The Day already reported about the first performance of the soloists from the La Scala Theater Academy on Kyiv stage. This night became a major event in the cultural life of our capital. The guests of honor were the world star Luciana Serra (soprano) and an outstanding conductor Marco Guidarini. The soloists of the La Scala Theater Academy – tenor Dzheheui Kwon, soprano Francesca Ruospo, and baritone Piero Terranova together with the chorus and musicians of the Ukraine’s National Opera Symphony Orchestra performed musical compositions by Wolfgang Mozart, Giuseppe Verdi and Giacomo Puccini. A day before the concert, audition for students of Ukraine’s National Music Academy, who want to continue their training in the legendary La Scala Theater was held in the Academy. The director of the Italian Institute of Culture Nicola Franco Balloni stressed: “We want to revive the practice of providing training for the most talented young Ukrainian opera singers in Milan the way it was in the 1960s-1970s.” After the improvised exams and the concert The Day spoke with the president of the La Scala Theater Academy Pier Andrea CHEVALLARD, who shared his impressions from the audition, told about the prestigious school he directs and about future joint projects between Italy and Ukraine.
Please, tell us about your Academy today. In what ways is it different from the ‘Scala Cadets’ school founded in 1950 by the legendary Arturo Toscanini?
“La Scala Theater Singing School was established after the war, when there was a need for a ‘forge’ of young opera singers in order to get the students involved in theater performances. By the way, at that time the performances were staged simultaneously on two stages: ‘Grande Scala’ and ‘Piccola Scala,’ which was used for staging baroque operas – both those created in the early 18th century and contemporary ones. Today our Academy is a school that offers its students to receive training courses in all disciplines related to the theater art. Special attention is given to traditional disciplines – opera singing and choreography. Our students receive training where the final stage of the learning process is a performance on the La Scala stage. After all, the path of improvement consists of many components (young artists gradually assimilate knowledge for their chosen profession, polishing up their talent).”
Why out of four divisions: music, choreography, staging, and management singing classes are the most popular among the foreign students?
“Indeed, the most popular class among the foreign students of our Academy is opera singing. Students strive to receive musical education in Italy both due to the linguistic reasons and guided by long-standing musical tradition of our country. I do not need to remind you that almost half of the repertoire presented in opera houses all over the world is performed in Italian and that the leading composers of the 19th century were Italians.
“Today the Academy of Specialization for Opera Singers at La Scala is our great pride. It was founded in 1997 by famous conductor Riccardo Muti led by Leyla Gencer, continuing the traditions of the ‘Scala Cadets’ School founded in 1950 by the famous maestro Arturo Toscanini in order to maintain the continuity of Italian opera generations.”
In order to receive training in Milan students have to undergo several selection stages. Recently in Kyiv there was held an audition for the students of the Pyotr Tchaikovsky National Music Academy of Ukraine. What are your impressions from young Ukrainian opera singers? Who did you choose? What are their chances to pass the exams ‘sieve’ (each year you pick only 10-12 people, while thousands of vocalists from around the world compete for the educational grant). When do students take their exams?
“Being aware of the rich musical traditions of Ukraine and about the high level of music education, we expected to find talented young singers with great musical skills and vocal training in Kyiv and, indeed, during the audition at the National Music Academy of Ukraine we discovered many interesting talented singers. Now, together with the Director of the Italian Institute of Culture in Ukraine Nicola Franco Balloni we consider the possibility of inviting several of Ukrainian young singers to Milan. Many vocalists performed greatly at the audition, but, in my opinion, some of them have a chance to successfully pass the exams and be enrolled in our two-year training course. In mid-July entrance exams will be held in Milan and the final stage for those admitted for training will be a performance on the stage of La Scala Theater, but it will only happen after a student completes the entire training course in our Academy.”
Italian opera school is a recognized brand and Italy is the birthplace of opera as a genre, but in the last years the “palm” of supremacy in the art has belonged to Germany (one third of world premieres are staged there). Can we say that opera is gradually going out of fashion in Italy?
“Today, Italian opera is experiencing a period of crisis, as well as other spheres (reduction of financial support from the state is not compensated by private investments, as has been predicted in recent years). Germany has always been famous for many of its theaters and orchestras, which present the center of cultural activities of the country, and tickets to the performances have always been sold at affordable prices there. It is not a secret for anyone that the Italian opera houses and concert agencies are not in such demand among the mass audience because often the cost of tickets is unreasonably high. Naturally, proper funding of education system and the sphere of arts would increase the interest in theater among young people and opera would become less elitist. However, I would not agree that opera is presently not popular in Italy.”
Training in the Academy lasts for two years. Your students do not only improve their singing and acting skills, but also learn Italian in-depth. Do students pay the tuition themselves or is it funded by the countries they come from?
“Our Academy is a private institution and, despite all the difficulties, in the past time we made every effort to provide the access to trainings for talented young people, regardless of their ability to pay. We managed to do this thanks to the support of government agencies, sponsors, individual patrons, and diplomats (of the countries accredited in Italy), who (occasionally) provided scholarships for chosen students to study in Italy. But I cannot hide the fact that in the future, perhaps, the students may have to pay for the training on their own, because the global economic crisis brings certain changes.”
For many years the dream of many Ukrainian opera singers, who already work in opera houses, to have master classes of the teachers from the La Scala Theater Academy held at, let’s say, National Opera of Ukraine, has not come true. Do you think something like this can be done in the near future?
“We are considering expanding our education projects in Ukraine. For example, recently I did a joint project with the Opera House in Bucharest. Our goal is to organize refresher courses for singers of the National Ukrainian Opera that welcomed in such a warm and friendly way. In the near future our teachers, especially soprano Luciana Serra, are willing to come to Kyiv again in order to share their knowledge. We discussed the mechanisms for solving these issues with the director of the theater Petro Chupryna and the Ambassador of Italy to Ukraine Fabrizio Romano.”
Do you monitor the careers of your graduates? Do you help (at first) them to find a good manager?
“Of course, we help our students in preparing for their professional careers, give them the opportunity to perform. In fact, we act as the first impresario for them. Besides, our stage and the first public performance allow the students to draw the interest of the agents, who would help them to continue their career in the future. In any case, after the completion of the course our graduates maintain the contact with alma mater and with La Scala Theater that often invites them to participate in various productions of the season.”
In your opinion, is some project promoted in the media a star today or such nuggets as, for example, Enrico Caruso, Maria Callas, and Luciano Pavarotti can push their way to the world grand stages on their own? What should a young person, who dreams of great career in theater world, know?
“All the great singers, even those who by nature were endowed with incredible talent would never make a career without education, life-time work, help of a good agent, and support of the theater management, that believes in you from the first steps. All I can say to young singers is that, above all, they have to improve their vocal and artistic skills in refreshment schools at theaters. They might even perform there, at first, starting their career with secondary roles, concerts, and competitions. Things like that help to hone your skills, as well as theatrical and musical expressiveness.”