Interview with Leonore Charna Artemisia

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Leonore Charna Artemisia is a young, beautiful and talented Pagan woman who, without a doubt, is blessed by the Muses and who possesses the potential to blaze her way to the stars.  Her intelligence, knowledge, passion and dedication for her Art are rare qualities which make one double-take and take notice of this “Voice” that promises greatness in years to come.

M.F.:  On the 25th of February I saw a short video clip of one of your live performances and I must admit that I was completely astounded by the range of your voice.  I said to myself, this has to be a Goddess if I’ve ever seen and heard one!  Have you received special training, Leonore?

L.C.A: I have only begun vocal training recently. I taught myself to sing in an operatic style from the age of 17 by hiding in my room and singing along to my mother’s Maria Callas CD when no one was at home.

M.F.:  I don’t think people realise how much it takes to sing as you do.  How many hours a day do you spend practicing scales, singing, keeping your vocal instrument in perfect working condition?

L.C.A: To be honest I have only started doing scales and so on when I started my training. I have a repertoire of arias that I practise whenever I have the chance, usually 2-3 times a week, though I practise “informally” while driving, washing dishes, cleaning the house etc! *laughter*

M.F.:  Singing has been compared to an amazing workout. You’re working your core, your cardio, toning all your muscles.  Do you agree, and how important is it to be fit when you sing Opera?

L.C.A: I personally cannot sing when I’m run down or tired, physically and emotionally. Operatic singing does require strength; but it is more about control of your body than being fit in the conventional sense. I’m sure you’re aware of the “fat lady” stereotype that accompanies opera singers, many of them are rather large ladies so it’s not so much physical fitness as “vocal fitness”, which is achieved through regular practise and training.

M.F.:  Pavarotti stated that in Modena everybody begins to go to the Opera at the age of four or five. When did you start listening to Opera and singing it?

L.C.A: I was 17. It used to bother me that I had not started as a child as most successful singers did, but at the end of the day it was a passion and whether I would achieve professionally or not was immaterial to me. What mattered was how I felt when I sang. Opera evoked feelings and emotions in me that no other music did, and I wanted to be able to express those feelings myself.

M.F.:  Do you know that Luciano Pavarotti commenced his career as an Instructor (teacher) in Modena?  It is said that he was outgoing, charming and boyish, making all his lessons extremely palatable.  Twelve years later he was the world’s most sought-after tenors, a singer in the great tradition of Italian “Bel Canto”.  What would you take from him, if given the opportunity?

L.C.A: I’d take his larynx and put it in a jar on my shelf! *laughter* Pavarotti was a man who “felt” his music, which is something that is fading very fast in the modern world. He was also responsible for bringing opera to the commercial music world. I would like people to become more aware of classical and operatic music, especially considering the “artificial” state of music production today, where everything is Pro-tooled, computerised and fake. More than that, he used his immense talent for many humanitarian causes, and if I had to use my music for anything, it would be to make people feel the way they did when they heard him sing, and try make a difference in this world as he did.

M.F.:  According to you what was so very special about Callas, the dramatic musical character, the pathos,  and how much of that can you see reflected in your singing?

L.C.A: Callas was a phenomenon not just because of her immense range (she was described as a “soprano assoluta” meaning she could sing any female operatic role) but her electrifying and overwhelming stage presence. Just by watching videos of her performances from the 50s you can feel the passion exuding from her. She lived for her art, and even though music critics debated hotly about the semantics of her unusual voice and vocal technique, there was no doubt that when she appeared on stage, no one could take their eyes or ears off her. I don’t believe anyone, let alone myself, should ever even attempt to put themselves on her level, but if there was anything about her performances that was reflected in mine it was the fact that I express my deepest feelings and energies into what I sing. She became the music, was immersed in it, lost in it. I feel that way when I sing. I am not aware of what is going on around me, only the music and what I am expressing.

