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What Really Goes on Before the Curtain Goes Up? (November Issue)

by Mary Matz

Opera singing isn’t usually classified as an extreme sport. But maybe it should be.

Mr Zahrádníček (l) and Ms Keiko share a giggle as they're asked to think in new ways about singing

After all, opera does involve a high level of physical exertion (energy), highly specialized gear (the voice), and spectacular stunts (those roulades, quicksilver runs of notes, and trills). And what greater sort of extreme height and depth can you find than a lyric soprano and a bass baritone — performing the same piece together?

Michiyo Keiko and František Zahrádníček did just that in concert recently in the Kostel Sv Martina a Sv Prokopa at Karlík, accompanied on piano by Jaroslav Šaroun. In a conversation following the performance, we asked both singers to speak a bit about their preferences and goals.

Michiyo Keiko

Ms Keiko tells Opus Osm, “I want to influence the music and I want to influence the atmosphere about opera and songs; I want to give my feelings.” Mr Zahrádníček simply says, “I’m happy because I can sing for a full house at the National Theatre, the State Opera, Stavovské Divadlo — it’s absolutely lovely singing Mozart in such a special place.”

And what about their highly specialized “gear”: Do the soprano and the bass baritone do the same thing, physically, when they each produce such radically different tones? The question seems to perplex them; they pause, thinking. Then Ms Keiko offers, “It’s the same technique, but using different instruments. I’m like a violin but he’s a contrabass.”

Well then, can they switch instruments? Can they sing each other’s songs or parts? They chuckle and silently try to imagine such a feat. “Well … maybe we can, but I’ve never tried,” Ms Keiko finally says.

“I … I …” Mr Zahrádníček is at a loss for words. “It’s very difficult — I’ve never thought about it. — Maaaybe — yes!” he laughs. Then the bass baritone explains one of those facts that’s so obvious you never consider it. “For me it’s better because it’s the normal position I’m speaking in,” he says. “For a soprano it’s very high, it’s more difficult.”

“Ahhh, yes,” Ms Keiko agrees.

” — And I’m happy about it!” he jokes.

Mozart, Ms Keiko reveals, is her favorite composer, and she describes her feeling when she sings it, “I feel like a nude when I’m on the stage. This is a very interesting thing for me — I have to get into this role. I cannot do too much, myself. Not too much, not too ‘me.’ ”

She says it’s as if she must take part of herself and part of Mozart, and they must meet somewhere in the middle. “The middle is very difficult to find,” she says.

František Zahrádníček

On the other hand, Verdi and Puccini are favorites of Mr Zahrádníček — Verdi because “for me, he’s a very good composer for voice.” And Puccini? It seems he just can’t get enough of La Boheme, because he’s currently singing two roles (Schaunard, baritone; and Colline, bass) in two separate theatres at the same time, switching between the two. “Sometimes it’s very difficult,” he admits. “Sometimes it’s crazy!”

Even so, it’s fortunate that concert-goers have the opportunity to see these two fine performers display their abilities in future concerts. Mr Zahrádníček will sing another favorite role, in Dvořák’s Kate and the Devil, in February. Ms Keiko isn’t planning a performance in the near future, but she often sings with Baroque groups which use original instruments. oo.

Bass-baritone František Zahrádníček graduated from the Academy of Musical Arts in Prague and debuted in the National Theatre in the year 2000 in the part of Masetto in Mozart´s opera Don Giovanni. Among the most outstanding are the roles such as Figaro (Le nozze di Figaro), Leporello (Don Giovanni) and Papageno (Die Zauberflöte). He also performs in the State Opera Prague.

He has been a guest performer on many international stages and has an active concert schedule both within the Czech Republic and abroad.

Soprano Michiyo Keiko was born in Japan and graduated from the Prague Academy of Performing Arts. She has won several prestigious singing awards and has appeared as a guest in National Theatre opera productions. Ms Keiko has enjoyed appearances on many international stages, and has made many recordings on CD and in cooperation with Czech Radio and Czech Television. For the past few years she has also been performing with Barocco Sempre Giovane baroque music group.

Photo Credits: All Photos: Miroslav Setnička

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