She has an extensive repertoire, a glittering diamond of a career that has transported her almost effortlessly from one great opera house to the next. First cast as Juliette in Gounod’s “Romeo et Juliette” in the Opera House in Budapest whilst still a student, her formidable talent has taken her from La Scala to the Met
to Covent Garden singing major roles such as Gilda in “Rigoletto”, Violetta in “La Traviata”, the title role in “Lucia di Lammermoor”, Liù in “Turandot” and most recently Desdemona in “Otello” in Margitszigeti Summer Festival.
These are just a fraction of the roles Andrea Rost has played. She has an otherworldly charm with her delicate, girl-like fragility and an elfin beauty as though she has frozen time for 30 years; it too is powerless under her spell.
And this is before you mention that voice of incredible range. Although a lyric soprano by vocal classification, she is just as awe-inspiring in the quietest of arias as when she unleashes, with the power of a spinto soprano, acres of pain that slice through an entire chorus and orchestra.
This is where Andrea draws her strength from every fibre of her soul; the delicate outer appearance belying the deep fire of ambition burning with volcanic intensity.
She has reached up into the heavens and stayed there, but it is lonely at the top of the highest pinnacle of the world. Mere mortals cannot breathe at this level, let alone sing with such heart-breaking intensity. So there is Andrea, alone, watching life from above as she prepares for the première of her latest role by Hungarian composer Zoltán Kodály.
How do you feel about performing in the forthcoming première of “Székelyfonó” (The Spinning Room) by Kodály?
This is the very first time that I will perform this role, and when they initially offered it to me I felt a bit sad because I wanted a bigger première in Budapest [more of a grand-scale opera than Kodály’s series of folk songs]. But then I talked to the theatre director, Szilveszter Ókovács, and he told me we will do a CD of this première. Now I feel very positive about this production, as it is the same artistic director who directed “Faust” last year where I played Marguerite. When I am nervous I seek comfort in my musical scores and books, and by chance I found a small book on Kodály at home. I opened this tiny book which I had forgotten about, and in it I found a handwritten message from the famous Hungarian singer Éva Andor, dated 1984. I was in my first class in music academy at this time, and she gave me this book and had written inside: “I wish you all the best for your career and singing with true happiness in the heart.” She was very famous at the time and only died two years ago. I absolutely believe this is a message from the “‘cielo”, or the heavens, as you would say. It means I have to sing in this production!
Is it complex to perform in the Hungarian language even though it is your native tongue? I am especially thinking of “Bluebeard’s Castle” by Bartók where you starred as Judit as this is a very intense opera with only two performers on the stage.
Yes, the role of Judit is very difficult as I don’t have a huge voice. Mine is a lyrical soprano voice so the part of Judit is not an easy role as it is always at a lower pitch and very intense. I have to concentrate on my singing and second is the interpretation of the role; this is the case with all opera performances. The brain is the singing part and then you dig deep into the heart, which is the interpretation of the role. I have to combine my soul and heart. It is so hard for opera singers; if it is very painful we have to be there, living the life and roles. The first intermission for the soul is the applause at the end, not the costume changes or the scene change. Until then it is not the end. Sometimes it is dangerous as we have so much adrenaline; like four double shots of espresso. No, make that eight double shots!
Do you think that being Hungarian helps in the opera world? For a small nation, Hungary has produced so many great opera singers. The language is so complex that perhaps Hungarians have the extra ability to learn with absolute precision foreign languages and notes.
Our language is very melodic and I believe that it is this melody which helps us to learn other languages and to sing that other beautiful melodic language, Italian. Our Hungarian language is very rich. Five hundred years ago there was a priest in Roma who worked as a linguist and he wrote that the Hungarians did not know how wonderful their language was. He spoke many languages but he loved the Hungarian language the most. It is true it is very complex grammatically, but beautiful all the same.
What attracts you to certain roles and how do you lose yourself with such dramatic intensity; every feeling, gesture flicker of the eyes as the character takes you over completely?
I try to choose characters who are interesting for me and also to fit in with my singing technique, because for opera singers the most important moment is to find the right colour and movement. This can be when we go home and begin to think more about the scenes, the lyrics, such as “what is Marguerite actually feeling in the love duet with Faust?”.You feel somewhere deep in your body what you are singing. There is also this ever-evolving process with an operatic run; the character is growing and shaping in different ways each performance. Sometimes we are improvising so one simple movement may be different from one night to the next.
Does playing such intense roles give you nightmares? Do you get bad dreams when you are performing in a particularly demanding tragic role? Is it dangerous to be so absorbed in the role?
Dreams? Nightmares? Maybe afterwards I do, but more often there are nightmares that you forget the words of the opera or your costume! When I saw the film “Black Swan” I could relate to this so much; that feeling that you cannot perform until you find that hidden part of your soul and we have to find this Black Swan, underneath the White Swan. It is so with every character; it has to come from within yourself to be true and not just be a mask.
Are there any future roles you would like to take on or will be performing in?
Next July in Szeged I will play Tosca for the first time.”Tosca” was the very first opera I saw. I was captivated as the soprano was amazing, all the more so as the set was grey and Tosca came onto the stage dressed in red like a blaze of fire with the temperament to match. Beautiful. Until now I felt I did not have Tosca’s temperament. I felt more connection with the more fragile and delicate characters, like Desdemona, Liù or Cio-Cio San who are killed off or who are self-sacrificing. Tosca has the anger and fire; she does after all kill a man during the opera so maybe until now I was not ready to play the role of Tosca. Now it is my time. I am ready.
Kiára Árgenta concludes: Personally, I think casting off her slave girl shackles as Liù and taking on the role of Puccini’s cold-hearted ice princess Turandot would also be Andrea’s true calling. It is a dramatic soprano role and an incredibly complex one at that, but once you’ve tasted blood as Tosca, if you have the vocal elasticity and sky-splitting intensity, anything is possible. Now is the time to cross over to the darker side, beginning with Tosca to chilly regal murderess Turandot.
And she has everything; all the talent, the beauty, the unstoppable drive, so much so that the world far below her must appear flat and dull in comparison. She just needs to channel that cruel streak until it is razor sharp. Just dig a little deeper into the soul and there is the gleaming shard waiting to be drawn out like one of Turandot’s riddles; frozen like ice, but it burns.
Andrea Rost performs as “A girl” in the première of Zoltán Kodály’s “Székelyfonó” (The Spinning Room), which opens this Saturday in the Opera House. Times and casts vary; please refer to the information link below.
The Spinning Room
Saturday 1 October until Sunday 23 October
Opera House, Andrássy út 22, District VI
Tickets and information: