Charming beginnings: Emil Abdullaiev

In autumn of 2016, Emil Abdullaiev moved to Italy for studying with M° Carlo Colombara, who’s lessons he was attending from 2013. He has graduated from Conservatory Giacomo Puccini” of La Spezia under the guide of M° Marcello Lippi in 2020 with the highest grade and Cum Laude”. From the February of 2020 till the February of 2021 he has participated in Accademia Verdiana, a training course established by Teatro Regio in Parma. During this course he has studied with some of the best musicians in the world, including Renata Scotto, Michele Pertusi, Mariella Devia, Barbara Frittoli and Sonia Ganassi. Recently, he enriched his repertoire with roles as: Figaro (Le Nozze di Figaro), Don Basilio (Il Barbiere di Siviglia), Raimondo (Lucia di Lammermoor), Il Grande Inquisitore and Un frate (Don Carlo), Alidoro (La Cenerentola), Zaccaria (Nabucco), Fiesco (Simon Boccanegra), Don Pasquale, Ferrando (Il Trovatore), Colline (La Bohème), Sparafucile and Monterone (Rigoletto), Don Gavino (La Scuffiara by Paisiello), Haly (L’italiana in Algeri), Il Re (Aida), Angelotti (Tosca) on the various stages, including Teatro Regio di Parma, Teatro Giuseppe Verdi in Pisa, Teatro Coccia di Novara, Teatro Giuseppe Verdi di Busseto, Teatro Casinò di Sanremo and many others. During these productions he worked alongside singers as Ambrogio Maestri, Bruno Praticò, John Osborn, Massimo Cavaletti, Roberto De Biasio, Amartuvshin Enkhbat and Simon Orfila. He worked with stage directors as Pier Francesco Maestrini, Renato Bonajuto, Gianmaria Aliverta, Roberto Catalano, Paul Panizza and with conductors as Matteo Beltrami, Giovanni di Stefano, Aldo Salvagno, Marco Beretta, Tommaso Ussardi, Alessandro Palumbo and Claudio Morbo. His concert experience includes performances based on operatic repertoire in various halls in Ukraine, Italy, France and Bulgary. He took part in XXth Festival Verdi, doing numerous concerts for VerdiOFF.

Dear Emil, nice to chat with you again! I had the chance to attend a few of your performances during VerdiOFF, at the XXth Festival Verdi and now we finally have the chance to talk about the development of your beautiful career! First of all, hows a young opera singer spending his time during these difficult times? Do you think that the online contests, masterclasses, lesson can be a substitute for the real thing?

Thank you, it’s my pleasure! These are really hard times for everyone and I wish our conversation could have started in a different way, but it’s not a secret that opera as a part of live performing arts is currently in a pretty big crisis. A couple of young and talented colleagues of mine had to find another job, that has nothing to do with music and this is extremely sad. As far as I’m still a singer, you could say I’m lucky, but I haven’t sung with an orchestra for almost a year since last June and, in like 7 months between autumn and spring, I have done only 3 online performances. I haven’t been that inactive since 2014, I guess, and I’ve passed through some rough times dealing with this emptiness, so at a certain point I’ve just started to work everyday almost an hour on my technique. It brought me some surprising results, so I’m still working this way. I should say that I’m very grateful to my neighbors for being patient and not complaining during all this vocal research, because it’s definitely not that interesting and easy to listen to!

Regarding online activities they can only be a small part, because in 90% of cases offline things work in a completely different way. I’ve seen a couple of productions that were beautiful and interesting on screen but that didn’t work at all live, because all the micro expressions and gestures were designed for close ups and you could not see them on stage. I also had an opportunity to hear one singer with mics and after a week in the theater without being amplified and I got a completely different impression. I guess, almost all my colleagues will agree that all these forms are so widespread lately because “it’s better than nothing”, but it’s still not a solution. The same thing about online lessons and especially online competitions. You will hear a completely positive opinion on them only from people who are making a fortune out of it. Of course you can do some work online, but only in a generic way, no details can be refined. Of course some sort of preselection can also be done that way (to hear, for example, if the person is on tune and how wide the range is) but not much more. I hope that with the vaccination campaign all the musicians will be able to turn back live really soon. 

Now, lets turn a little back in time and remember your first encounter with opera and your first impression on this art form – the moment you felt that this is the path you have to step on. Do you remember what inspired you to start this charming adventure?

I’ll never forget my first time in an opera house. I was 15, I was visiting my friend in Kiev and his mother invited us to see an opera that ironically later will be really significant in my career: Il Barbiere di Siviglia. I can hardly remember the voices, but what I do remember is some sort of magical warmth spreading all over my body as the orchestra was tuning. The whole performance I could not believe there was no mics at all and that all that huge and beautiful sound was produced only by the instruments. That was really charming!

Although by that time I could not really imagine myself being an opera singer. It seemed to me something really mysterious, that you have to be “the chosen one” and I never thought of myself that way. I always loved singing but never did it in public. I had my first singing lessons at the University where I studied television and I loved them really much. I was 17, so my speech voice had started changing due to my age and because of the lessons, and I was happy about that, as I thought of my voice as not that pleasant. I decided to get some more benefits from this process, so I went to take some private vocal lessons. I actually still find pretty weird that I was 100% sure that I had to work on my voice, because there was no real need to do it. All of a sudden different teachers that I studied with started telling me that I have an opera voice and that I need to study hard and make a career. It all sounded so crazy for me and I thought they all were totally nuts, but deep down inside I was already poisoned with this idea. I gave myself the last chance, went to another private teacher saying that I wanted to sing just for fun, but after two weeks she asked me whether I could be interested in entering the National Music Academy of Ukraine. When you’re 17 you can see this only as a sign of the destiny, so I followed it, my charming adventure started and here I am! 

