EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH:
Tara Erraught (26) is currently a member of the Bavarian State Opera ensemble and won widespread acclaim in February 2011. First in the title role of a new production of Ravel’s “L’Enfant et les Sortilèges” and, in the same month, jumping in on five-days’ notice to perform Romeo in a new production of Bellini’s “I Capuleti e i Montecchi” for an ailing colleague. The latter catapulted Tara Erraught to international attention.
Operafocus caught up with Tara right before she was due in “Die Fledermaus” for New Year in Munich, to talk about her upcoming “La Cenerentola” – amongst other things.
“I really can't wait for the Cenerentola!" Tara Erraught smiles. If there’s one thing to be said for Tara Erraught, it’s that she’s all smiles and giggles throughout the entire interview, as she speaks very warmly of her musical home in Munich, where she’s been for the last five years, 2 years in the Opera studio and since on a Fest contract.
How do you juggle two rehearsal-processes at the same time with “Die Fledermaus” and “La Cenerentola” – in two different countries?
- Actually, I go to Vienna on Sunday for a week's rehearsals there, then back to Munich for a week to do “Fledermaus”, back to Vienna for five weeks to finish rehearsals for “Cenerentola” - and then there's the premiere at the end of the month. It's an exciting time, you know!
What do you think of Rossini's take on this traditional tale?
- It's super! Rossini always wrote very life-like, the way he writes for the voices is really how you talk and laugh and everything. It's a different story to most of the things that he did. “Cenerentola” and “Otello” are the two that are really different – and it's so brilliant. I totally love that it's a Fairy Godfather and not a Fairy Godmother. It's also a stepfather, not a stepmother. It's a different kind of warmth that you get from singing with a man that I really, really like. I think the piece in general just works; It's audience-friendly and singer-friendly, so there's more room to play and act.
You’re obviously still very young - how did all start out? Do you come from a musical background?
- I played the violin since I was four. My parents are both chefs so they used to play music in the kitchen and in the car, stuff like Neil Diamond, Elvis Presley and other 60s music, so I knew all those songs. So they took me to singing lessons to learn appropriate songs. It really started then. When I was 13 I went to Verona for the first time to see “Aida" and I thought, ‘This is it, this is what I want to do!’ When was 17 I went to university in Dublin, to the Royal Irish Academy of Music, and then onto the Opera Studio in Munich. Being in Munich is an amazing place for a young singer, as you grow up in the system, seeing how the intricate parts of a house work. It's like being an apprentice, which is so helpful!
How does it work with a Fest contract? Are you contracted season by season or more?
- I am contracted two seasons at a time. The Bayerische Staatsoper is very much so a family company, and when the time comes to re evaluate ones position, you would do so with the advice from the direction, making sure that you, and more importantly the voice, is in the right place at the right time!
Who do you study with down there?
- How it works is that I still work with my teacher, Dr. Veronica Dunne, in Dublin. She comes to Munich periodically and I try to sing for her at least four times a year. Then I sing for Margaret Honig. She comes from Amsterdam but she teaches in the opera studio here. It's important to make sure that somebody's keeping the voice in check. I am also blessed with some incredible coaches here in Munich, tha´ts one of the great things about being in the ensemble is that you get input from all these people.
How was it that you ended up in Europe versus – for instance – as an apprentice in London?
- I was in the Belvedee competition in Vienna. People from the Bavarian State Opera were there as well as people from La Scala. They both offered places and I chose Munich. It was such a great offer that I couldn't say no. When I first came here it was actually as important to learn Italian than German, because many of the rehearsals happened in Italian, but the German came along the way. It's not perfect but it's coming. The grammar is really difficult, so it’s not right, but I still talk! she laughs.
In this time you must have worked with a lot of conductors.
- Yes, I have been so lucky, I can't even tell you! You learn so much from a conductor, it's incredible. That's where I think the musical maturity comes from – and of course, being based in Munich conductors are so international that you're learning from every direction. German, Italian, French. It's really super. I couldn't have had those opportunities if I was still at home, because of the economy it's just not the way things go. Sad, but that's just how it is.
What do you think makes a good conductor?
- Confidence! Open to ideas and musically open. I have to say that some of the most interesting people are the ones who find new musical ideas. It keeps everything organic. They are very much so musical leaders. Of course, another thing that's great is that they’re totally open to a young singer and at the same time not afraid of explaining things. I'm still learning so it's really important that I have been as lucky as I have to have worked with the conductors I have, and that I continue to learn from them!
How do you maintain your instrument?
- I practice at least five days a week. I can let it go one day with no practice, maybe, but it's not ideal – especially when you're in the middle of a production. I warm up very slowly, especially when it's snow and frost. I don't not eat or drink anything, but the body has to be fit. Obviously I don't sing too much. I could practice for hours a day, but it's also important to relax and go slowly.
I read that you had your big breakthrough jumping in at the last minute for Vesselina Kasarova” in “I Capuleti e i Montecchi”
- Yes! she enthuses, her eyes sparkling as she goes on.
