Liudmyla Monastyrska, a well-known singer and a soloist of the National Opera of Ukraine became this year’s winner of Taras Shevchenko National Prize (in the category “Music Art”).
Today the performer is at the height of her creative career; the world’s well known theaters vie in inviting her, and the vocalist performs complicated opera parts on their stages. The singer’s repertoire includes chamber works and Ukrainian folk songs as well. Critics call the talented Kyivite “the heiress of legendary Solomia Krushelnytska.”
“Liudmyla is lucky, because now she has a unique opportunity to sing with outstanding singers on different stages, work with well-known conductors and directors, who created the production of the opera Macbeth jointly with her. In this play the part in her performance is simply fantastic,” considers the well-known opera singer and pedagogue Maria STEFIUK. “Monastyrska now has an opportunity to compare different kinds of acoustics, halls, and audiences. There is an avalanche of good responses and positive reviews in foreign press about her as a talented opera singer. When I heard her for the first time, I was incredibly impressed. For Liudmyla Monastyrska has a fantastic voice type (powerful dramatic soprano). She is very emotional on the stage. In her artistic works she is constantly making progress as an actress.
“Monastyrska is a real patriot, because she is promoting Ukrainian art in many European countries. She has entered the world chart of opera artists. May God give her strength and energy in her creative work!”
In the background of events we’ve experienced in Ukraine, many parallels can be traced in the opera Macbeth, where you sing the part of Lady Macbeth. With what thoughts and moods were you working on the play?
“I was very pleased to see the full house in the hall. I am thankful to everyone who came to the theater, found strength to enter the high art after the days of mourning over those killed in Instytutska Street. Those victims were not vain. I believe that the Ukrainian people deserve a better destiny. And the words our Kobzar wrote are still perceived like prophecy: ‘Love your Ukraine, / Love her… In fierce time, / In last hard minute, / Pray God for her.’ As for the parallels between real world and the world of imagination, in Verdi’s Macbeth the idea is reiterated: woe to those who hesitate when they take power.”
Macbeth was played for the first time in Florence 167 years ago. Since then many singers all over the world have sung the part of Lady Macbeth. In your opinion, how has the interpretation of the heroine’s image changed over 1.5 century?
“People are very weak by nature. They doubt when they have to make responsible decisions. From history we know cases when many well-known personalities lacked resoluteness to stand in a dangerous situation. Therefore the internal psychological instability of a person depicted at first by Shakespeare in his tragedy and later by Verdi in emotional music did not vanish. Lady Macbeth is a strong and charismatic personality. She pushes her husband to a crime quite intentionally, but she is aware of just atonement and is afraid of it, like any mortal.
“I think Lady Macbeth is neither a monster, nor glaring evil in its pure version. She is simply a weak ambitious person who seeks the power, but not more than that. I would like everyone in the audience to feel this.”
The art of opera has always been a refined stream in music culture. How can opera attract the modern audience?
“Yes, opera is an elitist kind of scenic art, which is not meant for mass audience, especially when we are talking about such complicated productions as Macbeth or Aida. As for attracting the audience to operas, this is a separate conversation. Here much depends not only on the artists engaged in the play, but also on professionalism of the theater management.
“I am sure that an opera singer should not simply play – s/he must live the life of their hero on stage. In a play everything should be sincere, natural, not a simulacrum. Opera is a very subtle material, which must be treated with care.
“In Europe classic opera has long-time historical tradition, as well as a very demanding audience which is a subtle connoisseur of all nuances of opera singing, let alone the music critics who professionally assess the work of performers, directors, musicians, conductors, choreographers, artists – everyone who is involved in creating of the scenic show. We have a different situation. Although mass media give publications about opera productions, journalists mostly inform rather than analyze the productions. For artists, especially for those who don’t have a possibility to perform abroad, the attention of the press to their artistic work is of utmost importance. Objectively said and written word not only inspires, but also morally supports the artist. So, it is very important to find response in society.”
