Soprano Anna Tomowa-Sintow: Don't hurry to gain stardom

I tell young opera singers to enjoy their work on stage and its positive effect on the audience

Photo: BTA

Bulgaria has a future, I firmly believe that, says Bulgarian opera singer Anna Tomowa-Sintow, who visited the country at the invitation of maestro Plamen Kartaloff, director of Sofia Opera and Ballet, to help the vocal and interpretation training of the cast of a production of Mozart's opera Don Juan. Many years ago, she promised maestro Herbert von Karajan, with whom she worked for nearly 20 years, she would pass on her experience to the young generation. Since then, she has been giving masterclasses in Bulgaria and other countries. The Sofia Opera opened a photo exhibition this spring dedicated to Tomowa-Sintow and entitled 55 Years on Stage.

Ms Sintow, your permanent residence is in Vienna. How do visits to Bulgaria make you feel?

Every time I come back to Bulgaria I experience a special kind of thrill. I have a very strong connection to the country's nature, which I have loved since my school years when I used to be an avid mountaineer. My father was a hiker and together we have conquered every mountain and every peak there is in Bulgaria. I have been to practically every city in the country. I feel a deep connection to my homeland, its values and ambience. It is a very big part of me. I suppose every Bulgarian is excited to return home. Whenever I come back, something gentle stirs in me and this special, inexplicably electrifying space unfurls. I always come to Bulgaria with a lot of love and heart wide open.

How do you find the country? Has it changed much?

I notice changes with my every visit. At the end of the day, I find that the country has changed for the better. I would remind you of the yin-yang symbol of dualism in Asian philosophy - two opposite powers, energies or principles that complement each other. In other words, in every piece of darkness there is a speck of light, or rather, darkness merges into light and vice versa - in the light you can always find some darkness. The real question is: on what are we focusing our attention - darkness or light? What do we see more clearly?

If we look at what life in Bulgaria was like some 30-40 years ago, and people of that generation take stock of what they lacked at the time and have today, they should be more content, grateful and appreciative now. People must learn to be positive, to live with heart open to the new, and to recognise the good.

The whole world has changed, it is not just Bulgaria. What you are asking me about applies to other countries too. It was a different era 30 years ago - things in life should be viewed through the prism of time. People will be happy if they learn to appreciate it when they have it good. Then, the good, the nice, the positive will certainly forge a path towards further development more easily. People should not remain stuck on what they lack or on negative things in life because then they run the risk of being obsessed by those things.

Do you allude to politics when you say that?

Politics is a convoluted mess everywhere in the world. We, the regular folks outside of that realm, are entitled to have our opinions. But we cannot make decisions and change things over which we do not have control. But if I may circle back to your previous question, I will always say that I find Bulgaria different with my every visit. Change has always registered on my radar but what I want to turn your attention to is that, at the core of it, Bulgaria is changing in a positive way, regardless of the pluses or minuses, and the inevitable ups and downs. The country is moving forward and I am really glad of it.

Bulgaria is a country that has a future, an undeniably bright one. I firmly believe that. But for it to come to fruition, people need to adopt a more positive and optimistic view. They should be cheerful, well-intentioned and smiling. They should allow themselves only optimistic thoughts that would take them to what is good and bright. We have goodness in us - all we need to do is let it manifest itself.

Working with so many young people as you do, do you see promising perspectives before the new generation of opera singers in Bulgaria? Can they build a career here or should they seek professional success elsewhere?

I am surprised that both in the Sofia Opera, as well as in the State Opera Stara Zagora with which I am in contact to this day, young opera artists are helped so actively in their proper development. I even worry that they are entrusted important, responsible tasks on the stage too quickly. Actually, this is an innovative trend in treating young artists - to afford them an opportunity to shine and be noticed.

If I am to be specific, the Don Juan production at the Sofia Opera and Ballet, for example, gives young people fresh out of the National Academy of Music a chance to perform and go through a valuable preparation process for this serious Mozart work, which automatically takes them to a higher plane professionally. This is an undeniably positive development for opera theatre.

I think that young opera artists have room to grow in Bulgaria. But they should be trusted more; there should be more control and effort to promote their development. They should be constantly supported. There is no such thing as a perfect system for developing talent, there will always be falls along the way, mistakes happen. The goal, however, should be to expand one's repertoire.

What do you tell young singers who attend your masterclasses? What do you advise them?

A lot of things. My main goal is to motivate them, give them a sense of well-founded confidence and balance. I endeavour to instil real self-confidence in them, which, naturally, contains a certain dose of uncertainty as well. Fear is a completely natural state. What is import is to not have fear of fear. I try to teach the young to be ready to face challenges head on and not seek an easier, roundabout path. No, they should be ready to contend with difficulties. There will be sleepless nights, hard moments, but people grow by overcoming obstacles. Young opera singers can grow and develop only if they learn how to cope with difficulties. Only in this way will they have great achievements and reach the pinnacle of the profession.

I had a wonderful time with the premiere of the production of Don Juan, along with the young singers and the Sofia Opera and Ballet cast. They all worked extremely hard and with great professionalism. Actually, Mozart is always demanding and all the artists did great in rising up to the occasion.

What would you like to wish to young performers, to the next generation of opera singers?

I would advise them not to be in a hurry to gain stardom. I wish for them to enjoy their work on stage because when you find joy in your work, that permeates through the audience and they are infused with positivity. I wish for them to approach everything with love and dedication. Singing must be their life's priority. Everything in this life is a gift. Making art for people is certainly one.

You sing in at least four languages. Do you think or dream in different languages?

Of course, I think and dream in many languages. But whenever I am sad or have a problem, I mostly function in Bulgarian. This language is in my DNA, my roots, my family speaks Bulgarian too. Bulgarian and German go parallel for me, as my career has mostly developed in German-speaking setting. Come to think of it, when I am sad or tense because of some kind of problem, Bulgarian takes over more often than not.

Do you regret anything?

No, absolutely not! If I had to do it all over, I would do everything exactly the same way, with all the advantages and disadvantages.
 

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Universally recognised as one of the great interpreters of Mozart's masterpieces, soprano Anna Tomowa-Sintow made her debut on 8 July 1965 in the State Opera Stara Zagora as Tatiana in Pyotr Tchaikovsky's opera Eugene Onegin. Soon after, she was invited to join the Leipzig Opera. In 1972, Anna Tomowa-Sintow became a soloist of the Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin, where she continued to expand her repertoire with roles in Le nozze di Figaro, Cosi fan tutte, Ariadne auf Naxos, Aida, Tosca and Der Rosenkavalier. In 1975, she gave her first ever La Scala and Royal Opera House performances in Milan and London, respectively. In the ensuing years, she mastered hundreds of roles, while her career followed a steady upward trajectory. Anna Tomowa-Sintow is known for her artistic prowess - both in her German and Italian repertoires. Widely regarded as one of the greatest sopranos of our time, Anna Tomowa-Sintow has performed in all the major opera houses around the world.

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