The young rising opera star, Montenegrin soprano Tamara Radjenovic made her operatic debut at the Mediterranean Opera Festival in Sicily, where she performed Mimi in La Boheme. In September 2018, she debuted in the United States at the Carnegie Hall in New York. Playing the piano from the age of six, Tamara has always been musically gifted. She graduated from the Royal College of Music, in London Voice Performance and was awarded a scholarship to complete her Master’s degree at the same college. Proven to be young opera promise, at the age of nineteen and twenty she was chosen by legendary Madame Montserrat Caballé to sing at her Gala Concerts of the Most Beautiful Voices in Zaragoza, Spain. Known as Montserrat’s last student, she visited the late diva for lessons on regular basis. After the recent concert in Belgrade, we spoke with Tamara about her career, her past and, her promising future.
Did you always know you were destined to become an opera singer?
I always knew I was going to be a performer. Since I was a child, I would often make little shows for my parents dancing and singing in front of them. When I was six, I enrolled in music school to play the piano… And that’s where it all started. At the beginning of high music school, I attended one concert of classical music and heard some of the opera tunes. That was the moment when I finally found out the art form where I can sing, act and dress in beautiful dresses.
What were your first experiences of opera?
As a spectator, it was exactly at that performance I listened live at the age of fifteen when I decided to start singing. When I was sixteen I applied to the Salzburg Opera Festival for an opera project for young talents. Then I got the role of Carmen and performed with the members of the Vienna Philharmonic. It was really a mini production, but it strengthened my belief that I want to do this job.
How would you describe your voice?
I have to say nobody has ever asked me this, and you made me think now. I am usually very self-critical, and I don’t really flatter myself. However, if that self-critical Tamara would rather give some compliment to herself, I would have described my voice as a warm voice willing to share the whole palette of emotions it has. I am said to be a lyrical soprano with a slightly darker color that is characteristic of us from this region.
What were the most important things you learned at the Royal College of Music in London?
For sure how to be professional. It is a very important lesson for us musicians. Also, how to be mentally stronger no matter how hard it is. The career of a musician is full of ups and downs, and it is crucial to be able to cope with any obstacle you have.
In what role and where did you make your professional operatic debut?
In Sicily at the Mediterranean Opera Studio Festival as Mimi in Puccini’s La Boheme four years ago at the age of twenty-two. I have prepared with a great team of world-renowned singers, coaches, and conductors from the Royal Opera House and the Metropolitan Opera. I have a really nice memory of that project.
What are some of your proudest career moments so far?
I am really proud of every achievement I have had. Every performance is a new step, and I always try to make myself better. But certainly, two solo concerts at Carnegie Hall in New York are one of those moments when you feel like you are in a dream.
Could you select one or two roles that have special meaning for you?
Mimi from La Boheme definitely has a special meaning for me. La Traviata also has a very special place in my heart because it is my favorite opera. It is very demanding to perform the whole role both vocally and dramatically but the music is just so beautiful from the overture till the end.
Being a good opera singer additionally requires significant acting skills and star appeal. How much of your formal training was focused on acting?
My parents very often make jokes that I studied drama in some previous life because it suits me very well to make some acting scenes at home. Yes, I had acting classes during my studies as well as speech classes where we would recite poems and parts of Shakespeare’s dramas. I loved those classes that were led by such an English lady, and her beautiful English pronunciation is still in my ears, and it is really my goal to speak real RP English. At my recent concert with the famous baritone David Bizic, I saw what it looks like when someone is not only a good singer but also a great actor on stage.
Although opera singers are part of a long and strong tradition, little do we know about how they live, learn, work and excel in their contemporary pursuit. Can you tell us something about that?
Our life is like a life of an athlete. I always say that. When I was a teenager, I didn’t understand that and I was relying only on my talent and my voice. However, I am very conscious now that voice is just a part of the whole ‘’machinery’’ involved that makes you a singer. Many famous singers that I know would say the same. Besides that, yes, we are working on ourselves whole life. Pretty much in every profession if you want to be good, you always need to progress and learn something new. What makes this profession even more demanding is the fact that the voice is changing through age and practice. So we really have a lot of responsibility for how we guide it and how we train it in order to constantly keep it fresh and in a good shape. As you say, we are part of the strong tradition, but we need to be modern in a way following the trends of nowadays which means taking care of how we look as well and how we present our work on social media, etc. It’s not only about being a good singer who mastered the vocal technique. But it’s much more than that.
Tamara Radjenovic and Makris Symphony Orchestra in Belgrade
You were a protegee of the famous opera singer Montserrat Caballe, and one of her last students. What do you recall with fondness about her?
Oh, what I don’t recall… Montserrat will always be in my heart. She was such a humble diva, so intelligent, so patient to listen, to give you advice, to support… What she left to this world are the memories that the music world will keep for many, many years to come… I was so fortunate to have been working with her. It was really a great honor.
