“For me, music is the language and singing a means of saying something!” Soprano Pia Davila comes straight to the point when describing her passion for the profession when I talk to her. And her wide-ranging repertoire, which extends from the Baroque to the 21st century, shows just how many facets of musical language this young singer has mastered.

Pia Davila © Andrej Grilc
Pia Davila
© Andrej Grilc

Her love of music started at an early age. “My parents are incredibly musical – my father sings, my mother plays the piano and there was always music in the house. All my sisters learned to play an instrument too, it was something that was encouraged in our family.” However, it was by no means clear from the start that she would later become a singer. Initially, Davila studied classical guitar as a young student in her hometown of Berlin, but didn't want to study the instrument after graduating from high school due to the poor job prospects. “There is a guitar community, which is wonderful, but you are not part of big productions and the repertoire is different,” she says. Staying true to her love for music, Davila eventually decided to study singing in Hamburg. “I simply enjoyed singing and my singing studies kind of arose as a result. At first I didn't really have any idea what it would mean to turn singing into a career.” During her studies it soon became clear that her hobby would quickly become a successful profession; one project followed the next, she won prizes at competitions and was given scholarships by foundations. She finds it difficult to describe the sound of her voice, but she has very clear ideas when it comes to what is particularly important to her when singing: “Diction is very close to my heart, as well as understanding harmonic nuances and developments; this requires a certain clarity in the voice. But versatility, intimacy and emotion are equally important to me.”

Davila's career has taken her off the beaten track of opera and concert repertoire, or, as she puts it, onto the "small stages of the big houses", which put less emphasis on the classical repertoire and instead offer opportunities to create more unusual and extraordinary productions. Ring & Wrestling at Hamburg State Opera's opera stabile was one of these projects; this opera novela combines Wagnerian high culture with the subculture of wrestling. Davila's Brünnhilde was enthusiastically received by audiences and critics alike, as Klassik begeistert wrote: “[She] gave her all as Brünnhilde. She hung on the ring with her arms spread wide open and belted out the high C. Around her, Rock'n'Roll. Glorious.” She feels equally at home with world premieres such as Ein Geschäft mit Träumen by the composer Alexandra Filonenko at Deutsche Oper Berlin and with established works of contemporary music, such as aus LICHT by Karlheinz Stockhausen at Dutch National Opera in Amsterdam. She has a close relationship with new music “firstly because it's fun and secondly because I find it natural that as a musician of today you also deal with the music of today”.

Yet she does not allow herself to be pigeonholed, which is why Davila's repertoire includes classics such as Wagner's Flowermaiden, Mozart's Barbarina and Purcell's Fairy Queen. Regular excursions take the soprano into the world of sacred music, in the form of oratorios and church services. As a cosmopolitan, Davila loves the sound of other cultures and traditions; as part of her intercultural project AMALGAM, for example, she combines Western and Arabic music. She is currently working on getting to know or rediscovering works of Mexican Classical music – a sound world that she describes as “rhythmic, lively and versatile”.

Another thing close to Davila's heart are Lieder. Not only does she she give song recitals, she also dedicated herself to an ambitious project that has recently been awarded a price as part of #LIEDINNOVATION 2021 at the Rhonefestivals für Liedkunst. Entitled Liedmovie, four Gesamtkunstwerke were created as an audio-visual installation during the very time of Corona when the cultural sector largely came to a halt. The project was supported by the Claussen-Simon Foundation's “Was zählt!” fund for artists, which was available to former grantees of the programme stART.up. “The basic idea first evolved a few years ago. Lied is such a compressed art form; you can't grasp everything the first time you hear it, and you can't see the beauty because it's in the detail. And then I thought, maybe you can show that visually to take the audience with you. But I'm not a director myself, so the project was put on hold. Then Corona happened and Luise Kautz, a wonderful director, had time.”

Pia Davila in Karlheinz Stockhausen's <i>aus LICHT</i> © Ruth & Martin Walz | Dutch National Opera
Pia Davila in Karlheinz Stockhausen's aus LICHT
© Ruth & Martin Walz | Dutch National Opera

Her love for Lieder is also reflected in her debut CD o luna mia which was released at the beginning of the year and focuses on the perpetual cycle from night to day. The selected songs span six centuries, from Tarquinio Merula and Claude Debussy to the contemporary composers Lorenzo Romano and Aigerim Seilova. Davila not only delights with her velvety timbre and elegant legato, but also demonstrates a chameleon-like versatility thanks to finding the right colours in her voice for every era and style. To present such a broad repertoire on only one CD is, of course, daring. “But why limit myself any more than necessary?” the singer asks, explaining her selection of works, adding “I love Merula very much and it was also important to me that there was something funny in it. Debussy is simply a fantastic composer and these songs are so beautiful. Lorenzo Romano and Aigerim Seilova are both composers who live in Hamburg and whom I know personally.” It was also important, she says, that the pianist, Eric Schneider, “had something to play in which the voice and the piano were equals, so he could tell the stories as well.”

When interviewed, Pia Davila bubbles over with ideas and optimism; her love of music and culture is infectious, even via Zoom. She not only reflects on her own career, but also ponders the future of the industry, which has been slowed by the pandemic. I ask whether she thinks the classical music industry will permanently change as a result of Corona, to which she convincingly replies: “The desire for music will always be there”. She could imagine that concert halls will be visited in different ways in the future and perhaps there will be smaller concert formats or house concerts. Ultimately, the industry has to ask itself some existential questions, also in relation to climate change, stating “whether it makes sense to fly in artists in view of the current situation or whether it would not be possible to consider a different, more regional solution more often”.

In 2021, the soprano has a number of exciting projects coming up. In addition to song recitals devoted, among others, to ostracised music, Davila is looking forward to two opera projects: the world premiere of Once to be realised – a project which six contemporary composers are working on and with sketches by Jani Christous – as part of the Munich Biennale and at Deutsche Oper Berlin, and the title role in Monteverdi's Coronation of Poppea at Schloss Waldegg in Switzerland. When I ask Davila about her own personal Mount Everest, i.e. the roles or pieces she would like to sing at some point in her life, she looks a little further into the future. “I want to sing the Four Last Songs with a good orchestra one day, but not yet. I would also love to sing Britten's War Requiem and Mélisande in Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande is an incredibly beautiful role. I'm really looking forward to Monteverdi's Poppea at the moment and I'm very grateful that I get to sing it. Puccini's Mimì is definitely fun, but I don't know if I'll ever sing her; and Richard Strauss' Feldmarschallin maybe in ten or fifteen years.” The desire for new challenges is what continues to encourage Davila to undertake new projects; or as she puts it herself: “I think one of my qualities is that I say 'I always keep looking!'”

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With the Young Artists To Watch project Bachtrack aims to shine a bright spotlight on deserving artists from all over the world that might not be getting as much visibility as they would have without the limitations caused by the pandemic. 

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