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Barbora Polášková – Interview, Prague, October 2009

What is it like to be a singer?

It’s quite demanding. Especially in that it mustn’t go to one’s head... I’m joking. It is demanding, but beautiful and enhancing. One really has to give a lot of time and effort to it, but it’s worth it. Besides being a singer and interpreter, I am also just an ordinary human being that loves to sing.


How does it come about that one becomes an artist?

I think you are born as one. But it is also a matter of the environment in which one grows up, the people you meet and – especially – chance, good fortune and application. And, of course, you have to have talent.


What makes the difference between a professional singer and an ordinary person who just likes to sing?

Perhaps a certain fanaticism, obsession with singing or with music, classical music in my case. And then, definitely, voice training and regular practising, that’s what sets us apart.


Is singing a road to fame and fortune for you, or does it serve music and the audience?

It is firstly a road to oneself, one’s own innermost soul. Through music I am discovering incredible recesses of feeling and emotion inside me. Maybe I am a sort of minor musical psychologist. But I definitely look upon singing as a service to music and the listener.


Everyone have their models. Which do you have?

Singing models? I have many. I love Callas, especially her expression. While, as far as singing goes, I have been enchanted by Vesselina Kasarova. But models, not only singing ones, I have many. My own life’s greatest models have been my parents who are examples of culture and education and especially of the way people should treat one another. They are among the most important people in my life. Whatever I am I owe first and foremost to them.


Is it at all possible to teach singing?

I don’t know, but it is surely necessary to have a teacher who helps one to find the way to good singing, so that one doesn’t do harm to oneself, and to find the way to one’s own natural timbre and expression. I don’t think there exists a self-taught singer, even though to a certain extent you do teach yourself and work on yourself by yourself anyway.


Would you tell us what the range of your voice is?

Tenor to soprano...! I have quite a large range, from e up to f3. But I am happiest in the mezzo- soprano range.


Is it true that sopranos tend to be blondes while the lower voices brunettes?

I’ve never heard such a thing. Isn’t it some kind of a joke about blondes, and so a myth? I feel the colour of your hair is irrelevant. But while we are on the subject, I know quite a number of blond mezzos and dark sopranos. I’d be interested to know how the reds are doing.


On this record you sing pieces by a number of composers of different origins, from different periods and in different languages. You must have had more than just musical training?

Yes, I studied Italian at the Charles University Philosophical Faculty in Prague. I have a warm affinity to languages. I passed state examinations in English and studied French and German, too. I am also interested in history, literature, fine art and I do sports.


Do you try to adhere to the style in each of the compositions?

I strive primarily for truth. But I do of course try and differentiate between the styles. It’s not possible to sing Dvořák like Handel or Bach like a romantic Lied. It’s definitely beneficial to base your style on study, but I still think you have to have it inside you a bit, you have to feel it.


To what extent are you aware of the content of the text as you sing it? Does it inform your approach as you study it and your whole performance?

Singing is basically to do with text and story. It would therefore hardly work without knowing the content of the text, although I am now aware that one has to reach a certain level to be able to pull it off. Life itself is your grounding in the study of the text. I try to understand it to the last detail, live through it, and that’s how the whole performance is developed. I can’t say that I spend all day pondering what the poet has had in mind – you either understand and know what he means or you don’t. In most cases, as I study the work, associations with various situations and mental states I have lived through are played out within me. I am singing and all of a sudden I know that I have been through precisely some such situation before.


How was the recording? Is recording a joy or a stress?

But singing is a joy, isn’t it? Seriously, it was out of this world, an uplifting feeling, it was joy and fulfilment which permeated the whole hall or studio. It was as if I was being enveloped by some substance that swallowed me up. I was not aware of anybody around me, nor of the microphones and of being recorded. I delved deep into the music and it was wonderful. It was a feeling that I’ll not easily forget. It can’t be described in words. It was like light in pitch darkness.


Every singer pictures herself in the limelight on the operatic stage in some world metropolis. Do you have this kind of a dream, too?

I long to sing, but I have found that I am happy enough to make music with just a few musicians at a rehearsal or to sing a bit just for my own pleasure. It is pleasant, though, to be able to share one’s own gift with others. Singing is my passion and my desire, I am really happy when I can sing and I don’t mind if I am singing to ten or a thousand people.


You have lately been devoting yourself to chamber music, especially to Lieder. Which composers interest you? And what does one need to be able to interpret the emotions revealed in those songs?

I am especially interested in Czech composers, since they are being unjustly neglected to some extent, I would go further and say ignored. Maybe it’s to do with demand. I have for instance been fascinated by Ladislav Vycpálek who wrote some wonderful song cycles, then also by Jaroslav Křička and Vítězslav Novák. I also focus on women composers, for instance Alma Mahler, Vítězslava Kaprálová and Sylvie Bodorová. In the future I would like to take up Alexander Zemlinsky. Songs are a lot more delicate than operatic arias, they harbour an incredible range of experience, feelings, emotions, moods, they mirror the soul of man. Songs are the truth, they speak of life, when you sing songs you cannot pretend, lie to the listener, not know what you are singing about. You must be aware of each word with precision, and you must take on board the dynamics which go hand in hand with the text and the melodic line. What does one need to interpret the subjective emotion in Lieder? Experience of life, experience of the different junctures in life: love, happiness, woe, the whole gamut of emotions one has experienced in one’s own life. I think I’d not be able to sing about something I had not gone through, I’d not experienced. But all that is of course as valid for opera or operatic arias as it is for Lieder, except that songs are perhaps a little more genuine, are more about life and people and are meant for people. That’s why it is so much easier to forge a contact between the singer of songs and the listener.