Arts & Culture Yahoo

‘When I’m onstage, I belong to you’ – Nelly Miricioiu


Text and photos by ELIZABETH LOLARGA

Miricioiu considers herself a burden if she is unable to sing.
Miricioiu considers herself a burden if she is unable to sing.

SOPRANO Nelly Miricioiu, whose roots are in Romania, has been called many things, including “a traitor to her country” when she defected to Western Europe. She experienced being snubbed and ignored by her countrymen despite the accolades heaped on her when she conquered Covent Garden in the United Kingdom, La Scala in Italy, the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

Among the more colorful epithets given her was “the Romanian Rottweiler” because of a temperament that, in her youth, was intense, energetic, nervous, impatient, controlling- traits usually associated with a diva whose present meaning has come to mean someone full of herself.

At yesterday’s press conference at Cravings Restaurant, Shangri-La Plaza Mall, these traits were evident as she talked a mean streak, but she also demonstrated a reflective side. This “mellowing” she attributed to the calming presence of her husband, engineer Barry Kirk, who she described as her opposite.

She recalled, “As a child, I was a loner who was talking to trees, to the rain, writing poetry. I was in my own world and shy around people. I believed myself a Cinderella. I still believe in fairy tales, but I had a brutal coming out of childhood.”

When she was five years old, she sang a song in public that hadn’t been heard for some time. That song mentioned the word “God.” Because of that her father was imprisoned for five days (communism was supposedly a godless ideology). Spies also took note how he visited the church to pray at a time when churches were mere architectural structures with no worship purposes.

Although she said her parents were “very communist,” they also showed “an affinity with another dimension. I’d run away from school, hide and go to the church. God was my inspiration, I believe in God. (This belief) helped me in everything, throughout the oppression and misery I felt. I’m not a vindictive person. I don’t like holding grudges. I’m too fond of myself to allow that.”

She considers music “a completely separate world that gives me inspiration, a spiritual freedom.” Because her mother recognized her gift, encouraged her and ensured that she go through four hours of piano practice a day until the young Nelly was sweating and had to stay in school from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. due to music lessons, the soprano early on got the parental message: “This is your gift from God, now you do the work.”

When she developed a persistent tonsil infection, her mother told the doctor that she’d rather no operation be done. Instead, the older woman brought her daughter to seaside holidays so she’d be exposed to the sun in the morning and breathe sea air. The mother was strict about this schedule.

One time Miricioiu wept during a holiday that she was not too keen about. Her mother ordered her to sing, and when she did, she felt better.

She said, “When I sing, I’m fine. When I’m singing, it’s beyond music. It’s hard to put into words. Liszt was once playing a beautiful composition. A woman who heard him said, ‘Maestro, can you explain why it is beautiful?’ So he played it again. You have to be in love with the notes, understand why the notes were put there. If you want me to die, make me stop singing. I’ll be singing to the last of my breath.”

She demonstrated this by singing a passage from the aria “Si mi chiamano Mimi” from the opera La Boheme. “You must feel the commitment, the love and passion. From the first moment, Mimi is me, my persona, my center of the world. I feel why the composer put the words there, then I bring that vulnerability. You don’t just do crescendo to express an emotion. You must find what the composers were thinking, what the music is like.”

Husband Barry Kirk and her were coming out of separate relationships, his first wife had died, while she was divorced, when one of the first online dating sites put them together.
Husband Barry Kirk and her were coming out of separate relationships, his first wife had died, while she was divorced, when one of the first online dating sites put them together.

Husband Barry Kirk and her were coming out of separate, pained relationships when they first met. His wife had died, while she was just divorced. One of the early online dating sites brought them together.

She also stressed that the true singer’s objective is “to be at the service of the public and the music. You’re not there for yourself.”

Miricioiu quoted Maria Callas who once said, “My role starts from my dressing room.” But for Miricioiu, “my role starts from my hotel. When I am onstage, I belong to you, to the music.”

Her return to the Philippines is like coming full circle. When she first was here, she described herself as “a sad Nelly,” but she was received with “unconditional love.” The first note she mailed to her mother read: “Mama, they have fruits!” At the time, Romania also produced fruits, but these were all exported so there was none for the people.

Her next note read; “Mama, they smile!” She explained that Romania was “a happy nation, but it lost that smile” when the country became defined by rigidity, when people’s movements were audited. She described the oppressive feeling as akin to living under the Nazis.

She also said that although she met rich people in this country, what she remembered was seeing this barefoot pregnant woman walking on the street carrying an umbrella and smiling. “It’s amazingly wonderful—your belief in life despite poverty.”

Miricioiu continued, “The Philippines is my second family. I’m very privileged to have had that earlier journey. It has been an inspiration wherever I went at all times. I was embraced by your people”

She didn’t feel complete until she could return. When her plane landed in Manila, she felt that she was “the luckiest girl that can be. I witnessed the Nelly of the past meeting the Nelly of today.”

She said that with this visit, highlighted by a one-night concert on March 6 at the Meralco Theater and a masterclass from March 9 to 11 at Ayala Museum, she’d have closed that circle and emerge a renewed Nelly.