La Monnaie ¦ De Munt

Interview Julia Lezhneva

La Monnaie - Interview Julia Lezhneva

Your part of the programme is Händel’s “Saeviat tellus” and Mozart’s “Exultate, Jubilate”. Did you choose this repertoire for your first concert at La Monnaie?

These are two of the motets from my newly recorded CD – the first album for Decca Classics. Actually, we are going to add a third one to the concert programme: A. Vivaldi’s “In furore justissimae irae”.

So Händel, Mozart and Vivaldi. Do you have a special love for these composers? Which one touches you most?

I’m deeply in love with this music, with every composer on this programme. These are real masterpieces. You can see that they really loved what they were doing and that the emotions were so deep.

Is this the style you prefer?

I prefer it because my voice prefers it!

Tell us about the pieces. Let’s start with Händel.

First of all, it’s a very showy piece! This motet is like a concert for the voice: the movements vary greatly in style and mood, painting different pictures. The story is about a storm of which nuns are scared. They compare it with Lucifer making trouble. I’m an onlooker, watching and saying ‘Don’t worry, I’ll take care of everything. You’ll be fine, I shall save you!’

That’s a nice character to portray!

Yes! Then musically speaking, the wind instruments have a very important role and the voice could be regarded as an instrument. In the first movement and in the final Alleluia especially, it imitates and competes with the hobo.

And who wins?

Friendship wins!

Moving on to Mozart…

It’s a piece I started studying when I was very young, aged twelve. It’s very emotional for me to sing this and every time I do, I try to reflect, to find something new, because I know it so well and it’s such a famous piece. It’s fun to sing because it’s somehow so operatic, like a triumph of the voice.

What about the added Vivaldi?

It will be something very different, because “In furore” is a very dramatic piece.

In what sense, dramatic?

Well, there’s something special about the first movement: I had to really think and to get used to its mood. Although it’s quite simple in writing, it has incredible inner tension. Also, the orchestra play really staccato, as if pinching you. I find it very stimulating, especially because I really like Il Giardino Armonico. Sometimes, I’m really scared because they play so well and deeply, that it’s difficult for me to start the line. I have to start with “In furore, justissimae irae” and really jump in and take charge. I’m not this kind of person, I’m not like that in real life!

But you have a lot of energy!

Yes, but it’s not the same energy. It’s a kind of demonic energy. This first movement really scares me. Though I could say the first movement is not really “me”, the second one is! It’s the complete opposite, requiring incredible static emotion. Like this scary moment when, after the storm, everything freezes... You’re petrified! Anything can happen, you don’t know what to expect. The lines are really endless – I find this part unique.

Last time you were here, it was for Les Huguenots. Do you prefer concerts or staged opera performances?

I think in a way concerts are easier. I need more experience on the operatic stage and so at the moment I cannot really say. Urbain in Les Huguenots was my first and, so far, only full stage operatic experience.

When you say concerts are easier, do you mean it’s easier for the voice or for the stress and emotions?

It’s something I started doing when I was very young and that I’m used to. You don’t have to act so much. It’s a different, minimal type of acting: just facial expressions and your eyes are involved. You concentrate fully on the music and on the colours in the voice. Whereas in opera, you have to think about the action as well. I think it’s easier to be more interesting in opera, even if you don’t do much. In concert, you have to do more.

You’ve worked with Maestro Antonini before. What is it like to work with him?

Giovanni is very easy to work with. We are friends and partners in music. There is nothing we disagree about. When we prepared the programme, we studied and discussed in detail, the moods and how to create different sounds for each motet. I treasure these moments most, as well as the result, but even more the process. In a musician’s life, it is most important to find musical friends, understand each other and not have to explain anything. You just sing and play, improvise and make music – this is our language.

Il Giardino Armonico is a baroque ensemble. Do you have to adapt your singing to this kind of orchestra, compared to a regular one?

In the process of making music with different people, as a member of a team, you adapt without knowing. That’s how I experience it. It’s very important that if you are in a group, you do not force things. You’re part of it. Especially with this music, which is so instrumental.

You seem very attached to the people around you...

I treasure the fact that if we are born with talent, we shouldn’t keep it to ourselves. It’s something you need to give. Of course, not to overdo it in order not to lose it. Because it’s a gift and you will not get it back if you lose it. It’s for people. Otherwise why would we work hard for so many years? For ourselves? That wouldn’t be fair! We have to give. With the hope that people find what they are looking for and afterwards, leave with a peaceful soul.

Do you also have this peaceful soul when you sing?

Well, I have to say, I’m an extremely nervous person on stage. And especially in preparation. A few days before a concert, I get extremely nervous. When you feel you have done well, you try to improve even more next time. I find it very demanding, but also very exciting. It’s the best part of the profession, I think. You never stop...

Interview by Charlotte Panouclias