DIELLI EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH ERMONELA JAHO ON MARCH 8, INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY/
-Thank you for speaking to Dielli on this special day for women!/
As the recipient of the 2016 International Opera Award and an opera soprano in high demand, how do you measure success? Is it the reviews of the critics, the admiration of the audience or the respect of the fellow opera singers?
I give my best at any performance, by stepping on the stage as if for the first time or the last time. I have no expectations from critics or the audience. Success will remain a relative term. The audience responds to an honest and heartfelt performance. I strive to give my all at any given performance in order to allow the heart to speak through the language of music. The voice is only a medium that reaches from the artist’s soul to the audience.
-You had stated that an important quality of a singer is to be an open-minded observant and archivist of one’s own experience as well as other’s. How do you convey that in your performance?
Indeed, each note is an expression of the human condition. From the ancient times, the plays were meant to provide a form of therapy to the soul. In addition, having lived in Albania under harsh conditions, I have a personal insight into a deep dimension of love and sacrifice. Conveying this on stage with credibility and compassion is what brings the public back to the seats of the theater. Being vulnerable and imperfect, often perceived as weaknesses, are qualities that are most relatable and therefore universal in expressing our humanity.
-What separates the Cio-Cio San character as portrayed by you? How do you embody on stage the qualities that make her unique?
Mostly her passion and intense feelings of self-sacrifice and unconditional love which are defying qualities for Albanian women. These are the emotional keys that unlock Cio-Cio San’s soul. There are great voices by truly great performers of the title role. In my view, each note of Madama Butterfly stems from a heart that does not know how to hold back. In the context of intense love and pain, I have had some compelling role models from Albanian women throughout history and particularly from my mother. I proudly follow in their footsteps. In truth, much like Cio-Cio San, I am reserved yet on stage I feel like I am able to let go of my personal guard, and show her in all of the beautiful colors of her soul. Interestingly, as an Albanian woman I portray a Japanese female character precisely thanks to a powerful dichotomy that I saw embodied in my mother’s essence. She has incredible strength of character despite her delicate appearance. She is equally reserved and passionate; quiet and outspoken.
-When you are not singing opera, what music do you like to listen to? Do you have a favorite composer or song?
I listen to instrumental music of various composers in my spare time. I wish to play some folk songs from Southern Albania. I am still unable to go to the end of a folkloric song without tearing up. Most of my family members including my mother were singers of Polyphony songs. Each time I wish to relive memories of the past as a young adult in Albania through those songs, I am overwhelmed by emotions and nostalgia. As far as books, I am partial to Psychology and related subjects. I feel drawn to it as I try to explore and understand more the human psyche especially at times when the very core of humanity faces new challenges. In today’s world, there is a sense of dehumanization that needs to be addressed. In this regard, I am an incorrigible Carl Yung follower.
-How can opera as a classic art form compete -and even stay relevant- in the fast-paced present time driven by constant transition, and instant flow of communication?
Opera appeals to our true humanity in the sense that it values the spiritual over the materialistic properties. While the daily reality has lowered our sensibility towards tragic events, opera intensifies and overemphasizes experiencing such feelings, which connect us as humans. I hope that Opera will continue to maintain such high artistic standards and not be transformed into a business transaction. Its multi-dimensionality i.e. the music, the theater, the choreography, provide an emotional explosion of great multitude, which serves as a reminder of what it is that we are missing in our daily lives. It is a celebration of our human spirit in its purest form – that’s why opera is still here.
-Opera singers learn the lines of a specific character in the respective language of the libretto? Does it help to have deeper knowledge of the original language? More specifically, does speaking Italian as good as you do have an advantage in portraying Madama Butterfly?
Certainly. There are certain nuances and linguistic colorations that add flavor to the performance. I remember in the past, when I was performing a Greek ballad, I researched the pitch and emphasis of every word in detail, in order to give my best interpretation. Singing involves much more than one’s voice. I try to connect to the human spirit through my voice.
-What is your biggest accomplishment? What are you most proud of?
Staying positive while believing in diligence and persistence.
-What advise would you give to your younger self? What would you say to the 18 year old Ermonela today?
That stepping out of the comfort zone is the point when you would tap into opportunities that defy imagination. Your journey would be challenging and rewarding. Being different from your teenage friends, and having to rise above personal suffering, would teach you the value of hard work, would test your will and ultimately would bring you to live your dream. You would be tested by adversity a few times. Yet you shall overcome extreme hardships and episodes when you would be on the verge of abandoning your aspiration. Pursuing your dream through tremendous work and sacrifice is life’s true test. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
As a guest speaker and a Master course instructor, I relay to my students the significance of rising above life’s circumstances. Experiencing hardship opens a window into the spirit of the artist that allows a deeper connection with our own humanity. Being imperfect and vulnerable while going through personal struggles are the qualities that resonate with the opera goers at any opera house, anytime, anywhere.
Good luck and much continues success!