M.F.:  I know that Maria Callas would get on a plane to London any time she knew Paul Scofield was going to appear on stage.   Is there anyone’s performances you’d be so fanatical about?

L.C.A: I’d have to go back in time for that. All the operatic artists I am fanatical about are either dead or retired. I would probably go to the 1890s to get the chance to see such greats such as Enrico Caruso and Claudia Muzio, or even further back to the 1830s to be able to hear what Maria Malibran or Guiditta Pasta sounded like.  I often ponder on what they must have been like, and what a tragedy it is that we’ll never know!

M.F.:  I believe your fiancé is a “Metal” musician.  Your home must be an interesting place in which to experience the fusion between Dionysian Chthonic energy and Apollonian musical beauty.  Do you ever perform together?

L.C.A: Metal is my other love – in fact it was listening to the bands Nightwish and Tristania which feature female operatic vocals that got me listening to opera in the first place. We listen to many bands that incorporate classical and metal together, and to me it is one of the most beautiful types of music our generation has given us. My fiancé and I have not performed together as we are vastly different musicians, but we have often talked about starting a band that brings the two together. Unfortunately it is difficult to find musicians who share that interest on the South Coast.

M.F.:  My son is a Symphonic Black Metal musician and composer.  He understands the importance and value of delving into the classical side of music to enrich his skills and broaden his musical horizons.  How and why would you encourage young people to get into the appreciation of Opera?

L.C.A: Because it is real. It is not simply thrown together and stitched up with computers. People are confused as to why their favourite pop artists can’t recreate what they hear on the radio live on stage. It is because it is artificial music. These singers cannot perform without microphones, Pro-Tools and goodness knows what else. Opera combines the academic precision of an orchestral score with the emotional energy of artistic expression, with no amplification and no help from technology, therefore it is timeless. To me it contains purity and power, and if more young people appreciated this, perhaps we could turn the dismal state of the popular music industry around.

M.F.:  Mr. Pavarotti’s father (also a tenor) sung in the Modena Opera Chorus and in church, but his mother was confined to the family home and to her son’s regret, never witnessed him performing on stage.  Do you come from a musical family?

L.C.A: My grandfather apparently played the piano beautifully, and my younger brother is a budding guitarist, but we were not really a musical family. When I revealed that I sang opera to my family they were both quite taken aback. They didn’t realise that it “ran in our family”!  *laughter*

M.F.:  How important is it for you to have your family and friends at your performances?

L.C.A: Without my family and friends I would not have the confidence to perform as I do now. They have given me guidance and solid advice, and to see them at my performances bolsters my resolve to make them proud and give the very best I can.

M.F.:  Verdi, Donizetti, Puccini … It is difficult to pick a favourite in anything, but after much internal deliberation, I have arrived at the conclusion that if I had to pick a favourite, I’d say my favourite Opera is Tosca because watching Maria Callas’ performance convinced me of that.  That is raw power of influence!  Is there any modern Opera singer that does the same for you?

L.C.A: Cecilia Bartoli! She is so vivacious and dynamic. Watch her performance of Vivaldi’s “Agitata da due venti”, you’ll be blown away at her ability. But apart from that I actually don’t listen to a lot of modern singers. As I said earlier I am more drawn to the singers of pre-1950s as I feel they still possessed something of the art of the 19th century that has now been mostly lost. The most “modern” singers I listen to are Montserrat Caballe, Janet Baker, Marilyn Horne (R.I.P) and Bartoli of course.

M.F.:  It is said Maria lived and died for art and love and both are so tangible in the way she approached Tosca.  Do you have any such favourites?  And why?

L.C.A: “Vissi d’arte, vissi d’amore”! Story of my life! Tosca is one of a my all-time favourites, along with Verdi’s La Traviata. The story of Violetta is so beautiful, combining comedy and tragedy, and to watch such a vibrant character consumed to the death by love, rejection and eventually consumption is very moving. The aria “Addio del Passato” is one of my favourites to perform.

