Musical Discoveries: What can you tell us about your music education, vocal training and the evolution of music work that led to the album We’ll Meet Again?
Marina Cruzo: I was born in Moscow, but my family moved to Greece when I was five. My parents are pianists and music has always been a part of my life. I inherited my voice from my grandfather. I never knew him. My grandmother told me that he had been an excellent singer with a beautiful and soft voice. He was Spanish. He was a child when, during the war in Spain, he got to the USSR. He fell in love with the country and with my grandma. He dreamed about singing in the Bolshoi Theatre, but his dream did not come true. He was arrested and then he disappeared. We don’t know what happened to him afterwards.
When we arrived in Greece, my father rented a small house on a small island. He rented it from his good friend, also a musician. There were a lot of musicians parties in our house, and I often I sang different children’s songs to our guests. Some of those songs, for example, “The Sleeping Princess,”were included in my album.
What can you tell us about your vocal formation?
When I was ten, my father’s friend’s wife offered me professional vocal lessons. From the first lesson I understood that my childhood was over, and it was the time to start very hard physical and mental work. My teacher, Kyria Chikalidi, said, “The talent is necessary, but it’s not enough. You must work as hard as you can to achieve a good result.”
Our lessons always began with breathing exercises. It was important to have your whole body breathing. There is a book: The Art of Singing is the Art of Breathing. Kyria Chikalidi always repeated: “It’s not true, that there is only one diaphragm in a human body. There are actually, seven of them. Only when all of them work, we get “the divine” singing, that fascinates the audience. I still practice these exercises every day.
We practiced not only singing techniques, of course. Music shouldn’t be “dead.” That’s why we also worked on lyrics and meaning, in general. It was important to learn how to have your audience understand what you want to tell while singing. To improve on it, I spent several months in India, studying raga, the Indian classical singing. This is about the ability to listen and hear, to feel and to involve your audience in this process.
When did you first receive some notariety for your work?
My first serious challenge was The International young singers competition in Athens. The jury was represented by the Athens Conservatory professors. My idol, Luciano Pavarotti was invited as a guest. My only memories of the first round are the jury members, who I was looking at while walking to the piano, and my teacher after the performance. I don’t remember the performance itself because I was too scared! I won the competition, and I won a place in the Athens Conservatory! I was happy but all my plans changed when my teacher, Tina Chikalidi, was invited to Moscow. It’s very difficult to explain, but changing a singing teacher is a great risk for voice.
What did you in response to her move?
It was a very difficult choice, but finally, having left my parents in Greece, I followed my teacher. I decided to enter the Moscow State Conservatory. I spent two years on exam preparation. In 2001 I was enrolled. It was unbelievable. Only eighteen applicants out of 740 were enrolled, and I was among those eighteen! I was extremely happy. I studied as hard as I could. I loved it.
I was lucky to have an opportunity to perform in the Conservatory Opera Studio from my first year. I performed Cherubino’s part in The Figaro’s Wedding, then Olga, Zerlina, Lyubasha. I took part in different contests and master-classes such as Pavarotti’s master-class, Giandomenico Bisi’s master-class, Elena Obraztsova International contest. I was awarded “The Young Talent” prize by the Russian Ministry of Culture.
I graduated with honors. I decided to do the postgraduate course and, at the same time, I started to work in Moscow Stanislavski and Nemirovich-Danchenko Theatre. It was the first time when I got disappointed. Opera rules turned out to be very strict and “narrow.” But I wanted to sing everything my voice was capable of singing. That was beyond the opera rules and traditions. At that time I began to get interested in Pavarotti’s tremendous experiment Pavarotti Brings Friends Together absolutely unbelievable mix of genres, and Sarah Brightman’s excellent songs. I was a bit scared but I wanted to take a risk and try something like this myself. That was when I met my producer Yan Foss. He heard me at the concert. He liked my voice and I liked his idea to record a crossover album. Thus we started to work on the We’ll Meet Again. The album that became the first page of my new musical life.
How did it feel moving to Russia at a young age?
The decision to go to Russia was hard, but necessary. Singing is a science that is almost entirely based on associative explanations. In general, all singing teachers demand the same beautiful and equal sound, but each teacher explains it differently, with his own words and his own methods. I know a lot of tragic stories, when because of misunderstanding in associations and explanations, people lost their voices and self-confidence. It was very hard for me to leave my parents and go to a new, almost unknown world. But I was with my teacher, who I knew, wouldn’t spoil my voice and would always support me in any situations.
[There] I studied classical opera, and my idols have always been Luciano Pavarotti and Maria Callas. They have never been afraid of any experiments as long as what they were doing was what their hearts were asking for. They haven’t served to art; they have been creating art themselves, even if it broke the general rules.
I’ve always dreamed about the opportunity to do the same. From the music history I know, that in most cases opera composers wrote not for “soprano” or “mezzo-soprano,” but for a definite singer, whom they wanted to see in one role or another. For example, Rossini wrote almost all of his operas for his wife. Only later the publishers began to put “for soprano,” “for tenor,” etc. signs. These rules have always seemed boring and unclear to me.
