Let's Dance To the Song They're Playin' On the Radio”
An interview with Hristina Lazarova
By Geri Decheva
In September last year, I went to Eisenstradt. I had never been there and I took the small window of free travelling for a day’s visit. I went to the Esterhazy Castle. It was a hot, calm day, the calm before the storm that came in October and, well the whole winter of 2020/2021. The famous Haydnsaal in the castle is probably the most stunning music hall I had ever seen. The orchestra was playing, getting ready for the evening performance of Beethoven’s symphonies. I sat at the back, where it was allowed, with the mask and all, keeping a healthy distance from the people, and watched the orchestra. And I envied them – a small oasis on the stage, a gathering of people trusting each other, united by the divinity of music, engulfed in beauty of all that’s human, sharing an emotion, connection, living through music and passing that vibration to the only observer – me. I had that picture engraved in my mind, while I was talking to Hristina Lazarova, a charming young lady. We talked about dancing and opera singing and all that comes with it.
Q: What would you like our readers to know about you?A: I am an opera singer and a dancer – they go together. I have also graduates Basic Music Pedagogy, which allows me to teach singing and dancing. I also play in the theater, for which I underwent years of training, too. Music was my childhood dream and I have fought hard for many years to make it come true. I have been in Austria for 12 years. I came here to study and my intention was to go back home, but we cannot plan the nice things ahead of us. I’ve met great people, nice things happened and I stayed. I’m grateful to be involved in what I have always wanted to do with my life.
Q: This choice, this calling, shall I say, how did it happen? When did you know?A: It was a conscious choice, which I made at the age of six. My family was living with my grandparents and at the weekends my task was to set the table, which I hated. One Saturday, while I was setting the table, they played “The Drinking Song” from “La Traviata”. I started singing and dancing and the chore was no longer a burden. I remember telling my mum: “I want to sing and dance like this!” So, all the chores were fun, as long as I was singing and dancing. I was happy, although it might have seemed weird to the others. My friends were listening to rock and pop music. I also love rock, but I’ve never wanted to sing anything other than opera.
Q: Was your family supportive of your choice? You know how many parents plan their children’s future towards high-end jobs?
A: At the beginning, not so much, but later, yes. I started dancing at the age of eight and when I was fourteen, I started playing the piano. My piano teacher took me to meet mezzosoprano Galya Pavlova-Boteva, who became my first teacher and supporter as a singer. When I was eight, the worst punishment for me was: “If you don’t do this or that, we’ll stop you from dance lessons.” Dancing was my anchor in difficult times, my inspiration, the way I vented my stress, and also a sport, which is what my parents fully supported. But dancing is an art. It develops your personality on many levels. You gain social competence, you learn to communicate, to respect and to trust your dance partner. It also enhances your senses and perception of the world.
Q: “All those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music” This is a quote by Friedrich Nietzsche. How would you comment on it?A: I have been teaching children for a few years now. Kids find it extremely easy to express themselves through any art. All children react to music; sometimes the reaction is intense and almost immediate, sometimes, not as much. To some people music remains something foreign, but they’re still capable of feeling the emotion the artist is trying to share and convey – this is the performers’ most important task. We tell a story. We are not there to be liked, not really. Yes, applause is important, but the greater achievement is when you know you have reached and provoked the audience, you’ve made them think and then it is not so crucial whether you’ve sung that note the right way, or whether your movements were precise. You have sparkled an emotion – that’s all that matters.
Q: How do you see the now and the future of dancing and opera with all the technology we are given?
A: For sure, the Internet provides easy and cheap access to loads of information. If you want to watch something that is of interest to you, technology provides access and affordability. But the emotion and the dynamic connection and the atmosphere of a live performance is not there. No recording can recreate them. A live performance allows the performer and the audience to share an emotion and that’s what is always missing in a recording.
Q: How does music art cope these days, during the past year?
A: I believe all crises lead to progress. If we cannot look outside now, we should take the time to look within, find answers about ourselves, which we have avoided till now. Art is changing and new forms are emerging. Teaching art online proved possible, but without the live contact not much progress can be made. That’s not up for discussion. Online concerts with people recording their part at home is a solution, but it’s not comparable to the experience of living through the music on stage with everybody involved. Now is the time to learn to be completely and consciously present in the now. Fear of what might be will bring you down.
Q: Everyone can dance. What makes a person a dancer?
A: Everyone who wants to express themselves through dance is already a dancer in a way. In my profession, dancing and singing go hand in hand. If you can get in touch with yourself through dancing, you are a dancer. When I dance, my mind is free and these are the moment of epiphany: ideas emerge, puzzles arrange themselves because the physical activity of the body frees the spirit. It doesn’t matter whether you earn your money with dancing and singing, or whether you do it as a hobby. In my profession, we don’t say “I go to work”; we say “I go to a rehearsal or a performance.” The hard work is done at home. An aria of five minutes takes years and years of training, as much effort as athletes put into preparing for a competition. For a certain part, even a short one, you need weeks, even months for the choreography. But when I am onstage, I am so fulfilled and I know that all those efforts have paid off. The little time on stage takes loads of years of work.
