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Classical Crossover Soprano Veronica Bell “The Antichrist of Opera”

      by NATASHA BARBIERI, EDITOR

Veronica Bell has had an incredible career in opera, on the concert stage, and in exploring her very own unique brand of crossover. She has been featured on the score to “Little Odessa” and earned praise and notoriety with her  cross-gender album “Les Frissons D’Amour.” 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Natasha:

     Tell us a little about your performance was it singing or ballet (or even skating?)

 

Veronica Bell:

     As a child, my interests were so all over the place that my parents could hardly keep up. I was stretched pretty thin between ice skating, singing, piano lessons, drawing, and gymnastics. I also wanted to be a math teacher, a doctor, and a fashion designer. But my biggest love was ballet, and I seriously considered becoming a professional dancer. My dreams were brutally crushed when I auditioned for Bolshoi Ballet school and was rejected. They told me I would grow too tall, and my ankles would be too weak to sustain my height. That was the end of it. But before my tears dried off, the director of my choir picked me as a soloist, and I moved on with my life without hesitation. I was nine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Natasha:

      When did you first start studying opera?

 

Veronica Bell:

      Actually, I started pretty late: I was 16. My first encounter with opera was quite tragic. When I was five, my dad took me to see the opera Hansel and Gretel. Since it was a fairytale, he thought I would love it too. I remember what happened as if it was yesterday: during the scene in the woods, I got so scared that I slid off my seat onto the floor, stuck my face into my dad’s lap, and started crying so hard, he had to take me home. It could’ve been the end of it, but it wasn’t. My family had a massive collection of LPs of classical music, including operas, and what they didn’t know was that when I was home alone, I would crank up the record player all the way and sing (or more like yell off the top of my lungs) along with the singers. By the time I finished high school, I knew quite a few operas from the beginning to the end.

Then, when I was about 16, my God Mother, who was a famous Russian Symphony conductor, heard me sing in the kitchen and told me she “wasn’t quite sure but I might have something there.” That’s how she put it. So I entered the Gnesin Conservatory of Music and graduated with a Masters in Vocal Performance. I auditioned for one of the opera companies in Moscow, was immediately accepted, and had my debut as Tatiana in Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin”. I sang one more role there, and then we moved to the US.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Natasha:

     I think Russian singers have a really rich and beautiful sound. Would you say those qualities are especially valued or cultivated?

 

Veronica Bell:

     I understand what you mean, and yes, Russian singers are known for their rich sound. That said, up until very recently, singers from Russia were mainly known as performers of the Russian repertoire that requires that kind of big sound. There were exceptions, of course, but very few. In the last 10-15 years, however, Russian opera singers started performing worldwide and sing all types of music: Italian, German, French, which requires different techniques. I am thrilled to see how the world gets to discover the wide variety of Russian talent these days.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Natasha:

     You have had some unique experiences as a singer such as singing for the Queen of Thailand. Please share some of your favorite moments!

 

Veronica Bell: 

     Yes, performing for the Queen of Thailand was thrilling and challenging. I first met Queen Sirikit in San Francisco, where I was invited to perform in her honor. The engagement was supposed to last about forty-five minutes; instead, I ended up singing for about two and a half hours. My presence was also required at the Queen’s departure, which happened around 1 AM. Frankly, I wasn’t too happy about it. I had a three-year-old son at home and half a dozen voice students to teach in the morning. So, on her way out, Her Majesty came up straight to me and said: “I hope you will be able to find some time to visit me in Thailand soon.” Sure, I thought to myself and forgot all about it before the end of the night. Lo and behold, four-five months later, I received an invitation from the Thai Embassy to fly out to Bangkok for Her Majesty’s birthday celebration. I spent magical two weeks in Bangkok, where I gave three performances at the Royal Palace alongside two soloists of the Vienna State Opera.

 

     Think of it, I’ve had many exciting professional encounters over the years. The year after I arrived in the US, I recorded a part of the soundtrack for the motion picture Little Odessa. I wasn’t supposed to be in this project, but the director James Gray fell in love with the song Love is Sacred by Georgy Sviridov that he heard me sing, and the song ended up being practically the central theme of the movie.

 

     Then, four years after I settled in the US, I went back to Russian to sing with the Moscow State Symphony orchestra. I performed at the Grand Conservatory Hall, the same hall where my grandmother used to take me to my first symphony concerts. I had my first solo performance as an American singer on the stage where Luciano Pavarotti and Vladimir Horowitz performed before I was even born. I remember myself standing by the stage door, thinking that in a minute I would be in front of the audience that I myself used to be a part of; that my grandmother will be there along with my parents and friends; that my first voice teacher will be greeting me after the concert, and I better be worthy of her attention and her time. It was incredibly exciting and totally surreal, but it was only the beginning. Then there was a tour in Europe and back in Moscow, and around the US, and again in Europe. The typical life of a performer went on, but it never became a routine for me. I have always been very conscious of how incredibly fortunate I am.

 

Natasha:

     Your biography mentions how you became more active on the concert stage to find more freedom. What are some of the repertoire you love combining that you maybe wouldn’t be able to do in a role?

