The Queen of the Night

Péter Spangel: Klára Kolonits is an important figure of Hungarian musical life for almost 25 years. The past season was maybe the most extraordinary one of hers, with press and audience success of her Lucia and Puritani, with a week in March when she sang Erzsébet Szilágyi in Hunyadi László three times and her dearest role, Melinda in Bánk Bán in the Szeged production, twice. Currently she’s rehearsing in Nürnberg, preparing the role of Odabella in a masterpiece of early Verdi, Attila, conducted by a young Hungarian conductor Gábor Káli. We sat down in a confectionery in Buda to take a look on the events of her life.

Klára Kolonits: Since I was four, I was interested in music and visual art. My grandfather, Dénes Bartha, was a professor of music history, he founded the Musicology department of the Music Academy and led it afterwards together with Bence Szabolcsi. From the late sixties he worked in America as a guest professor at numerous prestigious universities, but his influence was significant even from the distance, he supported my music education and was very happy when I sang my first solo in church when I was only six. I got a flute from him, and I tried to play it.

I went to the primary music school at Tádé Kosciuszkó street and also sang in the choir of Ferenc Sapszon. then I finished Erzsében Szilágyi Gymnasium and at that time I wanted to be a painter, but the international conducting competition happening in the year of my graduation again turned my interest to music. I studied solfeggio and piano very intensively for a year and was admitted to the choir conducting class at the Music Academy. Within six months I realised that I am not on the good path. Someone asked, why I’m not actually singing and even one of my professors, József Makláry encouraged me to do it. One of my middle school friend recommended Katalin Schultz as a singing teacher, but I did not dare to go to her by myself. Then I met a friend of mine on the Régiposta street and having heard this, she convinced me to go with her to the singing lesson immediately. It was an incredible encounter, already the second time we met I felt in her a huge involvement towards teaching me, she put her trust in me and maybe she was the only person who actually believed that I can become a singer someday. The year later I applied to the singing department of the Teachers College of the Music Academy. To my greatest luck, the main subject was taught by the daughter of Mária Gyurkovics, Zsuzsa Forrai and my coach pianist was Katalin Alter. In the meantime I took part in Walter Berry masterclass, who also gave a very positive feedback to me.

And so we arrived to your first stage steps…

It was way before the diploma, in 1994, when György Vashegyi offered the role of first dame in the Magic Flute. I’ve been immediately touched by the magic of theatre, stage and mainly opera, and it was then when I finally decided that I wanted to become a singer.

After an audition in the Opera House its director at that time, Endre Ütő, offered a scholarship to Klára Kolonits, but soon later he resigned. His successors: László Vámos, then Miklós Szinetár and Géza Oberfrank also auditioned her, but did not take advantage of her talent: in effect, during her two years long scholarship she never actually had a chance to step on the Opera House’s stage. In the meantime, Balázs Kocsár offered her a position in the music ensemble of Csokonai Theatre in Debrecen. Her first role was Cherubino in Nozze di Figaro – and meanwhile she also sang the Countess in a Budapest production of the opera, invited by Endre Ütő. It was a difficult period. Her life situation was unstable, she had family problems, she needed to put together her professional and motherly  vocation, all the time travelling between Budapest and Debrecen, and also looking for the real character of her voice. She was also being invited to perform abroad. She balanced between lyric soprano and dramatic coloratura Fachs, taking part also in a tournée in The Netherlands with the Szeged theatre company, singing one of her future great roles, the Queen of the Night. Later she sang it also in German and Finnish language. I still remember the finnish lyrics, she says, and also quotes a couple of lines. Three years long contract at the operetta theatre brought more secure life status, she also had a chance to step into nearly all primadonna roles. Her actual career at the Opera House started fifteen years ago, in 2002.

I won a competition and was admitted to the opera studio. Initially I only worked on the roles with Géza Oberfrank, with whom we were very close and many of his instructions remain in me to this day, and still have impact on how I study my roles. My first big challenge was a jump into the role Fiordiligi in Cosi fan tutte, in January 2003. I got more and more demanding offers, mainly in Mozart operas. In Autumn 2004 I got my favourite role at that time, Mimi in La Boheme. It seemed to me that I finally found my Fach, the lyric soprano repertoire. But one year later the new music director, Gergely Kesselyák, turned my career into coloratura roles. I sang the Queen of the Night for the first time twenty years ago on the tournée with the Szeged company. Before that I was without work for months, in a very insecure position. I had the high notes, I had to sing the role. Very similar situation happened in 2009, when we played the piece in Vígszínház. There were three levels of auditions for that role. I had to do that to stay in this business. I could focus on the character only later. Since 2012 guest appearance in the Weimar production of the opera, and one year later Linz one, I sing the Queen all the time. After around one hundred of Magic Flute shows, I think I should say goodbye to this role. I would like to focus on great italian bel canto operas, and this style requires different voice emission.

In Autumn 2006, Klára Kolonits debuted not only in Traviata in the Opera House, but also in her most important mother-role, Melinda in Bánk Bán. As we can read in an essay of hers, “nothing touched me as deeply as the honest, pure expressions in the children’s eyes, their visceral reactions onstage. I realised that I yearn to perform these roles more and more, to be able to live and sing through all the joy and suffering that are linked to motherhood in my heart.” She sings the role since eleven years, in many stagings and versions. Also the original uncut version belongs to her repertoire, and lately she could sing it again on two shows in Szeged.

One month before the show, Tamás Pál visited us and worked with me on Melinda. We understood each other even with half-words, all tuned with each other. It was a great joy to get to work with him and my great partners. The staging of Judit Galgóczy was again a new production. I needed to study again many parts of the original score, because I only sang it on a concert before. In 2013 I got my second great mother-role, Erzsébet Szilágyi in Hunyadi László. Last year in November I could also perform the title role in Erkel’s first opera, Mária Bátori.

Klára Kolonits already sang Gilda, Violetta and Luisa Miller. In all of these roles and also in Lucia di Lammermoor she presented her extraordinary talent, brilliant singing technique, radiating passion, richness of her emotions, believable and deeply personal acting, complete identification with the performed role. In the end of May, she sang Elvira in Bellini’s Puritani in Pécs, with a huge success, despite the fact that it was her first time singing the role on stage. Depth of her empathy allowed her to show the loneliness, love and exploding happiness. The audience could experience a great encounter of a singer and her role. What new challenges await her in the new season?

In September I will perform Erzsébet Szilágyi during the Opera House’s Transylvania tournée. In the end of October, there’s premiere of Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots in Budapest, where I will sing the role of Marguerite de Valois. In Szeged I will step on stage in the role of Elvira in Verdi’s Ernani, and in Debrecen in the title role of Norma. In Erkel Theatre’s repertoire shows I will sing again the Queen of the Night, Fiordiligi and my dearest Lucia.

source: Péter Spangel’s interview for Magyar Krónika

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