Friday, 15 January 2016

The Tales of Hoffmann with ETO

From a young age I was drawn to the mysterious world of investigation and criminology, my uncle being a forensic scientist in St. Petersburg. And I was dreaming of working in homicide. My childhood and early teens were spent in front of a piano and in his forensic lab. Music and singing took over as I soon realised that the real mysteries lie in the human heart and that the voice is
the best instrument to express the truth of the human soul.

Hoffmann lovers - Stella encapsulates three women in one.
Olympia- a rebellious teenager, rude, who smokes and swears, pushing the boundaries,girlie and innocent. She is an invention, a robot in our production, a robot/puppet. She coughs in a deep voice. Yet she sings stratospherically high notes!My inspiration for Olympia is a combination of Lolita, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Frankenstein!
Antonia– has a real polar split in her personality, neurotic and slightly schizophrenic.Tortured by inner voices, locked up for months in her father’s house. She is a true artist who has a beautiful voice and talent to be a singer, like her mother, from whom she has inherited a mysterious illness. Antonia is like a butterfly attracted to the light and is burnt by it. She is impulsive and like a leaf in the wind, changes moods. This combination is destructive. An inspiration for her character is a combination of Shakespeare’s Ophelia and Juliet.
Giulietta- Venetian courtesan. She is an expert seducer and manipulates all men around her. She is controlling Hoffmann and is controlled by Dappertutto, the villain. She plays all the men against each other, steels their reflections and goes off with the nemesis.  An inspiration of her for me is Lara Croft and the devil.
Stella- is Hoffmann's woman, she has all three in her. She is a film star. Hoffmann sings 'three women in one'. She is a real, complex woman.Inspiration is Marilyn Monroe and Greta Garbo.
I have sung innocent virgins and suffering teenagers, mature women and elegant
prostitutes. But I have never yet acted and played all of them in one
opera.In this production I am in charge of a puppet when I sing one of the most difficult coloratura arias in the soprano repertoire
The challenges are in creating the characters as different and distinctive. Vocal challenges- how to pace myself through the entire Opera. For this I need to listen to my instincts and have faith in my voice and ability
Together with the director I am building a character from scratch.  How she walks, touches, looks, kisses, everything. Our director James Bonas is a true creative genius and I love working with him and his team. So a lot of DNA and fingerprints go into the forensic development of each character :)
Tales of Hoffmann is an opera full of fantasy, but the characters are very human and real
Every woman has different aspects in her. She can be a rebellious teenager and a tortured young woman in love, she can be flirtatious and she can be mature and wise - not robbed of innocence but awakened to the complexity of life - it's all in us.English Touring Opera is a great company, caring and supportive. 
Its leader James Conway is a great man and its purpose is to reach the hearts of people. 
Opera brings human stories and looks into our emotions under a microscope. ETO are
reaching far and wide into diverse audiences, from children to people who never experienced an opera before.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Mimi, La Boheme with ETO 2015

'is it true? whatever you do with La Boheme always ends up the same' hmmm...
A lot is written in Puccini music, and it makes it easier for the audience and actors when it's simply honest and not overwhelmed dramatically. I feel that a lot of times opera is capturing the moment, looking at photographs remembering and seeing yourself in different times of your life. 

In La Boheme the characters are remembering the turning points of their lives. Mimi came into everyone's lives and changed it forever. That moment in their lives when Mimi died. When everything was a dream and an illusion, which was broken. 

Mimi is immortal, she is the Catalyst, she causes a change. Her death is simbolic. Her story is a story of a great need to be loved, desperate search for it through Rodolfo and finally realising: ' Qui amor sempre con te ' almost saying to herself as well as to Rodolfo  that love is always there, inside of you, it is free ,not needy or desperate, but content and she finds her freedom.

Mimi has youthful charm and innocence about her. She finds Rodolfo very funny. It's the humour that makes her trust him.
Mimi is real, shy, and everything about her is natural. She falls in love with him for real, though this is not a long relationship. They meet in Christmas, they separate in May, she dies in June. 

She is brave because she can't change anything, she is dying. Her love is desperately needy, clingy afraid of loneliness and to be abandoned. She tries desperately to find love in many ways, she even tries to copy Musetta, but unsuccessfully.