To be honest, I broke them even when I studied at the conservatory. For example, I sang Zerlina part (from “Don Giovanni”) which was considered to be for soprano. The director liked this idea so much, that the performance was organized especially for me. The performance was in the conservatory and it was excellent. No seats were empty! Though adherents of “classicism” remained dissatisfied with both unconventional performance and unconventional setting. In Russia crossover genre has just been born. It is much better known in many other countries. But it’s here, in Russia, where I met people who held the same views as mine. These people are a remarkable professional team who I work with now and who I love very much!
In addition to the style we hear on your debut album, have you done work in other genres?
When I graduated from the conservatory, I worked in Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Theatre in Moscow for a couple of years. I performed in the world premiere of opera The passenger by Vayndberg. It was broadcast on Russian TV, but it’s quite a gloomy story about Auschwitz prisoners’ life. The final tour of international opera contest by Elena Obraztsova was broadcast too. I had some classical concerts in Dresden and Vienna. In the International Tchaikovsky contest I was called “The best mezzo-soprano of this contest” by Russian musical critic Dmitry Morozov. And I’m excited about my first video clip of the song “O mio babbino caro,” which I’m going to start working on very soon. It’s a classical aria from opera Gianni Schicchi by Puccini. If I had held on to the classical genre, I would have never performed it, because it’s an aria for soprano and I’m mezzo-soprano.
What led you to focus your career thusfar on the classical and classical crossover style of music? Would you consider recording an album with other styles?
Throughout all the music history there were people who tried to promote something new. In XIV century it was Bach. People didn’t understand Mozart’s music; people left the Carmen premiere. There were a lot of musical experiments in XX century. While studying, for example, such genre as musical, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that that genre came from opera. Such famous opera composers as Gershwin and Bernstein supported it.
There is no development without experiment. In my opinion, crossover is the next round of opera development, very difficult and interesting, demanding a lot of new skills from all of us–singers, composers, musicians–it keeps up with the time, so should we.
I’m not against collaboration with any other genres. It might be pop or rock, the main thing is that it must be interesting for me and for my team.
Have you performed in any musicals?
Not yet, but I am very interested in this.
How would you characterize your album and its title?
All of my songs are about love. Love to a man, to a child, to nature, to the world. I think there is a lot of negative in the world, and I wanted my songs to make it a bit more kind, more joyful, so that people who listen to them believed that there is beauty and hope, love and joy and could forget about their problems and fears for a while.
The album got its title from one of the songs, “We’ll Meet again.” This is a debut album and I wanted to wish good luck to our project and say that this was just the beginning. The second reason for choosing this title was the fact that this is the name of an English song written during the Second World War. There are very important words in it: “After the rain comes the rainbow.” This phrase is my credo and this is what I want to say to my audience. People who worked with me on this album continue working with me now. And they are the best people and the best team in the world!
Do you plan to write and record and of your own material in the future?
Now I’m working on my new album. The songs were written by a very famous Russian composer Roman Ignatiev especially for me. I’m exited about this work. I came to crossover genre from classical opera and up to this moment I have always sung the songs, that were written long ago and were performed by other, sometimes very famous, singers. It was interesting, but usual. Now I’m going to be the first person to sing these new songs. I have never felt like this before. On the one hand, I feel excitement because I’m creating something new and interesting. On the other hand, it is a huge responsibility because, when I present my new songs to the audience, people will see and judge something that I created myself.
How important do you think image is to a young woman working as a performing artist these days?
Very important! Image and music are inseparable! When I studied raga, the most important thing I had to learn was that to sing you need to be in harmony with yourself. Singing in India is considered to be the sacral art, because only a harmonized person, who can give positive emotions and vibrations to his audience, can sing. Harmony includes both internal (feelings) and external (appearance).
I thought about my image a lot and after all I came to a conclusion that the most important thing for me is to be myself. Of course, I keep up with fashion and I like doing it, but I do not fanatically follow it. I take only that part of it which fits me. My image is feminity, and my songs are about love. Modern women almost forgot about it, but I would like them to remember. After all, a woman is very strong, but in her own way, not like a man. She gives the man strength to fight, creates beauty and harmony, without her life is impossible.
My thesis in the conservatory was the part of the Spring in opera The Snow Maiden by Rimsky-Korsakov. And despite of all the concerts and performances I had after this, when I come somewhere, a lot of people exclaim, “The Spring is here!” I have no words to describe how enjoyable it is to hear!
Will you perform in front of live audiences to promote your material?
Certainly! Right now we are talking about this with Pushkin House in London, besides I have concerts in Moscow, St Petersburg and some other big Russian cities. I was recording my album in Austria, but the final version was recorded in Moscow in Michael Kuvshinov sound-recording studio.
How has the internet influenced your career as an emerging female recording artist?
As far as I know, the internet now is the most important and demanded information source, as well as one of the most important aspects of social life. Here people listen to music; look for news, watch videos. In my opinion, Youtube is even more popular than TV. Therefore, my new video will appear there first. I have accounts on FaceBook, Twitter, MySpace and Youtube. My audience can get all the information about my concerts and read all my musical news [online].
In addition to music, what else rocks your world these days?
Most of all I love life. I love my family, my work, my team, I like spending time with my friends in a cafй, I like dancing. Lately I got interested in Argentinean Tango. It turned out to be the whole culture, which I hadn’t known before, but which is so appealing to me. I like traveling. I try to go to different places and to have different experiences every time I travel. The world is so big and interesting and I would like to visit as many interesting countries and places as I can!