Ballroom dancer, chess player, television presenter & actor – these are only a few of your previous passions & activities, which is quite impressing! Which of these helped you, and how, during your preparation and performance as an opera singer? What are the skills that you would recommend to perfect to those who want to start a career as a singer, besides the vocal technique? 

In one way or another everything is helping me. I’m quite sure that the more experience you have had in your life the better singer you become. Because on stage we’re telling our story within’ the music, so the more you have to tell, the more interesting is to listen to you. For example, playing chess was the point where my passion for history was born and a lot of operas were written inspired by real historical facts. So when I’m singing for example “Ella giammai m’amò” I understand a lot of things about what character Filippo II could have been.  

Speaking of characters, nowadays if you’re planning a career in opera theater you should know that acting skills are almost as important as vocal, so you’d better be ready for that, because a lot of musical schools still don’t offer a good training program in that field. The more  you can do on stage the more prepared you will be for modern opera world. So if you feel embarrassed dancing, just go and take some dancing class! It doesn’t even matter which class you’ll take but it will definitely help you move better and feel yourself more comfortable doing whatever director might ask you. 

I would also strongly recommend to read as much as you can. The fiction literature will expand your imagination and from non-fiction one you can get a lot of interesting information. For example the letters of composers help us understand better their intentions and therefore the music that we sing. 

And of course you should listen to a lot of music and not only the vocal one. If you can go to live concerts it’s great, but if you can’t online streaming services are offering nowadays almost everything you can imagine, so just expand your musical horizons and learn from every musician you are listening to.   

As I was saying, you were one of the students of the 2020-2021 edition Accademia Verdiana of Teatro Regio di Parma. How useful is a young artists program such as this one for a singer at the beginning of his or her path and, among all these programs, why did you choose the one of Teatro Regio?

I decided to try to be a part of Accademia Verdiana because of several reasons. First of all Giuseppe Verdi is my favorite composer and his music occupies a half of my repertoire, so I thought that I need to know more about it. Than I was really interested in doing lessons with Michele Pertusi, Mariella Devia and Barbara Frittoli, so to find them all in the same place was an incredible studying  opportunity. If you add to that we worked with a lot of other great musicians during the course and we started our path in Accademia doing lessons with legendary Renata Scotto, you’ll understand why there are a lot of talented singers who try to enter this program. 

Regarding whether a certain YAP is useful or not depends only (and I can’t stress it enough) on you. You might have the best coaches in the world in front of you, but if you’re not ready it won’t make any sense. Of course, recently it became almost a must. First you go to Conservatory, than you start to sing small parts in small productions, than big parts on the same level, than you go to some kind of an Opera studio and than finally your real big career can begin. But the truth is that it doesn’t always goes just that way. These programs give young singers an opportunity and it’s up to us how will we use this opportunity.

For example the one offered by Teatro Regio di Parma is pretty unique. You have a chance to study with an impressive number of internationally acclaimed musicians. If you try to attend all these masterclasses by yourself, I guess it will take you no less than two years. But! You have to be ready for this program both vocally and mentally. Because it’s so intensive you will hear a lot of different opinions about your voice and your repertoire and you won’t have much time to elaborate this information, so sometimes it could be tough. But if you are able to manage this situation, it will bring you incredible results, just as it did to me. 

How would you describe your voice and your vocal development until this point in your career? Who are those to whom you are grateful for your achievements and which is the event that has brought you the biggest satisfaction until now?

I’m a classical basso cantabile, not much agile, but with good high register that allows me to do some bass-baritone repertoire. I’m not sure at which point is my vocal development, but I’m trying to do my best every time I sing, even when I’m home in front of my refrigerator. 

I’ve certainly done a lot since my first voice lesson as when I’ve started I had very small extension, had a lot of problems with pitch and had absolutely no vibrato. After 12 years I still have a lot to do, but I’m really grateful to every single musician who in one way or another helped me to get to the point where I’m now. 

I’ve already had some big satisfactions even though my career is still at the beginning. The first memories that come to mind will definitely be occupied by my favorite Don Basilio, who has brought me a lot of wonderful moments in interesting productions with great musicians in different places. And then there is Zaccaria. I’ve sung him just once in a small theater, but the fact that I did  the role  on stage I dreamed so much about and that the audience seemed to be pleased by it, means a world to me. 

If you were to have a coffee with an opera character (not necessarily one of your repertoire), who would that be and why?

I guess it will be my beloved Figaro, even though I guess he is more of a beer guy! (laughs) I won’t give you any elaborated explanations this time, I just admire him as he is, his way of dealing with really complex situations and how he reaches his goals without being pushy or hideous. So Figaro is just a kind of a person I would like to be friends with or at least hang out sometimes. 

COVID-19 permitting, what are your next plans in terms of repertoire, masterclasses, contests and performances?

I am currently doing my debut in Switzerland, where I will sing 3 performances as Don Basilio in Il Barbiere di Siviglia by G. Rossini within the Ticino Music Festival. At the end of July there is supposed to be a concert with an orchestra in Trentino. I usually avoid working in August because I need to recharge my batteries. Then, at the beginning of autumn, there will be time for some Verdi’s roles such as Monterone and Barone. Afterwards I should finally do my first Bellini experience postponed due to COVID with Sir Giorgio in I Puritani and Capellio Capuleti in I Capuleti e I Montecchi.

And in the end, as usual, what is the most charming feature of the opera?

In my point of view the most charming feature of opera is that it’s beauty is timeless and you really never get tired of it. Even after 20 years after your first La Boheme you’ll still have your eyes wet when it gets to “Sono andati, fingevo di dormire”. 

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

Thank you, it was a big pleasure for me!

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