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Igor Golovatenko

Take tomorrow with Igor Golovatenko.

From committed cellist and rising conductor to renowned baritone in opera houses all over the world, Igor Golovatenko has devoted his life to sharing his passion for music with others. Four years after his 2006 opera premiere with the Russian National Philharmonic Orchestra, he debuted at the famed Bolshoi Theatre and joined the Bolshoi Theatre Opera Company in 2014. As an acclaimed soloist, mentor to young artists and now composer, Igor Golovatenko continues to make a name for himself in more ways than one.

It’s all in the voice.

Igor Golovatenko

Igor, how would you define yourself? What are some of the challenges you’ve faced when pursuing something new?

I would say Music (with a capital M) has always been the thing I've wanted to do most of all. Great joy and great mystery can be found in music. How is it that seemingly simple vibrations of air can bring us to tears or stir up such strong emotions? What are the musical arts? There's no single answer to that question, and perhaps there never will be. But beyond a shadow of a doubt, music is the most enchanting and moving of all the arts – at times pulling us into a whole other world and giving us a direct link to it. Music has the astonishing ability to physically affect the human body, and that can be through healing properties or, at the opposite end of the spectrum, it might have an extremely negative effect, as in the case of bad music. I've done a lot in the world of music, but I've always been drawn to the ethereal, divine essence of real art and its greatest pieces.

The title role in Eugene Onegin; Germont in La Traviata; and Figaro (i.e. the barber) in The Barber of Seville: You have played some of the biggest roles in opera. When preparing for a new role, what – apart from technical mastery – do you believe is most important?

Preparing for any new role is always challenging in itself, whether we're talking about a part that is known for being technically difficult, such as Figaro in The Barber of Seville or Count di Luna in The Troubadour, or a part that involves the challenge of understanding the depths of the words – even some philosophy, such as my recent singing role as Francesco in Verdi's The Robbers (which is similar to Macbeth in terms of the intensity of its theatrics). All of these roles require a lot of work and many hours of reading the literature and related materials. In addition to this, you need to know a lot of the traditions behind the performance, listen to recordings of previous singers, and constantly practice the phonetics of the language – if it's a foreign language. Basically, a lot of work is involved. Preparing for a new part might take me half a year or more, because you have to remember that over this period you still need to sing your permanent repertoire. A lot of time is needed to play historical parts rooted in a particular era, such as Onegin or Rodrigo in Don Carlo. The most important thing, of course, is to understand and capture the essence of the character, to express this with your voice, and properly convey their spirit. That last point is the hardest part of the job.

You have, it seems, made the most of the disruptions of the past year by turning to composing. What have you learned from this shift of perspective – from interpreting artist to composer?

I've always enjoyed exploring new horizons, so to speak. Composing, for me, is still part of the musical arts, particularly since I've been working at it from an early age. It feels right that I've reached some kind of organic – as it seems to me – development of this wonderful art form. I don't want to make any predictions, but I hope I have enough time and energy to finish what I've started and what I've created. I have an idea that audiences will enjoy it – or at least I very much hope so.

What has helped you in your career the most: mental and physical endurance or courage?

You need it all for this career: the voice, the right physicality, physical health, and mental strength. Luck plays a huge part in our professional lives. It was chance that brought me to my fantastic teacher, Dmitry Vdovin. And by a stroke of luck, it has to be said, I came to singing, and I've never looked back. Luck might offer us the chance to sing a part on stage, be a successful conductor, or an agent, but you need to be fully equipped, so to speak. Learn new parts, practice, keep on form, and it will all come together.

What piece of criticism has been the most valuable to you and why?

It's hard to put a finger on one thing, but I always take on board my teacher's comments, and for many years now I've continued to practice and improve. Probably the most important thing in our line of work is having the right repertoire. You need to sing what is suitable at the time; as we say, it's all in the voice. This refers to the various changes that our voice undergoes, with age for example, so you should never sing something that – for whatever reason – doesn't suit you, no matter how much you might be tempted or how much money you're offered. Sad though it may sound, our voice is given to us but once.

What 3 things have you learned that keep you moving forward?

A love of music, theater, and singing!

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