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(c) Vardan Aslanyan

An Interview with Anush Hovhannisyan

1 April 2018 Suzanne Frost

The Armenian Soprano, who first demanded attention with her interpretation of Violetta in La Traviata at Scottish Opera, came to London when she was chosen to join the Jette Parker Young Artist programme at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden. Now she has been nominated for the prestigious Opera Awards and will also be performing at the ceremony. London Calling talked to Anush about the all-consuming vocation of being an opera singer.

London Calling: Congratulations on your nomination for the Opera Awards in the Young singer category! The opera awards are only in their 6th year but they are becoming more and more important.
Anush Hovhannisyan: They are considered to be the Oscars of the opera world. It’s not anyway near the Oscars in terms of splendour but it is very important within the industry because this is the first award of its kind as a celebration for opera companies and artists, and it’s very international.
 
LC: You are also going to perform at the ceremony
AH: It’s a double honour. I am really really thrilled about this. 
 
LC: How did you start singing?
AH: I studied strings at a professional music school for 10 years and one day I just decided that I wanted to sing. I’ve never tried before. My dad wasn’t thrilled because he was teaching singers, he is a stage director and the head of the opera studio and the opera department at the conservatoire.
 
LC: So music was in your family?
AH: He is to blame! Because when I was little he always took me to work and used me as a prop in his rehearsals for so many years. I had opera in my veins basically. When I made the decision to sing - he never heard me sing before, nobody ever did - he was really surprised and I didn’t convince him at first. But somehow I managed to convince him and I graduated from the vocal department of Yerevan State Conservatory in Armenia.
 
LC: When did you come to London?
AH: In 2013 when I joined the Royal Opera House. It helped to launch my career. And I love it! It’s such a vibrant city and as an artist it offers so much, starting from the museum to theatre to musicals. I think if I can afford to live here, there is nowhere else I’d like to be.

 
(c) Robert Koloyan

LC: What were the challenges you had to overcome in your career or did you just have a natural talent?
AH: I think talent is only one part of a very very hard path, which might end up in a career or it might lead to nothing. Every performer has lots of things to overcome. I think that young singers are not aware of how costly this career is, really. I had to learn how much sacrifice it asks for. When you are entering this big professional jungle, it’s very important to understand how the industry works and to understand your own mind, in order to really give 100% of what the industry asks of you. This is one thing that strikes me as not being talked about enough with young singers.
Just the amount of responsibility and the amount of hard work that you actually have to do. It’s not only about having a lovely voice and standing there singing. That’s only the tip of the iceberg. It takes mental strength, rejection. Something very important to learn is that not everyone is going to love you.  That’s very hard to accept, for singers and for actors too, because your tool is your body and if someone dislikes your performance it feels very personal.
 
LC: Your first big break-through role was Violetta in La Traviata. What is special about this role?
AH: She is so human, so devoted, so loving. I think there is no audience in the world that does not feel with Violetta. She is such a loving, caring, beautiful person who gives the biggest sacrifice of all: knowing that she’s dying, she lets her loved one go. Something I don’t know if I personally would be able to do.
 
LC: Are there any other dream roles you are looking forward to singing in your career?
AH: I very much like Rossini’s music and Mozart’s music and it really suits my voice, especially at this age. The voice matures differently and at the moment, I have the agility of the voice for those technically very hard roles. So the seria operas of Rossini is something I look forward to and also Mozart’s serious operas. But as a young singer it’s one thing to dream about something and a different thing to actually get offers. Violetta was an absolute surprise to me, I never thought I would be able to sing that because it’s such an iconic role and it’s technically so demanding. But the opera came up and I started studying it and found out that it’s just absolutely perfect and fits my voice like a glove. Last year I sang the title role in Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda and absolutely loved it. So who knows what else I’ll be offered and end up loving!


Anush Hovhannisyan (Violetta) and Peter Gijsbertsen (Alfedo) in La Traviata at Scottish Opera. Photo: Jane Hobson

LC: What does a usual day look like for an opera singer?
AH: I have to be very honest and say usually it’s 70% admin. It’s quite boring. The actual singing part is so little. I do a lot of mental practice. I learned that from my lovely teacher at the Royal Scottish Conservatoire who encouraged me to do mental practice because I was absolutely overwhelmed with the amount of work and I found that the voice was getting tired a lot, so this is a technique that I carry with me throughout my career. But yes, it’s very boring: you have to always be careful not to catch a draft, lots of cashmere scarves, lots of tea, especially in winter. For me as a freelance singer, I came to a point where I made myself a daily structure to stick to. Otherwise you might be performing one day and then not sing for 3 days. So do you procrastinate or do you make yourself do something? It was very hard for me to learn how to do it but I had help from my wonderful colleagues and people who support me. But usually I like to spend evenings at home. If you have a performance coming up soon you don’t want to go to a noisy pub and come home late and have your voice tired, so it’s a very silent life.
 
LC: Was there ever anything else you wanted to do?
AH: There is so much I wanted to do but I never allow my brain to think about it. The sheer volume of knowledge that you have to have as an opera singer is immense: not only the history of the works you are performing but also the language and the historical context, the technical vocal training and the physical training. You have to be very fit, title roles are very challenging physically, you have to be on top of your game, so you have to take care of your body, take time to study your art history, study paintings, everything else that feeds into understanding what opera is about, what your character is about, to be an actor rather than a singer who just stands still. All of these disciplines come together and you have a to-do list that would require 36 hours per day. If you are really committed to it, especially when you’re a young singer who really wants to start a career and do it at a high level, there is not much time left to do anything else. One thing I would like to do is to travel the world. I travel a lot but when I travel for work I am very conscious of staying healthy, I don’t go out, I try to concentrate and think about my performance. The time I have spent in a foreign country and only seen the airport and the performance venue! Which is ironic for someone who has a million stamps in their passport!

Anush will be performing at the New Generations Festival in Florence, Italy, from 29 August -1 September.
The International Opera Awards are taking place on 9 April at the London Coliseum, Tickets £10-£150
 
 
 
 
 
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