I found Mimi's role incredibly short, for the emotional depth of her intensity and almost not enough time to show her full story. But then trusting Puccini’s music everything made perfect sense.
I decided to create a clear contrast between first two and last two acts. 
In the beginning she is innocent, hopefull and happy. In act two she is so exited, surrounded by all these men, alive and on high in the middle of attention, like a child. She shows signs of illness, but mostly she is alive. Her illness is forgotten, as adrenaline kicks so she doesn't cough. A contrast to what to follow. 

They meet at a desperate point of their lives, both curiously falling in love looking into each others eyes, holding hands. Simple things that matter.  

He is not a good poet, he is jealous maybe because he doesn't see her innocence, though he falls in love with it. Perhaps he doesn't see her at all.

In act 3 she is desperate, like a scared caged animal, hurt, in pain but too weak to let go still clingy. She is scared of being abandoned. Marcello is her last hope to influence Rodolfo to stay with her, because she needs him, his closeness.
She overhears that Rodolfo wants to leave her while he knows that she is dying. This makes her angry.  Addio senza rancor...she expresses surprise and pain : How can you leave me when i am dying ? Yet in the duet they still cling to each other.

I found singing Mimi an incredibly healing experience. I grew with her together an an artist and a woman.

My grandmother died two weeks before the beginning of rehearsals and I had a terrible cough, remains of a flu I caught traveling to bury her. 
But unlike my grand mother, my Mimi died free and happy, loving herself and everyone around her. 
'Mimi doesn't died of a cold..' said our wonderful director, so I went on line to look how did people die of consumption. 

Being on tour builds yoir stamina, it is demanding and can be tough, and I am grateful for all experiences and for sharing singing my Mimi with most wonderful,, caring, fun and passionate collegues. And to James Conway his deep analytical understanding of the human soul ,passion and humour in guiding me mindfully and wisely to create my very real and human Mimi. 

My son came to see the entire show, sitting on the edge of the chair. His words moved me deeply.  
'I liked the whole opera, especially when Rodolfo and Marcello burnt the papers into small pieces. When the children sang, the puppets, the snow, when the men danced and fought with animals on their heads. The story of these people made me think how lucky we all are. They were so poor and unhealthy and we have everything we want, food and computers. They lived in the darkness with candles!!! And mummy, I don't want you to die at the end, I was glad when you came alive and smiled so I could clap.'

@Mike Hoban photographs

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

CD with Signum records

I have chosen the Myth of Persephone to look at the ages/phases of womanhood and I am illustrating each stage in my new CD with Operatic heroines.
I am going beyond the simple minded dichotomy of virgin/whore/mother or lover that afflicts women in patriarchs. Each stage has complex archetypes, besides each woman has within herself myriads variations.

My Operatic women and their voices help me to examine their journeys and choices.

The vitality of a woman can be restored by digging into the ruins of female underworld, where one can face the more wild and innate instinctual self. This is my own journey and this CD project very much reflects that. What intrigues me is how different women find the balance between the darkness and light and what are their journey into the Renaissance.

Besides, we are all children when it comes to stories. I think that stories are like medicine. They have such powers, they do not require to do anything, but only listen, the remedies for healing are contained in the stories. They awaken the excitement, sadness, questions, longing, and understanding. Exactly like music!

But putting mythological forensics aside, I want to tell about the recording experience :)

Few days before the recording, I sat quietly and thought about all the heroines that I am about to sing. I created an image for each one of them as if they were standing in front of me, as if I am looking into their eyes. Incredible warmth spread over my body and I realized that they are all bursting to speak, wanting their voices to be heard and it is through me that their stories will be sang.

The recording lasted 3 days, with 2 previous days of rehearsals. Each day was as different as the phases of my women. I am grateful for each one of the experiences in this week.
I discovered freedom, surrender, I discovered huge new strengths and how good it feels to really connect to myself, listen to my own voice and to what I need and want. I felt that to surrender makes you feel the way life is, beauty is, nature is.

At times the recording presented challenges and tested my stamina to its limits. It has stretched my vocal ability to the farthest I have ever went, mainly because of the intense and demanding schedule.

I discovered that the less I gave, the more I had. I learnt that some emotions are better to put aside, as they can only stand on the way and block the freedom of your mind and soul.
The more complex situation was, the simpler the solution appeared. All I had to do is to listen to my body and my voice and understand what they needed.
I had to access my deepest resources of hope, energy, confidence, trust and faith and beauty of surrender and go on, and the results took me by surprise and brought a lot of joy :)

I was taking inspiration from people around me, young musicians, who were there with me and for me.

