Friday, June 1, 2018

Interview with Israel Lozano - SLO's Aida - 1 to 6 June 2018

One of the pleasure of rehearsing for an international production such as the Singapore Lyric Opera's Aida (where I am playing the Pharoah) is meeting singers and creative team who come from all over the world.

Israel Lozano, who hails from Spain but is now based in Washington D.C., is one such artist that I am happy to have made my acquaintance. Here is a committed singing actor for whom the demands of character is as important as the demands for the voice and music, and oozes Latin charm effortlessly in his stage comportment.

Having made rounds in the international operatic curcuit, Israel counts Placido Domangi as an important mentor, having been in his Young Artist Programme at Washington National Opera, won three prizes when he competed in Operalia and performed in no less than three productions with the living legend.

Here we chat about his experience working on the SLO's Aida in Singapore, and his journey pursuing a career as an opera singer.

The Mad Scene: It's been almost a month since we started rehearsals for Aida, how has your experience working on this production in Singapore been so far?

Israel: Working almost for a month is a long period time for an opera production, but it was important to work out the drama and the music with everyone, especially as we have two casts. This is the biggest production that SLO had done in the last 25 years with almost two hundred people working in the whole production at the theatre (Chorus, soloist, dancers, super, directors, technicians, designers, staff, dresser and hair wardrobe). It’s a lot of ingredients to be prepared and cooked.

The Mad Scene: How is this experience different from your Singapore debut in Madama Butterfly, all those many years ago? How does it feel to be returning to Singapore after all these years?

Israel: When I sang Pinkerton in Butterfly with SLO I had already sang it and it was easier to sing the role again. When you have to sing a new role for the first time, it’s like a new world waiting to be discovered. So, this is what we have to discover in Singapore, a new role, new history, new acting, new references and a lot of time in the laboratory finding the best formula for acting and singing, because it is a combination of both techniques. The audience listens through their eyes and watches through their ears. I always call the opera stage a beautiful, schizophrenic world!

I feel very lucky and honoured to have come here to Singapore for the third time; first for a concert, then for Butterfly and now for Aida. People are always very kind to me and I really love the healthy and delicious local food!

The Mad Scene: How is Radames different from the roles that you have performed, musically and dramatically?

Israel: Vocally it is one of the heaviest roles that I have sung, and honestly I was expecting to sing it after a few more years. But in the last couple of years I got three invitations to sing Aida and I refused two of them, and the last invitation was from the SLO artistic director Nancy Yuen after we sang La Boheme with Bangkok Opera and maestro Somtow Sucharitkul. So, I thought that getting three invitations recently I should accept this one. In any case, Maestro Somtow’s concept to recover what Verdi wrote in the musical score and reviving a lyrical production of Aida, to try to avoid the heavy and slow productions that sometimes are in the recordings, I thought that a heroic and young Radames could be done with my voice and technique.

I have to say that my voice teacher, the italian maestro Enzo Spatola, has changed my sense of singing in the last couple of years, and my artistic mother Emelina Lopez, always reminds me when to be aware of the red light on my head.

The Mad Scene: Our director Andrew Sinclair has been wonderful for his insights into the opera, he has certainly helped me to understand my role better. How has he helped to shape your interpretation of Radames since our rehearsals started?

Israel: Dramatically I worked the acting with our director maestro Andrew Sinclair as a young and brave warrior who has ambitions and a conflict of betrayal of love and for his country. The theme of honour it is pretty much what moves Radames as well many other characters in this opera. His impulse to show to Aida his love makes him confess to her his strategy to fight against the Egyptians, and this is heard by King Amonasro who is spying the conversation. This results in a huge conflict that makes Radames guilty not only for his feelings but for bringing dishonour to his country.

Psychologically there are so many different elements for a singer to perform, elements that brings colours to the voice and the interpretation. But vocally and technically we should be singing in the same way. Sometimes you put more meat on the grill, sometime you put less meat.

The Mad Scene: Having performed professionally for so many years, take us back to the beginning: what made you fall in love with opera and decide to pursue it as a career?

Israel: Opera and working on the stage is a beautiful and schizophrenic world full of energy and chemistry, full of challenges. It is often very hard, having to juggle the disciplines of studying music, acting, singing technique, to rest and eat well, dealing with the jungle of the business, and travelling by yourself and being far away from the family and people who you love. It should be a vocation like a priest, sometimes a 24 hour full time job.

BUT, if I am going to my origins, when I discovered that I have the power to sing and touch people, I felt somehow fully connected to the universe and that made me discover my mission to try to make people happy. I will always remember when I started singing for my grandmothers and parents, and how happy they were, and that makes me happy. Remember, it is not that the bird sings when it is feeling happy, but that the bird is happy when it sings. I had the good luck of finding good teachers - Emelina Lopez, Alfredo Kraus, Placido Domingo, Enzo Spatola...that really helps to develop the tools.

The Mad Scene: At what age roughly did your love for singing begin?

Israel: around 8 years old...and professionally at the age of 22. I started to sing at the Karaoke songs of the Spanish singer Nino Bravo who inspired me to win a Karaoke TV show in Spain!

The Mad Scene: Wow! So how did you go from singing karaoke songs to opera?

Israel: I meet a baritone from Cuba, Ulises Orduñez, who encourage me to sing opera and he introduced me the soprano Emelina Lopez. I also started singing some opera-related songs at karaoke such as O Sole Mio. Also, the Three Tenors concert of Domingo, Pavarotti and Carreras gave me a lot of inspiration. Another early inspiration was my first video opera of La Traviata. My daughter's name is Violetta because my first opera contact was La Traviata (just like my wife)!

The Mad Scene: Aw... How old is she?

Israel: She just turned one year old yesterday. so, I dedicated this interview to my daughter Violetta!

The Mad Scene: That's lovely… Tell us about your work with Alfredo Kraus and Domingo. I believe you have quite an extensive working relationship with Domingo. Could you tell us more about how you worked with them over the years?

Israel: It is absolutely great working with to great professional and historical tenors. Alfredo Kraus approaches the role always from vocal technique to sing and interpret the role. Domingo approaches the singing from the interpretation of the role in the acting and musical way. So its important that you find your own way to balance your vocal and interpretational techniques. Placido Domingo has already sung 140 roles while Alfredo Kraus was a specialist who sang not more than 15 roles. As a disciple of both, I need to process all the information possible and make my own formula between the two of them.

The Mad Scene: Lastly, why should audiences in Singapore come and watch the SLO’s Aida?

Israel: I would love to invite everybody to come and watch and listen to this production of the opera Aida, because is the biggest production that SLO has done in the last 25 years and it is an incredible and wonderful production full of people singing and acting, exploring contemporary themes of betrayal of love and country. Politics and diplomacy are these days always in the news and this opera shows very big drama and passion. I think that classical arts have to be always well-supported not only to keep a tradition alive by combining new technologies of lighting and projections, but also as an investment for the next and younger generations. It is our responsibility to educate to our children, and the fine arts are always the best way to do it.

The Mad Scene: Thank you so much Israel, it has been a great interview.

Israel: Thank you so much and it has been a pleasure.

Israel Lozano performs in the SLO's Aida on 2 and 6 June 2018, tickets available at SISTIC. More information about Israel can be found on his website

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