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Zoryana Kushpler: “I Always Recommend Young Singers Be Curious. Listen. Compare.”

Zoryana Kushpler: “I Always Recommend Young Singers Be Curious. Listen. Compare.”

Zoryana Kushpler is a long-standing ensemble member of the Vienna State Opera, where she dazzles audiences with her mezzo-soprano. She has graced stages around the world as a guest soloist whilst also holding a professorship at the University of Mozarteum in Salzburg. The Ukrainian-born singer has appeared in hundreds of productions put on at the Vienna State Opera, New York’s Carnegie Hall, London’s Royal Albert Hall, and other illustrious international theaters and concert halls.

How did your career develop?

As I reflect on my 25 years of artistic activity, I have come to understand that my career developed both logically and gradually. It is like a staircase which I went up step-by-step without jumping ahead or missing any threads. My parents taught me to think and plan ahead. Of course, it is impossible to predict everything, but I believe building a logical chain of actions is an integral part of a successful career. Crafting a singing career is about intelligently building a repertoire that is suitable for your voice. It’s about listening to your intuition and not listening to anything others have to say which goes against your own intuition. In the end, everyone hears in their own way, and your voice is yours! The great Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti once said, “I made a career out of saying “No!” more often than yes.”

What has had the most significant impact on your growth as a singer?

Of course, it is the fact that my origins are in a creative family. My mother is a pianist and was also the dean of the Lviv Academy of Music (Ukraine) for 32 years. My father was a famous opera singer and composer, as well as an incredible teacher. It was he who encouraged me to be a singer. He taught me responsibility, punctuality, curiosity and actually gave me the creative instruments that I’ve used all my life. After graduating from Lviv Music Academy, I continued my studies at the Hamburg Music Academy with an excellent teacher, Professor Yudit Beckman. It is a stroke of luck to have teachers on your creative path who give you exceptional knowledge from the bottom of their hearts. Sadly, my father and professor from Hamburg have both passed away. Still, I remember them and their instructions every day, as well as the education of my first teacher in Lviv, Polina Skibinska.

Photographer Lisa Podolskaja

Can you offer any words of advice for those who are just beginning to start their own opera careers?

My big hobby has always been teaching; now, teaching has become a part of my artistic personality. I notice that young singers come to a masterclass or a lesson singing arias but not knowing who the composer is, what opera it’s from, what they are singing about, or who their character is. This is very evident when they get on stage. Is an artist a person who knows what they are doing, or is someone just singing bare notes? It can work for a while. For example, if the boy or girl is beautiful. But beauty fades away on the stage, and then creativity and music must reign. Without being a committed artist with integrity, your career will end very quickly. I always recommend young singers to be curious. Listen. Compare. Memorize the names of outstanding musicians. Listen not only to singers but also to instrumentalists and pianists. Attend symphony concerts and be versatile musicians.

What are opera singers most afraid of, losing their voices?

I think every opera singer has their own fears. One is afraid of losing her or his voice; another may be afraid of losing their job. Others may fear being left without a family at the end of their lives due to the constant travel demands and the inability to maintain family relationships. Some are afraid of being left without children for the same reason. My feeling is that this profession does not exclude other important aspects of life, such as having a family. It is actually all about thinking ahead and planning. Ask yourself – what will happen after you’re finished singing?

Can you give us a look behind the scenes of your profession? Is it truly as competitive as they say and what has been your greatest challenge?

When I was a little girl, I heard many stories about the competition in the opera house. Then I became a singer… I cannot share with you the scary stories from opera backstage life. What I will share instead is this – during my career, I only had the support of my colleagues. I have tried to be supportive and friendly in the same way. I’m not being coy – this is the absolute truth. People who have attained certain heights and stayed up are mostly decent and good people. Of course, there are exceptions, but they truly are the exceptions. There have been moments in my life when I could not go on stage and sing, for example, when my father died in a car accident. Just a week after his death, I had a live broadcast on the Mezzo TV channel of the opera “Arabella” from the Vienna Opera. It was at that time I felt the support of my colleagues most. They literally carried me through the show and cried with me after my loss. Such things are not forgotten and are much appreciated.

You are a professor at the University of Mozarteum in Salzburg. Tell us about that.

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I’ve only just started teaching at Mozarteum University, but I’ve already had twenty years of experience as a teacher. I always wanted to help develop singers who are suitable for stage life. It calls for good orienting in the repertoire, knowing what suits your voice, and knowing when to firmly say “no”. A good student must know foreign languages, and different styles of music, to learn by heart quickly, to know solfeggio well. Actually, they must be able to learn everything fast! Young people often make a career through so-called “jump-in” performances. For example, there have been situations where I learnt an entire role in three days, and this was only possible thanks to the fact that I am fluent in six foreign languages and very good at piano and solfeggio. This is called the comprehensive training of a singer.

Photographer Lisa Podolskaja

What qualities do you look for in a student?

That is an excellent question. I focus, first of all, on the voice quality, but I also pay attention to intelligence and, not least, appearance. I’m looking for someone who brings something unique to the stage. A student not only needs qualities that are gifts from God, but they also need to be able to show how they deal with these gifts. Does the person keep their figure? Does the person know how to dress and present themselves on stage? Does the person have charisma? Of course, all of this can be learned and developed, but I like to recognize the abilities immediately.

Tell us about any brands you represent.

I have been cooperating with the Almaz jewelry gallery for many years. It’s a wonderful, multi-brand gallery in the center of Vienna, serving many opera singers worldwide. It’s all about luxurious items on luxurious personalities. And, of course, diamonds are a girl’s best friend.

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