"I try not to see how big this is"
"How is your German?" - This is the beginning of perhaps the most exciting period of her career for Selene Zanetti, soprano from Italy and new ensemble member of the Bayerische Staatsoper. It is the question that General Director Nikolaus Bachler asks Selene before offering her the main part for the new production The Bartered Bride, which premieres on 22 December, 2018. The original cast, Christiane Karg, expects a child and can not take over the part anymore. Selene has just completed two years in the opera studio of the Bayerische Staatsoper and has only two months to rehearse the role. We sat down with her for a short talk about this tremendous opportunity and what lies ahead of her now.
When I stopped singing, Mr Bachler just said: "Well, let's do this."
When and where did you learn, that you got the main role in the upcoming premiere of The Bartered Bride? And, how did it feel?
Actually, it was kind of a surprise. We were rehearsing for the 200 years anniversary performance in the Foyer at Nationaltheater and Mr Bachler was around and suddenly he came to me, took me away and said: "Wie ist dein Deutsch?" / ("How is your German?) And then I said: "Ich verstehe fast alles, aber ich lerne gerade noch." / ("I understand almost everything, but I'm still learning."). And he said: “Well, I was thinking about giving you a quite big role in a performance.” And I was like, whaat! I didn’t quite understand that he meant the role of The Bartered Bride. I think he mentioned it, but I thought: “Well, they can’t give me this role. It’s in two months.” So, I had to check with people from the Artistic Administration the day after. And they confirmed it would be actually the role of Marie in The Bartered Bride. They told me, they would have to hear me sing, but Mr Bachler wouldn’t be in the house for two weeks. So I had time to prepare some pieces of the role. Well, he came back after six days already, wanted to hear me sing and so I had to audition much earlier. But it was a very comfortable situation. Mr Bachler said: “This is not an audition. You just show me how you work with Donald (editor's note: Donald Wages is head of pianists) – he was a huge help by the way – and then I sang the second aria of Marie. And at the end when I stopped singing, Mr Bachler just said: “Dann, machen wir es.” / (Well, let's do this.") And then I started to panic, really. (laughs)
What happens now? How do prepare for the role?
I started by myself, of course, studying the role. The Bayerische Staatsoper organized some pronounciation coachings with Isolde Lehberger. Because for me, as a foreigner, it’s quite difficult, we don’t have that many consonants all together in Italian. At first, I went to the library and looked through the score, checked the difficulties. But I trusted Mr Bachler, who had said, that he thinks the role, musically, is for me. And it is. It’s not too long, there are parts when I can rest, for example. And now I have a plan and within the next two weeks I should know it by heart. And then I put bookmarks into it, I underline, I make notes, and translate word by word.
Meet Selene in this short video clip
Selene: "I try not to see how big this is"
You are kind of a shooting star, if you will: You just became a member of our ensemble after finishing two years in the opera studio. What goes through your head if you look at the past two years and how fast it all went down?
The time at the opera studio was a great experience and a productive time for me. And I think that I’m ready to face this role and the six weeks of production because I’ve been trained and I’ve learnt so much in the studio. I still have to learn a lot, but this next step comes from living actively the process of building a new production. When I started in the ensemble and they showed me the roles I would sing, I kind of felt a little disappointed, because the roles were quite small and actually I felt ready for more. But I told myself: Well, then I will do it with patience and take my time, learn some new roles, improve myself. Then I asked if I could cover for as many parts as I could. Because that’s how you learn and you can study the music with all the great conductors that come here and all the amazing pianists we have the chance to work with. And then this happened! Before getting the role, when they were still talking about this idea I thought: “Oh my god, if they give me that role, this will be the biggest thing in my life!” and I was doubting it so much because I knew how big this “bet” on me would have been. Then they gave the role and, first of all, I was so happy and thankful, but now that I am completely in, I try not to see how big it is, so I don’t get scared and I just try to focus on the work. It’s a lot of responsibility, but I know I am also very, very lucky for this opportunity and I’m so looking forward!
What are you looking forward to the most?
Actually, the process of getting to the premiere: the learning, sharing, building, having fear, resolving the fear. I can’t quite imagine myself yet singing this role, in German, in Germany, like I would want to do it. And I am really looking forward to seeing, how I’ll reach this point and how much I will change within this two months. Because every production changes you somehow. There’s always something new to understand or learn about yourself. Maybe you'll discover some new "superpower" that you didn’t know you had ... sometimes when you are under pressure, you pull out things you didn’t know were there before! It’s always fascinating how humans and artists react to life!
What do you think will be the biggest challenge?
And the biggest challenge is German, for sure. (laughs)
The interview was conducted by