I am sure this CD is one of many, and they all will be different, they will probably present a phase or a fascination of my own life. But I will always remember this first opera CD with the youngest orchestra I have ever sang and the discovery of surrender.

Singing is like a form of dance. It begins in the body, the heartbeat, the rhythm is where the meaning begins. Music of your own body, your own mind. The dance with many partners, your soul, the words, the music, the conductor and orchestra. This recording was a dance of many voices and an exhilarating one.

Signum records
Ilona Domnich Soprano
Leo Nucci  Bariton
Simon Over Conductor
Southbank  Sinfonia

Rupert Coulson- producer, at Air studios Hampstead

programme: arias and duets from Snowmaiden, Rigoletto, Figaro, Manon, Fortunio, La Voix Humaine, Linda di Chamounix,  Il barbiere di Siviglia, La Rondine

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Magda, La Rondine / Puccini

I imagine Magda a sensuous, elegant woman with plenty of mystery and conspiratorial charm. She has a magnetic presence, yet her soul is a complex combination of passion and lyricism. I decided to use the power of stillness to suggest a character with a rich internal life living out her ultimate fantasy. Magda has a kinetic energy of a consummate actress who almost fools herself into believing her assumed role. An expert seducer consciously allowing herself to be seduced, Magda uses Ruggero to fall in love with love again.

She is playing with fire, her ways are both touchingly desperate and coldly deliberate about the way Magda pursues Ruggero; yet, when her fantasy threatens to become reality, the complexity of her sorrow is truly moving. Magda plays with fire, and she goes through pain and heart break; I both love and pity her

Puccini’s wonderful catalyst for his finale, the letter of congratulation (from Ruggero’s mother), is agonisingly cruel, as are the bells that chime softly in the background as Ruggero hopelessly begs Magda to stay: bells always bring the ultimate Italian emotional theme.

Magda is an enigma and I longed to understand her joys, pains, what excites her, what is important to her?
What is she constantly dreaming of, searching for? Is she bored or had she been hurt so much and stopped trusting herself and people and is finding temporary healing in constant entertainment.

Perhaps her desperate dreaming and getting quick fixes on a new love comes from her one dimensional relationship with Rambaldo and her soul urges her to look for a deeper human connection that brings real joy and freedom in togetherness. Yet until she meets Ruggero her means of getting there are confused, she is locked in the same pattern..

I admire her decision to tell him the truth and let him go. Through pain of separation, she grows up, the other side of her pain is a realisation that she can't live this life of deceit and is taking a new path. I am not convinced that she goes back to Rambaldo. I feel that for her it is a new beginning a rebirth...
But of course many La Rondine lovers will argue that J

Monday, 16 June 2014

Gilda – Three ages of women

This is a second time that I sing Gilda. It is great to have another go, it gives great perspective as I look at her through myself and look at myself through her. This constant investigation is what I love so much in being an opera singer. This time I want to discover Gilda not only through her operatic journey, but as a woman in a universal sense.

As a child I was fascinated by Greek mythology, my parents were busy separating when I was 8,
 so I decided to miss a year out of school, to draw attention I guess. I was reading a lot, I memorized almost word by word all the Greek myths - in Russian:)
My parents have come a full circle to talk to each other after 20 years and here I am returning to my fascination, through the story of Persephone- the Goddess of the underworld and rebirth I am investigating a universal story of ages of a woman and illustrate it through the great Operatic heroines.

The three stages are:

1.The pure, innocent, stage of discovery, curiosity, belief, trust.
2. Maturity, experiencing love, tasting life, passion, playing with fire, experiencing disappointment, betrayal, suffering and pain.
3. Wiser women not necessary older, but has experience and knowledge, she is taking responsibilities for her actions, she is making her own choices, she is growing roots and wings to fly. She has faith in love, in herself and she has inner confidence and contentment.

