Singing scales in the shower

Russian mezzo-soprano Vasilisa Berzhanskaya performs in two concerts and gives a masterclass at the festival here.
Russian mezzo-soprano Vasilisa Berzhanskaya performs in two concerts and gives a masterclass at the festival here.PHOTO: COURTESY OF VASILISA BERZHANSKAYA

What does an award-winning Russian mezzo-soprano sing in the shower? Perhaps the famous Queen Of The Night aria from Mozart's The Magic Flute, which Vasilisa Berzhanskaya performed two years ago for Teatre Alegria in Barcelona?

Possibly the soprano role from Mozart's Coronation Mass, which she performed in Moscow's famous Tchaikovsky Concert Hall, or her repertoire from her recital at Carnegie Hall in New York last year?

The 23-year-old laughs on the Skype call partly translated by her husband, fellow musician Nikolai.

"In the shower? I sing scales," she says. "Just scales."

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Berzhanskaya will make her first visit to Singapore next month to perform in two concerts and give a masterclass at the Singapore International Festival of Music.

The rich, low tones of her speaking voice belie a range that has won multiple singing prizes at competitions in Moscow and St Petersburg, guest soloist appearances at the State Primorsky Opera and Ballet Theatre in Vladivostok and a coveted spot in the famed Bolshoi Opera's theatre programme for young singers, led by influential vocal teacher Dmitry Vdovin.

Such programmes from opera companies groom singers, allow them to understudy major roles and present opportunities for exposure that often lead to a celebrated career. "I have been very lucky," she says. "When I was younger, I was living in a small town in the south of Russia. There was no possibility I could listen to great singers live in concerts. Only on CDs."

Born in 1993 in Essentuki, she started studying the piano, not voice. She listened to CDs of celebrated coloratura mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli and longed to become a singer.

In her teens, she took the plunge to study in the vocal department of the V. Safonov Stavropol Regional College of Music in Mineralniye Vody. She later graduated from the Gnesins Russian Academy of Music, where her teacher was the well-known Ruzanna Lisitsian.

"I was very lucky with my teachers," she says. "I learnt and continued to learn from the best teachers in Russia."

They encouraged her to enter competitions, a good way for young singers to distinguish themselves from the horde. She won first place at the 2012 XVIII International Singing Competition Bella Voce and 2013 Theatre Assemblies, both prestigious contests in Moscow.

In 2014, she was a finalist at the Grand Opera competition by Russian TV channel Kultura. This led to performance opportunities under the Musical Olympus Foundation, which showcases Russian musical talent internationally. The foundation is supporting her appearance at the festival here.

Berzhanskaya is looking forward to trying Singaporean food. Good food is how she relaxes before and after a show. To relax, she also listens to her large CD collection of famous opera singers.

"My profession is my hobby," she says. "It began as a hobby and now it is my profession."

Akshita Nanda

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 27, 2016, with the headline 'Singing scales in the shower'. Print Edition | Subscribe