‘I am no oprichnik...’

National Academic Bolshoi Opera and Ballet Theatre of Belarus soloist Ilya Silchukov

National Academic Bolshoi Opera and Ballet Theatre of Belarus soloist Ilya Silchukov

The finalist of the popular Russian TV project Big Opera, Ilya Silchukov, attended our interview with son Luka, aged 7, who views his father as his best friend before any thoughts of his fame in playing such roles as Giorgio Germont in La Traviata and Eugene Onegin in Tchaikovsky’s opera of the same name. Luka may not know that Yelena Obraztsova recently praised Ilya and that the former director of the Viennese opera, Ioan Holender, has called out ‘Bravo!’. However, Luka knows that family life has changed significantly of late, and that he hasn’t seen as much of his father.

Ilya, today is Monday — your only day off — yet you were at the theatre this morning…

I’ve been rehearsing as I’ve had many offers for work and don’t want to refuse. I’m currently preparing for a solo concert in honour of Muslim Magomayev and need to rehearse our current repertoire at the Opera and Ballet Theatre. I’ve had less time for my family, so I try to spend every free minute with my wife Tatiana and children, Luka and Olivia. Do you mind if my little son stays with us?

Certainly, let him stay. Does Luka know that his father is a major star of Big Opera?

Of course, my wife and son are my most devoted fans. They haven’t missed a single programme.

Do you have ambitions beyond the stage of the Bolshoi Theatre?

All artistes want to develop and move forward. It would be insincere for me to deny my desire to sing on world stages. Opera is an international phenomenon: unlike variety performances, for which it’s difficult to break language barriers. If I’d been invited to Moscow several years ago, I’d have moved without doubt but I’m not sure I’d do so now.

In one show, musical manager Ioan Holender noted that Minsk is lucky to have such a soloist. However, you don’t sing in every performance. Why it that?

I don’t lack a repertoire. Although ‘Big Opera’ has brought me a lot of attention — from professionals and the public — some come to see Silchukov rather than myself. In this age of media, TV helps promote artistes more effectively than traditional vocal competitions — even international. I have more than 15 international awards but they did not bring pubic notice — unlike ‘Big Opera’. Thanks to this project, I’ve been recognised and heard by thousands of people.

Ilya, tell me about Yelena Obraztsova. You chatted recently…

On January 12th, on the day of her death, I was in Moscow, at her concert. The sad news appeared across the Internet at midday. I still recollect her words on the day of the final of ‘Big Opera’, when she said, «Iliyukha, see you in Minsk in ‘Queen of Spades’.»

Yelena Vasilievna was to arrive one month ago, for the Minsk International Christmas Opera Forum, and we were going to sing together in ‘Queen of Spades’. Unfortunately, her health was already deteriorating so she sent her apologies, promising to come when she felt recovered. Alas, this promise will never be realised.

Was Queen of Spades the first opera you heard as a child?

Yes. Moreover, Yelena Vasilievna sang the part of the Countess. When I was 6 years old, my parents took me to the opera for the first time and, by a strange quirk of fate, Yelena Obraztsova was on tour in Minsk at the time. I won’t say that I was like Mozart: unable to sleep at night ever after. At that time, the theatre didn’t make any special impression on me; it was much later that I became fond of classical singing. I was 17 when I first took part in a vocal competition and I didn’t take a prize. However, I was infected by the ‘singing bug’.

Do you regret not becoming a variety performer?

No. What purpose would my classical education serve in this instance? I’ve found my niche in the classical lyrical repertoire. I very much enjoyed my last role: Silvio in Leoncavallo’s ‘Pagliacci’, directed by Mikhail Pandzhavidze.

Why weren’t you involved in the Belarusian Bolshoi Theatre’s Tsar’s Bride, by Rimsky-Korsakov?

The role of oprichnik Gryaznoy is a hard nut for me to crack. Russian opera has its own style and requires a certain dramatic approach for which my lyrical voice is not really suitable. I like to be honest about my abilities and keep to my strength: Italian opera. This is where I feel ‘like a duck on water’.

By Yuliana Leonovich
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