.
OL – Good. And how about Opera Carolina, what do you think of the company?
MA – They are very wonderful. It’s my first time with Opera Carolina and I’m very grateful to be here. I’m surrounded by really great and talented artists. I’m very challenged by it.
OL – Anything else you would like to tell us?
MA – Well, I would like to invite everybody to come see The Magic Flute and have fun with Mozart. I think it will be a very nice show for people of all ages.
OL – I wish you good luck. It sounds like it will be a fabulous experience.
MA – Thank you very much.
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