 

Veronica Bell:

     Here is the thing about opera and me: we never really took to each other. Growing up, I wanted to be an operetta singer, just like my grandparents. Operetta seemed much more fun than the serious and, at times, heavy operatic music and sad stories where somebody would always end up dead. But in the US, operetta is not very popular except for maybe The Merry Widow. I would’ve had to move again, this time from the US to Europe, but it wasn’t a viable option with the family, a small child, very little money, and only a few English words in my arsenal. So I figured, if I became a concert soloist, my repertoire could be much more inclusive, and I could sing all the types of music I love, from Oratorio to Art Songs to Cabaret. And that’s pretty much what happened. That said, I keep a long list of operatic arias in my concert repertoire.

 

 

 

 

Natasha:

     Your albums have been innovative and you’ve sung pieces for all voice types. Tell us a little bit about how this started and the reaction of people when you sang songs like Una Furtiva Lagrima as a female?

 

Veronica Bell:

     Oh, my first album was an interesting project, to say the least. I decided to record a few of my favorite operatic arias regardless of what type of voice they were written for, as long as I could sing them. By that time, I no longer had an agent, no one to tell me what I could and could not sing, and it liberated me and gave me the freedom to create. As I’ve mentioned before, I had the entire operas memorized as a kid, and I sang all the parts in them, male and female. Una Furtiva Lagrima was one of my favorites, and I didn’t think of it as a tenor aria but rather a beautiful love song. No, I am not suggesting at all that women should perform male characters. On the contrary, I am pretty conservative when it comes to opera. I am not a big fan of modernizing classical repertoire or giving it drastic makeovers. But taken out of the context, as a concert piece, I don’t see anything wrong with the aria having its own life and a little bit of freedom and fun. Nessun Dorma has practically become a Classical Crossover Anthem in recent years, and everybody loves it no matter who sings it!

 

     Anyway, as soon I recorded the album, all hell broke loose. One of the pretty well-known musicians in Los Angles called me the Antichrist of Opera, and I love my title, and I wear it proudly. It didn’t discourage me at all. If anything, I immediately started thinking about what else I can do along the same lines. So, I asked my son, who is now a recording engineer and a great guitar player and a composer, to make me a metal arrangement of the famous chorus Va Pensiero from Verdi’s Nabucco. I absolutely loved the way it came out, and now we are planning on recording an album of metal arrangements of classical music.

 

Natasha:

     Your first crossover album was “Midnight Affairs.” Your voice is still very operatic but you play around with the arrangements and make these famous songs your own. How did this inspiration come about?

 

Veronica Bell:

     The idea of “Midnight Affairs” came to me suddenly when I was searching for something on youtube and randomly came across a video of violinist Gidon Kremer playing Piazzolla’s “Oblivion”. I have heard this piece so many times before, but Kremer’s performance stopped me in my tracks. I suddenly started hearing a human voice in the sound of the violin. This music practically possessed me and I couldn’t think of anything else for weeks trying to figure out how I could sing this piece. I even found some French lyrics, but they totally took the mystery out of the music, so I discarded the idea. I thought of singing it as a vocalize, but then I was losing the violin. I finally wrote out my own arrangement where the voice and the violin became a duet, and before I even realized it, I was planning an album. It took about a year to finalize all the ideas, to complete the orchestrations, to find musicians, a studio, a producer. Eventually, all the pieces fell into places, and the album came out in the spring of 2019. It is currently playing on over 50 radio stations in the US and Canada and is available on Amazon, Spotify, and iTunes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Natasha:

      You recently started an online show during the quarantine. What have been some of your favorite parts of this so far?

 

Veronica Bell:

      I started my online series the “Happy Hour with Bell and Friends” out of fear. When the pandemic broke out, and all my concerts were suddenly canceled for the foreseeable future, I went into panic mode. I realized that if I don’t find a way to continue performing, I will not be able to force myself to practice because it felt so hopeless. I needed a goal, a reason to keep singing. So, I spent a few weeks learning about giving voice lessons online to be able to continue teaching my students and also decided to live stream small house concerts for friends on Facebook every Sunday. I would put up my phone, turn on my backing tracks, and sing for about half an hour.

      But in two short weeks, it was no longer satisfying, and I started asking my friends if they would like to join me. To my astonishment, I discovered that everyone felt the same way: musicians were more worried about losing their live performances than even about getting sick. We started performing from our homes: pianists, singers, instrumentalists, and the show grew into a real concert series. It also became a bit too overwhelming to do it every week, so we are doing it now every last Sunday of the month. All the concerts are free of charge, and all musicians are also performing for free. We have no sponsors and are sustained only by our enthusiasm and occasional small donations, so it is truly a labor of love. The upside is, we are all continuing to create and inspire each other to go on. It also gives our audience confidence that we are still here for them. Because, let’s face it, when the quarantine is over, and it will be over one day, and we start performing live again, we will have to hit the ground running. People will be starved for live music after such a long dreadful halt, and we will be ready to bring the joy back into their lives.

 

 

 

To keep up with the wonderful Veronica Bell visit her official website: www.veronicabellsoprano.com

NATASHA BARBIERI, EDITOR

CREATOR OF CLASSICAL CROSSOVER MAGAZINE. MEZZO-SOPRANO SINGER, 'SINGING FOR THE LOVE OF IT' FACEBOOK.COM/NATASHABARBIERIMUSIC

Clouzine magazine

march 2020

READ interview HERE

PANORAMA LOS ANGELES

JULY 2019

© 2020 Veronica Bell Soprano