Jessica Pratt © Jessica Pratt
Jessica Pratt
© Jessica Pratt
For most singers, it takes a long time going through rounds of competitions, performing recitals and developing their voices before getting contracts to sing in big houses. This is not the case for the English-born soprano Jessica Pratt, who in less than seven years of her professional career has reached stardom. Coming from a musical family, being a trumpet player before taking up singing, she got good advice from legends like Renata Scotto, and has been through a meteoric career with triumphs in places like Covent Garden, Pesaro and La Scala. She's not only a soprano we should take notice of, but a refined artist who can reduce you to tears when singing in the old tradition of bel canto. Pratt made a stupendous impression two years ago, singing Mathilde in Rossini's Guillaume Tell, alongside Juan Diego Flórez, both in their role debuts in the Festival Internacional de Ópera “Alejandro Granda” in Lima. She's back in Peru to perform her iconic interpretation of the title role in Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, a role she has sung to great acclaim in 17 different productions.

You come from a musical family and you started music by playing the trumpet. Were you singing as well at the same time, or did you discover that you have such a voice later?

We were always singing, playing music and creating art as children, as my mother was a visual artist and my father was a tenor. My father wanted us to play an orchestral instrument and he preferred that we chose wind instruments, so we could develop our breathing technique to help us later for singing. My brother chose the trombone, I chose the trumpet and my sister chose the clarinet, and during Christmas we had a brass band, playing music for the family. When singing, I always had super high notes, but my father didn't want me to study until my voice was ready. I was 19 when I finally started taking lessons.

You studied with notable singers like Renata Scotto. What are the most valuable advise you received from them that you still have in mind today?

That you can´t learn everything from one person – I think that´s the most important. We singers tend to get stuck. We need to create a basic technique with a teacher who is a constant, who knows your voice and you can work with on a regular basis, but you also need to be open to work with other people to get new points of view, ideas and technical approaches. Even the worst teachers will give you something. Renata Scotto was really tenacious about preparation, line, legato and expression. My current teacher, Lella Cuberli, is very interested in phrasing, but also in particular technical aspects, such as staccati, coloratura legato or coloratura di forza, for this kind of repertoire.

Then you learned from the old school of bel canto that is not common today.

Unfortunately it is not. I think there's no longer appreciation for this kind of singing. Personally, I prefer the Joan Sutherland pure vocal line and beauty of sound. The problem is that now we have “verismo” zipping out in Donizetti, where you find singers doing the “mad scene” screaming or laughing. These kinds of realistic sounds are not appropriate in this repertoire – they might be, later in Puccini or even in Verdi, but in Donizetti it has no place. It is a cheap theatrical trick and I think it's tacky. I know a lot of people like it, but it's like an easy way out, rather than trying to let the people feel emotions through the line and the voice.

Jessica Pratt as Lucia (taken in rehearsal) © Coro Nacional del Peru
Jessica Pratt as Lucia (taken in rehearsal)
© Coro Nacional del Peru

You discovered the role of Lucia from a very early age. What is it like to sing the role, vocally and mentally?

That's a big difficulty. In the “mad scene” you try to keep a balance, showing physical tension without damaging the vocal line, and it can get too tense emotionally. I prefer these kind of roles when you sing most of the time, rather than those like the Queen of the Night, because I just can't stand being in the dressing room for an hour waiting for my next aria! I prefer to go on stage all night, come off exhausted, sleep the next day, wake up and do another show...

You sing a lot of Rossini and roles never sung even in the last century. Singers say singing Rossini is very helpful, and they feel at home with it.

Absolutely, it also requires a lot of technical tricks, you need to use anything in your bag. I have to practise all my scales and particular ways of doing certain parts, and it forces you to find the best of yourself. Rossini and Vaccai were voice teachers. They knew how to write their music. It also helps, when you sing Traviata or Giovanna d'Arco, going back to sing Sonnambula or other roles, just to get the voice bigger, or knowing how to use your middle voice.

 

Jessica Pratt will sing the title role of Lucia di Lammermoor in the VIII edition of Festival Internacional de Ópera “Alejandro Granda” at Gran Teatro Nacional of Lima, before giving a Rosenblatt Recital at Wigmore Hall.