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Vesselina Kasarova: Biography of an Operatic Star

Vesselina Ivanova Kasarova was born in July 1965, amid a culturally rich musical heritage in the ancient Bulgarian town of Stara Zagora. Her musical talents were spotted early and fully supported by her parents, who sent her to state-sponsored special academy for the musically gifted to study piano when she was only 4 years old.

Young Kasarova's distinctly dark and beautiful lyric mezzo-soprano voice was discovered while she sang in a chorus by Professor Ressa Koleva, a chamber singer and voice-coach at the conservatory. When Kasarova made the fateful decision to switch to singing after completing her university diploma as a concert pianist, Koleva took her under her wings and groomed her to be a Mozart and Rossini singer despite of Bulgaria's strong tradition of Verdi opera.

 

It was a decision for which many of us opera fans shall forever be grateful. With her 'spinto' ability to occasionally (and opportunistically) override a blaring orchestra and her unfailing flare for communicating drama in the very timbre of her voice, many imprudent opera theater managers dangled seductive offers for performances in the exciting (but also voice-shredding) dramatic mezzo-soprano repertoire. All but one of which she has been able to resist (the lone exception was for the role of the Princess of Bouillon in a run of Cilea's Adriane Lecouvreur in Zurich in 1994), thereby retaining superb control of her splendidly agile and expressive voice for nearly 20 years now.

What is it about her singing that is so captivating? Individuality and conviction.... There are many voices today that are more beautiful or bigger or more seamlessly integrated, but you would be hard pressed to find any that is more communicative and elastic, colorful, and so full of personality. The basic timbre is burnish burgundy that turns smoky and dark cherry wood-like at the bottom with a clear bright amber top register. A vast palette of colors because the range is so large! It comes with rather distinct register breaks, however, to the dismay of some modern audience who insist that a singer should sing with the voice that exhibits the same hue from top to bottom. For me, I couldn't care less about the 'breaks' (the 2 places in her vocal range where her resonance changes perceptibly).... and neither should anyone who admire the singing of Maria Callas, Maria Malibran, Pauline Viardot-Garcia, Giulia Grisi, Giuditta Pasta,..., etc.

All legendary names, all with extremely large vocal range with 'breaks' so wide a semi-truck could drive right through them. All of them, Kasarova included, are also great because they are the most convincingly musical story tellers to ever grace the operatic stage who could also act as well as they sing. They are the consummated artists who use their skills to highlight the arts rather than to highlight their own technical mastery. To experience them is to be transported from the mundane reality for a while into the land where Ruggiero flies the globe on a hippogriff, where Marguerite waits by the window for her Mephistopheles-influenced Faust, or where Helen of Troy flirts with Paris while the whole Sparta pretends not to look. You close your eyes to listen to her and wonder if you didn't just miss Romeo jumping out of a window up ahead after his tryst with Juliet or if Farnace is waiting to ambush you at the next street corner... then you open them, and the image doesn't go away! Those long dead mythological, historical, and fictional characters that she plays on-stage experience such a vivid rebirth through her portrayal that they will live on in your heart forever.

Below are a few video clips that testify to Kasarova's happily incurable case of multiple-personalities stage manifestations:
A bravura virtuoso...(Ariodante) (Orpheus)(Princess Eboli) (Arianna)

A tear-jerking super onion....(Ruggiero) (Ariodante)

A sultry comedienne....
1. Offenbach: La belle Hélène: (Helen) (Rosina) with Edita Gruberova(Farnace)

A tragic-romantic hero.... in Bellini's I Capuleti e i Montecchi (Tancredi) (Sesto)(Leonor)
2. Massenet: Werther: (Charlotte)

The Bulgarian folks, especially from the Thrace region where Stara Zagora situates, are long known for their soulful melancholic music that enchants and inspires. From the mythical Orpheus to today's musical legends like Anna Tomowa-Sintow or Nicolai Ghiaurov, to live up to such distinguished musical tradition is a tall order. But living up to it Vesselina Kasarova does, all the while remaining one of the most personable, amiable, and (gasp ) sane person off the stage. In the waves of today's self-destructive young pop divas, Kasarova and many of her operatic colleagues such as Edita Gruberova, Diana Damrau, Anja Harteros, Malin Hartelius, Nina Stemme, etc., are living proofs that fame doesn't necessary have to come at the expense of sanity or lack of maturity.

Vesselina Kasarova is happily married to Roger Kaufmann, a Swiss economist. They and their young son live in a village near Zurich, the city where her international operatic career began and whose opera house she calls home. Kasarova limits herself to 50 performances per year and only appears very occasionally in the United States.... much to my distress!

If the sample clips above catch your imagination, why not try to catch her in a live performance somewhere? I'm afraid her website is not quite up to date, but her unofficial fan blog is quite good at coming up with her schedule. I'm afraid she performs mostly in Europe, but those of us who don't live on The Continent have RCA Red Seal label to thank for her many CD recordings:

Solo CDs: Mozart Arias, Lieder by Schubert, Brahms, Schumann, A Portrait, Lied-Duett (with Edita Gruberova), Love Entranced (Nuit Resplendissante): French Opera Arias, Song Cycles by Berlioz, Ravel, Chausson, The Magic of Kasarova, Bulgarian Soul, Rossini Arias & Duets.

Multi-artists CDs: Das Bayerische Staatsoper: 1997-2005, Ramon Vargas & Friends, Gala Night 2003

Opera CDs: Alcina (Munich 2005), Beatrice di Tenda (Vienna 1992), Oberon, La Favorite (Munich 2000), Werther, I Capuleti e i Montecchi, Tancredi, Mitridate (Salzburg 1997), Dom Sebastien (ROH 2005), La clemenza di Tito (Munich 2006)

Opera DVDs: Der Rosenkavalier (Zurich 2004), Orphée et Eurydice (Munich 2005), La damnation de Faust (Salzburg 1999), Il ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria (Zurich 2002), Il barbiere di Siviglia (Zurich 2001), Berlin Opera Night 2003, Pique Dame (Vienna 1992 VHS), La clemenza di Tito (Salzburg 2003), La belle Hélène (Zurich 1997), La clemenza di Tito (Zurich 2005)


Image Courtesy of Michael Koschinski

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