David Salazar | OperaWire
“Every artist needs to go through difficult times. It’s important because it lets us remember who we are and the things we can and cannot do,” soprano Kristine Opolais told OperaWire in a recent interview.
Over the past few years, the Latvian artist has found herself questioning her own artistic identity and ending her marriage. She’s struggled with figuring out how to balance being a good mother and good artist. She’s even struggled with physical ailments that had been bothering her for years and were now interfering with her ability to perform.
But now she feels stronger for it.
“I am ready to give more than I have ever given,” she stated.
Opolais admits that for better or worse, she has always been one to do things her own way. After all, this is an artist who decided to drop out of the conservatory despite being told repeatedly that she would never have an opera career if she didn’t finish her studies.
“If people tell me I can’t, I try and find the way to do it anyway,” she stated.
Her process comes down to immersing herself fully in a character and then just living the experience onstage, with warts and all.
For this reason, she loves rehearsals because she has the time and space to understand the characters’ emotions and anticipate the pain and suffering that she will have to endure when she gives herself over fully to interpreting the person in the performance. This kind of intense emotional approach comes with its risks for those that like things a bit more predictable, but it also allows the performer to be open to new possibilities onstage.
A few years ago, Opolais found her approach being increasingly questioned and a lot of advice was given to her to sit back, restrain her instincts, and “focus only on singing.”
She listened and adjusted.
“I started to lose voice, presence, colors, everything,” she revealed. “People just wanted me to sing and that’s it. It shouldn’t only be about that. My singing is part of the complete package. Technique in singing is only important in how it frees you to give yourself completely to creating the character. If I only focus on singing a specific way, then I will lose out on opportunities of living the character and taking risks in the moment. As soon as you are limited and someone tries to put you in a box, it can kill you as an artist.”
She found herself increasingly “trapped” and other challenges were taking away from her being able to sort out her identity as an artist.
She was struggling with physical ailments that furthered the challenges of doing what she was advised to do. The soprano noted that she had been struggling with some physical issues for years but had not paid much attention to it until this point. Now, she could not look away.
And to top things off, in her private life she just didn’t feel she was able to give her fullest both artistically and as a mother for Adriana, who will turn seven at the end of December 2018.
“I couldn’t focus my brain on the arts because of divorce, health problems, and also my daughter was going to school and I didn’t really have time for my art. It’s hard to be so-so everywhere so I wanted to give myself time to recover psychologically.”
This decision to unwind allowed the soprano to come to terms with a few aspects of her life. She had to give her daughter a better life, but she also needed to go back to taking the artistic risks she always had.
So for a better part of 2018, the soprano spent more time in Latvia to be with Adriana as she commenced her elementary school studies in Riga.
During Adriana’s early years, the soprano had taken her daughter everywhere she could.
“When you give birth, you don’t really understand what is happening,” she noted, adding that she thought the best was just to have her daughter with her all the time.
But as Adriana grew, she realized it was selfish.
“For her to live in suitcases and have no friends and no real home, it’s cruel. She needs to start her life.”
So the soprano decided that Adriana would remain in Riga to understand “what it is to live in one place.” But being so used to being on the move, Opolais struggled with not being able to perform regularly.
“Adriana was happy to see me at home with her, but I was depressed,” Opolais noted. “And I knew that that was not good for her either. She needs to see her mother happy also. All women who are singers and mothers, I admire them tremendously because it is so challenging, almost impossible to do both at the same time really well.”
One might imagine that an international star like Opolais would be able to find a plethora of opportunities in Eastern Europe or specifically in Latvia to perform, but the soprano noted that it becomes increasingly difficult for her to dedicate herself to her art in her home country.
“At home, I am a mother, a daughter. When I get home, I try to just be there for my daughter. If I work at home, people tell me to take it easy. It’s not something I can do when I am performing. I need to be dedicated only to my art and at home I can’t be because I have to be there for my daughter.”
Then there’s the fact that Adriana isn’t really a big opera fan.
“One time I showed her a video a YouTube of me performing and she started to cry,” Opolais revealed. “I asked her why she didn’t like it and she said, ‘Because you’re crying.’ She sees me suffering and it hurts her. She’s very sensitive. Being the daughter of Andris Nelsons and Kristine Opolais, she has to be sensitive. And she is very talented, but she is also very shy.”
Meanwhile, the soprano, who also started taking better care of her physical health, was rethinking her artistic identity and consulting with the people who she trusted most.
Her conclusion? She had to do it her way.
The soprano noted that this return to her own identity came during the performance of “La Bohème” at Tanglewood in August 2018 under the baton of her ex-husband Andris Nelsons. Then she went on tour with the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, also under Nelsons.
The results were widely lauded and Opolais couldn’t be happier.
“I am not afraid. I went through a lot of things, but now I understand that I love my art the way that I do it,” she enthused.