Soprano Maida Hundeling, who debuted, for example, at the Metropolitan Opera in New York last season, returned to the Janáček Opera after a year. The singer known from leading opera houses around the world will perform in Brno again in the role of Tosca in Puccini's opera of the same name. The production of the local artistic director Jiří Heřman already impressed during its premiere. The director based his concept on the connection between the story of the singer Tosca in the environment of the complicated political situation in the Roman Republic in 1800 and the story of one of its extraordinary performers in the second half of the last century – opera superstar Maria Callas. As the critics wrote, it is a theatrically impressive and inspiring interconnection between the fates of the two women, adored opera divas, who were in love in politically complicated times that swallowed them whole. Mainly Maida Hundeling excelled in the main roles of this Brno production.
This week, you are returning to the Janáček Opera in a production of Puccini's Tosca. Your new partner in the role of Mario Cavaradossi will be Danish tenor Magnus Vigilius. Is it the first time you two will meet on stage?
I am really looking forwarding to returning to Brno and the Janáček Opera. I still remember how warmly everyone welcomed me here during the premiere and actually my debut in Brno in May 2015. Magnus and I have never sung together. This is the first time we will meet and I firmly believe that we will enjoy our production.
What qualities do you think the perfect partner should have on stage?
I like it when we have mutual respect for each other, the same enthusiasm and respect for the composition which we are working together on. This goes hand in hand with enthusiasm for the composer and their music. I like it when my fellow performers are creative and inspire me. I like to perform "with someone," not just "next to someone" and certainly not "against someone".
You are returning to the production of Tosca more than a year later. How do you like their concept in Brno and the connection to the now legendary Maria Callas?
I really like Brno's Tosca. Although it is kind of a tribute to Maria Callas, I got the opportunity to play my own Tosca with all the finesse, which I feel in her. However, the confrontation with Maria Callas opened up other perspectives of this role for me, I was inspired by her approach to life without being forced to imitate her or try to sing Tosca like her. So it is a bit different Tosca and I think it is a very interesting one.
If you were the real Tosca, would you do anything differently?
I would trust my partner more and I would not let him get so easily upset by Scarpio's insults. And I thing I could not commit murder...and later kill myself. So it would become a very boring story.
You have been singing in the role of Floria Tosca very successfully for fifteen years. You debuted with it in the Vienna Volksoper in 2010. Has your approach to this character change over that time somehow?
My opinion of Tosca as a character has certainly not changed but my interpretation has naturally changed during that time. I adjust something pretty much after every performance and I strongly hope that each change is for the better. I feel the huge range of colours and emotions this role offers me. I try to constantly hone the role and make the character more interesting.
Why do you think this title is so popular? Last year, Tosca was the ninth most frequently played opera in the world.
In Tosca, Puccini managed to place everything at the right place at the right moment and, moreover, the story has everything it should have: love, jealousy, intrigue, infidelity, revenge, danger, fear, despair. I would call it a Love-Tragedy-Crime, something between a love tragedy and a "crime story". It is a story that can be placed in any time and it will always work.
In 2010, you sang Elisabeth in Wagner's Tannhäuser at La Scala in Milan under the baton of Zubin Mehta. How was that experience?
These are opportunities that you will never forget and that make every singer very happy. In addition to the excellent conductor, the Milan production also had an amazing directorial concept, behind which stood Carlus Padrissa, a member of La Fura dels Baus. He moved the whole story to India, so you can only imagine.
Your repertoire is very broad, but a certain focus on Wagnerian and Straussian roles, which are very demanding in terms of voice, can be traced in it. How do you keep your voice in good shape?
It took me several years before I understood what is best for my voice. For example, very early on I played Elizabeth in Tannhäuser, but it took me a whole five years until I added a double role of Elisabeth and Venus in one evening to my repertoire. Only then I took another important step – I played Senta in The Flying Dutchman. Again, I am taking my time with another similarly demanding role. This gives me the opportunity to grow with the roles and grow into other ones. At this time, I am preparing Strauss's Elektra, instead of having to sing it somewhere I just want to add it to the repertoire. And I am giving myself time. You have to learn to say no, get plenty of sleep, eat healthy (I am a vegetarian) and take walks in nature. I love hiking and gardening. And you need to have a positive attitude towards life.
You spent your childhood in Tunisia. Is this reflected in your life and your approach to art?
Although I was born in Tunisia, my parents are both German. The fact that my parents worked abroad for a long time caused us to have a very open household. Our family and our house were always open for friends of different nationalities and ethnicities, religions and cultures. It taught me to keep an open mind and be able to adapt.
Do you come from a musical family?
(Laughs)… No, no! Not in the literal sense of the word. On both sides we are farmers and agriculturists but we all used to sing folk songs with much love and passion, carols during Christmas, of course, and we also used to sing in the church choir.
You have a number of roles in Czech operas in your repertoire. Last season, you even debuted as the Foreign Princess in Opera Houston. You also sing Libuše and Šárka but also Jenufa in Jenufa and Katerina in Greek Passion. Leaving aside the difficulties of the Czech language, how close are you to Czech music, especially the music of Martinů and Janáček?
Honestly? When I started studying Katerina in the Greek Passion, I had a feeling about it as wonderful as about Rusalka or Marenka in The Bartered Bride. I immediately felt at home and this feeling deepened when I got the role of Jenufa in Janáček's Jenufa. Especially Janáček's music speaks to me very intensely.