After her astonishing public masterclass, I could not resist the temptation of putting a few questions to Roberta Ferrari, pianist, continuo player and Italian vocal coach who, as part of the Mozart residency of the Académie du Festival, also wears the “language advisor” cap. From the shadows to the limelight, with just one purpose: for the magic of opera to work its magic…
A few words about your career…
One of my uncles was a violinist at La Scala in Milan. I wasn’t even five when he asked me to accompany him on the piano. From the age of 15, I started to accompany singers at La Scala and to perform in concert here and there for song recitals. I much preferred being with the singers, rather than alone with the pure piano repertoire. My teacher, Adalberto Tonini, from the Conservatory of Milan, was smart enough to encourage me to explore the lyrical repertoire further. He was right: as soon as I got my diploma, I won a scholarship to La Scala as vocal coach. Two months later, I won the audition at the Arena di Verona, where I stayed for four years. After a passage in Treviso and Genoa theatres, here I am, a vocal coach, but also a pianist and harpsichordist at La Fenice in Venice, where I have been since 1998. It’s such a joy to be here in this theatre with its exceptional acoustics! It’s like a lounge, where everything can be perfectly heard; a little candy box which gives my work even more meaning. Despite a well-filled agenda, I have managed to juggle my career with being a mum. I had to slow down when my two children were younger; now they are more independent, I can leave the peninsular to honour wonderful invitations such as those of Festival d’Aix and its Académie!
Your greatest satisfaction?
What I like most in my work is accompanying young people. But if I have to think of a particular memory, then I immediately think of La finta giardiniera by Mozart, a production of the Académie du Festival d’Aix 2012, conducted by Andreas Spering. The singers, who were just starting out at the time, have all become extremely famous: Sabine Devieilhe, John Chest, Layla Claire and others… For this opera, which is full of recitatives, we worked diligently on language and diction. The singers became involved with enthusiasm and rigour, but above all with incredible intelligence: a distinctive sign of the Académie singers. And I have to say that this collective investment bore its fruits: from the point of view of progress made and results obtained, this production satisfied me more than any other in my career.
A few words on your participation in the Mozart 2018 residency…
I am working here as a language coach, vocal coach and rehearsal pianist as I did three years ago. This year, I must say that the atmosphere is even more joyful than in the past. It is true that it is only the start of the residency and that with fatigue, as the concerts get nearer, tension always mounts… More than working on diction and phrasing, the job of vocal coach requires genuine skills in psychology! Sometimes, when coaching singers, in a one-hour session we do 15 minutes of music and 45 minutes of conversation. The simple fact of putting words to emotions is enough to unblock most situations. I do everything I can so that their confidence grows, so that they choose the path and voice that is in each of them, but the hardest task is doing all of this without them noticing Zitto, Zitto ! / Nur stille! stille! stille! stille!
Interview with Roberta Ferrari, comments collected and translated by Aurélie Barbuscia.
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