Divina Julia: Russian opera singer to perform in London
The Kompass interviews renowned Russian soprano Julia Lezhneva ahead of her Barbican performance on 7 May
Julia Lezhneva is a natural. She has been singing for as long as she can remember, shared the stage with Russia’s opera darling Anna Netrebko and signed a deal with British record giant Decca Records in 2012. This fresh-faced 23 year old soprano from Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, who wowed the UK audience in 2010 with a performance of Rossini's Fra il padre at the Classical Brit Awards, is currently preparing to grace the stage of the Barbican Centre, London, with a performance scheduled for 7 May. Ahead of the concert, Lezhneva – who will sing music from Handel’s Italian journey with the Baroque orchestra Il Giardino Armonico – spoke to The Kompass about her experiences in London and the power of music in bringing people closer together.
(The interview was edited and condensed)
You have made your UK debut in 2010, at the age of 20. What was that like for you?
It was a wonderful experience. I was just finishing my studies at the Cardiff International Academy of Voice, where I had been studying for two years under the guidance of a magnificent teacher and person, Dennis O'Neill. Dennis brought [acclaimed soprano from New Zealand] Kiri Te Kanawa for a masterclass to Cardiff, and I sang a Rossini aria for her. On the same night Dennis told me Kiri had decided to invite me to sing at the Classical Brit Awards. Naturally, I was overwhelmed and quite nervous. Surprisingly enough, the event itself turned out to be extremely easy going, with a homey atmosphere. Kiri was lovely, so kind to me; she encouraged me very much. I remember I almost had no fear on stage –I felt very comfortable and really enjoyed being there.
How can one turn young people to the opera genre?
Baroque music nowadays inspire a lot the younger generations of opera lovers. I see many inspired young people during my concerts. Recently I've done Pergolesi's Stabat Mater on tour with Philippe Jaroussky - there have been so many wonderful young people that were coming to see the performances, and it was the same during my recent Australian tour. I must say I am very happy about this!
What do you enjoy the most about London?
London has become a second home to me, since I've been studying at the Guildhall School for one year. I enjoy its wonderful atmosphere and I have beloved friends living here. London seems always a very relaxed city to me. It does not seem very big ­– compared to Moscow even the big streets are pretty narrow and intimate. I am in love with the politeness and kindness of people; you always find help and advice when you ask. At the same time there is no pressure in London – it is really very free.
Your repertoire has a very international feel, spacing from Rossini and Handel to Berlioz and Debussy. Are there any Russian pieces you feel particularly close to and hope to perform one day?
Oh yes, I absolutely adore performing Rachmaninov, Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky and Glinka, as well as many other wonderful Russian composers. Some of this music demands great skills and maturity, yet I feel more and more in desire to come back to this music, which I have so far performed mostly while studying at college in Moscow.
2014 marks the year of cross-cultural exchange between Russia and the UK. Can music bring nations closer together, at a time where they don't seem able to agree on much more?
I am convinced that music has been and will always serve as one of the greatest forms of art, creating harmony, unity, passion for peace and kindness. Not only harmony of one's heart and soul - but unity of all people. During a concert, the most touching moments are always those when you feel the people in the audience are so carefully listening… They are breathing with you, they are together with you, they create with you. People are united into one strong family and find harmony and love in the great power of music.