- The run was supposed to start on the Sunday. The Monday before they called and said that Ms Kasarova wasn't feeling very well and so I said, ‘OK, fine, I'll look at it’. Then she was OK and sang the rehearsals up till Wednesday, then on Wednesday evening she was back to not feeling well. This was when they asked me to learn the role for the dress rehearsal, to which I said I could do it but with the score, so they decided to closed it to the public, and at the interval the intendant came to me and said, ‘If you can learn it by Sunday’ – this was Friday – ‘I'll give you the premiere.’ Of course, it was a huge chance so I couldn't say no! So yes, I did it!
- My colleagues were amazing as well. I hadn't been at any of the stage rehearsals, so they dragged me around and told me where to go. They were so wonderful. That's the thing about being in an ensemble; you're part of a family. The support is amazing, you know. I was very lucky and it was a great opportunity. Maybe a little early, for such a role, but I sang it very young, and I think it'll be five years before I look at it again. It was a wonderful experience.
Do you learn quickly?
- I do, yeah, it's no problem. Of course, anyone can learn the notes but you have to sing it into the voice. That's what takes the time. Lucky for me, with Rossini, the “Barbiere” or “Cenerentola”, my teacher made me learn them really early, when I was like 17 or 18. They're really sung in, they're in the body. It’s so helpful. I'm so blessed!
What’s your learning process?
- Usually I take the score, mark it up and highlight my part – then I translate it and start to study. If it's in Italian or German I can read it myself, but if it's in French I get someone to read it for me first to make sure the pronunciation is correct. I'll spend about a week studying it with piano and then I start singing it in. That can take two weeks before I bring it to a pianist and coach. That’s ideal, though. Most of the time you have to learn one role while you're singing another, and sometimes it has to happen quicker, so you end up looking at it for two days before bringing it to a coach.
How many operas do you end up doing in a year?
- Well, for example this season I've done “Barbiere” in Vienna, “Rusalka” here in Munich, I'll do “Fledermaus” in Munich, “Cenerentola” in Vienna, a new premiere of “Hänsel und Gretel” in Munich, followed by “Parsifal”, a recital tour in America and then come back and do "L'elisir d'amore" in Munich, “Les Contes d’Hoffmann” - which is also a role debut in Munich, "Ariadne auf Naxos" - Munich – and “Parsifal” again. They're not all big roles, though, but yeah. A few!
With a workflow like that you must have worked up quite a repertoire!
- Oh, yes! At the beginning of last year I had my 100th performance in Munich! At the very beginning and I did some very small roles. The smallest role I ever did was Kathchen in "Werther" and it was two words. Then I worked my way up. I feel really blessed here because they’ve given me really nice things to sing. I've done nearly every role debut at home here in Munich. It's an absolute luxury.
Where do you think you’ll go beyond Munich?
- I don't know. I've been very lucky that I can facilitate guest contracts, in for instance Hamburg and Vienna. I also do lieder recitals, which are also really important to me because I like chamber music. As the voice grows, opportunities arise more. Right now I just want the voice to stay healthy, and I want to stay in Munich, but with time I'll travel more. Right now, though, while the voice is still growing I'm very comfortable here, she giggles.
Which future roles are you looking forward to the most?
- At the end of next season I make my debut in “Der Rosenkavalier”. I mean, who does not love Strauss? I was in Dresden a couple of weeks ago to watch Christian Thielemann do his “Rosenkavalier” there and it was amazing. It's such an exciting role so I can't wait to do that! Oh my goodness, it's so different from everything else I've ever done. I love Rossini, I love love love Rossini. The music totally fits even when the voice changes. It's wonderful and so much fun.
There’s been a lot of talk about opera being elitist and highbrow – how can we make it more easily available to the masses?
- I think that they really try already to make it more accessible with the live broadcasts and the live streaming online. It's definitely affordable then, to everybody. For example, if you go to the cinema here in Munich, to watch one of the things from the Met, they sell out in minutes, so the demand is definitely there! In Munich they do streaming free online which is a huge help, and I notice that it brings young people in particular into the theatre. That's the way to keep going. It shows that they're not as old fashioned. Of course, the economy is in a dreadful state at the moment, so it's a difficult time to promote such an art, but they really do it well. If they continue this way to make it accessible, I think it's absolutely going to survive without problem.
- Also what I have to say that what's amazing in Munich is how they do these children's programmes. They bring them in on a Saturday, there's workshops in the weekdays, they explain pieces, let them walk on the stage and invite them to the dress rehearsals. I think it's really important to involve them when they're young and let them see how it works. Those opportunities weren't available in Ireland. It's quite amazing that kids here are brought in so young and exposed so young, which I have such respect for.
What are you most thankful for at the moment?
- I'm 100% Irish but my musical home is here in Munich. I've been so blessed with support from the public and the company itself. Of course, as an Irish person, especially with the way the economy went, I go home now and see the desperate state the country's in and it's an amazing thing to see what Germany can do for Europe. I wouldn't have a job if it wasn't for the fact the Bayerische Staatsoper gave me one. They trained me and look at me now like I'm one of their own so yes, I've been so lucky. Really, really, really lucky.