interview with Klára Kolonits
We have talked to Klára Kolonits several times. A few weeks after the Kossuth Prize was awarded to her, it was time to meet again. On top of that, because of coronavirus quarantine, the artist shares Lieder on her facebook page, and this is an interesting topic on its own. Obviously, given the circumstances we talked via Skype.
– Congratulations on the Kossuth Prize, also in the name of CafeMomus readers. How did you feel when it has been announced?
– Thank you very much. I was actually quite shocked, even though there were already some signs last year. One plays with the idea, as the choice is quite complex, and not based on obvious rules. There is a social consensus on important quality marks and the Kossuth Prize is perhaps the greatest. As the first news of the decision came, honestly I could not believe it.
– But why?
– I always thought you need to do something very remarkable to get Kossuth Prize. I didn’t think that my unorthodox career would classify as such. When we put together all the premieres I sang at HSO, it’s not a lot. But I do realise that in the past five years there has been a big progress. And I’m not only thinking about the success of Lucia and Huguenots. Usually I felt a protection zone around me that cushioned the things that I used to see very negatively. There’s been a couple of signs that I might get here but it’s been anyway a huge surprise for me.
– Many would deserve the Prize, but never get it or only very late..
– This is a huge responsibility. It’s never been a question that I always perform on highest possible level, regardless if we are at Erkel theatre, abroad, or in Operaplayground with audience composed of small children. But now I always have to think what do I do or say.
– I think you always make very careful statements anyway.
– I noticed time ago that people pay attention to what I say. In a way, I represent my profession, and this profession is not in a very good place lately. The main house is closed, there are fewer shows, you could see how problems arise professionally, economically, on all levels. In this situation fore example, the Kossuth Prize winners are very exposed, as the “faces” of the profession, and especially those who, like me, are still active artists – and I hope in my case, as I’m on the top of my career now, this top will be a long plateau.
– You are indeed in the center of attention.
– There is a huge responsibility in it, I cannot behave like a civilian. I have a sarcastic style in private life, and even on Facebook I am not supposed to use it. Both fans and colleagues are paying attention – some with good intentions, some with not so good intentions. It plays a role in what we represent with Dani as a couple. Even before my actions and words impacted him too, and the other way around. We are both very independent, but in the end it is impossible to remain independent from the all-time politics. As a singer and as a teacher I see very clearly, that a message cannot only be critical, you need to appoint very clearly the possible way ahead. If you deconstruct something, you need to be able to put it together. I really hope that this reward will help me to take part in projects that will help my musician friends or myself, professionally. I am thinking for example about a CD with Erkel arias and something that would help my younger colleagues at the beginning of their careers.
– Also your actions matter of course, not only your words…
– For sure. This is the third pillar, I would like to built up a singer’s life path modell. We are all freelancers, our future is uncertain. I was part of an ensemble once, at the beginning of my career in Debrecen – and my generation needs to stay active way into out seventies. As a singer and as a women above fifty I can surely perceive the thin line beyond which I may not get a role onstage. From this point of view this prize is like a seal. I do not have a protected status, but I am a bit luckier and a bit safer. But also as I said I have more responsibility, because my every move gets registered and distributed.
– You mentioned fans. We didn’t talk a lot about them before, but you do have a real fanclub. Some travel to other cities and countries to see you onstage. They go to your every concert. They have an opinion and they express it, especially online. Did it help in the past years?
– It helped a ton. It’s like sowing grass. You spread the seeds and begin to see little bushes here and there… fans are mostly linked to a genre. Some come to operas, some to Lieder concerts, some swear by OperaLabs. I have an american fan, thanks to whom a whole international group started to come and follow me on the media. Some got to meet and share the experiences, secret recordings among each other, some became friends through me – and I never tried to make that happen, I just always give my 110-120%. I cannot permit myself to go below that. I have to learn new arias, new songs, I have to find new ways to perform the ones I did before. The fans have a very motivating role, I need to do everything to maintain our relationship and their attention. This inspires me a lot. If someone is a dedicated follower, it’s the greatest gift I could ever receive.
– Sadly you’re not very frequently performing at home.
– In the past years I sang less in Budapest theatres, since Huguenots premiere I only did reprises. But there were amazing shows in other places, Traviata and Norma in Debrecen, the Co-Opera Entführung in Debrecen and Győr… And I know that if someone comes 600 kilometers or flies from Cincinnati to umpteenth reprise of Lucia, if someone comes to Debrecen, Győr, Pécs, Szeged, Cluj, Nürnberg and Toulouse… it’s my duty to stand up to this.
– The other “keyword” you used was the OperaLab. I saw some of the shows and I realised how different level of involvement there is in some part of the audience. It draws attention of all the age groups. I met an acquaintance of mine well above ninety who moves with a walking cart, but wouldn’t skip a show
– The beginning of this project was a show in Pinceszínházs in 2006, we performed songs and duets of Schumann with Dani. There were no more than two dozen spectators but there was a family who would come to each and every show since then. I felt that Dani can include them in the musical experience, make them feel as if they knew as much as him. And he is funny! He is both teaching and entertaining at the same time. My Mom came once and started to cry, because she thought it was just as my Grandfather shows. He used to speak about Bach, Beethoven, he did CD-premieres… all this in a very similar stile. As an expert, he discovered in real time how wonderful a bunch of chord is in a given piece, and shared this experience with the audience in its wholeness. For three hours, you suddenly become introduced to some inner circle of professionals, as if you were doing it professionally since the age of six. And for me this is pure miracle. I couldn’t experience my Grandfather shows, but the “aha” experience of my Mom was very touching for me.
