To dribble the tone – Interview with Alexey Bogdanchikov

What happens to these talented young singers one sees once or maybe twice during broadcasts of opera singing competitions? Most often, you discover videos on YouTube or a review in an opera magazine, and sometimes their name appears in the season schedule of your local opera house.

Alexey Bogdanchikov, among others competitor of BBC Cardiff Singer of the World and Neue Stimmen in 2013, has been member of Hamburg State Opera since the beginning of the current season. A stroke of luck for the company, because after Posa in the French version of Verdi’s “Don Carlos” and Frank/Fritz in “Die tote Stadt” by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, he especially thrilled the audience with his passionate, close to Pushkin presentation of Eugene Onegin in April 2016.

At begin of June, he took some time for our questions. It became a very interesting talk, which revealed a lot about the human being behind the singer.

For example, when he talks about his little daughters, or when he tells about that the lessons in Welsh he got from the driver in Cardiff (and the phrases he speaks sounds really true) or else when he speaks about the coincidence that he debuts in “Don Carlos” at the Deutsche Oper Berlin as well as in Hamburg. “My debut in Germany was at the Deutsche Oper Berlin as First Flemish envoy. There are six of them. I was the first one… but it doesn’t matter, they sing the same”, he laughs. “And here in Hamburg, I also had my debut in Don Carlos, but as Posa.” Between both performances were four years only.

How did all started? In his case his mother was the key driver for a start. „I was born in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan. When I was 8, my mother brought me to an opera studio. It was the operatic and ballet studio of the opera house of Tashkent. There I started studying music. First it was the children choir, because many operas contain children choirs like Pique Dame, Carmen, a lot of them. So, I was taking part in those operas und I like this a lot. On one night I decided that I could be an opera singer in the future.”

But there had also been some other ideas for this future, to be a doctor for example. “I wanted to have my private clinic, but then I changed my mind completely.” As Teenager he also wanted to be a professional football player. He even played in second football league of Uzbekistan, but in the age of 16, he decided to give up the football career in favour of a musical one.

Alexey Bogdanchikov’s debut was Wolfram in Wagner’s “Tannhäuser” at the Teatro Comunale di Bologna. How did that happen? He was discovered at the Armel Opera Festival. “In 2010, I took part in a competition. It was an important one in Hungary, in Szeged. This is a very special competition. You don’t perform your own programme, but the jury gives you a role. There were five opera in different opera houses. I was in one of them, an opera by Marco Tuttino; a modern one: The Servant. It was in English with a very modern musical language.” Performing the title role called Barrett, the baritone was one of the winners of the 2010 competition. The production was performed in Plzen, as part of the Armel Opera Festival, and he reprised the role at the Teatro Rossini in Lugo in 2011.

Following this success, new horizons opened. Next to the “Tannhäuser” performances in Bologna, the young singer was invited to the Deutsche Oper Berlin for an audition. “They liked me a lot. There is this scholarship, but usually they only take four opera singers every season. They opened a position for me especially to take part in this scholarship.” After the one year as Franz-Josef-Weisweiler-scholar, he returned to Russia to finish his studies at the Moscow State Conservatory P. I. Tchaikovsky.

Asked about the general effects of singing competitions he says: “I think, nobody knows what can happen. Of course, it is a great experience. For example, I am very happy that I was in Cardiff. Even if I didn’t win the competition, but I was one of the 20 best singers of the world in 2013. It was very important for me and a very good experience, because you have to prepare the pieces, you have concerts. You have the experience to work with other musicians, new conductors, and new pianists.” His participation in the Neue Stimmen competition 2013 brought him operatic engagements in Ancona and Rome. “You can meet a good agent or an artistic director there, especially at important competitions like Neue Stimmen, Operalia or Cardiff.”

At one of these competitions he met Constanze Könemann, who is now the artistic director in Hamburg. She invited him to an audition, which directly leaded to his current engagement at the local State Opera.

One thing that the attentive viewer could observe in every of the baritone’s performances is the thorough development of the individual character of the role. We significantly noted this during “La Traviata”. Does he really have an own story of the Barone Douphol? “In Russia we have a great school of dramatic theatre; Stanislavski for example, Mikhail Chekhov. I was taught to live on stage. When you sing roles like Onegin or Rodrigo, there is a big story, a previous story and something in the future. But when you sing a role like Douphol, you can’t say from the text what he is and you have to invent about this role. I try to do my best in every role, even if it is Douphol.”

The range of roles that he has already sung and will sing in Hamburg is wide. During the season 2016/17, he will sing among others Prince Yeletsky in “Pique Dame”, Conte Almaviva in “Le nozze di Figaro”, and Sharpless in “Madama Butterfly”, but it is Enrico in Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” to whom he is looking forward the most. “Every role in the next season is interesting for me. But Enrico will be my first experience with this piece. I already sang the aria and the duet with Lucia, but I never sang the whole role. I think it will be a great experience.”

In addition, he is currently preparing for Valentin in Gounod’s “Faust”. The conception of this production at the Kolobov Novaya Opera Theatre in Moscow will base on Mikhail Bulgakov’s “The Master and Margarita”.

What should the future bring? Are there any wishes regarding roles? “Actually I like opera at all. I’m glad to sing every role of my repertory. Currently I’m thinking about Il Trovatore and Simone Boccanegra, but it will be much later. Maybe in ten years.”

Asked for some closing words, Alexey Bogdanchikov is full of praise of Hamburg and its opera house. “I’m very happy to be here and to have my great colleagues. The atmosphere of the opera house is very healthy. Our new intendant Georges Delnon and the artistic director Constanze Könemann are very nice persons. I think that is very important for everyone. Actually I like the people in Hamburg a lot. They are very on, the audience especially, and I’m very happy to sing for the people here.”

What could we add to this?
AHS (July 2016)