The opera star Maria Guleghina has long and rightly been acclaimed as the world’s leading dramatic soprano. The programme of her solo recital at the Primorsky Stage of the Mariinsky Theatre is fully devoted to the oeuvre by Giuseppe Verdi — the favourite composer not only of the singer but also of most artists, performing in the grand opera genre. Verdi has played a crucial role in Maria Guleghina’s creative life. Only a year after the beginning of her professional career, she was invited to the holy of holies of the Italian opera – La Scala – to perform the leading part in Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera opposite the great Luciano Pavarotti: a unique case, taking into account the fact that the Italians is the most “operatic” nation in the world and Verdi is their most revered and awed composer. After her triumphant debut, Italian music affectionados could not hold their admiration, calling her “Russian soprano with Verdi flowing through her veins” and her international career began to gain momentum. Maria Guleghina’s interpretation of Verdi’s heroines is the epitome of the highest mastery, being a result, among other things, of many years of cooperation with the best conductors and singers, experts and guardians of Verdian traditions.
In opera, Verdi is both the most popular and the most challenging. His music is known to and loved even by neophyte melomanes, who sometimes fail to notice that the performance of Verdi’s beautiful and haunting melodies is the task as pleasant and honorable, as it is difficult. And, though, today, his operas are included into the repertoire of almost every music theatre, only a few singers can deliver their leading parts the way it was intended by the author. Verdi composed his immortal works during the golden age of classical opera, when the composer could choose from among the singers whose voices possessed almost unlimited capabilities, and it was for such soloists that Verdi wrote his music. Verdi’s heroines’ first extended solo scenes (this concert programme is comprised of) are scored in such a way so that the performer could demonstrate all her vocal means of expression. For the same reason, they are a stumbling block for less gifted singers who are unable to overcome this array of vocal difficulties. Arias may have a traditional structure: an introductory recitative, a slow movement (a cantabile), requiring from the performer an impeccably smooth voice leading and total breath control, and a virtuosic swift-paced cabaletta, which, according to the rules, should be repeated. These are the solo characteristics of Lucrezia from the opera I due Foscari (No, mi lasciate) and Lady Macbeth’s Cavatina from Macbeth (Nel di della vittoria).
However, arias can also have a more varied structure, for example, Aida’s first solo scene from the eponymous opera (Ritorna vincitor). Nevertheless, all of them require from the soloist a huge vocal range, covering the highest and the lowest notes, as well as mastery of the complete repertoire of technical means. And that is, certainly, not all. Popular singers with excellent vocal technique are rarely recognized as outstanding interpreters of Verdi’s dramatic soprano parts. As the arias from this repertoire are based on the slightest change in the character’s emotions and conditions, in addition to technical mastery, they also require spiritual maturity of the performer. It’s not enough just to sing a Verdi’s scene: it should be lived before the audience and there should be a real personality and a real human life behind each of Verdi’s heroines.