Kristina Kapustinskaya: Singing wasn't my choice

Kristina Kapustinskaya as Grusha the Gypsy in “The Enchanted Wanderer” opera. Source: ITAR-TASS.

Kristina Kapustinskaya as Grusha the Gypsy in “The Enchanted Wanderer” opera. Source: ITAR-TASS.

Opera singer Kristina Kapustinskaya spoke to RBTH about her 5 years on St. Petersburg’s world-famous stage Mariinsky Theater.

A native of Kiev, opera singer Kristina Kapustinskaya has performed with the Mariinsky company since 2007. She spoke with Axilleas Patsoukas of Russia Beyond the Headlines about her voice and what inspires her as a singer.

Russia Beyond the Headlines: Why did you choose to become a singer?

Kristina Kapustinskaya: I wouldn’t say that this profession is something I could choose to become. I think that creative professions do not depend on your desire alone – you have to have a predisposition, a certain state of mind. Very often young people choose a profession only because it’s fashionable or because it seems beautiful to them. They must know that there is a very high risk in creative professions that even after many years of hard work you will not achieve success.

I had a grandmother who couldn’t go a single day without a song, and that’s how she was raising me – always humming something. She was the one who introduced me to Ukrainian folk songs.

In the fourth grade at school, during a music class, my class was singing a lullaby in choir. And I suddenly realized that my voice stood out the most – I wasn’t shouting, it was just that my voice has suddenly developed a bell, something that professionals call falsetto. When I was 13-14, I’ve watched the Phantom of the Opera movie and it left a lasting impression on me. Even though it was through a movie that I was introduced to opera, the impression was so powerful.

When I was about 16 I auditioned at the vocal department at the Glière Music College. Was this first step into the profession driven by my desire alone? It was mostly driven by something else – by the understanding that I cannot live without it.

RBTH: Do you remember any songs that your grandmother sang to you?

K.K.: How could I forget! I would sing them after her, echoing her. My most favorite one was from Natalka Potavka, an opera by Mykola Lysenko.

RBTH: What is the first song you remember singing? 

K.K.: I think it was something cheerful, probably some chastushka, a folk song.

RBTH: What does your voice mean to you?

K.K.: It’s my life. If God has given you the talent in the shape of your voice, you must develop it, facet it every day, find its new colors and intonations. You are now responsible for it – you must learn how to work with it, how to load it, how to give it rest, how to preserve the most important thing about the voice, the beauty and clarity of the timbre. You must hold the responsibility for this beauty and allow it to save the world that sometimes takes such ugly shapes.

RBTH: In recent years you have changed from mezzo-soprano to soprano. Was it your choice? Was it easy to make?  

K.K.: Again there’s a question about a choice. How can you predefine something that grows and develops? I did not change from anything to anything. I can only be myself. I choose to not use labels – mezzo or soprano. I prefer it to be simpler – there is a voice. When I was labeled mezzo, they have automatically limited me with pieces written for mezzo, and trying something different is no longer an option. I did not make any decision on what I want to be. I only decided whether I wanted to abandon everything I had already done and start everything from scratch. The decision required courage.

RBTH: As a soprano you have a wider repertoire, but you will not be able to play Carmen, a role that you were amazing in.

K.K.: Why not?! You should sing whatever is not harmful to your voice, whatever makes it develop, whatever suits your age, level and abilities, whatever doesn’t blur your timbre – because timbre is the utter treasure. There are sopranos who have sung Carmen beautifully.

RBTH: How does the historical background of St. Petersburg affect you?  It is where great writers and musicians lived, the history of this city. Do you think that if you lived somewhere else your work would have been the same as it is now, in St. Petersburg?

K.K.: I have grown up in an absolutely different atmosphere and environment, and naturally the things from my childhood are stronger in me, in my character, in my work. Yes, you can find inspiration for a performance in geographical location, in a façade, in literature, paintings, a cloud in the sky, a rainbow after rain, lilac flowers on the ground after storm… But this will just more or less affect the seismic system of your soul. But then you meet the most important person on the stage – your partner. And facades don’t mean anything.

RBTH: Is there any opera piece that you like singing at home?

K.K.: It’s not actually singing, it’s more like humming and reliving again and again. Yes, apart from Ukrainian song and romances I sing some opera pieces.

RBTH: What piece is your favorite right now?

K.K.: One of my all time favorites: “O hear me, night, to you alone I can trust the secret of my soul…” Liza’ incredibly passionate monologue in Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades.

RBTH: The word ‘music’ is feminine in Russian, but there are many great composers and conductors who are all men. Why is it so? 

K.K.: Leading others, controlling, ruling is for men. Women lose femininity behind the wheel. They shouldn’t do it. They shouldn’t be manlike. Being manlike doesn’t mean being a man. But it does mean not being a woman. Women intrigue with beauty and gentleness, and these qualities cannot be the main qualities of a conductor.

RBTH: Which of your roles up to this day do you love most of all?

K.K.: My roles are like children. Can a mother of many children choose once who is her favorite? I love all of them. Each of them.

RBTH: There are many rumors about the energy of the Mariinsky Theater. Have you ever felt it yourself? 

K.K.: The Mariinsky Theater is my home. It’s all very important here. 

RBTH: What song or aria would you dedicate to Europe in these difficult times? 

K.K.: I can’t offer anything more fitting that the hymn the EU has now, the “Ode to Joy”. Of course, there’s nothing joyful about this difficult situation. But Schiller [who wrote the text] called for celebration of solidarity of all people. I think solidarity is something we shouldn’t ever forget about, be it in joy or in sadness. Nobody should have to go through difficult times alone. They should be offered help. But the one accepting the help must do so with all responsibility. Everyone must show compassion. We should stand together, stay positive, and then we will find the solutions. We should create beauty to stop the world from assuming ugly shapes. This is the world where our children and grandchildren will live.

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