Spotlight on: Anush Hovhannisyan

Spotlight on: Anush Hovhannisyan

Photo: Robert Koloyan.

Alumna of the Royal Opera House's Jette Parker Young Artists Programme (2013-2015) and Finalist of the 2017 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition, Armenian soprano Anush Hovhannisyan kicks off the coming season on August 6 at the BBC Proms, singing Emma in Mussorgsky's Khovanshchina. She'll then head to to Florence to sing Adina in L'elisir d'amore at the New Generations Festival, before taking on the title role in David McVicar's production of La traviata with Scottish Opera.

Hovhannisyan's love of her work is hard to miss; in our latest Spotlight interview, she talks about her long-term love affair with Rossini, and the "important tool of every (young) singer's arsenal".

Why do you sing, and why are you doing it professionally?

It is very important for my existence to be able to connect and share with people. I love human beings and it pleases me greatly to infect people with my joy. Naturally the first tool of connection for me is the most visceral one - the voice.

It happened that I was born into a musical family and having a stage director father (he is a professor at the state conservatory in Armenia, the head of the opera department and runs the Opera Studio in Yerevan) I have been brought up literally on the stage. I would be given roles to play at my dad's productions, so I won't have to stay with a babysitter.

A career in music was inevitable for me, but I studied viola for 10 years at a professional music school and never thought of pursuing a career as a singer before 17 years old. Growing up I felt the urge to connect with people on a deeper level and share my message. For me singing is establishing a connection with other poeple and it is all I cherish in my life!

Hovhannisyan as Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni, Teatro Verdi di Trieste. Photo: Fabio Parenzan.

What does "good singing" mean to you? What does it feel like when you achieve it?

I look at the operatic singing more as an acting career with excessive vocal expression. I want to be able to deliver the story fully and completely wearing my character's skin. It is not only having the a beautiful voice and being able to take the high notes, there much more to good singing.

Good singing for me happens when the audience starts vibrating on the same energetic and emotional level. It doesn't necessary mean impeccable singing - although that's desirable - but means creating an emotional, energetic bridge between many human beings.

When I was still training I was obsessed with getting my notes right, keeping the postion, thinking about the support and breath control; now I am blessed with telling the story and sharing my experience, making others experience something else. That's a truly magical moment when this connection happens and suddenly the entire room/hall starts breathing in the same pace. It's such an elecrifying beautiful sensation, when energy is being born within one person, then it makes a boomerang movement going through the audience and back to the performers. There is nothing like that feeling anywhere else in the world!

Anush Hovhannisyan. Photo by Robert Koloyan.

What do young singers need to do more of? What should they do less of?

Generally speaking, young singers have to work on being more sincere to themselves and be able to open up to their audience showing their inner world. But technically speaking, everyone has a different background and so everyone should assess their strengths and weaknesses in terms of being able to own their physical and emotional instrument at its best capacity, so they can tell the story the way they want to, rather then adjusting the act of performance to the technical difficulties. For some it could be learning more languages, for others be more comfortable with their body or be emotionally fit. Opera is a very demanding art form and I believe that the success comes only to the ones who are most determined and ready to accept challenges on the path of self development.

Another important thing is to not lose the joy and be open to get inspired from other people. Keeping the inspiration flowing is the most crucial element of a creative profession. While this sounds very broad and could cover many aspects of the profession, I am sure the one and only thing that young singers have to stop doing is STOP COMPARING themselves to others. One has to understand that there is no competition in the world with others but with yourself. One has to strive to be better then yesterday, rather than better than someone else.

Do you have any "bucket list" roles you'd like to sing (realistically or otherwise)?

I remember in my early teenage years there was one particular summer when I stayed in the city during the school break, the same time my dad was preparing to stage Barbiere in the autumn and was working on the score. Once I was left alone at home to do my summer homework and I found my dad's Barbiere score on the piano. I chose learning, playing, and singing the enitre opera that summer over doing my summer homework! Then I got into a long term relationship with Mr, Rossini, and it's more serious every day!

I would have loved to sing Don Bartolo in Il barbiere di Siviglia, but, alas, it is not meant to be in this life. My bucket list of realistic roles is mainly by Rossini and R. Strauss. The chance to sing anything by these two geniuses would be a true gift to me! Just to name the few - Semiramide, Mathilde, Rosina, Fiorilla, Ermione, anything from Il viaggio a Reims, Elektra, Salome, Arabella, Marschallin, Ariadne, the Countess in Capriccio... I guess life will show if this is a realistic list or not!

I like portraying ladies with character, people who made a mark in history, who had strong will and great belief. I like portraying queens or characters who had gone through biggest challenges driven by their belief, not necessarily religious belief. I see many parallels in my own personality and those strong characters and it helps me to translate them well... I also LOVE comedy, so anything silly is my thing!

Anush Hovhannisyan in El gato con botas, ROH. Photo: Catherine Ashmore.

What have you learned about your career as a singer, solely through professional experience?

I have learnt to accepted that I will never stop learning! I have also learnt that I don't want to do this to make a fortune, but rather to learn, share experiences, get spiritually richer and pass on all of this to my audience.

I am slowly learning that there are days when I feel I do not know how to sing a note, that everything I have done and dedicated my life for is irrelevant. Having bad days is a normal human experience. I am learning to make it a tool to grow as an artist through that feeling and see things on a bigger picture. I have learnt that world doesn't finish where my knowledge does! Learnt to be more disciplined, to manage my time better, to cherish every second in the present and not to live chasing a dream, but to be present and grounded in every moment. The latter helps the process of unveiling the truth one wants to pass on to the audience.

The biggest ongoing lesson for me is to get to know myself through the profession. It is a very demanding profession and it constantly challenges one's mental and physical limits. I learned a great deal about myself in the two years I spent at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden as a Jette Parker Young artist. These were an extremely full-on two years with outpouring amount of information that needed to be digested. There, I got to know how much I can push my brain and body. This journey helped me to discover an important tool of every (young) singer's arsenal - the ability to say NO.

And, finally, I have learnt, or rather reinvented, how to enjoy what I do, keep the joy in my heart and share it with others. This is the strongest driving power for me.

Readers, do you know someone deserving of a little Spotlight? Let us know! Send your suggestions to hello@schmopera.com.

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Written by

Jenna Douglas

Jenna Douglas

Jenna is the editor and co-creator of Schmopera.com. She's also a pianist, vocal coach, and répétiteur, and working with singers is how she fell in love with opera. Her favourite operas include Peter Grimes, Ariadne auf Naxos, Tristan und Isolde, Written on Skin, and Anna Nicole.

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