Guatemalan soprano Adriana Gonzalez is a successful opera singer and winner of many national and international awards. In recent years, she has performed on such grand stages as Opera de Paris, Opera Zürich, Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona and many others. Just a few days before the Salzburg Festival kicks off, Adriana spoke with @creative.fellowship about how to become an opera singer in a country with no opportunities for opera.

CF: Thank you for supporting our @creative.fellowship initiative and our post-quarantine #operalockdown project.

AG: Thank you so much for creating a fellowship that supports Guatemalan talent, provides opportunities and shares knowledge. It really is something the world needs. Both education and sharing knowledge. There are many things that we don’t understand from person to person, so when we actually explain things and create a bond through shared knowledge, this changes the world. Thank you all for developing this initiative and supporting Guatemalan talent.

CF: When were you first introduced to opera?

AG: I don’t have a clear memory of how it happened, but my mom told me that when I was three, opera was shown on TV in Guatemala, and they were showing “Rigoletto.”

CF: What happened next? 

My career really began when I was invited to a small theatre outside of Paris in 2013. It was my first ever opera on a real stage with an orchestra, conductor and everything. The performances were “Abu Hassan” by Weber and “The Sonetto” by Pietro Mascagni. This was even before I joined the studio in Paris, but actually 2013 really wasn’t that long ago.

CF: Did your family support your dream of becoming an opera singer? 

Yes, I was very lucky to have supportive parents who believed in me from the start. Actually, they were a bit skeptical because there is no opera house in Guatemala (yet!). It would have been easy for my parents to have focused on “where are you actually going to work?”. So that was kind of a difficult thing, but my parents were at every single concert and many of my classes. I grew up in a very supportive environment and felt that encouragement and this made a real difference.

However, not everyone agreed on everything. For example, my dad was cautious at the beginning and would say, “Why don’t you study business and administration at the same time? Maybe that would complement music, or if it doesn’t work out…” to which I would respond, “No, I need to focus on just making music and studying that one thing, and if I get distracted, I probably will fail”.

So, it did take a little bit of convincing. No one was 100% sure at the beginning, but we all got there. It has been a journey for all of us, for both of my parents and me. I was lucky to have a family that supported me and was with me each step of the way. If not, wait for it, your family will get there with you. They need to understand what it’s about, what you are trying to achieve. You need to explain as much as you can and be patient, and your family will get there with you.

CF: How should aspiring opera singers try to understand what opera is all about?

AG: I would say, first educate yourself with general culture as much as you can. Why? Because when you’re in opera, as a singer you tell a story about someone who is living a certain situation at some moment in history. So, if you take, for example, Nozze di Fígaro, it wasn’t that popular because the French Revolution was happening at the same time. The Austrians therefore said “we don’t want a revolution here and we’re not going to perform Nozze di Figaro because if we do people would think servants have rights and all those things”. That really put everything in context for me. Why Susana and her relationship to the count, are in a way, complicated, and at the same time, it’s a bit shameless, and that will add to your performance. It is so important to always read about what was happening historically, socially, culturally. The biography of the composer is also very important, so read up on that and just try to soak all of it in. All of those things will help improve your own interpretation.

CF:  What do you like most about opera?

AG: What I like most about opera is that you get to create a different character every time and also to give a unique sound to that character. Opera singing is so special and unique in its creation.

CF:  What was your first big role? 

AG: The first role I ever had was Zerlina in Don Giovanni, and I actually had a difficult time with the coloratura, and the batti batti o bel masetto. I can even hum it correctly, but coloratura is not my thing. It was something I really had to work on, and it is also a good role. It has a good length, it’s not that long, unlike Donn’Anna which is really difficult and long, or Elvira which has a lot to sing as well, and a lot of ensembles.

So Zerlina was a really great role in which I could still have something to say, but it wasn’t such an exposed role in which I would have been basically destroyed doing it. In some harder roles, you have to have a very high level and also be very self-conscious and say expressly, “I can do that” or “I can’t do that.”

CF: What did you learn from that experience?

I learned how critical it is to choose your roles carefully and wisely, that this has to come first, and then you work on your technique. Technique is everything. It is like the foundation of our house. If you want to be an opera singer, work on your technique, and from there build your interpretation, the stage movement, the colors, everything else that you want to do with your roles.

So, if you’re a young singer in the opera world, normally you have to be very careful with the repertoire. You have to always choose something that is good for your voice, a role that will allow you to shine, that makes your own voice feel good and that you can achieve from a technical perspective at that moment where you are at in your own development as an opera singer.

Prepare for every project. Know your score by heart from the time the first rehearsal starts. All of the text…discover your character’s psychology so that you can adapt to the different demands of the project. As well sometimes you will have very physical and demanding staging, so get in shape, but the main thing is to know your score and how to sing your score correctly.

Also, surround yourself with a really good team, that includes your singing teacher, and make sure that you don’t push. I know that is a difficult piece of advice, but keep your technique in check. Make sure that you are always doing your best from a technical point of view, so that you can keep your voice in shape in order to be able to sing for the longest possible period of time.

CF: How should an aspiring singer learn to appreciate opera?

AG: Songs are a really good way to get into lyric singing because some of them are short and there are still some dramatic scenes and songs that you can do. This is really informative about interpretation and technique, and you don’t have the pressure of the stage moment or moving with the orchestra. You can work on it just with a pianist.

Also, keep your songs fresh! Songs can really help to create intimacy for interpretation, without getting lost amongst all the staging and the orchestra, the conductor and all of the huge coordination that opera demands. So, if you are under 20, I would say go that way, look at Arie Antiche and Faccai which is a signing method that has some arias and several technical approaches that are important.

If you are really young, 16 or 18, look a lot at Schubert, Schuman, I’d say wait a bit for Brahms. Fourey, Debussy. Look at Rachmaninoff, he has really cool songs as well. And look at Spanish music too: Obrador, Granados, Fallas. There are also even some Guatemalans composers by the way who have written some songs. The scores are sometimes available online, so we’re also trying to sing Guatemalans songs too. Songs really help to create intimacy for interpretation.

CF: What advice would you like to give to our Guatemalan fellowship winners travelling to Salzburg?  

AG: I would say the most important thing when you’re traveling from Guatemala to any other part of the world is to keep an open mind. Learn everything you can from absolutely everyone who crosses your path, even the people you don’t like sometimes! You can learn a lot from everyone who crosses your path.

Photo credits adrianagonzalezgt

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