Charming beginnings: Askar Lashkin

Edited & Translated by Leila Grace Hills

From an early age Askar Lashkin was surrounded by music.
Born in 1989 in the city of Tashkent, then the capital of the Soviet republic of Uzbekistan. Russian-uzbek baritone, he graduated in 2008 at the Tashkent Music College. From 2008 to 2011 he attended the Tashkent State Arts University, where he underwent an intensive path of professionalization as: scenic art, choreography, acrobatics, stage fights, theatrical make-up. He has over 3 years of experience in the Tashkent Operetta Theatre in Uzbekistan. He graduated at the Benedetto Marcello Music Conservatory in Venice (Italy) under the guidance of Giancarlo Pasquetto. He participated in master classes with: Sara Mingardo, Lorenzo Regazzo, Prof.ssa Ewa liykowska, Barbara Frittoli, M. Nahel Al Halabi. Currently, he is under the guidance of M° Piero Guarnera. He was selected after several auditions organized by different cultural associations for the concert seasons, including: Circolo Della Lirica (Padua), Cantiere all’opera (Padua), Teatroperando (Bologna), Oltreilteatro (Turin), Vicenza in Lirica (Vicenza), AICS (Padua), Amici della Russia (Padua), Comitato Mascagnano “Amici della Lirica” (Bagnara di Romagna), Russkie Motivi Stravinsky (Milan), Tournée “Opera di Mosca”, Musica a Palazzo (Venice), Orchestra “Nova Symphonia Patavina” (Padua), Venice Chamber Orchestra (Venice), I Musici Patavini, DonneInMusica (Pisa), Europa InCanto (Rome), Mythos Opera Festival (Sicily), Impresa Lirica Francesco Tamagno (Turin). In 2015, he made his debut as Maestro Biscroma Strappaviscere in “Le convenienze ed inconvenienze teatrali” by G. Donizetti at the Mario Del Monaco Municipal Theatre in Treviso; Gasparo in “Rita”  by G. Donizetti in Venice; Marchese d’Obigny in “La Traviata” by G. Verdi in Bologna. He performed as a soloist in the “Missa in tempore belli” by Haydn in a concert dedicated to the centenary of the great war, at “La Fenice” Theater (Venice). In May 2018 he made his debut at the Academic Theater of Castelfranco Veneto in the role of Figaro (Il Barbiere di Siviglia, G. Rossini) conducted by M° Marco Titotto. Participates in various productions such as Figaro in Veneto, Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna. He successfully performed Carmina Burana by Carl Orff for the 40th of the Anzolim De La Tor Choir of Riva del Garda, also “Messa di Gloria” by Puccini as a baritone soloist. In 2019, he debuted as Ping “Turandot” in the production of Europa InCanto, taking part in a big national tour and which led him to perform in Italy’s most prestigious theaters: San Carlo Theater in Naples, Teatro Comunale in Bologna, Rendano Theater in Cosenza, Argentina and Eliseo Theaters in Rome, Teatro della Pergola in Florence, Pergolesi theater in Jesi, Vittorio Emanuele Theater of Messina, Theater F. Vespasiano in Rieti. In October, he debuted as Don Giovanni in the production of the homonymous work by W. A. Mozart, in a staging by the Accademia in Opera – Accademia Filarmonica and Venice Chamber Orchestra. In 2020, he played a character in an episode of the 8th season of the television series “Inspector Coliandro” on RAI2, alongside Giampaolo Morelli and Sabrina Impacciatore. He won a place in the Rossini Academy (ROF) 2020 in Pesaro, where he played the role of Don Profondo in Il Viaggio a Reims.

Hello, Askar! It’s always a pleasure to meet & to chat with young promising artists. How’s it going? What is an opera-student doing in a time like this, when time is passing but we can’t do more in our field? How are you spending it and what are your thoughts and state of mind regarding the situation?

The pleasure is all mine! Ultimately no one within the theatre industry could say things are ‘going well’ without lying at least a bit. I personally try to dedicate a few hours a day to physical activity –  running, cycling and then several hours preparing new repertoire. At least once a week I also go to my teacher with Maestro Piero Guarnera; these lessons really keep the fire going and set me up for the week. Despite everything I can’t really complain about 2020 because, even at a professional level, I managed to do some performances, concerts, film for RaiFiction and most importantly be accepted into the Rossini Academy (ROF) 2020 in Pesaro. And this year I’ve decided on 3-4 competitions and some auditions to prepare for.  For some the situation has caused desperation and I’ve seen a few colleagues who can’t take it anymore and have changed paths. But I believe ‘every cloud has a silver lining’. It’s happened to me a few times of falling, not knowing what to do but then always getting back up. And I owe it to all of us and our great love: theatre.

