Russian mezzo-soprano Alisa Kolosova makes her BBC Proms debut next Friday… and Proms debuts don’t come much bigger than Verdi’s Requiem (at least in terms of scale) on the penultimate night of the season. Ahead of the big day, we caught up with Alisa to ask about her preparations, as well as exploring the role of Olga, which she performs in Warsaw and Chicago next season, and finding out which role she’d like to perform if she woke up as a soprano for the day!

Alisa Kolosova preparing for the BBC Proms © Vitalij Kowaljow
Alisa Kolosova preparing for the BBC Proms
© Vitalij Kowaljow

MP: You’re making your Proms debut this next week, singing in Verdi’s Requiem on the penultimate night of the season.

AK: I’m absolutely delighted that Marin Alsop has invited me to participate in this concert, and I’m looking forward so much to working with her for the first time, and of course for making my BBC Proms and Verdi Requiem debuts! This masterpiece is one of my all-time favourite pieces of music and, with all my heart, I hope that the Proms audience will fully enjoy this masterpiece of Giuseppe Verdi.

MP: What have you heard about the Proms and what are your expectations of performing in the Royal Albert Hall?

AK: Performing on the stage of the Royal Albert Hall is one of the most important occasions for any musician, as it’s a stage where artists from all genres perform. I think what the Proms offers with its concerts at the Royal Albert Hall and in the public parks is amazing. With tickets at affordable prices and even available to buy on the day, it gives whole families the opportunity to witness high quality performances. In other venues it’s not so easy, with requirements to join waiting lists just to be able to listen to your favourite musicians.

The Verdi Requiem is one of the most challenging pieces to perform, but it is also one of the most exciting and the preparation of this has been a thrilling experience for me. I have been very careful in the preparation of my part, paying individual attention to every note and phrase. This technical preparation has been so important, as I hope to sing this music for many years to come!

Some people say the Requiem should be described as an opera, because it has many similarities to his other operatic works, such as Aida so I have approached this with the same preparation as with any operatic role.

MP: Indeed, three of the soloists at the first performance of the Requiem had sung in the European première of Aida two years earlier.

Alisa Kolosova sight-seeing around London © Vitalij Kowaljow
Alisa Kolosova sight-seeing around London
© Vitalij Kowaljow
AK: As with these roles, when a singer pays attention to the text everything becomes easier; every word should have meaning and be full of life, sadness or hope. Soloists have to create a complex gallery of feelings to accurately convey the emotions in the text.

MP: Which are the most difficult passages for the mezzo? How treacherous is the Agnus Dei in terms of maintaining pitch?

AK:Maintaining pitch is of course always a priority for a singer, but in the Agnus Dei, the soprano and mezzo are singing together (in fact, at many times we’re an octave apart) which helps as we are supporting and listening to each other, whilst also concentrating on the our individual parts and phrasing.

MP: You are performing with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment under Marin Alsop. Are any adjustments required when singing Verdi with period instruments at a lower pitch?

AK: The difference is only small, but I have of course taken this into consideration and I am prepared to sing it as the orchestra and Marin Alsop ask. She is a great musician and I’m very open to her ideas and looking forward to our meeting. And I can't wait to sing it with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, they are also wonderful musicians! It’s going to be a very special Prom.

MP: You are singing Olga in Eugene Onegin in both Chicago and Warsaw this coming season. What do you like about Olga?

AK: Olga is one of my favourite roles, because she is, as we would say in Russian, like "a splash of champagne”; a cheerful, sweet girl, full of happiness. Olga also plays a very important role in plot of the opera; she is not just Tatyana's sister, but the reason why Lensky gets angry and jealous and asks Onegin for a duel. Of course, her character has some flaws, and men such as Onegin become tired of her, but there are always men like Lensky who love her –"Chacun a son gout"! This depth of character makes her a very interesting part to play!

MP: It’s odd how Tchaikovsky forgets about Olga after the party scene. What do you imagine happens to her next?

