Sopranos Kristina Bitenc and Chelsea Bonagura on opera and rivalry

In their roles as prima donna, they just barely avoid flying at each other’s throats. Instead, behind the scenes, the singers find each other in their passion for the craft. In this conversation, the two top performers complement each other seamlessly.

Auditioning is the order of the day for professional singers, what is it like for you?

Kristina: “Auditioning is stressful, and sometimes you need a bit of luck. That’s why I have one rule for myself when I audition: stay true to myself. I want to feel like I did my best and stayed myself. I have learned to trust my inner voice.”

Chelsea adds: “And to rely on a very small group of people. Because there are so many opinions when it comes to voice types and who should (be able to) sing which role. So above all, I want to feel for myself that I’ve performed well after an audition and then I’ll see if I get it or not.”

What do you think is important when choosing or accepting a role?

Both at the same time: “The company!”

Chelsea: “At this point in my life, I think it’s important to work with people I respect and like. Having said that, I think we sopranos are more likely to say yes than no to a role, simply because there are more sopranos than jobs. So we can be less picky than, say, our baritone colleagues.”

Kristina: “Totally agree!”

What kind of roles do you prefer to sing?

Kristina: “Physical roles! I love using my body while singing; rather than having to stand still. I also find complex roles interesting. For example, Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen has been on my wish list for a long time. I would also love to sing Violetta from La Traviata, because of her psychological journey and vocal acrobatics.”

Chelsea:“I love the more psychological roles, especially the slightly mad characters like Ophelia in Hamlet. The music from this opera by Thomas is so beautiful and Ophelia’s ‘mad-scene’ is very virtuosic. I love the technical side of singing; figuring out how best to sing something.”

Do Mademoiselle Silberklang and Madame Herz also fall into this category?

Chelsea: “Oh yes, when Opera Zuid asked me, I immediately thought: that’s what I want to do! Madame Herz is slightly deranged in a fun way, which I love to play. Besides, this opera is a Mozart on steroids; lots of high notes, lots of coloraturas [fast, high runs] and there’s a lot of comedy in it, and I can do that every day.”

Kristina: “Actually, I always know immediately when Opera Zuid calls: I would like to participate! Besides, I really enjoy singing Mozart. The music suits me well and is vocally challenging. I also really like the terzet at the end: Chelsea and I discovered that our voices sound incredibly good together and we have the same ideas about how we want to perform this music, so the collaboration goes very naturally.”

Chelsea: “Absolutely. The nice thing is that we are not divas at all in real life, so we can have a lot of fun together in these roles.”

In the real opera world, is there also rivalry between singers like in Der Schauspieldirektor between Mademoiselle Silberklang and Madame Herz?

Chelsea: “No, I don’t think the level of rivalry is an issue these days. In any case, I have no experience of it.”

Kristina [tegen Chelsea]: “When I hear you, I mostly think: how does she do that?”

Chelsea: “And I think: how do I get my coloratures as fast as she does? I get inspired by other singers and feel appreciation for the other above all. Moreover, I learn from my colleagues.”

Kristina: “We try to get the best out of each other. Our roles are often similar musically, which is how we lift each other to a higher level. In the end, we can only make beautiful art together.”

Interview: Kyra Bertram

 Chelsea Bonagura en Kristina Bitenc