English-Spanish soprano Sylvia Schwartz has reached an international status thanks to her extraordinary vocal qualities and her acting talent. Recently acclaimed at Wien Staatsoper for her Adina in Elisir d’amore, she already had a successful experience in January 2012 performing at Berlin Staatsoper singing Bellezza in Händel’s Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno. In the near future, she will perform in Paris at Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in a Mozart recital, then she will be Susanna in a concert version of Le Nozze di Figaro at the Verbier Festival and finally she will perform some more Mozart repertoire at the Saltzburg Festival under Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s baton. Her concert schedule will be hectic as she will perform several lieder recitals in the next months at various important venues. She is currently singing Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier at Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. In Italy, Sylvia Schwartz debuted at Teatro alla Scala in Milan in 2006 as Zerlina in Don Giovanni. In 2010 she performed with pianist Kirill Gerstein in Reggio Emilia. Sylvia Schwartz graduated at Escuela Superior de Canto of Madrid and perfected her studies at the Hanns Eisler Conservatory of Berlin with Wolfram Rieger, Thomas Quasthoff and Julia Varady.
Which is the main feature of your personality?
Tenacity, curiosity, cheerfulness. (That’s what my family says…)
Your worst flaw?
How does temper affect your behaviour?
I dislike conflict of any kind and I have never yet lost my temper with anyone outside my family, but unkindness and injustice of any kind make me very angry! In my work it helps me understand the baser emotions of the characters I play.
Which is your star sign?
Does that really mean anything? Saggitarius.
Are you superstitious?
No, just a creature of habit.
Are you a spiritual person?
Only on stage.
What does it imply to be spiritual on stage?
I mean that I have a great understanding and affinity for the emotions behind religious works and the more spiritual side of some of the music I sing.
Have you ever envied someone?
Who did you envy? And why?
Marilyn Horne for her low notes, Shirley Temple for her curls, 50’s actresses for their hats and outfits, my friends for living in one city and not in a suitcase….but in the end I prefer to admire all this from a distance, I wouldn’t change my own life for anything!
What did you dream of becoming as an adult when you were a child?
…an opera singer….
How did passion for opera spring in you? Which is the first opera you have ever seen?
Through my mother who sang beautifully and played the piano and guitar, taught me music and took me to concerts and operas from a very small child. The first opera I saw was Madame Butterfly, which made a great impression on me when the little boy was taken away from his mother; it seemed like the end of the world to my 4-year-old heart. The opera I most loved as a child and knew off by heart was Il Barbiere di Siviglia which is full of great tunes for children: Gioia e pace, pace e gioia – Basta basta! and zitti zitti piano piano.
Did your family influence your choices?
Very much so.
In which way did your family influence you?
They gave me a rich and varied education, encouraged my tastes for music, literature, languages, travelling, and taught me to behave always with consideration and understanding to those around me, which stands me in good stead wherever I am – when I manage it!
Which is your most cherished memory?
Christmas holidays as a child with my family in Madrid.
The moment you felt the proudest?
Every time I drag myself to the gym.
Do you have a conflictual relationship with the gym or do you feel the pressure to keep fit?
I actually enjoy it very much, and go to the gym mostly because it’s fun and I feel so good afterwards. It also keeps me vaguely fit for the sports I really enjoy, like riding, tennis and skiing.
The greatest disappointment?
I’m not sure I’ve had any great disappointments. I’ve been pretty lucky up t now. Fingers crossed!
What’s missing in your life today?
What are you afraid of the most?
Losing my parents.
Do you have a recurring dream?
If I haven’t prepared properly for a concert I dream that I am on stage in my pyjamas. This is usually a warning from my subconscious to get going and do some work.
How important is money to you?
If I had lots of it, it wouldn’t be important at all.
Which is the item you like spending money on the most?
Books and scores. Presents for friends and family. Hats!
How come this passion for hats?
Ha! I just think they are such a fun way of adding variation to ones life. I think it’s such a pity people hardly wear hats any more.
Do you collect anything?
Which are your favourite books?
18th and 19th century novels: Dickens, Trollope, Richardson, Burney, Perez-Galdos….