– But what you’re talking about is still far away from the form that it has today…
– In 2010 Berczes Laci introduced this show on Ördögkatlan Festival. Then he invited us to Kaposvár where he was an artistic director. Already first show attracted some 150 people, and it always grew. We do it in churches at the festival and they are always packed. The priest in Beremend remarked, that he’s never seen so many people in his church… Then Katona József theatre offered Kamra stage to Dani where we also first worked with a stage director, first Ascher Tamás then Göttinger Pali. Dani and Pali work together since 2009 and they are a dream team. Their English humour based, improvised style became a separate genre. In 2016 we worked on Cosi fan tutte and we played the complete show a couple of times. After a little break we moved to Hatszín theatre where Delta Produkció is our manager, and from there we are being invited to another cities and even abroad.
– For me the charm is in the ever-changing interpretations of the stage situations.
– There’s never two shows that would be alike, regardless if we repeat the program or not. We don’t have a fix part in this kind of performance. As singers we needed to get used to it. Contrary to what you as audience may think, we never know what will follow, save for the excerpts we need to prepare. We need to know our parts and starting there, anything can happen musically, stagewise. We need to be ready for literally anything.
– Last time when we talked you were rushing to a rehearsal of Missa Solemnis, then they called off that too. How many performances did you have to cancel?
– Till now we’ve been talking about nice things, so now let me speak frankly about what worries me. Many concerts got cancelled also in my schedule. Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis three times in a row, Christus am Ölberge, Ah! Perfido, then more shows of a Bach cantata. Also the Spring Festival where I was going to sing an aria concert with Lawrence Brownlee. There was supposed to be a run of a new Entführung production at the Erkel theatre too. Perhaps we can replace some of those later… We can see clearly that all 2020 is a big question mark. I still hope for a summer production of Erkel’s István, a király in Szekesfehérvár, as this would be a new Erkel role for me – but at this point it is also uncertain.
– And new year?
– The first part of 2021 would bring a lot of beautiful productions, that I hope will happen. It is possible that some of those will be put off too, but you never know. Another question is the matter of my preparation. I practice every day, just like an athlete whose Olympic Games have been moved a year ahead. I need to stay in form. If you don’t use a muscle for two weeks it starts to shrink, and this is also valid for the tiny muscles we use in singing. Of course the muscle tissue has memory, if you once built them up it will be easier and faster to rebuild them to the same level once again. I do practice a lot but it is impossible to produce an amount of stress on the muscle that a live opera show would. I strive to make sure that my best form is ready when we hear the gun that will restart the race. It is mentally not an easy task but I got used to solitary practice by my piano, so I know I can do it.
– What do you think will happen when that gun fires, how different the world will be?
– It will be very different. This trauma reached the singers at a point where they were already traumatised by the reduction of shows due to the Opera House renovation. This is a very important question to consider: this forced interval will bring a decrease in artistic quality, some colleagues will drop off. It also makes you consider how important our work is, also in the off-season. It’s very important and I cannot stress this enough: behaving defiantly, passively, fantasizing about the past is not a good answer for this trauma! Everyone has to build up a survival strategy but also take the responsibility towards their profession and themselves. You need to develop. You need to plan. You need to take voice lessons, even online. You need to learn new roles and new languages. You need to be in your best from and show it to the agencies and directors. You can use up this time and re-evaluate your goals. You can think about your future roles, maybe you want to change your Fach? You need to understand, there is no other way to do it: or you get yourself together or we will all drop off and nothing will remain. This is the reality that we need to be prepared for.
– You post Lieder on facebook in the quarantine period, and many people follow them…
– The first one has been already seen by 4 thousand people. Of course it’s always more exciting when it’s new, but each evening brings a serious feedback. Someone asked for it to be on YouTube, but I would rather keep it on my private profile on Facebook. It is not the professional aspect that counts for me, rather the fact that we can reach more people that we ever did in all our Lieder concerts, together! We bring joy to those who are lonely, and we can share our love for the genre with those who never cared for the Lieder, till now.
– You are a dedicated Lieder singer anyway…
– I gave my first Liederabend in 1991, pregnant with my son, we performed Schubert and Schumann songs and duets with Régenhart Andris. I already knew back then that this is a very particular kind of chamber music, and won’t attract masses. It used to be the genre of salons, and they are not a thing anymore. We try to bring it to the concert halls, sometimes way too big for the genre. This is not an aria evening. For me this facebook series is a big success, exactly because this is something we normally do anyway. Pandemic or not, we like to sit by the piano in the evenings and discover Lieder. This is a part of our life together and has always been like this. Now with the help of phone or small camera we can share this private joy of music with others.