Tenor Yusif Eyvazov is a brave man indeed. Tonight, he makes his debut at La Scala… in the title role… on the opening night of the season. Many have gone down in flames with just one of these responsibilities, and the ‘loggionisti' are waiting. He says,
I've already accepted that there may be boos. It's December 7th, at La Scala…. a temptation difficult to resist for the booers. But I will do everything I can to be liked and respected by the audience.
When the role was first suggested two years ago I immediately said no. Then I thought about it. What was I waiting for? My career only began ten years ago, with my first real role at the Bolshoi in Tosca in 2009. But I am 40 years old – the time had come to take that step.
I have been studying this opera for two years now and nothing has been left to chance. I've put some of its arias in the concerts I do with Anna, and in January I debuted in the role in Prague to understand its difficulties in front of an audience.
Ah yes, ‘Anna'. Eyvazov married the world's most sought-after soprano two years ago.
In 2013, Maestro Muti asked me to audition and chose me for the role of Des Grieux in Puccini's Manon at the Rome Opera. I had been recommended to him by his wife, Cristina Mazzavillani, who directed me in an Otello in Ravenna. I realised that it was an important leap, especially because one morning I woke up and found seventy congratulatory messages: the news was out that besides Riccardo Muti, there was also Anna Netrebko in the title role.
I had never met her, and in January 2014 she wasn't present during rehearsals, only arriving at the beginning of February. She asked me, “Have you studied the score?” I replied that of course I had, and she said, “I haven't!” I thought, she's mad… how can you sing a role like Manon without preparation. Two weeks later she sang in the dress rehearsal and left everyone speechless. I could never do that. I need to study, to focus. Anna is pure instinct, ruling the character she is to play.
At that time, though, my only feeling was fear: Rome… Muti… a killer tenor role… and this crazy woman who hadn't studied. However, during the rehearsals we had started communicating by email about work (emails I will keep forever). I felt something, but I told myself, you're not Banderas or Brad Pitt, what do you think will happen? Anna is so beautiful. I had no beard then and looked like a sack of potatoes. After the opening night she was angry, screaming at me that I didn't give her space. But it was during the final performances that something clicked.
A year later they were married.
I'm traditional. Also with our gay friends, I love it when they get married. It gives value to a shared venture. And then there's Tiago, Anna's son with Erwin Schrott: a boy who isn't easy, but today is sunny and peaceful. We live in Vienna and he calls me daddy. I would like it if we could have a little girl. We both not young [Netrebko is six years older than Eyvazov] but we are hoping, and today there's more than one way to have a child.
Ours is a beautiful job and I'm happy, but when we return home after our concerts around the world, Tiago always sleeps with us on the first night. In that big bed with that boy and that woman, nothing else seems important.
Eyvazov knows that he's inevitably known as Mr Netrebko.
If the great conductors — Muti, Barenboim, Pappano — call you back, it cannot be just because you are Anna Netrebko's husband.
I've never been handed anything on a plate, even after my marriage to Anna. On the contrary, if you're married to the number one, then everyone is ready to pick hairs.
There will be those who believe he is singing the lead role at La Scala precisely because of his wife. Ask him why he's doing it and he jokes,
It's the easiest way to kill myself.
Eyvazov started singing the classical repertoire late. He had always sung, but pop music, especially from Italy.
I sang Celentano, Toto Cutugno, Russian songs… In Baku the most popular discs were those from San Remo [Italy's annual pop song competition]. Even today the group Ricchi e Poveri play to sold-out houses. I went to the Conservatoire to train my voice, but ended up falling in love with opera. Then I had to start from scratch, doing vocal exercises.
I arrived in Milan to study in 1997, left my cases in the hotel, and came straight to see La Scala. Who would have thought that 20 years later I'd find myself here. I worked as a waiter, and I studied and studied and studied. Sometimes I'd find myself going backwards, then an improvement, and slowly I went ahead.
Mine is a difficult voice and I have had many problems that I needed to solve, but until I was 20 I knew nothing about technique.
Chénier's technical demands on the voice are many.
Andrea Chénier demands both power and tenderness in the sound, high notes and mezza voce. It's the acid test for a tenor. Thank goodness that I have had Chailly to conduct, who was clear from the start and gave me the layout of the work to do.
The finale worries me [more than the first act aria, Un di all'azzurro spazio] because after having sung throughout the opera you need to find tiny threads of sounds and piani. And then there's Anna. When her Maddalena sings Salvo una madre!, I have to be very careful because I still have a couple of high notes and yet she is so moving that I get a lump in my throat.
I find Chénier relevant because the Terror during the French Revolution evoked fears similar to the bombs of today's terrorists. I like Chénier's purity, heroism… as long as I don't have to shave my beard, even though in those days they weren't used. I cannot bear to look at myself without a beard.
Translated from and adapted from an interview by Anna Bandettini for La repubblica.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.
Really interesting and candid interview.