You need to be well prepared and when you enter the stage... let the music guide you

22 january 2019, Tuesday

An interview with Justyna Samborska, a soprano opera singer, a laureate of the 1st Prize and the Grand Prix at the 3rd International Adam Didur Opera Singers’ Competition in 2012.

Do you remember the moment when you decided to participate in the 3rd International Adam Didur Opera Singers’ Competition  organised by the Silesian Opera? Was is a well-thought-of or a spontaneous decision?

I think that competitions are always great experience.  They toughen us up, but above all they should be the crowning of yet another stage of our work on our skills, artistry and on ourselves. Naturally, one not always is the winner, but this is not that important.  I have always treated participating in a competition as a lesson not as a goal in itself... I think that every singer should verify their abilities at competitions: face the stress, control the stage freight which is indispensable part of our profession, and one’s health, because we do not always have the best form when we need one.  I had taken part in various competitions before and when I learnt from a friend that the Didur competition was approaching, I decided to apply to confront my abilities with other singers of my generation.

Where were you at that time as far as your professional life is concerned? Two years after graduating, it must have been the beginning of your career?

Definitely it was the beginning of my career... After studies I improved my vocal technique, at that time i.e. in 2010, 2011 and 2013 I sang minor roles (Barbarina in “The Marriage of Figaro” by W. A. Mozart and Die Schleppträgerin in “Elektra” by R. Strauss - staged by Willy Decker) in Teatr Wielki Polish National Opera in Warsaw.

What was your reasoning behind the repertoire that you chose for presentation?

A well-suited repertoire guarantees 60% of the success, that is why the selection took me and my professor quite a while.  I wanted to have the pieces that were best suited for my voice.

You had already had some experience at competitions. What was exceptional about this one?

This one was very exceptional for me and I always come back in my mind to the events from 7 years ago.  There was a wonderful, kind atmosphere and a very good organisation.  It felt like home, I was taken care of, I met people that I still keep in touch with. I was honoured to be singing in front of the marvellous international jury and at the side of a wonderful pianist who accompanied me on the first stages of the competition.  It is vital at competitions or auditions that the pianist forms a team with the singer, because it is the pianist that can sometimes help or ... unfortunately make it difficult for the singer. 

I trusted the professionalism of the whole competition and I was not disappointed. I was delighted! I do remember that the level was very high and very difficult, which motivated me even more.  Some of the participants were my old friends so I was really happy to meet them again.

However, the competition is more of a lesson, gaining experience. What is also needed is the physical condition.  So I tried to focus on saving my energy and health, which did not allow me to spend long hours on social meetings or making new friends.  Yet, apart from that I tried to find time to meet my friends and acquaintances after auditions, to relax with them sipping a cup of coffee or enjoying lunch or dinner.   At the end of the day we checked the list to see who had made it for the next stage.  It was a wonderful time...

Did you think that you would make it that far and would win the 1st prize? Do you remember your reaction when the results were announced?

I think that each singer applying to a competition is secretly hoping that their talent will be appreciated, but I did not assume winning the competition.  I tried to listen to my friends, see how they coped from stage to stage, because this also helped me develop.   Since I knew that the competition had a very high level I did not know what the final would be.

The announcement of results was a very emotional moment for me. I remember that I waited for my surname and still it was a surprise.  I thought I misheard and I did not believe, I had to ask if that was true.  I was extremely happy that my hard work, my vocal, musical and literary expertise was appreciated. 

I would like to stress that it is not enough to learn the score, text, perfect pronunciation, precise translation into Polish of just one aria.   In order to understand what the composer had in mind you have to know the origin of the opera, so reading literature is important.  Composers focused on word and only then they composed, not the other way round.  That is why I encourage others to deepen their knowledge and to search for information on the age of a given character, her life situation, is she is a lady or an ordinary girl. The information is necessary for creating a role and for the interpretation, for  portraying a character and understanding their emotional state.

What benefits are there from participating in that competition? Were there any interesting professional offers?

Winning the competition gave me great satisfaction and boosted my self-esteem. I was happy that my hard work was appreciated.

It also gave me a financial support which allowed me to participate in yet another competition - 63rd Gian Battista Viotti International Music Competition Vercelli in Italy (jury incl. i.a. Renato Bruson),  where I was awarded the special prize “Teatro d’Opera” Vercelli and “Luciano Pavarotti Giovani” scholarship.

I managed to go to Western Europe to polish my vocal skills, participate in auditions and gain even more experience.  Apart from the financial prize at the Didur competition I was also offered participation in four concerts  - Opern Gala Kammeroper Scholss Rheinsberg. Thanks to those concerts I got new contacts and invitation for auditions for the following edition of the Kammeroper Schloss Rheinsberg Vocal Competition, which I won!!! And that is why in 2013 I took part in four gala concerts with the symphonic orchestra and I sang the part of Antonia in “The Tales of Hoffmann” at the Kammeroper Schloss Rheinsberg.  I was engaged by the Agency and I won the subsequent auditions, i.a. for Internationales Opernstudio Köln - Oper Köln in Germany, where I sang various main parts e.g. Mimi in “La Boheme” by Puccini, or minor parts as Lady in “The Magic Flute” by W. A. Mozart and narrator in “The Rape of Lucrece” by Bittena.

Following your career path we now see that you work a lot in Germany.  What are your plans for the nearest future?

Yes, I lived four years in Germany in Cologne and that is why at present I have more contacts in Germany than in Poland. But I wanted to change that, that is why I came to Poland for some time, to my home city of Warsaw. I do hope that I will manage to make more contacts in Poland and present myself on theatre stages. 

I have just finished a tour, thirteen December concerts in the biggest concert halls in Berlin, Stuttgart, Munich, Hamburg, Bremen, Wiesbaden etc. After my successes at German stages, 

I have some plans and offers, but I would not like to share them yet not to jinx anything.

Why is it worth to take part in the competition organised by the Silesian Opera and how to prepare for it? What advice would you give to the singers?

As a laureate of the previous edition - the 3rd International Adam Didur Opera Singers’ Competition - I earnestly encourage you to participate!!! I think that competitions are very developing and are necessary for young singers. Participating in that kind of event is always a great experience and a lesson and this particular competition is unique.  You get fantastic care and atmosphere, incredible organisation and ... many new possibilities open in front of you.  It helped me a lot in my career and I think it can help any other young singer.  Dear young colleagues, do apply, you still have time until 20th February. Try your voices, do not be afraid.

You need to work hard to prepare for the competition, yet it is pleasant work.  The crucial thing is to select repertoire which is best suited for your voice.  Then you have to work hard, know the whole opera in order to know what the situation of your character is, their age, emotional state experienced in a given aria.  If you still have time, read literature.  Translate each word! Once you have done it, follow the dynamics notation and any guidance, even from directors - if any.  Do  not be influenced by youtube films, try to create and interpret your chosen aria by following the composer’s hints.  And when you enter the stage, let the music guide you.  I keep my fingers crossed for the participants and I wish them best luck at the 4th  International Adam Didur Opera Singers’ Competition.

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