Interview by Victoria Cușnir

At the beginning of autumn, soprano Valentina Naforniță came to Chișinău for a jubilee edition of the “Maria Bieșu” Festival. Together with mezzo-soprano Ramona Zaharia, baritone Andrei Jilihovschi and tenor Jonathan Tetelman, she was to give the audience at home a royal performance of Georges Bizet’s Carmen. A fabulous cast, made possible by Valentina’s  insisting to have Jonathan Tetelman play the role of Don Jose. She checked his schedule, found out about his availability, made sure he could come.

Victoria Cușnir: You’d think Chișinău wasn’t the heart of European opera. One could always opt for another destination. And yet, you did it!

Valentina Naforniță: My generation is trying to change that. It’s very important for us to have big events in Chișinău, to have artists of high caliber come to perform in Moldova. That’s what Marcel Lazar is doing with the Moldo Crescendo project, that’s what I try to do every time. We put a lot of passion into this project and we now we have artists who would wish to be in Chișinău now, to be part of this performance.

Valentina Naforniță

Photo: Manfred Baumann

Victoria Cușnir: We aren’t doing bad at all,  in terms of instrumental soloists who have managed to make a name for themselves on the world’s big stage, but what about operatic voices? How many shine out there and to what extent would you give priority to an event in Chișinău over one on a European stage, in case of overlap?

Valentina Naforniță: I don’t give up on any of them. But for me it’s vital to perform at home. To do here what I could do on a big world stage. The biggest motivation of this effort is that I can inspire such a young generation to believe that everything is possible. A lot of people lose their wings, lose their belief in a purpose, and I can give them the belief that they can do it. Plus, it counts a lot when you’ve sung  together with a big name on a stage in your home country. That’s why I insist on special guests. And audiences should be able to enjoy quality performances, especially when you have someone to perform with at home. Those of us blessed with the chance of an international career have a moral duty to perform at home as often as possible. If you’ve been given a gift of fate, you have to give back. I firmly believe in that.

Victoria Cușnir: What is it like to build an international opera career when you are born in Moldova?

Valentina Naforniță: It doesn’t matter where you were born. It seems to me that, on the contrary, we have the advantage of a kind of authenticity that characterizes us. Today’s audiences aren’t  so much looking for perfection as for experience and emotion. We know how to offer it in a different way, străin from the way we are as a people, character, feeling. Simplicity, passion, love and hard work make us relevant.

Mimi in La Boheme at Opera and Ballet National Theatre Moldova

Victoria Cușnir: I now remember the Christmas concerts in Vienna, where you sang Romanian carols every time. Those were intense moments.

Valentina Naforniță: Each guest artist is asked to sing a carol of their country. In 2015 we sang O, ce veste minunată!and in 2018 La Betleem, colo-n jos. You should see the reaction of the audience, and also that of the famous children’s choir in Vienna, when they sang O, ce veste minunată! in Romanian. It’s a concert that brings together the most fantastic voices. For me it was a dream come true.

Victoria Cușnir: Out of many dreams, I suppose…

Valentina Naforniță: Maybe a lot of people don’t know, but my biggest dream was the Cardiff award. It’s true that I had already signed a contract with the Vienna State Opera for one year, after having participated in another competition with the then director of the Staatsoper on the jury. At that time I was even the youngest artist under contract at the Vienna State Opera. When I saw myself as a semi-finalist in Cardiff, I was deeply moved. First of all, no one from Moldova had ever participated in this competition, a contest won by big, important names. The mere fact that I got there was a trophy in itself.

Victoria Cușnir: In Cardiff you won the Dame Joan Sutherland Audience Award and were a finalist in the Liedcategory. What significant change has the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World brought to your life? 

Valentina Naforniță: Cardiff gave me a five years advance. Even though I already had a very good contract signed, if it wasn’t for this award, I would have had to work extremely, extremely hard. From a PR point of view at least, it saved me a titanic effort that I would have had to put in for a few years. I am fully aware of this benefit. I had become known in the opera world, just overnight. But this competition comprises enormous responsibility. Many voices have won this competition, which is precisely meant to bring new names to the fore, but did not manage to get to be known today. They have somehow been lost. Winning puts you in an advantageous position, but you have to have lots of  strength to hold on. Ideally, you want to grow. When you are offered a lot from the start, you have to be able to carry the responsibility, as a  human being and as a professional.

Victoria Cușnir: To what extent does a career depend solely on the artist and how much of your success can be attributed to circumstances, agents, theatre directors, opera directors, the way you manage to position yourself in relation to fiercely compeating  colleagues?

Valentina Naforniță: I really don’t know how to answer this question to be fair. I know one thing: I never stop working. Even when I was incredibly successful, the next day when I woke up the first question I asked myself was what do I do from now on. And the answer was always: work even harder. I don’t allow myself any breaks except for the planned vacations. Otherwise, we’re talking work, intense study, 80% of it.

Valentina Naforniță in Julietta, Romeo and Julieta, Maggio Musicale Fioretino

Photo: Michele Monasta

Victoria Cușnir: So if you have the right amount of talent, the rest is work. Or are there other details that matter?

Valentina Naforniță: No, no, no… It’s just as much about the people around you. Circumstances matter, but… God gives you something, but he doesn’t put it in your pocket though . You need the right time, the right place and the right people. Everything has to line up perfectly. Now you’d think I was lucky, but no-one knows how much effort I’ve put into Cardiff. For half a year I had insomnia. I only slept two hours during the day, not at all at night. It wasn’t a fear, but I was so focused on everything I had to do… I was intensely analysing every detail. I was thinking about every step, every gesture, every word I had to say on stage. Or in interviews. It wasn’t just my repertoire that was demanding. I was aware that apart from the singing on  stage, there’s radio, there’s television, there’s the BBC. People are constantly given opportunities, but we don’t always know how to take advantage of them. Sometimes we even pass by without noticing. 

Victoria Cușnir: Have you ever found yourself wanting nothing?

Valentina Naforniță: Oh, yes! I’ve had rehearsals where I incessantly heard, “not good, not good, not good”. And that demoralized me so much! But, at the same time, it also motivated me enormously. I said to myself, like a determined Moldovan that I am: I’ll come in tomorrow and show you that it can be good, and in the end I’ll win you over. It happened to me with Zubin Mehta. At first, I thought he didn’t like me, every day he asked more and more from me. I was crying, singing and telling my teacher that I was going to leave everything and go home. I didn’t want to anymore, I couldn’t take it, I couldn’t take it anymore. And my teacher told me: “Tomorrow is a new day, a new life, a new chance.” And the next day I started all over again. And finally, the great maestro Zubin Mehta conquered!

* The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the position of the Romanian Cultural Institute, but exclusively the opinions of the author.