Ahead of rehearsals, Natalya Romaniw, who sings the title role in Iolanta, talked to us about her career so far and the unique beauty of British summer opera.
Natalya Romaniw has been a regular visitor to Opera Holland Park since she made her debut in 2013, as Maliella in I gioielli della Madonna. At the time, her career was in its early stages – she had graduated from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama just two years earlier. ‘James and Mike have always been endlessly supportive of me and my career. I think they foresaw something that I certainly didn’t at the time.’
After glowing reviews and numerous awards, from First Prize at the 2012 Kathleen Ferrier Awards to a nomination in the Times Breakthrough category at the South Bank Sky Arts Awards last season, Romaniw is now aware of her critical acclaim, although she doesn’t let it change anything. ‘I’m fortunate to really enjoy what I do for a living and having critical acclaim is an added bonus… It definitely is a reminder to never take anything for granted, and inspires me to keep working hard, now more than ever.’
This summer she is certainly working hard, taking on three very different roles in the space of a few months. She comes to OHP having completed a run in ENO’s new opera Jack the Ripper: The Women of Whitechapel and another in The Bartered Bride at Garsington.
But a busy summer seems to be something that she enjoys. ‘I love the atmosphere, the audience and the setup of British summer opera. There’s something about being in a park or field that brings nature closer to our art, and I find it very rewarding and fulfilling.’
After Lisa in The Queen of Spades three years ago, Iolanta is the second Tchaikovsky role that Romaniw will have sung at OHP, and she has a prior familiarity with the role. ‘Iolanta was actually the first Tchaikovsky heroine I ever played, when I was at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.’
Tchaikovsky roles have been a big part of Romaniw’s career so far. She has also played Tatyana in Eugene Onegin multiple times, and she credits her Ukrainian heritage for her love of the music. ‘It is so dear to me. There is something almost inexplicable about the deep connection and affinity I have with it. The raw emotion of the music resonates with my Eastern European heritage from my late grandfather.’
It was this affinity, as well as the chance to explore the role of Iolanta again in more depth, which drew Romaniw back to OHP this summer. ‘I was desperate to have a second chance at playing her… I always tend to find that playing a role for the second time is far more informative and engaging than the first time. It’s like getting to know a friend for a bit – you discover new things about them each time you meet.’
Romaniw describes Iolanta as someone who is frustrated by her circumstances. ‘She is so desperate to discover the one thing she knows is missing, the beauty of sight. She is hugely intuitive, but also trapped and suffocated by her misfortune.’ However, unlike with Romaniw’s previous Tchaikovsky roles, this one does not end with tragedy. As we will see, ‘with Iolanta, love conquers all!’
Interview by Philippa Peall