Portland Opera's Globe-trotting Guest Diva
An interview with Stefania Dovhan
You’re coming to Portland to sing Donna Anna in Mozart’s Don Giovanni. You had the same part in the same production in New York in 2009. Why do it again? The direction is very fresh, and there’s the right amount of sex in it, which is important. In New York a lot of people came to the opera for the first time because they knew me—old friends from school and that sort of thing. And I would say that the response was, generally, that those people were quite mesmerized.
Is seducing new audiences part of the modern diva’s job description? Definitely, yes. What we do is unique. We fill a vast hall with sound, with no microphones. It’s almost freakish, what our little human vocal cords can do. Everyone should experience it.
You’re 32. You were born in Ukraine but went to high school and college in the US. And as we’re talking, you’re sitting in Germany, where you’ve worked for years. What does that make you? A citizen of the world? In my heart, I am Ukrainian. But this background is ideal for me: I understand how people work and approach opera in all those places. If you are raised under a regime that doesn’t let you see anything, you have one result: in Ukraine, productions are very traditional. In Germany, you have a theater in every town, so they are in a constant battle to reinvent everything and want everything to be very modern. And in the US everything is mixed—you find both.
How much of your work relies on singingwhat the composer wrote, versus interpreting a character as an actress? You work hard, in rehearsal, to get both the music and the character into your body, so that when you come out on stage for the performance, it just flows. We don’t know Mozart personally, you know? We do know that he wrote this stuff very quickly. He was not analyzing things. I think our tendency is to overanalyze the characters and how they should be done.
You’re based in Germany but sing all over the place. Do you get to know the places you land? I don’t get a ton of time to explore, but I am really looking forward to being in Portland. I keep hearing that it is the most amazing place. Do you guys have lots of beer?
About 50 breweries. Oh, that’s dangerous!