RK: I was always thinking of the dancers. Cilea created a divertissement—he wanted to do the ‘grand opera thing’, which, of course, would have included dance. This ballet, I must say, is very beautiful, melodically speaking. And I always liked to watch the good dancers. Ballet is a very cruel art. I’ve seen so many dancers smiling on the stage, and when they go behind the stage, they collapse in pain. It’s just too cruel.
Once I was doing this opera in Monte-Carlo and the mezzo-soprano was sitting in front of me during the ballet. She had shoes that hurt her so under the chair, she took her shoes off, which she had time to do because the ballet is very long. When it was over she had to get up, but she started to look under her skirt because she couldn’t find her shoes. The princess without shoes!
Speaking of the princess: I sang Adriana Lecouvreur in Marseille with [Fiorenza] Cossotto. Her character doesn’t sing in the last act, but she remained in her costume because she wanted to take the applause at the end! RP: It’s suggested by the princess that Adriana recite the monologue of the abandoned Ariadne, but Adriana does the scene from Phèdre instead. What prompts that decision? RK: Phèdre is a great dramatic character, and the monologue finishes with a great insult for women without honour. RP: I’ve heard the monologue done very different ways, from almost whispered in much of it to heavy, loud declamation all the way through. How did you approach what is, in fact, a huge challenge to the singer? RK: I always declaimed it loudly and strongly—I didn’t whisper! That’s what I was talking about before—you have to have technique to do it the way I did. RP: In that episode, the singer portraying Adriana must project her speaking voice over the orchestra—and, of course, without a microphone. If I’m not mistaken, with the exception of Violetta’s reading of Germont’s letter, this is the only role in your repertoire that required you to speak. RK: I also did La vedova allegra [The Merry Widow], in so many performances of Mauro Bolognini’s production. So of course, I had to learn how to speak like an actor, on the breath. I taught myself to do it. RP: Like Violetta, in the last act you’re on stage from start to finish. RK: Violetta is a scherzo by comparison! Yes, the first act of La traviata is hard, but the third act is actually no problem. RP: How did you sustain your energy through Adriana’s entire last act? RK: You know, I always died in all the operas I sang! So I simply became accustomed to sustaining the role right up to the death of the character. RP: The death scene is really a tour de force for a singing actress. RK: It’s one of the most beautiful deaths I ever had during my career on stage, because she is like a white vision—a white dove, flying to the heavens.
Special thanks to Marina Vecci, who served as interpreter for this interview.
Opera, May 2021