One day with Mariella Devia, Soprano. António Lourenço and guest Nuno Fonseca, 5th July 2021
On the 1st of July, I and António Lourenço took it upon ourselves to travel from Lisbon to Alcobaça, an hour drive, to meet soprano extraordinaire, a real force of nature who managed to hold on to the entirety of her voice until the very end of her career, one of the greatest voices of her generation, the Italian Mariella Devia.
Fresh from her retirement, she was invited to host a masterclass in Alcobaça, her first time on Portuguese soil, for promising young Portuguese voices, some established soloists and some still looking for their big break. Although we only listened to six pupils over the course of the day, it was clear from the get-go that she was determined to pass along the skills that she honed throughout her career to the masterclass participants, who on that day were all but one sopranos themselves.
Having enrolled in several masterclasses myself in Portugal and abroad, as a professional singer I know how meticulous, even surgical work is expected both of me and the teacher. She and her pupils passed that “test” with flying colours, having managed to overcome the handicaps presented by the stone used in the walls of the room, much more suited for conferences than singing lessons.
From 10-13 and 15-18 we powered through the soprano operatic repertoire, as is customary in masterclasses, due to the fact that very often the vast majority of pupils are sopranos, listening to arias from operas such as Turandot, La Sonnambula, Le Nozze di Figaro or Lucia di Lammermoor.
With incredible tact regarding more serious matters regarding breathing and intonation, Mariella Devia managed to make the pupils understand how to work on their shortcomings and move ahead, bearing in mind that there’s no magical formula and no fits-all solution, as we must discover what works for each and everyone of us specifically when being coached by a teacher.
On the afternoon break, we finally had the opportunity to engage the maestra
herself and ask a couple of questions, which we had prepared beforehand:
António: Is there a reason why only now we here in Portugal are graced with your presence, after a long and distinguished career all over the world?
Mariella Devia: Well, you’ll have to ask my various managers about that (chuckles). I just never got invited to sing in your Teatro Nacional de São Carlos or anywhere else in this country.
Nuno: What do you think of opera audiences and their future?
Mariella Devia: With this ongoing pandemic, that’s still a big question mark. Prior to that, we were struggling to captivate and engage young audiences. As I said in previous interviews, music lessons from the earliest age, preferably from
elementary school, could be of great help to young listeners and bring more
people to the opera world.
After we had exchanged some personal experiences, António mentioning his
love for belcanto and how glad he was to finally be able to talk with he considers to be the queen of the operatic genre, up there with Renata Scotto in his opinion, in his bid to listen to perfection (if such a thing even exists),and me focusing on the sorry state of job offers regarding professional singers, be it in professional choirs or solo in Portugal, or my own experiences in masterclasses hosted by such sacred monsters of the opera world like Renato Bruson, Luciana Serra or Montserrat Caballé, we bid heradieu and I said I hoped I had the opportunity to be coached by her in the future, as, owing to the financial devastation caused by COVID-19 which left our life as singers in dire straits, as if our situation weren’t difficult enough before, I could only participate as a listener. Even so, I was ecstatic to have finally met the diva (I hope she doesn’t get mad at me for saying that) in the flesh.