From Libretto #8 (2023)
Seven questions for ... Adela Zaharia
In LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOOR, soprano Adela Zaharia plays a woman without opportunities – and sings one of the most well-known mad scenes in opera history
How do you sing about losing control without actually losing control?
That might be the hardest thing about the role. There’s this scene in the beginning of the second act: Lucia’s brother leads her to believe that her beloved Edgardo has left her, and out of sheer desperation, she’s compelled to sign a marriage contract with Arturo. I have to watch out, because on some evenings I find myself on the verge of tears.
How do you find your way back to reality, to Adela, from Lucia?
Every time, it feels a little like I’m dying on stage. After the performance I need quiet, and want to be alone. It’s a sort of grieving process that I have to push through. But it’s a warm grief, a sort of catharsis.
Coloratura gives singers room to improvise. How many of your own ideas do you inject into the role?
It’s a fine line. When arranging the coloraturas I let myself be inspired by the great singers of opera history, as well as conductors and vocal instructors whom I work with. But I think it’s really frustrating to hear singers who only care about making their voices shine. Sometimes it’s said that this comes with the territory of bel canto. No. While showcasing your virtuosity and skill, the bel canto vocals also have to convey the emotion of the scene and the music. It's about the music, not your ego! That’s what I tell myself.
Do you have a method for getting into an extreme character like Lucia?
For me, singing and acting come down to empathy. I can master a role with technical perfection, I can study and reproduce gesticulations, movements, postures – and yet appear unbelievable and empty on stage. Yet I can also just stand there, do almost nothing, and touch the audience. That only works if I can really embody a role and try to feel what she’s feeling. Anything else is imitation.
The mad scene is considered one of the most difficult scenes in the opera world. How do you prepare for something like that?
I always read the score first and learn my roles come scritto, how the composer wrote them. Only then do I listen to some recordings I’m familiar with, and maybe take on a cadence here and there. It’s like research: I always have to understand why I’m singing a certain melody, it has to make sense to me.
LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR is one of the most popular bel canto operas, and yet audiences look forward to the mad scene above all else. Is it the same for you?
There’s no time for that. During the second half I’m on stage almost the entire time, singing five numbers in immediate succession – a tour de force. I have to take the break to reset my body and mind and find a new way to access this entirely different mood of the mad scene. Usually I just lie on the floor and try to relax and focus.
Lucia becomes a pawn in a male-dominated world. What do you think of her fate?
When I look at Lucia, I have a different perspective of my own freedoms. I’m thankful for the struggles others have fought for me. In a society like that shown in LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR, there are only losers: First among them are the women, of course, oppressed and not free, incapable of ever realising their dreams. But I firmly believe that the oppressors’ remorse catches up to them eventually. At the same time, Lucia’s story reminds me that there is still great injustice around the world, and that we aren’t yet done treading this path.