Q&A: Soprano Martina Licari on her debut as Ismene in Vicenza In Lirica and how COVID disrupted her early success
(Photo: Antonio Curti)
The winner of the 2021 Tulio Serafin Opera Singing Competition, Martina Licari, is due to debut as Ismene in two performances of Mozart’s “Mitridate, re di Ponto” in Vicenza in Lirica this season, from 28e August, until 12e September. Graduated from the Palermo Conservatory in 2018, the young soprano seemed on the right track towards a successful singing career: she had won prizes in competitions, and had been offered many roles, including that of The Second Woman. in Purcell. “Dido and Aeneas” at La Fenice in Venice, which turned out to be his debut in professional singing. OperaWire was present for the performance and described her voice as “elegant”, displaying a “pleasant timbre” and “the ability to decorate the vocal line”. Unfortunately, it all came to a screeching halt with the closing of cinemas due to the COVID pandemic.
The role of Ismène, the result of her victory in the Tulio Serafin Opera Singing Competition, now offers Licari the opportunity to put his career back on track. OperaWire met Licari in Palermo as she was preparing for the role, for what turned out to be an interesting and insightful interview that illustrated in a very concrete way how the measures used to fight the coronavirus seriously disrupted the means livelihood of young singers at the start of their careers.
OperaWire: What is your background, and when did you first get interested in music?
Martina Licari: My parents are not musicians at all, but I have always sung, even since my childhood. My mom always tells me a story about when I managed to get lost in a children’s playground. I was only three years old and she was obviously panicking, but then she heard me sing. I found a microphone on a stage where people were doing a little show, took it and started singing. My mother recognized my voice and picked me up. I loved playing with mics and recording my voice, that was something I loved doing. It was much better than playing with Barbie dolls or other toys.
It was my teachers in primary school who understood that I had potential as a singer and they encouraged me to participate in the children’s choir of the Teatro Biondo in Palermo. Subsequently, I joined the Alessandro Scarlatti Conservatory, like some of the other children who sang in the choir. I was ten at the time, although I didn’t start studying music properly until I was 13, when I started learning the flute. Then I started singing lessons, which took over completely, and I stopped learning the transverse flute.
OW: So, did you want to be an opera singer from a young age?
ML: When I was young, I didn’t like classical music, like most children. But singing with the Children’s Choir put me on what now seems to be a predetermined path: I was almost expected to continue singing and studying singing, and that was something I was. happy to do. In fact, other children in the choir also started careers as opera singers, so it all felt very natural. Also the fact that I started at the Alessandro Scarlatti Conservatory at such a young age affected me. I grew up there, surrounded by music, classical music. The teachers were very good and helped me a lot to develop. Although I had very good teachers at the Conservatory, I also had and continue to have a private teacher, Provvidenza Torterella, who is excellent.
OW: What were your first experiences with opera?
ML: The first opera I saw was “Madame Butterfly” at the Teatro Massimo in Palermo, where I went with my primary school, although I have to admit that I don’t remember it too much. We were doing a school project on Japanese culture, so we went to see “Madama Butterfly”.
The first music I remember singing in an opera was excerpts from Susanna’s role in “Le Nozze di Figaro”, but it was just for fun.
OW: In what role and where did you make your professional opera debut?
ML: I only graduated in 2018, so I’m just starting my professional career. My debut took place last year at La Fenice in Venice in “Dido and Aeneas” in the role of the second wife.
It was very new to me and I didn’t know what to expect, and while I was confident I was also very nervous about it. It was a great thing for me! Fortunately, the directors and the other singers were very helpful and supportive. It was during the Covid pandemic so the performance was a little weird as part of the audience was sitting on stage, so we had to turn around to face them every now and then. But I did my best and was very happy with my performance.
OW: So how did you come to make your professional debut at La Fenice in Venice?
ML: The director of La Fenice Fortuanato Ortombina was part of the jury for Voci Olimpiche, a singing competition that I won in Vicenza at the Teatro Olimpico in 2019. The prize was Morgana’s role in Handel’s “Alcina” which was to be played in the Teatro Olimpico of the city. He then texted me, suggesting that I try the role of Fanny in Rossini’s “La Cambiale di Matrimonio”, which I did and was offered the role. But then, because of the Covid, everything was canceled.
