Born in Switzerland and now one of the most promising voices of her generation, soprano Daria Rybak will make her debut on Sunday, December 4, at Teatro Filarmonico di Verona in the Music Association VeronaLirica’s monthly concert. The artist will perform alongside tenor Yusif Eyvazov (winner of the VeronaLirica Award), her teacher and mentor. We interviewed her for you.

How did your love for singing come about?

I feel like there are so many contributing factors to that… It all started when I was very young, around seven or eight… I remember singing around the house a lot and both my grandparents and parents would comment on how loud, powerful and beautiful my voice was. I didn’t think much about it at the time but felt encouraged to continue and so I ended up singing all the time; whilst doing the dishes, in the shower, whilst doing my homework… My parents loved music and introduced us to a range of different music from a young age. Sometimes they played ABBA, Queen or Elton John but more often than not, they played opera and classical music. When we were on long road trips during the summer, we used to play the game guess the opera or guess the work and the composer. My mum is very musical and I remember how she would often sit at the piano after dinner and sing songs whilst accompanying herself. It inspired me to do the same and so I started writing my own melodies and songs. Then, at the age of nine, my parents took my sister and I to see our first opera. I remember walking into the Wiener Staatsoper and everything looked so grand and everyone was so well dressed and then La Traviata began. I was mesmerised by the huge orchestra, by the beautiful costumes and by the way the music made me feel but the singing wasn’t so memorable. Soon afterwards, at the age of nine, I started having singing lessons at school. That same year I entered the school music competition and won the first prize singing “My heart will go on” from Titanic. I remember how nervous I was but also how being on stage felt safe and almost meditative. I think it was then that I decided that this is what I wanted to do in life. And so little me went up to my parents all feisty and told them about my plan of becoming a singer and although my dad was jokingly disappointed that I wasn’t going to be a banker, they supported my decision. There were a couple of years where I hesitated between becoming a pop singer and an opera singer… of course my parents encouraged me to choose the latter. Then one day when we were driving somewhere with my mum and she played me one of Anna Netrebko’s first albums… I remember hearing her voice and being absolutely stunned… The beauty of her voice was not like anything I had ever heard before… Hearing Anna on that recording was the turning point for me when I realised that there was nothing else in life I wanted to do more than be an opera singer and move people with my voice. 

Tell us a little about your training and the most significant teachers/mentors in your journey of artistic growth.

As for many singers, it wasn’t a simple and easy road… so I’ll start from the beginning… When it was clear that I had a voice and wanted to continue in the classical genre, my parents sent me to the Montreux-Vevey-Riviera conservatoire in Switzerland at the age of thirteen where I began studying with my first proper teacher Carmen Casellas. She was a wonderful teacher and built the foundation of my technique. Thanks to her I won many competitions and awards as a young singer and had a lot of performance opportunities. She was the one who prepared me for my Royal College of Music audition during which I got offered a place and a scholarship on the spot. Of course, that was something so exciting for me because when I was 12, I had decided for myself that this was the place I was going to study at when I finished high school. I did all my research about the conservatoire and what I needed to get in and for years I disciplined myself, practiced, read lots of books, studied languages, art history and anything else that would make me a well-rounded singer. At the end of the day, it was worth all the time and sacrifices as I was trying to get into the conservatoire of my dreams. My four years at the Royal College of Music however, didn’t turn out quite as I had planned…  I learnt a lot from wonderful coaches, stage directors and music teachers but unfortunately, it wasn’t the best place for my vocal growth and confidence as an artistic. During my last year at the RCM, in preparation for my final recital, I started working with Aira Rurane, a Latvian dramatic soprano and an amazing singing teacher. She is a great technician and understood my voice well. After I graduated from the RCM, I continued working with Aira and parallelly worked with Tim Evans-Jones, a great teacher in London, for about a year and a half until the pandemic broke out. Because of the pandemic I ended up not having a teacher for a long time and started to feel a bit lost technically and that’s when Kaine Hayward came to the rescue. Within just one month of working together, we won the biggest music competition in Switzerland “Migros Kultuprozent”. He developed and built my instrument and opened doors to new and bigger repertoire that I always dreamt of singing. After learning so much from Kaine, we both agreed that it was time for me to be independent. He gave me the tools I needed and I started working by myself again to try and figure my own voice out. After about six months of working by myself, I’m grateful to have had some guidance from the conductor Mikhail Shekhtman, who is very knowledgeable and a great musician who helped me a lot both musically and vocally. Shortly after working with Mikhail, I was very lucky to be picked as a young talent and to sing in a concert with Anna Netrebko and Yusif Eyvazov at the Villa Bocelli which surreally led to Yusif Eyvazov becoming my teacher and mentor. What he and Saadat Ismayilova, my wonderful musical coach have done in the past few months is incredible and I am so honoured and blessed to be guided and supported by such exquisite artists and musicians. It is such a privilege and dream to be mentored by the very people I have always looked up to. I still pinch myself sometimes (she laughs, ed).

