Mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili enthralled Met audiences when she debuted in the title role of Bizet’s Carmen in 2011, a character that she has sung to great acclaim around the world. This month, she returns as Azucena in Il Trovatore—her first Verdi role with the company. She recently spoke to the Met’s Christopher Browner about this new chapter of her career.
As you’ve started singing roles by Verdi, what have you discovered about his music?
I thought Azucena would be a very difficult role, but I have discovered that if you respect everything Verdi writes in the score, it’s not that difficult. There’s such a range of dynamics, and it never forces you to push. Of course, you have to have a very good technique. And the result is a completely different persona from how we often hear the role sung. She’s much softer and more fragile than I expected.
Fragile in what way?
Well, in some ways, she’s completely crazy. Imagine the situation: This character saw her mother die right in front of her eyes, and then she kills her own baby by mistake. Nobody in the world can be healthy after that. So yes, she’s a crazy woman, but she’s also very fragile, vulnerable, full of pain. And that pain lives with her all the time.
We can feel that in Verdi’s music.
Totally. There are times when she’s crazy but also moments when her mind is clear. And Verdi writes a different kind of music for these two sides of her character. For instance, during the first aria, all of the singing is right on the beat. It’s like her heart is beating very fast. But Verdi also gives her some beautiful, romantic music at other times. I have to be healthy-minded in one second and crazy in another.
How do you keep these extremes believable for the audience?
Well, my main objective is to make them understand that she’s not just insane—she is a very poor, very fragile woman. Something terrible happened to her. When I come onstage, I look at the audience and show them my pain. I have to be completely in that situation and really understand that suffering. This is something that makes her feel terrible, makes her want to die.
And you’re joined by a cast of celebrated Verdi singers.
Oh, yes. When I sang Azucena for the first time, at Covent Garden, Maria Agresta was also singing Leonora in that production. She’s an amazing person and such a good singer. And I love Quinn Kelsey and Yonghoon Lee. They’re both so talented and have really beautiful voices. I think that singing with them will be an amazing experience.