Then in August, La Fenice contacted me and asked if I was interested in the role of The Second Woman, which I obviously was, and I accepted the role.
OW: So COVID has had a very disruptive effect on your career?
ML: Yes, it was very annoying! I had gotten to the point where things were starting to happen, my career seemed to be taking off. Then COVID happened and “La Cambiale di Matrimonio” was canceled and “Alcina” was postponed. Everything stopped. It was not good. So at this point my only professional live performance in an opera was like The Second Woman at La Fenice. “Alcina” has been reprogrammed for a televised performance, but without an audience.
I sang a few concerts and joined the choir of the Teatro Massimo here in Palermo for a few months, in which I sang in “Parsifal”, but a scheduled performance of “Nabucco” was canceled.
Now it’s like I have to start over from the beginning. So I’m happy to have won the Tulio Serafin Opera Singing Competition in Vicenza, because that means I will be playing Ismene in Mozart’s “Mitridate, re di Ponto” in September. Hopefully this will open up new opportunities.
OW: You have had great success in competitions, especially in Vicenza! Do you appreciate them and what benefits do they bring?
ML: I have to admit I never think I’m going to win, but it’s something that I always enjoy and consider very important.
First of all, they allow me to understand what other singers are doing from other parts of Italy and Europe. I think it is very important. It also allows me to test myself in front of judges and an audience. It is nice to sing in a class with your teacher and fellow students, but in a competition there is more pressure to concentrate, you have to push yourself to do your best.
The competitions also allow to know what the committee is looking for, what I need to know. After all, these are the people who might be able to offer you a job in the future and who can also be important in your career. They also help you come to terms with failures: you’re not going to win every competition you participate in, and you realize that in no way means that you fail, only that the judges are probably looking for something different.
Although, when you win it’s a great feeling: for me, it always confirms my belief that I’m doing the right thing and doing it right.
This summer I was going to go to the Cesti Competition in Innsbruck. I was qualified and I was really looking forward to it, but because I got the role of Ismene in “Mitridate, re di Ponto”, I therefore had to refuse. Maybe next year I’ll try again.
OW: What are your impressions of the role of Ismène?
ML: It’s a very difficult role. In fact, when I was preparing for the Tulio Serafin Opera Singing Competition, I honestly didn’t think I had a chance to win, as I had never sung such a complex role before. The technical aspects, like the coloring, are very difficult: they are very long and elaborate. I’m learning the role right now, and it’s like a vocal gym. I practice every day for at least three hours, but I enjoy every minute and it is very good for me.
I really like the role of Ismène, she connects with me, I can feel the character. It’s a role in which I think I can achieve a very special performance. However, I really am not like her at all. She is betrayed by her fiancée but she forgives him. Thing I would never do!
The start of rehearsals in Vicenza on the 22sd August, and the first performance is on 9e September. I have a lot of preparation to do, but this is a great opportunity for me.
OW: How would you describe your voice?
ML: It’s hard to describe, because right now my voice is constantly changing. Last year I would have described her as a light voice with a wide range, but now she’s getting deeper. I also study the technical aspects that also affect my voice.
OW: How do you see your future evolving?
ML: I’m 27 now, and at a point in my career where I need to play roles. It is very important that I gain this type of experience, because I will learn through it more than in any other way. However, the situation is still very uncertain thanks to Covid, but in the weeks and months to come I hope to audition with some agencies and theaters.
I don’t have a manager yet, so this is something I need to change. Hopefully this production in Vicenza will open doors.
In the next two years, I hope to be more established, to have grown professionally and to perform regularly.
Then after, who knows. I hope that one day I will be in a situation where I can work around the world. That would be great!
As for the roles I would like to sing, it’s hard to say. At the moment I find myself in the baroque repertoire, but I would also like to do bel canto. But my goal has always been to sing, I love to sing, but I want to sing well, in any role that I can.