My first Operatic heroine is Gilda, who fits this journey perfectly :)

To help my investigation I have come up with 4 questions:
1. Is Gilda innocent
2. How does Gilda develop psychologically
3. Why is she so forgiving and asking everyone to forgive
4. Does she really love the Duca

1. Innocent, as in not guilty :)
Gilda is innocent in her lack of experience, lack of knowledge, she is curious about love, life. But she does not lack the mental capacity to understand everything on a deepest level, to love fully, to forgive generously, to take responsibility for her actions, and to make her own choices about her life.
In productions it is up to the director to show all of this and it is for the audience to interpret.

2. Gilda goes through an extreme psychological change. What a journey! Locked up, longing to escape her father's house, falling in love with Duca, abducted into his palace, making love to him, explaining to her father, witnessing Duca betrayal, continues loving him and having faith in his love,  overhears about assassination on Duca or on the father, she decides to sacrifices her life and is killed. Before she dies, she is begging her father to forgive and promises him to pray for his soul in heaven.

For me her story has a clear element of the goddess Persephone story, who is abducted into the underworld and is returned reborn. Gilda is the only character in the opera that is going through a change; she grows up very quickly and finds strengths in herself to free herself from all the weak men around her. She has to die, in those days and the status of a woman was probably her only choice, only escape. A question to ask here will be: was the abduction a secretly desirable event in Persephone/Gilda’s lives? Does it mean that they were destined to go through such dramatic changes?

3. Forgiveness
I am convinced what Persephone/Gilda when talks about Forgiveness is not saying what they did to her is ok, but saying she is not going to let what they did to her ruin her happiness forever-at that time her happiness is freedom. She is begging the same from her father. To let go of revenge, to let free of the weak people who causing you pain and find inner peace.
Gilda talks a lot about forgiveness, and I think it is more that she is begging all the men around her to change, to face the truth, to look deeply into their hearts, into her own heart. She challenges them to courageously let go from the depths of their hearts (not just the head)
She is losing her battle; no one around her is prepared to change. They are all fearful, weak men, locked in repeated patterns of behaviour. Rigoletto is blaming everything and everyone for what happens to him. He blames Destiny for being a hunchback, for losing his wife, he blames the Duca for being a jester, and he blames a curse for what happens to him and Gilda. He never wants to take a responsibility for his own actions. He is never honest with himself or with Gilda. Even Gilda's death doesn't make him understand anything. He is worrying too much about everything, which only strips him of joys. Perhaps he loves the drama and by nature is a neurotic worrier, who panics for what he doesn't want to happen, instead of focusing on what he wants to happen.

Duca is locked in a different patern. He is a womanizer, his system is set to conquer women endlessly, he thinks that he will get closer to happiness and will find peace and contentment. He is in great denial, because when one is looking for external means to solve deepest issues of the heart or soul, one will always find himself  back in square one. Instead of looking courageously into his heart, he is after the next woman to temporary save him. Duca does not take any responsibility for the pain he is causing to all these women. 
For both of them it is extremely scary to go beyond the comfort zone.

4. Does Gilda love the Duca
Gilda's initial longing is to escape from her father, to find her identity. When she meets the Duca, he is the first men that tells her a name (although a false name) a name which she can associate herself with. Verdi gives her a whole aria to contemplate, fantasize, and discover her sensuality_ all on a dearest name of her heart. She is ready to fall for the Duca. She believes him and trusts him. This is her first age of a woman.

I have a feeling that Gilda is incredibly intuitive woman that she senses in Duca the potential to change, to love deeply. Perhaps if he would be with her, she could heal him, he will find the contentment and will get close to happiness and will finally love her and himself deeply, not selfishly like he does now. But he is a pathetic coward; he betrays her and essentially himself. Her heart is wounded and she is deeply disappointed, hurt. She continues to love him and to have faith in him despite him not giving anything to her. Her second age of a woman.

She chooses to sacrifices her life. Her choice to save him from death can be interpreted in so many ways. But I think that in is more about her own journey, then about her love for him. This is her third age of woman. She can see that there is nothing she can do for her father or for Duca, because they are not prepared to change, so she is freeing herself from them. Gilda understands that in life there is always a choice, even in the most difficult situation.

As a modern woman I ask myself what would I do in Gilda’s case? I passionately think that I would let go. I would perhaps first mourn over all what is painful, let it wash over me. Because when one suffers he is in transition and perhaps it is there to shape him/her. After all life seams to me as something very liquid and it is like the sea coming in waves, never ending.
In Rigoletto the opera, there is a theme of negative destiny, curse, inevitable fate... yet I am convinced that Gilda's death is a symbol for freedom, rebirth, new beginning and happiness-which is her destiny...

