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Matters of Style

Russian coloratura Albina Shagimuratova dazzles audiences with her blazing technique.
by David Shengold 

Matters of Style HGO Abduction hdl 1117
As Konstanze in HGO’s Entführung, 2017, with Christopher Purves (Pasha Selim)
© Lynn Lane
“We do not have all this smiling at home.” 
Matters of Style Met Lucia sm 1117
As Donizetti’s Lucia at the Met, 2015
© ROH/photo by Bill Cooper
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As Aspasia in Mozart’s Mitridate at Covent Garden, 2017
© ROH/photo by Bill Cooper

RUSSIAN SOPRANO  Albina Shagimuratova has a clear, beautiful instrument, a staggering technique and ever-developing interpretive artistry. In 2012, I was astonished by the way she sailed through a flawless, commanding San Francisco debut as the Queen of the Night. This month she opens Houston Grand Opera as Violetta in Traviata under Eun Sun Kim. Speaking by phone in May during HGO’s run of DieEntführung aus dem Serail, she gleefully looked forward to the international release of her first big-screen movie: veteran director Karen Shakhnazarov cast her as nineteenth-century mega-diva Adelina Patti in his new Anna Karenina. Shagimuratova sings Norma’s cavatina, a Russian obsession; singing Bellini’s priestess is a long-term goal. 

When offered new repertory, Shagimuratova says, she listens to recordings “just to know who’s sung it, especially if it’s Joan Sutherland or Renata Scotto. Also to Patti’s recordings, for tips on style.” But when she accepts a part and gets the score, the recordings are put away. She counts on hard work, on her own—she had piano training—and with the music staff. Experience lends perspective. “Singing my first Konstanze at the Met last year with James Levine was a great experience, but I thought, ‘Oh, coming out singing that ‘Martern aller Arten’ after the slow ‘Traurigkeit’—it’s so difficult!’ Now that I have sung Semiramide, I sit thinking, ‘Oh, Konstanze is so easy!’”

Applied, motivated study has been a lifelong constant. “If I hadn’t been in the Houston Studio, I would not have the career I have. I learned everything here! I had good voice instructors in the conservatory in Moscow, but here I learned even better technique and also style—what is Mozart style, what is proper bel canto style. No one had told me that before! Also languages, including English. I spoke one word, ‘Hello,’ when I arrived here—seriously. They gave me an interpreter for every vocal coaching.” 

Shagimuratova’s family went through difficult times in the 1990s, forced as ethnic Russians to leave her native Tashkent, in Uzbekistan, for Kazan and enduring an almost free-fall economy. “No sausage in the refrigerator. And then to come here and see fresh bananas and six types of tomatoes at Whole Foods—a different world! Plus, people in Texas are so friendly. We do not have all this smiling at home!” 

She proudly shared the stage with Joyce DiDonato, as Anna to the mezzo’s Elvira, in a Royal Opera Don Giovanni on tour in Tokyo in 2015. “I went to her dressing room and told her she was my role model from HGO Studio alumni. I learned so much from singing with her about phrasing and artistry—and I know I can call or e-mail her any time for advice. To me, this is so wonderful.”

The soprano cherishes the longterm support of HGO music director Patrick Summers and commends another mentor, Valery Gergiev, for scheduling and conducting a Mariinsky concert Lucia for her, so she could test her wings (after giving birth) before starting her well-received Met run in the part. She and Gergiev have recorded Rimsky-Korsakov’s Tsar Saltan; other Russian roles she’d like to showcase to Western audiences are Rimsky’s Marfa (Tsar’s Bride), Stravinsky’s Nightingale and Glinka’s Lyudmila, with which she won deserved acclaim opposite Mikhail Petrenko’s Ruslan in Dmitri Tcherniakov’s brilliant, challenging Bolshoi production (available on DVD). “Everything is so difficult with him—and everything is a great joy! I grew a lot as an artist from what he asked me to do, the dancing and acting—he gave me so much.”

Having won vociferous ovations in New York, Chicago, Houston, San Francisco and Los Angeles, Shagimuratova is very partial to warm American audiences. “Much harder in Moscow and Petersburg,” she says, “where everyone knows me!” 

Shagimuratova loved recording Semiramide with Mark Elder at the BBC Proms last September. “He had me do maybe ninety-five percent of what Colbran sang,” says Shagimuratova. “It’s really a zwischenfach role. We did add some high notes.” This experience has encouraged her to think of expanding toward dramatic-coloratura repertory such as Amalia in I Masnadieri, written for Jenny Lind’s phenomenal technique, or maybe Luisa Miller. She unveils her Elvira in Puritani opposite Lawrence Brownlee (her HGO Belmonte) at Chicago in February, and her first staged Semiramides follow in Munich in June. In July, she bids farewell to Mozart’s Queen of the Night, a signature role, at Salzburg, marking the tenth anniversary of her debut there. And then? “Heavier Mozart—Elettra and Vitellia in Clemenza. And though I still do and enjoy Anna—she’ll do what society expects and marry Ottavio—I’d consider Donna Elvira later. I’d love Maria Stuarda and Anna Bolena. NotAida, though someone told me recently I should sing Turandot! Well,” she says with a laugh, “voices grow.” spacer 

David Shengold has written for the programs of the Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Covent Garden and the Wexford Festival. 

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