Luiz Gazzola for Opera Lively – There have actually been women who successfully disguised themselves as men – for example, Deborah Sampson and Cathay Williams, who fought with the Continental Army during the American Revolution, or Emma Edmonds, who fought with the Union Army in the U.S. Civil War under the name of Private Frank Thompson and later even received a pension from Congress for her service. So there is certainly a realistic element in the character of Leonore. At the same time, she also represents an idealized view of married love, as the opera’s original subtitle indicated. How are you planning to approach your portrayal of this woman? How do you see her?

Maria Katzarava – I see Leonore as a very strong character who is able to overcome any problem. She is a resilient woman who does not surrender. I think of her as one of the biggest examples of loyalty and fidelity.

OL – In Charlotte, you will be singing Leonore for the first time. In the original 1805 version of the opera, the part is written for a dramatic coloratura. Since then, the role has been sung by voices ranging from dramatic coloratura and lirico-spinto to the big Hochdramatische sopranos, and even some mezzos. The role probably needs something of each of these vocal qualities, especially the demanding “Abscheulicher!” aria. How have you been preparing for this role? Have you listened to recordings or watched any DVDs, or do you prefer to develop your own conception of the character without any “outside” influences? 

MK – I have listened to all versions of Fidelio available, and always try to take the best from each one of them. Each version is indeed different in vocal terms. I had previously sung two productions in which I was Marzelline, although my voice had always aimed toward a heavier repertoire. I consider it is very important to listen to all other recordings to finally create your own own matchless version.

OL – With Fidelio and other operas in the German Singspiel format, there is always the question of what to do about the dialogue. In many productions, it is simply judiciously edited, but there are some directors who have substantially rewritten it or substituted other texts. In the recent Salzburg Festival production, director Claus Guth eliminated the dialogue altogether and replaced it with a variety of sounds that were supposed to reflect the characters’ emotional states. How is it going to be handled in the staging here in Charlotte? Do you think the dialogue needs to be modernized for audiences today?

MK – The texts that we are using have been cut as they are much longer in the original version. In my opinion, when in a modern production, the texts should be suited in order to make them relevant to our times. I believe this would be necessary to create the right atmosphere, as it is being ultimately set in a different time and space than when the composer wrote it.

OL – You’ve recently spent time in Italy training with the legendary Mirella Freni. Please walk us through the advantages of taking lessons with such an experienced singer. What did you focus on – vocal technique, interpretation, colors, musicality, phrasing? What impact a period like this, being mentored by a legend, provides to a young singer? Can you tell us something remarkable about your interaction with the great Mirella Freni? 

MK – Mirella Freni was always my role model, vocally speaking. For every role that I undertake, I go and listen to her version of it first. I think she has been one of the most important singers in the history of opera. She helped me polish my technique; as a singer, one must pay special attention to it, and compete with oneself in order to improve. I learned what role words truly have, the intention in each one of them and that singing is nothing else than to recite. I am certain the legacy she has given to me is immense and affects every one of my interpretations.

OL – Please tell us about you a little bit. Your father is Georgian, your mother Mexican, both violinists, and you learned the violin at age three. Music was present in your entire life, and you speak five idioms. After such a rich cultural heritage, what kind of personality has developed? How are you as a person? What do you like to do?

MK – I am a person who does not like monotony, and this is one of the reasons why I love this career in which I get to travel to various countries almost every other month, encounter so many different people and immerse in a new culture several times a year. I believe that the fortune to be able to speak as many languages has given me the opportunity to get to know very interesting people and learning from other people’s culture, background and experiences can be very enriching. Traveling has become one of my biggest passions and I enjoy getting to know each place that I visit. Reading and painting are also great passions for me; the latter I have practiced since childhood. 

I tend to be a self-contained woman. I am generally quiet but always open at the same time and I am mindful of my need to increasingly know myself better. I feel that all the experience I could possibly attain will never be enough. I am always eager to have more experiences, see new places, meet new people, and enjoy every single moment. It is incredible how we can have a great deal of attention to detail in our profession, but lose it in our everyday life, which leads to not being present in the here and now. Small details in our path can enrich our life if we are receptive to them. I like to think of myself as someone who does her best to live in the present moment and enjoy it to the fullest.

To read more from this interview, click here