You successfully debuted in Covent Garden in London. Your performances in Deutsche Oper, La Scala, and Metropolitan Opera were successful as well. How would you characterize the cooperation with foreign production directors of these theaters?
“On the stages of the theaters you’ve just mentioned I have performed over the past years the parts in such productions as Cavalleria rusticana, Attila, Nabucco, Tosca, A Masked Ball, Aida, Macbeth, etc. The work on these plays required total self-devotion, nervous tension, and special concentration. At the same time I was studying during the rehearsals, run-through of the play, and actually the performance on stage, because I had an honor to perform on stage together with modern coryphaei of opera art of such level as Leo Nucci or Placido Domingo. As for the production directors, they polished every detail in my singing to achieve maximum perfection.”
You have inherently wonderful vocal characteristics. Ivan Palyvoda and Diana Petrynenko were the first to professionally assess them. What recollections do you have from the years of study at music school and academy of arts?
“I was lucky that life brought me together with Ukraine’s well-known pedagogues Ivan Palyvoda and Diana Petrynenko – when at an amateur festival in Odesa I was recommended to enter the music school where Palyvoda was teaching at that time. I was 15 years old then. I consider my meeting with Petrynenko, who taught me everything I have now, as another stroke of luck in my life. And I am trying to return a hundredfold what people dear to my heart invested in me to the audience. Even now, when Diana Petrynenko is well over 80 years old, she comes to the National Opera to hear to her student’s singing. And after the play I always ask her whether I managed to form the high note correctly.”
You sing the parts in Aida and Macbeth in Italian. I know that in the future you dream to sing the German-language parts in Richard Wagner’s works. How complicated is for a singer to master foreign languages to look convincing on stage?
“When an opera singer achieves a certain international level, for example, signs a many-year contract, s/he must know foreign languages. It is desirable to know two or three. For s/he has to communicate with directors, fellow performers, conductors, impresarios. Lately I have been visiting Italy very often, therefore in everyday life I speak exclusively Italian. When I was getting ready for my debut in Covent Garden, I spoke English. But you should remember that everyday language and the language in which the vocal parts in an opera are performed are two different things. Therefore I need to learn not only the spoken German, but as well vocal German, to get closer to performance of the parts in Richard Wagner’s operas. It might happen in one or two years.”
In your opinion, should an opera remain classical or become a field for boldest theater experiments?
“I prefer classical opera with established canons. At the same time, when a performer signs a foreign contract for singing parts in plays, he may run into director’s experiments which he finds unacceptable. I am not a retrograde person. Modern opera should develop and take into account the latest trends in the art of theater. At the same time, there are inviolable taboos for me in opera which I never break. For example, it is unthinkable to me to perform half-naked on stage. Therefore to secure myself against this kind of surprises, I scrupulously examine the contract, to understand with whom I will have to work and in which way. Finally we need to keep in mind that for invited opera singers in the West there is a stagione system (from Italian – a season in an opera theater). During such season the artiste performs on theater stage with a very tight schedule, when repertoire is constantly changing. The performances take place almost once in two days, not like in Ukraine – two performances a months. Therefore you need to estimate your own strengths and be able to recover quickly.”
Who are your favorite opera singers, in Ukraine and abroad?
“I listen with great pleasure the early recordings of Diana Petrynenko, Mykola Kondratiuk, Anatolii Solovianenko, Bella Rudenko, Yevhenia Miroshnychenko, Dmytro Hnatiuk, and Maria Hulehina. From foreign singers I like Montserrat Caballe, Leontyne Price, and of course Maria Callas, whose creative work I especially admire.”
Do you plan to release an audio CD with recordings of opera parts?
“Yes, but everything rests on time and solving of a number of organizational questions. In Kyiv there is a Sound Recording House, where I can record the disc on a high professional level. Hopefully, I will be able to realize this artistic project in near future.”