Q: Any artist probably strives for perfection. What is perfection to you?
A: First, we learn to see our mistakes, which may not be visible to the audience. But people sense if a performer is in harmony with themselves, if they believe in themselves and uncertainty is easily spotted. However, if you only concentrate on the mistakes, from a psychological point of view, it leads to more insecurity. That goes for any art. We start seeing ourselves as a piece of meat, without being sure what meal we are suitable for. Although we may feel imperfect, we must keep going on stage and keep the contact with the people – this is the best teaching method because every time we become better and better. I started singing my first arias when I was sixteen and every time I performed them, I learned new things about the aria, about myself, and about my instrument: my voice and my body. I am the instrument, I am the musician, and I am the person who experiences all that. This symbiosis makes the human voice the most powerful instrument of all.
Q: Mila Kunis says that there is a Black Swan in every one of us. Can we ponder a bit on that?
A: We all have a dark side and it’s bound to express itself at times. We need to get to know this dark side, never to suppress it. We have to control it. Striving for perfection has led many artists to complete burnout, especially in a surrounding where the competition is fierce. It’s normal to want to be perfect, but that need must be within a healthy limit. Unfortunately, we get to know our limits the hard way, by going beyond them. The audience can be uncompromising and cruel, but also grateful and when you excite them, they are ready to forgive any imperfection. There are some colleagues, especially among those coming from other continents, who start playing instruments, singing and dancing at a very early age; they have exquisite technique, but at times they lack the emotion and that certain obsession with the music. One of my professors taught us how to achieve balance in striving for perfection and that our task as musicians is to provoke, teach, and entertain. We have the power to share our vision, the vision of the composer, and the vision of the choreographer, so that every person in the audience can find out something about themselves through what we do.
Q: How does one cope with competition in your field? Does it motivate or is it a source of negativity?
A: Competition is not a bad thing and as you said, it’s a motivator. When you see someone doing something better than you, you try to become as good as they are. You develop unconventional ways to use your instrument. In my case, that’s my voice and my body. The market is huge and you cannot always live on becoming a musician because very few get to the top. Naturally, there’s tension in any team and everyone should work on themselves to control these negative vibes. I try to take the positive and to keep away from anything that clouds my vision. Competition can be brutal, but here’s what I think: If I can learn from somebody else, maybe somebody else can learn from me.
Q: When is the right time to start dancing? Is there an age limit?
A: There’s no age limit. In the dance studio, I have seen people who were fifty, sixty, even seventy years old. Couples who haven’t done anything creative together get closer to each other, get to know each other again and restore and share that connection. Dance is also a great way to keep physically fit. I have a friend with cerebral paralysis and she spends every minute of her free time in the dance hall. Dance is that free space where you can be whoever you want. When I was fourteen, I had to stop my dance lessons because I was applying to a language school. That’s when I felt that urgent need to find myself again. After two years of absence from the dance hall, I went back unsure and worried if I could get back in shape. At that time, I was also singing. But when I went back, with the heavy load from school, I kept going five times per week for three hours every evening to dance. At the weekend, I did theater along with singing and playing the piano. I used to get up at four in the morning to do my homework, although I came back home at ten in the evening. Yes, I was tired, but that fulfillment helped me through school without feeling the stress of everything else I had to do. I developed endurance and a strong sense of responsibility, as well as a rhythm of life.
Q: What do you think of women in the 21st century? Are they developing for better or for worse?
A: There are quite big steps taken towards equality. Some women have chosen to be women and men, too. We feel we can be self-sufficient. A woman can have a different role in life and every one of us has the right to choose what role suits her best. It’s equally admirable being a mother or a professional, as long as the woman feels comfortable in that role. This choice must be respected by society and never questioned.
Q: Would you say you are a happy person?
A: Actually, yes. I haven’t reached full satisfaction in many areas, but the moment you are void of ideas and of the urge to move forward, to do something for yourself and for other people, you stop being alive. I am happy with the people I am surrounded by. People should understand that happiness is in the inspiration to be provoked to do something new, to reach higher.
I have always admired people who know what they want to achieve, who have made their own choices. That goes all the more for people who create art. I have never appreciated art for the sake of money. The body might be fed, clad in designer clothes, lying comfortable on an exotic beach, but as long as the soul is hungry and neglected, it will keep banging and clanging angrily with every pulse of the heart. You can use that rhythm to dance, to sing, to run, to move, as long as you water the budding desires of the soul. Right, there is a great song coming on in my playlist. I might leave you here. I suddenly felt like dancing and as awfully as I sing, I don’t care. Neither should you.