Floria Tosca has come to town with the with the steely determination and strong passions for which she is renowned. Thrilling Sydney audiences in the title role of Puccini’s 1900 opera is Greek soprano Alexia Voulgaridou.
Coincidentally, it was as another Puccini heroine that Alexia Voulgaridou first came to international attention in 2002, singing Mimi at the Bregenz Opera Festival opposite Rolando Villazon. Come 2007 and Voulgaridou made her first appearance in Sydney, also as a Puccini heroine, this time singing the role of Magda in a staged version of Puccini’s La Rondine with Gianluigi Gelmetti conducting the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Alexia Voulgaridou has a comprehensive repertoire of heroines to call upon, from Mozart’s Susanna and Pamina to Verdi’s Desdemona and Strauss’ Sophie. Yet, Liu and Cio-Cio San, two more of Puccini’s creations are amongst her operatic alter-egos.
Chatting to Alexia Voulgaridou in her dressing room after yet another brilliant and compelling performance as Tosca, I asked her about her approach to playing Puccini’s heroines. For one who has delivered such a towering performance she is disarmingly unpretentious. In halting English, she explains:
” I like very much the Puccini heroines because they’re real flesh and blood – they’re ordinary people. They’re not the daughters of kings. They’re women like we are and the character he gives them always is that they are gentle but with very strong personalities.” Her words parallel her own persona which conveys a that overlies the stamina that she has drawn on to deliver the role of Tosca with such conviction.
She continues -“Puccini’s heroines are almost always selfless and seem vulnerable but they grow through death. For example Mimi – she is sick but she is so full of forza – that passion – that she dies in the arms of her lover with acceptance. She’s not crying. Liu gives her life to save the man she loves. ‘Butterfly’ – for her honour, she gives up her child but, she doesn’t want to live without the man she loves so she commits hara kiri and it is the same with Tosca – she kills for love and then kills herself.
My next question to Alexia Voulgaridou seems all too obvious – to what extent, if any, has she been influenced by her compatriot Maria Callas, who so famously sang the role of Tosca.
Voulgaridou is emphatic in explaining that her philosophy in preparing and performing a role is to not be influenced by anyone who has gone before. “No! I am not influenced by her. I know that there are recordings, but I have never seen them. Her reputation is so strong it would be impossible to see her and not be influenced so I have avoided it. When I study a new part, first I learn the solfeggio notes with the pianist because I like that everything is very correct. Then when am ready, I add the voice in the proper register. I learn the dynamics and the orchestration and put everything together. To listen to this time I chose a few excerpts from the performance by Tebaldi – that’s all.”
“I like to create my own version like I did with Mimi so that people can say “This is ‘ la Mimi de la Voulgaridou.’ I like people come to see what I think Tosca is, not what other singers have done. I don’t want to hear how they kill Scarpia because I want them to find out how Voulgaridou does these things with my voice and my personality.”
For Alexia Voulgaridou, this is her first trip to Sydney since she sang with the SSO in 2007 and she is very happy to be back. ” I feel the public really loves opera and they understand that we give our souls when we perform. Every performance is a big moment for me on this stage.”
Shamistha de Soysa for SoundsLikeSydney©
Alexia Voulgaridou sings as Tosca at the Joan Sutherland Opera Theatre of the Sydney Opera House on selected evenings until Friday 2nd August and on the afternoon of Saturday 20th July.
The production continues until the 31st of August with Cheryl Barker in the title role.