A life in a day

irina Interviews

I'm a member of Vienna's State Opera, which is based in the heart of the city. Luckily, I can jump on a tram that takes me all the way in, just in time for first rehearsal at 10.

I've been a member of the theater's ensemble for over three years now, so Vienna is very much my second home. But Romania is my first home. I was born there, in Bistrita, a town in Transylvania.

There are about 70 of us in the ensemble, and we juggle a large number of operas every season. They are usually big productions, so with each one we always have to go through the logistics of where we all have to be at any given moment.

Then there's the singing. And in this sense, we are like athletes. We have to warm

up our bodies, both physically and mentally. So many things can affect the voice: if you are tired or stressed, if you haven't slept or eaten. It's so sensitive.

Opera is also about expressing words. Every single word must be anticipated, pronounced, filled with emotion. And you must believe in that emotion, whether it's despair, grief, jealousy, revenge... By doing that, you can breathe life into words.

'I couldn't get over how much power and feeling could come from one voice'

At 1pm we stop. I then tend to have lunch in the canteen; maybe chicken, rice and vegetables. Then, afternoons are the time I'll have one-to-ones with Ileana Cotrubas, my personal teacher. She is also my mentor, she pushes me, helps me overcome my weaknesses. She makes me see beyond my limits.

I also focus on the roles I'll be singing this season, which includes Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro.

The arias in this are so beautiful. It was hearing Maria Callas sing arias which first opened my eyes to the power of opera. I was 17. I was at a music high school and wanted to be a pop star. But one day a friend gave me two of Callas's albums and told me to listen to them.

I thought opera was so uncool, but I listened to Callas singing arias from La Traviata, Madame Butterfly, La Gioconda... and that's when something happened to me.

I was stunned into silence. It was like nothing I'd ever heard. I could not get over just how much power, how much feeling could come from one voice. It was then that I knew what I wanted to do with my life.


I was determined to get into the music academy which taught opera in Cluj — Romania's second biggest city. But my parents couldn't afford singing lessons for me, so I funded them myself by cleaning windows. It paid off. I was awarded a place and, while I was there, I was spotted by the then director of the Vienna State Opera. He saw my potential.

That was in 2009, and now I've not only performed at theatres like the Scala in Milan, but I'm making my debut at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden as Mimi in La Bohème — one of my favourite roles. Something I only dreamt about.


At night, I can find it hard to switch off, and I'm a worrier. Will I be good enough? What will

people think of me? But when I turn out the light, I do at least know that I have been given this incredible chance to do something I love and I will give it everything I have.

Ria Higgins - The Sunday Times

24 Feb 2013