Passing over traditions

Chilean soprano Verónica Villarroel is one of the star tutors at The Opera Workshop in Tel Aviv.

By MAXIM REIDER
July 3, 2014 12:37
4 minute read.
Opera

Chilean soprano Verónica Villarroel is one of the star tutors at The Opera Workshop in Tel Aviv. (photo credit: Courtesy)

The 28th International Opera Workshop, annually run in Tel Aviv by a team of top professional singers, coaches, directors and conductors, will take place at the Israel Conservatory between July 1 and 26. The team is headed by Joan Dornemann, the legendary Met coach and the program’s founder.

The Workshop features master classes, concerts, mini-opera productions and culminates in the Gala Concert at TAPAC July 26.

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Soprano singer Verónica Villarroel, is one of this year’s star tutors, and she will conduct a master class July 11.

This is not the first time Villarroel has been in the country. The international opera star from Chile, who regularly sings on the world’s best stages, is familiar to Israeli music lovers from her performances in Don Carlo and Othello. But few know that she first came to Tel Aviv in 1989 as a Juilliard School of music student to participate in the Opera Workshop.

She has wonderful memories of those days: “We studied with excellent musicians and got an opportunity to appear before the public, which for a beginning artist is of immense importance. And we visited many beautiful places in Israel.”

Three years ago Villarroel inaugurated an Opera Academy in her native Chile.

“The experience of being a teacher is very fulfilling, because you pass your knowledge to the younger generation: We all are going to disappear and have to pass to the young what we have learned. When you do it with love and passion – this is when it counts. I am so happy to come back to Israel to the same program, but this time as a maestra, to work with the same people I have been working throughout my career.”

The importance of meeting the right tutor is something that she knows probably better than anyone.

Her story (told in a documentary Accidental Diva) is fascinating – although she defines it as a “strange.”

She was born in Chile into a family who loved art, but never made it their profession.

“My father sold chemical goods, and my mother studied sculpture but gave it up to become a mother. We all like to draw, to write, to sing. Everybody has a beautiful voice.”

To acquire a “normal” profession, she studied advertising. And then her father had a heart attack and she just picked up his job, starting to sell cleaning products door-todoor.

One day somebody told her: “You like to sing, why not to go to a Zarzuela [Spanish operetta] theater?” She saw an advertisement in a newspaper, Zarzuela needed singers for their choir.

“I was accepted to the choir and then they started to give me more solo roles – I learned everything by ear, until again somebody told me that the opera theater choir needs sopranos, too.”

“At the audition I sang Zarzuela, since I did not know any opera arias. Then I was asked to audition for the director of the theater; they gave me a tape and from this I learned the aria ‘Ritorna Vincitor’ from Aida. Soon he called me back saying that he decided to risk it and give me the role of Musetta in La Boheme. They gave me a pianist and I learned it by ear.”

And this was when she met the renowned singer Renata Scotto, who sang “Mimi.” Scotto, immediately discerning Villarroel’s immense talent, took her under her wing.

“Then, in 1986, [Scotto] appealed to politicians in Chile in order to find scholarship for me, and she took me to New York, where I stayed in her apartment. I was accepted to Juilliard and again she took care of the scholarship. I was just 21 at that time, I knew nothing about music, I did not speak English – I only had a voice. And Renata Scotto introduced me into this world of opera.

“Renata Scotto is such a gentle and noble spirit – not many people would have done the same. I admire her and only hope that more people use her as an example.

“Besides being a fantastic human being, she is a great teacher. I worked with her on many roles, especially on the texts, on intentions. Another person who was so gentle was Plácido Domingo – I met him here in Chile and since then we have started singing together everywhere – he, too is my mentor and a very important figure in my life. Also Joan Dornemann, who started this program, is very inspirational in many places around the world. She knows the tradition, she worked with all big artists of the older generations and when she talks with younger singers she passes on to them this tradition.”

Becoming an international opera star, she has never forgotten that she comes from a so-called “simple background.”

“I never became arrogant. My family has always been telling me – you are just a human being, no less and no more. And I myself believe that everybody has to do personal inner work and to remind himself: ‘You are a human being as much as anybody else.’ “On stage you are different because virtuoso singing is very difficult but off stage I am super simple. I like to go to the cinema, to be with my family, we like to laugh – this career is very lonely, and I don’t like it. I miss my family and take them with me to every place I go.”

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