Rodion Pogossov – Artistic Temperament Cubed

A year ago we wrote that a „new“ baritone would always make one curious. At this time Rodion Pogossov had just introduced his Posa in the French „Don Carlos“-production in Hamburg. We were not alone in our excitement about the vocal and acting skills of this Russian singer. The audience acclaimed his interpretation enthusiastically.

Now Rodion Pogossov has returned to the Hamburg state opera for a few „Don Carlos“ performances, which gave us the opportunity to ask him some questions about his start, his career as well as about some other things.

Born in Moscow, it was not the career as a singer he had in mind first. „I always wanted to be an actor,“ he tells us. „Our teachers were actors; we had ballet dancing and voice lessons. My teacher discovered my voice. I was only sixteen years old. In my first lesson of acting class my teacher asked me to sing something I didn’t know anything about classical music except the big names Verdi, Mozart, etc. I sang the little Italian song ‚Santa Lucia‘ which was very popular at this time in

The singer gives us an example how his voice might have sounded at that time, more like a boyish soprano.

„My teacher tried to explain what is singing about how to support. He said: ‚Can you do it a little bit more masculine?'“ Another example, which sounds not really better. „I was singing like that. It was really funny. But my teacher did an amazing job. After two years I sang already like pretending being in a recording studio.“

His key moment regarding opera was watching the movie „Amadeus“ by Milos Forman. „I started to love opera and classical music and discovered the whole space.“ After winning two competitions he got confidence as a singer. „I learned how to act, so why not combine these two. Singing is also acting, it’s also about the character and drama. An actor has more freedom, for a singer it is always about focus, focus on the voice, on the technique, and you are lucky if you forget all this and be free from
this. That I’m still learning.“

The first thing that one wonders about while reading the baritone’s curriculum is his early appearance in leading roles on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera in New York. How did this lucky coincidence happen?

„I was nineteen, twenty years old. I was still learning how to sing and everything about opera.“ He knew that the Met was an opera house but at this time everyone spoke about La Scala as the place to go to. „I sang in a master class for Lenore Rosenberg, the casting director of the Met. She invited me to sing an audition there.“ His teacher advised him urgently to go but the young singer didn’t feel ready. But finally he went to New York. „It was not so much fear about it. I sang three auditions on stage for Maestro Levine and they offered me this contract.“ Due to his young age he wasn’t aware about the opportunity that came with this contract. Step by step during this period of two and a half years he realized what this profession is about. „The standards are quite high and you always push yourself too hard to find inside yourself this quality.“

It was a conscious decision by the baritone to follow a very classical path regarding the choice of roles. „Also thanks to my agency in London I started little by little because I was still a young singer with a young voice.“ Baritone voices start to blossom after a certain age. „For me it felt right. Huge roles that you are not capable to sing can hurt you for the rest of your professional years,“ he says and add, „I think it is better so start with the small theatres to get the confidence, the experience and on this you can build up. It’s a good way personal for me.“

Rodion Pogossov prefers longer rehearsal time where it is possible to develop the characters and to discover one’s fantasies and imagination. He also likes theatrical experiments as in the „Don Carlos“-production in Hamburg if it’s made by talented people and with taste. „I think that production works very well and I see in the audience the people are shocked“, the baritone tells about the Autodafé where parts of the scene take place in the auditorium. „It’s crazy, like a parallel world. I like this kind of things when it’s not like standing ‚park and bark‘. It is close to the theatre but of course it’s opera you have to remember the music also.“

One of his next projects is the title role in „Eugene Onegin“ in Szczecin in March and April this year. He feels very happy to sing in his mother tongue. Onegin, which he already sang at the Welsh National
Opera in Cardiff, belongs to his favourite roles besides Rossini’s Figaro, Posa and Papageno. „I love this role. Unfortunately physically I’m not a cliché Onegin, tall and blond, but I love this role. I like
it, because it is bringing me back to my acting class, where we really worked on the character. And there is, of course, the amazing music by Tchaikovsky. So, I really would like to sing it more and more.“

Another role, which Rodion Pogossov would like to sing in a few years, is Hamlet in the same-titled opera by Ambroise Thomas. He would like to have a balance in his repertoire between the comedy roles and serious parts. „The composer wrote this role in a way it suits my type of voice. And I don’t like to save my voice on Figaro, Papageno etc., because I think, I can do serious roles, too.“ A point he has already proven with his marvellous interpretation of Verdi’s Posa.

In addition he would like to sing Belcanto; „I Puritani“ by Bellini for example to try this type of his voice.

Furthermore there are the great Verdi parts. Rodion Pogossov would also love to perform them, but not so soon. „I’m trying to be real. Of, course, I want to sing those Verdi roles, but for now it’s too
premature, for sure. I don’t know how my voice will develop. Maybe in fifteen years I would like to do three, four Verdi roles. That would be very nice.“

„I like Verdi. To sing it, it’s like balsam for the voice“, he explains and supplement with an enthusiastic „someday Rigoletto“. On the list he names are also Valentin in Gounods „Faust“ and Jeletzky in „Pique Dame“. „Small roles, yes“, he laughs. „But with amazing arias.“

One thing that attracts immediately the listener’s attention not only in conversation with Rodion Pogossov, but also on stage is the vividness and vitality with which he describes situations and develops characters. Gifted with an amazing feeling for language and skills from his mother
tongue to English, Italian, French to even German (his pronunciation of the word „Zauberflöte“ sounds very deutsch), he is able to visualise a complete situation on stage in front of one’s eye.

One can convince yourself of the singing skills in different languages on a CD recorded in 2007, on which the baritone sings Grieg, Cesti, Rachmaninov, Gluck, Mahler, Caldara, Tchaikovsky and Yeston.

Somewhen during our talk he confesses: „I was always jealous of the tenors. How many beautiful arias and parts they have! Baritones are usually jealous old men, their wife left them or she is with the tenor.“ His reasons for this jealousy might be slightly obvious, but in the end it would be a shame, if the opera world would lose such an excellent baritone.

The preparation for new roles he starts in general from the musical side. „I have a pianist in Moscow or in New York. First I check the scores. If it is not my native language, I make translations. I prefer
to do this by myself. If you do this on your own, it is not a literal translation, but it is yours. This helps you to memorize very well.“ Then he reads the story written by the author and thinks about the
character followed by learning and memorizing the music. „It’s always lacking of time and you do it very fast. I remember a time it was like ten days nonstop. You sleep with the music; you wake up with the music, you eat with the music.“

Speaking of music, although the singer currently off stage prefers music like songs by Lily Allen or Jazz, he admits that during his teenage days he was a huge Nirvana fan. „When I was fifteen years old I liked Nirvana a lot, but when I listen to them now I becoming sad.“

At the end of our conversation Rodion Pogossov says: „I would love that the people would more discover classical music and would take more care of what we have. They shouldn’t look at the classical music as at a museum. I’m still a young person and I started from Nirvana. You have to be curious. By coincidence I saw this movie by Milos Forman and it changed right away my life. So, I wish people would be more curious about classical music.“

In his view the families and the schools are responsibility for waking this curiosity especially in young people at first. Asked about what the opera houses could do to recruit young visitors, he guesses: „Maybe it’s idealistic, but if you made it in an honest way; a good production without all this stuff, it’s touching. Then it goes directly to your heart together with the music. It’s very strong.“

„I wish people would more care about things, which build their souls and build you as a person. Because I think that without this kind of things it’s hard to mature and to be an interesting person or to develop as a human being.“

In our view there is nothing more to add.
MK & AHS (February 2013)