Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
An opera singer is like an athlete, so, just like for athletes, it makes sense to have a fixed schedule. We rely so much on a perfect state of health, so we must adhere to a relatively rigorous lifestyle. Without becoming paranoid, we must try make music and other aspect of our lives blend as much as possible. On a day of a show for example, I try to sleep as much and as possible. Then I prepare myself a healthy breakfast, oatmeal with fruits or scrambled eggs for example. And I already try out how the voice is responding and slowly warm up. Then I go to have a walk, which relaxes me. I particularly love taking a walk at the sea if I'm singing at a city close to the ocean, which is also very good for the voice due to the salty air. Then I have another healthy meal, such as Sushi and try to rest for the rest of the day, not speaking a lot to protect the voice. In the early evening, I go to the theatre to warm up and for make-up. After the show, I like to spend time with friends, maybe have a drink. It's impossible to sleep right after a performance due to the high level of adrenaline in one's blood, and the best thing to relax is having a good time with friends or family.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
Winning the prestigious Voci Verdiane Competition in Busseto in 2005 brought my name to the general attention. My collaboration with the conductor Lorin Maazel was fundamental because, in addition to making my debut with him at La Scala, he invited me to sing Tosca with the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center in 2008, which in turn led to my Metropolitan Opera debut one year later as Rigoletto. There have been other key moments in my career, of course, but that was definitely the turning point. It is particularly special to me because it marked the birth of a fruitful collaboration with the Met, where I have returned every season since then in more than 100 performances.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
I think the most important thing is to be as free of doubts and worries as possible. As a performing artist, one has to be relaxed and not let oneself overwhelm by fear. Stage fright is a big problem for many performing artists, and while a certain degree of nervousness is normal, stage fright can really limit one's capability. So, I try to be as relaxed and free of all types of worries before a performance, to really be able to concentrate on the show, on the character I'm interpreting and on the music I'm singing. My strategy for this is as I said earlier to rest as much as possible during the day and to go for walks. Other artists do things like Yoga, Alexander Technique or Pilates. At any case, in my opinion some sort of physical activity is important to relax.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
For me music has only had a healing power. I cannot think of any occasion when music had a negative effect, and I do hope it stays this way for the rest of my life. I think by now it is scientifically proven that particularly classical music can heal body and soul. And that singing is helping a lot of people to find an inner balance, it is good for the soul. There are many opera lovers I know who couldn't live with opera and music in their lives. They travel to other cities, countries or even continents to hear certain performances and singers, and they tell me how important it is for their soul to see and hear live performances. That always makes me so happy to hear. So, I see the healing potential of music above all as an inner healing, it has a big healing power for the soul.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work? What happens to sound at its outermost borders?
I know of deaf people who still listen to music and go to concerts because they can feel the music and sound in their bodies. Other people see music in colours, or connect a certain fragrance to a certain melody. We all know that taste and sense of smell are extremely connected to each other, but I think that all senses are connected, so that in some case even if losing one sense, through the other senses it can be regained up to a certain degree.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
It cannot be denied that art does not exist in a vacuum, that there has always been a powerful relationship between art and politics across historical epochs and cultures. Arts do respond to events and politics, taking on political and social dimensions. Often they are themselves a focus of controversy, as we are witnessing right now with war in Ukraine for example. As an opera singer, my alliance is mostly to what the composer has written, but I may be part of a production where the stage director wishes to give a particular political slant to the work, and if it convinces me, I go along.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
Music is more apt at expressing life and death, because it’s a universal language that requires no translations.