Which is your favourite perfume?
Lanvin: Rumeur. Sadly, they’ve stopped making it.
At the moment, Florence!
Your favourite singers?
Janet Baker, Christa Ludwig, Montserrat Caballé, Pavarotti, Sting, Billie Holliday, Renee Fleming…the list is very long…
Which is the first record you ever bought?
Queen, Bohemian Rhapsody.
The film you love the most?
The red balloon of Albert Lamorisse
Your favorite season and why?
I love all of them, I love the constant changing of seasons, I think I would get tired of living somewhere where the weather was always perfect, always the same.
What is your relationship with technology and which is the electronic gadget you can’t do without?
Oh, my iPhone, without a doubt. It has changed my life, being such a frequent traveller, not only because I can keep up with friends and work when I’m on the move, but also because I can travel light: books, music, radio, alarm clock, even a little piano so I can warm up my voice – it’s all in one, wonderful little gadget!
What is your attitude towards TV ?
One of the most extraordinary entertainment and communication creations of the age, though I don’t actually own a television! I prefer the radio so I can do other things at the same time.
What is your relationship with politics?
Distant? Indifferent? A luxury afforded to my generation by those who fought to give us democracy and universal suffrage.
Do you have causes that are very important for you?
Freedom! Having spent time in Cairo and Tunisia, I greatly value a separation of state and religion. Music in education, music for young people.
Day or night?
Day Aand night.
Which is the situation you consider the most relaxing?
A cup of tea in the morning.
Tell us your ideal day.
One that has all the things I love in it: my work, my family, my fiancé, a walk in the country, tea and scones by the fire; good music, good food, good friends.
Where is your hideaway?
My flat in Berlin. Friends all round, a great city outside the door, and complete solitude if I want it.
What’s the soundtrack to your everyday life?
BBC radio 4.
What do you miss the most when you’re away from home?
My family, my fiancé.
The holiday or the trip you’d like to take?
Honeymoon in India.
Who or what makes you feel embarrassed?
Myself. All the time.
How do you embarass yourself?
Oh, goodness… generally by being too over-enthusiastic about, well, everything. Whenever I get home from a party I am convinced I have made a complete fool of myself!
How would you define your relation with food ?
Mediterranean diet, macrobiotic or fast food?
I’m Spanish – definitely mediterranean!
Your favourite dish?
Anything that doesn’t have peppers in it.
Red wine or white wine?
Apple juice. Not a great alcohol drinker; only on very special occasions.
Which is the place where cooking is the worst ever?
Was music a vocation?
What would you want someone who doesn’t know your voice to listen to?
Schubert and “belcanto”.
Which Schubert lieder cycle do you love the most? And which belcanto aria?
I like to sing lots of different schubert songs, Du bist die Ruh, Heimliches Lieben, Auf dem Wasser zu singen, Viola; I love to listen to Thomas Quasthoff singing Schwanengesang, and Fritz Wunderlich singing Die Schoene Muellerin. I enjoy singing Adina in L’elisir d’amore, Norina in Don Pasquale is great fun, and the beautiful long lines of Sonnambula are lovely to sing.
Do you listen to your voice? Is there anything in particular you mostly love about it?
I don’t enjoy listening to myself, but I often make myself listen because one learns so much from recordings. I don’t really like or dislike my own voice, I just do my best to produce a free and expressive sound; sometimes singing is like flying, you take off from the stage and soar above the music. It’s addictive!
If you were granted the chance to choose a role, which one would it be?
My preference changes as my voice develops. I tend to love whatever I am doing. But I adore Susanna from The Marriage of Figaro, she is just such fun to play.
What do you do an hour prior to going on stage?
Make-up, a bit of yoga for stretching and breathing, warm up my voice, go through the score.
What’s never missing in your dressing room?
What do you think of when looking at yourself in the mirror?
That I need to get more sleep.
Your mood at the moment?
Expectant, excited – we are coming up to the end stages of the production, I haven’t seen my costume yet, I haven’t had a full run-through yet. I can’t wait!
What’s your motto?
Never be mean, never be false, never be cruel… Ripeness is all.