The late rockstar singer Freddie Mercury was in awe with Montserrat’s voice, and according to director David Mallet, he was never as nervous as the day they met. Was your experience similar? Did you prepare for it in any special way?
Many singers felt like that when they were meeting Montserrat. I remember in the Monsterrat’s masterclasses in Zaragoza I attended where we actually met and where I sang at her Gala concerts. People were shaking in front of her in their thirties. It was unbelievable for me. But I was nineteen-year-old girl who was so brave and I just had a wish to learn from her and… Honestly, I wasn’t nervous. If I had been a bit older, I would have been nervous for sure. I think that childish approach made me feel relaxed and she really liked my singing and, I think, my courage as I was the youngest participant. However, later when we started a deeper collaboration there were times when I couldn’t sing anything in front of her. When I stopped and she asked me what it was about, I told her: ‘’Well, you sang this aria the best in the world.’’ She told me her famous sentence: ‘’Please do not listen to other singers.’’
What have you learned from her?
I learned that a career is a long-term process that you have to work on gradually and diligently. There is no shortcut and glory overnight in this art. Everything is deserved by many years of hard work. She taught me to listen to myself and follow my own path and not to compare myself to others but to enjoy my art to the fullest.
What kind of effect do you think this had on your career?
I met many colleagues, amazing opera singers thanks to Montserrat. On the one hand, her recommendation opened many doors for me, and on the other hand, it obliged me to give my best. She was special after all, and if I had a part of her lavish career, I would be happy. I recently met her brother Carlos in Barcelona who is also a fantastic musician. It was a little difficult for me … these are people who have heard a lot of good singers through many years of their lives and they are asking you more and more when it comes to singing technique.
What was the biggest obstacle or difficulty for you and how did you navigate around it?
Great question. I think we all come across difficulties and obstacles in this profession. Or any other profession, of course… But we as artists are very vulnerable and those obstacles can be taken very hard and that’s where the real problems start. I did have a period when I felt things are not going well asking myself am I really meant to be a classical music singer. Those doubts I had mostly during college time. However, thanks to the guidance of the people around me who worked hard on my vocal technique, they constantly were telling me that ‘’God gave me the gift to be able to sing, and it is my duty to sing’’. I guess that little faith in me never died even when I had difficult moments… And who knows, I am still young, I will cope for sure with many obstacles but… Those words of my coaches and singing teacher I will always remember and they will be a little guide for me.
Tamara Radjenovic at the Kolarac Concert Hall, Belgrade
Is it important to have an agent?
A good quality agency is, of course, very important. From the very beginning of singing and especially when I entered professional waters, I have my own management as well as PR. They take care of my development, take care of the presentation, and know exactly when it is for what the right moment. I am now 26, but a lot of things are behind me, precisely because I have been dedicatedly guided through my early career … My job is to work on my technique, to learn roles, to progress, and there are those who are in charge of my career.
Is look as really as important as a singer’s voice and stagecraft?
It is. In the world we live in, the physical appearance of any kind of entertainment job is pretty much important. I try to look presentable (laughs). But to be honest, I also try being fashionable to tell people that opera singers, classical musicians can be cool as well although they are performing a very ‘’old’’ (but the gold of course laughs) music.
Opera has had a long history with fashion. In style and manners, it is firmly set in the 18th century. What is the most iconic costume for you?
Wow. I love your questions. So inspiring and that doesn’t always happen. For me, the most iconic costume is the one Maria Callas was wearing in Tosca in 1964 Franco Zefirelli’s production at the Royal Opera House. That red velvet dress with embellishments.
Female opera singers are often regarded as divas. They possess a certain look and glamorous appeal. What is your approach to style when you perform?
I adore the glamorous looks. For me is important how I am dressed on the stage although in the first place I think about how I sing and about the emotion, I give but… The dress is the costume and part of the show. I will tell you that recently I was doing the new dresses for the concerts in Belgrade and Novi Sad. Two days before my travel to Serbia, my dresses were not finished and I literally got ill worrying about how would I look. The dresses were finished at the end and I felt happy. Don’t get me wrong, as I said, art always has the first place but… The part of art for me is how we look on stage. Those dresses are made by artists. I always try to keep that glamorous tone in my dresses for performances and to keep it classy but still following new trends of materials etc.
When does the audience have the next chance to see you on stage again?
By the end of the year, I will have my concert debut in Russia, which I am very much looking forward to, and I will have performances in Spain and England. As for our environment, I will certainly have performances in the 2022 season in Belgrade and Novi Sad, and that will be announced in a timely manner. Currently, I am working on shooting the new video which should be released soon, my first project like this. I am so excited. Then I am going back to London where I will know more precisely about all the projects.
The best thing about being a singer is . . .
Being able to sing whole life. No matter how hard we work, like sportsmen, we get to enjoy some bits when we are well prepared and it really feeds our souls.
Vesna Filipovic and Vukota Brajovic for Fashionela