Monday, 3 March 2014

Japan tour

Even if life is short, it is long..I feel like I have lived few in one already :) The more I live, the more I discover the secrets of living: I am constantly fascinated by people. It is as if I am drinking life by being fully engaged with the world, people, nature, through music, theatre, literature, poetry, art, dancing. This curiosity gives joy and great energy.

This was my first time in Japan. On the way there I found myself day-dreaming on the aeroplane and lost in the familiar to travellers sensation: I am suspended somewhere between the countries, almost frozen in time between the zones, carried away from my reality into another reality. It is a strange place to be and one good to embrace it.
On my journey back those 13 hours state of suspension felt short, I was filled with calm beauty of the people I met, still playing images of places I saw in my mind and enjoying the sense of contentment given to me by the experiences.

It made me look differently into my own life, as if from outside, slightly detached. I felt that there is a change about to happen in my life. The thought filled me with strengths and excitement to get through it and faith that it will all turn out for the best. It felt like this is a beginning of something even more exciting and significant then before and now I am ready for it.
I realised that Japanese people are incredibly strong and the strengths are in their vulnerability, positiveness, humbleness and humanity.
I sang openly, trustingly and I felt as if a huge ray of sunshine, the warmest wave of energy is being exchanged between me and the audience. It was simple and beautiful.
I was surprised that despite the jet lag and few sleepless nights, my voice was fresh and free, I knew that it is reaching into the hearts of people.   

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Mélisande in Pelléas and Mélisande

Music by Claude Debussy. Opera in five acts to French libretto adapted from the sympolist Maurice Maeterlinck. link to YOUTUBE

Performances in August and September 2013 in London Arcola Theatre and Bury Court Opera.

''...The charismatic Ilona Domnich made a poised yet sensual Melisande, her soprano both clean-toned and ripely palpitating.'      ****    Yehuda Shapiro, Opera
 "...Ilona Domnich’s Mélisande is as mesmerising as the other characters keep saying she is, her voice finds a place where you could confuse girlish temerity with repressed passion, her subtle performance well up to Mélisande’s moody, confusing allure. Kieron Quirke Evening standard 
 "...Alan Ewing’s Golaud prowled Minotaur-like in a cavern of misery, crucified by love for Ilona Domnich’s radiant, childlike Mélisande, the most mesmerising, tender and idiomatic impersonation of this role that I have seen." Anna Picard, The Independent
 "...Ilona Domnich, a distracted, other-worldly Mélisande, has an exquisite, even tone. She could happily sing the role on any of the world's stages, and in due course she probably will.
                                              **** Mark Valencia, Whats on stage

''...'..This was Mélisande’s night; it was her feelings that mattered, whilst the other characters inhabited her world trying to explain the unexplainable: what does this Mélisande feel? Whatever the answer, it was all so touching, so delicate, as complex as a woman’s soul. Ilona Domnich rose to the occasion with a dreamlike interpretation: a secure, firm voice of attractive colour; her performance at times like a frightened animal, at times like a comforting mother to the deeply troubled Golaud. She was helped to create this impression by her subtlely flowing costume, long blonde tresses and a remarkably expressive face which did not hesitate to laugh with relief when the doors close at the end, leaving her alone with Pelléas outside the castle..'           **** Auditorium 2013

"...The French accents of Golaud (Alan Ewing), Mélisande (Ilona Domnich) and Pelléas (Simon Wallfisch) are especially good. Ilona Domnich (who reminded me very much, in looks, of the American actress Reese Witherspoon) was a beautiful, ethereal Mélisande, whose steady disconnection from the world she portrayed with moving pathos in the first four acts, while the fifth act saw her finally become a living doll, strapped into a wheelchair with a spidering porcelain-crack on her forehead, singing with eerie stillness and remarkable poise. She gave a frankly spellbinding performance."                                      ***** Charlotte Valori, One stop arts
"...Ilona Domnich's Melisande had luxuriant long blond hair.. Domnich provided some stunningly beautiful singing and finely modulated phrases, responding to Debussy's subtle music. Everyone in the opera talks about Melisande's attraction and her eyes, and Domnich incarnated this superbly. She was mesmerising to listen to and to watch. It was an extraordinary performance." **** Robert Hugill