Elīna Garanča stunned audiences when I saw her in the Metropolitan Opera’s “Roberto Devereux” in March, with a memorable performance even against Sondra Radvanovsky’s history-making role. She received an Opera News Award along with Waltraud Meier at the Plaza Hotel in New York on April 10, where we spoke to her about new versus old productions, helpful stage directors, and what would cause her to turn down a role.
VAN: Congratulations on “Devereux”—and with that, is there a difference in working on a new premiere production versus working on an older one?
Elīna Garanča: Making a new production you kind of tailor the role to your inside world and to what you think that role should be—in accordance, obviously, with the stage director. I enjoyed working with Sir David [McVicar] tremendously—that was my first time—and I was just so grateful for all his inspiration, all his ideas, all his freedom that he has given to us.
Donizetti, “Roberto Devereux”: All afflitto e dolce il pianto (2009)
What makes a director good to work with?
To know what he wants, or to know the background and be able to explain what and why things happen. I like to work on my roles always when I have something to think about. He actually, probably, was one of the one or two persons I worked with who was able to answer every one of my questions. And that’s extremely rare [laughs].
Is that something that you look for in directors?
Oh absolutely. Absolutely, because I might have my own understanding and interpretation of a certain role, but I’m not the one who is putting a concept together. For me to be able to transport whatever he wants me to transport, he has to be able to answer my questions.
We are persons of our life that have our own feelings and ideas, and I can’t be a machine. So I need to be able to understand everything about, with, and around me. [McVicar] was able to provide that for me.
When you have an offer for a new production…
I always ask who is the stage director, who is the conductor, and who is in the cast. Always.
What draws you to different productions, or also what would make you not want to do a certain production?
Well you know, certain stage directors have their calling card already and you know it’s going to be more scandalous, and either you go into it knowing that it might be very challenging or not.
I mean obviously, for me personally, I would find it very difficult to be naked or to exhibit myself on the stage, because I think sometimes it becomes an effect rather than necessity. I think there is a fine limit. You can never discuss what is good taste, what is bad taste, because taste is very, very different.
I think in that moment, when a singer feels embarrassed about doing whatever he has to do on the stage, and the audience is embarrassed to watch it—I think obviously something is wrong.
If you have encountered an experience like that, how do you handle it?
Oh, I discuss! I very often just ask and try to tell them that this is not what I am and this is not how I can be free and deliver my best performance, because I am limited by that state of shock, so to say, that I might enter.
But, I also say that it’s nice to be challenged, and I very often go into productions that I think are going to be difficult, because it’s different from what I would probably like for that particular role.
However, to be very honest, I have never been in a situation where I had to demand it’s either me or the production. So either I protected myself well or I’ve just been guided really well [laughs].
What has been the most strenuous or the most difficult thing you’ve had to do onstage not related to singing?
Not related to singing?! When I’m on the stage I am mostly doing the singing [laughs]!
I think probably here, from the productions at the Met, I would say that it’s been two productions that cost me a lot of physical and body preparation.
One of them definitely is “Carmen,” because it was a lot of dancing, a lot of movement. Our choreographer really demanded a lot of me, which was very exciting. I think I’ve never been so fit in my life as I was during “Carmen.”
The other one is truly, really, the second duet with my husband, with Sir Nottingham, in “Roberto Devereux.” It is just so physically active and the stage is very wide. So to be able to perform these two things, I’ve been really actively going to the fitness studio just to make myself fit and capable of moving and singing.
Bizet, “Carmen”: Habanera (2008)
Do you work with the choreographers and directors to make sure you can also meet the vocal demands?
Well you know, a free body provides a free voice. I think that’s the main issue. Very often a lot of movement kind of makes us less stiff and less concentrated just on the voice. However, you need to be able to control your voice so well that your movements, your legs and feet, don’t affect your singing.
I like to work with people who are very free in body language. Very often the small gestures—the way you stand up, the way you sit down, the way you lift your hand—gives you the right edge to the character. If there is a choreographer, I most likely will go and ask them to show me some movements about certain situations.
Do you have a preference in doing a new production or doing an older one?
In the new productions you can create a role in the production more around you. You can try to bend the production and stage director and offer everything that you have in your luggage.
However, it sometimes can be a very long and very lonely period, because you’re away from home and your family. It is very tiring to be, for six weeks all the time, in rehearsals and keeping up the concentration.
And sometimes you are ready before the opening night and then you just hang out and wait and wait and wait—and sometimes you feel like, I need one more week before the opening night.
So there are, as everything in life, some plusses and some minuses.
What are you looking forward to in the next year or so?
I have two recordings coming up. One of them is a private one, kind of for my own pleasure. It’s a Latvian contemporary composer who writes for theater and musicals and stage. It’s going to be half jazz, half soul, half theater music, which is for a small local market in my own language. I just love his music very much.
The other one is in June, I’m recording a new CD for Deutsche Grammophon.
And then preparing myself for my first stage “Favorite” from Donizetti in Munich in September, October, and then doing my first “Cavalleria Rusticana” in Paris in November and December. ¶