How are you enjoying La Sonnambula at Covent Garden? You and the opera have a little history…
Absolutely – it was the first opera I ever sang, when I was a student in the academy of vocal arts in Philadelphia. So imagine the excitement! It’s an important piece for me and I love it.
It takes a lot of vocal colouring to get those ‘sleepwalking’ scenes right…
Exactly – you have to find a different atmosphere. In a sense that’s typical of the bel canto repertoire: it has a lot of delicacy and very tender moments, so there’s even more impact when you explode. You have to try to use all of the colours in your voice, not only to sing forte, not only sing piano, but find all the colours in between and beyond. I think that’s what makes an artist interesting.
How did you discover you had this voice?
When I was studying in Cuba I knew I had this coloratura but I didn’t think I had the high range. But I developed that. Then when I came to Miami, one voice teacher said to me, this colour that you have in your voice, you should definitely work in the bel canto, lyric coloratura repertoire – you should focus on this because it will make you unique. And so we started work!
Well it’s certainly a unique voice – is it far-fetched to say there’s something of your native Cuba in it?
A lot of people say that – the colour of your voice is like Cuba! My idol is Maria Callas, I love her so much, she still makes me cry…and of course Sutherland and Caballé. I learned a lot from them, but ultimately you have to sing with your own voice. I started learning guitar and when I was a teenager I was only interested in other types of music – rock and jazz. I wasn’t expecting to become an opera singer – and given the colour of my voice certainly not a lyric coloratura soprano.
Sutherland’s spirit is very much alive at the Royal Opera as the company prepares to pay tribute to her – you’ve talked before about what an inspiring partnership it was between her and Richard Bonynge…
I feel both of them were so lucky to have each other. She had this huge voice, and Richard Bonynge was intelligent enough to discover how she could make this coloratura and all these fireworks; no-one else could have done it and people didn’t think she could do it with that voice. I was very lucky that I met Richard Bonynge and I worked with him – actually on a production of La Sonnambula. It was a wonderful experience.
Your daughter was born this time last year – how is it juggling motherhood and a stage career?
It’s a little hard, but it’s also the best thing that has happened in my life. I’m lucky because I have lots of support and I am able to be with my daughter all the time. But it will help me in my career – I believe that.
© Andrew Mellor