- Reading time
- 4 min.
When a bel canto nightingale spreads her wings. After the birth of her baby daughter, Olga Peretyatko discovered she was ready to broaden her musical horizon. For her first recital at La Monnaie, she presents a programme dedicated to the songs of Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and Dvořák, as well as two Ukrainian composers. "These Slavic melodies are just completely another world."
What is it that sets the music of Dvořák, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov apart from other composers? Which distinct sensibility, which unique characteristic do they have in common?
It's about melody, I believe. These Slavic melodies, often a bit longer and very nostalgic, are completely another world. I never felt something like that with other composers that I have often sung, such as Rossini, Bellini, and Donizetti. It’s just a different kind of melody. Normally very sad [laughs], all in minor keys, but here I’ve tried to find different types of music and tempi, contrasts to keep it varied and interesting.
My great love is Rachmaninov, whose 150th birthday we’re celebrating this year, so there’s a big place for him. His melodies are like those of Richard Strauss, very comfortable for the voice. Unlike Tchaikovsky, for instance, whose vocal music is much harder to sing. I think because he conceives its texture in the same way as his pieces for orchestra. They require a louder and more carrying voice.
Something that you feel your voice is now ready to take on?
I’ve sung a lot of music written for high soprano, very nightingale things! And of course, bel canto. Now I'm ready for this repertoire. It's the new me, after giving birth to Maya. My voice is much bigger and rounder now, a full lyric soprano. It gave me more perspective and opened a lot of new roles. For example, I will sing my first Leonora in Il trovatore, and I’ve been exploring all these queens you just had at La Monnaie [in Bastarda]: Maria Stuarda, Anna Bolena… Next year, I’ll also sing Norma for the first time. The next level of bel canto music! And now I can sing Tchaikovsky too. Thanks Lord – and thanks to all my breathing exercises and yoga. I can still sing all the music I sang before, but I can sing more. I'm very happy about it.
Presenting Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov alongside Dvořák, Chopin and Ukrainian composers such as Mykhaylo Zherbin and Heorhiy Mayboroda – it’s not obvious these days…
With this programme I try to do in music what seems to be impossible in politics right now. My goal is to use my passion for these songs to bring people together. It’s a message to all the world.
As a daughter to a Ukrainian father and a Russian mother, the Ukrainian tragedy right now must also be a very personal tragedy for you.
I tell you, it's like that for millions of people. What brought us to this conflict is a long, complicated process that didn't just start last year. And this is where it has led us: life in parallel universes – a road to nowhere. Only one thing is required: just to stay a human being. We must continue to seek the opportunity for dialogue.
Can music offer such an opportunity?
I sincerely believe it can. It’s all about listening to the other, despite all our differences of culture and background. I wanted to show that music is an international language. So please don’t touch the composers or the musicians. After all, did somebody try to cancel American artists after the Vietnam and Iraq wars? Was Gershwin forbidden? No. So let's be truthful and faithful to everybody.
It’s something I tried to do in my latest CD, Songs for Maya, a collection of lullabies from all over the world dedicated to my baby daughter. I wanted to show that every mother sings the same words, be they in Russian, Ukrainian, Azeri, Armenian, Hebrew, Arabic… The only things mothers in every country want for their children are peace, happiness, and health. With them, I pray every day that this conflict will end as soon as possible.
Imagine that you could sing only one song from this programme for the rest of your life. Which one would it be?
It would be one of the Rachmaninov songs: “Ne poy, krasavitsa, pri mne” [“Oh, do not sing to me, my beauty”]. Perhaps his most beautiful romance, and one that really speaks to my heart. Written years before Rachmaninov fled Russia to live in exile in America, it already evokes that feeling of nostalgia and homesickness that permeates so many of his later compositions. He knew what it meant to be still thinking in your native language, but at the same time not being able to go back to your native country precisely because of these thoughts, because of the principles you uphold. It's something that speaks strongly to me.
Tell us about the two Ukrainian composers on your programme, Mykhaylo Zherbin and Heorhiy Mayboroda. Were they a discovery for you?
No, before I moved to Berlin to study as an opera singer, I was a choral conductor at first. We sang a lot of Ukrainian songs, especially folk songs. They are beautiful, and this Zherbin, for instance, is amazing music. I just wanted to add this to my Slavic programme because it belongs there.
This will be your first recital for La Monnaie. How do you feel about returning to our stage?
When I was there in 2015 for L’elisir d’amore we performed at the Cirque Royal, so I never actually sang at the Theatre of La Monnaie. This will be my debut there and I feel like it’s a great honour. I love this country, and I have a lot of friends here who are all coming as well. It will be a great event.