Elena Mosuc is delighted to be here again. The Romanian- born, Swiss-based soprano is here to take on the lead role of Violetta in Verdi’s La Traviata at Masada, which will take place on June 12, 14, 16 and 17 as part of this year’s Israeli Opera Festival. Mosuc has been here many times before, and says she is always happy to join forces with conductor Daniel Oren.
“He is a great conductor. I like to sing with him very much because he has a very good feeling for singers, and he makes wonderful music with his orchestras.”
The setting for the Verdi opera isn’t too bad either. While there are some beautiful locations for opera around the world – the enormous Arena di Verona in Italy, where Mosuc has also performed, is one that springs to mind – few can match the vastness and majestic natural beauty of Masada and its desert environs. “I have visited Masada before, but only as a tourist,” says Mosuc. “I am really excited about performing there.”
Anyone who has lived in a former Soviet country will tell you that while the staples of corporeal survival, such as bread or meat, may not always have been in plentiful supply, culture and education were generally well catered for by the authorities. Growing up in Iasi, Romania, says Mosuc, was an advantage in terms of furthering her early musical development.
“I had very severe and demanding music teachers and I learned a lot from them,” she recalls, adding that she also managed to move this along without outside help. “I started voice training when I was 16 and I taught myself a lot. You could say that I am an autodidact.”
She was also something of a perfectionist.
“I just wanted to learn and learn, and to make my voice the best it could be, if not perfect. I always aimed for perfection. It was a good time for me. If I wanted to do something I just went for it, and I became very professional about my singing and my music.”
In fact, Mosuc got considerable help with her vocal growth at the local church, as well as at home, albeit not in a particularly professional capacity.
“I was in the choir there, and we sang some wonderful music,” she notes. “I lived with my grandparents because my parents were divorced. They weren’t musicians but we were always singing at home, you know at birthdays and other occasions. So, gradually, my singing got better and better.”
Mosuc’s international career was launched in 1990 when she won first prize in an international music competition organized by the ARD German TV channel in Munich.
She says the success had been a long time coming.
“When I was small I thought I’d be a pop singer and I’d perform at home, in front of the mirror. But then I saw I had a high voice, like a soprano, and I fell in love with opera,” she recalls.
Even so, dreams and reality don’t always meet.
“Opera was not really encouraged in Communist Romania, and my grandmother thought I should have a practical profession so I studied to become a teacher.”
Mosuc kept body and soul together for seven years as an elementary school teacher, but she never gave up her operatic dream.
“I kept on singing and perfecting my voice so, by the time I got to the competition in Munich, I was ready for it. That’s why I won it.”
Alexander Pereira, then director of the Zurich Opera House, was suitably impressed with Mosuc’s performance in the competition and the Romanian soon relocated to Switzerland. But despite her obvious gifts Mosuc still had some way to go, and needed to get some professional support.
“For the repertoire I was singing I was very conscious that I needed a very good vocal technique. In 1996 I found a very good maestro di canto [singing teacher] in Milan and I started learning very good technique.
I always had very good technique, natural technique, but I needed help with projecting my voice more. I remember when I made my debut at Arena di Verona, I worked with my teacher on projecting my voice, because Arena is so big, there is an audience of a thousand people there, and you need to know how to sing in these places so everyone can hear you.”
That acquired skill, says Mosuc, has helped her stay at the very top of her profession for so long.
“There are people of my age who don’t sing anymore, probably because of problems with technique.
I have had a career of 24 years. My voice is fresh and I want to sing for many, many more years. There are some singers who are not so good any longer. I think we should all be aware of when it is time to leave the stage. I still have many years in front of me [on the stage].”
In between thrilling audiences on major opera stages around the world, Mosuc managed to complete a PhD which included a thesis on the subject of madness in Italian opera in the first half of the 19th century.
“Love can drive a woman crazy,” states Mosuc, “especially in past times when the woman was not free to love who she wanted, and was forced to marry someone she didn’t love.”
Mosuc has played operatic roles of that nature, including the title role in Donizetti’s tragic opera Lucia di Lammermoor, in which the emotionally fragile heroine is prevented from marrying her true love.
There are plenty of romantic shenanigans in La Traviata too, and Mosuc says she is very much looking forward to playing what has become her favorite role in opera.
“The music in this opera is beautiful and very demanding. It has the full palette of colors and dynamics.
You can show off everything your voice can do in this role – coloratura, lyric phrasing – and you have to sing like an angel. Music must be very angelic.”
In addition to the four performances of La Traviata, which will be directed by Michal Znaniecki, the Israeli Opera Festival also features a show by the Idan Raichel Project, and a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1 and No.
9 by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra with American conductor Kent Nagano. This year the festival is also spreading its geographic wings to Acre, with a weekend of Mozart works, including Don Giovanni, Requiem and The Magic Flute taking place in the Crusader Courtyard in Old Acre on June 19-21.
For tickets and more information: *6226, www.opera-masada.com, (03) 692-7777 and www.israeli-opera.co.il