M.F.:  Callas was often called the “Tigress”, but this was not a reflection of her personality but rather due to a misunderstanding the of the Italian saying she once uttered:  “He who rides the tiger can seldom dismount”.  What she meant was that the public is like a tiger and that they will “eat you up” should you ever come off its back.  Do you see the audience as this cruel machine that eats up its idols if they let them down or fall from grace?

L.C.A: People’s expectations rise with every success, which is what makes virtuosity so precarious. They can elevate you to idolatry, and expect you to be the manifestation of divine perfection. When you display that human error, they can tear you apart. I believe it’s a mixture of a feeling of betrayal and a subconscious, sadistic joy in realising that they are not the mere mortals compared to you as they thought they were. Callas was torn apart by the public often. When their “La Divina” failed them they turned from fervent worshippers to hungry wolves. It’s just a sad truth of human psychology and one you have to deal with when you achieve that level of acclaim. You can see this in the recent deaths of Amy Winehouse, Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston too.

M.F.:  During the viewing of a documentary about Maria Callas, it became clear that she was incredibly focused on music, but after she met Onassis she gave it up.  Why do you think?

L.C.A: From what I’ve read in the biographies of Callas, it is clear she longed for love and acceptance more than anything else in her life, and she achieved this through her operatic acclaim. She often described her personality as being split in two: there was “La Callas”, the divine songstress and Maria, the woman she was off-stage, in private. La Callas was her safety net, the strong, impenetrable fortress she entered whenever she felt vulnerable or unloved as Maria. Onassis made her feel that love and passion she longed for in life for the first time and I think she became so engrossed in it that she no longer needed the worship of her fans. Until he left her, obviously, and she never recovered from that. Even her singing was permanently affected.

M.F.:  Furthermore, Onassis is reputed to have said some very cruel things to Callas. He said “You’ve got a whistle in your throat and it doesn’t work”.   Titto Gobbi stated “she never lost her voice, she lost her confidence…”  How important is it to be prepared, to have enough belief in your voice, in your musical knowledge to question the conductors and not be swayed or discouraged by negative opinion?

L.C.A: Onassis was clearly a man who loved to dominate his women, and he did this through snide and subtle breaks in their confidence. Maria’s voice was still as glorious as ever post-Onassis, but she had lost the “spark” she once had, and this reflected in her voice, which was taking the strain of having to equal its previous grandeur. A lot of operatic singers’ voices do eventually go into decline over the years, but it can be remedied by changing voice types or adjusting your tessitura, etc. When I first began singing in public, I was horrid! I was so scared of what people would think. Now, I just go into my “zone” and allow my true voice and feelings to come through. There will always be people who won’t like you. You simply cannot please everyone. What counts is separating constructive criticism from simple nastiness or jealousy. My older brother always told me “Remember there is always someone better than you” – and I have always applied this piece of advice to my life. It does not mean I think I am not good or talented, it simply means that I will never believe myself to be so great that I don’t need to take advice or criticism.

M.F.:  Where can we hear more Leonore?

L.C.A: At the moment I am focusing on my voice training, but if I have a chance to perform I will do it, as I love performing. So I guess the next time there is a musical event/talent show.

M.F.:  What are your future plans?  Do you plan to record any time in the near future?

L.C.A: I don’t plan to record until I have advanced in my musical training. To the untrained ear my voice may sound great, but to a trained opera critic I still have a LOT to learn before I can start doing formal shows and recordings. But I can safely say that singing will be a permanent part of my future as it is a passion – actually a near-obsession – of mine and I would not give it up for the world. So you will be hearing from me again!

M.F.:  Thank you for agreeing to this interview Leonore.  I look forward to hearing your beautiful voice again and hopefully in person this time.

L.C.A: And thank you! It was great to discuss music with someone without boring them to tears! *laughter*

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