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Interview, Radniční listy Olomouc, October 2013

Interview with Barbora Polášková, Radniční listy, Olomouc, October 2013

Opera is very much like a football game, only you´ve got to think more while doing it, says Barbora Polášková, mezzo-soprano of the Moravian Theatre in Olomouc.

Do you believe you are flexible? If so, you have most likely never met opera singer Barbora Polášková. This charming young lady endowed with an inimitable voice with which she can safely pin the audience down to their seats, speaks several languages, can dance and play musical instruments, and on top of it all, is able to study the role of Carmen in five days, or will ask for just a few hours of preparatory training before standing in for an indisposed colleague on a stage far away from home. “I am tenacious and purposeful enough, and stubborn too, sometimes perhaps even going a bit over the top there,” says mezzo Barbora Polášková with a chuckle. “But then, hard work and real zest for it will get you the farthest in your pursuits.”



After conservatory studies, you decided to enroll in a university course of Italian. Was that because of opera?

Absolutely, I picked Italian for this particular reason. Apart from which, of course, I chose to study languages because I´ve always been an eager linguist, and I just wanted to expand my horizons beyond the fields of music and singing.


You were then already engaged in music-making on a professional level?

I´d already appeared in public while still at secondary school, but things are usually harder there at such an early stage in life, as students are not really welcome in theatre companies, and nor is it really good for one´s proper development as a singer, since of course voice has to mature, and the deeper your voice, the longer does this period of maturation last.


At what age does a mezzo-soprano voice reach maturity?

I would believe that sometime around forty, or even after forty.


Which means yours is not yet mature?

I´d say not, in fact I expect it to go on maturing all through my professional career.


What is your favourite singing language?

Definitely I like the best singing in my mother tongue, that is, Czech. While the hallmark language of opera is indeed Italian, I do find the magic of melodiousness equally present in French, and even in German, however somewhat less pliable it may seem.


Do you speak all these languages? Or do you rely solely on phonetic transcriptions of texts?

I speak English, Italian, French, and German, so I know what I´m singing about.


How does an opera singer care for her voice? Are there any special “knacks” you use?

You probably mean things like gulping down raw eggs and other such deeply embedded myths. The reality is different though, this being purely individual. I find it rewarding, for instance, if I go to bed really early, and prop up sound sleep with a glass of dark beer beforehand. Also, I feel more comfortable if I have something nice to eat before entering the stage. An opera performance entails huge physical exertion, so much so it has been likened to a football game, only we´ve also got to think while doing it. Therefore, I do my best to keep myself as fit as possible, both physically and psychologically.


Are there any types of activity you have to refrain from, such as professional musicians for instance who tend to avoid things like chopping wood and the like? Does the director forbid you to relax at a campfire and shout your guts out with guitar in hand?

Nobody will prevent you from doing anything, everything depends on your individual approach. Of course I´ve known one or two people who find it perfectly ok to go about moving furniture on the day of a premiere. I myself rather prefer to spend most of the day of performance taking things easy and relaxing, with a view to being able to deliver as best I can in the evening.


Which is the finest moment one can experience doing this profession? Hearing the audience putting their hands together?

To me the best reward is to see that my effort has carried across to the audience, that what I do can bring them pleasure and detach them for a while from their everyday concerns. These are moments my work brings me a sense of fulfilment and satisfaction. I love this progress towards a point of creative symbiosis between the protagonist and audience.


The first opportunity you got to experience this actually came in Olomouc, in 2010. How did you get here from Prague?

I took a train from Prague... (laughs). No, seriously – I got a phone call from a friend of mine, Jiří Přibyl, concerning an audition for the local opera company. I did the audition, and a couple of days later the opera management addressed me with an offer of an engagement. I accepted, and then, two weeks later, came another phone callasking me whether I would like to take up a last-minute call for joining the study process for the title role in their production of Carmen. This was a part I´d always longed to create. By then the premiere was only about a month ahead, shortly before the start of stage arrangement rehearsals. By then, you are normally expected to know the part by heart. Inevitably, I had to learn it completely, both text and music, in something like five days. I benefited a good deal by my knowledge of French, which I´d studied at the university. So it happened that I hopped right onto a moving train. This was my first major role, my debut.


Your whole life changed overnight. You moved to Olomouc; had you ever been here before?

Oh, certainly; I have a lot of relatives in Moravia. Though my permanent address is in Prague, I´ve been spending more than a half of my time travelling, either to and from Olomouc, or elsewhere. I met my partner, Petr Martínek, here at the theatre, and the two of us now live together. Fortunately he is a colleague as well, so he knows all about an artist´s life taking its course more or less “on the road.”


Then Olomouc, to you, seems quite a prodigious place: a role of your dreams, a life partner...