You represent the class of opera singers of tomorrow. This can inevitably involve asking yourself important questions about where the opera world is heading. Have you ever participated in online performance activities or streaming projects? What’s your opinion on digitalizing live performances? And how important are social media networks for artists in these times, in your opinion?

As I said, I’m fairly social savvy as I have a lot of tech experience with making websites etc. So I really enjoy curating my Instagram, Facebook, Youtube and I say that 100%  every artist should be honing their digital image – they should always be updating their website and sharing new multimedia content. And from my experience these words are very true. Many professional singers and even work opportunities have had their beginnings on social media. Even this wonderful interview for a magazine as chic as OperaCharm Magazine. It’s very touching and I thank you for the opportunity. But we’re talking about the digital cherry on top that can help a singer, but it can’t substitute the emotions and the ‘real life’ work. I’m very traditional in that sense. During the lockdown in 2020 I also sang once on my balcony in solidarity with my country, which I love. But that was enough – I said no to online flashmobs, concerts etcetera etcetera. I was and will remain faithful to the idea that a professional artist must respect their already difficult and challenging work and avoid becoming just online ‘entertainment’. But if we’re talking about online streaming operas organised by foundations and theatres worldwide, it’s without a doubt a response to the pandemic situation, which didn’t leave much choice. My debut as Don Profondo in the 2020 edition of the Rossini Festival was online and, even then, despite the beauty of the Rossini Theatre in Pesaro, the incredible work done by Maestro Ernesto Palaci and the whole team at the Academy and festival, you could really feel the lack of audience. And unfortunately viewing numbers online can’t replace the audience, their eyes, their applause. The only argument for the digitalisation of the opera world – a world I believe will return when we go back to normal life and theatres reopen – would be being able to still have people from abroad watching livestreamed performances. There is a lot of good in removing distance, having higher viewings to help theatres’, conductors’, singers’  etc. with marketing. Not to mention the issue of accessibility for those who can’t visit the theatre but who are deeply passionate about it. 

To go back a bit… We all have that one significant moment when we found out that this is the path that we had to choose and it usually is either a funny or an emotional story. What’s yours?

I have been surrounded by music since I was little, thanks to my parents and especially to my grandparents. My gran was a classical ballerina but she would also always sing to me, and instead of a lullaby, it would be an excerpt from classical or opera music. My grandpa, even though he was already retired, used to take singing lessons – he was a baritone and listened to the great Pavarotti every day. Because of that I can say, even as a child, I had a taste for opera, and even took a few lessons along with my grandpa. I was 15 when I decided to dedicate myself to singing when my mum took me to the music school in Tashkent (Uzbekistan), because she had to listen to me saying “I want to sing” every day. The only condition was that “you do classical school and then you can sing what you want after, be that pop, rock etc.”But after a few months at the school, I realised that opera was all I wanted. It’s a pity my grandparents passed away before all of this. Nowadays, sometimes when I’m singing on stage I imagine them sitting in the hall and I know they would be the happiest grandparents in the world. 

Your first big role was Don Giovanni, correct? How do you prepare for such a role? How important is it to be careful and to  consciously choose your repertoire at the beginning of your career? 

If we’re talking about the first big role, it was Figaro in ‘The Barber of Seville’, which went from being a dream to my pièce de resistance. Even Don Giovanni was a new step from dream to reality. I’d say I’d already begun to prepare the great womaniser for my graduation recital at the Benedetto Marcello Conservatoire in Venice. My thesis was titled ‘The nuances of Don Giovanni’. I always wanted to solve this great enigma. Who was he? What was inside? What was he afraid of? The good, the bad and the ugly sides… I also graduated at the State University of the arts in my country, at the faculty of ‘musical stage acting’. To give you an idea, we did acting 5-8 hours a days, 5 times a week. By having such an intense course I managed to study the Stanislavsky method, choreography, acrobatics, stage combat, makeup. Like all singers I study my scores, work on technique with my teacher and study with a coach, but the true pleasure and understanding of the work begins when I can put the text together with my walk and gestures, when I try to ‘get into’ the character’s psychology and put on my costume etc. It’s during those moments that I feel truly happy and become a real ‘lethal weapon’. So for example during the Don Giovanni rehearsals, sometimes I would do the scenes with two casts and sometimes I would substitute Leporello. Ummmm, being able to choose the best repertoire for your age is a great privilege, which many singers would like, especially those just starting out, but unfortunately the hard reality is that this happens very rarely. Many singers burn themselves out with roles that are too difficult, and then encounter big problems. I’m very grateful to be able to sing Rossini, Mozart, Donizetti (buffo) and Tchaikovsky but still be able to do some Verdi, Bellini and other verismo writers. 

