16 May 2017
We recently caught up with Independent Opera Scholar & Fellow, Milan Siljanov ahead of his solo recital at the Wigmore Hall on the 27th April 2017.
Back in September 2015, Milan was awarded First Prize at the Wigmore Hall/Kohn Foundation International Song Competition, he is currently at the Bavarian State Opera in Munich on their Young Artist Programme.
Independent Opera: Lovely to see you back in London, how are you feeling ahead of tomorrow’s recital at the Wigmore Hall?
Milan Siljanov: I’m really excited and a bit anxious, it’s a mix of lots of different feelings. It’s one of the most beautiful halls, if not the most beautiful hall for chamber music, lieder and recital and we just want to enjoy it - that’s the main goal.
IO: You’re currently based in Munich at the Bavarian State Opera, how is that going?
MS: It’s very tough, very challenging and also very rewarding. I’m happy that I did the opera course at Guildhall, that has prepared me so much for what to expect. The rigour, the amount of singing every day, you need to pace yourself and be aware of what you’re doing. I do enjoy Munich, the opera house in particular, there’s a great atmosphere, a great mentality in Munich, every single night is a full-house. It’s unbelievable, they can put on the most contemporary piece ever written and people would come and see it. It’s similar to the audience at the Wigmore Hall, it’s a very knowledgeable audience, they know their stuff.
"...if I go back to when I first started singing I would probably tell myself ‘try to see further than Zurich’."
IO: You were awarded an Independent Opera Scholarship at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 2015 and a Postgraduate Fellowship for this past year, what have the awards enabled you to do that you might not have done otherwise?
MS: Without the support from Independent Opera I wouldn’t have been able to do my second year at Guildhall basically, because it was financially supported by the award, that was very noticeable. And I would say that every time I mention IO, it’s sort of a great reputation that I see. When I say I’m a fellow of Independent Opera people sort of know it, especially people in Britain, they know what it is and how prestigious it is. I didn’t know it when I came here, but I remember going for an audition at the Guildhall, I had no idea who the panel were, and someone just told me to sing for them because it’s very important, so maybe that was for the best, who knows. But yes, it’s extremely noticeable how people know Independent Opera, so it makes me proud to be on the roster as one of the fellows.
IO: Any ideas of what you’ll do once your time at Munich has finished?
MS: Well, the thing is, they have the ensemble in Germany, where if you finish the young artist programme they may take you on there, that’s a very desirable thing because it’s a steady life. You don’t sing the biggest roles because it’s Munich and all the big stars are invited to sing the biggest roles, but I think there have been enough examples from Munich which show that you can make a career. I mean, Tara Erraught for example, she’s making a big career out of Munich, Angela Brower, Golda Schultz - it’s funny it’s always women who make a career in Munich, I guess it could be my goal to be the next male representative!
"...it’s difficult to say no to anything, especially when you’re just starting, you think that if you say no then you’ve missed everything..."
IO: Are there any Directors or Conductors you’ve enjoyed working with, or would like to work with in the future?
MS: Well, conductors I can say... I had a little role in Lady Macbeth, by Shostakovich, which we did last October and it was conducted by Kirill Petrenko, he’s going to be the new artistic director at the Berlin Philharmonic, so he is a genius! I had a tiny role, really, 3 little phrases to sing, he just gave me great feedback and I observed him through the entire process, it’s just wonderful how he works with musicians. I’m really looking forward to working with Christof Loy, who is a German director, he will stage the new production of Le nozze di Figaro in Munich in September where I’ll be singing Antonio. I had a one hour session with him - because it wasn’t clear who was going to sing Antonio and then someone proposed me and I had to sort of audition for him - he was the nicest guy, he was like “let’s just work on this aria for an hour”, the casting directors were there and he made me forget all the other people and he was just focussing on me, at the end he just said “well done” and then a couple of minutes later I found out that he wanted me on the production.
I mean, they are tiny steps, I wish I could do Figaro but it would be dangerous to do Figaro at the Bavarian State Opera, you don’t just do these roles on a big stage when it’s the first time, but with the little roles you can sort of get closer and closer to how it really feels.
IO: Have you had a chance to observe more experienced singers, what was that like?
MS: Yes! [Anna] Netrebko was singing next to me in Verdi’s Macbeth and I saw how she works with her body, how intense, how full of emotion her voice is and it’s not just the voice or the face, it’s the entire body that goes with it. Sometimes you don’t see that on a screen, you just hear a nice sound and see someone’s moving, but on stage, just 2 meters away from her it’s a raw power, it’s amazing, I was really really surprised.
IO: If you could visit yourself back when you started singing, what advice would you give to your younger self? Or any young singer in training?
MS: In my case, if I go back to when I first started singing I would probably tell myself ‘try to see further than Zurich’, because I started my studies in Zurich and I thought “this was it, this is it”. Until 5 years later when someone told me, “well there’s the Guildhall School which is really cool”, but no one tells you that there are options or better opportunities. I mean, in the end I’m really happy with how I’ve evolved so far, but just sometimes I think what if I had come to London earlier.
I don’t know about other young singers... I still feel young! I would probably tell them the same thing that I’m telling myself everyday, ‘take it easy, take it slow’ you can sing the big roles at 29 maybe even earlier, but if you’re not able to sing those roles at 44 because you’ve wrecked your voice... I really want to sing until I’m 70. I sang the Wigmaker in Ariadne auf Naxos, it’s a really funny little role, and I met this guy who sang the baritone role, the music instructor, and he’s 70, 76 actually and I heard him sing and I couldn’t believe my ears because he sounded like he was 30. I thought, ‘this is impossible!’, so I took two lessons with him because I thought I needed to know what his secret was and he just said “take it easy, don’t do the heavy stuff too early, rest and sleep and just try to be intelligent about what you say yes and what you say no to”. Although I must say, it’s difficult to say no to anything, especially when you’re just starting, you think that if you say no then you’ve missed everything and that they’re not going to come back to you, which is not true, I know, it’s just that feeling that young singers have.
IO: Is there anything else that’s become clear to you since graduating?
MS: I know there’s one person you have to trust vocally, like your teacher, someone that you trust and you know will tell you the right things. I’ve had that since I came to the Guildhall and luckily my teacher also visits at the studio in Munich, so from time to time I can see him and talk to him and he can give me feedback. He’s coming tomorrow, he’s the guy sitting in the audience who makes me the most nervous. I mean, I just saw Sol Gabetta and Kopatchinskaja - very famous violinist and cellist - they could see it tomorrow at the Wigmore and I wouldn’t be nervous, but my teacher makes me nervous, because he knows all my flaws!
IO: Final question, it’s a classic, but we’re keen to know... What would be your dream role?
MS: At the moment it would be Leporello and Figaro. I could live with Mozart for the next couple of years, I don’t want to even think about other roles, just the Mozart, as much as they want me.
*Milan will be back at the Wigmore Hall on the 29th July for ‘A Serenade to Music’ and on the 9th November for the Samling Artists Recital. You can also catch up on Milan’s recent interview with Sean Rafferty on BBC Radio 3 ‘In Tune’ http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08n23ph