Your repertoire ranges between lyric and lirico-spinto: which roles do you feel are most suited to your vocality and which characters are closest to your temperament and sensitivity?

I think that at the moment I want to focus on the more lyric roles because I am still quite young and even though I have some spinto tendencies, I don’t want to rush into that heavier repertoire just yet. There’s a big difference between occasionally singing lyrico spinto arias in concerts and singing a whole role on stage. I feel that the heavier spinto repertoire requires not only more vocal, physical and emotional maturity but also an element of more life experience in order to be able to convey the full dramatic aspect of the characters and the music. From a young age I’ve always been drawn to the more dramatic roles and tragic heroines because I’ve always had this empathetic and philosophical side to my personality. The Verismo repertoire especially, the drama of it, the pain, the suffering, really calls to me, in the sense that it is something I definitely see myself being able to portray and personify on stage one day. However, I am taking my time and there is plenty of full lyric repertoire that has this drama and heroines that I can relate to and have a connection with. For instance, Tatiana and Violetta have been my dream roles since I was very young because their characters and personalities resonate with me and I feel like both of them are close to my temperament in different ways.  Tatiana reminds me very much of my younger self; always reading books, day dreaming about the perfect love and living in her own world… The music really resonates with my soul and of course the tragic ending, the heartbreak of what if, satisfies this yearning to express all this drama and painful emotions. As singers we’re really lucky, we have an outlet, a place where we can constantly release and relive things from the past and keep getting rid of unconscious built up emotions. After reading the novel in verse by Pushkin several times, I got very attached to Tatiana because I could really see my younger self in her and I felt sorry for her. The same with Violetta, her story absolutely breaks my heart every time because she’s essentially a young girl who for the first time in her life felt true love and she selflessly gave the only happiness she had in her life for the good of someone else. When you dig deeper into the character you see that beneath all this what some would call “immoral” behaviour and seeking of pleasure hides an innocent child who just wants to be loved. I think when you connect with a character’s psyche and read the original text, you find things that each one of us can relate to, the very humane needs that everyone has. The empathy brings us close to the character. In the future, I hope that I will get to sing Lisa in Queen of Spades, Leonora in La Forza del Destino, Aida and Madama Butterfly as this music speaks to me on a very deep level, and the feel of the music comes to me quite naturally and intuitively. I think that every role becomes a key to examining our own character in a more profound way. In the process of learning a role, we learn a lot of things about ourselves. That’s why I feel like different roles are meant for us at different times of our lives and it’s not just about vocal maturity and meeting the vocal demands of a role but also being emotionally ready and mature for it. When the mind is emotionally mature enough, the body will follow. 

Italian, French and Russian repertoire, Duparc, Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Giordano. Different languages, different styles: how to find the technical-expressive balance to meet the needs of each of these authors and types of writing?