And speaking of Don Giovanni. Mozart – easy or hard, but necessary? Why? 

Moyart is all of that and more. Some say that Mozart is very simple and logical, and they’d be correct, and for me this is his genius. A singer who sings a Mozart aria could say ‘it’s very difficult, you’re often exposed, and all your small technique problems come out’ and they’d be right. Foreigners like me also say ‘there are many recitatives, the harmony stays the same, but there are too many words and too much expression’ and they too would also be right. Should I continue? You know it better than I do! I believe Mozart can help everyone, even singers who work with different repertoire. 

Now a difficult question perhaps: who is your favorite opera character and why? If you could embody him today, how do you think he would behave? How would he dress? Do you think that a contemporary staging should be inspired by current world events or would a more traditional interpretation be suitable?

“You never forget your first time”, right? When I was 15 I dreamed of singing Figaro in Barbiere, I debuted it in 2018 and hope to sing the role the rest of my life. I see myself in the character. His energy is very similar to mine. But if we’re talking about now, I want to debut Doctor Malatesta. He’s also a bit of a Figaro, right? The beauty of many of these characters lies in both the idea of them and their universality. That’s why a character from, say the 18th century, placed in the modern ‘given circumstances’ (Stanislavsky) can work so well, such as Don Giovanni in 2021, Violetta Valéry etc. But that choice should be justified and not leave itself open to the absurd plot holes we sometimes see in productions. However, as a great love of historical stagings, of decadent traditional costumes, I really enjoy emerging myself in the past, in that sometimes fairytale-like world that you don’t see in everyday life… That’s also one of the points of theatre, right?

You also played a supporting role in an episode of the 8th season of the television series “Inspector Coliandro” on RAI2, alongside Giampaolo Morelli and Sabrina Impacciatore. How was this experience? What differences did you encounter between opera drama and TV drama?

It was really amazing. On the subject of social networking, I was invited to the audition because Valentina Barato, the casting director, came across my personal website. It was my first ever film experience. Yes I had performed on theatre stages, but there’s a big difference. I must thank the director Milena Cocozza, Garbo Productions and the whole Coliandro team – the organisation was perfect. On that side it would be great if musicians took care of things like that. 

In terms of the acting side, I struggled a bit at the beginning because of the way filming is organised, where you interact with the cameras instead of with an audience who watches from afar. So your movements need to be different, the way you speak changes, scenes aren’t done chronologically, you need to retake the same scene 10 times in order to get different frames etc. But the atmosphere on set was very friendly whilst being very professional and organised, all of which helped me to forget the exhaustion and to get into character. We filmed quite a lot at night, with the call at 6pm until 5 in the morning. And of course working with the amazing Giampaolo and Sabrina was incredible – they are exceptional!

COVID-19 permitting, what are your next engagements in terms of roles you want to study, masterclasses, competitions or even performances?

This COVID! Let’s hope it lets us live and enjoy our lives. Anyway, despite the many restrictions, I’ve been in Genova these past few days for an audition. I’d really like to take part in the Toti Dal Monte competition this year, and also hope to participate in Operalia. I have a few potential summer concerts in Italy and France, but let’s cross fingers they can actually go ahead. Then, who knows?  Maybe this summer I’ll finally be able to visit Uzbekistan after not going back since I moved to Italy 10 years ago. It might also be possible to organise something there with the Opera Theatre. Today of all days I found out I was chosen for the GIMYF 2021 festival. I hope that this health crisis doesn’t get in the way. To sum it up, I have many plans that I’m currently working on, so hopefully all will be well.

What charming feature do you love the most about opera?

It’s complexity and immortality. Maybe it’s a bit banal to say, but opera is the most complex and rich genre in the world. And every time I’m on stage I see the eyes of the conductor, director, orchestra, singers, costume designers, make up artists, tailors, technicians and audience and it gives me goosebumps to be part of something so big, so complex, where every aspect comes alive thanks to working with some other element. For that I am truly grateful for each and every single one of those people and for this divine creation we call Opera. 

Thank you very much, Askar, and a huge in bocca al lupo for everything!


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