In 2011, tenor René Barbera became the first-ever recipient of all three awards of the pretigious Operalia Competition. The French audience had then the chance to discover him in 2013 at the Opéra Bastille (I Puritani). René Barbera returns this month to Paris, to sing Almaviva in Il barbiere di Siviglia !
Can you tell us about what decided you to sing and about your debut ?
I became a singer somewhat by accident. Suffice it to say that a lot of people had a hand in guiding me toward performing since I was 10 years old. My first voice teacher strongly suggested I rethink my degree choice of Music Education and purse Vocal Performance instead. I trusted that this man knew what I was capable of, so I took his suggestion to heart and decided to go the performance route instead. At the time, I was unaware that this meant opera. I had never even seen an opera but I didn’t realize, until about a year ago, that Amahl and the Night Visitors was considered an opera. I had performed Amahl as a boy soprano. So I guess I’ve been an opera singer for quite some time !
As for my debut – I assume you’re referring to the debuts that I have coming up. This season has been so full of debuts that it is hard to keep track. So far they have all gone splendidly ! I am very much looking forward to my La Scala, Bayerische Staatsoper, Palau De Les Arts, Teatro Verdi, and Stuttgart Oper debuts that are all coming up from now until the end of July ! There is quite a lot of repertoire that I will be working on during the next several months and I am excited about getting to work.
In 2011, you won the 3 prizes at the Operalia Competition. How do you remember this very special competition for you ?
I remember that night very well ! It was, honestly, very surreal and I had a hard time believing that it was actually happening. I had focused on winning all 3 prizes since I had been accepted to compete. I have always purposely focused on visualizing only the most positive and best outcome imaginable. So that night was literally a dream come true as I had been dreaming of winning all 3 prizes for months but I never thought it would ACTUALLY happen.
I still remember when Plácido called my name for the first two awards. I could not hear what he said and my friends actually pushed me forward, saying “it’s you! It’s you!” The second time they called my name I looked down the row of singers and nobody stepped forward and they were looking at me… so I went to receive the award completely shocked that I had been called again. By the third award that was presented I was nearly in tears.
You made your debut at the Opera de Paris in 2013 in I Puritani, how was this experience ?
Honestly this experience was as exciting as it was terrifying. I had very few rehearsals and it was also my role debut ! I remember very clearly walking up the stairs to sing “A Te O Cara” and I tripped up the stairs—I didn’t fall but I lost my balance—and from that point on was trembling. That was not just my Paris Opera debut and role debut it was my Western-European Operatic debut !
Are you excited to sing another time in the Michieletto production of Il barbiere di Siviglia in Paris ?
I am very excited to sing this production again! I had such a wonderful time performing it the first time in 2014 and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to do it again and get the chance to expand on the last time.
How could you define your voice today ?
Today, I would define my voice as much more lyric and full than it was in 2014. I have begun to sing heavier repertoire such as the Duke in Rigoletto and Alfredo in La traviata but I am still very much capable of the agility necessary for Rossini.
What are your main projects today and which roles would you like to sing in the future ?
My main projects coming up will be Don Pasquale at Teatro Alla Scala, La Cenerentola at Bayerische Staatsoper, L’italiana in Algeri at Teatro Verdi in Trieste, La Clemenza di Tito at Palau De les Arts in Valencia, and I Puritani in Stuttgart.
In the future I have a couple of productions of Elixir of Love, La Sonnambula, Maria Stuarda, I Capuletti e I Montecchi, and some others. Things that I would like to sing in the future – that is a tough one. At the moment, I am looking to change my focus from Rossini to Donizetti and Bellini with a little bit of Verdi here and there. That is the direction my career is headed and I’m QUITE excited for it at the moment.
A dream role for me is Rodolfo in La Bohème … too obvious for a Tenor ?
If you had to choose one role as « perfect » for your voice, which one would it be ?
At the moment the role that I feel is truly perfect for my voice and for my personality would be Nemorino in Elisir d’Amore. In college a teacher once called me a living, walking, breathing Nemorino. I’ve always enjoyed that story.
Is it difficult to live a « normal life » as a singer when you are performing all around the world ?
It is quite difficult to live a “normal life” as a singer. It is hard to have a routine when you’re rarely in the same place for longer than 2 months. I won’t be in my own bed from 26 February to 26 July of this year, for example, and trying to juggle this sort of thing can be a challenge. Some of the challenges that come along with traveling are that your bed is very rarely the kind of bed you like, the pillows are usually too small or there are not enough of them, the kitchen is usually missing important items to make cooking a reality, and inevitably you forget something important that you need to replace as soon as you realize it’s missing. Then comes the challenge of never seeing your family and friends and missing the simple things in life – like taking a long ride on a motorcycle after a long day of work.
The truth is that, no matter how difficult this life is, if I were in one place for longer than 2 months I’d probably be bored out of my mind and would long to be on the road. As much as I hate to admit it… I have a strong case of Wanderlust.
Which artists would you like to work with ?
I still dream of sharing the stage with Plácido Domingo to be sure ! And here is one most people would never expect me to say —Eminem. It is a dream of mine to collaborate with him at some point on some project in the future. I have been a huge fan of his since I was young and I know a large amount of his music.
As for operatic artists whose name is not Plácido Domingo – I have no real goals in mind. I hope to have the honor of working with the best in the business as I am aiming to achieve the same quality of musicianship and art that they have achieved in their careers.