Elena Tsallagova on Il Turco in Italia
Elena Tsallagova makes a welcome return in 2021 to sing the role of Fiorilla in Rossini’s Il turco in Italia.
Elena Tsallagova in The Cunning Little Vixen, Glyndebourne Festival 2016. Photographer: Richard Hubert Smith
Elena will make a welcome return to Glyndebourne in 2021 with her role debut as Fiorilla in Il turco in Italia. During summer 2020, Elena began preparing for the role: ‘I was not at all familiar with this opera, and knew that, as with all of Rossini, it takes work to get it right’, she says. ‘I graduated from the Rossini Academy in Pesaro, Italy and while I was there I sang several roles at the invitation of Alberto Zedda, the founder and chief conductor of the Rossini Festival. I remember I had to learn all four leading roles in Rossini’s Il viaggio a Reims – with all the improvisations and florid ornamentations written by the maestro himself – we came up with a great working process during my studies at the Academy. It was then that I realised that it is of course impossible to sing Rossini without some preparation or knowledge of his particular style. I am now very grateful to maestro Zedda for that opportunity, as it allows me to include more Rossini roles in my repertoire now.’
Mastering Rossini’s style, however, takes much more skill than simply learning a part. ‘Working on Rossini’s operas is not just a matter of analysing the material and reading the scores for me’, Elena says. ‘Here improvisation comes to the fore, and paradoxically, it must be prepared in advance. The vocal line or melody remains unchanged, but in the process of learning, each singer comes up with their own variations on the theme, and therefore I believe that in Rossini, like no one else, you can see the personality of the singer performing the role. There are a lot of surprises in Turco, especially in the vocal parts, but these surprises should be very well rehearsed! This is what sets Rossini apart from all other composers, the moment of improvisation – just like it is with jazz.’
Watching Elena perform, with her impish energy and graceful poise, it is clear she is a dancer, physically inhabiting her characters and bringing them to life with her body as well as her voice. ‘Yes, I dance everywhere!’ she laughs. ‘People often ask me that. Wherever possible I try to translate dance on stage, and of course it’s easier when I sing. For example, for Vixen Sharp-Ears in Melly Still’s sumptuous cartoonish production at Glyndebourne I wanted to paint a complete animal portrait of my heroine, so my dancing skills were very useful. I graduated from the Russian ballet school in the city where I was born [Vladikavkaz, in southern Russia] and for a long time I thought about a career as a dancer. But opera completely fascinated me and I am glad that now I can combine these two genres on stage.’
Mariame Clément’s new production of Il turco in Italia will see this opera at Glyndebourne for the first time since 1970. Elena has worked with the acclaimed director before. She sang La Contessa di Folleville in Clément’s Il viaggio a Reims (2012) in Belgium (Antwerp-Ghent), the title role in her production of Calisto in Strasbourg (2017) and as Poppea in Agrippina in Antwerp (2012). ‘I am really interested in what her concept for Il turco will be’ Elena says. ‘I’m endlessly happy about returning to Glyndebourne in 2021. I really do hope that we will all start revisiting theatres, concerts and exhibitions very soon. Opera, live theatre and music enrich people’s lives. Hopefully the pandemic can be controlled soon and we will be able to sing again. I cannot wait!’
This article was first published in our Members’ Newsletter, one of the benefits of Glyndebourne Membership.
Out of Blue © Tom Hammick. All rights reserved, DACS 2021