Yes indeed! I´m really very happy here, and the local audience have given me a genuinely warm welcome, too. I won the Olomoucký deník Readers´ Prize, which I enormously appreciated. I am glad to have my audience here in Olomouc, and I find the finest form of feedback to be the opinion of an audience member who comes to see me in Carmen for the second time after a certain period, and observes a progress in the development of my voice and my acting.


Is there a spot you´ve grown particularly fond of here over those three years?

Olomouc is a beautiful city, I´ve grown a soft spot for it in my heart; to me, it´s a smaller Prague. I love its squares, the historical centre, the town hall, the parks, and I really like to go to St. Michael´s Church. Olomouc is my first engagement. Now that´s something you´ll never forget, wherever you may find yourself later on in your career.


Apart from Carmen, you´ve also excelled in productions of The Bartered Bride, Limonádový Joe, Lucia di Lammermoor, Noc plná světla, Falstaff, The Devil and Kate, Polish Blood, Eugene Onegin, Der Opernball, Nabucco, or Noc na Karlštejně. Which of your gallery of roles you enjoy the most?

I enjoy all of these characters. To be more specific, in Noc na Karlštejně (A Night at Karlštejn) for instance, I love the role of Alena which offers me an ideal chance to let myself go. There, I can compare, as I have more recently also studied the role of Elizabeth of Pomerania for the same production, a part which is of course thoroughly different, expression-wise.


And yet, there must be a role you tend to prefer over all others. Would that perhaps be the watershed creation of Carmen?

Carmen most definitely marked a watershed, it´s actually thanks to her I´m here. But then, there are other parts which, each in its turn, have opened me the way to other companies. One of these is Wanda, in Nedbal´s Polish Blood. It enabled me to guest appear at the Music Theatre in Karlín, Prague. One Saturday night, the stage director, Gustav Skála, rang me up to ask what I was doing the next day. So I told him I had a day off, and he said their Wanda had fallen ill, and I´d be singing the part at Karlín on Sunday afternoon. The following day I simply floated into the production – and it was a success. So much so that after the performance calls of  “bravo Olomouc!” were heard from the orchestra pit. Eventually, this was instrumental in my being picked by the director for another production of Polish Blood, in Plzeň.


Beyond your engagement at Olomouc then you guest appear elsewhere, and make CDs. Does that still leave you time for concert productions? What´s up your sleeve there currently?

In late October, I´m getting involved in a major project: namely, a concert with the Northern Bohemia Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Italian Maestro Alfonso Scarano. The programme will include Schulhoff´s Symphony for Contralto and Orchestra “Menschheit”. Still during this season, I will likewise be appearing with the Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra Olomouc, and with several other ensembles. I shouldn´t forget to mention my tour in Brazil last March, where I sang with one of the world´s finest orchestras, the Sao Paulo Symphony.


Not so long ago you could also be seen once again in an open-air performance of Nabucco, staged in the Upper Square of Olomouc during the European Heritage Days. What´s the main difference between open-air and indoor singing?

The main difference outside is that we use headset microphones. This brings to the fore the role of the sound engineer as our major partner in enhancing the final effect.


Your first role on the professional stage was one you were dreaming of. Is there any dream left for you to come true yet?

There most certainly is. I´d love to create Dalila in Saint-Saëns´ Samson et Dalila, which is such a splendid role for a mezzo, offering an abundance of awesome arias. And of course some Verdi operas – but then, hopefully all of this will come in due time. Oh - and I´d quite like to sing Ježibaba in Dvořák´s Rusalka.


You wouldn´t dream of doing Rusalka herself? I mean, can there be a woman eager to embody the witch, Ježibaba?

(laughs) Well I, for one. And do you know why? Because Rusalka is the most beautiful Czech opera.



- born in Prague

- conservatory studies in Prague and Plzeň

- degree in Italian Language at Charles University in Prague

- started singing in the chorus of the National Theatre in Prague, then in the Prague Philharmonic Choir

- four years of work as production assistant at the Prague Castle Cultural Section

- appearing regularly across the Czech Republic; as a soloist, has toured in Brazil, Japan and Israel; has sung in Vienna and Brussels

- works with leading Czech and international orchestras (Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra, Prague Symphony Orchestra, Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra, Prague Philharmonia, Brno Philharmonic Orchestra, Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra Olomouc, Northern Bohemia Philharmonic Orchestra Teplice, Bohuslav Martinů Philharmonic Orchestra, Pardubice Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra)

- made two CDs featuring 19th and 20th-century opera arias, and music by contemporary composer Zdeněk Zahradník; and in 2011, a CD of songs by Alma Mahler, with the Prague Symphony Orchestra

- in June 2010, made her successful debut as Carmen at the Moravian Theatre in Olomouc where she is currently engaged as opera and operetta soloist; in parallel with that, she guest appears at the J.K. Tyl Theatre in Plzeň, and at the F.X. Šalda Theatre in Liberec

- received the Olomoucký deník newspaper Readers´ Prize for best artistic performance of the 2012/2013 season in the opera/operetta category