Personally I find that the most important thing when singing whichever repertoire is to stay true to your voice and not try to change your voice or technique in order to fit different styles. That said it’s important to do your own research and listen to recordings and work with knowledgeable coaches in order to sing in a way that is true to your voice but also in the style. Every style motivates us to play around with our voice and find new colours and abilities. It’s important to be curious and open minded and see how far the voice can go and how flexible we can be to meet certain stylistic and expressive demands but to also be careful not to compromise the instrument. I think the most important thing is to never try to make your voice smaller or bigger in order to fake a certain style or dynamic. Sometimes it’s a question of vocal maturity as well. One day you might struggle with Mozart and two years later, it feels wonderful. The voice is always changing and so is its ability and capacity to meet different stylistic and expressive demands. Everything is relative to your voice. 

In your biography we read that you practice mindful meditation, a type of meditation that essentially focuses on breathing: what are the positive influences of this “method” on your relationship with the voice?

I feel that mindfulness for me is more a way of life rather than just meditation. I became a mindfulness therapist and a reiki healer (energy healer) to help myself navigate the psychologically and emotionally demanding life of an opera singer and realised that without mindfulness and regular energetic re-balancing, we can become emotionally depleted. We’re always giving so much of ourselves both emotionally and physically and it’s important to stay present and not get carried away with constant thoughts. Mindfulness therapy includes breathing meditation that you mentioned in your question and that is one of the many meditations we can practice to stay tuned into ourselves and our bodies, which essentially is our instrument, our voice. The body in its totality is our instrument and it’s important to take good care of our whole being on a daily basis. I love breathing meditation because it brings me back into the present moment, into my body and helps me be present with my thoughts. I think sometimes it’s something people often avoid because our thoughts aren’t always pleasant. There are lots of different mindfulness meditations for instance walking meditation, sitting meditation, painting meditation, running meditation. I love painting abstract art as a form of mindfulness meditation because it’s a way of releasing emotions onto a blank canvas. It’s very therapeutic. The colours you choose, the brush strokes you choose, or the way you throw paint onto the canvas, all express your built-up emotions. It’s so freeing to empty yourself out and sort of start anew, as a blank canvas so that you’re not carrying all that baggage with you until it breaks you down.  Meditation brings us into the present, back to ourselves so we can reconnect with our souls, our inner beings which is especially important for singers because our voice is our being. When we’re out of balance with ourselves, we’re out of balance with our voice. They are not separate. That’s why being a singer isn’t just about practice and learning our music etc. It’s so important to be mentally healthy and resilient. Mindfulness in daily life allows us to be aware of our thoughts, of our needs, our emotions, our behaviours. When you practice mindfulness, you become aware, you begin to have more compassion for others as well as for yourself. You start to respond to people instead of reacting. Really it’s a practice of self-love and non-judgement, which allows you to nurture yourself and your voice and have more love and understanding for other people. My life has really changed since I started doing mindfulness therapy on myself and many people I have worked with have completely changed their outlook on life after practicing mindfulness. 

You also dedicate yourself to writing, an exercise in the imagination: how much imagination must there be in building a character on stage?

I think that one of the reasons why I love performing so much, learning roles and becoming someone else on stage is because I can use my imagination to transport myself into a completely different world, into a completely different story and experience someone else’s emotions, someone else’s life. Essentially all we need to know for the character is in the music and the text. If we look closely, I think we can find all the answers in the score but each one of us filters that information through our own life experience and memories. Essentially our job is to make the character on stage a real, a real person for the whole length of the opera and not a two-dimensional character. For that to happen the character has to have a constant stream of thoughts even when we aren’t singing. Those thoughts are ours to imagine. That’s why it’s called to interpret a role because we filter it through our own thoughts and emotions.

The debut in Verona: emotions and expectations.

To say that I am very excited would be an understatement! I have been looking forward to this concert for months and I am really excited to sing some of my favourite arias and to share the stage once again with my mentor Yusif Eyvazov as well as the other very talented singers. I’m hoping that this concert will lead to many more exciting opportunities in my singing career!

Upcoming engagements.

I am very excited about my upcoming role debut as Musetta in La Bohème on the 16th of December at the Tashkent Opera House in Uzbekistan under the baton of Denis Vlasenko and my debut in the role of Violetta and Micaela, more information to follow!

Thank you Daria and Toi Toi Toi!

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