AK: We can't really blame Tchaikovsky for Olga's absence after the ball. Pushkin had different plans for her. Olga mourned for Vladimir for some time and accompanied Tatyana to his grave. When she marries an officer (who she doesn’t really love), they leave for a place very far away, which is, of course, so sad for her mother and sister. So of course this is why she is not at the St Petersburg ball, but I like to think she comes back one day to be with her family!

Alisa Kolosova © Todd Rosenberg
Alisa Kolosova
© Todd Rosenberg
MP: In the Warsaw Onegin, you’re performing in Mariusz Trelinski’s production, which includes a directorial twist, with the ghostly figure of ‘O’ – played by choreographer Emil Wesołowski – possibly being an older Onegin who manipulates the young Tatyana. Do you enjoy the challenges that an unconventional staging brings?

AK: It’s an incredibly interesting production which I’m very much looking forward to being involved in! I am always very happy to work with directors who have an alternative view for a production, as long as I feel their point of view which is not contrary to the original music and libretto.

MP: In 2010, you performed at the Salzburg Whitsun Festival and Ravenna Festivals under Riccardo Muti. What influence has that encounter had on your subsequent career, including the nomination for the Warner Music Prize?

AK: My operatic debut in Salzburg with Maestro Muti was the best thing that could happen to a young singer. I can't express enough my gratitude to him and to his wife Christina Muti for their trust in my talent. I was just 21 years old at the time.

To sing with Riccardo Muti just once is such a wonderful experience, but when he invites a singer for the second and third time, it’s just priceless. Maestro Muti is without doubt the most important person in my career, and I’m very happy that we are able to keep in touch and appear in many varied concerts together, from Vivaldi to Mahler. To perform with him is something very, very special. He opens you up to another world.

After one of our concerts together, I was nominated for the Warner Music Price. It was my debut on the stage of Carnegie Hall with Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The programme was fabulous; Scriabin Symphony No. 1 and Prokofiev's cantata Alexander Nevsky. A truly unforgettable evening!

MP: Which are your favourite roles – either roles you’ve performed already, or roles you are preparing for the future?

AK: Two of my favourite roles so far are Dalila and Charlotte. I find the French repertoire suits me well vocally, and I am also very passionate about the music (and being able to speak French fluently helps). I also really enjoy singing Bellini and Donizetti’s music, as well as the German repertoire. I love to sing in German, and some of the roles I am preparing at the moment are Fricka, Waltraute and Brangäne. Being Russian, I of course have a great passion for Russian repertoire and would love to sing The Tsar's Bride one day. Russia is a country full of different dialects and religions and this has had a huge, positive influence on its music, giving us a wealth of music to choose from! I hope to bring a lot of rarely performed Russian music to the audiences in Western Europe, such as Georgy Sviridov. I’m also love to sing songs and lieder, and am currently preparing an interesting concert programme with German and Russian song cycles. So my passions and repertoire favourites are very varied.

Alisa with Marquis... but which one's taking the selfie?! © Alisa Kolosova
Alisa with Marquis... but which one's taking the selfie?!
© Alisa Kolosova
MP: Married to another opera singer, how difficult is it to juggle calendars so you spend time together?

AK: As my husband Vitalij Kowaljow also has a very busy schedule, it’s not easy to juggle our diaries, but we try to make it work and to be together as much as possible so we can enjoy each other’s company and support each other. If I have a break in my schedule, I’ll accompany him on his engagements, and vice versa.  A special thank you to our agent Julia who helps us with this!

Our two little dogs are always with us as well! We try not to make our professional life more difficult than it should be, but our dogs help us enjoy every moment of life. We are very happy and committed to our careers, but family always comes first for us.

MP: If you woke up and could sing soprano for a day, which role would you most like to perform?!

AK: If I woke up and could sing soprano for one day, I'd definitely like to sing Queen of the Night, just to understand what it feels like to sing the highest notes, and shatter the glasses in the audience… ha ha, imagine that!


Click here to see where Alisa is performing this season. 


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